Album Reviews (1984)

A bunch of reviews from ’84…

Savatage – The Dungeons Are Calling

From hell’s mouth they came (okay, actually Florida… close enough).  As with their debut Sirens, Savatage delivered the goods once again with their sophomore outing The Dungeons Are Calling, a six-song EP.  The album features ungodly riffs from Criss Oliva, tortured “shrieks of terror” from Jon Oliva, and a very solid rhythm section consisting of Keith Collins and Dr. Killdrums himself, Steve Wacholz.  It’s unfortunate that Savatage didn’t have commercial success with this fine effort (while much inferior schlock by bands such as W.A.S.P. caught on).  The Oliva brothers were one-of-a-kind artists; wicked and evil, kick-ass to their metal core.  Six vicious cuts sure to wreck your neck.  My only complaint is the same one I had with Sirens; the songs lack truly strong choruses.  Seems to me Jon Oliva excelled at everything but writing memorable refrains.  IMO, it’s the only thing holding this record back from essential status.  My score: B+

Kick Axe – Vices

Though overproduced by Spencer Proffer of Pasha Records (the same man who twiddled the knobs for Quiet Riot’s Metal Health), this debut album by Canada’s Kick Axe still packs a lusty wallop.  The drums sound significantly processed, yes they do, but the guitars still bite and the vocals (by George Criston) are a perfect fit for this mighty pant-load.  The choruses are HUGE, featuring tons of overdubbed vocals.  The songs are spacial and clean, and the drumming is kept fairly simple.

The party starts with Heavy Metal Shuffle and doesn’t really let up, save for the lone ballad, Dreamin’ About You, which is an exceptional little chunk of mellow gold.  The album’s final cut is my personal fave, Just Passin’ Through.  Vices is a coke-fueled party album from the early days of hair metal.  My score: B+

Zebra – No Tellin’ Lies

Zebra was a hard rock/AOR trio from New Orleans.  Their self-titled 1983 debut was, in my humble opinion, an astonishing chunk of elegant and timeless rock.  No Tellin’ Lies was Zebra’s all important sophomore attempt, a make-or-break album for the band after the moderate commercial success of their debut.  Unfortunately, No Tellin’ Lies was a bit of a disappointment.  I find this LP to be a difficult listen.  On the debut, what I considered to be delicately woven melodic textures now has turned to a sea of confusion.  I guess there is a fine line there, and one could say the songwriting on No Tellin’ Lies falls just a bit short.  The combination of Randy Jackson’s over-use of his high pitch falsetto, and too much vocal layering makes it quite difficult for me to comprehend Randy’s lyrics.  That bugs me.  On the plus side, No Tellin’ Lies does get better with repeated listens.  However, it is not near the masterpiece that 1983’s Zebra was.  My score: B-

W.A.S.P. – W.A.S.P.

What W.A.S.P. lacked in good looks, they made up for in lack of talent.  Ha!  Okay, that was a low blow.  But I don’t get too excited over W.A.S.P. these days.  Far removed from the gimmicks, the spectacle, and the shock tactics that W.A.S.P. rode to success, all that we have left to consider today is the actual music W.A.S.P. left behind.  That’s a shoddy proposition.  What we have here is a real shitty mix, with annoying drums way out front.  A difficult listen, and Blackie Lawless’ wrecked voice, above all, takes a dump on my chest.  He makes that dude from Ratt sound like Luther Vandross for Christ’s sake!  A few good moments here and there, like I Wanna Be Somebody and The Flame.  But jeesh guys, what’s the big deal?  There’s just a tremendous lack of charisma here.  My score: C

Saxon – Crusader

Ever-prolific, Saxon released their sixth studio album in six years when Crusader hit the streets in 1984.  Saxon seemed to be on the cusp of super-stardom during the NWOBHM explosion, however they would settle for journeyman status, as they never quite broke through to the degree of NWOBHM superstars Iron maiden and Def Leppard.  Crusader saw Saxon’s fortunes slip a bit, as the album was met with mixed reviews from fans.  Indeed, Crusader was a bit of a weaker sauce than its predecessors.  I find the production on this album to be a bit too polite and clean, with guitars mixed back too much.  Although the title track is a standout (one in a long line of Saxon “classics”), the rest of the album sounds like Saxon was holding back somewhat, almost unsure what to do as their hopes of reaching a wider audience faded away.  Biff’s lyrics were a bit lacking compared to his previous work.  I always enjoyed his endearing, everyman storytelling on tracks like Midnight Rider and Denim And Leather, but on the Crusader album he yields to cliché much more than before.  A solid album (it is Saxon after all) but it comes without the goosebump moments of previous years.  Nice album cover, though!  My score: B

Blade Runner – Hunted

Another late-for-the-party Ebony Records release that sounded sooty as hell thanks to another craptastic hatchet job by producer Darryl Johnston.  Beneath the layer of grime, there was a band of scrappy young lads getting their rocks off in the vein of early Def Leppard, or, by accident, the growing L.A. glam metal scene.  Lyrics dealt with tried and true metal conversation pieces like “rocking” and “streets”.  For the most part, Hunted passes harmlessly from one ear and out the other without much notice, save for the very first track on the album, Too Far Too Late, a song that is two and half minutes of NWOBHM ecstasy!  An absolute gem of a catchy-assness!  The album’s cover art was also a real doozy.  Painted by the late (great) Garry Sharpe-Young, the artwork was originally intended for Savage’s second album, but after Savage left Ebony Records, the art was used for Hunted instead.  Notice the black box containing the words “Blade Runner” and “Hunted”?  That was used to cover up the Savage logo.  My score: C+

Brocas Helm – Into  Battle

From the underground and below, Into Battle is a bucket o’ rust from a Bay Area band with a lust for the medieval.  Despite repeated attempts, I have yet to find this album to be anything more than unlistenable.  Brocas Helm have their fans, but I am on the outside looking in on this one.  Crap production and bad singing being my biggest complaints.  Sure, the guys in Brocas Helm were fiercely independent and probably lived and breathed metal (is there any other way?), but Into Battle fails to match up sonically with the band’s stainless spirit.  Strangely, I wonder to myself if these guys were homeless.  It’s that kind of record.  I like the cut of their jib, but you can’t charge into battle with a styrofoam sword in hand.  My score: C-

Valhalla – Valhalla

Valhalla was a Pittsburgh band that self-released this rare 12” EP in 1984.  Despite the low profile release, the album perked a few ears over the years as evidenced by the bootlegged CD versions floating about these days.  Five tracks plus a short intro comprise the Valhalla album.  After the keyboard intro, the first track proper is Looking For The Light, the album’s best cut.  It is not all that heavy, but it has an epic feel and sounds a little bit spacey.  Vocalist David Fefolt delivers with an appealing, understated voice.  The heaviest song on the album is Nightstalker, a decent but not outstanding track. Valhalla follows; another triumphant number with an epic touch.  The last two tracks are fairly mellow.  Ship Of Dreams has a similar tone to Sabbath’s Planet Caravan.  Trippy and cool.  In Her Eyes closes the album with class.  Raise a frosty one for these guys!  My score: B+

Savage Grace – Master Of Disguise

In the liner notes of the 2010 CD re-issue of Master Of Disguise (Limb Music), Christian Logue of Savage Grace calls this album “the BEST speed metal album ever made… Power, speed, melody, harmony, execution, song structure, it is PERFECTION”  Well, at least he’s humble!  Logue was the guitarist, songwriter, and leader of Savage Grace.  Maybe he went a little overboard in that quote, but Master Of Disguise is actually a pretty enjoyable speed metal album, and a major improvement over Savage Grace’s debut The Dominatress (1983).  Michael John Smith replaced John Birk on vocals, and proved to be a far superior choice.  His “Dio-on-steroids” performance helped elevate Master Of Disguise to a notch above the ordinary.  Indeed, Logue’s Savage Grace hauled major ass, much like a hyper-active Iron Maiden in dire need of ritalin.  Sure, it all sounds like one long song, but hey, at least its a good one!  My score: B

Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break The Oath

From the get-go, I never liked this album.  I have had the tape for years, and I have listened to it many times.  Why?  Because I am always trying to find a way to like Don’t Break The Oath because it is such a (oc)cult classic in the metal world.  Often times, I give “sacred cow” albums such as these the benefit of the doubt (and listen to them more than I normally would) because I want/need to know what everyone is jizzing over.  After many years, I have softened my stance a bit on Don’t Break The Oath, but I am still not ready to recommend it.  The reason I don’t like Don’t Break The Oath is because of the ridiculous vocals of King Diamond.  There’s a line somewhere between over-the-top and awful, and K.D. crossed that line with me.  Forget the Satanic lyrics, that doesn’t bother me at all (not like I can understand what K.D. is singing anyway).  Bottom line: the guy is a clown and his voice sucks.  Too bad, because the band behind him was pretty good.  The guitar team of Denner and Sherman proved to be dextrous and agile metal practitioners. This was a strong band and I am surprised they hitched their wagons to such an eccentric singer.  My favorite song on this album is easily A Dangerous Meeting.  A great metal tune, and King Diamond’s vox were somewhat tolerable on it.  My score: C

 

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