Album Reviews (1985) vol. 2

Another round of short reviews from 1985…

Trance – Victory

Trance’s 1983 album Power Infusion is a real favorite of mine.  The follow-up, Victory, finds this German band falling back to Earth a bit.  Still that same old scorching, groove-laden Teutonic sound, but this time around there ain’t no goosebumps on my arms.  Victory is a solid album.  No more, no less.  Frontman Lothar Antoni leads the charge with his shredded vocal chords churning up a molten metal froth.  Love that guy!  Personal faves are Victory and Night Is On.  One minor quibble; they prettied up those drums this time around.  Not in a good way.  In a ’80s sort of way.  My score: B

Fates Warning – The Spectre Within

On their second album (Metal Blade Records), Connecticut’s Fates Warning stretched their legs and spread their wings.  Fates Warning lengthened their songs, staking an early claim on their progressive metal statehood.  Just seven songs comprise The Spectre Within, with only one clocking in under five minutes.  These tales of nightmares and dreamscapes are propelled by the one of a kind vocals of John Arch.  Love him or hate him… at least respect him.  I fall on the side of “love him”, but you’re going to need to decide for yourself.  His vocal melodies dance frantically above the doom-soaked riffage and twisted, contorted compositions.  Repeated listens will be required, as there is something captivating yet off-putting about Fates Warning… I’m never quite able to wrap my head around these songs.  That is, I can’t quite secure them to memory.  Arch’s runaway vocals are to blame (or thank?).  As a result, I’m always coming back for more.  The Spectre Within never gets stale, which is just about all anyone can ask for in a metal record.  Hell, all three Fates Warning albums from the Arch years are essential.  My score: A-

W.A.S.P. – The Last Command

W.A.S.P. kind of pisses me off.  Blackie Lawless just seemed like a manipulative opportunist.  One not necessarily in love with heavy metal as much as in love with being (somewhat) famous.  Talent be damned.  Give the kids what they want, and I’ll be a rock star.  So here’s W.A.S.P. with record number two.  More crotch rot vocals and half-baked anthems for the “kids”.  Snake oil for the misguided youths.  Marginal songwriting and playing all around.  Sometimes a downright mockery of heavy metal (for example, Sex Drive).  Not as heavy as it looked, and far more corporate than the fans were aware.  Hey, if you don’t have the talent to compete with the rest of the L.A. go-hards, just throw raw meat at the audience and wear a buzzsaw cod-piece on your cock.  That’ll sell records.  (Sadly, they were right.)  My score: C

Zoetrope – Amnesty

Forgotten thrash from the early days.  Zoetrope’s Amnesty was released via Combat Records.  This Chicago band dubbed their brand of thrash “street metal”, and indeed their gritty, punk tinged thrash style fit that description quite well.  The Amnesty album is not particularly catchy, nor all that crafty.  The charm of this album lies in its underground feel, and a small bit of that elusive it factor that so many thrash albums seemed to lack (especially later on in the eighties).  Vocalist (and drummer!) Barry Stern had a guy-off-the-street voice that can be considered a welcome reprieve from the more commonplace screaming, growling, and barking throats of many of his peers.  While nothing on Amnesty can be considered a thrashterpiece, I think the album holds its ground fairly well considering its vintage.  Personal fave is Mercenary.  My score: C+

Anthrax – Armed And Dangerous

This was a five track EP that pre-dated the release of Anthrax’s full-length Spreading The Disease LP in 1985.  The EP showcased two new Anthrax members, Joey Belladonna (vocals) and Frank Bello (bass).  The title track wound up on Spreading The Disease (and would be one of the best songs on that album).  Raise Hell was a new song that never ended up on Spreading The Disease (no great loss… it’s not a great tune).  God Save The Queen was a Sex Pistols cover, and kind of a throwaway/novelty.  Two “live” tracks closed the EP; Metal Thrashing Mad and Panic.  These were new versions of two tracks from Anthrax’s Fistful Of Metal LP (1984).  The rub being that here the tracks have Belladonna singing instead of Neil Turbin (who sang on Fistful Of Metal).  I am pretty sure these tracks are NOT live… maybe “live in the studio” at best.  Later CD re-issues of Armed And Dangerous added two bonus cuts from an old 1983 Anthrax 45-rpm single; Soldiers Of Metal and Howling Furies (both with Turbin on vocals).  My score: B-

Anthrax – Spreading The Disease

With their “classic” lineup now in place, Anthrax unleashed Spreading The Disease in 1985.  Though it took me a while to warm up to, I now consider Spreading The Disease to be a great metal album.  The first thing one may notice about Spreading The Disease is that, on average, it is not a particularly fast album.  Compared to Anthrax’s debut Fistful Of Metal, as well as many thrash albums of the day, this album is a little more methodical in its approach.  This allows the listener to really soak in the riffs and absorb the songs.  The drumming of Charlie Benante (pretty much the quintessential thrash drummer) and the spirited vocals of Joey Belladonna highlight the album.  Belladonna added a very unique element to Anthrax.  He was an actual singer, one of the old school heavy metal style.  He was given quite a task, to try to sing over thrash music, but he did a fine job.  Without Belladonna, songs like Stand Or Fall and Medusa may not have reached their full potential.  At times, he brings an almost power metal feel to Anthrax.  Mixed in with their obvious thrash, speed, punk, and NWOBHM leanings, this gave Anthrax a sound that was all their own.  Faves include the aforementioned pair; Stand Or Fall and Medusa, as well as Armed And Dangerous and the album’s lone OTT speed machine, Gung-Ho.  Complaints?  Well, I’m not in love with the drum sound they came up with in the studio, and the lead riff of album opener A.I.R. is kind of a stinker.  Minor stuff, though.  Spreading The Disease is a winner.  My score: A-

Liege Lord – Freedom’s Rise

Not much to get excited about here.  Mid-eighties American “power” metal played with competence, but dragged down by tepid songwriting and ragged production.  If execution alone was the name of the game, Liege Lord’s debut would slide on by, but songs themselves are just too stiff and forgettable to make Freedom’s Rise a worthwhile experience.  The story here seems to be a band not yet ready for prime time.  Just because you color within the lines doesn’t mean you’ve created a work of art.  So call this one lower-rung scrap metal.  Save yourself the trouble and just listen to Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction for the 1,000th time.  Heck, you could even throw some Omen on before this.  My score: C

Robert Plant – Shaken ‘N’ Stirred

Here’s a purchase I regretted immediately.  Plant experimented with the sounds of the day, none of which had anything to do with hard rock.  ‘Twas the man’s right to do as he wished, but the resultant album (even viewed from a totally non-hard rock perspective) is still an egregious pile of suck.  Where’s the songs?  Plant somehow got the idea that choruses were a waste of time, and instead came up with the idea to jibba-jabba nonsensically over new-wave pop and keyboard infested garbage.  It’s almost hilarious how someone could be so pretentious, to think so highly of himself as an artist, to believe these underwritten brain drains could be considered cutting edge works of art.  What’s even more hilarious is listening to Plant apologists try to spin this as genius.  Seriously, not a single chorus on the whole album!  Robert Plant is a legend, but this one is a turd.  If you want my copy, let me know.  I’ll send it to you on my dime.  First come, first serve!  My score: F

Watchtower – Energetic Disassembly

Enjoyment of this album will depend on one’s own definition of entertainment.  The album is certain to impress on a technical level (with regards to the bass and drum performances anyway).  The question is, though impressed, am I also entertained?  For example, I am impressed by my co-worker’s uncanny ability to do incredibly complex and mind-bending mathematics.  However does that entertain me?  No.  Do I enjoy it?  No.  I hate that guy (just kidding).  So yeah, count me out as a fan Watchtower’s Energetic Disassembly, an album known for its fiercely independent and innovative foray into technical progressive thrash (said to be the first of its kind).  But does it ROCK?  Nah… I don’t thing it does.  (Plus, the production on this independently released LP was wafer thin, especially the guitar, and Jason McMaster’s vocals were an exercise in shrieking, piercing excess.)  Worshiped by many, just not this guy.  Sorry.  My score: C-

Warlock – Hellbound

Warlock’s second LP.  Hoisted aloft by the rough ‘n tumble vocals of vocalist Doro Pesch and the prototypical metal twin-axe assault, Hellbound delivers nine tracks of raw, energetic, and accessible heavy metal (okay, make that eight tracks, the last song is an aimless ballad).  I find it quite amazing that such a raspy and tough-as-nails voice could emanate from such a diminutive blond beauty!  Yes, the young singer was still rough around the edges, and at times overdid it, but we can chalk it up to enthusiasm winning out over experience and discipline.  Hellbound was probably Warlock’s heaviest album.  Earthshaker Rock, for example, is an all-out speed assault, complete with cavernous double bass pummeling.  Though Hellbound is a very consistent and enjoyable album, my only real complaint is that it lacks any truly “classic” songs (or, as I like to say: “gems”) to put it over the top.  (Okay, maybe Out Of Control… that song is pretty kick-ass!)  Nevertheless, those who know Warlock only by their most famous (and last) LP, the well-polished Triumph And Agony (1987), may be surprised to hear this quite heavy and unwashed early Warlock offering.  My score: B

Accept – Metal Heart

Accept created the template for the Teutonic metal sound.  Twin Gibson Flying V’s, the quintessential “I gargle with broken glass” voice, the pulsing bass guitar, and the steady, hard-hitting drums.  Accept’s magnum opus (IMO) was 1983’s Balls To The Wall (some may say 1982’s Restless And Wild was their masterpiece).  Metal Heart continued in the same vein as its predecessors, although this time without life-changing results.  In my book, Metal Heart will forever be overshadowed by the goliath that was Balls To The Wall for no other reason than this particular batch of songs weren’t as good as those ones.  Profound, I know.  My favorite song on Metal Heart is the simple, straightforward and almost hard-rockish Screaming For A Love-Bite.  Try not to be distracted about the song’s retarded lyrics, about getting a hickey no less.  (Seriously!)  I also like the title track and Midnight Mover.  My least favorite song on Metal Heart would have to be Teach Us To Survive, which attempts to fuse jazz elements with metal.  My score: B

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3 thoughts on “Album Reviews (1985) vol. 2

  1. Some great albums there, Anthrax “Spreading the Disease” is definitely one of my favourite of all time. I only bought the WASP album because it was the first album I know of to have a PMRC label. What you say about them is true. It seems Blackie Lawless has a business degree from UCLA and he believed that you could make good money being a rock star. It’s all business to him.

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