Album Reviews (1987)

A collection of album reviews from 1987…

Paradox – Product Of Imagination

Here’s a quality German speed/traditional metal alloy.  What I like about Paradox is that their songs were palatable and easily digested.  While so many German speed metal and thrash bands of the day went to extremes with vocals and velocities, it’s nice to hear something that isn’t just a blur of noise.  Product Of Imagination doesn’t have that repetitive, machine gun effect from non-stop snare hits, which is something that turns me off to many a speed metal record.  For blazing speed and technical fireworks, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  The vocals were not overly harsh, which I also appreciate.  The singer reminds me of Helloween’s Kai Hanson from the Walls Of Jericho album.  Best of all, hiding on side two of Product Of Imagination is a true gem called Pray To The Godz Of Wrath.  Out of nowhere, Paradox pulled a really triumphant chorus out of their ass and delivered a song that stays in the brain long afterwards.  Nowadays we would define this type of song a “true metal”.  It doesn’t matter what you call it — it just plain ROCKS!  My score: B

Apocrypha – The Forgotten Scroll

In typical Shrapnel Records fashion, Apocrypha was a power metal band built around a flashy shred-head.  In this case, the guitar shredder was Tony Fredianelli, a youngster with some nasty chops.  Vocals were provided by Steve Plocica, a dude with a set of regal power pipes.  The Forgotten Scroll was the first of three LPs by Apocrypha.  The young whiz kid Fredianelli wrote all nine tracks on The Forgotten Scroll.  The album is certainly solid, with plenty of aggression, neo-classical melodies, and tasteful shredding.  On the downside, the production is quite cold and mechanical, and the album is short on standout cuts.  For me, only one track stands out as truly great and that is the wicked Riding In The Night — a barnstorming metal feast!  My score: B-

Armored Saint – Raising Fear

There was a time when hopes were high for Armored Saint.  After an EP with Metal Blade Records, Armored Saint wound up on a major label, Chrysalis Records.  But the band’s career never really took flight.  Raising Fear was the third and final studio album for Armored Saint while with Chrysalis records.  Vocalist John Bush later called Raising Fear Armored Saint’s “most confused record”, and drummer Gonzo said “management wanted us to bag these tunes and write all new ones from scratch.”  But a frustrated, and possibly dejected Armored Saint went ahead and recorded the original batch of tunes.  The resultant album is easily my least favorite of the band’s three LPs with Chrysalis.  I never really liked John Bush as a vocalist.  His voice had nice character, but he lacked range, and more importantly, his vocals never seemed to flow.  Bush’s performances always sounded a bit fragmented, and as a result Armored Saint’s songs were never all that hooky.  I think the band’s cover of Saturday Night Special says it all.  They took a very melodic song by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and somehow managed to make it sound… uh… difficult.  My score: C+

Pretty Maids – Future World

Pretty Maids deserve praise for their chameleon-like approach to song craft.  On a Pretty Maids album, there were no rules (Thunderdome!).  Epic heavy metal, AOR, and hard rock were all in play on Future World.  And with singer Ronnie Atkins providing two distinct voices (rough and clean), the Maids added another layer of dimensionality to their arsenal.  These attributes made 1984’s Red, Hot And Heavy a masterful buffet by this group of ridiculously dressed Danes.  But Future World just doesn’t come close to that record.  Except for the rousing album opener Future World, this LP just doesn’t have the songs to rise above.  Of course, the execution was top-notch (this wasn’t Pretty Maid’s first rodeo), but some quirky lyrics (no, Yellow Rain is not a euphemism for urination), and stale hooks keep Future World down.  The title track is a beast, but the rest I can take or leave.  My score: B-

Carnivore – Retaliation

Second and final album for Peter Steele’s Carnivore.  Steele went on to form the much better Type O Negative in the nineties, but here he was fronting a three-piece band with a penchant for thrash, speed, a little doom, and a touch of “core”.  Steele’s lyrics were comically offensive, but unfortunately he sounded like an absolute TOOL on Retaliation.  Steele didn’t “sing” at all.  More like talking, or better yet, reciting poetry in a deranged kind of way.  Hey, give him credit for having something to say at least.  But DAMN, this dude did not think too highly of the human race!  Peter Steele died of heart failure on April 14, 2010 at the age of 48.  My score: C-

Exodus – Pleasures Of The Flesh

Exodus’ second album featured more top shelf thrash guitar heroics from team Holt and Hunolt.  The band sounds razor-sharp behind new singer Steve “Zetro” Souza.  But with the loss of original vocalist Paul Baloff, Exodus also lost the charm that made their debut so irresistible.  Technically speaking, Baloff was terrible on Bonded By Blood, but his obnoxious attitude and lust for metal bled through the speakers.  Though Souza sounded appropriately fierce for a thrash vocalist, it’s hard not to miss Baloff here.  That special something seems to be missing, and Exodus’ Pleasures Of The Flesh becomes just another solid thrash album, but not a great album.  Pleasures Of The Flesh lacks the spirit of brotherhood that made Bonded By Blood a thrash “classic”.  But I still like this band better than Slayer or Testament.  The original cover was supposed to be this, but it was changed at the last-minute to the one you see above.  My score: B-

Overkill – Taking Over

Wreckage of neckage.  Overkill!  A band that could always be counted on to shove quality metal up your anus sideways.  Taking Over ain’t no different.  I consider two cuts on Taking Over to be excellent, Deny The Cross and Wrecking Crew.  Both hit like a freight train as they impact your pathetic skull.  Overkill always had a way of injecting their music with plenty of snot-nosed, punkish ‘tude.  You can thank vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth for that.

How about that In Union We Stand, huh?  Such an odd little bird in the Overkill catalog, what with its Manowar-ish lyrics and (some say) cheesy anthemic refrain.  Though not typical Overkill fodder, I kind of like the band’s clueless attempt at accessibility, because it only shows the band just couldn’t NOT be heavy.  It’s kind of funny really.  Maybe that’s why Overkill never sold out, they just didn’t know how to write wimpy tunes.  My score: B+

Agent Steel – Unstoppable Force

Unstoppable Force was the last LP from Agent Steel’s initial ’80s run.  At the time, the dramatic power/thrash/speed hybrid metal of Agent Steel was falling out of favor with metal fans, as they focused their attention instead on the harsh aggression of pure thrash.  In hindsight, it was a fine line between the two genres, but I guess it didn’t seem so at the time.  Though Agent Steel had plenty of speed, and even a little thrash in their sound, I guess they were just a bit too surgical and enigmatic (re: vocalist John Cyriis) to meet the bangers’ thirst for blood.  The liner notes of the 1999 Century Media re-issue of Unstoppable Force cites a 1987 gig at the Hammersmith Odeon where Agent Steel were a supporting act for thrashers Nuclear Assault.  At the gig, the crowd was indifferent to Agent Steel, yet embraced Nuclear Assault with great enthusiasm.  Writer Denis Gulbey (Sentinel Steel) called this the “final nail in the coffin” for Agent Steel.

Truth is, Unstoppable Force doesn’t really rattle my cage.  The title track goes down as my personal fave of the lot.  I think I prefer my Agent Steel in small doses.  I guess that’s why their 1986 EP Mad Locust Rising rings my bell, while this long player leaves me restless and (not) wild.  My score: C+

Omen – Nightmares

Here’s a six track EP of odds and sods.  Nightmares (Metal Blade Records) featured one cut from each of Omen’s first three albums; Dragon’s Breath from Battle Cry (1984), Termination from Warning Of Danger (1985), and Bounty Hunter from The Curse (1986).  There was also a live cover of AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie, and most importantly, two spankin’ new cuts; Nightmares and Shock Treatment.  This six track banquet showed that Omen, as unremarkable as they were, were at least consistent from album to album.  Nowadays, Nightmares is tacked on to the CD version of The Curse.  My score: B-


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