Album Reviews (1989) vol. 2

I’ll try to keep these reviews short and sweet…

Testament – Practice What You Preach

TestamentI realize that what I am about to say may shatter any credibility I have as a metal fan, but here it goes: I’ve always thought of Testament as nothing more than an average thrash band.  I own their first four albums and I am thoroughly unimpressed.  Testament’s ornery brand of thrash simply lacks charisma, period.  Only Alex Skolnick’s melodic leads rise above the mundane.  I have always thought of him as a guitarist caged by the restrictions of his chosen genre.  No surprise, then, that he eventually flew the coop.  Without the quality lead breaks, I am left to slog through too many B-level riffs and Chuck Billy’s forced vocals.  But hey, at least it’s not the German slop that I hate even more.  My score: C+

Overkill – The Years Of Decay

OverkillNow here’s a thrash band I can get behind!  Except for Metallica, no other thrash band was as consistently kick-ass as Overkill in the eighties.  (My opinion, of course.)  While Testament were lacking in charisma (see above), Overkill’s cup was overflowing.  Overkill’s punk roots helped them foster their trademark snot-nosed ‘tude.  Bass-heavy grooves and biting lyrics also contributed to the well-rounded formula.  A handful of Overkill’s “classic” reside on this tasty platter — Time To Kill, Elimination, I Hate, and E.vil N.ever D.ies.  Vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth gave one of his better performances here, spewing hate down your throat at break-neck speed, polluting your lungs with sooty awesomeness.  Essential Overkill!  My score: A

Midas Touch – Presage Of Disaster

Midas TouchSweden wasn’t exactly a thrash metal hotbed in the eighties, which is probably why my expectations were quite low when Presage Of Disaster crossed my path.  Yet to my delight, Midas Touch’s one and only album (Noise Records) is pretty damn likeable.  This is schizophrenic, technical thrash that manages to stay entertaining and listenable throughout.  Decent choruses give the songs a nice boost, keeping them from meandering off into a progressive, overly technical fog.  Lots of quick changes here and there, so keep your head on a swivel.  Okay vocals, too.  My best compliment for Presage Of Disaster is that it feels like the work of an American thrash band.  This is not the noisier and more brutal European style I expected.  My score: B-

King’s X – Gretchen Goes To Nebraska

King's XRock critics were falling all over themselves praising King’s X back in the day.  Indeed, King’s X were a refreshing alternative for some folks.  Honestly, I can say that I am not a fan in the least, though I can somewhat understand King X’s appeal.  One mustn’t forget that King X predated the alt rock explosion of the nineties by a few years.  At the time, King X’s use of dropped-D tuning, socially conscious lyrics, and dual vocal harmonies made for a cutting edge proposition.  But does Gretchen Goes To Nebraska rock?  I mean, DOES IT F*CKING ROCK?  No, it does not rock.  I like some of the riffs but the harmonies are actually quite bland, and the hooks just don’t do it for me.  My overall impression of Gretchen Goes To Nebraska is just… blah.  My score: C+

Savatage – Gutter Ballet

SavatageThe Savatage catalog has its share of winners and losers.  Gutter Ballet, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.  It also doesn’t help that this 1989 offering resides chronologically between two of Savatage’s better albums — Hall Of The Mountain King (1987) and Streets: A Rock Opera (1991).  The title track to Gutter Ballet turned out to be a harbinger of things to come for Savatage.  This piano driven ballad eschewed Savatage’s trademark balls-to-the-wall metal for a more theatrical approach.  This approach was fully realized on Streets: A Rock Opera.  The new direction was a controversial one for the band’s fans, but it is the Savatage I prefer.  (Side note: I think Savatage’s best album is 1993’s Edge Of Thorns.)  But Gutter Ballet suffers from too many forgettable, low-grade metal tunes.  Though guitarist Criss Oliva was a tremendous riff master, the songs here just don’t seem to congeal in any meaningful way.  Singer Jon Oliva hurts this album most of all — though he possessed a wicked set of pipes, his inability to provide a quality vocal hook on Gutter Ballet is disheartening.  My score: C+

Scanner – Terminal Earth

ScannerHere we have some quality German metal with a clear Helloween influence.  Terminal Earth features the vocals of S.L. Coe, who had previously appeared on Angel Dust’s To Dust You Will Decay (1988).  That was a decent album, but Coe gives a much better performance here — showing more personality and charm than he did on To Dust You Will Decay.  As mentioned, the Helloween factor is strong on this one.  Gang vocal choruses, sing-songy leads, and that silly German humor are all trademarks of Helloween that Scanner “borrowed” on Terminal Earth.  And if you love Helloween, you really can’t go wrong with this piece of Teutonic hardware.  My favorite track is the epic 9-minute From The Dust Of Ages.  My score: B+   

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4 thoughts on “Album Reviews (1989) vol. 2

  1. You know what, Gutter Ballet had a great side 1 and a so-so side 2. Mountain King and Streets are both better as you have said. And I think I’m probably in agreement with you over Edge of Thorns too, although I have a lot of emotional attachment to Streets.

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