Time for a big stinky dump… of album reviews!
Green River – Dry As A Bone (1987)
Green River was an early grunge band from Seattle. Their membership included future Pearl Jam members Jeff Ament (bass) and Stone Gossard (guitar), as well as future Mudhoney front-man Mark Arm (vocals). Dry As A Bone was an EP released in 1987 on the influential Sub Pop label.
The early grunge sound of Green River was not nearly as commercially accessible as the nineties grunge music that garnered national attention. Nay, this early grunge was much closer to punk and garage rock than the more refined nineties sound of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, or even Nirvana. One of grunge’s primary directives was to hock a loogey in the face of the hair metal bands that were popular at the time. Green River wanted no part of the over-produced, excess-driven, corporate rock landscape. Instead, they and a few other bands in Washington created their own (regional) music scene of dirty, filthy, slacker rock. Vocalist Mark Arm single-handedly assured that Green River maintained their all-important indie rock credentials. He achieved this by sucking on vocals. Arm’s performance sabotaged any chance Green River had of reaching an expanded audience. I’m sure this was by design. To sell-out would have been an unforgivable sin!
Dry As A Bone revels in being the antithesis of all that was “wrong” with popular hard rock and metal at the time. Green River was buzz-worthy in Seattle but not really anywhere else. I, for one, am glad Green River didn’t last. If it had, we may never have been blessed with Gossard and Ament’s more ear-friendly ventures — Mother Love Bone, Temple Of The Dog, and Pearl Jam. My score: C
Green River – Rehab Doll (1988)
Green River returned in 1988 with their last album Rehab Doll. It was another series of sloppy-on-purpose, hunched-over, slouch rock tunes. At times, Mark Arm delivered his vocals as if he had just swallowed a fistful of downers. Rehab Doll is an uglier record than its predecessor and has a somewhat stoner-ish vibe. Again, Arm’s performance is one of intentional commercial suicide. You’ve got to wonder what was going through Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s minds at the time they made this record. If they ever dreamed of making it big, they must have known that Mark Arm was not the guy that was going to get them there! In 1990 Sub-Pop combined Rehab Doll with Dry As A Bone on a single album. My score: C-
Soundgarden – Screaming Life (1987)
This is a rather odd and underwhelming debut from a band that would one day touch greatness. Released on the fledgling Sub Pop label in 1987, this six track EP shows that Soundgarden took a very lax approach to songwriting and recording in their early days. Those of us who identify Soundgarden with their angst-ridden nineties sound may be surprised at just how unserious (and unfocused?) Screaming Life is. There really doesn’t seem to be a purpose or direction on the six songs presented here. What we have is a few ideas that are only partially fleshed out. Chris Cornell’s talents as a vocalist are evident (except on the awful Tears To Forget) — but it’s hard to believe that the band that made Screaming Life went on to make classics like Badmotorfinger (1991) and Superunknown (1994). My score: C
Soundgarden – Fopp (1988)
File this one under “who gives a f*ck”. Soundgarden followed up their sketchy debut with this even sketchier four-song EP. Fopp showed that Soundgarden just didn’t give a damn as they delivered their second straight half-assed record. Fopp is essentially no more than a throw-away, novelty release. The title track is a heavy cover of an old funk/soul song. There is also a useless remix of the same tune, a Green River cover, and a forgettable original called Kingdom Of Come. In 1990 Sub Pop combined Fopp with Screaming Life on the same release. My score: C-
Soundgarden – Louder Than Love (1989)
By 1989 Soundgarden had found their sound. They got down to serious business with Louder Than Love — their major label debut for A&M Records. The sonic blueprint on Louder Than Love is a heavy churn of grunge metal with lots of dropped tuning and weird time signatures. And let’s not forget the all important angst! While this album definitely has the trademark Soundgarden sound, it does not measure up to its follow-up Badmotorfinger. That album was when all things really came together for Soundgarden (in my opinion). Everything that was attempted on Louder Than Love was done better on Badmotorfinger! The only song on Louder Than Love that is good enough to be on Badmotorfinger is the great Hands All Over. My complaint with Louder Than Love is that Soundgarden were either unable or unwilling to write a legitimate chorus. Furthermore, Chris Cornell’s lyrics left much to be desired. In hindsight we can see that Soundgarden was on the rise with Louder Than Love. Still, the jump in quality from this 1989 effort to their bad-ass 1991 breakthrough is tremendous. My score: B-
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
While grunge was gaining momentum in the late eighties as a rock alternative in Seattle (see above reviews), Jane’s Addiction was creating quite a stir of their own in Los Angeles. After scoring a record deal with Warner Bros., Jane’s Addiction released their second album Nothing’s Shocking in 1988. Led by bird-faced cook Perry Farrell, Jane’s Addiction helped usher in the alternative rock scene that would dominate the early nineties. Lyrically, Nothing’s Shocking conveyed a broad range of emotions, from overly sensitive to dangerously volatile. Combined with the music, songs come off in a variety of ways on Nothing’s Shocking. Some songs are carefree and playful, others are angry, some are ethereal, while others are a bit pretentious. Overall, there’s a loose quality to some of the jams on Nothing’s Shocking. This works to nice effect on songs like Jane Says (the best song on the album) where the band works a bit of magic over a fairly simple, repeating chord progression. Other times, the songs drift a bit too much. For me, the middle part of the album (which includes Standing in the Shower… Thinking, Summertime Rolls, and Ted, Just Admit It…) does not hold my interest. I usually skip these three to get to Mountain Song — which has a killer bass riff! (Side note: Judas Priest used a VERY similar riff on their song Revolution in 2005. I believe this was just a coincidence.)
The album closes strong with the aforementioned Jane Says as the absolute highlight of side two. Anchoring the album is Pig’s In Zen, a vibrant rocker that loses some points thanks to an idiotic spoken word section by Farrell. (Pig’s In Zen did not appear on the original vinyl version of Nothing’s Shocking.) Interestingly, the three best songs on the album that I’ve mentioned (Mountain Song, Jane Says, and Pig’s In Zen) were all re-recordings of previously released Jane’s Addiction material. My score: B
Dark Angel – Darkness Descends (1986)
California’s Dark Angel was one of the early extreme thrash bands. As a subset of thrash, these extreme bands waged war on melody — instead opting for a shock and awe approach that pounded the listener to submission with dizzying speeds and walls of noise. Vocals consisted of curt, atonal growling — an early precursor to the death metal vocal style. I have always been pretty open about my low opinion for this style of music. One of the major reason I don’t like these exaggerated, cartoon-style vocals is that they are just a cheap gimmick. Don’t get me wrong, heavy metal has always relied heavily on gimmicks. But the “death” style vocals is one of the gimmicks that just will not go away and I can’t understand why. It’s so stupid!
Darkness Descends came out in the same year as Slayer’s Reign In Blood. Reign In Blood is widely acknowledged as a heavy metal classic. Darkness Descends is not as universally well-known, but it is a cult fave among some thrash fans. The two albums do not differ greatly in their approach (both rely heavily on the aforementioned “shock and awe” factor). However, the biggest disparity is that Reign In Blood has stellar production and a spot-on mix. Darkness Descends has a far inferior sound and suffers greatly for it. It sounds like it was recorded with a potato. Only serious thrash-aholics will be able to decipher this album form the multitude of similar thrash albums that Dark Angel unfortunately influenced. Bottom line is that I just don’t get it. But I will concede that just because I don’t get it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be got. Points for trying? My score: D
Morbid Saint – Spectrum Of Death (1990)
Trendsetters like Dark Angel (above) begat many an extreme thrash band in their wake. Morbid Saint’s style was similar to Dark Angel’s. In fact, you would have to be a real student of the genre to be able to differentiate these bands from one another. I admit that I am not schooled enough to do so. Like Darkness Descends, Spectrum Of Death is another cult favorite. That is why I thought I would give it a try. Not surprisingly, its appeal is lost on me. I do try to keep an open mind (which is why I continue to listen to these extreme thrash records — hoping I will find something I like) but I guess I am not as open as I purport to be. With close-minded incredulity, I dismiss this album with extreme prejudice!
Morbid Saint was from Wisconsin. Though not known as a heavy metal stronghold, a few Wisconsin bands did get signed in the eighties. Acrophet and Realm were two notables.
Morbid Saint’s Spectrum Of Death was actually originally released by a Mexican label called Avanzada Metálica in 1990. Several bootlegs and official releases have come since. The album consists of rapid-fire drumming (with almost constant snare hits), proto-death vocals, and spastic, random solos. All pretty much staples of this genre. All of it absurd to me, but the glowing reviews over at Encyclopaedia Metallum obviously opine otherwise. Judge for yourself I guess. My score: D
Acid Reign – Moshkinstein (1988)
After logging several hours listening to the two thrash albums presented above , I welcomed Moshkinstein with open arms and open ears. No, it’s not the greatest thrash record around, but it’s much closer to my wheelhouse than the brutality of Darkness Descends and Spectrum Of Death.
The roots of thrash metal lie in British metal from the late seventies and early eighties. Bands such as Motorhead, Venom, and Raven were the forerunners to the first true thrash bands of North America. It has been said that Metallica’s debut Kill ‘Em All (1983) was a marriage of Motorhead and Diamond Head. I agree with that assessment. And so it was that thrash music was birthed in North America — and it really began to thrive in the mid-eighties. Eventually the pendulum swung back to the U.K., and British bands started emulating the American thrash sound. None of the British thrash bands ever saw significant success in the United States market, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any worthwhile British thrash albums to listen to.
Moshkinstein was the debut EP of Acid Reign (released on the Under One Flag label and licensed to Combat Record in the United States). The cover looks like something we could expect from a crossover or hardcore act — what with the shorts and goofy ball cap on display. But Moshkinstein is pretty much a straightforward thrash album in the vein of Anthrax, or some of the crisper Bay Area bands. There are six songs on the short-player, including an instrumental facetiously titled Freedom Of Speech. What I like above Moshkinstein is Acid Reign’s liberal use of mid-pace grooves to illicit a judicious head-bang. The singer ain’t no world-beater, but he’s head and shoulders above the growlers and the screechers on the extreme fringes of the thrash spectrum. Moshkinstein is highlighted by the seven minute track Motherly Love, which is about everyone’s favorite psychopath — Norman Bates! My score: B-
Exodus – Fabulous Disaster (1989)
Now here is a thrash album that I can not only endure, but fully endorse! Exodus bounced back from their rather disappointing sophomore album Pleasures Of The Flesh with their third release Fabulous Disaster. As stated by my favorite heavy metal reviewer, Eduardo Rivadavia (of Allmusic.com), Exodus created “their most diverse and carefully conceived effort yet, while remaining faithful to their no-frills thrash ethic”. The pacing and song sequence on this album is on-point, as Exodus expanded and contracted in all the right places to create a well-balanced album. Steve “Zetro” Souza seems to have settled nicely into his role as lead vocalist on this, his second record with the band. He and his band-mates’ output on Fabulous Disaster reminds me a lot of Overkill — a major compliment in my book! The attitude is definitely there, and the songwriting has been elevated to a higher level. Check out the nasty lead riff on Verbal Razors. An additional highlight is Toxic Waltz — an ode to the mosh pit that has become one of Exodus’ most revered songs.
Exodus included two covers on Fabulous Disaster — War’s Low Rider and AC/DC’s Overdose (available as a CD bonus track). Somehow and someway Exodus managed to make their version of Low Rider more than just a silly novelty. It actually flows well with the rest of the album. The choice of AC/DC’s Overdose is a very good one (coming from the oft-overlooked Powerage album). These two covers help tie together a strong and interesting batch of tunes. My score: B+
Hexx – No Escape (1984)
The Bay Area metal band Paradox changed their name over to Hexx before releasing the album No Escape in 1984. It would be the first of a handful of releases from a band that started out as U.S. power metal and ended up as death metal by the time they called it a day in the early nineties. Hexx’s run was not particularly storybook, as their albums never really sold well, but the mere fact that the band persevered long enough to release three full-length LPs and a couple of EPs is reason enough to tip the ol’ cap. Hexx also endured many line-up changes on their rocky road through the heavy metal wastelands.
No Escape was released on Shrapnel Records. Typical of a low-budget Shrapnel affair, the audio quality of No Escape leaves much to be desired. The ramshackle recording puts Hexx’s power metal stylings on wobbly legs — and it doesn’t help that the band wasn’t particularly tight to begin with. Nevertheless, there’s a certain charm to Hexx’s pure metal stance, and an underdog appeal starts to shine through towards the end of No Escape thanks to tracks like Live For The Night and Fear No Evil. My score: C+
Hexx – Under The Spell (1986)
Hexx came back in 1986 with album number two. Titled Under The Spell, this sophomore effort was released by the same label as their first album, Shrapnel Records. This record was a little heavier than the debut, and featured a new singer named Dan Bryant. While technically sound, Bryant’s vocals were a bit overdone — inching dangerously close to self-parody at times. The songwriting did not improve to any significant degree with respect to the ’84 debut. In fact, I actually prefer No Escape to Under The Spell simply because it feels a little less forced.
In 2016 Metal Blade re-released Under The Spell as part of a deluxe box set marking the 30th anniversary of its original release. The box set also included No Escape and a bunch of other goodies, including a DVD of live performances and extensive liner notes. It seems that Metal Blade finagled the rights to both Under The Spell and No Escape from Shrapnel Records in order to make this box set happen. I’m not sure why Hexx was given such lavish treatment — seeing as how they never really broke through in the eighties. But if there are any Hexx super fans out there, I guess you can rejoice. My score: C