Electric Angels – “Electric Angels” (1990)

Electric AngelsMy older brother has a massive CD collection.  He proudly displays the collection on a large area of shelving taking up an entire wall of his den.  I would say he’s got maybe 400 or so CDs on the shelves (alphabetized, of course).  The thing is, he has about twice as many CDs tucked away somewhere out of sight — CDs that haven’t made “the wall”.  There’s only so much space on the wall you see.  So when he gets a new CD that is “wall-worthy”, that means an another CD gets bumped/downgraded to storage in a closet somewhere.  Every time I go over his place I check out the wall.  As the years go by, I’ve noticed that certain CDs disappear as new ones arrive.  Only the best make the wall and it gets harder and harder to maintain a slot as his CD collection grows.  I’ve noticed over the years that Electric Angels hasn’t moved.  There it is sitting steadfast in the “E” section year after year.  It’s strange, because Electric Angels isn’t exactly considered a famous release.  My brother is not nearly the hair band fanatic I am.  He has a much broader musical palate.  That’s why I became somewhat curious as to why this lightly regarded CD has stubbornly resisted extradition.  Though I had never heard Electric Angels, I’ve always had the intention of listening to the album — eventually.  The thing is, I’ve got a lot more albums that I have been waiting to review.  Electric Angels has always been in the queue (as are all eighties hard rock/metal albums), but just not on the immediate short list.  Anyway, this Christmas my brother put his “wish list” on Amazon as he does each year at my behest.  (I don’t like being creative with my gift giving.  Tell me what you want and I’ll get it.)  Lo and behold, there’s f*cking Electric Angels on the list!  This being the Rock Candy Records “Remastered & Reloaded” collector’s edition.  Not only is Electric Angels on the wall, but now he wants a second copy?  Needless to say, when I bought my brother the CD as a gift, I added another one for myself!  Electric Angels had officially jumped the queue!

A few months later…

Based on the album cover and year of release, I was expecting something sleazy and raunchy.  At best I was thinking of something along the lines of Guns N’ Roses (based mostly on the hats they’re wearing).  At worst — Faster Pussycat.  But Electric Angels isn’t all that sleazy.  This is actually well-behaved rock with surprisingly vanilla vocals from some guy named just “Shane”.  (Interesting side note: there was another band that came out around the same time called Law And Order who also had a singer called simply “Shane”.  Different guy though.)  The production by Tom Visconti is clean and crisp which has allowed Electric Angels to withstand the test of time quite well, though I think it was a bit too polite (especially the backing vocals).  I feel like Visconti and the band failed to capture a lot of energy on the recording.  It’s a little too much “angel” and not enough “electric” if you know what I mean.  I equate this album to something akin to a sober Hanoi Rocks.  Electric Angels is a solid rock n’ roll record with some decent sing-a-long hooks — but it’s not the “sleaze rock classic” that the sticker on the Rock Candy collector’s edition claims.  If you want a lost sleaze “classic” I would try Junkyard’s Junkyard or Dirty Looks’ Turn Of The Screw.

At the end of the day is Electric Angels really “wall-worthy”?  I don’t know, that really depends on the size of your wall.  My score: B

Frehley’s Comet – “Second Sighting” (1988)

Frehley's CometI think we can all agree (with the benefit of hindsight) that Ace Frehley was (and is) the coolest and most lovable of the original KISS members.  The way he seems to cluelessly fumble through life and yet somehow land on his feet makes him an endearing character and someone you want to root for.  He famously never took a guitar lesson (and can’t read music) yet still became one of the most beloved guitarists of the seventies.  He also can’t sing worth a damn but he’s pulled off some real gems like New York Groove and Rock Soldiers with his signature laid-back vocal style.

After leaving KISS, Ace disappeared for a few years before returning with 1987’s Frehley’s Comet — an excellent album.  The not-so-secret weapon on Frehley’s Comet was Tod Howarth.  Even though I hate the fact that he spells his first name with only one “d”, Howarth’s contributions to the band really helped make the record a well-rounded platter.  Howarth wrote some songs, sang about half the tunes, and also played guitar and keyboards on Frehley’s Comet.  He was the ying to Ace’s yang.

After the stop-gap live EP called Live + 1, Frehley’s Comet returned in 1988 with the proper follow-up to their 1987 debut.  Second Sighting was said to be a rushed effort and one the band wasn’t entirely happy with.  Again, Frehley and Howarth split singing and song-writing duties.  Their writing styles were very different.  It seemed to work well on the first album but not so much on Second Sighting for some reason.  Perhaps if the two had collaborated more instead of writing separately the album would have been a little stronger?  Nevertheless, the album has its moments.  Lead track Insane is probably the most fleshed-out of the Ace contributions — it has a great lead riff and a decent hook.  But my absolute favorite song on the album is actually Separate.  This is another Ace song that seems like it was written in about nine minutes, yet it just sticks in my brain.  I love the simple (but effective) palm-muted verse riff as well as the neanderthal drum beat.  The chorus is memorable, too — even though the lyrics are half-assed.  Second Sighting ends with a tune called The Acorn Is Spinning.  This is mostly an instrumental but has some spoken word sections (about a boxer taking a dive in a prize-fight).  What I love about the spoken word parts is Ace’s thick New York accent!  You can take the kid out of The Bronx but you can’t take The Bronx out of the kid!  My score: B

Album Reviews (Apr 29, 2016)

More reviews…

Don Dokken – Up From The Ashes (1990)

The relationship between the members of the band Dokken was notoriously dysfunctional.  Lead singer Don Dokken and guitarist George Lynch were always at odds, but the push and pull between the two egos seemed to work from a creative standpoint.  Dokken delivered three platinum and one gold album during their original run — which ended in 1989.  After the inevitable break up, it was only a matter of time before Don and George each formed their own new band.  In 1990, Don Dokken’s solo band went head to head with George Lynch’s band Lynch Mob (which also included Dokken drummer Mick Brown).  Don Dokken released Up From The Ashes and Lynch Mob released Wicked Sensation.  You’ve got to believe these two guys wanted to prove to themselves, each other, and the world who was the real genius behind Dokken — at least in their minds.  So who won?  Well it depends on who you ask.  I personally give the nod to Lynch Mob.

Don Dokken assembled a formidable lineup up of established pros for Up From The Ashes,  the most noteworthy of which was ex-Europe guitarist John Norum.  Despite the new faces, Up From The Ashes sounds very much like another Dokken record.  Don was obviously content with sticking with the Dokken formula.  Up From The Ashes is more of the same commercially viable melodramatic rock with strong guitar work, except this time its Norum delivering the solos and not Lynch.

Up From The Ashes could actually be called Dokken-lite due the high percentage of ballads and quasi-ballads on tap.  I guess it shows the direction Don wanted to take with Dokken if Lynch hadn’t been there to challenge him.  In truth, I find Up From The Ashes just a bit uninspired — only because it plays it so safe.  By staying within his comfort zone, Don Dokken appeased his fading fan base but did little to attract new fans or bring back the Dokken fans that had moved on.  My score: B-

Attacker – The Second Coming (1988)

Screaming for vengeance from America’s armpit, New Jersey’s Attacker returned in 1988 with their follow-up to 1985’s Battle At Helms DeepThe Second Coming appeared on Mercenary Records.  This was a much different album from the epic-style power metal of the debut.  This time around Attacker came out with a brand of speed metal that called to mind the likes of Agent Steel and Savage Grace (circa 1984’s Master Of Disguise).  The lead vocalist for Battle At Helms Deep (Bob Mitchell) was out and new vocalist John Leone was in.  In my opinion Leone was a much better singer than the shrill and screechy Mitchell.  Leone’s vocals were like a cross between Rob Halford and David Wayne (Metal Church).  The album is relatively short with just eight tunes (one of which is a short instrumental).  Bassist Lou Ciarlo wrote all the songs.  There’s very little in the way of variety here from song to song, but this new and refurbished Attacker delivered a straight shot of metal up your ass.  When all is said and done, The Second Coming isn’t nearly as original as Battle At Helms Deep, but it does have the better vocals which (almost) evens the scale.  Fave cut: The Madness.  My score: B-

Forced Entry – Uncertain Future (1989)

Uncertain Future was released on Combat Records in 1989.  It was the first full-length album for this Seattle thrash band.  It seems that Forced Entry’s main purpose in life was to pack as many tempo changes into their songs as humanly possible.  This makes the album a somewhat jarring and difficult listen for the average fan (like myself).  If you’re really into the technical aspects of thrash (perhaps a musician yourself) then you may better appreciate Forced Entry’s style.  But if you are simply a fan of “song” then you may have a hard time with Uncertain Future.  This is some harsh stuff.  My score: C

Samhain – Unholy Passion (1985)

This five-song EP arrived in 1985 on Plan 9 Records.  Though the rather titillating cover was a step up from the first record (1984’s Initium), there’s little else here that could be considered progress with respect to the debut.  Glenn Danzig continued to explore his rather odd Samhain vision — one lost somewhere in the netherworld between punk and heavy metal.  Samhain was a band unsure whether to continue with the gimmickry of Misfits or try to be taken seriously as something more real world scary.  While its true that Samhain sounded like none other, I’m not so sure that any band would (or should) want to.  My score: C+

Frehley’s Comet – Live + 1 (1988)

Ace Frehley’s first album after leaving KISS was called Frehley’s Comet (1987) — and a damn fine album it was!  In 1988, Ace followed up with the five-track EP Live + 1 (with Frehley’s Comet now as the band’s official name).  Contents include two live cuts taken from the Frehley’s Comet album — Breakout and Something Moved (both voiced by Tod Howarth).  The version of Breakout is extended thanks to a superfluous drum solo from Anton Fig.  (Get the skip button ready for that one.)  Two more live cuts were from Ace’s KISS days — Rip It Out and Rocket Ride, the latter of which Ace introduces by telling the crowd its a song about “entering a black hole”.  A not-so-clever double entendre there.  The EP ends with a new studio track called Words Are Not Enough.  This is an upbeat and catchy rocker.  They threw some keyboards in there, too — just in case you needed a reminder it was 1988.  My score: B-

Vengeance Rising – Human Sacrifice (1988)

I was online one day researching an album for one of my reviews when I came across Heaven’s Metal Magazine’s “Top 100 Christian Metal Albums Of All Time List”.  The number one album on the list was Vengeance Rising’s Human Sacrifice (released in 1988 by Intense Records).  It just so happens that I own this album.  I obtained a copy of Human Sacrifice on cassette when I bought someone’s entire metal collection on eBay.  I had never gotten around to listening to it, but when I saw the aforementioned list above my interest was piqued.  Though I am by no means an aficionado of Christian metal, I now knew I wanted to hear the so-called “most radical Christian album ever released” for myself.

When Human Sacrifice was first released the band was simply called Vengeance, but threats of litigation by the Dutch band Vengeance resulted in the name change to Vengeance Rising.  My cassette copy of Human Sacrifice is a 1989 issue by Medusa Records that has the name Vengeance Rising on it.

I guess Human Sacrifice made quite a stir in the Christian metal community when it dropped in 1988.  First of all, this is an “extreme” Christian metal album.  Evidently it is one of the first of its kind.  Vengeance Rising was not another Stryper gayly soaring towards the heavens on wings of cheese.  Nay, Vengeance Rising was “brutal” thrash/death metal — each song as prickly as a thorn in the Nazarene’s crown.  But it really doesn’t matter because the vocals of Roger Martinez can’t possibly be taken seriously.  His deranged voice is some sort of proto-death/black metal hybrid that sounds like a possessed Grover from Sesame Street.  I know AC/DC’s Brian Johnson once sang that “rock ‘n roll ain’t noise pollution”, but I bet even ol’ Brain would change his mind if he heard Martinez take to the microphone like a rabid jackyl hopped up on Jesus juice and seemingly on the verge of a full brain embolism.

Turns out this Martinez guy later turned his back on Christianity and even became a Satanist (according to the band’s Wikipedia page).  Talk about a shit show!  My score: D

Blonz – Blonz (1990)

Another in a long parade of hair band clones that arrived at the turn of the decade, the band Blonz delivered just one album before disappearing into the ether.  The self-titled album came out on Epic Records (part of the CBS Records mega-label that was dispensing hair metal like Pez directly to the cavity-ridden mouths of a sweet-toothed America).  Blonz (all dudes by the way, in case you were wondering) hailed from Georgia.  Blonz’s southern roots can be heard coming through on the song It’s The Same.  Unfortunately, this is really the only song that is infused with southern flavor.  I wish Blonz had explored this sound a bit more.  It may have better separated them from the pack.  The two tracks that start the album (Miracles and Hands Of Love) are catchy tunes with nice hooks.  Both remind me of Bon Jovi.  In fact, singer Nathan Utz’s voice was like a cross between Jon Bon Jovi and Jeff Keith (Tesla).  As with all hair band albums, a power ballad is a necessity.  Blonz delivers not one but two ballads with What’s On Your Mind (forgettable) and Rainbow (decent).  My score: B-

No Shame – Good Girls Don’t Last  (1989)

No Shame was an all-female quartet that released just one album called Good Girls Don’t Last on Columbia Records in 1989.  It’s a fairly average collection of glam rock with a couple of pretty good tunes.  Cheater and Good Girls Don’t Last are my personal faves.  No Shame were unapologetically glam, but not so over-polished that they lacked a definitive edge.  Singer Jacqui Lynn helped define the band’s tough-but-sexy style with her spirited performance.  She was a little grating on the high notes and not exactly the smoothest operator on the microphone — as she vamped it up too much — but one can’t deny her passion.  But unfortunately at the end of the day, No Shame didn’t have the hits to make enough people take notice.  It may be true that good girls don’t last but these girls didn’t last either.  My score: C+

Cry Wolf – “Crunch” (1990)

Cry WolfIn 1990 the mainstream music world had become over-saturated with glam hard rock.  All the labels were flush with hair bands.  As a result, a lot of very talented bands went unnoticed because there was only so much room at the top.  Eventually the whole bubble burst in the early nineties and even the platinum sellers were dropped by their labels.  Almost overnight, an entire genre was gone from the airwaves.  Ultimately, all but a relative few of the hair bands were forgotten.

Cry Wolf was one of many quality hair bands that didn’t get a real chance to shine.  In 1990 Cry Wolf’s Crunch was released by Grand Slamm/I.R.S. Records.  Much of the album was comprised of songs previously heard on their 1989 Japan-only release Cry Wolf.  The Crunch album was their American debut.  Like many of rock’s great bands, Cry Wolf was bolstered by a top-notch singer/guitarist duo.  Singer Timmy Hall had a great voice and charisma that translated well to tape.  Guitarist Steve McKnight was another in a long list of expert axe-men vying for attention in a crowded market.  McKnight was a tasteful player who could unfurl a melodic solo with the best of ’em.  I like his guitar tone on the rhythm tracks — it has a little bit of fuzz but a real sharp bite, too.  A fine example of the dynamic duo of Hall and McKnight at their best can be heard on a gem called Pretender — the video single from the album and my personal fave of the lot.  Other highlights include Face Down In The Wishing Well, West Wind Blows, and one of the new songs exclusive to the American debut, Road To Ruin.  My score: A-

Cold Sweat – “Break Out” (1990)

Cold SweatThe story of Cold Sweat is similar to a couple of other bands — Badlands and Lynch Mob.  In all cases, a veteran guitarist from a well-established act ventured out on his own, partnered with a relatively unknown singer, and made a strong hair metal album.  Jake E. Lee (ex-Ozzy Osbourne) formed Badlands, George Lynch (ex-Dokken) formed Lynch Mob, and Marc Ferrari (ex-Keel) formed Cold Sweat.  Of the three, the band you probably haven’t heard of is Cold Sweat.  That might be because Cold Sweat’s one and only album Break Out was released by MCA Records — the label where hard rock bands went to die.  MCA signed some really talented bands during the hair band heyday, but unfortunately their promotional department couldn’t sell them to the buying public.

Marc Ferrari found himself a great singer by the name of Rory Cathey to make this very solid and very professional bluesy hair metal record.  The band sounds great.  Certainly, there’s no denying the talent present here.  The one partial complaint I have is that Break Out is very much a by-the-numbers album for its time.  That’s not a complete knock because I think that the so-called “hair” genre was a good formula.  I’ll take a by-the-numbers album any day because I’m a junkie for the stuff.  But what Break Out is missing are those two or three standout songs that transcend above and beyond the realm of the “very good”.  Both Badlands and Lynch Mob had some really killer songs on their respective debuts — the kind of songs that keep me coming back to those albums time and again.  Break Out falls a little short in that regard.  My score: B

Brocas Helm – “Black Death” (1988)

Brocas HelmThis is as underground as it gets!  The very strange Brocas Helm album comes to us by way of San Francisco.  Black Death was a low-budget demo that ended up getting a proper release in 1988 (Gargoyle Records).  Black Death opens with the title track — an ode to the bubonic plague.  This is by far the best song on the album.  Here we are introduced to Brocas Helm’s unique style — a not-too-serious take on medieval sounding metal with an almost psychedelic weirdness.  After track one, Black Death devolves fairly quickly — hampered by various obtrusive sound effects and a garbage mix that often makes the vocals inaudible (witness Satan’s Prophets).  This album sounds like it was recorded in rush hour traffic.  With some of the lyrics and the singer’s faux English accent, you get the feeling that Brocas Helm were partially joking with this Black Death collection.  It’s definitely a head trip.  Whether you find it to be a good trip or a bad trip may very well depend on the drugs you’re taking.  My score: C

Death Angel – “Frolic Through The Park” (1988)

Death AngelThe second Death Angel was not the same rabid thrash attack as their 1987 debut The Ultra-Violence.  Rather than return to the mosh madness of their first record, the young Bay Area band (all of whom were related) chose a more measured approach.  While The Ultra-Violence has its place, I personally prefer the more consistent and far-reaching Frolic Through The Park.  Improvements come on multiple fronts with this album.  This includes (slightly) better production, more melody, and catchier songs.  I also think vocalist Mark Osegueda made noticeable strides as a singer.  I’m not saying that his performance was perfect, but his clean singing voice was still well above the average by thrash standards.  While The Ultra-Violence started off strong on side one but slipped on side two, Frolic Through The Park picks up steam on its second half.  This includes one of best Death Angel songs in Open Up as well as the potent Shores Of Sin.  There’s even a pretty cool cover of the KISS classic Cold Gin.  Another fave is the slower, grinding Confused.  My score: B

Blind Illusion – “The Sane Asylum” (1988)

Blind IllusionEven though The Sane Asylum included performances by future Primus members Les Claypool (bass) and Larry LaLonde (guitar), the true driving force behind the band Blind Illusion was Marc Biedermann.  Marc wrote the songs, performed the vocals, and shared lead guitar duties with LaLonde.

The Sane Asylum was released in 1988 on Combat Records.  Often described as thrash, I find The Sane Asylum to be more of a progressive metal record with some thrash elements.  There are a lot of moving parts here, and Blind Illusion keeps things well-lubricated throughout.  The tunes are very unconventional.  The closest we get to a standard “song” (in terms of structure) would be Smash The Crystal.  The highlights of the album usually come by way of Biedermann and LaLonde’s stirring lead guitar work as well as the inclusion of some interesting melodic passages.  Despite the band’s obvious chops, The Sane Asylum is let down by the underdeveloped vocals.  As is often the case on certain thrash albums of the eighties, the vocals seem to be nothing more than an afterthought — which is unfortunate.  Biedermann had a limited range and his lyrics were ill-fitting.  The dark, quasi-Satanic lyrics seem almost immature in comparison to the cerebral compositions lying beneath.  My score: C+

Samhain – “Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire” (1986)

Samhain IIIMore howls from the depths of oblivion from Mr. Danzig.  Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire was to be the last Samhain album before Glenn signed with Rick Rubin’s Def American label and launched the band Danzig (with Rubin producing) for a self-titled album in 1988.  Indeed, Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire inches closer to what would become the Danzig sound.  Glenn wrote some of his best Samhain material on this final album, though the execution was somewhat lacking.  The band sounds a bit sloppy and the production leaves something to be desired.  I can’t help but be distracted by the slap-dash backing vocals.  I wonder what quality tunes like Mother Of Mercy, Novembers Fire, and even Halloween II (previously recorded by Misfits) would have sounded like if they had been performed by the original Danzig band with Rubin producing.  John Christ’s guitar playing and Chuck Biscuit’s drumming would have been most welcome here, though I don’t think anybody could have rescued Human Pony Girl from the shitter.  My score: B-

Anthrax – “Persistence Of Time” (1990)

AnthraxOf all the Anthrax albums from the “classic” Belladonna years, I have always found Persistence Of Time to be the hardest one to get in to.  Had all the riffs there were to riff already been riffed?  That tongue-twisting question was a fair one to ask of Anthrax, who were now five albums into their career.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they answered with a definitive “no” on Persistence Of Time.  At first, I didn’t like this album at all.  I felt I had been here before, and Anthrax were not offering up anything new.  But I have warmed up to Persistence Of Time a little over the years.  (The persistence of time indeed!)  But still, I feel this album is a lot to digest.  At times, Persistence Of Time is almost suffocating.  It is by far the most serious and weighty album of the classic Anthrax era.  One of my prime issues with Persistence Of Time is song length.  For example, the first three songs on the album are all about seven minutes in duration.  Time, Blood, and Keep It In The Family are all quality cuts, but they wear themselves out with their excessive length.  By contrast, my favorite moment of the album is the sub-three minute Got The Time (a Joe Jackson cover).  This tune is concise, catchy, and actually breathes a little.  It injects a bit of levity into an otherwise overly-serious Anthrax album.  More cuts like Got The Time would have been a nice way to keep the walls from completely closing in on Persistence Of Time.  My score: B