The Rods – “Wild Dogs” (1982)

The RodsWhile the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal had helped introduce tons of fresh faces to the U.K. metal scene in the early eighties, the metal landscape in the U.S. was, by comparison, a barren wasteland.  Sure, bands like Van Halen, Y&T, and Riot were making heavy albums, but these bands had been around since the seventies.  New American bands weren’t making much of an impact in those lean early eighties years.

The Rods didn’t exactly fill that void.  Sure, they existed.  But The Rods’ sound was pretty pre-historic when compared to some of the more adventurous British metal bands on the other side of the pond.  Nevertheless, Arista Records signed this trio of greasy sweat hogs to a record deal.  With booze on their breath and coke in their noses, The Rods kept the volume high but the bar pretty low when it came to songwriting.  When they weren’t doling out tired clichés, they were creating new ones (it was only ’82 after all).  Wild Dogs hasn’t exactly withstood the test of time, but it has its moments — dumb as they may be.  My score: C+

Victory – Discography (1985-1989)

Have you ever wondered whether the first five Victory albums are any good?  The answer to that question is most assuredly “no”.  Nevertheless, I’ve reviewed them.  You’ve already read this far.  Why not continue?

Victory – Victory (1985)

“Don’t count on me.  You got to do it on your own.”

Victory were a German band with an American, Charlie Huhn (ex-Ted Nugent), on vocals.  Their self-titled debut arrived in 1985 on CBS Records.  If you want to start a collection of Victory albums, this probably isn’t the best place to start.  Coming off as not much more than a sweaty bar band short on riffs, Victory were like a mid-level cross between Helix and Krokus.  Charlie Huhn’s oversold vocals distract and detract — what with all the hollerin’ and screamin’.  Ol’ Charlie would improve on subsequent Victory albums.  One reason for the rather ordinary offering here is that guitarist Herman Frank had yet to join the band.  He would arrive for album two — giving Victory a much needed shot in the arse.  My score: C+

Victory – Don’t Get Mad… Get Even (1986)

“The ashtray’s full and the bed’s unmade.  My room looks like a terrorist raid.”

With their second album Don’t Get Mad… Get Even (Metronome Musik), Victory raised the stakes a notch — gearing their generic form of party metal towards American ears. Victory had a pretty simple game plan — maximize their hooks to get played on American radio.  Dreams of arena-level stardom were no doubt dancing in their noggins.  There is some decent guitar work on Don’t Get Mad… Get Even, calling to mind the fine German engineering of Accept.  In fact, guitarist Herman Frank was once a member of Accept.  That might explain that bit of guitar nastiness that opens Running Wild.  All in all, Don’t Get Mad… Get Even is mildly catchy, though rife with cliché.  Song titles include Arsonist Of The Heart and Seven Days Without You Makes One Weak.  Not exactly Bill Shakespeare.  But hey, I caught myself singing the chorus to Arsonist Of The Heart out loud the other day, so I guess the joke’s on me!  Though Don’t Get Mad… Get Even is not exactly a classic, it is an improvement over Victory’s 1985 self-titled debut.  Tracks like Not Me certainly had my toes-a-tapping.  Check’s In The Mail is another decent cut.

Don’t Get Mad… Get Even was released in the U.S. by Mercenary Records in 1987.  Victory enjoyed a small amount of American radio exposure during the eighties.  They were one of the few German bands not named Scorpions to do so.  Having an American singer no doubt helped their cause.  Americans never really had much tolerance for foreign accents or “English as a second language” lyrics (which actually makes Scorpions’ massive U.S. success all the more impressive).  My score: B-

Victory – Hungry Hearts (1987)

“When you look in my eyes, dollar signs are all you see.”

Album number three for Victory.  Hungry Hearts was released by Metronome Musik in Germany and Rampage Records in the States.  The lineup from Don’t Get Mad… Get Even was still intact as Victory continued to steadily improve with each record.  Hungry Hearts is a little more polished, a little more catchy, and a little more in step with the L.A. “hair” metal sound that was wildly popular at the time.  At this point in their career Victory was pretty much a full-fledged hair band in terms of their sound — though we very rarely think of German bands as being hair bands.  (Bonfire is another example.)  Though never spectacular, Hungry Hearts is a very consistent, solid album.  Extra points awarded for the guy on the far right of the cover photo.  Leather duster with no shirt underneath.  Timeless elegance.  My score: B  

 Victory – That’s Live (1988)

“If promises were dollars I’d be a millionaire.”

Recorded in Hamburg, That’s Live features selections from each of Victory’s first three studio albums.  I’m not sure the world really needed a live album from Victory, but whatevs.  I have to say the band sounds very good here.  In fact, maybe too good.  I wonder how much of this album is truly live?  One never knows, as it is very common for live albums to be doctored in the studio.  The backing vocals, in particular, raise my suspicions.  They sound almost studio quality.  So either That’s Live is an album showing flawless live execution or its a complete sham.  The liner notes say the album is “absolutely live” so I think I’ll give Victory the benefit of the doubt on this one.  Nevertheless, what you get with That’s Live is a quality recording of nine Victory tracks.  I have no complaints about the set list because at this point in their career Victory didn’t have any mind-blowing songs in their catalog, nor did they have any total stinkers.  They could have picked pretty much any nine songs from their first three albums and wound up with similar results.  Note: That’s Live was the final Victory album with Charlie Huhn on vocals.  My score: B-

 Victory – Culture Killed The Native (1989)

“The four horsemen are riding.  It’s too late for regrets.” 

Victory climbed to a new level with 1989’s Culture Killed The Native.  With a new vocalist in tow (Fernando “el toro loco” Garcia), Victory went to combat with America’s hair band best with melodic tunes like Standing On The Edge and More And More.  The obligatory power ballad Lost In The Night also hits its mark.  But Culture Killed The Native also features some heavier, more metallic numbers like Power Strikes The Earth and The Warning.  This record comes as a bit of a surprise to me because it is so much better than any of Victory’s previous efforts.  It was their heaviest to date, but also their most catchy!  Other highlights include Always The Same and On The Loose.  Any fan of eighties-style metal with great guitar work, strong vocals, and big ass hooks would do well to track down this forgotten nugget!  My score: A-

————————————————————————————-

Well there ya go.  The first five Victory albums.  I’ve yet to get my hands on a copy of Victory’s 1990 album Temples Of Gold.  When I do, I’ll add it to this post.

Reverend – “World Won’t Miss You” (1990)

ReverendI love the title to this album!  World Won’t Miss You (Caroline Records) was the first full-length LP by Reverend — a band fronted by ex-Metal Church vocalist David Wayne.  The LP came on the heels of Reverend’s 1989 self-titled debut EP.  That four song Reverend EP hit me like a sledgehammer to the nut sack.  It was a crushing debut and is one of my favorite EPs of all time!  With World Won’t Miss You, Reverend would attempt to maintain the same level of awesomeness over the course of a full-length LP.

World Won’t Miss You contains eleven songs.  Most of the album is ornery and schizophrenic thrash.  As before, “Reverend” Wayne screeches a sour, venomous gospel from high on his wretched pulpit.  Indeed, Reverend were a like a fiery tank rolling through a field of bodies, leaving nothing but scorched earth in their wake.  Only the acoustic Leader Of Fools provides a respite from the bruising assault.  Admittedly, there are a few songs that fail to catch my ear.  For example, the aforementioned Leader Of Fools never really gets off the ground, and Scattered Wits and Desperate are just a bit too frenzied for my liking.  Nevertheless, tunes like World Won’t Miss You and Rude Awakening are massive onslaughts of sonic fury — each fortified by the pulverizing riffs of Brian Korban and Stuart Fuji.  Reverend also cover Black Sabbath’s Hand Of Doom, which gives drummer Rick Basha the opportunity to blow his percussive load in tribute to Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward.

World Won’t Miss You was re-released on CD in 2014 by Divebomb Records.  It’s a nice package with informative liner notes and, most importantly, includes the four songs from the Reverend EP as bonus tracks!  An essential release indeed!  The Divebomb re-issue is dedicated to the late great David Wayne.  R.I.P David, the world WILL miss you.  My score: B+

Omen – “Escape To Nowhere” (1988)

OmenHaving already heard Omen’s first three full-length albums and finding myself fairly unimpressed, I was never in a hurry to dive into their fourth album Escape To Nowhere (Metal Blade Records).  But when I found out that Escape To Nowhere featured two key changes for Omen, I was a bit titillated.  The first change was a switch in vocalists from J.D. Kimball to Coburn Pharr.  I am a fan of Coburn Pharr’s work with Annihilator on the great Never, Neverland album (1990) and also his hilariously out-of-tune performance on Prisoner’s Rip It Up (1986).  The second change was the addition of producer/collaborator Paul O’Neill to the equation.  I really like the stuff O’Neill did with Savatage on great albums like Hall Of The Mountain King (1987) and Streets: A Rock Opera (1991).  Of course O’Neill is best known for being the mastermind behind the uber-successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Needless to say, I was excited to hear what Pharr and O’Neill could do for Omen, so I finally gave Escape To Nowhere a try…

Unfortunately, I came away from the Escape To Nowhere experience greatly underwhelmed.  The chemistry that Paul O’Neill had with Savatage was clearly not present with Omen.  In fact, O’Neill is pretty much a non-factor here.  His production is skeletal and weak, and his collaborations (he co-writes a few songs) are disappointments.  Coburn Pharr also fails to deliver on Escape To Nowhere.  His voice sounds strained and his vocals lack melody.  The songs themselves are lethargic — most of them are just too damn slow!  While it’s clear Omen were trying for something a bit different here, it’s unclear what the hell it was.  In fact, there isn’t anything resembling a hook on this entire album save for Radar Love — but that’s a Golden Earring cover so it doesn’t even count.  Overall, it’s hard to call Escape To Nowhere anything but a complete misfire by Omen.  My score: C-

Stryper – “Against The Law” (1990)

StryperChristian glamsters Stryper reached their commercial peak with 1986’s platinum selling To Hell With The Devil album.  But their follow-up In God We Trust (1988) saw sales dip as their lameness reached critical mass.  The album was as flaccid as an old man’s penis, and Stryper needed a reboot STAT.  Against The Law arrived in 1990 with a new Stryper logo and an updated Stryper sound.  They heavily tweaked their image, too — dropping the bumble bee outfits and downplaying their Christianity.  In fact, Stryper didn’t even thank God in the liner notes!  Blasphemers!!!  This new (and improved?) Stryper confused some of their hard-line Christian fans.  In the end, Against The Law failed to stop the trajectory of Stryper’s falling star, but I actually think it’s their best album.  (Granted, I haven’t heard any of the stuff that came out after Against The Law.)

Stryper had chops.  We always knew they did, it was just a matter of whether or not they chose to use ’em.  With Against The Law it seems Stryper really took the time to write better riffs, licks, and solos.  On this album they finally let the world know what they were capable of musically.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the most original album out there.  In fact, Against The Law is actually sort of a copy of what was popular at the time, but Stryper did a nice job of pulling it all together.  This is a bluesier and funkier Stryper.  Again, pretty derivative of other bands (think Extreme, for example) but still very well played.  The best thing about Against The Law is that it isn’t nearly as flowery as previous Stryper bouquets.  Thankfully, Michael Sweet sounds a lot less like a dandy.  Past Stryper ballads were so syrupy they made my stomach churn, but on Against The Law they’re actually palatable.  And when Stryper decided to rock (which they did more so than ever before) they actually ROCKED!  Unfortunately, Against The Law came a couple of years too late for Stryper.  Lots of folks had already moved on.  My score: B+

Judas Priest – “Painkiller” (1990)

Judas PriestBy the time 1990 rolled around, it had been a full decade since Judas Priest had delivered a consistently great album.  In my opinion, Judas Priest had been chasing their tail ever since the surprise commercial success of British Steel (1980).  The album produced two unexpected hits in Living After Midnight and Breaking The Law.  It was then, I believe, that Priest got a taste for commercial success.  That sweet taste poisoned them into seeking out more of the same.  1981’s Point Of Entry was pretty much a full album of Priest trying to re-create Living After Midnight and Breaking The Law  with over-simplistic, watered down, metal-lite.  Point Of Entry received a lukewarm response from fans, so Priest tried to split the difference on Screaming For Vengeance (1982) and Defenders Of The Faith (1984).  These two albums were a mixed bag because Judas Priest made the mistake of trying to please everyone at once.  They tried to appease their hardcore fan base with a handful of heavy metal screamers while also making a concerted effort to reel in casual fans with commercial, dull crap.  All the while, their producer, Tom Allom, was crippling them with some of the stiffest, lifeless production you could never want on a metal album.  Additionally, Dave Holland’s relatively simplistic drumming remained a point of contention among fans.  Whether by design or by virtue of Holland’s particular style, Priest were falling behind in the drumming department compared to the wave of newer, faster and louder metal bands rising from the underground.

After sharting out two lousy albums (Turbo in ’86 and Ram It Down in ’88) Judas Priest found themselves at a creative crossroads at the end of the eighties.  That’s when Lady Luck intervened.  Drummer Dave Holland left the band and long-time producer Tom Allom was unavailable when it came time to record the follow-up to Ram It Down.  This predicament turned out to be a blessing for hardcore Priest fans.  For 1990’s Painkiller, Judas Priest would have a new drummer (Racer X vet Scott Travis) and a new producer (Chris Tsangarides).  Two of the band’s three biggest weaknesses had been addressed.  The third, Rob Halford’s awful lyrics, would remain.  But as Meatloaf once said — two out of three ain’t bad!

In my opinion, Judas Priest’s return to high-octane heavy metal on Painkiller came from a place of equal parts inspiration and desperation.  The inspiration came from Scott Travis’ ability to play anything the band desired using his double-bass kit.  This allowed Priest to write faster, more technical metal numbers.  But let’s not give Priest too much credit.  They were a very calculating band.  They saw that thrash metal had become very popular.  Fans wanted faster, louder, and more powerful metal in their ears.  Ever desperate to please, Priest knew full well they had to change or die.  They were dinosaurs on the brink of extinction.

Unfortunately for Judas Priest, Painkiller didn’t exactly resurrect them from their commercial decline.  (The album reached gold status in 1991.)  And after their tour in support of the album Rob Halford parted company with the band.  But over time, something interesting happened.  The Painkiller album became one of the most revered albums in the Judas Priest catalog, some calling it their best ever.  The album is now considered a bona fide classic among many a heavy metal aficionado.

My opinion of Painkiller is a positive one, though I do not believe it deserves to be considered a classic.  I think Priest fans wanted so badly for their favorite band to be relevant again that they gave Judas Priest too much credit for Painkiller.  Better stuff was out there in 1990.  That said, I welcome the clean production by Chris Tsangarides as well as the inclusion of some of Priest’s best songs in Between The Hammer & The Anvil and One Shot At Glory.  The guitar duo of Tipton and Downing stepped up to the plate and showed off their finest chops.  Scott Travis’ annihilation of the drum kit further hammered home the prevailing opinion that Priest should have had a double-bass drummer for the last decade.  Meanwhile, the vocal chords of “metal god” Rob Halford were, as per usual, in fine form (although I never quite bought in to his screeching performance on the much-loved title track).  Rob’s lyrics were another story.  On Painkiller he showed (once again) that he was woefully out-of-touch with the modern metal fan of 1990.

Painkiller was a good “comeback” album for Judas Priest.  Was it their best album ever?  I don’t think so, but many do.  My score: B+

Stryper – “The Yellow And Black Attack” (1984)

Jesus Christ

StryperStryper debuted in 1984 with a six-song EP called The Yellow And Black Attack (Enigma Records).  They would go on to become the best-selling and best-known Christian metal band of the eighties (by far).  Stryper came along at the right time, with the right look, the right sound, and the right message to tap into a demographic that very few folks in the industry even knew existed!  For some, Stryper was an alternative metal that they could relate to.  But Stryper didn’t just appeal to Christian listeners.  They were able to do what no other Christian metal act in the eighties manged to do — cross over to the mainstream.  Without mainstream exposure, Stryper never would have sold in the millions.

With saccharine vocals over heavy metal riffs, Stryper’s original sound was an interesting dichotomy of styles.  On the one hand, Stryper rocked as hard as some of their L.A. peers (such as Ratt and Quiet Riot) but on the other hand Michael Sweet’s girlish vocals greatly softened their sonic impact.  One of my biggest problems with The Yellow And Black Attack is the lyrics.  I’m not referring to the Christian content — I have no problem with that.  But the lyrics do seem to be written by a fifth grader.  The lyrics are often cringe-worthy in their corniness.

The Yellow And Black attack was re-mixed and re-released in 1986 by Enigma.  They used a different cover (seen here) and added an exclamation point to the title so that it became The Yellow And Black Attack!.  Two extra tracks were added.  Reason For The Season fits in well with the original six tracks but My Love I’ll Always Show is another story.  I don’t know where they dug this song up from but it has to be one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard!  Have a listen here and try not to laugh!  My score: B-

 

Prisoner – “Rip It Up” (1986)

PrisonerAs a metal band in the eighties, one of the easiest things to do was make sure your album cover was kick-ass.  Whether it be something Satanic, violent, or misogynistic — you just had to make sure the album cover was provocative enough to grab a teenage boy’s attention.  So many metal albums were purchased (or stolen) based strictly on their album cover.  Prisoner failed to adhere to this one simple rule.  The cover of Rip It Up looks like something made with Microsoft Word clip-art.  With a name like Prisoner and an album called Rip It Up, there were so many possible cover choices.  How about a prisoner ripping out his cellmate’s throat?  Just an example.  I’m brainstorming here.  What about a sweaty, scantily clad vixen locked behind prison bars?  That’s caged heat!

It’s not often I come across an album like Prisoner’s Rip It Up. This is one of those albums that has an endearing dumbness to it that hits on something so genuine and so adolescent that you’ve juts got to buy in.  I can think of two other albums that possess this quality — Black N’ Blue’s self-title debut (1984) and Hawaii’s The Natives Are Restless (1985).  Rip It Up isn’t as good as either of those two, but it certainly has the same knuckle-headed charm!

Prisoner weren’t making any kind of grand statement with Rip It Up.  They obviously were young, stupid, and wanted nothing more than to rock you.  Teenage wasteland lyrics delight at every turn.  The wonderfully titled Give Your Hips A Try uses its chorus refrain to ask the age-old question “metal or what?”.  Metal or what indeed!

Guitarist Josie Steele took direction from all the usual suspects.  His opening riff on Backstabber is quintessential Judas Priest.  He probably rummaged through Scorpions’ garbage to find his riffs for Spin Me Round and Rip It Up.  (His melodic solos are more in line with the glam metal sect.)

Prisoner’s lead singer was the Coburn Pharr (later to join Omen and then Annihilator).  Here we capture the young Pharr as a total amateur.  But goddamnit he’s “all in”.  Singing his heart out.  But his conviction can’t hide the fact that he is out-of-tune about 70% of the time!  God bless this silly, mullet-headed man.

Prisoner’s Rip It Up is a fun album.  It’s bad.  But also good.  A crisp, even mix adds to the enjoyment.

Note: Rip It Up was released on the short-lived Metal Blade sub-label Dimension.  I’m only aware of two other metal albums released on the Dimension label.  Both were by Jesters Of Destiny.  My score: B

 

Driver – “Driver” (1990)

Back in ’86, vocalist Rob Rock was part of the band MacAlpine Aldridge Rock Sarzo (M.A.R.S.).  They released just one album called Project: Driver (see my review here).  Four years later, Rock tried to parlay what little bit of notoriety he had from Project: Driver into his new band — which was conveniently called Driver.  This despite the fact that the other three guys from M.A.R.S. were not involved.  Driver even used the same “Driver” logo from the Project: Driver album cover (seen here).  Pretty shady stuff Mr. Rock.  Pretty shady indeed.  Especially for what was supposed to be a “Christian” album!

For the Driver EP (Worldwide Records), Rock was teamed up with a fine guitarist named Roy Z.  Roy later went on to make records with Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford, among others.  Roy Z’s guitar playing is the highlight of this rather average power metal EP (five songs).  Rock’s singing is pretty good, but he lacks charisma, as well as anything worthwhile to say.  This album isn’t the same tired cliché as the aforementioned Project: Driver.  It might even be slightly better overall (due to Roy Z’s performance).  But without any real standout tunes, Driver goes quietly into the night.  My score: C+  

MacAlpine Aldridge Rock Sarzo – “Project: Driver” (1986)

M.A.R.S.Before we get to the review, let’s talk a little bit about Mike Varney.  Back in the eighties, Mike Varney was a lot of things — a musician, a record collector, a writer for Guitar Player magazine, and the head of his own record label.  As a young man, Varney founded Shrapnel Records, the first U.S. label dedicated solely to heavy metal.  Shrapnel was known as a very guitar-centric label.  Lots of hot shot guitarists (mostly “shredders”) recorded for Shrapnel in the eighties.  Names like Becker, Friedman, Gilbert, and even Malmsteen (as a member of Steeler) appeared on the label.

One of the interesting things about they way Varney did business was that he would often find up-and-coming guitarists (or they would find him), and would then build bands around them.  That is to say, he used his networking skills to assemble “projects”.  But some of the time, these projects looked better on paper than they actually sounded on record.  After all, this method wasn’t the most organic way to form a band.  One has to call to question whether the elusive “chemistry” element was ever considered.  Time may also have been a factor.  Just how long did these guys work together to hash out their songs before they recorded them?  I think this is one of the reasons that some of these Shrapnel projects missed the mark.  Case in point: Project: Driver by MacAlpine Aldridge Rock Sarzo (M.A.R.S.).

M.A.R.S. was comprised of Tony MacAlpine (guitar and keyboards), Tommy Aldridge (drums), Rob Rock (vocals), and Rudy Sarzo (bass).  This project was built around guitarist Tony MacAlpine.  You can bet that Mike Varney had a hand in getting these four guys in the same room.  (And a mighty big room it must have been to house these gargantuan hair-helmets — have a look at these guys!  Nice shirt Tony!)

All four guys that were in M.A.R.S. have very long resumes.  They’ve each played in numerous bands and on numerous albums.  They’re the quintessential journeymen.  Rudy Sarzo for example (and I say this every time his name comes up) has the unique distinction of being the only man to play in every band that ever existed.  He was even in my band Beaver Tits for six hours in the autumn of ’97.  Kidding.  But what I am getting at is this — statistically speaking, it’s no surprise these four guys crossed paths at some point.  At the time of Project: Driver, Aldridge and Sarzo were already well established in the industry.  Rock and MacAlpine, on the other hand, were at the beginning of their careers.

Project: Driver is not a great album.  There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of ideas here.  Though MacAlpine is supposed to be the star attraction, his riffs are surprisingly bland.  He obviously put more thought into his solos than his riffs.  As for Rob Rock, he certainly seems like he had something to prove.  He was emotionally invested, I’ll give him that much.  Rock’s performance is a melodramatic mix of Graham Bonnet and Ronnie James Dio.  But the lyrics are cliché and some of the choruses are just laughable.  My score: C+