Top Twenty Albums of 1987

Welcome to another MONSTER list!  This time around, I present to you my favorite hard rock and heavy metal albums of 1987…

20.  Heathen – Breaking The Silence

HEATHEN_Breaking_bookletThere were three noteworthy Bay Area thrash debuts in 1987; Testament’s The Legacy, Death Angel’s The Ultra-Violence, and Heathen’s Breaking The Silence.  Of the three, Heathen’s debut is probably the least “famous”.  Unfortunate indeed, as Breaking The Silence may well be the best album of the lot.

Breaking The Silence features thrash with a great degree of finesse.  The playing is crisp, the production is decent, and best of all, the hooks are memorable.  My favorite track is probably Goblin’s Blade, which features great lyrics, an awesome lead riff, and a catchy chorus.  The seven minute long Open The Grave is another winner, as is the cover of The Sweet’s Set Me Free (released as a single).  What I really enjoy about this album is that the chaos is under control, the riffs are smart and palatable, the solos are well-composed, and the vocals are very good (for thrash).  Easily one of my top ten thrash favorites of 1987.  My score: B+

19.  Manowar – Fighting The World (1987)

Manowar’s fifth album Fighting The World was their first on a major label (Atlantic Records).  Of course, some cried “sellout” at the very notion.  How could the band whose mission it was to bring death to false metal be associated with a corporate label?  I say ‘take it easy’.  Manowar have always been a walking contradiction.  Trying to figure out Manowar can only lead to a head explosion.  So why even try?  Let’s not get caught up in this idea that Fighting The World is too “commercial”.  Fact is, I didn’t really love the raw, clanky production of their poverty albums.  Fighting The World is well-produced with a glossy sheen, bombastic drums, and an even mix.  In my opinion, it allows Manowar to sound truly epic.  Finally they could give their over-the-top delusions of grandeur the proper treatment.

This particular car-battery-sized block of cheese contains the infamous mallet-headed Blow Your Speakers.  This overly simple tune berates MTV for not playing metal while, paradoxically, being an overt attempt to get some MTV exposure (there was a video).  Like I said, Manowar are a walking contradiction.  Anyhoo, Fighting The World contains two particularly awesome Manowar cuts.  First, there is Defender, a holdover from their Battle Hymns era.  Second is Black Wind, Fire And Steel, which is a full-throttle attack.  These two highlights are stark reminders as to why Manowar are a force to be reckoned with when they get it right.  Overall Fighting The World is a damn good Manowar release, but Manowar didn’t fully realize their grand vision in full until the follow-up album, Kings Of Metal.  My score: B+

  18.  Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet

Ace FrehleyI grew up with an older brother who worshiped KISS, so this Ace Frehley album got tons of airplay in our household back in 1987.  My brother had the tape and I remember hearing Rock Soldiers, Into The Night, and We Got Your Rock blaring from his room many times.  Years later, my brother upgraded to CD and gave me his old cassette.

What I never realized back in the day is that there are three songs on this tape that aren’t sung by Ace, but rather by guitarist/keyboardist Tod Howarth.  I guess I never heard these songs blaring from brother’s room because, being the KISS purist he was, he didn’t care for any songs that didn’t have Ace on vocals.  I discovered a few gems in Breakout, Something Moved, and Calling To You.  Howarth brought Calling To You from his old band, 707.  It’s a re-write of a tune called Mega ForceCalling To You is my favorite cut on the album, it’s a super catchy anthem that rocks in full ’80s glory.  The post-KISS Ace came back strong with this album, and he wisely enlisted the help of talented musicians and writers to get it done.  My score: A-

17.  Grim Reaper – Rock You To Hell

Grim Reaper’s third and final album here.  The cover is another grisly illustration by the late, great metal aficionado Gary Sharpe-Young (look him up).  As for the album, Rock You To Hell was produced by one of the best in the biz, Max Norman.  Max was able to wash off the layer of grime that weighed down Grim Reaper’s two previous albums (in terms of audio quality) — giving Grim Reaper the top-notch production they richly deserved.

Okay, can we talk for a minute about Steve Grimmett?  I mean, this guy is so underrated that it hurts!  It literally causes me pain.  Sure, Grimmett was a strange-looking dude.  He was a bit on the heavy side, with one of the most BOSS mullets of all time.  (It HAD to be a wig or extensions.)  And Steve had a space between his front teeth you could drive a truck through.  But DAMN, he could sing like a mother f*cker.  He may very well have had the most powerful set of pipes in all metal, period.

A toast.  To Steve.  Shine on, you crazy diamond!

Anyhoo… Rock You To Hell is a really great, really FUN album.  Every song is brimming with unbridled energy.  I must confess I have been guilty of overlooking Grim Reaper in the past… but no longer.  Recently I stumbled across this old video of Grim Reaper absolutely SLAYING a live performance in Minneapolis (1987).  It originally aired on Halloween night on MTV, I do believe.  I was forever converted to a Grim Reaper fan when I saw the video.  DAMN, they sounded great live!  Check out guitarist Nick Bowcott’s tasty guitar work!  And believe you me, Grimmett delivered the goods in person.  He wasn’t one of these guys who sounded great in the studio, but sucked live.  Nope.  Check out his scream at the end of See You In Hell at the 31:00 minute mark.  It nearly kills him.  That’s metal folks… that’s metal.  My score: A-

16.  Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation

AerosmithAerosmith’s 1985 album Done With Mirrors was supposed to be their big comeback record, but the album wasn’t a huge success.  It was 1987’s Permanent Vacation that gave Aerosmith the comeback they were hoping for.  In the midst of the hair band movement, Aersomith proved they could compete as peers with younger bands they had influenced (Cinderella and Guns N’ Roses come to mind).  They got a little help from a big name producer in Bruce Fairbairn, and a couple of outside songwriters in Desmond Child and Jim Vallance.  The three big hits were Angel, Rag Doll, and Dude (Looks Like A Lady).  Strong deep tracks include Heart’s Done Time and Magic Touch.  Steven Tyler really sounds great on this album!  If I have one complaint about Permanent Vacation it is that the album limps to the finish line with the so-so title track, a boring Beatles cover, and a filler instrumental.  My score: A-

15.  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: A-

14.  Accu§er – The Conviction

The German thrash band Accu§er released The Conviction on Atom H Records in 1987 (catalog number 003).  Atom H Records was also the home of the thrash band Protector.

If someone were to take a look at the cheapish cover art (although I like it), and the rather unknown record label (Atom H), they may not expect much from The Conviction.  However, what lies beneath is pretty well-produced, very well-played thrash.  There are seven tracks.  All very solid.  I think what makes the album a success is the ridiculous amount of great riffs.  It seems like every song has a half-dozen or so smart and interesting riffs.  I like the guitar tone; it is dry and not over saturated.  This way, all the palm-muted notes are discernible.  The overall feel of the album is sinister and menacing without resorting to cartoonish posturing.  The vocalist has an evil atonal snarl that is tolerable and not overdone.  All the words are decipherable and his nasty delivery fits the mood of the music.

Now how about that cover, huh?  That old dude reminds me of that guy in all the Phantasm movies.  I guess that’s why I like it.  Also, I’m digging that “§” thingy in their name.  Personal faves are the ten minute track Accuser and the opening number Evil Liar.  My score: A-

13.  Angus – Warrior Of The World

This Dutch metal band had a nice debut in 1986 with Track Of Doom.  That album featured a killer track called The Gates.  Angus returned for a second heavyweight bout with 1987’s Warrior Of The World (Megaton Records).  This album was even better than their first.  The gargantuan title track starts the album off with an explosion of thick guitars and pummeling drums.  It is an immense song, and IMO the best of Angus’ brief career.  The guitar sound on this album (and Angus’ debut, for that matter) was quite unique, sounding almost “futuristic” (if that makes any sense).  I’m not sure how they achieved this heavy tone, but I’m guessing there was digital processing of some kind?  As for the drums, they were definitely touched up by some sort of studio magic.  I actually wonder if a drum machine was used.  Nevertheless, the drums sound extremely heavy on this LP.  For vocals, we had Edgar Lois.  The man sounded like a seven-foot tall, muscle-bound barbarian.  (In fact, he was not.)  With speed and metal might, Angus blazed through a killer set of tunes on Warrior Of The World.  Angus savagely rips your nips with songs like Moving Fast, Black Despair, and Money Satisfies.  Only one song falls a little flat (Freedom Fighter).  There’s even a well done ballad called I’m A Fool With Love.

In 2001, Sentinel Steel re-released Warrior Of The World (fully re-mixed and remastered) along with Angus’ 1986 album Track Of Doom as a 2-on-1 CD.  Unfortunately, I’m A Fool With Love was omitted.  My score: A-

12.  Breaker – Get Tough! 

This bit of coolness comes to us from Cleveland, Ohio.  The cover art was fairly atypical for an eighties heavy metal release.  One could mistake Get Tough! for a punk, hardcore, or nineties alternative album based on the cover.  But nay, this is a straight shot of eighties metal right to your nut sack.

Released by Ohio’s premiere cult metal label, Auburn Records, Breaker sounded like a band primed for major label attention.  There’s little doubt that Breaker had the skill to excel further than they did, but I guess Lady Luck wasn’t on their side.  I’m particularly impressed by the smart lyrics on Get Tough!, which stay away from the usual metal conventions of the day, allowing the album to stand the test of time extremely well.  Breaker were a long way from Hollyweird, and in this case that’s a good thing.  Breaker’s lyrics were grounded in real life — feet to the street and nose to the grindstone.  True grit straight outta Cleveland.  Throw Jim Hamar’s excellent vocals into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a real winner.  Again, this album has aged remarkably well.

Prime cuts include Ten Seconds In, Get Tough, and my personal fave Black And White.  (Check out Black And White here.)  I have Get Tough! on cassette, which adds a heavy bonus cut called Touch Like Thunder.  My score: A-  

11.  Ozzy Osbourne – Randy Rhoads Tribute

OzzyIt’s hard to argue with this live album because the material is drawn from two albums of pure gold.  Tribute includes live versions of all the songs from the Blizzard Of Ozz album, and another two from Diary Of A Madman.  (I wish there were more cuts from Diary Of A Madman, my favorite metal album of the eighties.)  Throw in some ol’ Sabbath tunes — Paranoid (yawn), Iron Man (double yawn) and Children Of The Grave (yay!), and you’ve got yourself a robust package.  All the live cuts are from the early eighties, and feature Randy Rhoads on guitar.  Rhoads, of course, was the legendary Ozzy guitarist who died during the Diary Of A Madman tour.  Rhoads fans will no doubt enjoy Randy’s live performance here.  He dresses up his playing with more bells and whistles than the studio originals.  This includes an extended solo taken during Suicide Solution.  The album closes with studio outtakes of Rhoads’ classical instrumental piece Dee (from Blizzard Of Ozz).  For his part, Ozzy sounded pretty great live.  He didn’t stray much at all from the studio versions — which is just fine by me.  Tribute was originally issued as a double LP on vinyl.  The cassette and CD versions were single units.  Tribute is as solid as they come as far as live albums go, though I admit I personally prefer studio albums to live albums as a general rule.  My score: A-

10.  White Lion – Pride

White LionWhere have you gone, Vito Bratta?  You were a hairy, Staten Island son-of-a-bitch who loved to wear big, dark sunglasses that said to the world “I love cocaine!”.  Your ugly mug looked even more so when pictured next to your Adonis lead singer, Mike Tramp.  But, GOD DAMN, you could play guitar!  You were a prodigious talent that practiced incessantly, and I consider many of your guitar solos to be the greatest of all time!  Listening to your work made me completely give up playing guitar, because I realized I will always suck after hearing your records.  That’s okay though, it gave me more time to focus on playing softball with overweight has-beens and creating this website for seven people to read.  You disappeared from the music scene after the hair era died an undeserving death.  Since then you have steadfastly refused to reunite with White Lion for some sad money grab.  I salute you for this, as the state of music today has no place for a true talent such as yours, and that is the disheartening truth.  Luckily you came along at a time when there was an audience for guitar heroes, even if you guys all looked utterly ridiculous.  Like Eddie Van Halen (who was no doubt one of your idols?), you prettied up your rhythm playing with tons of tasty tricks and fills, never playing it straight.  Your rhythm tracks were like songs within the songs, and your solos were the perfect blend of shred, flash, and taste; serving the song but still making every aspiring guitarist out there either retreat to the wood shed or throw down their axe and say “no mas”.  Your second White Lion LP, Pride, was welcomed with double platinum sales.  A just reward for your work on such greats as Wait, Sweet Little Loving, and All Join Our Hands.  Oh, and When The Children Cry?  That song would probably bring a tear to my eye if I wasn’t devoid of all human feeling.  Mike “Adonis” Tramp (is it okay if I call you that?), you helped the cause with your lady-killing good looks, even if you couldn’t sing all that well and wrote lyrics with all the wit and wisdom of a thirteen year old girl.  Together you guys made sincere, unapologetic “lite-metal” that soaked the panties of stone-washed-jeans-wearing teenage girls, and made zit-faced teenage boys want to pick up a Strat and shred.  So… Vito… I hope you are enjoying the quiet life in Staten Island.  There may not be apt appreciation for players like you in the present day music world, but such things are cyclical and someday people will re-discover your work and give your name it’s just do.  I hope you are still around when that day comes.  In the meantime, just know you still have fans from back in the day.  My score: A

9.  Vicious Rumors – Digital Dictator

Awesome album!  Vicious Rumors took on two replacement members after their 1985 debut Soldiers Of The Night; vocalist Carl (Ace) Albert and Mark (Tits) McGee.  (Okay, I made up the “Tits” nickname, but it is my belief that anyone with a last name of McGee must be called “Tits”.  That’s just a rule.)  From top to bottom this is a high quality American metal release.  The cover art is cool, the guitars blaze, and the vocals destroy.  Like most Shrapnel Records releases of the day, shredding was mandatory, and the tandem of Tits McGee and Geoff Thorpe delivered on the promise of the SHRED.  But, in the end, it was the songs that delivered the most, making Digital Dictator a fun, catchy, and power-packed album.  Nary a moment goes to waste on Digital Dictator.  Whenever Tits or Geoff Thorpe tore off a lead break, they did so without lingering too long.  In and out.  Albert soared as the new vocalist.  Drummer Larry Howe let the songs breath with a very understated performance (for a “power metal” drummer).  Highlights are many, but my favorites are Digital Dictator, Worlds And Machines, The Crest, and Lady Took A Chance (even though the part that starts at 3:47 reminds me of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats).  My score: A

8.  Def Leppard – Hysteria

Def LeppardHysteria was a blockbuster album!  Seven of the twelve songs on Hysteria were released as video singles — including every song on side one!  There was no escaping Def Leppard in 1987 and 1988.  Yet, this was as much of a Mutt Lange (producer and co-writer) album as it was a Def Leppard album.  Lange’s production went far beyond the slick commercial sounds favored by hair metal bands of the day.  Layer upon layer of vocal tracks were poured gluttonously over a cavernous electronic drum sound.  This was not the AC/DC-style Def Leppard that we once heard on the crunchy High ‘N’ Dry album.  These were cyborgs at work!  Automatons if you will.  In many ways, Hysteria does not sound like the work of a band.  Rather, Hysteria seems more like a project.  Though Lange’s masturbatory production sounded cold and inhuman, Hysteria just seemed to defy logic — winning over many a rock purist, as well as every kid aged 10-20 in those crazy late eighties years.  Pour Some Sugar On Me became an instant classic upon its release as a single.  Today it stands as the greatest strip club anthem of my lifetime.  Other personal faves include Animal and Hysteria.  There’s a few weaker moments on side two of Hysteria, so it’s not all hits, but DAMN side one is so sticky ‘n sweet that I’ve got diabetes just thinking about it!  My score: A

7.  Great White – Once Bitten

Great WhiteOnce Bitten is probably Great White’s finest hour.  Although 1989’s …Twice Shy wound up being Great White’s most successful album, Once Bitten is a slightly better record.  This album contains a nice mix of rough ‘n tough rockers and slow-burning blues.  While lead guitarist Mark Kendall is rarely considered one of the major guitar heroes of the era, he sure knew how to unfurl a blues lick with impeccable tone and smooth delivery.  His style was not as flashy as West Coast gunslingers like DeMartini and Lynch, but he deserves a little respect for his work on Once Bitten.  The best songs are Lady Red Light, Rock Me, All Over Now, Never Change Heart, and Save Your Love.  My favorite lyric is the one that opens up All Over Now“Woke up a little too rough.  Lookin’ like a quarter when a dollar ain’t enough”.  I think we all know that feeling!  My score: A

6.  Whitesnake – Whitesnake

WhitesnakeHere it is.  The big kahuna.  Whitesnake’s 1987 self-titled album is certified 8x platinum in the United States!  It is by far Whitesnake’s biggest seller.  Five of the album’s nine songs have been hard-wired into the brain of anyone who owned a radio in 1987 -1988.  Crying In The Rain, Still Of The Night, Here I Go Again, Give Me All Your Love, and Is This Love were all “hits”.

David Coverdale’s Whitesnake was kind of like a corporation of sorts.  The boss was David, and he fired and hired members of his supporting cast pretty liberally.  He was also unashamed at jumping on the commercial metal bandwagon with this album (and to some extent, its predecessor Slide It In).  There was a time when Whitesnake was a boozy and bluesy band complete with slide guitars and the jingle jangle of the piano.  Those days were no more.  Coverdale co-wrote Whitesnake with guitar hot-shot John Sykes and the final product is a prime example of commercial, corporate metal at its very best.  Old school Whitesnake fans may have been disgusted with Coverdale’s sell-out, but the bottom line is that it worked.  I find enjoyment in all of the ’80s Whitesnake albums, even though they changed their style mid way through the decade.  Yes, Whitesnake lacks the warmth and the cool swagger of old albums like Ready An’ Willing, but the songs just plain rock.

Crying In The Rain and Here I Go Again were previously recorded on Whitesnake’s 1982 album Saints & Sinners.  This time around they are beefed up into larger than life specimens.  Here I Go Again is a masterpiece, it really is.  The lyrics speak to everyone who has ever needed a little impetus to pick up the pieces and get on with life.  I’m sure every one of us has walked along the lonely street of dreams one time or another.  For example, I walked along the lonely street of dreams like six times today.  My score: A

5.  U.D.O. – Animal House

In 1987, Udo Dirkschneider left Accept.  His new band, called U.D.O., released their first album Animal House in ’87.  Interestingly, all the songs on Animal House were written by Accept and Deaffy.  (Deaffy was a pseudonym for Gaby Hauke, Accept’s manager and lyricist.)  According to metal journalist Martin Popoff, these songs were originally intended for Accept’s follow-up to 1986’s Russian Roulette.  But at the behest of their record label, Accept ditched both the songs and Udo.  So in a way, Animal House is kind of the lost Accept album.  And I actually think it’s a great record — better than Accept’s two previous (Russian Roulette and Metal Heart).

A strange-looking dude, that Udo.  He had the body of a garden gnome, the hairdo of a six-year-old, and the face of a gargoyle.  But Udo’s metal-ness was never in question.  On Animal House, the hoarse ol’ warhorse and his new band of mercenaries plowed through this blistering n’ burning set of Accept cast-offs.  What coulda-shoulda been one of Accepts best records instead flew the U.D.O. flag.  So check it out!  You better believe this one will torch your testes!  My score: A

4.  Savatage – Hall Of The Mountain King 

Savatage released six records in the 80’s.  If you can only have one, make it Hall Of The Mountain King.  The album features some of Savatage’s best songs including 24 Hrs. Ago, Strange Wings, Hall Of The Mountain King, and my personal fave… Legions!  The brothers Oliva were at the top of their game for Hall Of The Mountain King.  Jon’s mouth of madness unleashed a vocal performance straight from hell, while Criss’ heavy riffing cut through the air like napalm.  Criss was always a master riffsmith, and had one of the best guitar tones in metal.  He used a lot of drop tuning to get a dark, bottom heavy sound out of his axe.  Add to that the perfect blend of overdrive and delay, and you’ve got yourself a legendary crunch.

Hall Of The Mountain King marked the first time Savatage worked with producer and collaborator Paul O’Neil.  Eventually, the partnership took Savatage’s sound into a new direction for the 90’s.  But never you mind, because back on Hall Of The Mountain King, the ‘Tage was still pouring hot metal into a bubbling cauldron of awesome.

Note: The late, great Ray Gillen contributed backing vocals on Strange Wings.  He was rewarded for his service by having his name misspelled in the liner notes.  My score: A

3.  Anthrax – Among The Living

For my money, Among The Living is the best Anthrax album of ‘em all!  Coming off the successful Spreading The Disease LP of 1985, Anthrax cemented their status as heavyweights in the world of thrash with this 1987 thrash classic.  Anthrax were easy to like (IMO) because they were not afraid to show their sense of humor or reveal their inner-geek.  Lyrics on Among The Living take their themes from comics (I Am The Law), as well as Stephen King fiction (Among The Living and A Skeleton In The Closet).  Other interesting topics include the drug-fueled downward spiral of John Belushi’s last days, and the plight of the Native Americans (a matter also tackled by Iron Maiden, Europe, and others).  Anthrax’s lyrical subject matter wasn’t the only thing that made them stand out.  They also had one of the only legit “singers” in thrash at the time (Joey Belladonna), as well as one of the best drummers in the biz (Charlie Benante).  All of it was held together by guitarist and brain-trust, Scott Ian.  Favorites include Among The Living, Caught In A Mosh, and Indians.  My score: A+ 

2.  Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I

The arrival of autumn here in New England is probably my favorite time of year.  As the weather gets cooler and the leaves start to fall, there is always a little magic in the air.  That’s because Halloween is just around the corner.  Sure, I’m not a kid anymore, but Halloween, and the month or so that lead up to it, still holds a special place in my heart.  Whether its eating fistfuls of candy corn, seeing the jack-o-lanterns decorating the front porches, or watching Jamie Lee Curtis being chased around by Michael Myers, there’s plenty to remind me of what it was like to be a kid at Halloween time.  And just as the intoxicating smell inside a rubber Halloween mask puts a gleam in my eye, so too does my tradition of busting out Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I each October.  One of Helloween’s crowning masterpieces lies waiting for me at the end of this incredible album, a thirteen minute epic called… you guessed it… Halloween.  For me, Halloween season isn’t complete without my annual visit to this song, and this amazing album.

German metal masters Helloween stamped their name into heavy metal lore with Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part I.  No self-respecting metal collection should be without this album.  In the metal sub-genre now called “power metal”, Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I is an unqualified classic.  America never really embraced power metal, not in the late eighties when Helloween pretty much invented (or at lease defined) the genre, and not in the present day where power metal is living a second life in Europe thanks to bands such as Blind Guardian, Avantasia, and Hammerfall.  So Americans may not appreciate Helloween as heavy metal legends, but in Europe it is another story.

This rather short album consists of only six proper tracks plus an intro and outro.  The listener is treated to fast-paced riffing, dual guitar harmonies, plenty of solo trade-offs, double kick drumming, and incredible soaring vocals.  Youngster Michael Kiske made his Helloween debut on vocals for Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I.  His voice was positively bullet-proof; able to reach the highest of highs and send these glory-bound compositions blasting into the stratosphere.  Just an incredible talent in every sense of the word!  To say Kiske brought Helloween to another level would be a massive understatement.

Helloween also defied heavy metal convention by writing lyrics that were uplifting, happy, and (especially on Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II) humorous and/or silly.  It’s that kind of “Happy Helloween!” ethos that gave Helloween albums a unique charm.

Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part I begins with a stirring intro called Initiation before the blitzkrieg of metal ecstasy begins in earnest with the über-catchy I’m Alive.  The series of tracks that follow ooze with metal might and sing-along awesomeness.  The aforementioned Halloween serves as the album’s climax.  Check out the lyrics to the second verse:

“Someone’s sitting in a field, never giving yield, sitting there with gleaming eyes, waiting for big pumpkin to arise.  Bad luck if you get a stone, like the good old Charlie Brown, you think that Linus could be right, the kids will say its just a stupid lie!”

Seriously?  Did they actually mention Peanuts and the Great Pumpkin in a heavy metal song?  Yes, yes they did.  So now we’ve got a combination of three of my favorite things; heavy metal, Halloween, and Charlie Brown in the same place?  Talk about a trifecta of kick-ass!

Bottom line: one of my favorite albums of all time right here.  As easy an “A+” as there ever was.  My score: A+

1.  Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

Appetite For DestructionAppetite For Destruction is the best hard rock album of the late eighties.  In many ways, this album is the antithesis of the aforementioned Hysteria LP.  Appetite For Destruction is stunning for many reasons, but one of the key reasons is because it is so authentic.  The five members of Guns had a magic chemistry borne from a shared affection for decadence and recklessness.  This was a dangerous band, and it’s a miracle they lasted as long as they did (which wasn’t that long, mind you).

As I listened to Appetite For Destruction in its entirety while preparing for this review, a few thoughts crossed my mind.  First, popular music has really spiraled into a world of shit since 1987, eh?  I can’t imagine anything this good being popular ever again.  Rock music is in a pretty sad state right now.  Listening to Appetite For Destruction in 2015 really makes this point glaringly evident.  Another thought I had (while looking at the album’s iconic cover art) is how amazing it is that all five of these guys are still alive.  Granted, a lot has changed.  In 1987, the Guns were so cool.  Now?  Not so much.  Steven Adler is a sorry sack and I feel sorry for him.  Slash will sell out for a ham sandwich.  And Axl is just bat shit crazy.  If one of these guys had died young (like Bon Scott, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, or Jim Morrison) they would have been canonized in the same manner.  But they didn’t die young.  They lived.  And we are witness to what happens when our heroes DON’T die young.  If Cobain had lived, he would have worn out his welcome, too.  I’m convinced that Cobain would be no more relevant today than, say, Billy Corgan or Alanis Morissette.  My score: A+

Go back to the Top Twenty Albums of 1986

Angel City – “Face To Face” (1980)

Angel CityIn 1980, CBS Records released Face To Face in the United States.  This album contained previously released material taken from two Angel City albums originally released in the band’s native Australia (where they were known as The Angels).  Some of the songs on this album come from 1978’s Face To Face LP, and others from 1979’s No Exit LP (both released by Albert Productions in Australia).  There’s also a 1979 re-recording of the cut Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again (originally from the 1977 LP The Angels).  Confused?  Of course you are.  You see, because previous The Angels albums weren’t available in the United States, CBS chose to package this quasi “best of” collection for U.S. release.  Unfortunately, they gave the compilation the title Face To Face, which was also the title of The Angels’ 1978 LP.  (The same kind of stuff happened with AC/DC albums around the same time period.)  It’s enough to spin your head around.  As to why the band was known as Angel City in the United States?  I’m guessing it was to not be confused with the band Angel.

Now that we’ve got the above logistical nightmare out-of-the-way, let’s proceed to the music…

Angel City’s sound was punchy, lean hard rock.  To my ears, they were a cross between AC/DC and Tom Petty.   More often than not, simple, palm-muted power chords and a steady back beat propelled the verse sections.  The chorus sections would open up with ringing power chord strikes and infectious, pop-like hooks.  The brothers Brewster provided the crunchy guitars, while Doc Neeson was responsible for the vocal charms.  Favorites here included Take A Long Line and No Exit.  My score: A-

Bruce Dickinson – “Tattooed Millionaire” (1990)

Bruce DickinsonWe shouldn’t be too surprised that Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album sounded nothing like Iron Maiden.  After all, we have to assume that Bruce wanted to either experiment with different sounds or find an alternate outlet for his music ideas through a solo venture.  He had to be looking for something he wasn’t getting with Maiden, right?  Why else go solo?  As such, expectations should be adjusted accordingly when spinning Tattooed Millionaire for the first time.  Unlike Maiden songs, these songs are crafted in a straightforward hard rock style, with catchy and oft-repeated choruses.  (Note: Dickinson co-wrote the album with guitarist Janick Gers.)

My thoughts?  So glad you didn’t ask.  Let’s get something out-of-the-way right off the bat — side two of this album pretty much blows.  Dickinson devolves into self-parody through lame lyrics and over-sold vocals on side two.  He really hams it up.  Bruce sounds like such an idiot on side two that I am embarrassed for him.  He tried to be clever, but instead came off as a damn fool!  Take side two and throw it away.

Now, as for side one — this is where the action is!  These songs are actually very memorable.  Yes, the lyrics are a bit suspect here and there, but the hooks will stick in your head for days.  And yes, there are a few times on side one where Dickinson over-sells on vocals (like the verse sections of Tattooed Millionaire), but the overall outcome on side one is positive.  Truth is, Tattooed Millionaire would have been an excellent EP if it was trimmed down to just these first five songs!  But I still have to knock down my rating for the silliness of side two.  My score: B-

Album Reviews (Feb 3, 2015)

More reviews coming at ya…

Kick Axe – Welcome To The Club (1985)

Kick AxeWelcome To The Club was this Canadian band’s follow-up to their buzz-worthy 1984 debut Vices.  Oddly, the album arrived showcasing a streamlined new band logo and curiously “un-metal cover” art.  But despite the new aesthetics, Kick Axe continued to rock with bombast — as they did on their first, well-received party platter.  One will notice that the production, like the debut, emphasized a booming drum sound and meticulous vocal layering/harmonies.  Pasha’s Spencer Proffer, who produced the debut, had a hand in the production here as well.  With their crystalline cyber-sound, Kick Axe were like a ying to Helix’s yang.  Helix, of course, being the other big name in Canadian “hair” metal at the time — known for their simple, sweaty brand of raunch n’ roll.

While Welcome To The Club is not quite as good as Vices, it does have its share of highlights.  Faves include the title track (with a catchy lead riff), Comin’ After You, and Make Your Move.  The album closes with a spirited cover of With A Little Help From My Friends — featuring guest vocals from a slew of fellow Canadian rockers.  My score: B

 Stampede – Hurricane Town (1983)

StampedeThe story of Stampede, a lesser-known NWOBHM band, is an interesting one.  You see, the band was formed by a step-father and step-son duo.  Pretty unique, eh?  Yes, Stampede was formed by Rueben Archer (vocals) and his step-son Laurence Archer (guitars).  Rueben is fifteen years older than Laurence.   I can only imagine this made for a strange situation backstage when the groupies came-a-calling!  I’m guessing the sentence “don’t tell your mom” was uttered more than once.

Hurricane Town, released in 1983 by Polydor Records, was Stampede’s second album (their debut was actually a live album).  Long out of print, Hurricane Town was re-released on CD for the first time in 2006 by Rock Candy Records (out of the U.K.).  Anyone who owns one of these Rock Candy “Remastered & Reloaded” collector’s edition CDs knows that Rock Candy does a great job with these re-releases — informative liner notes, pics, bonus material… the whole kit and caboodle.  Highly recommended.

At the time, Stampede drew comparisons to Thin Lizzy and UFO.  Both comparisons seem appropriate from my viewpoint.  Hurricane Town contains nine cuts of very melodic, vibrant hard rock.  Choruses are fairly big and moderately memorable.  The singing and guitar work are both more-than-serviceable.  Unfortunately, Stampede didn’t get a very good push from their label (Polydor) when this album arrived in 1983.  According to Rueben, Polydor was preoccupied with another band on their roster at the time — the young and rising Heavy Pettin.  Partly due to the label’s apathy, Hurricane Town was to be Stampede’s final album (until reunion in 2009).  Choice cut: Mexico.  My score: B

 Y&T – Best Of ’81 To ’85 (1990)

Y&TThis compilation was released in 1990 by A&M Records.  The material was culled from Y&T’s tenure on the A&M label from 1981 to 1985.  During that period Y&T released five studio albums and one live album.  I think most would agree these were Y&T’s best years.  So what do we get on Best Of ’81 To ’85?  Well sir, there are fifteen tracks (plus one short instrumental), including two (useless) previously unreleased tracks.  The studio tracks draw heavily from Y&T’s three best albums — Earthshaker (1981), Black Tiger (1982), and Meanstreak (1983).  Y&T’s biggest hit, Summertime Girls from ’85 (a song I never cared for), is also included.  All together, Best Of ’81 To ’85 is a good collection for the casual fan.  This was actually my first Y&T album.  It was enough to turn my casual interest into a more serious love affair.  I eventually collected all of the individual albums.  My score: A-

Tyton – Mind Over Metal (1987)

TytonI consider this one a “near miss”.  Tyton released their second (and last) album Mind Over Metal (Medusa Records) in 1987.  It was a well-intentioned stab at U.S. traditional metal.  Several of the songs on the album carry medieval themes — knights, castles, swords, and steeds… all that good shit.  For the most part, Tyton delivered the goods.  The only place where Mind Over Metal falls short is the vocal department.  Don’t get me wrong, the vocals of Shawn Damien-Barusch aren’t bad, they just aren’t excellent.  And to really make a great metal album in this genre, the vocals need to be spot on.  Damien-Barusch’s phrasing, his timing, and his pitch were just a little bit “off” in some places.  This is most evident on side two of the album.  To me, this makes the difference between a great album and an “okay” album.  Like I said, a “near miss”.  Nevertheless, I do enjoy several tracks, most notably The Warrior, Castle Donnington, and Destiny Calls.

Note: Because of the overtly Christian lyrics of the song Arcadian, Tyton received some attention from the Christian metal community.  My score: B-

U.D.O. – Mean Machine (1988)

Mean MachineAfter his departure from Accept, vocalist Udo Dirkschneider formed U.D.O. and released Animal House in 1987.  It was a great album, but one with a caveat — it was actually written by Udo’s old band, Accept.  As such, U.D.O.’s sophomore release Mean Machine would be a crucible for the new band.  This would be the first U.D.O. album written exclusively by Udo Dirkschneider and his guitarists Mathais Dieth and Andy Susemihl.  The question as to whether U.D.O. could be a viable metal band without the help of Accept was answered with a resounding “yes” by the Mean Machine album.  Like the great Accept albums of yore, Mean Machine has a nice balance of bruising speed metal and commercially viable metal anthems.  Throw the requisite ballad in there, too.  To be honest, Mean Machine really didn’t sound a whole lot different from Accept.  I assume this was by design.  I think Udo knew what his fans wanted to hear and was more than happy to oblige.  Faves: Mean Machine, Lost Passion, and Sweet Little Child.  My score: B+

U.D.O. – Faceless World (1990)

Faceless WorldU.D.O. trimmed down to a four-piece for the recording of their third album Faceless World.  Mathias Dieth remained as the sole guitarist in the band.  Dieth (a veteran of one of Germany’s best unheralded metal bands — Gravestone), truly shines on this album.  His excellent performance actually steals the limelight from Udo Dirkschneider!  The album opens with the sinewy lead riff of Heart Of Gold (the album’s best track) — and immediately Dieth has made his presence felt.  He continues to impress throughout the album with his creative riffing, tasty licks, and exquisite soloing.  Even though I had heard Mathias many times before with Gravestone, Sinner, and on the first two U.D.O. albums, I never stood up and took notice of his talents until I heard Faceless World.  He really stepped up to the plate here… BIG TIME!  Just when you thought you had heard all there was to hear in the world of Teutonic metal (a genre that has been guilty of a fair share of recycling), Dieth raises the bar!  Take a bow Mathias.  My score: A-

Album Reviews (Jan 23, 2015)

More reviews…

Exumer – Rising From The Sea (1987)

ExumerThis bit of cantankerous thrash comes to you by way of Germany.  With Rising From The Sea (Disaster Records), Exumer set out to make their very own Reign In Blood — making them one of a hundred or so bands that attempted to do so.  But frankly, we really only needed one Reign In Blood, and even Slayer knew that.  Slayer didn’t try to recreate Reign In Blood, and neither should have Exumer.  Cool mascot though.  Use once and destroy.  My score: C-

Spartan Warrior – Spartan Warrior (1984)

Spartan WarriorRoadrunner Records scooped up this U.K. band for their second LP.  Spartan Warrior played nuts n’ bolts metal with simple riffs.  They remind me of a discount Saxon.  In fact, Dave Wilkinson’s voice sounded a bit like Biff Byford’s.  A glaring hole in this album is the absence of backing vocals — the choruses really could use some beefing up.  All the songs kind of run together because they are similarly paced and lack the memorable hooks that would otherwise differentiate them.  Re-released in 2009 by Metal Mind Productions.  My score: C+

 Blackfoot - Marauder (1981)

BlackfootMarauder opens up with the scorching Good Morning — a fast and heavy number sure to get your lazy ass out of bed.  With this bristling first track, it is immediately clear that Blackfoot were continuing to rock proud and rock hard — as they did on 1980’s Tomcattin’ release.  This premium blend of southern rock and hard rock continues with strong cuts like the randy Dry County, the poignant Searchin’, and the soul-crushing Diary Of A WorkingmanMarauder was co-written by Rick “Rattlesnake” Medlocke (vocals and guitar) and Jakson “Thunderfoot” Spires (drums).  Medlocke is something to behold — a truly great singer and storyteller.  If this guy sang the phone book, I would probably listen.  My score: A-

Rose Tattoo – Rock ‘N’ Roll Outlaw (1980)

Rose TattooAussie ruffians Rose Tattoo debuted back in 1978 with the Rose Tattoo LP.  At first, Rose Tattoo was only available in Australia on the Albert Productions label.  It wasn’t until two years later, in 1980, that the album found its way to the U.S.A. market, re-titled as Rock ‘N’ Roll Outlaw (Mirage Records).

Rose Tattoo’s sound was a cogent mix of AC/DC high voltage blues, southern rock, and punk.  The slide guitar, played by Peter Wells, was an integral and unique part of Rose Tattoo’s sonic blueprint.  Fronting the band was the bald dome of one Gary Stephen “Angry” Anderson — who regaled us with tales of hard knocks lived and learned on the rough streets of working-class Australia.  Best tracks: Rock ‘N’ Roll Outlaw and Nice Boys (later covered by Guns ‘N Roses).  My score: B

Rose Tattoo – Scarred For Life (1982)

Rose TattooRose Tattoo appear on the cover of Scarred For Life in a rather peculiar group embrace.  I’ll just let you soak in that pic for a moment.  (Feel free to make your own jokes.)  Finished?  Okay, carrying on…  You’ll also notice that the boys are proudly showing off their signature ink.  And there’s lots of it.  Ya know… once upon a time, tattoos were only for sailors, bikers, and prisoners.  Somewhere along the way, rockers started getting all tatted up.  Then athletes.  Now we’ve got friggin’ baristas with full sleeves and bank tellers with neck tattoos.  Everyone’s got ‘em.  I’m sorry to say this guys, but tattoos are less about rebellion and more about conformity these days.  Woman, it seems, are getting covered in tats almost as much as guys.  Seems like every girl at my gym who is under the age of thirty is inked all over.  I’m not sure what those chest and neck tattoos are going to look like in thirty years when that neck looks like a turkey wattle and those tits look like two egg yokes hanging from a nail.  But hey, it’s all good!

As for the Scarred For Life album…  its not as good as its predecessor Assault & Battery (1981), but it is another quality album by Rose Tattoo.  The boys were at their best when they delivered upbeat mini-anthems about scratching and clawing their way to the top.  This particular LP has three such tracks in Scarred For Life, We Can’t Be Beaten, and Branded.  My score: B

U.D.O. – “Animal House” (1987)

U.D.O.In 1987, Udo Dirkschneider left Accept.  His new band, called U.D.O., released their first album Animal House in ’87.  Interestingly, all the songs on Animal House were written by Accept and Deaffy.  (Deaffy was a pseudonym for Gaby Hauke, Accept’s manager and lyricist.)  According to metal journalist Martin Popoff, these songs were originally intended for Accept’s follow-up to 1986’s Russian Roulette.  But at the behest of their record label, Accept ditched both the songs and Udo.  So in a way, Animal House is kind of the lost Accept album.  And I actually think it’s a great record — better than Accept’s two previous (Russian Roulette and Metal Heart).

A strange looking dude, that Udo.  He had the body of a garden gnome, the hairdo of a six year old, and the face of a gargoyle.  But Udo’s metal-ness was never in question.  On Animal House, the hoarse ol’ warhorse and his new band of mercenaries plowed through this blistering n’ burning set of Accept castoffs.  What coulda-shoulda been one of Accepts best records instead flew the U.D.O. flag.  So check it out!  You better believe this one will torch your testes!  My score: A

Lion – “Trouble In Angel City” (1989)

LionLion’s last album was Trouble In Angel City (Grand Slamm Records).  The album contained re-recorded versions of five of the six tracks from Lion’s 1986 Power Love EP, as well as five new cuts (one being a Slade cover).  Lion never made it big despite having some talented musicians in their ranks.  This included vocalist Kal Swan (ex-Tytan), who possessed a very unique, stately timbre.  Doug Aldrich, Lion’s guitarist, would later join Whitesnake and Dio (amongst others), so it’s fair to say that he was a well-regarded axe man in the biz.  Drummer Mark Edwards was no slouch either — he even had his own solo album on Metal Blade in ’85 (which I actually own for some reason).  The problem with Lion was this — they lacked that elusive, inexplicable “x” factor.  These guys were pros, but they didn’t have that extra somethin’ special.  It’s almost as if Lion were too professional.  They never let their freak flag fly.  They never went for the throat, especially Swan on vocals.  Had he gone off the rails on the crazy train a time or two,  maybe Trouble In Angel City would have a little more life to it.  Instead, songs seem to go quietly into the night without much lasting impression.  Lead track Come On being a notable exception — it’s probably Lion’s best song.  Okay, maybe second best.  Their theme song to The Transformers: The Movie was pretty kick-ass!  My score: B-

Accept – “Eat The Heat” (1989)

AcceptOne of my favorite quotes from the bible is “nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”.  I believe that’s from the first letter of Paul to the Metalonians.  Well, that famous line was true for Accept fans in 1987, when Udo Dirkschneider and Accept parted ways.  It was the end of an era.  It was the end of November rain.  Dirkschneider went off and formed U.D.O., while the rest of Accept searched for a new singer.  Enter American vocalist David Reese.

Accept’s first album without Udo was 1989’s Eat The Heat.  The album was met with critical derision and fan indifference.  As such, it would be the only Accept album featuring Reese on vocals.  But is it as bad as they say?  I will say this — Eat The Heat is a flawed album, no doubt about it, but it is not a complete flop.  The biggest flaw?  The production!  Dieter Dierks’ knob job was stiff, mechanical, and colder than a Yeti’s dick.  He really botched this one!  The second biggest flaw was the band’s lack of direction.  Accept weren’t sure whether they wanted to be a metal band, a hair band, or something in between.  They were a bit rudderless at the time.  So they threw a bunch of songs at the wall to see which of ‘em would stick.  Never a good plan.  As for Reese, he was neither exceptional nor abysmal.  I don’t think his presence hurt (or helped) the album in any significant way.

Eat The Heat has some decent songs, but lacks any truly killer tunes.  Noteworthy tracks include X-T-C (the heavy album opener), Generation Clash (a hypnotic, slow burning pounder), and Hellhammer (a driving metal number with an off-the-wall, melodic interlude).  Another very interesting track is Stand 4 What U R.  This song sounds nothing like Accept!  It is more or less a “training montage” song that could have been used in any number of eighties movies.  Have a listen here.  I imagine my 13 year-old self cranking this baby up to 10, locking myself in my room, and doing karate moves until I was breathless.

There’s also a few dogs to be found on Eat The Heat — like the tepid, overly long ballad Mistreated and I Can’t Believe In You (a Japanese bonus track).

My overall take on Eat The Heat is that it is a very listenable album, but I would also concede that it is Accept’s weakest album since 1980’s I’m A Rebel.  My score: B- 

Stormwitch – “The Beauty And The Beast” (1987)

StormwitchThe good folks at Battle Cry Records were nice enough to re-release the first five Stormwitch albums on CD in 2005 — and I own ‘em all!  Not a bad investment if you ask me.  Stormwitch are an overlooked band worthy of some attention.  (Okay, truth be told Stormwitch’s fifth album was a bit of a dumpster fire, but hey, the first four were very solid!)

Stormwitch refined their sound on The Beauty And The Beast, their fourth album.  Keyboards entered the fray, and female backing vocals appeared on a few tunes.  Better production this time ’round, too.  GAMA Records gave Stormwitch a bigger budget thanks to the relative success of their first three albums.  Overall, The Beauty And The Beast is a more melodic, more “mature”, Stormwitch.  (Although I miss the campy horror themes of their first three albums.)  The Beauty And The Beast stands today as Stormwitch’s best-selling album, and I would argue it is their best work.  Standout cuts include the minstrel-like, medieval ballad Tears By The Firelight, the pirate-themed Tigers Of The Sea (giving Running Wild a run for their doubloons), and the galloping Emerald Eye.  Heck, throw Russia’s On Fire in there, too.  My score: B+

Anvil Bitch – “Rise To Offend” (1986)

Anvil BitchThe New Renaissance record label was kind of like a poor man’s Metal Blade in the 80’s.  Both labels were guilty of being a little too liberal with the record contracts.  New Renaissance threw Anvil Bitch a bone — but one wonders why.  This Pennsylvania thrash band weren’t exactly ready for the big leagues.  The sound was primitive, underground, and woefully average.  Poorly produced, to boot.  (Are those drums?  Or is someone tapping a briefcase with a pencil?)  Although 1986 was relatively early in the thrash game, I still can’t give these guys a pass.  Hey, Anvil Bitch were probably just stoked to get signed to a record deal at all.  Who could blame ‘em?  Even though Rise To Offend is pretty f*cking forgettable, at least they made an album.  What have I ever done?  Jack squat is what!  My score: C-