Killer Dwarfs – “Big Deal” (1988)

Killer DwarfsKiller Dwarfs were a Canadian band with an awful name.  1988’s Big Deal was their third album, and their first album after signing with a major label (Epic).  The name of the album is not only a play on their stupid band name but also a reference to the “big deal” they signed with Epic.

Killer Dwarfs had a benevolence, a sense of humor, and corniness that made them easy to like.  On Big Deal, they wrote these perfect little pop tunes thinly disguised as heavy metal.  I guess they were similar to Poison in that respect (though much different image-wise).  I am really blown away by the ability of these guys to write such hook-laden songs.  It seems that every note that goes into Big Deal is meant to be ear candy.  There are not only big sweeping choruses, but also well-developed pre-choruses and even pre-pre-choruses!  These songs are catchier than a cold!  Vocalist Russ “Dwarf” Graham had a real knack for singing very melodic vocal lines.  He had a great range, first of all, and he just seemed to have this innate ability to pick the the right notes to make every line he sang instantly memorable.

Honestly, this is one of the catchiest hard rock/metal albums I’ve ever heard!  From the guitar solos to the backing vocals, Big Deal is sweeter than pecan pie.  To the real headbangers out there, Big Deal will most likely seem way too corporate and way too radio-friendly to take seriously.  Fair enough.  But if you have a soft spot for that kind of stuff (like I do), you won’t want to miss out on Killer Dwarfs!  Personal faves include Startin’ To Shine, Breakaway, and We Stand Alone.  But really, all ten tracks are pretty damn good.

Now to the matter of why Big Deal was not a big hit.  As mentioned above, the band name didn’t help.  It’s not as bad as Pedifile but it’s still a dumb name.  Then of course there is the matter of that ridiculous cover.  What was Epic thinking?  Who the hell would want to buy an album with an imbecilic cover like that?  In hindsight, maybe Killer Dwarfs should have went the Poison route.  They should have moved to L.A. and changed their name to something like Lip Service (or Lip Cervixx).  They should have got all dolled up with eye-liner and blush.  They should have tried to appeal to the female audience like Poison did.  I bet they would have went platinum — especially with songs like these!  But it was not to be.  Killer Dwarfs were just too quirky.  Too Canadian.  Bless their hearts!  My score: A

Album Reviews (Nov 24, 2015)

Here’s a few album reviews…

Mother Love Bone – Shine (1989)

Mother Love BoneSeattle’s Mother Love Bone found themselves at the forefront of the burgeoning Seattle rock scene when they were signed to a major label in 1988.  MLB featured two future Pearl Jam members in Jeff Ament (bass) and Stone Gossard (guitar).  But it was their charismatic lead singer Andrew Wood who helped to raise the band’s profile.  Considerable buzz surrounded MLB at the time — at least locally.  The EP Shine was MLB’s 1989 debut.  While I certainly wouldn’t hold this record in the same regard as their more distinguished 1990 LP Apple, there are signs of the band’s considerable promise.  The inclusion of their most famous song, the eight minute Chloe Dancer/Crown Of The Thorns is the unquestionable highlight.  However, this song sets such a high bar that it dwarfs comparatively rote numbers like Mudshaker Meltdown and Half Ass Monkey Boy.  Credit must be given to the opener Thru Fade Away for finding a way to work the words “Mahatma Gandhi” into the chorus.  That has to be a first!  My score: B+

Gargoyle – Nothing Is Sacred (1988)

GargoyleGargoyle were part of a metal sub-genre now referred to as “USPM” (United States Power Metal).  In general, the USPM sound was somewhere between the standard “heavy metal” of bands like Priest, Maiden, and Dio and the thrash metal of bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax.  Typically USPM had clean, soaring vocals with fantasy-based lyrics.  The riffs were usually fast and the drumming aggressive (often double bass).

Gargoyle impressed with their entry on the compilation Metal Massacre VIII (1987) on a song called Into The Darkness, but their one and only full-length LP does not measure up to that earlier tune.  Nothing Sacred (New Renaissance Records) flounders for a few key reasons. First, the vocals are too far out in front of the mix.  If this were a pop record, that would be okay, but in heavy metal we need to hear the guitars, bass, and drums, and we need them to be LOUD!  Second, vocalist Tim Lachman does not give a commanding performance.  Great vocals are of the utmost importance in USPM, and an average performer just won’t do.  (I lodged a similar complaint in my review of Tyton’s Mind Over Metal LP.)  Lachman didn’t always hit his marks when it came to timing and pitch, and Nothing Is Sacred suffers for it.  (Side note: much of the lyrics on Nothing Is Sacred have Christian themes.)  My score: C+

Cities – Annihilation Absolute (1986)

CitiesI guess you could call Cities another example of USPM, but unlike Gargoyle (above) Cities had a vocalist who was in total control of his voice, and thus by extension, the listener’s ear.

The New York band Cities released a six song EP in 1985 called Annihilation Absolute on the Metal Masters label.  A year later, they re-recorded the six songs plus an additional three songs for a full-length album (also called Annihilation Absolute) on Metal Blade Records.  (This is the version I am reviewing here.)

Cities’ drummer on Annihilation Absolute was A.J. Pero of Twisted Sister, though Cities didn’t really sound that much like Twisted Sister — more like a marriage of Twisted Sister and Anthrax.  As mentioned above, Cities’ vocalist Ron Angell was a strong vocalist — a necessity for this type of metal.  But the real star of the group was guitarist Steve Mironovich.  He carried the axe duties all by his lonesome and laid down some heavy riffage.  Steve unfurls a wicked riff that leads off the album on Stop The Race.  This riff almost sounds like something from Dave Mustaine’s bag of tricks.  My favorite songs on Annihilation Absolute are the first three — the aforementioned Stop The Race, the anthemic Fight For Your Life and the bruising Burn Forever.  All in all, this is a solid metal album.  Cities remind me a bit of another really good east coast metal band from the same time period — TT Quick.  It’s too bad Annihilation Absolute was their only album.  My score: B

 Impellitteri – Impellitteri (1987)

ImpellitteriImpellitteri is the not-so-easy-to-spell last name of Chris Impellitteri, a guitar shredder in the style of Yngwie Malmsteen.  Impellitteri was a four-song EP released in 1987 featuring Rob Rock on vocals.

Both Rock and Impellitteri show off their considerable talents on this short sampler.  Rob Rock’s vocals soar and Chris’ fingers fly feverishly all over the fret board.  The opening cut Lost In The Rain is my fave of the bunch.  This album matched up pretty well with some of the better Yngwie material from the same time period.  If shredding guitars with good vocals and decent hooks is something you’re in to, then step right up.  My score: B

Sepultura – Beneath The Remains (1989)

SepulturaProducer/engineer Scott Burns traveled to Sepultura’s home country of Brazil to work with the band on Beneath The Remains.  Released in 1989 by Roadrunner Records, Burns captured the aggression of Sepultura, and the album broke them with an international audience outside of Brazil.  (This was Sepultura’s third full-length album.)  Beneath The Remains featured a thick guitar tone, a heavy drum sound, and the furious vocals of Max Cavalera.

Though considered a classic among a lot of thrash fans, I actually find Beneath The Remains to be woefully one-dimensional.  Yes, there’s a lot of brutality here, but after a few songs the point is made, and then things get old quick.  (To paraphrase Yogi: “It gets late awfully early around here”.)  We get a chugging riff that goes on for a while, and then we get a new chugging riff that goes on for a while, and then another chugging riff comes along.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  All the while, Max Cavalera’s shouts in the same curt, atonal style in every song.  One track bleeds into the next.  There’s no push and pull — there’s no dynamics that make a song a true “song”.  (Granted, I do think Sepultura made the kind of record they wanted to make.  It’s just that their idea of a song and my idea of a song obviously differ!)

I know folks like to compare Beneath The Remains to Slayer’s Reign In Blood (1986), but don’t forget that Beneath The Remains came three years AFTER Reign In Blood — and a lot of progress had been made in thrash since.  I think Sepultura were still coming into their own as a band on Beneath The Remains, but they weren’t there yet.  Sorry, I don’t consider this album an essential thrash release at all!  My score: C- 


Flotsam And Jetsam – “No Place For Disgrace” (1988)

Flotsam And JetsamAfter the release of their debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver in 1986, Flotsam And Jetsam took a heavy blow when they lost their bassist Jason Newsted to Metallica.  Newsted was not only a great bassist but he was also a founding member of Flotsam And Jetsam as well as their principal lyricist.  But the band came back strong with their sophomore release No Place For Disgrace in 1988.  Appearing on a major label for the first time (Elektra Records — the same label that was home to Metallica in ’88), Flotsam And Jetsam seemed to be on the verge of breaking out to a larger audience with this record.  Unfortunately, they never made the leap to the big time, but No Place For Disgrace is nevertheless considered a minor classic of eighties thrash — and rightly so!

I admire Flotsam And Jetsam because they had a very unique sound that blended thrash, speed metal, and NWOBHM.  They also had one of the best singers in all of the thrash/speed genre in Eric “A.K.” Knutson.  Sure, No Place For Disgrace is, at times, bogged down by the band’s insistence on fussy and overly long compositions, but Flotsam still delivered some absolute gems with the songs No Place For Disgrace, Hard On You, and I Live You Die.  These were three KILLER tunes (two of which were holdovers from their earlier days with Newsted).  All three are ultra-heavy songs with great lyrics, memorable hooks, and amazing musicianship!

No Place For Disgrace also included a cover of Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.  Judging by many of the reviews I’ve read online, this cover has not been well received.  I actually really like it though!  Yes, it’s a little out-of-place on the album but I think Elton’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting is a song that works well dressed up as a heavy metal tune.  Lots of thrash bands were including covers on their albums at the time (probably at their record label’s behest), and usually these covers were released as singles.  (Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting was indeed released as a single off No Place For Disgrace.)  This actually wasn’t a bad idea by the record companies to release these covers as singles — I think it was a smart way to attract new fans to their bands with established songs.  I also like that Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting appeared right in the middle of the album — at the end of side one.  It’s a little break in the action, a chance to catch your breath after four complicated, busy Flotsam tunes.  When a cover tune is the first song on the album it says to me that the band’s original material probably sucks.  When the cover is the last song on the album it usually feels like it’s tacked on like an afterthought or bonus track (though there weren’t many bonus tracks in the eighties).

Today the original No Place For Disgrace has gone out-of-print and is hard to find.  It’s a shame that this album hasn’t received the same luxury treatment that Doomsday for The Deceiver did in 2006 with its 20th anniversary remix/remastered version.  That’s because the Doomsday For The Deceiver rights belong to Metal Blade Records while No Place For Disgrace was an Elektra release.  Because of this, Flotsam And Jetsam haven’t been able to get the rights to re-release No Place For Disgrace.  Instead, Flotsam re-recorded No Place For Disgrace in 2014 (released with the title No Place For Disgrace 2014).  The re-recorded version isn’t awful but it’s obviously no substitute for the original.  I’m happy to have my cassette copy of the old Elektra version thank you very much.  My score: A-

Mercyful Fate – “Melissa” (1983)

Mercyful Fate“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”  That’s a quote from This Is Spinal Tap.  I can’t help but think of this quote when I’m listening to a Mercyful Fate album.  Any time King Diamond is involved you’ve got some unbridled ridiculousness on your hands.  This guy yammers on about Satan with a ludicrous high-pitched falsetto that you won’t believe is humanly possible.  It’s stupid — and possibly clever.  Believe it or not, King Diamond was actually a little more restrained on Melissa than he was on Mercyful Fate’s 1984 follow-up Don’t Break The Oath.  But still… it’s silly pants.

This is probably the most overtly Satanic album I own.  Way back when, Melissa seemed genuinely scary and taboo (especially to those of us growing up Christian).  But now, in a post-September 11th world where we’re all desensitized by the legitimately scary stuff going on, the Satanism “scare” of the eighties seems downright cute.  Such innocent times!  Because I am older, wiser, and godless, I can listen to Melissa without worrying about burning in eternal hell fire.  (I’ll repent on my death-bed just in case.)  Instead, I appreciate Melissa as camp — like a cheesy horror movie from the eighties.

Aside from the absurd lyrics and the strange sounds emanating from King’s blasphemous mouth hole, the music on Melissa may take a little time to get used to.  Songs change direction without warning so don’t get too comfortable.  Lots of riffs (cool).  Lots of solos (meh).  Not much in the way of great hooks.  Melissa is, however, a very heavy record for its time.  No one can deny that.  My score: C+

“Metal Massacre” – Discography (1982-1989)

Let’s take a look back at the first ten compilation albums from Metal Blade’s famous Metal Massacre series.  These albums contained low-budget recordings from young, hungry, (mostly) unsigned metal bands.  Because of this, each Metal Massacre album is an important snapshot of what was going on in the metal underground at the time.  With the benefit of hindsight, it is very interesting to revisit these albums with the knowledge of which bands “made it” and which bands remained forever obscure.

How did it all begin?

In the early eighties, heavy metal fanatic and L.A. native Brain Slagel was a record store employee and editor of a fanzine called The New Heavy Metal Revue.  Slagel had his finger on the pulse of the burgeoning L.A. metal scene at the time.  He put together a collection of demos from local heavy metal talent and pressed about 4500 copies of an album called The New Heavy Metal Revue Presents Metal Massacre.  According to Slagel, the first pressing sold out in a single day.  Soon after, Slagel was approached by a company called Greenworld, and the two parties worked out a deal where Slagel would find talent and Greenworld would manufacture and distribute the records.  Though it was not his initial intention when he put out the first Metal Massacre compilation, Slagel soon found himself permanently attached to the record making business.  His Metal Blade Records remains a fixture in the metal world to this day.

Read on for my reviews of the first ten Metal Massacre albums…

The New Heavy Metal Revue Presents Metal Massacre (1982)

Metal Massacre version 1 (cover)

The first Metal Massacre is most famous for including the first appearance of Metallica and launching the Metal Blades Records label.  It is a seminal album in heavy metal history and should be celebrated as such.  Metal Massacre also marked the debut of Ratt, Malice, Steeler, and Black ‘N Blue.

There are slightly different versions of Metal Massacre.  (For reference, the track listing for each is presented below.)  The first version was the original pressing of about 4500 copies made by Brian Slagel.  Metallica was misspelled “Mettallica” on this rare pressing.  The second version, also released in 1982, was a licensed pressing made by Metalworks records.  The cover was different than the original.  On the Metalworks version, Steeler’s Cold Day In Hell was replaced by Black ‘N Blue’s Chains Around Heaven.  Also, a different recording of Metallica’s Hit The Lights was used. The third and final Metal Massacre version came out in 1984.  Once again on Metal Blade Records, the album retained the same track list as the Metalworks version except Ratt’s Tell The World was omitted.

Track List:

Version 1 (Metal Blade Records, 1982) LP back cover

  1. Steeler – Cold Day In Hell
  2. Bitch – Live For The Whip
  3. Malice – Captive Of Light
  4. Ratt – Tell The World
  5. Avatar – Octave (instrumental)
  6. Cirith Ungol – Death Of The Sun
  7. Demon Flight – Dead Of The Night
  8. Pandemonium – Fighting Backwards
  9. Malice – Kick You Down
  10. Metallica – Hit the Lights (first version)

Version 2 (Metalworks Records, 1982) LP back cover

  1. Black ‘N Blue – Chains Around Heaven
  2. Bitch – Live For The Whip
  3. Malice – Captive Of Light
  4. Ratt – Tell the World
  5. Avatar – Octave (instrumental)
  6. Cirith Ungol – Death Of The Sun
  7. Demon Flight – Dead Of The Night
  8. Pandemonium – Fighting Backwards
  9. Malice – Kick You Down
  10. Metallica – Hit the Lights (second version)

Version 3 (Metal Blade Records, 1984) LP back cover

  1. Black ‘N Blue – Chains Around Heaven
  2. Bitch – Live For The Whip
  3. Malice – Captive Of Light
  4. Avatar – Octave (instrumental)
  5. Cirith Ungol – Death Of The Sun
  6. Demon Flight – Dead Of The Night
  7. Pandemonium – Fighting Backwards
  8. Malice – Kick You Down
  9. Metallica – Hit the Lights (second version)

Info Nuggets:

  • The only band that didn’t go on and make at least one record after Metal Massacre II was Avatar.  This is not the same Avatar that changed their name to Savatage.
  • Black N’ Blue was misspelled as Black And Blue on the Metalworks version.
  • Three of the four members of Pandemonium were brothers from Alaska.
  • Steeler was fronted by Ron Keel.  Ron later formed Keel, a band that released a bunch of albums in the eighties.  Yngwie Malmsteen was once a member of Steeler, but that wasn’t until after Metal Massacre.
  • Though Slagel was able to get songs from some of the hottest young L.A. metal bands, he wasn’t able to secure an entry from the most popular new L.A. band at the time — Motley Crue.  The Crue were almost on Metal Massacre (according to Slagel) but they opted instead to independently release their own full-length LP in 1982.
  • Brain Slagel was friends with fellow metal head and NWOBHM record collector Lars Ulrich at the time.  In fact, Lars formed Metallica with James Hetfield just so he could have a track on Metal Massacre!
  • Guess who played the guitar solo on the original Hit The Lights from the first pressing of Metal Massacre?  Hetfield?  Mustaine?  Hammett?  Nope.  It was a guy by the name of Lloyd Grant.  (Dave Mustaine played solos on the second version.)

My Worthless Opinion:  Black ‘N Blue and Ratt had the most radio friendly sound of all the contributors.  Black N’ Blue’s Chains Around Heaven is one of their better songs, and they re-recorded it for their first LP on Geffen Records.  Tell The World may not be top-notch Ratt, but it still has that trademark Ratt n’ roll swagger.

The band that really stands out on Metal Massacre is Malice!  They deliver a pair of strong cuts.  Kick You Down being the better of the two.  Vocalist James Neal gives a great, slightly maniacal performance.  The dark horse of the collection would have to be Demon Flight with Dead Of Night.  This is a fairly simple composition with odd falsetto vocals and subterranean sound quality, but somehow it works!  Dead Of Night is creepy and atmospheric… though probably by accident.

Elsewhere, Pandemonium’s Fighting Backwards plays like an adolescent Black Sabbath (think Witchfinder General) and Cirith Ungol deliver the album’s worst song with the butt-ugly Death Of The Sun.

Overall, Metal Massacre may not have aged particularly well, but keep in mind that these songs were really just demos.  This inaugural Metal Blade release was an important chapter in metal history.  It shined a light on the rising L.A. metal scene.  The influence of British heavy metal was plainly apparent, but the Americans were forging ahead in a faster, louder, and more exaggerated direction.  My score: B

Metal Massacre II (1982)

Metal Massacre II

The second Metal Massacre kicks off with Armored Saint’s Lesson Well Learned.  Armored Saint would go on to have arguably the best career of any of the young bands featured on this second Metal Massacre compilation.  However, the band that makes the biggest impression (at least in my opinion) would have to be Warlord.  Their contribution, Lucifer’s Hammer, is the best track on Metal Massacre II.

Track List:

  1. Armored Saint – Lesson Well Learned 
  2. 3rd Stage Alert – Mind Invader
  3. Surgical Steel – Rivit Head 
  4. Obsession – Shadows Of Steel
  5. Savage Grace – Scepters Of Deceit 
  6. Overkill – No Holds Barred
  7. Warlord – Lucifer’s Hammer
  8. Trauma – Such A Shame
  9. Dietrich – It’s Alright
  10. Molten Leather – Inversion
  11. Hyksos – Kings
  12. Aloha – Heavy Metal Virgin

Info Nuggets:

  • Future Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was a member of Trauma at the time.  Burton plays bass on Trauma’s Such A Shame.
  • Marty Friedman appears as a member of Aloha on Heavy Metal Virgin.  He would eventually become a member of Megadeth during that band’s prime years.
  • Armored Saint, Warlord, Obsession, Savage Grace and 3rd Stage Alert all went on to release records for Metal Blade.
  • The Overkill that appears on Metal Massacre II is not the same Overkill that would become famous for such albums as Feel The Fire and The Years Of Decay.

My Worthless Opinion:  Highlights other than Warlord’s Lucifer’s Hammer include Jeff Martin’s spot-on Rob Halford impression on the speed metal track Rivit Head, and the obscure 3rd Stage Alert delivering the compilation’s most melodic tune with Mind Invader.  Additionally, Trauma, Hyksos, and Aloha all make decent (though not spectacular) showings.

As for low-lights, Savage Grace’s Dwight Cliff ruins a perfectly serviceable speed metal tune with his lousy falsetto in the final third of Scepters Of Deceit and Obsession screws the pooch with Shadows Of Steel.  (There’s too much echo on Mike Vescera’s vocal track and the song itself goes nowhere.)  In their defense, Obsession would go on to put out some pretty decent stuff after Metal Massacre II.  It’s just unfortunate they didn’t represent themselves better here.  Lastly, while Armored Saint sounded crisp and refined on Lesson Well Learned, the song is kind of a dud — it has no hook and fades out unceremoniously.  My score: B

Metal Massacre III (1983)

Metal Massacre III

Metal Massacre III is best known for the very first appearance of Slayer.  The album marks the return of Bitch and Warlord to the Metal Massacre series.  They are the only bands to appear on two different Metal Massacre albums.

Track List:

  1. Slayer – Aggressive Perfector
  2. Bitch – Riding In Thunder
  3. Tyrant – The Battle Of Armageddon
  4. Medusa – Piranhas 
  5. Test Pattern – Bite The Knife
  6. Black Widow – Blitzkrieg (instrumental)
  7. Warlord – Mrs. Victoria
  8. Virgin Steele – Let’s Go All the Way
  9. Sexist – Fire And Wind
  10. Snowhite – Hell Bent
  11. Marauder – The Kid
  12. La Mort – Fist And Chain

Info Nuggets:

  • Brian Slagel approached Slayer and asked them to be part of Metal Massacre III after seeing them open for Bitch in Anaheim, California.
  • Three of the four members of Chicago’s Snowhite were African Americans — two brothers and a cousin.  The fourth member was female vocalist Nicole Lee.  Snowhite later changed their name to Znöwhite.
  • Don Dokken is credited as producer for Sexist’s Fire And Wind.  In their early days, both Gilby Clarke and Jake E. Lee were members of Sexist.  Neither appear on Metal Massacre III.  Eventually, Sexist would morph into a band called Letchen Grey that released an EP called Party Politics in 1986.
  • Medusa’s song is called Piranahs.  This is a spelling mistake — probably unintentional.  It should be Piranhas.

My Worthless Opinion: Although I would never call myself a Slayer fan, I must admit that their debut here is pretty impressive.  I always wish Slayer had a better singer though.  Same for Snowhite, their vocalist Nicole Lee was pretty terrible — a real weak point for an otherwise competent speed/thrash attack.

For the second straight Metal Massacre album, Warlord has one of the best songs.  Mrs. Victoria is not quite as good as Lucifer’s Hammer from Metal Massacre II, but it further fortified Warlord’s reputation as epic metal masters.

Of the lesser-known artists on Metal Massacre III, the band that really got my attention is Sexist.  They had a sound akin to early Ratt or Motley Crue.  More of a heavy “hair” band if you will.  I wouldn’t mind hearing more from these guys.

As for disappointments, Test Pattern’s Bite The Knife starts off well but unravels about half-way through.  Medusa’s Piranhas is kind of a mess, with a weirdly “processed” vocal track.  Another odd one is Marauder’s The Kid.  This has to be the first time I’ve ever heard a metal song where the drum track is panned entirely to the right channel.  One of my favorite eighties bands, Virgin Steele, checks in with Let’s Go All The Way.  A good impression this does NOT make, as Dave DeFeis vocals are idiotic on this woeful splooge.  Trust me, Virgin Steele were better than this!  My score: B-

Metal Massacre IV (1983)

Metal Masscre IV

Before Metal Massacre IV, the Metal Massacre compilations were comprised predominantly of California bands.  However, executive producer Brian Slagel cast a wider net for Metal Massacre IV.  The album included two Canadian bands, five Illinois bands and one Michigan band.  By expanding his reach, Slagel put together what I consider to be the best Metal Massacre record in the entire series!

Track List:

  1. Sacred Blade – The Alien
  2. Death Dealer – Cross My Way
  3. Trouble – The Last Judgement
  4. Sceptre – Taken By Force
  5. Zoetrope – Speed Zone
  6. War Cry – Forbidden Evil
  7. Abattoir – Screams From The Grave
  8. Witchslayer – I Don’t Want To Die
  9. Lizzy Borden – Rod Of Iron
  10. August Redmoon – Fear No Evil
  11. Thrust – Destructer
  12. Medieval – Medieval

Info Nuggets:

  • Technically titled Metal Massacre 4 not Metal Massacre IV.  Metal Blade was inconsistent with their numerical notation in the series.
  • Death Dealer later changed their name to Deaf Dealer.  They released an LP called Keeper Of The Flame in 1986.
  • Future Agent Steel vocalist John Cyriis appears twice on Metal Massacre IV, as the vocalist for Abattoir (as “John Syriis”) and as the guitarist for Sceptre (as “John Camps”).
  • After Metal Massacre IV, August Redmoon morphed into Terracuda and then Eden.
  • All but three bands on Metal Massacre IV released official records in the eighties.  The three that did not are War Cry, Witchslayer and Sceptre.

My Worthless Opinion: Side one of Metal Massacre IV includes songs by Sacred Blade, Death Dealer, Trouble, Sceptre, Zoetrope, and War Cry.  Of the six, I think Death Dealer wins the day with the bruising Cross My Way, while Trouble disappoints with the dilapidated doom of The Last Judgement.

Side two is where Metal Massacre IV really shifts into high gear.  The first song, however, is not a good one — Abattoir’s speed metal feast gets shat upon by John Cyriis’ ridiculously high-pitched shriek in the chorus.  But then things get VERY interesting.  An Illinois band by the name of Witchslayer delivers a throwback to the NWOBHM with the mighty I Don’t Want To Die.  This song has a simple but strong main riff, and the composition flows nicely between its different sections.  Next, Lizzy Borden steps up to the plate with a KILLER song called Rod Of Iron.  Even though this early demo would later be polished into a shiny diamond on Lizzy’s 1985 LP Love You To Pieces, I really enjoy the raw evil of this version.  Rod Of Iron is a metal masterpiece!  Lizzy’s villainous vocals are tremendous and the lyrics are equally wicked.  Love it!

After Lizzy blows up the world with Rod Of Iron, the remaining three bands on Metal Massacre are faced with a tough task — to somehow follow Lizzy Borden’s act.  Fortunately, August Redmoon drop a tasty cut called Fear No Evil to keep the fires stoked and the adrenaline riding high.  Next, Thrust deals a sonic beat down with the punishing Destructer.  (I’ve reviewed Thrust’s 1984 LP Fist Held High in the past.  This is one of those bands that is better in small doses.  I think they were well-suited for a compilation such as this.)  Metal Massacre IV‘s finale is a touch of weirdness by a Michigan band called Medieval.  It’s entirely possible that this song (also called Medieval) is meant as a joke because the vocals are way over-the-top, but goddamn this song crushes!  Joke or no, Medieval close out Metal Massacre in neck-wrecking fashion!  My score: A- 

Metal Massacre V (1984)

Metal Masscre V

With the exception of maybe the first Metal Massacre, no album in this series ever had as many future “stars” on it as Metal Massacre V.  Overkill, Fates Warning, and Metal Church are three of the big names on Metal Massacre V.

Track List:

  1. Omen – Torture Me
  2. Voivod – Condemned To The Gallows
  3. Attacker – (Call On) The Attacker
  4. Future Tense – Nightmare
  5. Overkill – Death Rider
  6. Fates Warning – Soldier Boy
  7. Metal Church – The Brave
  8. Lethyl Synn – Destroyer
  9. Final Warning – The Warrior
  10. Hellhammer – Crucifixion
  11. Mace – Marching Saprophytes
  12. Jesters Of Destiny – End of Time

Info Nuggets:

  • Crazy liner notes: Future Tense’s vocals are credited to “Cock (Throat) Van Drunen”.  Hellhammer’s “Denial Fiend” is credited for playing “Hellish Crossfire On Wooden Coffins”.  Voivod’s “Snake” is credited for “Throat, Insults, Screaming, Mike Torture”.
  • Voivod is spelled as “Voi Vod” on the album jacket.
  • All but two artists on Metal Massacre V made albums.  Lethyl Synn and Final Warning never released anything officially.

My Worthless Opinion: Despite containing three of my favorite mid-eighties metal bands (Overkill, Fates Warning, and Metal Church), Metal Massacre V is not all it should be.  Problem is, the songs by Overkill, Fates Warning, and Metal Church are fairly average by those band’s standards.  While I admit that Overkill’s Death Rider rocks pretty hard, the sound quality ain’t so great and the solo stinks.  Soldier Boy by Fates Warning is not one of their better tunes (in my opinion).  Metal Church’s The Brave is actually the best song on Metal Massacre V — but Metal Church were capable of better.

There are a couple of real duds on Metal Massacre V, too.  Hellhammer’s Crucufixion is pretty much one long stinky belch, while Voivod’s Condemned To The Gallows borderlines on noise pollution. Of the lesser known bands on Metal Massacre V, Attacker and Jesters Of Destiny make the best impression.  Attacker’s (Call On) The Attacker houses the album’s best riff, although Bob Mitchell’s vocals are shriek city.  Jesters Of Destiny closes the album on a quality note with End Of Time.  My Score: B-

Metal Massacre VI (1985)

Metal Massacre VI

Thrash metal was beginning to ooze like an open sore from metal’s underbelly around the time Metal Massacre VI hit the streets.  Metal Blade captured this growing trend by including thrash bands like Possessed, Hirax, and Dark Angel on Metal Massacre VI.

Track List:

  1. Possessed – Swing Of The Axe
  2. Nasty Savage – XXX
  3. Steel Assassin – Executioner
  4. Mayhem – Tear Down The Walls
  5. Hades – Easy Way Out
  6. Hallow’s Eve – Metal Merchants
  7. Hirax – Bombs Of Death
  8. Pathfinder – Fountain Keeper
  9. Dark Angel – Welcome To The Slaughterhouse
  10. The Obsessed – Concrete Cancer
  11. Martyr – En Masse (Stand Or Die)

Info Nuggets:

  • Metal Massacre VI marked the debut of Possessed with the song Swing Of The Axe.  They went on to sign with Combat Records and release the Seven Churches LP in 1985.  Possessed are considered one of the first “death metal” bands.
  • Rik Anthony of Pathfinder was previously the lead singer for the Canadian band Breaker.  (I consider Breaker’s 1982 EP In Days Of Heavy Metal to be an underrated gem!)
  • Hirax, Nasty Savage, and Hallows Eve (spelled “Hallow’s Eve” on Metal Massacre VI) all went on to release full albums on Metal Blade Records in the eighties.
  • The band Mayhem that appears on Metal Massacre VI is from Oregon.  This is not the notorious Norwegian black metal band named Mayhem.

My Worthless Opinion:  Possessed open the album with Swing Of The Axe — the intro to which sounds almost identical to the beginning of Slayer’s Angel Of Death.  Mind you, Angel Of Death came out a year AFTER Swing Of The Axe, so I think Slayer ripped Possessed off!  By the way, history tells us that Possessed’s vocalist Jeff Becerra was a pioneer of the infamous death metal (vocal) growl.  Let’s all thank Jeff for influencing thousands of bands I will never listen to!

There’s a lot of thrash to be found on Metal Massacre VI, but the two best songs are actually more in the “power metal” style.  The Dutch band Martyr really impresses with En Masse (Stand Or Die).  This great song really grabs me by the pubic mound and doesn’t let go!  The other killer track is Fountain Keeper by the Canadian band Pathfinder.  Unfortunately, I think this is the only song Pathfinder ever officially released.  I would have loved to hear more stuff from them!  Another song that deserves a mention is The Obsessed’s Concrete Cancer — it’s a tasty jam in the spirit of Black Sabbath.

Of the thrash numbers, Mayhem’s Tear Down The Walls and Hallows Eve’s Metal Merchants are my two favorites.  Not surprisingly, these are the only two thrash songs with decent vocals. Nasty Savage’s XXX is the worst song on this compilation, with Dark Angel’s Welcome To The Slaughterhouse coming in a close second.

Overall, I think Metal Massacre VI is one of the best albums in the series.  It’s worth the price of ownership just for the rare Pathfinder and Martyr tracks alone.  Everything after that is gravy.  My score: B+

Metal Massacre VII (1986)

Metal Massacre VII

Metal Massacre VII had more range of metal styles than any Metal Massacre before it.  Besides having two (yes, two) female fronted thrash bands, Metal Massacre VII also had the L.A. sleaze metal of Krank, the hardcore cross-over of Cryptic Slaughter, and the dungeons ‘n dragons metal of Commander.

Track List:

  1. Heretic – Impulse
  2. Sentinel Beast – Sentinel Beast
  3. Flotsam And Jetsam – I Live, You Die
  4. Krank – Rented Heat
  5. Mad Man – Backstabber
  6. Detente – Widow’s Walk
  7. Commander – High ‘N’ Mighty
  8. Juggernaut – In The Blood Of Virgins
  9. Cryptic Slaughter – Reich Of Torture
  10. Have Mercy – The Omen
  11. Titanic – The Awakening
  12. Lost Horizon – Troubled Ways

Info Nuggets:

  • Heretic’s lead singer Mike Torre joined Abattoir for their 1986 album The Only Safe Place (as Mike Towers).
  • Flotsam and Jetsam re-recorded I Live, You Die for their 1988 LP No Place For Disgrace.
  • Titanic independently released the LP Then There Was Rock in 1985 on White Lightning Records.  It was their only official album.

My Worthless Opinion:  Seven albums into the series and Metal Blade continues to deliver quality metal to quivering ear holes everywhere.  Metal Massacre VII is another enjoyable smorgasbord of eighties steel.  The two main highlights for me are Flotsam And Jetsam’s minor thrashterpiece I Live, You Die and Lost Horizon’s melodic gem Troubled Ways.  Lost Horizon (to my knowledge) never released any other material after Troubled Ways.  ‘Tis a shame because they had a great sound.

Secondary highlights include Heretic’s frantic Impulse, Commander’s triumphant High ‘N’ Mighty, and Titanic’s formidable The Awakening.  These strong cuts help to counter-balance the album’s misfires, which include Juggernaut’s In The Blood Of Virgins and Cryptic Slaughter’s Reich Of Torture.  My score: B+

Metal Massacre VIII (1987)

Metal Massacre VIII

There aren’t many recognizable names on Metal Massacre VIII (Sacred Reich is probably the biggest name here), but don’t let that perceived lack of star power sway your judgment.  Metal Massacre VIII is another rock solid entry in Metal Blade’s legendary series.

Track List:

  1. Sacred Reich – Ignorance
  2. Viking – Hellbound
  3. Overlorde – Keeper of the Flame
  4. Fatal Violence – Violence Is Golden
  5. Tactics – Spare No Lives
  6. Sanctum – Nothing Left
  7. Gargoyle – Into the Darkness
  8. Ripper – Death Awaits You
  9. E.S.P. – Take ‘Em Alive
  10. Wargod – Intimate with Evil
  11. L.S.N. – Deadly Kiss
  12. Cobalt Blue – Bullets

Info Nuggets:

  • Overlorde, Sanctum, Wargod, Fatal Violence, Cobalt Blue, and L.S.N. never released official albums.
  • Tactics independently released their only album The Master Plan in 1991.
  • The lead singer on Cobalt Blue’s Bullets was Lennie Rizzo (better known for his work on Exxplorer’s Symphonies Of Steel).
  • L.S.N. is short for “Loud Senseless Noise”.

Worthless Aside:  Compilations provide an advantageous environment for certain bands — particularly those that are one-dimensional in nature.  Because you only get a small taste of a band’s sound, you’re not plagued by the “listener fatigue” that you may otherwise experience when listening to a full album of a band’s material.  Take for example two bands that appear on Metal Massacre VIII — Viking and Gargoyle.  I happen to own albums by both of these bands, and I am not really a fan of either.  When I listen to Viking’s Man Of Straw (1989) or Gargoyle’s Nothing Is Sacred (1988), I get bored after a few songs because they all sound the same.  But if you include only one of their songs on a compilation of different artists, both Viking and Gargoyle’s songs “pop”.  It’s all relative.  On Metal Massacre VIII, the melodic power metal of Gargoyle’s Into The Darkness comes to life between the onerous thrash of Sanctum and the horror metal of Ripper.  Contrast is the key, and the mash-up of styles on the Metal Massacre albums is a fun way to experience different metal sub-genres in smaller, more palatable doses.  Furthermore, a compilation shouldn’t just be a haphazard collection of songs thrown together in a random order.  The sequencing of the tracks is very important.  I think Metal Blade did a particularly good job at arranging the running order on their Metal Massacre albums.  This helped maximize the listener’s enjoyment.

My Worthless Opinion:  Much like the last few albums, Metal Massacre VIII contains a nice balance of traditional (melodic) metal tunes and harsher, thrashier numbers.  Highlights include Overlorde’s galloping Keeper Of The Flame which is rich in melody and well-produced to boot.  Gargoyle also represent America’s power metal contingent well with the fine Into The Darkness. The album’s closing cut Bullets by Cobalt Blue is a little rough around the edges, but it succeeds at delivering a memorable chorus.

Of the thrash numbers on Metal Massacre VIII, my favorite is Fatal Violence’s Violence Is Golden.  First of all, what a great name for a song!  Violence Is Golden does a nice job of being both catchy and borderline psychotic.

There really aren’t any awful tunes on Metal Massacre VIII.  I guess if I had to a lodge any complaints I would say I am mildly disappointed with Ripper’s Death Awaits You because it has this suspenseful intro that seems to be setting the stage for something spectacular, but when the vocals finally arrive they are a bit campy (to say the least).  It turns out Ripper were some sort of horror-based metal band — so this was actually their shtick.  I just didn’t know that going in.  Another track that may warrant the use of the ol’ skip button is L.S.N.’s Deadly Kiss.  Since L.S.N. stands for “Loud Senseless Noise” I guess it isn’t much of a surprise that I am not a huge fan!  My score: B

Metal Massacre IX (1988)

Metal Massacre IX

Are you still reading?  Well, we’ve climbed our way up to the ninth Metal Massacre.  Taking stock of the series thus far, one noticeable difference between the early volumes and the later ones is the audio quality of the songs.  The first Metal Massacre consisted of demos, and when listening to that album it was plainly obvious that they were indeed low-budget demos. In fact, Metallica’s Hit The Lights on the first Metal Massacre sounded like it was recorded in a pay toilet!  But with each subsequent volume the sound quality seemed to improve.  Here on the ninth Metal Massacre, most of the recordings sound pretty professional.

 Track List:

  1. Banshee – We Want You
  2. Oliver Magnum – Old World Nites
  3. Toxik – Wasteland
  4. Dissenter – Blood Under Heaven
  5. Redrum – Random Violence
  6. Pedifile – Definitive Apology
  7. Chaos Horde – Needle Damage
  8. Faith Or Fear – Dehumanize
  9. The Wrath – Midnight Madman
  10. Overdose – Children of War

Info Nuggets:

  • Technically titled Metal Massacre Nine and not Metal Massacre IX.  Metal Blade was inconsistent in their numerical notation in the series.
  • Metal Massacre IX was (partially) re-released on CD in 1994 as a two-in-one along with Metal Massacre VIII.  The songs by Redrum, Pedifile, The Wrath, and Overdose were omitted in order to fit both albums on one CD.
  • Banshee’s We Want You appeared on their 1986 EP Cry In The Night.
  • Oliver Magnum re-recorded Old World Nights for their 1989 debut LP Oliver Magnum.
  • Dissenter, Pedifile, Chaos Horde, and The Wrath never released official albums.
  • Redrum’s Random Violence appeared on their 1989 album Power Corrupts.
  • This is the first Metal Massacre since Metal Massacre II that did not have the Grim Reaper on the cover.

My Worthless Opinion:  Metal Massacre IX explodes through the gates with a dominating performance from Banshee on the opening track We Want You.  What a KILLER metal song with razor-sharp rips, great vocals, and a massive hook!  Side one continues to run hot with a ripping cut from Oliver Magnum, some technical wizardry by Toxik, and Dissenter’s semi-catchy Blood Under Heaven.  The serviceable Random Violence by Redrum closes out the first side — a solid half indeed.

The second half of Metal Massacre IX is not as memorable as the first, though it is noteworthy for including a song by Pedifile — a band with the worst name of all time.  My score: B

Metal Massacre X (1989)

Metal Massacre X

Seriously, are you still f*cking reading this post?

Track List:

  1. Betrayal – Sick Or Sane?
  2. Solitude – Typhoid Mary
  3. Murdercar – Mirage Of Blood
  4. Confessor – The Secret
  5. Dan Collette – Egyptian Falcon
  6. Nihilist – Infected
  7. R.O.T. – Visions In Secret
  8. Wench – Mercy
  9. Slaughter – The Fourth Dimension
  10. I.D.K. – Stayed Up 4 Daze

Info Nuggets:

  • Officially titled Metal Massacre Ten and not Metal Massacre X.  Metal Blade was inconsistent in their numerical notation in the series.
  • The Grim Reaper returned to the cover after his absence on Metal Massacre IX.
  • This is the first Metal Massacre in which Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel was not credited as executive producer.
  • R.O.T. stands for “Risk Of Technology”.
  • Solitude’s Typhoid Mary appeared on their four-song demo Sickness in 1988.
  • Wench was an all-female band from New York.
  • The band Slaughter that appears on Metal Massacre X is a thrash band from Canada, not the American hair band named Slaughter.

My Worthless Opinion:  You don’t hear a lot about Metal Massacre X.  Maybe that’s because it doesn’t have any well-known bands on the track list.  But in the tried-and-true Metal Massacre tradition, this album takes chances and delivers a nice mix of metal sub-genres consistent with its time.  Curiosities include the instrumental Egyptian Falcon by Dan Collette (featuring Dan’s trumpet!) and the obtuse The Secret by Confessor (a technically complex mixture of doom and thrash).  The former doesn’t do much for me personally, but again, chances were taken.  Actually, Egyptian Falcon is the only song I regularly skip on Metal Massacre X.  The closest thing to traditional metal we get is R.O.T.’s Vision In Secret.  Not surprisingly, this is my personal fave of the bunch.  I’m also impressed with Betrayal’s Sick Or Sane? and Wench’s old-school thrasher Mercy.  The album closes with the short (and sweet) tune by I.D.K. called Stayed Up 4 Daze.  My score: B-


Let’s close out this (way too long) post with a list of my ten favorite songs from the first ten Metal Massacre albums.  As you can see, my personal taste leans toward the more traditional metal stuff.  Lizzy Borden’s Rod Of Iron is an easy choice for number one!  I actually like the early Metal Massacre IV version of Rod Of Iron better than the one Lizzy later recorded for their 1985 LP Love You To Pieces.

My Top 10 Songs from “Metal Massacre” (1982-1989)

  1. Rod Of Iron – Lizzy Borden (from Metal Massacre IV)
  2. Kick You Down – Malice (from Metal Massacre I)
  3. We Want You – Banshee (from Metal Massacre IX)
  4. Lucifer’s Hammer – Warlord (from Metal Massacre II)
  5. I Live, You Die – Flotsam And Jetsam (from Metal Massacre VII)
  6. Fountain Keeper – Pathfinder (from Metal Massacre VI)
  7. En Masse (Stand Or Die) – Martyr (from Metal Massacre VI)
  8. Trouble Ways – Lost Horizon (from Metal Massacre VII)
  9. Keeper Of The Flame – Overlorde (from Metal Massacre VIII)
  10. Medieval – Medieval (from Metal Massacre IV)

Mother Love Bone – “Apple” (1990)

Mother Love BoneSome folks thought Mother Love Bone was going to be the next big thing.  Certainly their label (Polygram) believed in MLB — they created a sub-label imprint specifically for the band called Stardog Records.  That’s a vote of confidence if there ever was one.  Of course, it was not to be because MLB front man Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose just before the scheduled release of their first full-length LP Apple.  Interestingly, Wood’s death lead to fortuitous results for MLB band members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard.  They went on to collaborate with members of Soundgarden on the exquisite Temple Of The Dog album (in tribute to Wood), and then to earth-shattering success with Pearl Jam.

Like many, I didn’t discover Mother Love Bone until after the Seattle rock scene became all the rage in the early nineties when bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Nirvana started amassing platinum sales.  I think I first heard Mother Love Bone when Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns appeared on the motion picture soundtrack for the 1992 movie Singles.  The album was composed mostly of Seattle bands including Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, and Soundgarden.  (An absolutely essential soundtrack by the way, and one that, incidentally, featured Alice In Chains’ Would? — the lyrics to which were about Andrew Wood.)  The Temple Of The Dog album also piqued my interest in Mother Love Bone.

When I first listened to Apple, I think I was hoping for some sort of proto-Pearl Jam, because I was such a fan of Pearl Jam’s Ten at the time.  To only a small degree, those expectations were met.  The guitar and bass lines of songs like Heartshine and Captain Hi-Top are similar to songs on Pearl Jam’s first album like Once and Even Flow.  But overall, Mother Love Bone is much different from Pearl Jam because Andrew Wood and Eddie Vedder are nothing alike.  I learned quickly to appreciate Andrew Wood on his own terms — as a captivating vocalist with a unique voice and style.  In fact, Wood was a lot closer to the eighties-style rock star than the nineties archetype with whom he is often lumped (like Cobain, Vedder, and Staley).  Wood was more flashy and charismatic, his lyrics more ethereal and lovelorn.  He was a dreamer with his head in the clouds — a far cry from the troubled angst of the other Seattle stars.

Apple is a great album.  Every song is a good one, and the pacing and sequencing are such that the album should be played from start to finish for optimal impact.  Andrew Wood was a force to be reckoned with.  He had the makings of a true rock star.  He truly shines on this album.  It is hard to say whether Mother Love Bone were really going to be the next big thing.  But I think it would have been really cool if they were.  My score: A+

Spinal Tap – “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984)

Spinal TapThe 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap is one of the best movies ever made!  The concept was genius and the execution was flawless.  Few, if any, movies are as re-watchable or as quotable as This Is Spinal Tap.  Not even Road House.

Yes, this (mock) rockumentary about a British heavy metal band’s disastrous 1982 tour (in support of their dubious Smell The Glove LP) is a true masterpiece!  The humor is often subtle, and other times ridiculously over-the-top.  There, in the balance, lies the movie’s charm.  While lampooning heavy metal (and the music biz as a whole), This Is Spinal Tap is a special kind of satire, one that doesn’t pass judgement on its subject(s).  That is to say, This Is Spinal Tap is not a “biting” satire (or at least I don’t think so).  It isn’t cynical or mean-spirited.  The characters of Nigel, David, Derek (and even Marty and Ian) are lovable and (mostly) well-meaning folk.  Much of the movie’s humor comes from Spinal Tap’s clueless pretense.  But their cluelessness far outweighs their pretentiousness.  They are oblivious to the fact that their career has hit the skids, never mind that they were never all that good to begin with!  We are given plenty of back story on the band, which included a fair bit of bandwagon jumping (they sang of flower power in their early days).  But ol’ Spinal Tap weren’t calculating in their trend-hopping.  Nay, they were just blindly riding the tide.  The Tap are very childlike in that way, and it’s incredibly endearing.

While This Is Spinal Tap gets its notoriety from its many pot-shots at rock n’ roll excess, the true heart of the story lies in the bond between band-mates Nigel and David.  (If you watch the movie’s deleted scenes, you will see this relationship was fleshed out in much greater detail than in the final cut.)  Nevertheless, this is my favorite part of the movie.  Nigel and David have a strong, brotherly bond — one they aren’t consciously aware of.  My favorite scene in the movie is one of its last.  Spinal Tap are playing their tour finale in Los Angeles.  Nigel (having earlier quit the band) peeks out from backstage as his former band belts out a spirited version of Tonight I’m Going To Rock You Tonight.  Nigel is seen bobbing his head and mouthing the lyrics to himself.  (David then asks him to come out on stage and re-join the band.)  I get chills when I see Nigel singing along from behind the amps.  It’s a song he has performed a million times before, but there he is rocking out — because he just can’t help himself!  Rock n’ roll is in his blood and he truly believes in Spinal Tap and their music.  It doesn’t matter if everyone thinks they’re clowns.  Spinal Tap do what they love.  Who are we to laugh in their face?  When all the ridiculousness is stripped away, this scene shows that the music itself is more important to Spinal Tap than the sex, the drugs, and the excess.  A great way to end a great movie!

Okay, enough about the movie, let’s talk about the record.  Released in ’84, the movie soundtrack was written and performed by Spinal Tap.  This, of course, adds even more credence to the whole Spinal Tap universe.  The eleven tracks are culled from Spinal Tap’s long career, including two tracks from their early days when they were known as Thamesmen.  The LP does a great job of expanding the Spinal Tap canon by including a copy of Tap’s entry page in the Rocklopedia Brittanicus.  For Tap-o-philes like myself, there are some tasty little nuggets in the fine print.  The album cover itself is (of course) completely black, juts like the ill-conceived Smell The Glove LP.  The music is something to be behold, and essential to fans of the movie.  That goes without saying (though I just said it).  The “actors” who play on the album are actually very competent musicians, giving great authenticity to their satire.  While at the same time, the guys purposefully write “bad” songs — because Spinal Tap is not supposed to be a very good band.  It’s all really a complicated balancing act that (much like the movie) is executed to perfection!  To judge the album, one has to ask whether the music herein is, in fact, what it intends to be.  The answer is a resounding YES!  Spinal Tap hits the nail right on the head!  This is hilarious stuff for sure, but also surprisingly catchy.  Bad in a good way, and good in a good way.  My score: A

Gothic Slam – “Just A Face In The Crowd” (1989)

Gothic SlamA tip of the cap to these ol’ boys for covering the overlooked Thunder And Lightning by Thin Lizzy!

Gothic Slam was an east coast thrash band that lived long enough to release two albums in the late eighties.  Just A Face In The Crowd was their second and final.  Gothic Slam were easy to like — mostly because they came off as genuine and wholly committed to thrash.  At times, I’m reminded of east coast thrash legends Overkill — especially regarding the vocal style of Daniel Gomez (which is similar to the punk-ish spew of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth.)  These guys were young, enthusiastic, and (judging by the lyrics), socio-politically conscious.  It’s clear that Gothic Slam had heart.  That is something that goes a long way with me.  I think “heart” is one of those intangible things that finds its way into the finished product.  You can just tell when a band is giving their all rather than just phoning it in for a pay day.  Even when the songs aren’t the greatest, that sense of heart keeps me interested.

Is Just A Face In The Crowd a lost classic?  Not exactly.  But if it had more songs like Who Died And Made You God, we might have a different story on our hands!  Raise a glass to Gothic Slam anyway.  Yes, Just A Face In The Crowd is a forgotten album, but one that might be worthy of a second look.  My score: B-

Top 25 Hair Metal Albums of 1989

Tons of commercial metal albums (sleaze, glam, hair… whatever you wan to call ’em) flooded the market in 1989.  It was a great thing.  It’s hard to believe nowadays, but there was actually a time when well-produced, well-crafted hard rock/metal was played on the radio!!  Actual SONGS were played on the radio!  People who played INSTRUMENTS!!  People with TALENT!!  Unfortunately, most hair metal bands never amassed the loyal cult following that the more extreme metal genres did.  Hair metal relied a lot on imagery, MTV airplay, and the casual fan.  So when the mainstream turned its back on hair metal, most of the bands didn’t survive (or had to change their sound to remain relevant — like Bon Jovi).  What’s my point?  I guess I am saying that there was a shit load of bands that arrived on the scene just before the bubble burst and released some damn fine music!  There is a treasure trove of CDs out there that you may have forgotten about.  These were (mostly) major label releases with fat production values.  Bands were making their play for the big time, and most of them had at least one rocking lead single and a big-ass power ballad in their pocket.

Here are my favorite hair metal albums of 1989…

27.  Jailhouse – Alive In A Mad World

Jailhouse were an L.A. based five piece that played a benevolent brand of hair metal.  This five track EP (on Restless Records) was their debut.  The first four tracks were recorded live at the Roxy in Hollywood on June 30, 1989.  The last track is a studio cut called Stand Up.  According to the liner notes, proceeds of the EP were to be donated to runaway youth charities.  Jailhouse’s principal songwriter was guitarist Michael Raphael.  The band also included three ex-members of Rough Cutt.

The album starts off with the one and only Riki Rachtman introducing Jailhouse to the Roxy crowd.  Opening number Land Of Today starts off real shaky with vocalist Danny Simon struggling to sing in key (maybe he couldn’t hear the guitar?).  Once the song kicks into gear, Simon sounds just fine.  The songs have nice-guy lyrics that seem a bit out-of-place on the sleazy Sunset Strip.  As if the guys were gonna change the world?  How cute!  But its kind of endearing and though the lyrics are a bit cringe-worthy, the band delivers the goods live.  The fourth track is a useless cover of Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak.  I would have much preferred another original composition to this worn out tune.  Closing the album is the acoustic Stand Up.  More silly lyrics but a catchy song.  These guys were not too heavy, maybe on par with Poison, but they knew their way around a melody and, it seems, the stage.  Harmless stuff.  I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this!  My score: B+

26. Disneyland After Dark – No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims

Danish rockers Disneyland After Dark released No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims in their homeland via Medley Records in 1989.  Later in the same year, Disneyland After Dark signed with Warner Bros. Records, and No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims was released internationally.  Along with the big label contract came a name change to D.A.D. (for obvious legal reasons).  This also meant a different cover for the Warner Bros. version of No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims (depicted here).

No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims opens with a pair of absolute gems in Sleeping My Day Away and Jihad.  The former is a great hangover song with some tumbleweed twang thrown in for good effect.  The latter is a tasty jolt of electric energy, and it has some cool lyrics to boot.  D.A.D.’s sound was a nice little cocktail of sleaze and heavy boogie that reminds me of the underrated band, Dirty Looks.  D.A.D. also threw in some cowboy stylin’ and punk for good measure.  All in all a rather unique niche for this Danish band.  (The bassist took to wearing a helmet and playing a 2-string bass.  Cool!)  No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims didn’t do much in the United States (but 1989 was a pretty loaded year, so some good albums slipped through the cracks).  Those unfamiliar with this band may be surprised by the fun on tap.  My score: B+ 

25. Blue Murder – Blue Murder

Blue MurderGuitarist John Sykes had quite an impressive resume in the 1980s.  He was a veteran of the NWOBHM from his years with Tygers Of Pan Tang, and a member of Thin Lizzy for their final studio album, the excellent Thunder And Lightning LP.  Most famously, he was a member of Whitesnake — helping make 1987’s Whitesnake album a blockbuster smash.  After Sykes was unceremoniously canned from Whitesnake, he formed Blue Murder with Carmine Appice (drums) and Tony Franklin (bass).  Sykes was the vocalist as well as the guitarist for the band.  Though Sykes didn’t sing in any of his previous groups, he was actually a quite capable singer for Blue Murder (a pleasant surprise).  The album itself was a guitar-centric blend of Zep swagger and aristocratic bombast.  Faves here include the epic, grandiose Valley Of The Kings and the hard-edged Blue Murder.  Also, Jelly Roll is a tasty jam that starts as an acoustic stomp, and ends in full-on power ballad mode.  However, the album does slip in quality on side two (save for the aforementioned title track).  The made-for-radio ballad Out Of Love is the biggest letdown.  My score: B+

24. Dangerous Toys – Dangerous Toys

I guess you could say that Dangerous Toys were a little different from the typical hair band at the time, but these many years later that gap seems pretty infinitesimal.  Some perceived “extra” heaviness comes courtesy of Jason McMaster’s wild-ish, street urchin vocals.  (Yes, the same Jason McMaster who once fronted the well-respected, and hyper-complicated metal band, Watchtower.)  Also, Dangerous Toys were from Texas, so they had a little bit of a Texas swagger, though they didn’t infuse it into their music as much as fellow Texans (and one of my personal faves) Junkyard.  Dangerous Toys was produced by one of my favorite producers of the eighties, Max Norman, and this is another of his fine sounding products.  The two MTV “singles” from Dangerous Toys were Teas’n, Pleas’n and Scared.  Neither song strikes me as a real smash, but they are okay.  My personal faves from the album are the rough and tumble Bones in The Gutter and the melodic Queen Of The NileSportin’ A Woody is easily my least favorite!  Dangerous Toys did okay, especially considering it did not have a legitimate standout single, or even the obligatory power ballad.  Reached gold certification in the U.S. in 1994.  Pretty cool album cover.  My score: B+

23. TNT – Intuition

TNTThere are no two ways around it, TNT’s Intuition is unapologetic, 100% wimp metal.  The thing is, it is EXTREMELY well done!  Intuition is polished, elitist, saccharine, and glam to the extreme.  Over-produced, overblown, and overdone.  But because TNT deliver in such a genuine, non-contrived manner, I can’t help but get swept up in the fairy dust.  If your tastes will allow for such things, Intuition can be a very uplifting and enjoyable listen.  TNT fans (and I am one) already know that guitarist Ronni Le Tekro and singer Tony Harnell are two immense talents.  But on Intuition it is Harnell who really steals the show (IMO).  Yes, Le Tekro treats us to his tasteful, razor-sharp playing once again, but it is Harnell who takes the album on his back with his grandiloquent singing.  In particular, it is Harnell’s carefully arranged, lush vocal harmonies that bring celestial tidings.  The question is, are you willing to accept a two-inch thick coat of confection sugar in your ears?  Those who are unnerved or embarrassed by such well-crafted wimpitude, run for your lives.  Me?  I’m going to ride a white unicorn straight into this pillow of rainbows.  My score: B+

22. Great White – …Twice Shy

Great WhiteUpon first listen, I thought …Twice Shy was a bit toothless.  For sure, the heavy metal leanings of the old Great White (circa 1984) were no more.  By 1989, Great White had transitioned into a much more subtle, blues-based rock band.  Happily, repeated listens of …Twice Shy allowed me to appreciate what Great White had accomplished with this record.  They had mastered the art of the slow burn.  As such, the songs on …Twice Shy have a way of growing on you.  The pulsing bass lines, Mark Kendall’s soft touch, and Jack Russell’s cool delivery all combine for a laid back listening experience.  Not one, but three ballads can be found hiding on …Twice Shy — proof positive that Great White wanted you to marinate in their simmering juices, rather than blast you with a garden hose.

One of my favorite tracks is Hiway Nights (the quintessential slow burner), a song that gave  drummer Audie Desbrow the rare opportunity to blow his percussive load.  This may be the only time on …Twice Shy that anyone in Great White actually breaks a sweat.  The album’s stirring finale is Great White’s calling card, the cover of Once Bitten, Twice Shy.  It’s a great song, and one perfectly executed by Jack and crew.  My score: B+

21. Sleeze Beez – Screwed Blued & Tattooed

Sleeze BeezIn the post Appetite For Destruction world, there was a growing faction of dirtier, sleazier, and grittier bands amongst the “hair” metal contingent.  Instead of looking pretty in spandex and hairspray, these bands looked unwashed and unwanted.  Bands like Dangerous Toys, Junkyard, Skid Row and Spread Eagle rocked torn jeans and sullied boots.  And there would always be at least one guy in the band with a cigarette dangling from his lips (in Slash-like fashion).  Case in point: Sleeze Beez!

Sleeze Beez weren’t doing anything special or ground breaking with Screwed Blued & Tattooed.  The only thing that made Sleeze Beez mildly different is that they were Dutch.  But if you didn’t know any better you could easily mistake them for another L.A. band on the Sunset Strip.  They had a handful of good tunes in their arsenal, and that’s all that really matters.  The party rocker Rock In The Western World is a great album opener, and Stranger Than Paradise is infectious beyond words!

Screwed Blued & Tattooed was first released in 1989 by Red Bullet Records in the Netherlands.  In the States, Screwed Blued & Tattooed was released in 1990 on the Atlantic label.  The U.S. version replaced We Do Rock ‘N Roll with Girls Girls, Nasty Nasty.  My score: B+

20. Whitesnake – Slip Of The Tongue

WhitesnakeIf you liked 1987’s Whitesnake LP, you’ll probably also enjoy Slip Of The Tongue — though a little less so.  However, if you prefer the warmer rhythm and blues hard rock of earlier Whitesnake, you’re not going to find that here.  This is the slick and corporate “hair” era version of David Coverdale’s Whitesnake.  As for me?  I like both styles, so I’m all set.

Though Slip Of The Tongue was greeted with a lukewarm reception upon its arrival, I submit that it’s an album worth revisiting.  Coverdale wrote this record with guitarist Adrian Vandenberg, but due to a wrist injury Adrian didn’t play on the album.  Steve Vai filled in for Vandenberg — adding his own quirky, modern touches here and there.  For the most part, Vai kept his eccentric weirdness in check, though I’m sure his mere presence ticked off many a Whitesnake purist.  Rounding out the Whitesnake lineup was Tommy Aldridge on drums and Rudy Sarzo on bass (it’s worth noting that, at one time or another, Rudy Sarzo was a member of every single band that ever existed).  Slip Of The Tongue is Whitesnake at its most cumbersome and overblown, but the album still houses some strong cuts such as Slip Of The Tongue, Kittens Got Claws, and one of Whitesnake’s heaviest tracks ever in Wings Of The Storm.  This album closed out a fine decade for David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, leaving behind one hell of a discography for us to plunder.  Coverdale and Whitesnake are still around today, though time has not necessarily been a friend to David’s face, as he looks more and more like Camilla Parker-Bowles with each passing year.  My score: A-

19. Mötley Crüe – Dr. Feelgood

A supposedly sober(-ish) Crüe shat out this multi-platinum smash in 1989.  It stands today as Motley Crüe’s best-selling album ever.  And really, it couldn’t have happened to a worse bunch of fellas.  I mean, these guys were just god-awful human beings!  Did you ever read their autobiography The Dirt?  I did, and these four dudes (especially Nikki) were just terrible, degenerate, miserable pieces of shit.  (Even so, the book is a salacious read, and I plowed through it in like a day!)  But just because the Crüe were a bunch of assholes doesn’t mean they didn’t rock.  Let’s face it, Mötley Crüe were responsible for more strip-bar hits than any band in the history of the world.  That alone should put them in the Hall of Fame.  Yes, in many ways Mötley Crüe were style over substance (one critic calls them “the luckiest band in rock”), but they were always good for a couple of fun tunes per album.  One can’t deny Dr. Feelgood had some pretty memorable tracks in Kickstart My Heart, Without You, Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.), Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), and the title track.  All of these, comprising half of the album, were MTV hits.  The rest?  Not so memorable.  But, five very good tracks out of ten (proper) songs?  I’ll take that every time.  My score: A-

18. L.A. Guns – Cocked And Loaded

L.A. Guns crawled from the sewer and into the spotlight in the late eighties, along with many similar Sunset Strip acts thanks to Guns N’ Roses phenomenal success with 1987’s Appetite For Destruction.  Because of Guns N’ Roses, the music industry was more willing to pay attention to gutter babies like L.A. Guns and Love/Hate.

Honestly, L.A. Guns didn’t sound as dangerous as they looked.  In my mind a lot of that has to do with their vocalist, Phil Lewis, who did not have the typical “sleazy/dangerous” voice of an Axl Rose or a Sebastian Bach.  Lewis was actually British (with roots back to the early eighties glam band, Girl), and had a pretty straightforward (slightly raspy) vocal delivery.  A very solid, though not particularly unique, singer.  Anyhoo, Cocked And Loaded (L.A. Gun’s second album) is a very strong effort with a handful of rockin’ tunes like Slap In The Face, Rip And Tear, and Never Enough.  The Guns were no stranger to conventional song structures with memorable choruses and a party vibe.  Biggest hit came by way of the terrific The Ballad Of JaneGive A Little is another fave for me, with a fat-ass beat and a sticky chorus.  Cocked And Loaded went platinum.  It is L.A. Guns’ best-selling album, arriving at just the right time when the mainstream looked upon track marks, sunken cheeks, and eye-liner as a worthwhile endeavor.  Sleazy come, sleazy go.  My score: A-

17. Tora Tora – Surprise Attack

Tora ToraAnother gem from the great lost year of 1989!  By ’89 there were several different factions that comprised the expanding pop-metal genre.  There was of course the glam bands and the sleaze bands (to name just two).  There was also a small set of bands that I like to call the “dusty boots” bands.  These were the bands that didn’t have the L.A. makeup or pink clothes of the glam bands, and they didn’t have the street urchin heroin vibe of the Guns N’ Roses type bands.  Nay, the “dusty boots” bands let their regional influences bleed into their music and preferred denim to spandex to go along with their dusty ol’ boots.  I’m talking about bands like Dangerous Toys (Texas), Junkyard (Texas), and of course Tora Tora (Memphis).

With thick and chunky guitars, Tora Tora tears through a set of infectious (pretty heavy) rockers on Surprise Attack that show a reverence to the blues, and a certain unique edge (that one can only assume comes from their relative isolation from the country’s heavy metal hot spots).

Riverside Drive and 28 Days are two particularly nasty cuts.  The slow burning and dark Phantom Rider has always been my favorite.  The album closes with an excellent acoustic based track called Being There.  A tragically forgotten album.  My score: A-

16. Shark Island – Law Of The Order

Shark IslandI’m sure many fans thought that Shark Island was just another Johnny-come-lately L.A. hair band when Law Of The Order dropped in 1989 on Epic Records.  Actually this band had been around (in one form or another) for a whole decade before landing a record deal.  (They were known as Sharks for several years before changing over to Shark Island.)  Unfortunately, Law Of The Order wasn’t a big hit.  There were simply too many hair albums to keep track of in 1989, and many quality bands and albums were lost in the shuffle.  Law Of The Order, for example, is a VERY GOOD album!  If you can get past the somewhat glossy production and stiff drum sound on Law Of The Order, you’re left with a really fun, melodic record with great songs.  And really, that’s what Law Of The Order is all about — great songs.  There wasn’t anything particularly original about these guys.  Shark Island played to the formula of the day, but did it damn near perfectly.  Heck, I like all ten songs on the album!  What more could I ask for?  Faves include the smoldering Paris Calling, the swaggering Shake For Me, and the mellow Why Should I Believe.  The show closes on the surprisingly kick-ass cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain.  Nice!  If you see Law Of The Order collecting dust in a used bin, scoop it up!  My score: A-

15. Skid Row – Skid Row

Skid RowPropelled by three legit rock hits — 18 And Life, I Remember You, and Youth Gone Wild, Skid Row was a smash success for this band of New Jersey street urchins and their Canadian front man.  Lead singer Sebastian Bach, with his six-foot frame and girlish mug, became a breakout star when Skid Row hit the scene.  His face was plastered all over rock mags, as I recall.  This, despite the fact that the songs on Skid Row were written predominantly by bassist Rachel Bolen and guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo.  The duo penned raunchy tunage in line with their band’s sleazy moniker.  Perhaps a little heavier than the typical hair band, but still hair metal to the bone.

Producer Michael Wagener kind of botched the production on Skid Row.  The mix is thin on guitars and heavy on vocals, all the while keeping that dreaded ’80s drum sound in full.  Fact is, Skid Row should have received the Appetite For Destruction treatment, but instead ended up with the Look What The Cat Dragged In treatment thanks to Wagener.

On Skid Row, Bach’s vocals are the album’s focal point.  Though I’m not sure the other boys in Skid Row would ever admit it, Sebastian Bach is the reason this album is a hair metal classic.  I mean, Bach was an absolute tour de force on I Remember You – one of the better power ballads of the era.  Of course, Bach never knew a syllable he couldn’t over-sing to the max.  That is to say, I do roll my eyes quite a bit while listening to Skid Row, thanks to Bach’s insistence on chewing up every inch of tape.

I mentioned the three “hits” from Skid Row.  All three are absolutely killer.  However, I am actually a little surprised that the remainder of Skid Row doesn’t really measure up to those three big hits.  There are a couple of decent deep tracks in Can’t Stand The Heartache and Big Guns, but overall the album cuts are a little disappointing.  Nevertheless, a must-own for any self-respecting hair aficionado.  My score: A-

14. Law And Order – Guilty Of Innocence

Law And OrderMCA Records was a notorious failure when it came to hard rock acts.  The strange thing is, I think they had a great ear for talent regarding hair metal!  MCA sought out talented bands that were just left-of-center enough to be considered outsiders in the genre.  (Obviously, I’m splitting hairs here.)  Truth is, MCA signed some damn good bands in the late eighties.  Edgier bands like Lillian Axe, Bang Tango, Sweet F.A., and Spread Eagle all toiled on the MCA roster.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a few others.  Unfortunately, MCA Records’ PR department was not nearly as on-point as their talent scouts.  None of these bands ever made more than a light ripple commercially in the lucrative hair band ocean.  MCA did not do a good job of promoting their acts.  Add Law And Order to the list of MCA casualties.

Law And Order’s debut Guilty Of Innocence is a strong album that checks in with a lusty fourteen songs.  A robust package indeed.  Herein lies the album’s one true flaw — there are too many songs.  While fourteen songs seems like a good bargain (more songs!) I prefer consistent quality over quantity.  Guilty Of Innocence would pack much more of a lasting punch if it included just the ten best songs.  The first half of this album is stellar.  Towards the end of the album, the song quality wanes and my attention fades.  Fourteen songs may seem like a good idea, but sometimes too much just dilutes the impact.  (The LP version leaves off the weak Whiskey — the overly long and soggy finale to the CD.)

Law And Order’s sonic blueprint is not easy to describe.  I think of Law And Order as benevolent like Tesla, but with a little bit of that Guns N’ Roses swagger (yet without the sleaze factor).  A little artsy, a little bluesy, a little street, and a little bohemian.  There are lots of acoustic guitars, both in six and twelve string varieties, to add texture and warmth to the arrangements.  Lead man “Shane” has a commanding presence, even if his voice isn’t exactly world-class.  Much like a singer/songwriter-type, Shane injects plenty of meaning and passion into his vocal delivery.

Killer tunes include Dawg and Your Sister Does.  Law And Order’s cover of Skynyrd’s The Needle And The Spoon is also a strong cut.  Overall, the album is mature and sincere.  Another hidden gem!  My score: A-

13. Bang Tango – Psycho Café

Bang TangoIf you’ve got a hankering for some funk-fortified sleaze, Bang Tango’s Psycho Café should scratch that itch.  With groove-tastic bass lines and playful guitars, the pretty boys of Bang Tango gave us a fun, loose record that still sounds great blaring from the car stereo.  It is a record that shows the band’s personality, and predilection for obtuse sleaze.  Producer Howard Benson did a fine job by restraining himself from diluting the band’s edgy, lively sound.  Take for example the performance of vocalist Joe Leste on the acoustic ballad Just For You.  Certainly most producers would have been inclined to ask Leste to tone down his odd vocal stylings on this tune, but Benson wisely let Leste do his thing — making Just For You oddly endearing.  Also notice how Just For You lacks the usual bells and whistles of the prototypical eighties power ballad.  No drums, no keyboards, no orchestration, no electric guitar solo.  The song exists solely on a few acoustic guitars and Leste’s shrieky vocals.  Other kick-ass tunes include Attack Of Life, Someone Like You, and.. well, pretty much every tune is worth listening to.  Solid album!  My score: A-

12. Enuff Z’nuff – Enuff Z’nuff

Enuff-ZnuffEnuff Z’nuff’s debut arrived in 1989 with one of the laziest attempts at an album cover you’ll ever see.  Not that I don’t like peace, but jeesh, they couldn’t have spent more than 0.2 seconds designing that album cover.  Then again, I guess we are lucky they didn’t put a band photo on the cover because these guys were REALLY dolled up.  Tons of makeup, lipstick, and bright colors.  Check out their video for lead single New Thing for a taste of Enuff Z’nuff’s “fashion” sense.

Sure, the look was really girlie and glam at the time (they shed that image soon thereafter), but the actual music is addictive, effervescent, power pop.  Big guitars, raspy vocals, and hooks for days is what you get with these Cheap Trick-influenced party boys.  Just take a listen to the aforementioned New Thing and you have to immediately respect Enuff Z’nuff’s songwriting abilities.  Infectious doesn’t even begin to describe New Thing.  You can get cavities just listening to this sweetness!

I read Howard Stern’s book Private Parts many years ago (lots of laughs), and he wrote quite a bit about Enuff Z’nuff as I recall.  They were one of Howard’s faves.  In this case, Howard knew what he was talking about.

Enuff Z’nuff also features the band’s best known cut, the melancholy Fly High Michelle.  Another great song with an awesomely awful video.  Oh well!  Deep tracks such as She Wants More, Little Indian Angel, and For Now sound great while driving around on a warm summer’s day.  My score: A-

11. Babylon A.D. – Babylon A.D.

True to the formula, Babylon A.D. had a rockin’ lead single in Bang Go The Bells, and a monster ballad in Desperate at the ready as they made their play for rock stardom.  Some mild exposure ensued but platinum sales never materialized for this Oakland band.  I popped this CD in the other day, and damn if I wasn’t enjoying the hell out of it!  I am a big sucker for power ballads, and Desperate is right up there with the best.  I ain’t ashamed!  Back In Babylon is another of my favorites from this album.  Hey… ain’t nothin’ but a good time, so why should I resist?  My score: A

10. Bonham – The Disregard Of Timekeeping

For a band named for their drummer (Jason Bonham), I am surprised at the rather inorganic drum sound they came up with for this album.  If they were trying to re-create Jason’s dad’s legendary drum sound from When The Levee Breaks, try again boys.  Despite that minor quibble, I have to say The Disregard Of Timekeeping is an excellent commercial hard rock album.  Jason Bonham’s drum style is fairly unorthodox (hence the album’s title I presume), but pretty interesting indeed.  Tons of keyboards are used on the album, giving these songs a smooth, albeit corporate, touch.  Kind of a relaxing, very chilled-out record.  Sunday morning hard rock.  Vocalist Daniel MacMaster (R.I.P.) was an excellent vocal talent that may remind some of Robert Plant just a bit.  Excellent tracks such as Wait For You, Holding On Forever, and Dreams have outstanding hooks that keep me coming back to this record time and again.  Just another great album from the hair era’s greatest year (IMO), 1989.  Went gold in the States.  My score: A 

9. Lord Tracy – Deaf Gods Of Babylon

Lord TracyLord Tracy released this little-known album in 1989 on Uni Records (a sub-label of MCA Records).  What distinguished Lord Tracy from their peers was their sense of humor and their experimental nature.  There are a lot of different styles attempted on Deaf Gods Of Babylon, with some working and some completely missing their mark.  The result is an album that is ridiculously inconsistent but a fun one nonetheless.  Hey, it is a bit refreshing to come across an original band like Lord Tracy in a sea of late ’80s wannabe-hair-bands.  In the end, they are no richer for it, but they should be commended for their independent spirit.

By the way, Lord Tracy’s singer was Terrence Lee Glaze, who was Pantera’s singer on their first three albums (as Terrence Lee).

I must say, the production on Deaf Gods Of Babylon is superb.  The album sounds very robust with a heavy bottom end.  The bass is boosted in the mix which is nice because the bass lines are very interesting at times.  The album opens on a rather pedestrian note with an unoriginal rocker called Out With The Boys.  The second track is a marked improvement, the funked up East Coast Rose.  Side one also features the crackin’ Watchadoin’ and the absolutely sublime mellow gem Chosen Ones.  Side two features two more well-crafted tunes; the pop-rocker In Your Eyes and the ballad Foolish Love.  Unfortunately the end of side two kind of falls apart with Lord Tracy dicking around with too many joke songs and half-assed stuff.  There is even a rap song.  I wish they had used their energy to come up with two or three more serious compositions.  Nevertheless, this is one to seek out!  My score: A

8. Dirty Looks – Turn Of The Screw

Here’s another irresistible gem from one of the best sleaze/glam/hair bands to never break big.  Dirty Look’s main man was nasty boy Henrik Ostergaard (R.I.P.), a man in possession of a rough ‘n raunchy voice, an alcohol fueled swagger, and a penchant for non-sensical lyrics.  Make no mistake, Dirty Looks’ style followed a definite formula, but it was a good one.  It was pretty much a three-chord approach wrapped around slippery blues-based riffs.  Honestly, many of the songs’ main riffs aren’t at all that different from each other.  Distinguishing one track from another is kind of like splitting hairs.  Again, pretty formulaic, but it worked to perfection.  (Look what it did for AC/DC!)  The rhythm section contributed a beefy backbone with grooves aplenty.  My personal favorite cuts are Nobody Rides For Free, Hot Flash Jelly Roll, and best of all, the awesome L.A. Anna!  This is another one of those late eighties Atlantic Records releases that has gone woefully out of print.  For some odd reason I have collected Turn Of The Screw on tape, vinyl, and CD.  One of the few trifectas in my music collection.  My score: A

7. Extreme – Extreme

ExtremeNuno Bettencourt!  Extreme’s debut album may sport a shitty-ass cover (nice shirt Gary!) but the music inside is a roller coaster ride of axe pyrotechnics and sing-along hooks.  Bettencourt was one of the best guitar talents to arrive on the scene in the late eighties (maybe THE best).  Like Eddie Van Halen or Vito Bratta, Nuno’s rhythm guitar tracks alone were enough to electrify the ears.  Tons of tasty flourishes, nasty squeals, and creative licks peppered his rhythm tracks.  And the solos?  Perfection of course.  Nuno also provided backing vocals and harmony vocals to beef up the excellent work of lead vocalist Gary Cherone.  My favorite track is probably Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today) which features some mammoth riffing (in the Eddie Van Halen style) and an unforgettable chorus.  Other highlights include Teacher’s Pet, Big Boys Don’t Cry, and Play With Me (a song famously used in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure).  Lyrically, the Extreme album is a bit curious.  Perhaps Extreme is a loose concept album of sorts, because almost all the songs are centered around being a kid, or more specifically, growing up as a boy in America.  The song Little Girls is a little creepy though, because as far as I can tell it is about statutory rape!  (And that’s the very first song on their very first album — what a strange way to start off a career!)  Anywayz, this album is a really strong beginning for Extreme, one of the very best bands to come out of the late eighties.  Of course, Extreme’s second album, Pornograffitti (1990), was even better!  As for Nuno, these days he can be found touring with… of all people… Rihanna!  WTF!  Why is he slumming with that no-talent hack?  I don’t think I want to live in this world anymore.  My score: A

6. Lillian Axe – Love And War

It took a while for this one to sink in, but once it did I was addicted to Love And War like it was crack-cocaine.  Such great vocals by Ron Taylor!  Taylor’s fine rock voice is just a bit more sinister than the average hair band singer.  Lots of multi-tracked harmonies, too.  Furthermore, there are also many great riffs and tons and interesting guitar parts.  The only drawbacks to Love And War would be the lack of bass in the mix and the drum sound, which is a bit too polite.

Lead track All’s Fair In Love And War is a six minutes of awesomeness with a massive, soaring chorus.  Brilliant track.  Another killer track is the radio-friendly tune Show A Little Love.  Elsewhere?  No filler to be found.  A must have.  My score: A

5. Warrant – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich

If you can’t find even the least bit of enjoyment from Warrant’s music, then you need to listen to Neil Diamond’s advice and turn on your f*cking heartlight, man.  There just isn’t a time that I can think of when songs like Down Boys and In The Sticks won’t have me smiling and singing along.  The way Warrant dressed and carried on was a little ridiculous, but the tunes were fun.  That’s for damn sure.

Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich was Warrant’s double platinum debut.  Warrant wanted to make it big… nay… KNEW they were going to make it big (just look at the album’s title).  Lead singer and songwriter Jani Lane knew how to write concise, ear-friendly, “hits”.  He wasted no time getting to the song’s chorus, which was always ridiculously catchy, and most of the songs had a very strong bridge section, too.  Lyrically, he was no Bill Shakespeare (although his lyrics did improve greatly on Warrant’s sophomore album Cherry Pie), but his talent as a musician was beyond reproach (and I am dead serious when I say that).  Lane had one of the better voices in the genre, not so much for his range as for the character of his voice and a certain genuine charm that made you think he was having just as much fun singing these tunes as you were listening to them on the car stereo.  My score: A

4. XYZ – XYZ

XYZNice!  XYZ’s debut album really surprised me.  I wasn’t expecting something quite this good.  Maybe I underestimated these guys based on that bland cover photo.  Just another collection of pretty boys, right?  Wrong BITCH!  First things first, XYZ’s guitarist absolutely smoked!  The guy’s name was (and still is) Marc Diglio.  Not exactly a household name, eh?  Well maybe he should be.  I love his tone, his riffs, and his solos.  His style was similar to George Lynch’s (IMO).  Let me give you an example of Diglio’s ownage.  Check out the song Inside Out (here’s a link).  What an awesome lead riff that is!  Sometimes Marc spices it up with some cool harmonics (like at 0:43).  But my favorite part of the song is when Diglio plays a variation of the same riff (at 3:05) by tapping it out with his fingers.  This reminds me of Eddie Van Halen at the end of Little Guitars.  Diglio dishes out plenty of tasty stuff like this all over the album.  Adding to the XYZ package was singer Terry Ilous.  He had a nice set of power lungs.  He did a hell of a job on the beautiful acoustic ballad After The Rain (check it out here).  XYZ is top-shelf hair metal.  My score: A

3. Junkyard – Junkyard

JunkyardWith a masterful mish-mashing of blues rock, punk rock, and southern rock, Junkyard were a dusty Texas boot crammed into Hollywood’s glittery corn hole.  As it turned out, they never became huge, but Junkyard garnered some modest exposure with this, their debut album.  For me, Junkyard remains one of the true gems of the so-called “sleaze” movement of the late eighties and early nineties (although I am not sure the “sleaze” label truly fits Junkyard).  Junkyard is jam-packed with killer tracks such as the greasy Blooze, the nasty Texas, and the snot-nosed Shot In The Dark.  Best of all is the incredible Simple Man (no, not a Skynryd cover).  Junkyard has got it all — great production, great ballads, great rockers, great lyrics, and great performances.  My score: A+

2. Badlands – Badlands

BadlandsBadlands!  Ya know, I make it a point when I review an album to stay away from the words “underrated” or “classic” as much as I can.  These terms get thrown around way too liberally by fans and reviewers.  It cheapens the meaning.  I mean, I’m not afraid to call something like Back In Black a classic.  That’s a universal fact.  But, I’m not about to do the same for albums by Dum Dum Bullet or Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts just because they’re old.  As far as “underrated”, I must admit I am genuinely tempted to break out the term for the Badlands album.  Then again, it did sell a few hundred thousand copies, which ain’t too bad.  Anyway, here’s the point I’m trying to make; if I were a record executive in 1989 and someone put an advanced copy of the Badlands album in my hands, I would have bet everything I had that this album was about to go multi-platinum.  I just don’t understand why this wasn’t a huge hit!  Badlands had all the makings of a bona fide smash, including a major label’s backing (Atlantic), a proven guitar hero (Jake E. Lee), and a singer (Ray Gillen) who could make Robert Plant sound like Biz Markie.  They had the looks, they had the talent, and most of all THEY HAD THE SONGS!  If I were that record exec, I would have been more excited than a pedophile at a playground!  I mean, damn, side one of this album is pretty much perfection!  This wasn’t trendy, glossy stuff.  This was a kind of white-hot metallic blues that sounds just as good (and relevant) today as it did twenty years ago.  Badlands was like Zeppelin on HGH.  Timeless.  So since I won’t call it “underrated”, I’ll call it “under-achieved”.

For many years I have been trying to upgrade my original cassette copy of Badlands to CD.  Unfortunately, Atlantic Records allowed Badlands to become woefully out of print, so I was unable to get a CD copy at a decent price.  (I refuse to pay $20 for a used CD.)  Well, in 2010 Badlands was re-released in Europe by Rock Candy Records, so I was finally able to get a CD copy for a reasonable amount.  This version is re-mastered (not that the original really needed it).  It has quite a few pics in the booklet, and an essay about the band based on the recollections of Greg Chaisson (Badland’s bassist), who comes across as a bit bitter.  What I realized when I read this essay (as well as some old magazine articles), was that the guys in Badlands really didn’t get along all that well.  In fact, when the band dissolved after their second album, shit got down right ugly.  This was kind of a surprise to me because the musical chemistry on the Badlands record seems so electric.  What this tells me is that Badlands had enough talent to overcome this apparent lack of personal chemistry.  Kind of like the ’77 Yankees.

As I mentioned above, side one of this album, also known as “East Side”, is damn near perfection.  The album opens with a furious metallic riff from Jake E. Lee, and the sparks continue to fly throughout the lead cut High WireDreams In The Dark and Winter’s Call are flawless as well; two of my all-time favorites.  Ray Gillen, whose career up until this point had included a few false starts with bands such as Black Sabbath and Blue Murder (he never made it onto their records), makes me ask; “Where the hell had this guy been?”.  I’m serious when I say that, in my opinion, he has the best pure “rock” voice I’ve ever heard!  (Gillen passed away in 1993, R.I.P.)  Side two, also known as “West Side” is no slouch either.  Granted, Rumblin’ Train is kind of a formulaic heavy blues song, but it gives Gillen a chance to show off his voice and Lee a chance to blow his pentatonic load with his extended soloing.  The only track on the album I don’t love is probably Devil’s Stomp, which starts off promising but never gets off the ground.  The original LP closes with the mellow genius of Seasons (which calls to mind Zep’s In The Light).  The cassette and CD adds another track, Ball And Chain, which is just an average tune.  The album should end after Seasons.  All told, a great record from a sneaky year, 1989.  Just one of many commercial rock/metal albums from that forgotten year that I absolutely love, most of which were not hits.  This might be the king.  My score: A+

1. Tesla – The Great Radio Controversy

“You know I’m on a slick trip, I’m always ready to KICK ASS!”  A superb offering by Tesla, a band lumped in with the “hair” crowd, although their sound was more or less straightforward American hard rock/metal and their image was markedly less glam.  Tesla fans had to wait until 1989 for Tesla to follow-up their 1986 debut Mechanical Resonance (a near eternity between albums back in those days), and Tesla rewarded their fans’ patience with a robust set of thirteen songs, and (IMO) the best album of their (very solid) career.  Tesla displayed great depth on the album, mixing gritty blues-based hard rock and accessible heavy metal.  Tesla also used acoustic guitars liberally.  Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out) and Love Song are two absolutely essential tracks from this album.  The former, a great rocker that gets the juices flowing.  The latter, an exquisite (and unorthodox) ballad.  The Way It Is, Be A Man, and Lazy Days Crazy Nights are a few more of my favorites from The Great Radio Controversy.  Just a very cool band.  Tesla’s overarching message, it seems, was simply to enjoy life.  And The Great Radio Controversy provides a perfect soundtrack for just that.  My score: A+

Top Twenty Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Albums of 1988

Hell yeah!  Another big ass list!  Allow me to present my favorite hard rock and heavy metal albums from 1988…

22. Sword – Sweet Dreams

Sword’s Sweet Dreams is metal in its purest form — gimmick-free and unpretentious.  They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.  Sweet Dreams was a testimony to Sword’s no bullshit style of straightforward metal.  A standout performance by vocalist Rick Hughes provides a testosterone blast to every tune.  Even though a few cuts are only average in terms of songwriting, Hughes’ vocals elevate the songs into fist-pumpers through the force of his metal conviction and the strength of his rusty wail.  The two killer tracks that standout for me are the churning title track, and the ball-smashing Life On The Sharp Edge (my favorite Sword song of all).  My score: A-

21. Cacophony – Go Off!

Cacophony!  Featuring not one, but TWO fierce six-string shredders in Jason Becker and Marty Friedman, Cacophony’s Go Off! album showcases the pair’s ridiculous fret board skills, all the while not forgetting to give you actual songs in the process.  Go Off! was the second (and last) Cacophony album (Shrapnel Records).  The line-up also included journeyman Deen Castronovo on the skins (giving a pretty psycho performance himself) and Frank Marinno (Le Mans) on vocals.  Six of the eight tracks contained vocals.  Two were instrumentals.  The album doled out doses of speed, shred, and neo-classical metal.  Favorites include the mid-paced monster Black Cat, the ultra-catchy Stranger, and the dark sorcery of Floating World.  After Cacophony, Friedman went on to join Megadeth and Becker joined David Lee Roth’s band.  Unfortunately, Becker was diagnosed with ALS soon thereafter.  Against all odds, Becker continues to battle the disease to this very day, despite being paralyzed and unable to speak.  There’s even a documentary about Jason called Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.  Here’s a link to the trailer.  Pretty inspirational stuff!  My score: A-

20. Danzig – Danzig

Glenn Danzig had previously made his name with the low-brow horror punk band Misfits, and the sloppy whatever-you-call-it Samhain before he signed on to Rick Rubin’s Def American record label.  Soon thereafter, the Danzig band was formed.  Though there was some carryover from Samhain (including that kick-ass skull logo), Danzig took a new musical direction — a stripped down brand of evil blues-metal.

With Rubin as producer, Danzig became an ultra-tight war machine on their 1988 debut.  Rubin’s production on Danzig is one of the driest you may ever hear.  It’s completely devoid of oxygen.  This was in stark contrast to Danzig’s previous bands, Misfits and Samhain — both which sounded loose and unrefined.

As a songwriter, Glenn Danzig kept things simple, with entry-level riffs and lots of hanging power chords.  John Christ took care of the guitar duties on Danzig, and his less-is-more approach suited the songs well.  After all, nobody wanted to get in the way of Glenn’s “Satanic Jim Morrison on steroids” vocals, which was the center-point of Danzig.  It’s hard to tell whether Glenn Danzig was (is) completely serious or not with his whole ego-maniacal, tough guy persona.  If it’s a joke, kudos to Glenn for delivering it with a straight face for years and years.  If he’s for real… well, that’s both scary and hilarious.

Obviously, Mother is the standout here.  Just a stone cold classic in my book!  An absolute masterwork by Danzig, and one that proves simple ideas can have a devastating impact.  Other faves include Am I Demon, End Of Time, and Twist Of Cain.  But the whole album is really quite special.  There’s nothing quite like a Danzig album.  Their second, 1990’s Danzig II: Lucifuge, was even better.  My score: A-

19. Flotsam And Jetsam – No Place For Disgrace 

After the release of their debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver in 1986, Flotsam And Jetsam took a heavy blow when they lost their bassist Jason Newsted to Metallica.  Newsted was not only a great bassist but he was also a founding member of Flotsam And Jetsam as well as their principal lyricist.  But the band came back strong with their sophomore release No Place For Disgrace in 1988.  Appearing on a major label for the first time (Elektra Records — the same label that was home to Metallica in ’88), Flotsam And Jetsam seemed to be on the verge of breaking out to a larger audience with this record.  Unfortunately, they never made the leap to the big time, but No Place For Disgrace is nevertheless considered a minor classic of eighties thrash — and rightly so!

I admire Flotsam And Jetsam because they had a very unique sound that blended thrash, speed metal, and NWOBHM.  They also had one of the best singers in all of the thrash/speed genre in Eric “A.K.” Knutson.  Sure, No Place For Disgrace is, at times, bogged down by the band’s insistence on fussy and overly long compositions, but Flotsam still delivered some absolute gems with the songs No Place For Disgrace, Hard On You, and I Live You Die.  These were three KILLER tunes (two of which were holdovers from their earlier days with Newsted).  All three are ultra-heavy songs with great lyrics, memorable hooks, and amazing musicianship!  My score: A-

18. QueensrÿcheOperation: Mindcrime

Operation: Mindcrime will forever be Queensrÿche’s defining moment.  Back in the late 80s, it sure looked as if Queensrÿche were going to be the newest legacy band of metal.  The buzz surrounding Queensrÿche at the time had them pegged as the next Judas Priest or Iron Maiden.  Unfortunately, Queensrÿche never really delivered on the promise of the Operation: Mindcrime — and the band saw their following drop precipitously by the end of the millennium.

Queensrÿche made a bold and ambitious move with Operation: Mindcrime.  They delivered one of the few concept albums of the decade in the world of metal — a sociopolitical drama with strong character development and a legitimately interesting plot.  I won’t get into the story, but for those interested, here is a very thorough and thought-provoking analysis by Russell Glasser.

Though Operation: Mindcrime has its share of bloat and pretentiousness (typical of most concept albums), it still manages to keep a pretty steady pace and never gets overly bogged down.  It is clear that Queensrÿche were a very inspired band at the time of Operation: Mindcrime.  That feeling of “importance” really shines through on the final product.  My score: A-

17. Meliah Rage – Kill To Survive

Boston’s Meliah Rage were lucky/good enough to debut on a major label (Epic Records).  There are only seven songs on Kill To Survive, one of which is an instrumental.  Of the remaining six cuts, I would consider three of them to be excellent – Beginning Of The End, Bates Motel, and Enter The Darkness.  The other three tracks, though not as intoxicating as the aforementioned gems, certainly do not suck in the least.  Very solid.  All in all, Kill Survive is a really worthwhile power/thrash metal album to have in your collection.  Trust me!  By the way, the production is excellent — with a meaty guitar tone driving home the band’s neck-wrecking message.  Meliah Rage wrote heavy and (relatively) straightforward songs that were surprisingly catchy.  Fans of bands such as Sword or Metal Church will lap this up.  I sure did.  Bates Motel is particularly memorable – sashaying its way to a violent climax that’ll leave you thirsty for more.  My score: A-

16. Ratt – Reach For The Sky

Years ago, I just couldn’t fully commit to calling myself a bona fide Ratt fan.  The biggest reason is because Stephen Pearcy is such an asshole.  I mean, in the sea of rock star assholes from the eighties, Pearcy’s butt-star always shone the brownest!

I still say that Pearcy had the emotional range of a cigar store Indian, but hey… slippery tracks like City To City and What I’m After astutely combine infectious hooks with sleazy ‘tude.  You gotta tip your cap to the boyz.  Incidentally, this album marked the beginning of Ratt’s decline in popularity (though Reach For The Sky did go platinum), so maybe some fans out there never gave Reach For The Sky a fair shake.  Time to revisit, I say.  With all the crap passing as music these days, old Ratt is sounding sweeter than ever!  My score: A-

15. Dirty Looks – Cool From The Wire

After a handful of indie releases, Dirty Looks finally appeared on a major label when Atlantic Records released Cool From The Wire in 1988.  I consider this album, and Dirty Looks’ 1989 follow-up Turn Of The Screw to be two sorely overlooked sleaze metal triumphs.  The heart and soul of Dirty Looks was Danish born Henrik Ostergaard.  He formed the band in the mid-eighties and continued to record music under the Dirty Looks banner up until his early demise in 2011.  The formula was a simple one; greasy blues-based riffing and palm-muted chugging over palatable, pulse-pounding beats.  Henrik’s raspy voice was tinged with a bit of that Bon Scott magic, and the result was sleaze city.  The incomparable Max Norman (best in the biz) produced Cool From The Wire.  Norman was a genius producer, and this record sounds perfect, as it grooves like a son-of-a-bitch.  Ostergaard’s lyrics of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll were delivered with a conviction that only a man who lived and breathed the lifestyle could do.  And it seems Henrick was the genuine article, hence his unfortunate death at an early age.  Check out Ostergaard’s spot-on Bon Scott impression during the middle part of Oh Ruby.  Highlights of the album include Cool From The Wire, Tokyo, and (my favorite) It’s A Bitch.  R.I.P. Henrik Ostergaard.  Thanks for the awesome tunes.  My score:

14. Overkill – Under The Influence

Staying the course, Overkill continued to roll like a tank over the rotting corpses of poseurs with their third full-length release, Under The Influence.  The damage begins with Shred, in which a manic Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth shouts; “make no bones about it — I came to SHRED!”  Bobby was just letting you know that Overkill had returned once again to shove a fistful of thrash into your whiny gob.  Never Say Never and Hello From The Gutter follow in a similar vein, both carrying big hooks and Overkill’s trademark “f*ck you” attitude.  Highlights of side two include End Of The Line, and the album’s stirring finale Overkill III (Under The Influence).  My score: A-

13. Virgin Steele – Age Of Consent

A famous cheetah on TV once said “it’s not easy being cheesy”.  He was wearing sunglasses at the time so I know he was legit.  But for Virgin Steele, being cheesy was all too easy.  David DeFeis and Virgin Steele were no strangers to the lactose way of life.  When you press play on a Virgin Steele album you can expect cringe-worthy cheesiness sitting right alongside epic awesomeness.  It’s this odd dichotomy that makes for an entertaining journey whenever you saddle up your steed and ride with the Steele.

Age Of Consent delivers the parmesan straight to your pathetic suck-hole with the creepy Seventeen — an ode to under age girls.  But that moment of ineptitude is more than made up for by two absolutely AMAZING epic power metal numbers in The Burning Of Rome (Cry For Pompeii) and Lion In Winter!  DeFeis’ lyrical imagery and vocal work is sublime on these two gems.  He also keeps his histrionic, high-pitched squealing to a minimum here.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, DeFeis could spin a vocal melody with the best of them.  The man knew how to write an EPIC song.  My score: A-

12. Killer Dwarfs – Big Deal

Killer DwarfsKiller Dwarfs were a Canadian band with an awful name.  1988’s Big Deal was their third album, and their first album after signing with a major label (Epic).  The name of the album is not only a play on their stupid band name but also a reference to the “big deal” they signed with Epic.

Killer Dwarfs had a benevolence, a sense of humor, and corniness that made them easy to like.  On Big Deal, they wrote these perfect little pop tunes thinly disguised as heavy metal.  I guess they were similar to Poison in that respect (though much different image-wise).  I am really blown away by the ability of these guys to write such hook-laden songs.  It seems that every note that goes into Big Deal is meant to be ear candy.  There are not only big sweeping choruses, but also well-developed pre-choruses and even pre-pre-choruses!  These songs are catchier than a cold!  Vocalist Russ “Dwarf” Graham had a real knack for singing very melodic vocal lines.  He had a great range, first of all, and he just seemed to have this innate ability to pick the the right notes to make every line he sang instantly memorable.

Honestly, this is one of the catchiest hard rock/metal albums I’ve ever heard!  From the guitar solos to the backing vocals, Big Deal is sweeter than pecan pie.  To the real headbangers out there, Big Deal will most likely seem way too corporate and way too radio-friendly to take seriously.  Fair enough.  But if you have a soft spot for that kind of stuff (like I do), you won’t want to miss out on Killer Dwarfs!  Personal faves include Startin’ To Shine, Breakaway, and We Stand Alone.  But really, all ten tracks are pretty damn good.

Now to the matter of why Big Deal was not a big hit.  As mentioned above, the band name didn’t help.  It’s not as bad as Pedifile but it’s still a dumb name.  Then of course there is the matter of that ridiculous cover.  What was Epic thinking?  Who the hell would want to buy an album with an imbecilic cover like that?  In hindsight, maybe Killer Dwarfs should have went the Poison route.  They should have moved to L.A. and changed their name to something like Lip Service (or Lip Cervixx).  They should have got all dolled up with eye-liner and blush.  They should have tried to appeal to the female audience like Poison did.  I bet they would have went platinum — especially with songs like these!  But it was not to be.  Killer Dwarfs were just too quirky.  Too Canadian.  Bless their hearts!  My score: A

11. Kings Of The Sun – Kings Of The Sun

Bow to the Kings!  This Australian band was led by two brothers, Jeffrey Hoad (vocals and guitar) and Clifford Hoad (drums).  The sound was fun, energetic, “rootsy” hard rock.  Kings Of The Sun debuted in 1988 with this self-titled album.  It appeared on Mushroom Records in Australia and RCA Records in the United States.

Let me just say that this is a truly great album!  I originally had this on cassette, and it was a mainstay in the tape deck of my ol’ Ford Escort for many years.  Summer time was a particularly perfect time to listen to this little chestnut.  Expert production from Eddie Kramer helped to propel these bright and ultra-catchy rockers through the car stereo speakersNearly every song would have made for a worthwhile single (in a perfect world).  No filler here.  Get on the highway and press play!  Simple song structures and palatable riffs abound.  Clifford Hoad opens a can of kick-ass on the drum kit.  An absolute beast!  As a vocalist, Jeffrey Hoad delivers his quirky lyrics with a bad-ass charm.  Favorites include the swampy Serpentine, as well as tidy rockers Tom Boy and Black Leather.  Let’s not forget the cool ballad Cry 4 Love.  The CD version of Kings Of The Sun added a great bonus track called Wildcat that was not included on my ol’ cassette version.  Ear candy.  My score: A  

10. Seduce – Too Much, Ain’t Enough

Seduce!  Those searching for the holy grails of American glam/sleaze metal, here’s one for ya!  Seduce was a Motor City trio that never broke through to mainstream success despite kicking some serious ass.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough (I.R.S.) was a gritty, heavy offering that flew in the face of conventional glam metal at the time by forgoing the typical over-polished approach for a raw, loose n’ lethal sound.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough features down-tuned, heavy riffing courtesy of David Black, erratic drumming from Chuck Burns, and excellent vocals by Mark Andrews (also bass).  Side one of this album is damn near perfection!  Seduce painted a picture of a somewhat sad Detroit existence in a world of junkies and fast-fading dreams.  Check out Watchin’, and No Use if you want your tits toasted.  If I had one complaint about Too Much, Ain’t Enough (besides the weak cover art), I would say that Chuck Burns made some really unorthodox choices with his drumming.  At times his drumming can be a bit distracting, and he doesn’t always keep time.  Then again, I much prefer this wild style to the boring and over-produced drum sound found on so many late eighties glam/sleaze banquets.  Side two drops off just a hair from the insane awesomeness of side one.  Accusations is probably the least godly track on the album.  The finale of Too Much, Ain’t Enough is The Slider, a T. Rex cover.  My score: A

9. Guns N’ Roses – G N’ R Lies

Eight songs graced this Guns N’ Roses platter.  G N’ R Lies was released in 1988 while Appetite For Destruction was still selling like hot cakes.

The first four songs were from the 1986 Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide EP, which was a pretty rare release (so most fans hadn’t heard the songs).  These cuts were studio tracks with crowd noise dubbed in to make them sound as if they were “live” recordings.  Reckless Life is the highlight of side one.

The last four songs (side two) are the real reason that G N’ R Lies is an essential album.  Patience is probably the best known (as it was a hit single).  This beauty features one of the best uses of whistling I can remember in a rock song (Scorpions’ Wind Of Change came out two years later to challenge the title).  The acoustic version of You’re Crazy included here trumps the faster, electric version on Appetite For Destruction (IMO).  As for the controversial One In A Million?  What can I say?  Axl had humongous balls of steel, that’s for sure.  There is no way in hell that Geffen would ever release a song with such incendiary lyrics today.  No way.  Times have changed.  We live in a world where everyone is just waiting to be offended.  The G ‘N R Lies album shows that, in 1988, Guns N’ Roses were so insanely popular that they could do whatever the f*ck they wanted.  That’s rock ‘n’ roll!  My score: A

8. Manowar – Kings Of Metal 

In my opinion, Kings Of Metal is the best collection of Manowar tunes since their debut, Battle Hymns.  Manowar used their major-label budget to the fullest; the recording is grandiose and epic.  A full men’s choir is used on a few tracks to great effect.  Additionally, Kings Of Metal was Manowar’s most diverse album to date.  The speed-laced Wheels Of Fire starts off the album with face-melting fury.  The title track follows, swinging a mighty battle-axe at the direction of wimps and poseurs, demanding that they leave the hall.  (Here’s where Manowar made their famous decree; “Other bands play…  Manowar KILLS!”.)  More Manowar “classics” ensue.  Heart Of Steel is a surprisingly superb ballad.  The Crown And The Ring features Eric Adams trading majestic vocal lines with a full men’s choir.  Side two contains a trio of warrior hymns that pour forth from Valhalla’s hall with ferocious, testicle crushing might.  Kingdom Come, Hail And Kill and Blood Of The Kings are essential Manowar!  My score: A

7. Ozzy Osbourne – No Rest For The Wicked

Enter Zakk Wylde.  Before settling on his current persona as some kind of biker/tough guy/steroid monster/booze guzzler/long-lost Allman Brother/foul-mouthed redneck, Wylde was just a young six-string whiz kid plucked from nowhere to replace Jake. E. Lee in Ozzy’s band.  And he absolutely smoked on the No Rest For The Wicked album, helping the addled Osbourne construct another standout record.  Wylde delivered a masterful performance, unleashing searing riffs and blistering licks, all sprinkled with his trademark squealing harmonics.  Osbourne himself was the same crazed madman we all remember fondly.  I’m sure there were plenty of puppeteers helping Ozzy get through the writing/recording process (chief among them, the great Bob Daisley), but the end result was still a glorious metal feast.  Rolling Stone bashed No Rest For The Wicked (giving it one star out of five), which is all the more reason for you to buy it!  Faves include Miracle Man (great lyrics), Fire In The Sky, Tattooed Dancer, and Demon Alcohol.  The original U.S. LP version of No Rest For The Wicked did not include Hero, another killer track.  The Japanese version of No Rest For The Wicked included the bonus track The Liar.  My score: A

6. Tarot – Follow Me Into Madness

Tarot!  This Finnish band is still around today — having retained most of their original members throughout the years.  That’s really quite a testimony to the band’s perseverance, eh?  Well, way back in 1988 Tarot released their second album Follow Me Into Madness (Flamingo Records), and GOD DAMN this album smokes!  Sometimes brooding, other times jacked up on speed, Follow Me Into Madness pretty much embodies everything I could want in an ’80s metal album.  The songs are melodic yet heavy, technically impressive yet ultra-accessible, with incredible vocals and sing along choruses.  Descendents Of Power opens the album with high energy and a fast tempo, a perfect song to whet the appetite for some METAL.  This song is followed by Rose On The Grave, a slow pounder showing off Tarot’s versatility.  After two songs, it seems promising that we are in store for a well-rounded album.  Happily, this is indeed the case.  Check out Follow Me Into Madness, a slow burner that stirs a bubbly cauldron of evil, or the driving hard rock of No Return.  My personal favorite cut is the album’s second-to-last track, the wicked I Spit Venom.  When all has been said and done, I’m having a hard time finding a band to compare with Tarot.  Usually I can throw around a band like Accept, Priest, or Maiden as a point of reference, but I don’t think I can really do that here.  I guess that’s a great compliment!  Oh well, there’s only one thing left to do… PLAY IT LOUD!  My score: A

5. Riot – Thundersteel

Riot!  Well… kind of.  It’s not the Riot of Fire Down Under, let’s put it that way.  Only one member of that “classic” lineup remains in this incarnation of Riot — guitarist Mark Reale.  And this Riot sounds nothing like the Riot of old.  So why call it Riot?  I don’t know.  Marketing I guess.

So what usually happens when a band’s classic lineup gets gutted and the band’s name carries on to what is essentially a scab band?  Furthermore, what happens when an established band changes to a whole new sound?  Usually the results are disappointing or even awful, right?  But there are exceptions to every rule, and the exception here is Thundersteel!

Mark Reale joined up with three new guys and formed a band that became a speedy power metal tour de force.  While the Riot of old was a loose, straight forward hard rock/metal outfit, the new Riot was highly technical, tight, and even a bit progressive.

On Thundersteel, the glorious high vocals of new guy Tony Moore soar above the barrage of double-bass pounding and Reale’s quick riffing.  It’s really hard to believe that Reale was able to change his playing style so drastically for Thundersteel.  (He claims to have been influenced by bands such as S.A. Slayer, and was interested in neoclassical metal guitar at the time.)  His guitar work on Thundersteel is unrecognizable compared to his older stuff, although he is still very much a song-oriented guitarist, and not a flashy trickster.

Thundersteel often draws comparison to Judas Priest’s 1990 album, Painkiller.  Both albums are fierce, fast paced, and metal to the core, yet both are also extremely melodic and accessible.  This killer combination is like the holy grail to many a metal aficionado.  More than a few consider Painkiller to be an absolute masterpiece.  What of Thundersteel?  Though Thundersteel is not nearly as well-known as Painkiller, some think it is just as good or an even better album (I do).   Don’t forget that Thundersteel came out two years BEFORE Painkiller.  My score: A

4. Kix – Blow My Fuse

The high point of Kix’s catalog is also (IMO) one of the greatest hair band albums ever made!  Blow My Fuse is loaded with great party metal from start to finish.  Cold Blood has to go down as one of the best songs of the hair-era!  It was a “classic” in our house back in the day, as it was repeatedly broadcast loudly from the stereo in my older brother’s room.  There’s so much to love about Blow My Fuse.  For example, the lyrics on this album are really quite clever.  I particularly like She Dropped Me The Bomb (which compares getting dumped to getting shot down in an aerial dogfight) and Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT (about a street-walker; “she has to water all the flowers in our town”).  Of course, Steve Whiteman’s vocals were sleaze-city awesome, and chief songwriter (and bassist) Donnie Purnell shat out an awesome set of tunes with AC/DC-esque riffs and killer hooks.  Often, the verse sections were just as catchy (if not more so) than the actual choruses (examples include Piece Of The Pie and She Dropped Me The Bomb).  The album’s biggest hit was the superb ballad Don’t Close Your Eyes, a song I love to sing along to, although I can’t hit any of Whiteman’s high notes.  No Ring Around Rosie is another favorite.  My score: A+

3. Zed Yago – Pilgrimage

Zed Yago was a great German metal band with a flair for the epic.  Pilgrimage was their second (and last) album.

The Pilgrimage LP was first released in Germany in 1988 (RCA Records).  The LP and cassette both contained ten tracks.  The CD version contained a bonus cut called Fallen Angel.

The U.S. version of Pilgrimage (also RCA Records) came out in 1989 and was quite different from the original German version.  The LP and cassette did not include Fallen Angel, Rose Of Martyrdom, The Man Who Stole The Holy Fire, or Omega Child.  They did, however, include three tracks from Zed Yago’s first album, From Over Yonder.  The songs were Zed Yago, Rockin’ For The Nation, and The Spell From Over Yonder.  The U.S. CD version contains all the tracks on the LP and cassette PLUS Rose Of Martyrdom, The Man Who Stole The Holy Fire, and another song from From Over Yonder; Stay The Course.  If that is a lot to process, let me make it easy for you, get the U.S. CD version.  It has all the best songs!

Zed Yago was fronted by female vocalist Jutta Weinhold.  She looked like a female version of Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.), but luckily she didn’t sound like him.  That is, she didn’t suck!  Jutta gets my vote as the best female metal vocalist of the ’80s, hands down!  Her voice had a real touch of the wicked, but she could blow you away with those soaring, emotional choruses.

Many of Zed Yago’s songs were fantasy based; mostly about adventures at sea.  In fact, “Zed Yago” is a fictional character conjured by Jutta.  She is supposed to be the daughter of the Flying Dutchman captain, and someone caught between heaven and hell.  Something like that.  Lyrically, Zed Yago were quite unique and steered clear of most metal clichés.

This is an incredible album.  From start to finish Pilgrimage rips with elegant power and metal might.  The compositions are carefully crafted with lots of texture.  Dual guitars blaze away as the hard-hitting drummer plays like a caveman beating a rock with a mammoth’s tusk.  Jutta rules the roost with her dramatic lyrical and vocal majesty.  All the tracks pretty much rule, but the cuts The Pale Man, The Fear Of Death, and Black Bone Song reach epic levels of awesome.  Put on your puffy shirt, hoist the mainsails, and ROCK!  My score: A+

2. Metallica – … And Justice For All

MetallicaThey were the reigning kings of metal.  And Metallica got there without the help of MTV or radio.  For once, it was the music that did the talking.  That, and the loyalty of a million acne-faced teens who didn’t give a flying f*ck about trends.  In 1988, Metallica dropped the much-anticipated … And Justice For All, a horse pill of an album featuring songs that were too long, and a bass guitar that was non-existent.  Nonetheless, it was a massive load of AWESOME.  Oddly, Metallica felt as if they had to prove themselves technically — so they got a little more complex, progressive, and long-winded.  But the tunes ruled!  Thrashterpieces like Blackened, … And Justice For All, and One highlight this juggernaut of injustice.  Metallica debuted their first video ever with their disturbing promo for One — a video that, despite some of the band’s hardcore fans crying “sell-out”, was just as cool as we could have hoped.  (The lyrics to One pretty much sums up my worst nightmare!)  At the time, Metallica bowed to nobody.  … And Justice For All was at once sprawling and overindulgent, but except for the boring (and seemingly endless) instrumental track, there isn’t a song to be missed on this weighty slab.  When the dust cleared, Metallica walked away, still kings.  But heavy lies the crown.  It turns out … And Justice For All was Metallica’s final statement on thrash.  As if they had nothing more to say on the subject, Metallica’s next move was to streamline their sound on 1991’s Metallica album — abandoning thrash and taking with them the commercial viability of the entire genre — essentially killing off the hopes and dreams of all the other thrash bands that followed the trail Metallica blazed.  What Metallica once built, they knowingly destroyed (for better or worse).  Metallica giveth, and Metallica taketh away.  After the exhausting  … And Justice For All, Metallica thought it was time to move on.  Justice was DONE.  My score: A+

1.  Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II

The magic that made Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I a triumph of epic proportions (IMO) was still very much in the air come time for Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II.  What was originally intended to be a double album had to be split in two at the record company’s request, so Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II was recorded later and came out in 1988 (Part I came out in ’87).  Gladly, Part II was a much longer album than Part I, clocking in with an extra fifteen minutes of music.  The same “classic” Helloween lineup was back for the second (and sadly, last time) for Part II.  The principal songwriters were Kai Hansen (guitar, contributed three songs), Michael Weikath (guitar, contributed four songs plus the intro), and Michael Kiske (vocals, contributed two songs).  After this album, Kai Hansen left Helloween, and the chemistry that made the Keepers albums so amazing was no more.

Straight up.  Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II owns my ass!  It borders on flawless.  Only the less-than-ideal production (which seems to hurt Eagle Fly Free more than any other song), and some questionable lyrics (like when Lucifer calls our protagonist a “silly bum” in the title track) can be listed as minor complaints.  With all due credit to pumpkin-heads Hansen and Weikath, Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part II would not be the “classic” that it is today without the superhuman performance of the golden-tressed and golden-voiced Michael Kiske.  The man brought these songs to majestic heights with his incredible vocal prowess.  Dickinson and Halford be damned.  This guy was the king of melodic heavy metal as far as I’m concerned.  For his performance of We Got The Right alone, this guy deserves a gold medal.

It’s hard to pick a favorite track on Keepers Of The Seven Keys Part II.  That would feel like a mother picking a favorite child to me.  Eagle Fly Free soars mightily (even if the poor mix tries to dampen its spirit), March Of Time is power metal perfection, Kiske kills all competition with his vocals on We Got The Right (incredible range), and I Want Out is an accessible, anthemic, barnstormer.  Melodic heavy metal does not get any better than this!  My score: A+

Go back to the Top Twenty Albums of 1987