Fans of American metal have no idea how good they have it. For the past 30 years or so, we Yankees have had easy access to every kind of related strain, from traditional to thrash, speed, death, all of the “core” stuff and the pop variety. But once upon a time, American metal paled in comparison to the star power of its Anglo cousins.
During the early ’70s, a few US hard rock bands had commercial success—Grand Funk Railroad, Montrose, Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge—but by and large, metal had not solidified as a movement. There were, however, a few scattered bands that had impact, either regionally or on a cult level, some of which have new releases or reissues out now.
Blue Cheer was San Francisco’s answer to Black Sabbath, playing sludgy, dirty heavy rock with psychedelic overtones. Considered by many to be the first bona fide US metal band, the haggard power trio featured singer Dickie Peterson, who was as unhinged as a squeaky door, a point that comes across in spades new concert CD, Rocks Europe (Rainman Records). Recorded in 2008, the reformed band chugs through a set of noisy barnstormers, including the band’s semi-hit, a cover of the oldie “Summertime Blues.” The sound is so loud it clips, which only serves to heighten the insanity.
Dust was a power trio out of New York that featured a young Marky Ramone on drums and future KISS producer Richie Wise on vocals and guitar. While the band’s fantastical album covers implied impending doom, the sounds are actually kind of melodramatic, with an animated vocal delivery and a slightly progressive feel. Both Dust LPs have been reissued as a 2-fer CD and LP. Check out driving rockers like “Stone Woman” and “Chasin’ Ladies” on the self-titled debut.
Poor ol’ Rod Evans. The original singer for Deep Purple left the band before they hit big, then later got sued for trying to use the name for his own purposes.
In all of that flux, he did manage to crank out a couple decent offerings with LA hessians Captain Beyond. Also featuring ex-members of Iron Butterfly, the band played a heady mix of hard rock and prog. Evans lasted two albums before the band broke up the first time. Now, you can hear Captain Beyond in all its ragged glory on the Live In Texas – October 6, 1973 (Purple Pyramid). With a decent mix, you can hear evidence of a band on the rise, with punchy numbers such as “Distant Sun” and “Drifting In Space.” Too bad it was not to be.
Before playing with West, Bruce & Laing, axe-master Leslie West fronted NY three-piece Mountain, playing—you guessed it—heavy, blues rock. After that, he drafted ex-Cream member Jack Bruce for an even heavier blues trip, and recorded two studio albums laced with hard, in-your-face jams. The band’s second album Whatever Turns You On and concert offering Live ‘N’ Kickin’ have now been reissued in plush mini-LP CDs, with superior sound (Culture Factory).
Check out other releases and reissues from artists of yore, metal or otherwise.
Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor
By now, it’s pretty easy to figure out what a new Rob Zombie album might consist of. Glam-stomping riffs? Check. Syncopated drums? Yep. High-tech gadgetry? A-ha. Scary singing? Hell yeah. And all that’s pretty par for the course on VRRV, sans a couple of interesting deviations.
The single “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown” is a schmaltzy number, complete with Zombie raps, organ grooves and mammoth, arena-rock riffs. “Rock and Roll (In a black hole)” is another one-of-a-kind with a ’70s disco feel that mutates into a full-on industrial groove, making for an interesting mix of styles.
As an entertainer, Rob Zombie is untouchable. As a songwriter, his bits do get predictable, but he’s a skilled craftsman at creating mayhem nonetheless. And VRRV offers that up in spades. (UMe)
The trouble with writing about ’80s bands such as Queensrÿche or LA Guns is that you have to be explicitly clear about which versions you’re actually talking about, as there may be multiple incarnations. Thus is the issue with this new release. This particular version features original singer Geoff Tate and a clutch of top-tier studio players. Beating his former band mates to the punch by getting his version of the fractured band out first (the other version releases its offering later this year), Mr. Tate has come out swinging with a clutch of very well-crafted songs.
Frequency Unknown is a modern sounding album that at times, veers into nu-metal territory. On the surface, this not a good thing, and its somewhat muddy production doesn’t always help matters. But, Tate’s melodies and superior execution in songs like “Fallen,” and “The Weight of the World” elevate this LP far beyond the status quo. To further rub his former band mates’ noses in it , the album includes re-vamps of Queensrÿche numbers: “Silent Lucidity,” “Jet City Woman,” “I Don’t Believe in Love,” and “Empire.” As with most re-treads, I’d stick with the originals. But, in spite of a few dirty tricks, it’s still a compelling release, with a number of very solid tracks.
As one of the great metal vocalists of the ’80s, Tate’s contribution to the original band is immeasurable, and thus, any version of Queensrÿche without him is simply null and void. (Cleopatra)
Between diehards, the debate will forever rage on: Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin? It’s a tough choice, and one that Purple will undoubtedly lose, at least in these parts, with Zeppelin maintaining a firmer foothold on classic rock radio. But in my mind, the Purple canon is a little more interesting, infused with gothic organ bits and neo-classical guitar acrobatics that make it all the more dynamic.
But, that magic mostly ended in the ’70s, when singer Ian Gillan and guitar hero Ritchie Blackmore acrimoniously split. Reunions have come and gone and have yielded inconsistent results. For the past decade and a half, Gillan has helmed the band without Blackmore and the product has also been a mixed bag, often veering away from hard rock territory altogether.
For Purple purists, NOW What?! should be a welcome return to form, in spite of its horrible title and cover art. This set recalls the band’s glory days—not the overly esoteric stuff Gillan and Co. have occasionally pulled on us. The guitar riffs are tighter as in tracks like “Weirdistan” and “Hell to Pay,” while “Vincent Price” is a proggy rock opera of sorts, weird in a cool way, and should endear itself to the legions of those rediscovering prog. Produced by ’70s vet Bob Ezrin, NOW What?! is a welcome return to form. (Eagle)
During the early ’80s metal boom, the UK’s Tokyo Blade was one of countless also-rans that could never quite cut through. Continuously playing second fiddle to bigger bands like Judas Priest and Saxon, the band’s lineup fluctuated as much as its style did—deviating between heavy, busy Maiden-esque riffery and Def Leppard-like commercial pop.
This 2-disc comp collects tacks from across the spectrum, focusing slightly more on the commercial stuff. For my money, I’d stick with the band’s second album Night of the Blade that straddles both eras, but with class. (Cherry Red)
Black Star Riders
All Hell Breaks Loose
When the latest lineup of Thin Lizzy was announced a couple years back, without, of course, singer Phil Lynott, who passed away in 1986, the general reaction was “what the f@#k?” Wisely, leader and veteran Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham decided to switch gears and change the name, maintaining most of the band, including replacement singer Ricky Warwick, a dead-ringer for Lynott’s vocal style.
In spite of the name change, All Hell Breaks Loose still feels like a Lizzy tribute album in spots. On “Bound For Glory,” Warwick’s colorful lyrics and execution call on Lynott directly, while the twin guitar attack—another Lizzy trademark—harkens back the band’s mid-70s peak.
All Lizzy-isms aside, the songs are punchy, upbeat and well-crafted, part bar-room boogie, part driving hard rock, the kind of stuff that goes down easy with a beer and a shot—a refreshing addition to today’s musical landscape. (Nuclear Blast)
Warrior on the Edge of Time – Super Deluxe set
While hardly known in these parts, sans a few acidheads and Motörhead completists, Hawkwind and its heady, Sci-Fi–flavored “space rock,” is a bit of an underground institution in the UK. Since its inception in 1969, the band and its leader Dave Brock have gone on to be influential in several circles: psychedelic rock, prog, metal, punk, theatrical rock and more. The band even featured a young Lemmy from Motörhead for a few years, further cementing its strange mythology.
Warrior on the Edge of Time is the band’s fifth LP and the last with Lemmy in tow. (The young malcontent got busted for possession of amphetamines while crossing the border into Canada, and the band finally got sick of his shite.)
Released in 1975, the album would turn out to be a landmark in the band’s career, and is cited by some as one of the best LPs of the decade. That said, it’s certainly not going to be for everyone. This is challenging, busy, spacey hard rock, as exemplified in the trippy “Spiral Galaxy 28948,” the raucous “Assault and Battery.” The “single” “Kings of Speed” was a hit with deviants, but ultimately failed to chart. Ironically, the last song Lemmy would write with the band before being sacked was the prophetically titled “Motörhead.”
This outstanding reissue has the all the trimmings—a remastered version of the album with a 5.1 Surround Sound remix from the original 16-track master tapes, bonus tracks, a vinyl version, a 48-page book, postcards and more. (Cherry Red)
Pinnick Gales Pridgen
This super group of sorts pulls together dUg Pinnick of earthy ’80s rockers King’s X, guitar hero Eric Gales of ’90s blues jammers The Eric Gales Band and Thomas Pridgen of post-hardcore proggers The Mars Volta.
With a background this extensive, this proposition could easily have mutated into an unfocused mess, but producer and metal icon Mike Varney has done a fine job in helping the band create a cohesive sound that incorporates big riffs, hearty grooves and touches of tripped-out psychedelia. Songs like “Angels and Aliens” and “Hate Crime” have an off-kilter, Hendrix feel with an authenticity that gives the material a soulful flair. (Magna Carta)
For the slightly more experimental side of dUg Pinnick, check out his new solo album Naked on Rockarmy Records .
War & Peace
The Flesh & Blood Sessions
Believe it or not, there were hard rock musicians during the late ’80s that broke from the stereotypes of the LA-styled pop metal scene, even before grunge decimated it. You just don’t hear much about ‘em.
The mainstream music press would gladly have you believe that anyone playing pop metal at the time was a vacuous boob, and that grunge had come just in time to save rock ‘n’ roll. While that argument hardly holds water—grunge eventually stripped rock of its rebellious spirit and neutered its theatrical inclinations—it’s a common perception nevertheless.
In 1989, Dokken bass player Jeff Pilson formed War & Peace as a side project, enlisting Black Sabbath drummer Vinnie Appice and guitar hero Randy Hansen to cut some demos. Needless to say, this all became very underground during the ’90s, with fans clamoring for an official release of said demos for years.
The Flesh & Blood Sessions collects two different sessions that Pilson and company put down on tape. The material is dark, heavy and melodic, with top-notch production and a sound that’s quite timely, even some 24 years after the fact. Check out “Kill For The Love Of God” and “Snake Eyes” for a taste of what might’ve been on this killer comp. And a big thanks to labels like Cleopatra for making this stuff available. (Cleopatra)
Also, if you’re tenacious enough to find a copy, check out the band’s equally interesting Time Capsule comp from Shrapnel Records.
To Beast or Not to Beast
It’s easy to bag on Lordi. The silly costumes, serial puns, campy sing-a-longs and hokey vocals make the band an easy target. That said, are they any sillier than the multitudes of “meaner,” blackened bands with a similar image shtick? Probably not. And you’ve gotta give credit where it’s due—there’s hardly a shred of irony to be had on either this new disc or any of the other Lordi offerings. These goofy ghouls are seriously into what they’re doing.
Okay, so I’ve said my peace. But that doesn’t mean I generally like their stuff either, and this new album has plenty of pain points, especially in the opening track. “We’re Not Bad For The Kids (We’re Worse)” crams way too many words into its corny chorus line, and comes across as almost comical. But, there are a few infectious hooks to be found that truly gnaw at the psyche, as well as a number of good riffs, as in the appropriately titled “The Riff.” The prominent keyboards give the album a gothic-metal feel, and if can shut out the imagery of Saturday morning kid’s cartoons, there’s actually not a lot of difference between this and loads of more “respectable” artists out there. (The End Records)
The Fear Record
For fans of early LA punk, it doesn’t get much better than Fear’s 1982 masterpiece, The Record. The band was already known for taking the piss out of everyone and everything, and that aspect came through loud and clear on classics such as “I Don’t Care About You” and “Let’s Have a War.” The over-the-top sarcasm, the boisterous delivery and singer Lee Ving’s frenzied vocals made it a truly unforgettable experience.
So, why in the hell would anyone want to try and redo it? Some 30 years on, Mr. Ving has cut The Fear Record, a “re-imagining” of the original. Does it improve upon it? Nope. Is it sonically more appealing? Not really—I’d still stick with my original vinyl, it’s warmer sounding. Should Fear fans buy it? Maybe. There are some subtle differences, and age certainly hasn’t mellowed Mr. Ving’s delivery; he sounds absolutely insane in spots. Most importantly, The Fear Record affords Ving access to a new revenue stream. If you’re a Fear fan, you wouldn’t want to see him starve, would you? (The End Records)
Having formed as pre-teens, original street punks Cock Sparrer were one of the early UK scene’s harder bands, with a sound rooted in bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. And in reality, the band actually had more in common with say, AC/DC than arty punks like Talking Heads or Gang of Four.
This killer comp has bits from every era of the band’s marathon run, all with remastered sound. Tracks like “Runnin’ Riot” and “Teenage Heart” sound refreshingly rock ‘n’ roll, thunderous and incendiary, which, to this punk fan is a fairly novel thing these days. This set comes lovingly packaged in a hardbound book, with a booklet and remastered sound. (Captain Oi!)
Damned If I Do
The Damned were the first UK punk band to release a single, in the form of the brilliant “New Rose.” Founder and guitar player Brian James wrote it, and performs it here, along with eight other Damned classics. James’s apocalyptic guitar style is easily identifiable as always, part jarring riffs, part tasteful nuance, all erratic and on the verge of coming undone.
James’s vocal renditions are equally electric, there’s no shortage of energy on this set, even if at times, James’ range is stretched past the limits. The production is a tad muddy at times, due to the fact that James and company have everything cranked up to 11—especially on “Neat Neat Neat” and “Fan Club.” James and Damned fans should be more than happy with this little nugget. For a completely different side of Brian James, check out the recently released solo album Chateau Brian, featuring a set of rootsy, acoustic numbers. (Easy Action)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Specter At The Feast
Back at the start of the noughties, BRMC were seen as the new redeemers or rock ‘n’ roll, after a decade laden with grunge, indie and rap metal. While the band’s gritty, garage ethics were more in line with the spirited rock sound of prior decades, at heart, it was artsier and unashamed to wear its ’80s alternative and psychedelic influences on its collective sleeves.
Specter At The Feast showcases some of that energy in numbers like “Fire Walker,” while rounding things out with a keen sense of melody and feel on “Some Kind of Ghost.” There’s also a heartfelt cover of ’80s band The Call’s “Let the Day Begin.” The Call’s Michael Been was the late father of BRMC’s Robert Levon Been, and the album reflects his loss, with a sense of reconciliation and redemption. (Vagrant)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, JK.
Read Retro Action #1 here: http://wp.me/p3cYwV-1Kv
Featuring Motörhead, Blue Öyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden, Saxon, and more!