Friday, February 22, 2008

Heavy Metal Heroes (1981 Heavy Metal Records)

Staying on the subject of label debuts, one of my favorite NWOBHM compilations is also the first LP on Heavy Metal Records. They had released a few singles earlier in 1981, but this was their first full length album.
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Oddly enough the “cover” (for this version anyway) was actually issued as a separate insert:
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1. Twisted Ace – “I Won’t Surrender”: Most people who have heard this band don’t seem to like them, but I do. The biggest problem with this song seems to be that they aren’t sure what they want to be. This is particularly obvious in the vocals, such as the falsetto chorus or the “Hocus Pocus” bit near the end. A slightly different version was released as the B-side to their “Firebird” single.
2. Grim Reaper – “The Reaper”: In my opinion this is one of the best Grim Reaper songs, despite (or perhaps because of) the different singer. This song eventually evolved into “Final Scream” on their 1985 Fear No Evil LP.
3. Jaguar – “Stormchild”: One of many NWOBHM songs to have this title. A decent song, similar to their “Back Street Woman” single, though Jaguar would get better than this (before getting much worse). Rereleased on the 2002 Power Games – The Anthology compilation CD.
4. Soldier – “Storm of Steel”: The first and probably heaviest song by this solid NWOBHM band. Rerecorded by the recently reformed band for their 2005 Sins of the Warrior CD.
5. Bitches Sin – “Strangers on the Shore”: This song was rerecorded for their 1982 Predator LP, but the version on this compilation is so much better. It sounds heavier and surprisingly less sloppy, in addition to being about a minute longer.
6. Metal Mirror – “Hard Life”: This song is OK, but I’ll never understand why their similar sounding single can sell for $150 or more. Rereleased as a bonus track on the 2006 II LP.
7. The Handsome Beasts – “Local Heroes”: A decent, slightly bluesy effort with a catchy chorus, also on their 1981 Beastiality LP. Later rerecorded for their 2004 CD which was rather unoriginally titled 04.
8. Buffalo – “Cold As Night”: I love everything about this song, from the epic, almost doomy intro to the awesome riff to the fist pounding chorus. Originally exclusive, but later released on the 1999 Best of Buffalo CD.
9. Expozer – “Rock Japan”: The most commercial sounding song on here, but still an enjoyable piece with a great solo. Also on their sole release, a 1980 single titled Exposed at Last.
10. Split Beaver – “Running Wild”: Exclusive track from this AC/DC clone. Like the similar band Starfighters, they’re good but ultimately unremarkable.
11. Dragster – “Do It!”: An energetic and well-done song, though the BDSM lyrics are a bit silly. Also exclusive.
12. Witchfinder General – “Rabies”: This was actually the first Witchfinder General song I had ever heard and when I did my reaction was, “this is what all the hype is about?” That would later change as you will see in my next entry. This is the same as the version on their 1982 Soviet Invasion EP, and therefore was also reissued on their 2007 Buried Among the Ruins CD.

Available Formats: There are 2 versions of the vinyl release – the one pictured above and one with a proper cover showing the above insert. A cassette version was also released as well as a 1996 CD reissue (split with volume 2) on British Steel.

Value: $20-30 (LP), $8-10 (cassette), $25-30 (CD)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Metal Clogs (1982 Rave-On Records)

At the same time that Brian Slagel was doing the New Heavy Metal Revue and starting Metal Blade Records in the US, similar things were happening over in the Netherlands. Stefan Rooyackers, editor of Aardschok magazine, teamed up with Jac Hustinx in 1981 to start Rave-On Records. It was Stefan's work at Aardschok that got Mercyful Fate on the label. Mercyful Fate's 1982 debut EP would be the second album released by Rave-On Records. Of course they have nothing at all to do with the Metal Clogs LP, but since I was making a rather bold comparison between Metal Blade and Rave-On I wanted to point out that Rave-On did at least one significant thing for metal.

Rave-On Records' first release was this compilation consisting of 3 Dutch artists and one from Belgium (Crossfire). All of them play in the typical NWOBHM-influenced heavy metal style of the day. Every song on Metal Clogs is completely exclusive except for "Crossfire", "I Sold My Soul" and "Motorcycles".

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1. Crossfire – "Crossfire": No surprise that these guys would later sign to Mausoleum as they exemplify the generic West European heavy metal sound that the label is known for. This song isn't necessarily bad (except for the vocals which are kind of bad in a good way) but it just goes nowhere and takes a long time to do it. Wait, it's only 4 minutes long? Yikes. Of course, I may be alone in this opinion. Crossfire sounds a lot like a less talented Sweet Savage, who I’ve always thought were overrated anyway. They obviously liked Motorhead a lot as well. The same version of this song was included on the 1985 Rave-On Hits Hard compilation LP, and a live version appears on Crossfire’s 1986 Sharpshooter LP.
2. Impact – "Looking for Trouble": A little better this time with still more of those good-bad vocals. At least they had the sense to end after 2 minutes, 20 seconds.
3. Frankenstein – "I Sold My Soul": This band has more of a 70s vibe to them, which is always a plus in my book. The song ends on a comical note too when they yell "I! Sold! My! Soul! For! [dramatic pause] Rock and Roll!" Originally recorded with a different singer for the 1979 Northern Lights compilation LP.
4. Gilgamesj – "Heavy Duty": Finally, someone to inject some melody into this album. This is a great song, though still not as good as their Take One EP. I love Frank van Stijn's deep vocals, though they are a bit rougher on these tracks. This song has a strong Judas Priest vibe too.
5. Crossfire – "Real Steel": Crossfire gives a better offering this time and the attempts at harmonies are cute.
6. Impact – "Drop Dead": Impact deliver an almost great song here that is only marred by a rather stupid and repetitive chorus. Excellent main riff.
7. Crossfire – "Motorcycles": Any hopes I had after the last Crossfire song were dashed with this, another boring song with some really awkward vocal melodies. And let’s not forget the motorcycle sound effects. On second thought, let’s do that. A live version of this song appears on their 1986 Sharpshooter LP.
8. Gilgamesj – "Ticket to Heaven": Gilgamesj take a slight step back with this one but they're trying and I appreciate that.
9. Frankenstein – "Lady Luck": The second offering from Frankenstein has more of a 70s rock style. It's another exclusive and it's good, but I don't know if it's good enough for me to track down their only other release (a privately issued 7" from 1984 that sells in the range of $50).
10. Crossfire – "Be Crazy": Whose idea was it to give the worst band on here the most songs while Gilgamesj and Frankenstein only get two? They aren't even Dutch!
11. Impact – "Misanthrope": Not as good as "Drop Dead", but I like the break in the middle that starts out all doomy and Sabbathy then gets really fast. Shortly after contributing to this compilation, Impact released their debut LP which consists of 10 new songs of similarly varying quality.

OK, I know I was pretty critical of this record, but it really isn't bad at all. Definitely worth getting if you like any of the bands present or are interested in the early Dutch scene, as almost every track is exclusive. Just don't be suckered by anyone saying it's a top rarity because it just isn't.

Available Formats: Vinyl only release, with 2 different covers – the black and white one pictured here, and a blue and gray one.

Value: $10-$20

Monday, February 11, 2008

Metal Massacre (1982 Metal Blade Records)

Well, I suppose I’m not making a good first impression by waiting a month to do my first review. The main cause for delay was trying to get good pictures. I should have realized when I started that I don’t own a scanner and I suck at taking pictures. Oh well.

After much deliberation over what album should be the focus of my first review, I decided not to do my favorite compilation or my rarest, but the one that I think is the most important in the history of metal. This is of course the very first record on Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade Records label. In 1982, Slagel was publishing an underground ‘zine known as the New Heavy Metal Revue and decided to make an album showcasing several of the bands he wrote about. It started a series of compilations that exposed several huge bands to the world (Metallica, Slayer, Overkill, etc.) and continues today. Metal Massacre isn’t an obscure compilation by any means, but some people might not be aware of the differences between the original release and the reissue, or between these songs and their album versions (if any).

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Also interesting to note is that the center label did not yet have the familiar "bloody axe" logo.
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1. Steeler – "Cold Day in Hell": The album starts off well enough with this song from Ron Keel’s (and later Yngwie Malmsteen’s) first band. This appears to be the same version as the A-side to their 1982 single which had all different members aside from Keel. Malmsteen, Rik Fox and Mark Edwards would join the band to record their 1983 LP which includes a rerecorded version of this song with added guitar twiddling. I actually think I prefer the original. I’ve never been a fan of that kind of musical exhibitionism.
2. Bitch – "Live for the Whip": I’ve always thought of Bitch as one of the prototypical Metal Blade bands, combining NWOBHM influences with the emerging LA sound. In fact, this song actually sounds a lot like an early Girlschool song to me, with the addition of Betsy’s usual BDSM themes. A different version appears on Bitch’s 1983 Damnation Alley EP with more whipping and moaning, plus a new bass player.
3. Malice – "Captive of Light": With the exception of the vocals, Malice sounds much less like a Judas Priest clone than on their later works. This track was also released 7 years later on their Captive of Light EP. The EP featured 2 different vocalists in place of James Neal, but I believe they didn’t even rerecord this song, instead opting to include it as is.
4. Ratt – "Tell the World": Looking back on this now, it seems strange to have glamsters Ratt on a Metal Massacre album, but in reality it doesn’t stand out that much from the other songs. On the off chance that there’s a Ratt collector reading this, this version is slightly different from the version on their 1983 self-titled EP, featuring a different bass player and a different drummer.
5. Cirith Ungol – "Death of the Sun": Brian Slagel has always said he is a big fan of 70s rock, so it’s no surprise that he picked up these legendary 70s-influenced metalheads for his label. Unlike most of the bands on this and future Metal Massacre compilations who were making their debuts, Cirith Ungol already had one LP under their belts when they recorded this song. A new version of "Death of the Sun" would also appear on their first LP for Metal Blade, King of the Dead.
6. Demon Flight – "Dead of Night": Following up Cirith Ungol is another good band marred by an irritating vocalist. This song is also one of 3 on their sole, self-titled EP. According to the EP sleeve that one is a new version, but it sounds exactly the same to me. It’s worth mentioning that of the other 2 songs on their EP, one features much better vocals and the other is an instrumental.
7. Avatar – "Octave": Not the same Avatar that would later become Savatage, I actually have no idea what became of this band. This, their only recording, is a pretty interesting instrumental. It would’ve been nice to hear what they could have done if they had a singer.
8. Pandemonium – "Fighting Backwards": The best metal band featuring twins from Alaska! And even that couldn’t save them from mediocrity. It’s not stab-a-pencil-in-your-ear bad, but it won’t inspire you to buy one of their 3 LPs that Metal Blade mysteriously decided to release. Exclusive to this album.
9. Malice – "Kick You Down": While Bitch and Warlord were afforded the opportunity to appear on more than one Metal Massacre compilation, only Malice had 2 songs on the same one! "Kick You Down" is slightly more memorable than "Captive of Light" and also exclusive to this album.
10. Metallica – "Hit the Lights": The production on the rest of this album is typical indie metal fare: bad, but in a good way. "Hit the Lights" still sticks out like a sore thumb, the production is that bad. They would rerecord this one twice (once for the Metal Massacre reissue and once for the 1983 Kill ‘em All LP) before getting it right. Compounding the amateurism is the fact that Metallica is misspelled "Mettallica" and bass player Ron McGovney is listed as "Ron McGouney". It’s not even clear who really played on this track as there are five members listed but I’ve read it was just Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, and Lloyd Grant. As the story goes, Ulrich was friends with Slagel when he had the idea to make the Metal Massacre LP. Ulrich wanted to be on it, so he got in touch with Hetfield and thus Metallica was born.

Available Formats: This album has a bit of an interesting history. The original 1982 LP was limited to 4,500 copies which sold out immediately. Brian Slagel was on a tight budget so later that year he had a repressing done by the Metalworks label who, according to Slagel, ripped him off. I’m not certain of the exact tracklist but I believe it is the same as the first, minus "Octave". The cover is plain silver with just the words "METAL MASSACRE" rather than the familiar skulls picture. In 1984, after Metal Blade Records was established as a serious label, they made another reissue on vinyl and cassette with a different tracklist. The Steeler track was replaced with Black and Blue – "Chains Around Heaven", Ratt’s contribution was removed altogether, and the old version of "Hit the Lights" was replaced with a new one (which is also different to the version on Kill ‘em All). This version was also reissued on cassette and CD in 1994. Then there’s the 1984 picture disc box set with Metal Massacres 1-5 (limited to 1,000 copies), and in 1998 all 12 CDs (at the time - now there are 13) were reissued as part of another box set called Grim Harvest.

Value: $40-$60 (LP), $20-30 (Metalworks LP reissue), $20-$30 (1984 LP reissue), $5-$8 (1994 CD reissue)