Monday, March 17, 2008

Heavy Artillery (1990 Auburn Records)

Never let it be said that I don’t listen to my readers! Shortly after someone requested Heavy Artillery, I found it for sale and immediately purchased it. A lucky find, I suppose, but I wasted no time in getting the review up.

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I’ve often suspected that Cleveland had one of the best underground metal scenes in the 80s, and this compilation from the end of the decade really cements that theory. Though no band ever became successful, there were countless killer bands from the area. In addition to the bands on Heavy Artillery there were Axemaster, Black Death, Shok Paris, and others. The predominant style on this compilation is a combination of thrash and power metal (mostly power metal vocals over thrash riffs, with a bit of speed metal too). A few bands were based outside of Cleveland, but aside from Titan Force from Colorado, all of them were part of the Cleveland scene. Every song is exclusive except where noted.

1. Breaker – "Still Life": If there was one band from the Cleveland scene that should have made it big, it would have to be Breaker. I mean, as much as I love Black Death I’m in no way surprised by their lack of success. Breaker, on the other hand, were both talented and accessible combining elements of mainstream bands like Iron Maiden or Scorpions (besides the obvious Accept influence) without sounding like a copy of anyone. This song was re-released on their 1999 Accept EP, as well as the 2000 reissue of their 1987 Get Tough LP which includes a second disc of rare and unreleased songs.
2. Kraze – "Devil in Disguise": Actually a Pennsylvania based band, they were still considered part of the Ohio scene. On this song they play Hirax type speed interspersed with thrash riffs reminiscent of early Sacred Reich and Overkill. In 2002, Iron Glory Records released a compilation called Devil in Disguise that includes this song as well as their 80s demo material.
3. Chemikill – "Deadline": Like many of the bands on this compilation, Chemikill never passed the demo stage. It’s a shame because this Metal Church inspired song shows that they had a lot of potential. This is not the same band that recorded "Consumed by Hate" for the Metal Massacre XI compilation.
4. Decimation – "Silenced in Time": Decimation is a bit of a hardcore/metal crossover act, playing a style similar to Prong. Not a style I’m particularly fond of, but I guess it’s good for what it is. This song was re-released on their 2005 Forgotten Race CD compilation of demo tracks.
5. Real Steel – "I Rule the Radio": Catchy traditional metal song that also appears on their eponymous LP from 1990. The structure is very similar to Commander’s "Terror", but the style is more akin to the British band Wraith. For a less obscure comparison, imagine Judas Priest crossed with Accept’s "Balls to the Wall". The LP was reissued on CD by Retrospect Records this year.
6. Purgatory – "Blood’s the Price": Not to be confused with, well, any other band named Purgatory. This is some excellent thrash with Bay Area influences, not unlike Cyclone Temple. It’s interesting to note that on this track, only the bassist and drummer from their 1986 Tied to the Trax LP remain, though the lyrics were written by former singer Jeff Hatrix (presumably before he left the band).
7. Deus Vult – "Twilight’s Last Gleaming": Another San Francisco Bay Area styled thrash band, with leanings toward early Death Angel or even Testament (minus the vocals). Their other output includes demos and Soul Assault, a self-released cassette EP from 1990.
8. Sacred Heart – "Time After Time": Melodic metal that is similar to Breaker, but not quite as talented.
9. Terror – "Pain and Suffering": The closest thing to death metal on this compilation, Terror sounds like a less technical Sadus. They released a limited edition 1997 compilation of demo material called Pain and Suffering that includes an older version of this song in addition to this version.
10. Torment – "Epilogue": One of the highlights of the album, they sound like Crimson Glory with a thrash makeover. Torment later changed their name to Tormentor, then to Ritual and finally to Ritual of Torment. To add to the confusion, a CD called Trials of Torment was released under the Ritual name in1993, and Ritual of Torment released a CD of rerecorded Ritual songs in 2006. I have not heard any of the Ritual material, but if it sounds anything like these I will need to look for those CDs!
11. Destructor – "Storm of Steel": One of the classic Cleveland metal bands, playing speed metal like early Slayer or Exciter. Rereleased on the 2007 Storm of Steel EP with 2 live versions of this song, plus 3 other songs.
12. Attaxe – "Pedal to the Metal": Attaxe reminds me of 3rd Stage Alert with their straight forward Judas Priest/Dio type metal. Reissued on their 20 Years the Hard Way CD compilation from 2006.
13. Trigger Zone – "Trigger Zone": On any other compilation I would probably laud this band, but after 13 mostly great tracks all I can come up with now is "another power/thrash band". Sadly, their only other release was "Im Taking Over (Your Life)" from the 1994 US Rocker Magazine: Audio Sampler #3 compilation CD.
14. Hatrix – "Sins of a Bastard Angel": Here the quality starts to go down a bit. Hatrix was a band started by the ex-singer of Purgatory. Their biggest problem seems to be that they try to play too fast and the result is rather sloppy, especially on the vocals.
15. Wretch – "Life": Not a bad song, but not great either, and I don’t think that’s listener fatigue talking. Similar to early Metal Church but obviously not as good. I find that they try to do too many things, or at least the singer does. The song was re-recorded with a different singer, who sounds a bit more controlled, on the 2006 Reborn CD. Also, a live version appears on their 2007 Make This Garden Burn compilation CD.
16. Brainicide – "Payment in Blood": Noteworthy for having Tim Owens on vocals, and that’s all. I’ve always thought he was overrated anyway, but even Owens’ fans probably won’t find much to like here. While there are some of his trademark Halford-esque screams, most of the vocals are almost half-spoken, sort of like Scatterbrain. The music is uninteresting Exodus-like thrash as well.
17. Rebellious Angel – "Stand Up and Fight": Powerful but melodic metal, much like Shok Paris. This is definitely an improvement over the last few songs. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any info on this band.
18. Severe Warning – "Better Off Dead": I’m getting tired of writing descriptions, so just watch this.
19. Titan Force – "Blaze of Glory": I’m not sure why a Colorado band was included, but I’ll forgive them because this band was definitely deserving of the recognition. Titan Force is best known for featuring vocalist Harry Conklin after leaving Jag Panzer. His killer vocals are reminiscent of Jag Panzer, but the music has more of a German melodic speed touch similar to Stormwitch or Keepers-era Helloween. Taken from their 1989 self-titled LP.
20. The Spudmonsters – "I’m Not Guilty": Another slightly hardcore leaning thrash metal band, and a bit of a weak note to end an otherwise amazing compilation on. Also on their 1993 Stop the Madness LP.

Available Formats: Though the liner notes say "Also available on Compact Disc", only the cassette version was ever released. The Auburn Records website claims that they will be releasing a CD reissue later this year.

Value: Priceless! Seriously though, I really don’t know enough to put a value on it, but for reference I bought mine for $5 from Sentinel Steel.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Gorau Sgrech - Sgrechian Corwen (1982 Recordiau’r Tŷ Gwyn)

As much as I love the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, I won’t be reviewing very many NWOBHM compilations since Malc Macmillan pretty much covers them all in his book (which is absolutely essential for any fan of the genre). However, there are a few he missed, such as this live compilation from Wales. Of course he might have intentionally excluded it because of the minimal NWOBHM content, but then again he did include the similar Barod am Roc compilation.

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Every song is sung in Welsh. The songs appear to be recorded during a local “Battle of the Bands” type of competition. The LP came with a poster insert featuring photos of the live performances.

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There are basically only three artists of interest on here, the rest fitting mostly in the folk rock category. One is Rhiannon Tomos a’r Band, featuring Y Diawled’s singer from their excellent “Noson y Bladd” single, who performs two songs from her 1981 Dwed y Gwir LP. First is “Rosaline”, one of the weaker, bluesier tracks from the album. It’s practically unchanged in live form unfortunately and therefore not worth listening to. However, she follows it up with a killer rendition of “Cer â Hi” which is possibly the only real metal song she’s recorded outside of her time with Y Diawled. Again, the song is hardly changed from the studio version, but hearing it live shows just how powerful Rhiannon’s voice is.

Omega’s “Nansi” is excellent melodic NWOBHM (heavy melodic like Trespass, not wimpy melodic like Valhalla) with a catchy chorus. They released an eponymous LP in 1983, though I don’t know how the music compares to this song which was also released as a single (presumably studio version).

Finally, we have Crys’ title track from their 1981 Rhyfelwr LP. One of their best songs, it is done in a 70s epic style not too far off from their famed countrymen Budgie (minus the high pitched vocals). This is a significantly shorter version than on the LP.

1. Y Ficar – “Seibiria Serenêd”
2. Pererin – “Mae ‘Nghariad i’n Fenws”
3. Rhiannon Tomos a’r Band – “Rosaline”
4. Rhiannon Tomos a’r Band – “Cer â Hi”
5. Meic Stevens – “Rue St. Michel”
6. Omega – “Nansi”
7. Crys – “Rhyfelwr”
8. Tich Gwilym – “Little Wing”
9. Tich Gwilym – “Red Beans & Rice”
10. Ail Symudiad – “Garej Paradwys”
11. Ail Symudiad – “Geiriau”

Available Formats: Most Welsh albums (those on the Sain label anyway) were typically released everything on cassette and vinyl, but as far as I know this is vinyl only.

Value: $10-20

Monday, March 3, 2008

Heavy Metal Heroes Volume II (1982 Heavy Metal Records)

I'll get to some more obscure compilations soon, but I should probably follow up my Heavy Metal Heroes review with one of the sequel. Volume II is a bit more eclectic, including some songs that delve into AOR, prog and even new wave territory. It’s understandably less revered, but still should not be overlooked.
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Again, I apologize for the crappy scans. Still working on a better method.

1. Lionheart – “Lionheart”: The album surprisingly starts off nearly identical to the Dragster song from the previous volume but soon we hear the powerful chorus and this turns out to be one of the better songs on this LP. Quite a bit different from their more commercial sounding Hot Tonight LP from 1984. In 1999 this song was rereleased on a Japanese-only 2-CD compilation of rare and unreleased tracks called Unearthed: Raiders of the Lost Archives.
2. Shiva – “En Cachent”: Usually compared to Rush, I find this song has more in common with another Canadian trio, Triumph. Either way it’s a great prog-tinged NWOBHM song that also appears on their 1982 Firedance LP. A different recording of the song was released on their 2004 Continuance CD.
3. Pallas – “Arrive Alive”: Scottish band Pallas continue the progressive trend, but they mix it with a new wave sound. Don’t let that scare you though, it’s a song that most melodic metal fans should enjoy. This is the title track from their 1981 cassette only release which was reissued on CD in 2004. It was also rerecorded as “Eyes in the Night” and released as a single in 1984. I like this version better because while “Eyes of the Night” is arguably more metal, “Arrive Alive” is less polished and commercial sounding.
4. Mendes Prey – “What the Hell’s Going On”: An exclusive song similar to more mainstream bands like Michael Schenker Group.
5. Mantle-Swallow Palmer – “Ice Cold Diamond”: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t find enough info on a particular band. All I could find out was that the latter part of their name comes from drummer Steve Palmer who played in Glenn Tipton’s first group, The Flying Hat Band. I have no idea who Mantle or Swallow are, or if the trio released any other recordings. The song itself is a decent but unremarkable 70s style rocker.
6. Overkill – “Out of My Head”: From a band with an all-too-common moniker we have another exclusive song with a galloping rhythm and nice chorus in much the same vein as their lone 1981 “Elemental” single.
7. Jess Cox – “Devil’s Triangle”: Jess Cox’ post-Tygers of Pan Tang career consists mostly of dull, radio-friendly hard rock. However, this exclusive track is actually kind of heavy and at least moderately interesting.
8. Twisted Ace – “This Fire Inside”: Twisted Ace finally stopped pretending to be a metal band with this unreleased single, and it works! The result is nice, catchy melodic rock/AOR which is what I think they were meant to play from the start. This song was originally slated to be released as Heavy 14 but for whatever reason was only released on this compilation, leaving a mysterious gap in the label’s catalog.
9. Witchfinder General – “Free Country”: As I said in my review of the first Heavy Metal Heroes, I was not a fan of WG upon first listen. However, when I heard this song I became an instant fan. Even “Rabies” has since grown on me. This is the same version as on their 1983 Friends of Hell LP.
10. No Faith – “Oh Well”: Perhaps taking a cue from Judas Priest, No Faith decided to cover an old Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac song. Unfortunately, the song they chose was never that good to begin with and the end result is absolutely terrible. This song is exclusive, the band’s only other output being a rare private issue single in1981.
11. Persian Risk – “Calling for You”: Some classic Welsh NWOBHM that is much more metal than their later material. Powerful vocals by Carl Sentance and some good guitar soloing make this one of my favorite songs of the genre. The song was originally released as a single in 1981. According to Malc Macmillan’s NWOBHM Encyclopedia, the two versions are different, but I can’t tell them apart. Given that the single is quite rare and usually exceeds $100 when sold, this compilation is a cheap way to get it.
12. No Quarter – “Power and the Key”: Another fine song from a band out of Wales. As their name would suggest No Quarter was strongly influenced by Led Zeppelin. However, on this exclusive track they take a more traditional and energetic NWOBHM approach.

Available Formats: In addition to the vinyl release there was a 1996 CD reissue (split with volume 1) on British Steel.

Value: $15-20 (LP), $25-30 (CD)