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.


nightsblood said...

Nice review! I've not heard this one, though I know some of the bands from other releases. Totally agree about Breaker; a teriffic band and 'still life' is one of their signature songs. A shame they never got a big break.
Axemaster lasted awhile; I wrote back and forth with one of the members around 1994 when I was living in Ohio and I got some demos from him. Some of the guys morphed into The Awakening in the mid-90s; they recorded a nice demo that was more mature sounding than the Axemaster material, a little like a simplified version of early-mid 90s Fates Warning. They also later released a CD locally, although I can't remember the title (I traded my copy away years ago, although I still have the demo tape).

There were also several compilations made in the mid 1980s showcasing the Chicago scene but I've never tracked them down. I suppose other cities also had local comps available.

Keir said...

I recently got Chicago's Class of '87. It's terrible! I'd love to get my hands on those Chicago Metalworks comps though.

nightsblood said...

Who's on the Class of 87 volume? i know the 'class of' volumes from earlier years had some legendary names like Hammeron and Paradoxx included. I think rockadrome has 1-2 of 'em currently. A couple of those Metalworks volumes sold on ebay recently; I think Jon haupt (glocknose from The Corroseum) sold them, but it might have been his business parter Jim instead. I didn't see what the final bids were.

Anonymous said...

I am the reader who requested this.
A great review for this legendary cassette.
Thank you

Keir said...

nightsblood: The only notable band on the 87 volume is Decoy Paris. Paradoxx and Hammeron are on the 85 volume. Despite my criticisms, I would like to know if there were any other volumes in the series.

I saw those Metalworks LPs from Jim. They ended at over $100 each. Crazy! At least those are all metal bands though. The Class of 87 LP is mostly AOR, and bad AOR at that.

nightsblood said...

thanks for the info Keir! Jim's records have been selling for top dollar +++. I THINK there's also a 'class of 1984', but I'm not certain of that.

BTW, I did get one of those copies of the 'Southern Comfort' nwobhm compilation that you told me were on GEMM, thanks again! It just arrived today; it'll be a few days before I even have a chance to play it. The Deuce and Straight Six tracks on it are awesome nwobhm; I don't know anything about the others except what's written up in malc's encyclopedia.

Wedge said...

i grew up in the Cleveland HC Punk scene, and there was quite a bit of crossover/overlap between the HC & Metal scenes back in the 80's... i really liked Black Death & Mistreater & Wretch & Kratos (i was actually blasting their debut 12" earlier today...CLASSIC!!!), but didnt care for much else from the scene...

about Rebellious Angel...only ever saw them live 1 time...Halloween 1986 opening for the Manimals at some club on Brookpark Rd out by the airport(i forget the name of the place. it didnt stay open very long, though). all i remember was walking in while they were playing & seeing their Bass player all done-up in white leather vest & pants doing a very Spinal Tap-ish bass solo to a very sparse & indifferent crowd of about 8 people while the rest of the band stood back & seemed to get annoyed with his antics...i gave em about 3 more songs & bailed. pretty run of the mill power metal with occasional speed/thrash outburts. didnt do much for me. i did eventually hook up with their Vocalist, Erik Von Zipper, about 4 years later & we formed the very Poison Idea-influenced HC Punk band called Gag Reflex. we didnt do much outside of a rehearsal demo & about 10 gigs in 3 years time, but that band eventually mutated into h100s (H-100's); but thats a completely different story...last i heard of Rebellious Angel was a blurb in the local newspaper circa-1992 about them being the feature band at the Fairport Harbor Mardi Gras (basically the county fair moved to the local beach park for a weekend) with their set of classic metal covers.

as for Hatrix, this band was a forerunner to the Nu-Metal band Mushroomhead. not sure exactly which members went on to what, but thats what i know. if memory serves me right, theres 1 track on the more HC Punk style Comp CD called "Dark Empire Strikes Back" released thru Dutch East India in 1993. or maybee its a Mushroomhead track...i dont remember right off. its been ages since i dug that CD out and its filed away in a crate somewhere; too deep for me to dig out & tell you right at the moment...

Keir said...

Very cool info. It's always nice to hear from someone who was part of the scene. Thanks!

Ted said...

Is there anyway to get a copy of Heavy Artillery from you.

They never re-released it and I am dying to get my hands on it

Anonymous said...

One of the best compilations out there. Speaking of Torment, I uploaded both the 1988 & 1989 demos on youtube. Too bad they never made it. Heres the links.

Keir said...

Great to hear some more of their material, even if it doesn't live up to "Epilogue". Thanks!