Forgotten Gems: Death Mask-Split the Atom
Formed in 1984 this New York speed metal band would begin life as Savage Choir. Vocalist Steven Michaels joined up with guitarist Benny Ransom and the pair quickly became good friends and writing partners. The original line-up also included Ariel Lee on bass and Paul Monroe on drums. While this version of the band would write much of the material that ended up on Split The Atom the line-up would be short lived. Lee and Monroe would move on to more melodic and commercial rock (Monroe for one would go on to drum for XYZ) while Michaels and Ransom went a different route. Seeking to play a more heavy and aggressive style of heavy metal than what they were known for Chris Eichorn would join on along with Lee Nelson on drums. The four piece build up a loyal following in New York and New Jersey proving to be a popular live act. Making a name for themselves proved to be more of a curse than a blessing. In 1985 British label Killerwatt Records came knocking. Long story short the band was forced to change their name (first mistake as they had built up a decent following under the name Savage Choir) and then were given only three days (yes, THREE DAYS) to record their debut album. So, yes Split the Atom is a raw and under-produced album. But, given that the band was so killer live they were able to bang out an album that still sounds good despite the lack of studio time. The album was released in the UK and Europe in 1986 and the reviews were mostly positive. "I'm Dangerous" from the album would go on to be in the B-Movie Zombie Nightmare. Despite the name change and album production things still looked promising for the band. They were promised touring opportunities in Europe with established acts. They waited and waited and sadly it never happened. Death Mask had been Killerwatt Records first U.S. signing and it showed. The label pretty much left them out to hang. With nothing happening in Europe the group returned to the states where they continued to tour. There was no U.S. distribution in place though so Split the Atom was a pricey import. Negotiations fell through as the band tried to get out of the contract. With mounting stress and debt the band called it a day in 1987. Split the Atom would go on to be re-released by Retrospect in 2009. I choose to write about this album because now (nearly 25 years later) the group have finally issued a follow up album! I will be reviewing the album next week. Split the Atom meanwhile is classic eighties speed metal. Driven by Steven Michaels high pitched vocals Death Mask play full tilt thrash in the vein of Holy Terror, Living Death or Blood Money. Dripping with a nostalgic sound that just screams "bang your head" and "blow out your speakers" this is an album that should be in every collection if you are into eighties speed.