Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Forgotten Gems: Black Widow-Satan's Playground

Jab Productions

Several years ago if you were to have asked me if I knew any bands by the name of Black Widow I'd have either brought up the occult rock/progressive rock act that released "Sacrifice" back in 1970 or the Belgium act that released the excellent "Streetfighter" in 1984. Just how Maryland's own Black Widow came to my attention is a long tale that is better suited for another day. For now at least let's just say that it was initially Black Widow's 7 minute track "Heavy Metal Warrior" (off of "Satan's Playground") that compelled me to search out this four-piece band. Black Widow (now known as Black Widow USA) was formed in 1997 and began life as an '80s metal cover band. The female-fronted band is lead by "Cat" and features John Anthony (guitars, piano), Dean Meredith (bass) and Tommy Azzinaro (drums). Right up front I feel compelled to mention that "Satan's Playground" features a very basic production job. If the thought of a raw, paper-thin album doesn't appeal to you then stop reading. It is not demo quality or anything. More than anything it just sounds like a bare minimum approach and if one didn't know better you'd swear this was an eighties release. The no-frills production job works for a band like Black Widow though. With their take on traditional eighties metal (influences being bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Metallica, Saxon, Dokken, Motorhead, Bitch, Raven, Warlock, Iron Maiden, etc.) you wouldn't want an album that sounds too slick. The band's debut album is real heavy metal with a noticeable dark atmosphere. The vocals of Cat fall somewhere between Doro Pesch and Betsy Bitch and the more the album unfolds the stronger she gets. On the album's opening number "Black Sunshine" your treated not only to Cat's powerful voice, but also to John Anthony's thrash metal riffs. Falling somewhere between the sound's of Bay Area thrash and old fashioned metal the track easily sets the mood. Dean and Tommy (bass and drums respectively) are highlighted next on "Silent Scream". Here we find a nice metal thumper delivered with sinister intentions. On the passion-filled "Ends of the Earth" you can't help but hear the Doro influences really come into play. Cat's voice has the same kind of intensity that Doro is well known for. It's the same feeling on the track "Blackjack" (which on my copy at least cuts off out of the blue) where Doro seems as likely an influence as solo Ozzy . "Now It's Over" offers a nice change of pace as Johnny Anthony shows off his skill on the piano. After a sample of children playing the title cut kicks in next. "Satan's Playground" sounds like "...And Justice for All" material. Speaking of Metallica, "Brain Damage" is another Black Widow track that seems to have it's roots firmly planted in Bay Area thrash. "Winds Of Fire" is one of my favorite tracks as it offers a nice sinister vibe. This epic track sounds both charming and downright evil. I'd say it's similar in feeling to what you'd experience on some of Dio's solo albums. "You're Guilty" is a rather gritty metal number. "The Unknown" is Black Sabbath meets Raven. Things get a little weird on the next track "Night Chills". After some creepy samples (nice zombie moans there folks) guitarist Johnny Anthony goes off on a (heavy metal period) Ted Nugent rampage out of the blue. It's both odd and fascinating. Black Widow gets back to basics on the album's seven minute closing number, "Heavy Metal Warrior". As stated earlier it was the first track I ever heard from Black Widow. Really, there's nothing fancy about the track at all. It's just a no-frills heavy metal number that reminds me of mid-eighties US metal. In general this album really does sound like something you might have found while rummaging through a stack of LPs back in 1988 or 1989. I find myself listening to this album at least once a month or so when I'm in the mood for something familiar and yet different. Black Widow are one of those bands that offer real heavy metal without any studio-tricks or fancy arrangements. "Satan's Playground" might not look like a quality LP (for one thing the album art is super cheesy as is the album's title!), but at it's heart it is just old fashioned heavy metal played with passion and integrity. The band did release another album in 2007 called "Soldiers from Hell" although I have yet to hear it. You can find out more about Black Widow at the band's website below even if it does look as if it has been updated since late 2008. There is a Facebook page as well set up for the band. Just look for Black Widow USA.

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