Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Forgotten Gems: Leather-Shock Waves

Leviathan Records

Leather Leone is sadly not a name you hear mentioned much anymore. Despite fronting Ohio's Chastain through the eighties (and in the process helping to create some of heavy metal's top albums) she is often forgotten when discussions turn to metal's top singers. Even in Chastain itself it seemed as if she was overshadowed by the skills of guitarist David Chastain. One could certainly make the argument that Chastain's early albums would not have had the impact they did if not for Leather's distinctive voice. That isn't to say that David Chastain doesn't deserve all the praise that has been heaped on him over the years. He is every bit as good as his fame dictates and any Chastain album (as well as his work with CJSS) warrants repeated listens. If you've never heard his work then by all means stop whatever it is you are doing and hunt down his music. That is of course after your done reading this article! Getting back to the lovely Leather Leone though and it was Mike Varney, president of Shrapnel Records, who discovered her while she was fronting the band Rude Girl. In 1984 Mike Varney put together the band Chastain as a vehicle for David T. Chastain to show off his shred guitar ability. After a few album's with Chastain it was clear that Leather Leone would benefit from a solo career just as David himself had. With that it was David himself who was the one who suggested a solo album for Leather and from the start he helped push her to create an image and sound she could call her own. Looking to highlight her talent outside of the band Davis and Leather went about writing new material for the album and took up the task of finding a suitable backing band. Thus Leather (the band/solo project) was born. Who could have known at the time that Leather would go on to release such a cult classic? This might just be one of the best 80's metal albums that most people have never heard. Inspired vocally by the late/great Ronnie James Dio, Leather released her lone solo album, "Shock Waves" in 1989. With "Shock Waves" David and company found the right kind of album for the beautiful American singer to succeed. It was just the thing needed to fully showcase her distinctive voice. Leather Leone may have helped craft some truly remarkable albums when she fronted Chastain from 1984 to 1991, but it is this album, which was released through David T. Chastain's own label Leviathan Records, that allows her a chance to shine on her own and show just how remarkable she was on the mic. Granted, Chastain himself was responsible for the album's stellar production and as he did help write some of the album's material one can't help but point o Chastain (the band) as an obvious starting point sound-wise for "Shock Waves". But, it is Leather herself who makes the most of her solo album and the golden opportunity it presented to her. She was more than ready to step into her own and create a hard and heavy album that deserved more notice than it received. "All Your Neon" (which was written with Nevermore/Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O'Brien) for example opens "Shock Waves" with the same sort of pummeling heavy metal that made Chastain such a great band to begin with. It has a swagger all it's own and is it charges head-first out of the gate with sharp teeth exposed it sets the tone for an album full of true traditional metal numbers. Fans of not only Chastain, but eighties heavy metal in general who have never heard Leather's only solo album have no idea what they have missed out on. "The Battlefield of Life" (written by David Chastain himself) is another one of those cuts that shows just what it was about eighties heavy metal that was so appealing back then as it is now. Heavy metal in the eighties was just different. Then it was as much about attitude as it was having fun. So when you have an album full of hard rock numbers that are not only heavy (surprisingly heavy in fact) but catchy and then they are fun to begin with what more do you need? That said with heavy metal like this you do need someone who knows their way around and ax and that is where Michael Harris comes into play. Michael Harris (who was the founder and guitarist for the rock band Arch Rival) shows off his own amazing skills on "Shock Waves" playing with energy and emotion. Even if he isn't quite up there with David Chastain skill wise he shines on cuts like "Something in This Life" and the absolutely killer title track (penned with Manilla Road's Mark Shelton). Check out the track "Diamonds Are for Real" for some of his fret work and see for yourself how he managed to bring both skill and style to the album. The rest of the band is filled out admirably by bassist Paul David Harbour (who played with not only Leather, but Chastain and King Diamond) and drummer John Luke Herbert. In addition to producing the album Chastian himself does handle some keyboard work, but it is so light that it is hardly worth mentioning. Let's try moving away ever so slightly from the harder material we already discussed on "Shock Waves" so that special mention can be made of the beautiful "It's Still in Your Eyes". This power ballad manages to be both heavenly and heartfelt with still packing a nice little punch. Just how it managed to slip by unnoticed in a day and age when power ballads were all the rage with hard rock and metal bands remains a true mystery. "Shock Waves" offers up heavy numbers like "Catastrophic Heaven" just as easily as it does slightly off-kilter numbers like "No Place Called Home" and that is one of things I love most about the album. While it didn't make the splash that every one hoped for back in 1989 (blame the changing musical landscape) the album still holds up rather well. It still sounds fresh to these ears even after all the years that have passed. With Leather Leone now involved with the Sledge/Leather project (featuring drummer Sandy Sledge) perhaps more people might feel inclined to give "Shock Waves" another chance. Those who do might end up surprised by not only how the album is for a female-fronted heavy metal release, but how classic and timeless it is as well. And who knows what the future holds for the band Leather itself? Maybe she still has another solo album tucked away and she is just waiting for the right time to release is. Leather Leone is a voice that today's heavy metal fans needs to hear. With her talent and class she deserves to be heard once more on a larger scale. Let's hope that happens because Leather Leone truly is one of heavy metal's all time greats.

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