Monday, November 28, 2005

The bargain bin

Ah, the bargain bin at the independent record store, it's like a graveyard for hair metal cd's or maybe it's more like the land of misfit toys from Rudolph. You really have to look sometimes, but occasionally in there along with stuff like Right Said Fred and the soundtrack for Super Mario Bros. will be a metal cd just waiting for a dinosaur like myself to grab it. At the store I go to, the bargain bin's high end is $4.99 and then the prices go all the way down to the other end at a whopping $.99. I don't buy too many $4.99 because they don't seem to be ones that are hard to find and chances are these will be here for a while because most cheapskates like me are looking for the real bargains. Sometimes you can search the whole alphabet and find nothing, but sometimes you find some treasures of sorts. Now the $.99 section is probably the hardest section in which to find anything worthwhile, but on occasion you hit the penny pinchers jackpot. Just the other day I found Michael Monroe's Not faking it in that very bin. Not the greatest album in the world, but very much worth paying just a little more than what you would pay for a candy bar. Most of the cds I buy from the bargain tend to be hard rock more than metal or speed metal. I have actually never seen a lot of mid-tempo metal or speed metal in the bargain bins. I am not sure if that is because they sell more easily so they go for higher prices or if it's because their owners hold on to them longer than the owners of hair metal stuff. You don't find a whole lot of real rarities, but I have a found a few out of print of items. Little Caesar's 1990 debut is probably one of my favorites that I found in the bargain bin, it cost me a whole $1.99. I was very proud the other week when I came away with four cds and it cost my less than ten bucks including tax. The bottom line is that I am thankful for the bargain bin and I hope former metal fans keep selling their cds so I can snag them for a few bucks a piece.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Christmas Presents

Yesterday was black friday so the big shopping season has begun. My wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year and I answered with the same answer that I give every year and that is "socks". Yes, socks are the perfect present because I always need them, yet I probably won't go out and by them for myself. However they aren't exactly fun so my wife always asks me what else I want and I am sure that I can think of something. As for buying gifts, I am not that good at buying for my wife. My daughter is easy because toys are fun to look at and pick out. I have always been of the opinion that the two greatest gift related inventions are the gift card and the gift bag. The gift card allows the recipient to get anything they want as long as it doesn't exceed the amount on the card and where would I be without gift bags? Wasting far too much time trying to wrap presents with paper, that's where. Anyway I actually have maybe 70% of my Christmas shopping done so far which puts way ahead of where I normally am at this point. I don't like to fight the crowds so I normally just do most of my shopping on my way home from work at like 9:30 when the stores aren't so bad. Usually my wife and I just don't know what to buy each other so we me up list of possibilities. My list normally gives a few dvds so wife my can pick one from the list so I am sure that I will get one that I want. I actually made a list of metal cds this year as well. Honestly I would probably just be content with the socks, but I won't argue with a dvd and cd either.
Oh, please don't think that I completely forgotten the subject of metal, oh, no I certainly have not. My gift for anyone who actually reads my ramblings or was unfortunate enough to end up here by mistake is coming up next week in fact. An early gift of sorts for those like me who can't wait until Christmas to get a presents. Starting December 1st, I will begin my top ten countdown of the top ten hard rock/ metal albums of 1985. I know I have announced this before, but I have finally narrowed them down, I am sticking to this list and I will start posting it on the 1st. This is the first time I have done this, but I hope to do it every year. First I make a list of the contenders for the top ten list so I must pick at least 20 albums and no more than 25 metal/hard rock albums from 1985. Then the competition starts as I begin listening, comparing and narrowing down until I have my top ten. I started doing this in August and I actually just finished ranking the list last week. Now for my entries, I intend to justify why this album deserves a spot in my top ten. I don't want to give too much away, but I think I can safely say that 1985 was a year when lesser known bands excelled and it was a big year for speed and thrash debuts. This was the year when Megadeth, Exodus, Overkill, Possessed, Kreator, Agent Steel and Dark Angel all released their debuts. I can safely say that my current 1985 list looks a lot different than it did back in 1985. Comparing albums by listening to one after the other gave me a different perspective than listening to one album and then say waiting a day or so before listening to the other. Also in December I will be listing the best and worst album covers of 1985 as well as the golden turd award. The golden turd award is for an an album that is first of all bad, but also an album that is disappointing either because the artist did something good in the past or the album had a lot of hype, but failed to deliver. I actually was unable to find a recipient for 1984 because it was such a good year, but I certainly found a winner for 1985.
Well, happy hunting in the stores and as you are shopping, remember the slogan I once saw on a sticker on an 80's album that said "Give the gift of metal!".

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bonus tracks or bogus tracks

I used to have a tape and one song was listed as bonus track and another track said bogus track. This was back in the late 80's and I cannot remember who the artist was, but I thought that part was funny at least. Back in the 80's bonus tracks were extra tracks that were on the cassette and/or cd version, but not on the vinyl version. Sometimes the term bonus track was also used to refer to import versions that contained extra tracks that were not on the American pressing of an album. The first album I can think of where I became aware of the existence of a bonus track was the Son of Alerik instrumental on Deep Purple's Perfect Strangers. It was on the cd and tape I believe but not the lp. It was a good instrumental so it was a bonus. Twisted Sister had a bonus track on Come out and play in 1985. The cd and tape had King of the fools and I think it even showed up on the flip side of one of the singles off of that album, but it was not on the lp version. The lucky lp owners got a pop-up Dee Snider instead of the song. I thought it was a decent song, but the pop-up thingy may have actually been cooler. Small time independent metal label New Renaissance stuck bonus tracks on a number of their cassettes back in the mid-1980's. They also put stickers with the bands logos in the albums and cassettes as well on occasion. I recently bought TNT's Knights of the new thunder on cd even though I already have it on lp. I knew that I had seen somewhere before that it was supposed to have a bonus track, but I never looked to see what the bonus track was. As soon as I bought it, I stuck it in my car's player without looking at the cd listing. I was surprised when the bonus track turned out to be in the middle instead of at the end as most bonus tracks seem to be tacked on the end. My version of King Kobra's Thrill of a lifetime was listed as having a bonus track, but it turned out the bonus track was a song by Jon Butcher Axis and not King Kobra. The "logic" of this move was due to the fact the Jon Butcher Axis song was originally on the Iron Eagle soundtrack and so was one of the King Kobra songs so some genius tacked the song on this album. That one certainly goes into the bogus track category.
That's how bonus tracks operated in the 80's, now there are plenty of re-releases and re-issues and sometimes these get bonus or extra tracks as they are sometimes listed. All of WASP's early albums were re-released a few years and they all had bonus tracks. Headless Children had like six or seven bonus tracks so that was a huge bonus. Some bonus tracks are great and then sometimes the bonus tracks are demo tracks or remixes that don't very different from the original version. Ultimately the whole idea of bonus tracks is a marketing technique that focuses on the greed of the consumer because we love to think we are getting something for nothing, don't we? It all boils down to how good the bonus tracks are because no one wants a bogus track.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Kix-Midnight Dynamite

Okay, I chose this one because they are a local band. Whether you loved them or hated them, you still knew who Kix were if you lived in the mid-Atlantic area during the mid to late 1980's. The local radio station played them as much as say Motley Crue or Ratt and plenty of people wondered why they didn't get more popular. I would guess that most large cities had a metal band or two back in the 80's that people around the area liked, but they never made it outside of that area. Kix were on a major label (Atlantic) throughout the 80's so they certainly had a better opportunity than many others to get big, but it never happened. I will also touch briefly on that issue here today as well. Kix released their debut in 1981 and I still think it is their best album, it's nothing great however it is fun. Their second album Cool Kids came out in 1983 and it could best be described as bizarre. It's sounds like middle schoolers doing something, but not really music more like just filling space and time. I believe Beavis and Butt-head showed a clip from the title track and said something like "If these are the cool kids then I would hate to see the un-cool kids". I think that about sums up that album. Then around late 1984 Kix had an ad in the back Hit Parader every month and they were working on a new album. So Summer of 1985 rolls around and Midnight Dynamite is released. The local radio station played the entire album the week it came out and that's where I first heard it. My initial reaction was that it was decent, but nothing great. There was a lot more fire behind Whiteman's vocals then there was behind the music and the vocals still had some real problems. I think my opinion of this album did drop over the next year or so just due to being turned off by people who overrated the album. I have not heard this one in it's entirety since at least 1988. So it's time to take a listen and see if this one explodes or just fizzles like some cheap sparklers.

The title track comes on and it's fairly standard hard rock fare, but the music has enough of an edge to make it stand out a little. The chorus is a little stale, but not so much that it's a real problem. Overall not a bad opener. The next song title sounds like the band were desperate to squeeze as many colors as possible into one title as it's Red Hot (Black & Blue) . Anyway we hear first, but not the last example of Steve Whiteman's ability to be an annoying vocalist. When Whiteman sings straight then he is normally okay, but too often he does what I call the "robot voice" and often times this in done as a group chorus as well. Just a very deliberate monotone that sounds well, like a a robot. Bang Bang (Balls Of Fire) comes on and the music seems to take a back seat to the vocals and that's not necessarily a good thing here. It's not a bad song, but overall it's just kind of there and there is no real effort to make it anything else. Layin' Rubber comes on at a good medium fast pace and you can just tell that the band is very comfortable with this song. Everything just seems to click here and it's a good, fun song. The next song is Walkin' Away and it's very different from anything they have done here so far. It overall has a pop sound, but it just kind of sits there for a while and by the time the pace picks up, it just doesn't do enough to be very interesting. Not a bad song, but just nothing great going on either.
Scarlet Fever comes on and it's one of those songs where the vocals have some energy, but the music is a little too far in the background. Certainly not boring, but just one of those where you think that it's not bad, but it's hardly something new. Then Cry Baby is next and Steve Whiteman has his voice close to the robot mode again. It's an okay song, the main riff is decent and the song doesn't overstay it's welcome. Next up is the big single Cold Shower. Well, big around here anyway, they actually still play this on 98 Rock out of Baltimore. At this point in the album, I do think that wasn't a bad choice for a single. It rocks a little and it is catchy enough. Steve Whiteman shows some enthusiasm here that I wish he showed more often because it's a plus when done right. Lie Like A Rug comes on and right away I can tell that Kix are completely playing to their strengths here. The music is simple, but moves along and the title and lyrics are silly, but not overly annoying. It's a fun song and doesn't try to be anything else so it works. The last is called Sex and when I was 15, this was the song that all of the other 15 year boys would talk about. They would talk about how cool it was, well it wasn't cool then and it hasn't aged well either. I think the album would better off without this song as it's just lame and very hard to get through.

My verdict is that it's a decent album, but that doesn't completely sum up how I feel. It is far from spectacular, but it is probably their second best album. I think it is slightly better than I gave it credit for back in 85 and I mean just slightly. The reason isn't that I now like the music more, but it's more due to the fact that I respect them for sticking to their sound. It would have been easy for the band or the label to push towards changing their sound to something that was more popular. I know a number of other bands at the time received urging from their label to become more accessible, but Kix stuck to the overall sound they had created and I applaud them for it. However, I think their sound didn't appeal to a lot of people and that is why they never got that big. I have heard and read a lot of comments about people who can't seem to understand why Kix didn't get more popular. I think it had to do the music not being heavy enough and the vocals being a bit odd at times. Kix went on to do two more albums on Atlantic and they got some radio airplay in 1988. Then they were off Atlantic and they did a live album and eventually one more studio album. Today they get together to do a few shows a year between their other projects.
There you have it and I cannot beleive that I only get to do one more 1985 review then it will be a new year and I will start dusting off those 1986 albums.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Judging an album by it's cover or not

You know the old saying "never judge a book by it's cover", but my question is how much does an album cover mean to you? Have you ever bought an album based mainly on a great album cover or have you ever not bought an album or put off buying it just because it had a weak cover? I am sure I was guilty of this back in the days when I had money buying a hole in my pocket and bought an album just because it looked like it would be a good metal album. I remember buying a tape by a band called E-X-E and I had never heard of them before. The album cover had a guy with demon head on it and it just screamed metal so I bought it. It was decent speed metal so it was worth the gamble. On the other hand I bought a tape by a band called Battlecry because it had Knights on it and the Battlecry logo looked really cool when I was 16. I guess they were sort of hard rock, but very keyboard heavy hard rock and just extremely dull. I ended up trading it to someone who I am sure made the trade because they thought it had a cool cover as well.
Now I struggle with finding examples of bad or weak album cover that turned me off or made me hesitate to buy the album. I think Ratt's Reach for the sky comes to mind as it just seemed an cover for a Ratt album and I actually waited to hear it first before buying it. I also remember thinking Judas Priest's Turbo had a lame cover and the album turned out to be even more lame. Cinderella's Long cold winter had a weak cover and I wasn't thrilled by the album in 1988, but over the years I have come to know that it is actually a great rock album. I am sure that I have more examples of both situations, but those are the ones that leap to mind first. It has also probably been a long time since an album cover has influenced me one way or the other.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ten things I think about metal in 1985

So far I have written five reviews of metal/hard rock albums from 1985 and I have another one coming soon. I am also planning on doing my tope ten albums of 1985 in December. While preparing a top ten and writing reviews I have listened to more albums from 85 than I normally would. Doing this has caused me to think more about the metal scene during that year and so I decided to make a list about those thoughts. So here in no particular order are ten things I think about metal in 1985.

1) I think Twisted Sister were on the verge of breaking it big time, but tanked it by choosing the wrong songs to release as singles.
2) I think 1985 had was possibly the best year in the decade for good debut albums.
3) I think after ten years of very good releases with three different bands, Ronnie James Dio was starting to lose some of his fire.
4)I think Motley Crue's Theater of pain outfits were some of the worst outfits worn by any metal band during the decade and that is saying a lot.
5)I think Yngwie Malmsteen lost a lot of steam by making a second album so similar to his 1984 debut.
6)I think the speed metal scene grew considerably between the beginning and end of 1985.
7)I think it's a shame Armored Saint didn't get more recognition.
8)I think Metal Blade and Combat records did as much if not more for the metal scene than any of the major labels in 1985.
9)I think this was the year that I realized that Paul Stanley had started wearing a guitar instead of playing it.
10)I think that I still have not completely gotten over David Lee Roth not being in Van Halen.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Old shirts in the attic

Last weekend I went up to my parents to help them put some items up in the attic. While growing up, the attic was always this kind of cool because we could go up there and look at old toys that we hadn't seen in a while. It was almost like a big toybox to me just waiting to be gone through. Well I was excited about going up in the attic this time because I had not been there in years and I thought that some of my old metal shirts might still be up there. Sure enough, I did find five old shirts up in the attic although not all of them fit me like I had hoped. All of the shirts were purchased between 1987 and 1990 so that is back when sizes were smaller and shirts were far more lightweight. The oldest is an Abattoir shirt and it probably the grubbiest and fits like a second skin which I guess was good back in 1987. Next is the Metallica shirt I bought when I saw them at the Monsters of rock in 1988. It's not as worn, but again I look like a stuffed sausage in it despite the fact that I weigh less now than when I bought that shirt. The other three fit well enough and they are a Blood Feast shirt, a Possessed-Eyes of horror shirt and a Judas Priest- Painkiller shirt. I should be too old to be excited about this kind of stuff, but afraid that just isn't so because I was certainly glad to find them. As we get older I guess it's sometimes nice to still have a few things around from your past to remind you of the times past.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hit Parader's Wild Bunch

Back in late 1985 Hit Parader magazine released a cassette only compilation of metal bands. At the time most of the bands were either just starting out or were deemed on the verge of possibly becoming big. Probably more than half of them were either on independent labels or hadn't even released an album yet. Raven were probably far and away the most established band at the time this came out. I used to have this on tape, but I don't think that I do anymore. What I wanted to do was not so much write a review, but instead was to look at the bands and see what became of them because in late 85 these were bands that Hit Parader might become something. So here is the track listing and my comments on what I know happened to this band or in some case I actually had to do a little research on the bands.

Pull The Trigger" - Q5
This band did two albums in the mid-80's and they featured Floyd Rose, whose tremolo had only been around for a few years by 85. They didn't get very popular at the time, but most people who have heard their albums speak highly of them. If this song was representative of those albums then I would like to hear them some day as well.
"Rock Until You Drop" - Raven
This was a live version and like I said Raven were fairly established at this point having recently released their major label debut Stay Hard. Raven were on a major for another two years, but they never got a whole lot bigger than they were at this point. They are still around today and have always had a reputation for being a good live band.
"Marseilles De Sade" - Shok Paris
"Battle Cry" - Shok Paris
Not sure why they had two songs by Shok Paris, but they did. This band did two albums in the late 80's and the first received some promotion and had some good reviews, but not a lot of impact. I have a single of theirs in my closet somewhere and I remember liking it.
"Taken By Force" - Agent Steel
This song came from their debut album which was released not too long before the Wild Bunch. They would do an ep and another lp over the next year and a half. Their popularity grew on the underground, but their kind of speed metal became a little less popular over the next two years although I liked them quite a bit. They have reformed with the two guitarists who played for most of their stint in the 80's and have done two albums with a third due out soon.
"Never Enough" - Castle Blak
This band released two albums in the mid 80's and got a little bit of press, but didn't go very far. They later changed their name to Monster Island before breaking up in I believe the early 90's.
"City's Gonna Burn" - Laaz Rockit
The title track from their 1984 debut was an odd choice as their second album No stranger to danger was already out by this time. This LA band was once lumped in as a sleeze band due to their costumes and name by 87 they saw the speed metal trend and changed their sound and look to fit in. They achieved some success in the late 80's, but then faded and eventually changed their name to Gack before breaking up. Their cds fetch high prices on ebay so they have a cult following.
"Metal Thrashing Mad" - Anthrax
This was the Joey Belladonna version and at this time Anthrax's Spreading the disease had just come out. Of course we know that they would indeed make a big impression over the next five years and they have been going fairly strong since then although their prime was certainly from about 85-91.
"I Like To Rock" - Blacklace
This band did I believe two albums in the mid 80's. I remember seeing a review in Hit Parader once and maybe an ad for their second album, but that's about it. They seemed decent, but a bit mild.
"American Metal" - Lizzy Borden
Lizzy Borden's popularity was growing at this point and would continue to grow over the next two years, but then they kind of tanked it when they released the very ordinary Visual Lies in 87. They did a reunion album in 2000 and now Lizzy and drummer Joey Scott are in Starwood.
"Metal Queen" - Lee Aaron
Lee Aaron never got that popular here in the states, but in her native Canada she has continued to record and I believe still has a following there.
"Suck It And See" - Grim Reaper
Grim Reaper were out touring for their second album Fear now evil at this point. It seemed they might get bigger, but production problems delayed the release of their third album. By the time Rock you to hell came out in 87, it was very polished and I think their brand of metal was fading and they didn't last much longer.
"Chosen Ones" - Megadeth
Megadeth's debut had been out for a while and shortly after this they signed to a major label and began recording Peace Sells. By say late 86, their popularity would be soaring and growing even more over say the next six years. Along with Slayer and Anthrax, they were one of three bands on this compilation to really make it.
"Daze Gone By" - Antix
This band had done an ep in late 1984 that was produced by Don Dokken. They never really got anywhere. Occasionally there is a single by a band called Antix from 1987 that shows up on ebay, but I have never been able to determine if it was this band or not.
"Burning In Hell" - Possessed
These guys were teenagers at the time and their debut Seven Churches was perhaps the first real death metal album. They released another lp in 86 and the great Eyes of horror ep in 87 before breaking up. They were fairly influential on death and thrash metal during the time.
"Eyes Of The Night" - Jag Panzer
These guys had done an ep and an lp by this time and some people thought they had bigger things in store for them, but they went through a number of line-up changes and faded from notice for a long time. Most of the early line-up reformed in 97 and they have been steady in releasing albums since then.
"Party Hardy" - Teeze
It took me a while to find about these guys, but I found them. They were a glam band at this time and released an album. Later they later changed their name and to Roughhouse and changed their look as well. They got signed to a major label in 1988. The name change was done to avoid confusion with the 1970's Canadian rock band who had the same name with a different spelling. Apparently Roughhouse got little label support and broke up not too long after releasing their only album.
"Ace Of Spades" - Abattoir
Juan Garcia formed this band in the early 80's, but then left and formed Agent Steel. The band replaced him and released two albums in the mid-80's before breaking up. This is a good cover of the Motorhead classic, but they really should have chosen an original from the band instead.
"At Dawn They Sleep" - Slayer
By late 85, Slayer were on the brink of getting big. Hell Awaits came out earlier in the year and the were getting a reputation for their lyrics and for their speed and heaviness. Of course about a year later they would release Reign in blood and speed metal would never be the same.

So there you have the Wild Bunch which saw a mixed bag of success for the bands. Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer all made it fairly big. Raven and Lee Aaron have been slugging it out through the highs and lows since the early 80's. Agent Steel and Jag Panzer are still doing albums although with different versions than their 80's line-ups. Looking back, I think this was a good compilation on the part of Hit Parader. There are a lot of bands and a lot of styles that range from very commercial hard rock like Teeze and Antix to classic sounding metal like Jag Panzer and Grim Reaper and even Slayer and Possessed who represented some of the fastest and heaviest bands of the time. I only wished Hit Parader had released it on album because then I would have kept my copy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How many do you need?

I was listening to the new Exodus album the other day and although it is good, I had to ask myself how many original members should a band need to use that band name? Exodus did a comeback album last year and they had three original members plus Steve Souza who had played on every previous studio album except the debut. Now on their new album, Gary Holt is the only original member left. Although good, the album does not immediately sound like Exodus. I know that using the name Exodus would sell many more albums then if Holt were to use his name or a new band name, but just using a band name bothers me in some small way. I know that as a consumer that I have the right to not buy it, but there is just a part of me that believes or at least hopes that a band should mean more than just being a marketing tool. Of course I am probably just being naive if I believe that.
One of the prime examples of one member using a name is Black Sabbath and what Tony Iommi did in the mid-80's. Seventh star was released in early 86 under the Black Sabbath name although I believe it did say Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi. Really it was just Tony and a hired backing band. When asked about using the Sabbath name, Iommi said he wanted it to be a solo album, but Warner brothers insisted on him using the Sabbath name because it would be more easily recognized. Then Iommi continued to do several more albums years using the Sabbath name.
A recent example that relates to this discussion is Megadeth. The band broke up after mustain had health problems. Then after a brief absence he decided to start the band up again only he was the only original member as bass player Dave Ellefson was not in the lineup. This left Mustaine as the only original member and some people wondered should this really be considered Megadeth or was it just a Dave Mustaine solo project by this point? Should using a band name mean more than just using it because you have the legal right to do so? I would like to think using a name means more, but I am a fan so my priorities and train of thought are different.
So this would bring up another question and that is how many original members does a band need to use that band name? My initial answer is two because having one is no different than it being a solo project in some respects. I say that is my initial answer or at least was, but then I thought of some exceptions that made me question that answer. Running Wild and Grave Digger are two bands with several similarities. They are both from Germany, both had debuts in 84, both have similar sounds and both only one original member left. In both cases the original member is both vocalist and one of two guitarists in their respective bands. I don't have a problem with either of these two bands using their band names despite the fact that they only have original member. The reason is because I feel that both have maintained a similar sound throughout their careers despite the line-up changes and I think that's the ultimate deciding factor in any of these cases. So ultimately it boils down to the music and not what band name is stamped on it. It can say Black Sabbath on the case, but if it doesn't sound like them to me then I may have a problem with them using the name.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No candy corn hangover

It's been over a week since my last post mainly due to being busy at work and in getting ready for Halloween. By getting ready for Halloween I mean putting up decorations and watching more horror movies than normal. Before I had a child, my big Halloween fun normally revolved around eating candy corn until I got sick and watching horror movies until my eyes could no longer take it. Now I have a child so they get to go trick or treating and seeing her reactions is far more enjoyable than horror movie. Not to say that I still don't watch more than my share of horror movies during the week. It's still more than ever my favorite holiday as it still has that magical quality about it that no other holiday quite has. I am afraid I didn't get to do a lot of heavy metal related activities yesterday because I mainly spent the afternoon catching up on chores with my wife and in the evening we went trick or treating. I have started to write a post about the topic of how many original members does a band need to keep using a name. Hopefully I will have that finished and posted tomorrow or the next day. I also have another review of a 1985 album coming up and I have actually listened to the album already so I just need to write up the review.