Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reaper’s Onslaught

Onslaught – In Search Of Sanity

London Records 1989

Candlelight Records 2006 (reissue)

Listen up Muthas, the lead vocalist in heavy metal is crucial to forming the identity of the band more so than any other single player, and a change in vocalists can lead to trouble. Some bands have changed frontmen and experienced the same amount of success as they did with their previous singer, but the majority of bands that have a change at the mike usually fare far worse. Their fans either want the old vocalist to return (and whine constantly about it) or the new vocalist alters the sound of the band radically and fans flee in droves.

Thrash bands generally have a vocalist who has a rougher style, or sings in a higher pitch such, as Bobby Blitz of Overkill or Tom Araya of Slayer. Few thrash bands have explored having a more traditional metal vocalist in the mold of a Rob Halford or a Bruce Dickinson. In 1989, the English band Onslaught tried a radical departure with their vocalist and musical style.

Onslaught released Power From Hell in 1985 and it was very much in the mold of Venom as it was fast, heavy, evil and had rough, shrieky vocals from Paul Mahoney. By 1986, Sy Keeler was brought in for vocal duties and Mahoney concentrated on the bass. That year the band released The Force and many people consider it to be one of the best thrash albums of the era. Keeler also sang in a rough style and the music was still heavy, thrashy, and owed much to Slayer and Venom.

The band then moved up to the London Music record company (a division of Polygram) and apparently the label and the band’s management convinced the band to get rid of Sy Keeler and bring in someone with a more melodic voice. The new vocalist was none other than Grim Reaper frontman Steve Grimmett, who was searching for a new gig after the implosion of his band. For those of you who don’t know, Grimmett sings in a traditional metal style and has a very powerful voice with fantastic range. I can't think of someone who could sound more different than Sy Keeler!

By the time Grimmett stepped in, much of the album had already been written, but the radical shift in vocals required major rewrites. In 1988 the band released the Shellshock EP that had either 3 or 4 tracks depending on the version. All versions had the new song “Shellshock” as well as some cover tunes. Finally in 1989 In Search Of Sanity was released and the thrash world was more than a bit confused and underwhelmed.

The album had 8 tracks on vinyl and 9 on CD and soncially was a complete departure from Onslaughts’ earlier records. Vocally, Grimmett sounded just as powerful as he did in Grim Reaper, but musically the band sounded exactly like Metallica circa Ride The Lightning. The similarities were impossible to miss when the axe hit the wax. The songs were lengthy, with the shortest being over 5 minutes and one was over 12 minutes!

The guitars were very much like Metallica's with solos a-plenty and riffs everywhere with massive amounts of crunch. Onslaught’s fans were almost universally appalled and stayed away from the platter like it was infected with herpes. Cries of sellout were heard being shouted by thrashers as they could not believe what had happened to their beloved band. However, The Metal Blog Of Metal loved it.

The concept of having a traditional vocalist over thrash music is novel, and sounds fantastic to these ears. The songs' melody adds a ton of hook to the tracks, which is something that thrash does not usually do well. Melody is normally verboten, but Onslaught went for broke with this idea. Many of you may be aware that in Metallica's early days the band had courted John Bush of Armored Saint and attempted to recruit him to be their vocalist. That obviously never happened, but if it did I imagine that In Search Of Sanity would have sounded much like the result of that union.

In Search Of Sanity starts in a completely moronic way with the cut “Asylum” which is more than five minutes of screaming and sound effects. This is a pointless waste of time and possibly the dumbest intro in the history of recorded music. The album really begins with “In Search Of Sanity” which is 7:32 minutes of pure thrashy excellence as Steve Grimmett takes command of the good ship Onslaught. “Shellshock” and “Lightning War” are fast burners with tons of crunch and guitars everywhere. Next up is a cover of AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” and it’s a smoking cover. Oddly enough this was chosen as the lead single for the album and a video was made for it.

“Blood Upon The Ice” is more tasty thrash with superb vocals from Grimmett and lyrics about insanity, murder and death. Speaking of which, “Welcome To Dying” is the album’s crowning achievement and at 12:45 minutes is reminiscent of “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” with multiple tempo changes and solos. The song is long enough that it actually contains a bass solo believe it or not! It’s a particular favorite of The Metal Blog Of Metal and should have been a hit for the band but sadly wasn't. Wah-wah.

Closing out the album is “Power Play,” another speedy track, but frankly is the weakest cut on the disc. The CD version of the album adds the track “Confused” and at 1:58 minutes it’s the shortest track by far. It turns out that this is also a cover song and the original performer was the mighty Angel Witch. I had never heard of them back in 1989 so had assumed it was an original song. It was only years later when I started listening to Angel Witch’s first album that I realized that this was a cover.

Unfortunately, Onslaught were given the boot by their label and called it a day in 1991. They reunited in 2005 with Sy Keeler back on vocals and have released a couple of albums in the mold of The Force. Grimmett went on to front various bands such as Lionsheart, Friction, Grimmstine, and Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper. He also appeared in this kickass Garmin commercial during the 2007 Super Bowl!

In 2006, Candlelight Records remastered and reissued the album along with what they called “expanded artwork.” The remastering sounds fine and the album is certainly louder, but the new artwork is absolute shit. In the picture above you can see that they changed the logo, moved the title of the record, and the picture is so murky that you can barely see it. Actually the picture above is clearer than it is in person as you can make out some detail in the photo. I have no idea why Candlelight botched this so badly, but they did and it was a boneheaded move on their part.


The Bottom Line: If you like old Metallica and traditional, powerful vocals, then In Search Of Sanity will really be your cup of mead. It’s got crunch, melody, lengthy songs, great solos and riffs. After all these years it still sounds good to me and I highly recommend that you add it to your collection.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blizzard In A Box

Ozzy Osbourne –
Blizzard Of Ozz / Diary Of A Madman
30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Box Set

Back on June 5, 2011 The Metal Blog Of Metal reviewed both the Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman reissues and promised to review the box set in the future. Well my brothers, the future is now and the box set has arrived here in Midgard. The box itself is very well made and thick and features Randy’s signature polka dots along two edges.

Here’s what you get for your cool $149.99:

  • Blizzard Of Ozz – CD Expanded Edition
  • Diary Of A Madman – CD Legacy Edition
  • Ozzy Live – CD
  • Blizzard Of Ozz – LP
  • Diary Of A Madman – LP
  • Thirty Years After The Blizzard – DVD
  • 100 Page Coffee Table Photo Book
  • Double Sided Poster
  • Replica Of Ozzy’s Cross

The CDs have already been discussed in the previous reviews and the discs in the box set are identical to the standard versions you can get anywhere. The LPs are heavy 180 gram black vinyl and they are packaged in a gatefold. The gatefolds each house the appropriate LP and they also contain the CDs and the DVD in slots in one gate. The LPs are replicas of the pressing on Jet Records and as such they have the original Jet packaging right down to the labels. The LPs are only the original material and don’t have any of the CD bonus tracks.

The 100 Page Coffee Table Photo Book is actually pretty nice. I assumed it would be crap but actually it has kick-ass photos, most of which I haven’t seen before. The content focuses almost exclusively on Randy and Ozzy. Also in the book are the lyrics and liner notes for everything and the end papers have Blizzard Of Ozz on them as well as bats.

The poster has two rather well known images of Ozzy on it but the paper is heavy stock so that’s cool. The poster is rather useless and I am not sure why it’s included.

Next is the replica of Ozzy’s cross. Um, really? Who cares about this? Not me, that’s who. The cross is housed in a foam cut out in the bottom of the box.

The real centerpiece of the set is the DVD and it is very well done. First up is the documentary Thirty Years After The Blizzard which tells the well known tale of the the Blizzard Of Ozz lineup, especially Randy’s story. We get the oft repeated stories of the dove, the bat and the Alamo. Also we get interviews with Nikki Sixx, Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Ozzy, Sharon (BLARRRGHHHHH!!!!), Bill Ward, Lemmy, Rob Halford and a few others. Really this documentary is nothing special. You’ve heard it all before on Behind The Music et al.

However the DVD does contain the absolutely amazing 5/2/1981 New York Palladium concert which has never been seen before. What’s so amazing about this show you ask? Well it just happens to be the first show Ozzy ever performed as a solo artist in the United States. He actually performed TWO shows that night at 8pm and 11:30pm. That’s right kids, bands used to do more than one show a night back in the day.

A film student by the name of George De Sota was in the front row with his Super 8 camera with sound and he filmed 10 reels of material. Unfortunately, Super 8 reels were only 3 minutes and twenty seconds long so none of these songs are complete and the film abruptly ends in the middle of many tracks. The picture and sound quality is not bad considering that the film is 30 years old.

Also on the DVD is the equally amazing After Hours show that was filmed in Rochester, New York on 05/08/1981. This show was performed for a couple of dozen people in a small room, but it was filmed with three cameras and has fantastic sound and video. Because of the multiple cameras there are close ups and different shots of all the players so you can really see everything. Check out a clip from the show:

It’s especially nice to have footage of Tommy Aldridge on the drums just bashing away. Tommy looks exactly the same now as he did then, and by that I mean he looks like a cadaver with an afro. One also notices just how tiny Randy really was – he might be all of 5’4” without shoes.

The Metal Blog of Metal notes that Rudy Sarzo has the most super amazing red leather pants and tank top along with knee high boots. Yes! Rudy is such a showman on the bass it’s ridiculous. He and Juan Croucier should get together and see who can win the award for most over the top bassmanship of all time.

Ozzy is in fine voice here and it’s good to be reminded that at one point Ozzy could actually sing and didn’t need somebody else behind the curtain “helping” him out – wink, wink. He’s also sporting bitchin’ white pants, white shoes, and a white fringed blue shirt that says Ozzy on it. White shoes are metal as hell, just ask Lemmy.

Finally the DVD has an MTV interview with Ozz from the same time period, as well as some news footage from Albuquerque and performances of “Mr. Crowley” and “Over The Mountain” which was filmed by the local television station.

So there you have it, Muthas, that’s the whole contents of the box set.


THE BOTTOM LINE: Is it worth $149.99? I don’t really think so. At best this is worth $100. The essential element here is the DVD and that could be sold separately for $25. I would save your hard earned bucks and get the CD editions individually. They have everything you're ever gonna need, unless you are just dying to have an Ozzy replica cross, in which case I have one for sale for the low price of $139.99.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Welcome To The (Murder)Ball

Vicious Rumors – Razorback Killers

SPV/Steamhammer – 2011

Sometimes the Fates are cruel and a great band never achieves success and is relatively unknown except to diehard fans. Such is the case with Vicious Rumors who for unknown reasons (misleading glammy name maybe???) have never hit the big time. Well, hold on tight rivetheads because Razorback Killers is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and it's out of bubblegum.

Guitarist Geoff Thorpe has been the man behind the band since their inception in 1979 in San Francisco. After a few years the band was signed to Shrapnel Records and joined by guitar wiz Vinnie Moore. The band released Soldiers Of The Night in 1985 and then in 1988 Carl Albert from Villian took over the lead vocal spot and Vinnie Moore left for shred land.

Their 1988 album Digital Dictator is one of the best United States power metal albums of all time. Albert was a virtuoso singer and dynamic front man and really put Vicious Rumors on the top of the power metal world. Digital Dictator was followed in 1990 by a move to Atlantic Records and the release of Vicious Rumors. This was followed in 1992 by Welcome ToThe Ball also on Atlantic, but by this time, metal was not the flavor of the month and Vicious Rumors was dropped by their label.

The band soldiered on and released Word Of Mouth on SPV Records in 1994. They were still playing uncompromising, heavy as hell US power metal even during the reign of Alternative and Grunge. Tragically, Carl Albert was killed in a car accident in 1995 and his golden voice was silenced forever. The band continued on but the vocal slot was also a revolving door of pretenders to the Albert throne. None could really match his range and abilities and the music was still heavy metal but it lost its identity when he died.

Geoff Thorpe kept the ball rolling though and in 2006 he tapped James Rivera for the front man slot and brought in Brad Gillis on guitar. The resulting album, Warball, was a partial return to form but the album was still missing the Vicious Rumors style of the Carl Albert era. In fact, the addition of James Rivera resulted in an album that sounded similar to Helstar which wasn’t exactly satisfying or wanted in a Vicious Rumors release. Rivera didn’t last long and the split was rather contentious leaving the band without a lead singer once again.

Fast forward to 2011 and the band has released Razorback Killers with new vocalist Brian Allen and finally Vicious Rumors has found their voice. Allen is reminiscent of Tim “Ripper” Owens at times as well as Carl Albert and he can also traverse the lower vocal ranges like Phil Anselmo. This guy simply sings his ass off on this album.

Geoff Thorpe plays his usual scorching guitar and has enlisted a legion of guest guitarists including Brad Gillis, Eric Petersen, and original guitarist Mark McGee. Bass is handled by Stephen Goodwin with original member Larry Howe is on drums. The musicianship is top notch as always and the guitars are just insane. Hot riffs a-flyin’ everywhere!

“Murderball” is the first track and it screams along like a banshee straight outta hell. Just a blistering track and the band have wisely chosen it as the lead single and have made a video for it.

Next up is “Razorback Killers” which is balls out speedy and hits you in the face like a sack of hammers. BAM! “Black” is more in a mid-paced speed but is still excellent and reminds me of Priest’s “Touch of Evil” in pacing and tone. “Bloodstained Sunday” grinds along destroying lesser metal in its path with its staccato start-stop guitars and blistering vocals. “Pearl Of Wisdom” is another mid-paced number with a clean and melodic chorus and more sweet, sweet riffs.

“All I Want Is You” is, believe it or not, a love song with Geoff Thorpe taking over the vocals and singing in a rougher style. I really like this tune and it reminds me of something M.A.R.S. would put out if they released an album today. Up next is my favorite cut of the album “Axe To Grind.” This song smokes! Guitars everywhere with Allen screaming along as we cruise like an out of control Hellfire missile. This is pure, unadulterated, unalloyed US POWER METAL. No puffy shirted Euro flower metal with keyboards fucking everything up.

“Let The Garden Burn” is an anthemic cut about banging thy head with thy brothers of metal with Thorpe on lead vocals again. Raise some damn horns when you listen to this one. “Right of Devastation” and “Deal With The Devil” close out the album with more speedy goodness and guitars a plenty.

2011 is shaping up to be a hell of a year in metal; disc after quality disc from older bands that have finally figured out that straight up metal is what the fans are hungry for. Leave your two horseshit turntables and a microphone for those nu-metal jackasses. Vicious Rumors has finally matched their classics with Razorback Killers and they deserve your support.

SPV offers the album in the following formats:

Standard CD

Digital Download

Double Gatefold Orange Vinyl


The Bottom Line: Great Odin’s Raven this album crushes skulls! If you don’t own it you should turn in your metalhead card and contemplate your idiocy on the Tree Of Woe. BUY OR DIE!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reverend of a Metal Church

Heretic – Breaking Point

Metal Blade Records – 1988

Lost and Found Records – 2009 reissue

Alright muthas, let’s go back to that golden year of 1988 when Metal Blade released a crushing blast of power/thrash metal by Los Angelinos Heretic called Breaking Point. Heretic had first been featured on Metal Massacre VII with the track “Impulse” which had Julian Mendez on vocals. In 1986, the band released the EP Torture Knows No Boundary but Mendez had been replaced by Mike Torres on the mike. Torture was an excellent slice of power/thrash with high pitched vocals and included a great cover of the Russ Ballard song “Riding With The Angels.”

Following this release, the vocal slot changed again but this time in stepped the diminutive but golden throated Mike Howe. With Howe on vocals the band released Breaking Point but before they could really exploit this album Howe had left to be the front man for the mighty Metal Church. Oddly enough, bass player Dennis O’Hara and guitarist Brian Korban teamed up with former Metal Church vocalist David Wayne to form Reverend.

The Metal Church connections don’t end there because the co-producer on the album was none other than Kurt Vanderhoof - the guitarist, songwriter, and founder of Metal Church! The Metal Blog Of Metal is sure that Vanderhoof put in the word for Howe to get the job with Metal Church which turned out to be very beneficial for all parties involved, except Heretic who were quickly forgotten and consigned to the slag heap of metal history.

Enough with the history, let’s get on with the review of Breaking Point already. If you like Mike Howe era Metal Church you are going to love this album. It’s got that not quite power metal - not quite thrash metal vibe that Metal Church could pull off with aplomb. The songwriting is hooky and memorable without a crap cut on the entire album.

The first track “Heretic” starts off with a short acoustic part and then we’re off to the races with up tempo speed metal. Howe is in fine voice here and effortlessly is hitting the high notes. Also of note is that the bass is right up front and not lost in the mix like on most thrash albums.

“And Kingdoms Fall” is up next and it’s another speedy number with just superb vocals. Howe hits the highs and lows with power and grit. The soloing is excellent here as are the gang vocals in the chorus. The “Circle” starts at a mid-pace and just keeps building until the cut ends with Howe screaming for what seems like 10 minutes.

I defy any non-deaf person to not play “Enemy Within” over and over again on repeat. It’s just so hooky that it requires repeated plays. This is a stand out track on an album comprised of nothing but fantastic songs. Chuga-Chuga-CHUGA!!!

“Time Runs Short” is one of two almost seven minute songs on the album. It starts out with a little bass intro like Megadeth’s “Dawn Patrol” and then it’s time to crank it into overdrive for a bit until it’s back to mid-pace skull crushing. Excellent variation in one song that asks, “Is there no love left in the world?” Answer = no.

”Pale Shelter” is a short acoustic interlude before the speed and power of “Shifting Fire” which is chock full of tasty riffage. This is followed by the even faster “Let ‘Em Bleed” which slays. The chuga-chuga is back in full force on “Evil For Evil” which also has most excellent solos.

Closing out the album is “The Search” which is the other 7 minute long song. Howe puts on a vocal clinic here as the song winds its way through multiple tempo changes in the style of “Watch The Children Pray.”

Lyrically this album deals with common themes in thrash such as drugs, war, violence, hypocrisy, government corruption, etc. No dragons, battle, brotherhood, fighting the world or uplifting songs here. Remember, in 1988 thrash was king and Dio was uncool so lyrically you couldn’t sing about Viking warlords and be cutting edge. I believe assholes call these types of lyrics “thought provoking” as they flit off to a Death Cab For Cutie Concert.

In 2009, Lost And Found Records reissued the album with a nice remastering and a bonus track – the aforementioned “Impulse” from Metal Massacre VII. Before that, this was one of the most expensive metal CDs out there and very rare. The Metal Blog Of Metal tracked one down years ago for the princely sum of $75 which represents the most expensive disc in the vast archives. For the sake of heaviness er, I mean completeness, the reissue was also added to the archives. Unfortunately the reissue is itself now out of print and rising in price. Grab one while you can.

The good news is that if you really want the album you can download it from iTunes or get it on vinyl because it’s now available in a wax reissue from JDC records.

The final piece of great news is that Heretic have gotten back together with original members Dennis O’Hara, Brian Korban, Julian Mendez, as well as new members Federico Dupay on drums and Glenn Rogers (Viking, Hirax, Steel Vengeance, etc…) on guitars. Check them out on Facebook. I know they are working on getting a Torture Knows No Boundary reissue out if they can get Metal Blade to go along and they are playing a show with Bitch and Malice. Hell yes!!!!


The Bottom Line: Seek out this rarity and add it to your collection. It’s a prime slab of metal and holds an honored place in the pantheon of great albums. All the tracks are fantastic - the vocals slay, the riffs are a flyin’ and the bass is chugging. Come on man, what the hell else do you want? This is a desert island LP of the highest order. Buy or Die.