Heavy Metal

Monster Magnet “25…Tab” (Glitterhouse, 1991)

 

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For a minute in the early ’90s, I thought Monster Magnet were gonna blow the hell up. They had a charismatic, good-looking frontman (Dave Wyndorf), gargantuan riffs, more effects pedals than J Mascis (perhaps), a surprisingly deft way with a hook, and a kickass slogan: “It’s a Satanic drug thing… you wouldn’t understand.” But alas, Monster Magnet never took off like they should have, instead existing for more than a quarter century as a cult psych-rock band with heavy-metal inclinations—or is that a cult heavy-metal band with psych-rock inclinations? Don’t ask me, I’m in terrible sleep debt.

Anyway, Monster Magnet’s early singles and albums like Spine of God placed them in the vanguard of the American hard-rock ghetto. When 25…Tab came out soon after Spine, my circle of friends and I lost our fucking minds… and found nirvana. (Yeah, dude, we loved thi more than Nevermind, which came out the same year.) Mostly we loved the 32-minute “Tab…” a track too mammoth for the overused word “epic.” (A buddy of mine used to listen to this song obsessively while training for a marathon; it helped!) Wyndorf babbles lysergic nothings over a riff that make “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”’s sound like bubblegum pop. A panoply of guitar FX fibrillates like Hawkwind jamming in an insane asylum. A new high in heavy is achieved. Most grunge sounded trés twee compared to this.

The remaining two cuts here can’t help sounding a bit underwhelming after that mantra of destructive distortion. Still, “25/Longhair” is 12.5 minutes of outrageously revved-up, Deep Purple-y rampaging (think Machine Head x In Rock), with Wyndorf croaking like Steppenwolf’s John Kay through a Stephen Hawking voice generator. “Lord 13” downshifts the album into a hard-strumming conclusion, sounding like an Agitation Free or Embryo outtake laced with rueful beauty. Monster Magnet’s gentle comedown is still more fried than most rock bands’ wildest freakouts. With some poignancy, Wyndorf sings “What do I want from me?/A clock that goes 13/A deal with the pyramids/A way to know everything.”

It’s a Satanic drug thing…you wouldn’t understand. I can live—and die—with that. -Buckley Mayfield

 

 

Saint Vitus “Born Too Late” (SST, 1983)

51ENjP7WEvL._SY300_Thick, fuzzy sludge that reset the template for heavy bands everywhere. Saint Vitus scored D.C. area legend Scott “Wino” Weinreich for vocals and lead and continued to wind down the Sabbath sound to doomy atmosphere’s that Wino, an old soul, utters over. And what Vitus offers in their echo is a halt against the current times.

The title track sets the tone: alienated man can’t dress in vogue, gets looks for hair, wear. “Born Too Late” is acceptance of self and rejection of forward movement for movement’s sake. Not that they can’t move something forward… the sound of heavy music to follow. Tempos are just above a pulse most times, but rise and crash at all the right moments, in contrast to the driving beats and breakneck rhythms offered from most of their contemporaries.

“Born To Late” is often thought to be among their best, and plenty of groups like Sleep, Electric Wizard and EyeHateGod would probably attest to that. -Wade

Budgie “Squawk” (Repertoire, 1972)

1288564Deep cuts! Hardly known at the time outside of the U.K (and beat to the punch by Sabbath and Savoy in their own country), Budgie were heavy and hard, furthering forms adopted by metallers and rockers anywhere from Iron Maiden to Black Flag.

Comparisons are also drawn to the progressive tendencies of Rush, but I hear more vocal work akin to Geddy than anything else at this point in their trajectory. “Squawk” is more of a solid hard rock slab, a bit cleaner than Blue Cheer, but more straight ahead, a real stoked engine. Also hear some Savoy Brown… Chimes appear hear and there, keyboards on occasion, and acoustic numbers seem to be overlooked in other write-ups.

Anyway, seeing a Budgie album will guarantee a good time if you enjoy Heavy Rock, roots in Metal or the first to second wave of British Blues. Riff, chug chug, riff chug chug… Heavy three pieces can’t be beat, you know? Check out “Hot As A Docker’s Armpit” for more. -Wade

Blue Cheer “Vincebus Eruptum” (Philips, 1968)

BlueCheerVincebusEruptumMade up of blues covers half this album may be, but what a new way they had to warp and distort such standards! Key words there, as Blue Cheer were pioneers of the Metal genre we all have come to associate with the monoliths… Zeppelin and Sabbath, somewhere, they stand in between.

A little ways into opener “Summertime Blues” you get a confirmation that yes, things will be forever different, as a break becomes filled with masochistic riffs unheard prior. On “Rock Me Baby” the use of guitar distortion reaches new heights, and the interplay on “Doctor Please” hits you like scorched earth, molten lava running and tumbling downhill.

More blues covers and an original number follow, but the reinvention heard here is absolutely notable. When you hear some metallers discussing roots, this will probably be one album cited in conversation. -Wade

Blue Öyster Cult “Tyranny and Mutation” (1973)

With considerably more vivid production and a greater focus on riff and rhythm than on atmosphere—and even more cryptic lyrics—the second BOC LP is superior to their debut by a dark country mile. The self-mythologizing continues, even picking up where the first record left off, with a revisitation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as some kind of secret Fascist society on the ferocious garage-burner “The Red & the Black.” The decadence and debauchery that threaded through their eponymous is in even stronger evidence here, too, with tracks such as the bluesy “O.D.’d on Life Itself” and the fiery proto-punk of “Hot Rails to Hell,” which anticipates bands like the Damned (albeit with the screwed-down-tight musicianship that make BOC’s early records such a treat and the contemporaneous live shows legendary). The album gets stranger as it progresses, with talk of Diz Busters, a Baby Ice Dog, and one of the band’s most bizarre creations, that Mistress of the Salmon Salt, who, moreover, is a Quicklime Girl. Zany might be the best word to describe the content here: they were often referred to as the “American Black Sabbath,” but the appellation only fits to the extent that BOC are similarly dark in their themes and can bring the Heavy when it’s called for: otherwise, these guys are punkier (Patti Smith was a close connection and occasional co-writer at the time), at once more traditionalist and more experimental (think the chug-chugging of the incipient Detroit punk scene crossed with the theatrical arrangements of Killer-era Alice Cooper and you’re on the right track), and a whole lot funnier than Birmingham’s doom purveyors. –Will

Twisted Sister “Under the Blade” (1982)

Most people today remember Twisted Sister as the spearhead of the Hair Metal movement with their poppy bubble gum anthems all over rock radio. In truth the band dates back to the 70s and began as a hard rock glam act before vocalist Dee Snider arrived and introduced the music of Judas Priest, AC/DC, Sabbath, and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. This debut is far removed from what will follow two albums later with 1983’s breakthrough album, “Stay Hungry”, containing a sound that is raw and mean, stripped down and primal.

Each track is a classic of it’s kind: “What you Don’t Know, Sure Can Hurt You” is an awesome Alice Cooper inspired anthem (echoes of his “Hello Hooray!”) that welcomes us into their metal world. Rebellious and insidious, this is a perfect way to set up the heavy album. “Run For Your Life” features a great melodic spoken intro by Snider that recalls Zeppelin before the song gets heavy and speeds up to the level of Priest brutality. “Sin After Sin” is clearly titled as a tribute to the Priest masterpiece of 1977 of the same name. And the song very much recalls the same sound from those 70s records, clearly showing the band was capable of such. “Shoot Em Down” rocks like heavy Kiss but features a more UFO inspired chorus. “Under The Blade” is Twisted Sister’s best song and my personal favorite, this is the one all Manowar loving metalheads reach for first. Guitarist Jay Jay French’s riff is one of his best and the lyrics are among the best the band ever wrote. “Tear It Loose” is a speed metaller that is inspired by Motorhead. Motorhead’s ace guitarist, Fast Eddie Clark, even contributed a solo to the classic. Another album standout.

Under the Blade ranks as one of the great debuts of Heavy Metal and one of the best albums of 1982. It’s one of my personal favorites, and one that is a must for fans of the NWOBHM and Traditional Metal. An absolute Metal essential that will have the committed headbanger going back for many more trips “under the blade”. —James

Rush “Rush” (1974)

Rush’s debut is a ’74 Camaro, black, with purple and white racing stripes, 8-track blaring, one guy in a Sabbath t-shirt, the other dressed like Robert Plant in The Song Remains the Same … and not a girl in sight.

An album that carries a lot of nostalgic weight among rockheaded people like myself — the band still play a couple of these tracks on tour — this sums up the mid-70s rock and roll like few other albums, an innocent time when the guitar riff was king. Rush-haters might even find a lot to like about this roughshod bit of Zeppelinesque riffage. Certainly Alex Lifeson’s guitar tosses off riffs and solos that are preternaturally awesome. But Geddy’s knack for a lyric hook is evident as well. And even if they do sound like a cover band (mostly playing cuts from Led Zeppelin II and III), they’re a killer one, and this is one of the most energetic releases of ’74, and, speaking as a Rush fan, this one nearly 40 years on is freighted with a bit of melancholy, making it one of my favorites from the period. —Will

Ace Frehley “Ace Frehley” (1978)

Ace was always the coolest member of KISS, his couldn’t care less attitude contrasting with poutin’ Paul and the demon, and his meat and potatoes guitar style featuring a wide, spaced out vibrato, was central to the KISS sound. It’s no shock that of the four ’78 solo albums, Ace’s is always the favorite, and I’d go as far to say it stacks up against any of the original KISS studio sides. The key is Ace’s lack of ambition, Ace Frehley being a straight-ahead hard rock record with few deviations. “Rip It Out” drops the hammer as the deliriously wasted “Ozone,” scatterbrained “Wiped-Out” and snortin’ slammer “Snowblind” draw you into Ace’s chemically-addled world. Ace manages to mix things up as well, his cover of the Russ Ballard penned glam-stomp “New York Groove” turning into a hit, “What’s on Your Mind?” being a hidden power pop gem, and the album closes with the cool chill-out instrumental, “Fractured Mirror.” –Ben

Dio “Holy Diver” (1983)

Holy Diver is nothing less than a shatteringly powerful solo debut for Ronnie James Dio. He took the success he had achieved with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, and through this album transformed himself into a Heavy Metal God and Legend. He also pilfered Sabbath’s excellent Drummer Vinnie Appice for the crack Metal band he put together for this album, which also included the virtuosic Guitarist Vivian Campbell. Holy Diver is a truly excellent and powerful heavy metal album full of finely crafted, very heavy songs, snarling Guitars, heavy Drums and Dio’s utterly awesome singing. The title track is a masterpiece. Rainbow In The Dark is one of the greatest Heavy Metal songs of all time. And Stand Up And Shout is an incredible Metal anthem Holy Diver is a true landmark among Metal albums from the 1980s and of all time. Five perfect stars. —Karl

Judas Priest “Stained Class” (1978)

From its chrome dome cover down through a production job as dry as a sun baked skeleton, Judas Priest’s “Stained Class” is a tight-fisted onslaught of gleaming metal riffs overlaid with Rob Halford’s villainous vocals and earsplitting screams. With the buzzsaw guitars of “Tipton and Downing” sending blue sparks of electricity through the rallying cry “Exciter,” other-worldly attackers of “Invader,” and burnt human cinders littering “Stained Class,” the album is both a frowning indictment and energizing call to rock without reservation. The band’s Spooky Tooth cover, “Better by You, Better Than Me” is an instantly infectious groover, while on the other end of the spectrum lies morbid suicide solution, “Beyond the Realms of Death.” Another bulletproof set from the masters in their prime. Fall to your knees and repent if you please! –Ben

Scorpions “Lonesome Crow” (1972)

Fans of the MTV Scorpions from the 80’s are in for a shock; Lonesome Crow has no pop hooks, no rocking us like a hurricane, and no cheesy love ballads. The lyrics and melodies are Avant Garde and the instruments are mostly in odd time. Generic hair metal fans of the “Love At First Sting” era will have their heads explode.

The album is a mix of psychedelic sounds, fusion, free-form jazz progressive rock and Krautrock influences. Also the bass playing is almost at Jaco Pastorius-like levels, melodically running up and down the jazz minor scales and popping out hundreds of incredible bass fills. “In Search of the Peace of Mind” has these beautiful haunting acoustic guitars in it that I’ve never heard anywhere else. Or how about those haunting wind sounds in “Leave Me”, where Meine cries out “Womaaaaaan…leave my mind!” Also this is the only record where Mikey is a full time band member and he is already a God, having hundreds of solos spread all over this album. Rudolf is more of less in the background with little Michael stealing the show with his jazz/proto metal solos. The title track is a 13 minute headphone trip, sounding like a soundtrack to a underground art film. Lonesome Crow is a musical masterpiece! —Ultra Magnus

Black Sabbath “Mob Rules” (1981)

Replacing a lead singer is the kiss of death in Metal. As the new singer, you must be comfortable with the knowledge that no matter how hard you wail, how tight your pants are, how BAD-ASS you are, you will never be as good as the first guy. This was the harsh reality Ronnie James Dio stepped into when he joined Black Sabbath upon Ozzy Osbourne’s departure. Even though the band had been running on fumes for some time at the point Dio came on, Ozzy was still an iconic frontman, and the pressure of replacing him might have gotten to a lesser deity. Ronnie may have been a small guy, but he had the swagger and persistence of the Devil himself, and wasted no time proving it on “Heaven and Hell,” which was the band’s best-selling record in years, and it’s even-better follow-up, “Mob Rules”.

Dio changed the dynamic of the band completely, with a style as far removed from Ozzy’s as can be. His vocals were soaring and melodic – a far cry from the Oz-man’s base mono-syllabic chanting. “Mob Rules” also featured another significant line-up change, as it was the first without drummer Bill Ward, who had issues with Dio. I’m as big a Bill fan as they come, but listening to this record, it’s Vinny Appice who inarguably helps elevate things to the next level. Bill Ward’s primitive swing was one of the trademarks of the Sabbath sound, and his successor is wise enough not to toy with this foundation. Appice has the edge though when it comes to pure chops; he’s just got more tools in his box than Ward, and the added technical prowess opens up new dark corridors for the band. You get the feeling that Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler had been waiting to flex like this for awhile, and the inventiveness of the riffs and arrangements on this record reflect the re-newed hunger of a band reborn, while laying the groundwork for the more technical, anthemic groups that would come to epitomize Metal in the ’80’s and beyond. —Jon Treneff