Exciter - Heavy Metal Maniac Review

Heavy Metal Maniac (1983)
Genres: Speed Metal, Thrash Metal

"I'm a heavy metal maniac!"

In the early days of thrash, there was a fine line between what made something thrash or just really fast and spitfire heavy metal. Perhaps no band sat on this line more than Canadian heavy metal maniacs Exciter. With their debut coming out the same year as Metallica's debut Kill'em All, it might make you wonder: "Who influenced who?"

Maybe neither did, but either way this album is going to kick your ass until you accept speed metal into your heart. Imagine Van Halen's "Atomic Punk" and Raven on steroids mixed with the debuts from Metallica and Anthrax, and you get this masterpiece. The title track is a pure 80's metal anthem, that makes you want mosh and headbang until intense whiplash occurs. Drums pounding, guitars drilling, and vocals screaming, this is pure heavy metal at its finest.

Exciter is a band that really puts the "power" in power trio, as everything is just absolutely on fire and turned up to 11. Allan Johnson's bass is always able to be heard thumping in the background, complementing John Ricci's electric drill of a guitar. "Mistress of Evil" really displays the bass/guitar interplay the best. Let's jump back to the self-titled song, and just take in the blistering raw guitar solos. It's amazing how something can be so melodic and so venomous at the same time, which is the best I can describe the guitar work on the whole album. Rounding up both the vocals and drum kit, is frontman Dan Beehler. Vocalists who double as drummers have always amazed me, especially when you're pulling off the ridiculously fast drum work on this album.

The title song is of course the main highlight of the album, but my other favorite has to go to the crushing "Iron Dogs". Like what many thrash bands would learn, there is nothing better than a good contrast between slow and pummeling and fast and brutal. The punchy slower-paced riffs flawlessly drive right into the rapid moshing till the end. Following that as best song is the seven minute long "Blackwitch". This is a speed metal power ballad at it's best, a masterful mix of beautiful yet heavy melodies and hooks, somber classical guitar work, all resulting in a rampaging finale of pummeling double bass and hammering guitar that blasts right into the finale "Cry of the Banshee", making it essentially part of "Blackwitch". 

Heavy Metal Maniac is a classic album, and if you're looking for something that's both raw and has a good sense of melody, nothing fits the bill better. Exciter wouldn't show any signs of slowing down for a while, with the three albums that follow this one being excellent as well, but that anthem of a title track might just give this debut that edge over the rest as the best.


Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking Review

Nothing's Shocking (1988)
Genres: Hard Rock, Alternative Rock

Usually credited for kicking off the alternative/grunge scene of the early 90's, Jane's Addiction unleashed their debut Nothing's Shocking with it's probably purposely shocking album cover in 1988. It has since influenced many artists inside and outside the alternative music world, and cemented itself as a hard rock classic of the late 80's, and for good reason.

While glam metal and grunge are often seen as polar opposites, Nothing's Shocking is an interesting blend of Guns 'n' Roses-esque glam with alternative rock and 70's hard rock/heavy metal elements that would help shape the grunge sound. Coupled with its massive arena production sound and quirky sense of humor, this cluster of contrasts create a unique record that has really never been copied, at least not successfully. 

Most people who grew up listening to late 80's and 90's hard rock and heavy metal will probably know the slamming headbanger that is "Mountain Song". Opening with one of the most memorable intro basslines in rock, it's impossible to not want to stomp your feet to the crashing and massive riff that dominates the song. There's a ton of attitude here, with both Dave Navarro's pounding riffing and Perry Farrell's snide and nasally vocal performance. That sarcastic tone is contrasted with catchy melodic vocal hooks and guitar soloing that sounds right out of the 70's, as is the album's sound in general.

There's plenty of fantastic songs on here with the right amount of variety without straying away from the main sound. "Had a Dad" blends a killer groove that just punches you in the gut, with one of the soulful vocal melodies on the record. The experimental mini-epic "Ted, Just Admit It..." is an unsettling dirge that perfectly blends a wandering vibe reminiscent of 70's heavy psych and metal with the booming arena sound. The rhythm section of Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins really shines on the song, especially with the drums towards the end and the riffs that sound like Voivod playing funk. 

My favorite on the album, as well as my favorite Jane's Addiction song has to go with the underrated deep cut of "Pigs in Zen". It really showcases all that's so great about the album in one song. The mixing of hard-edged guitar grit and soaring killer soloing, Farrell's sneer, deep bass, and the awesome 80's drum sound. Why not as many people talk about this song I will never know, what an excellent finale.

If you haven't heard this classic and love both arena rock and grunge, I highly recommend giving this album a listen. There's a little bit of filler, but nowhere near enough to take away from the abundance of high points. It's one of those legendary debuts like Boston's self-titled that the band could never top. It's a shame, but sometimes bands have one masterpiece within them, and for whatever reason can't come close to reaching the same greatness.


Living Death - Metal Revolution Review

Metal Revolution (1985)
Genres: Thrash Metal, Speed Metal

Only a year after their promising but flawed debut, Living Death was back with another German speed/thrash assault. However, there is no longer a concern of a terrible original mixing/production, silly vocals, this a band that is out for blood and means war. Everything except the amateurish qualities have been multiplied by 100, and it does not sound like it was an easy feat. 

If you started with the debut like I did, don't expect this album to really resemble it all that much. The riffs pummel with so much more force, the production makes it sound much heavier and massive, and best of all: the vocals. Thorsten "Toto" Bergmann went from a charming vocalist with some rather silly attempts at higher pitched vocals, to a screaming siren. Now he has absolutely no problem with hitting those high notes. Quite the contrary, actually. He sounds like a sinister version of the one and only Udo Dirkschneider of the legendary Accept.

Like the debut, the band still retains quite a bit of their traditional heavy metal roots. Namely the aforementioned Accept, especially with songs like "Grippin' a Heart" which sounds like a more thrash version of said band. The finale "Deep in Hell" also has this traditional metal sound, and has such a fantastic catchy chorus.

The album is also very consistent in quality, there's not a single dud to be found. There are a few songs that stand just a bit above the rest though, in particular the menacing behemoth of "Screaming From a Chamber". Before Slayer came along with South of Heaven, this was the pinnacle of how to slow down thrash to a sinister crawl. The guitars have such a teeth-grinding crunch, and Bergmann's piercing screams of "SCREAMING, SCREAMING FROM A CHAMBER" during the chorus couldn't sound better. That isn't the only slower more sinister song on the album, as "Road of Destiny" is dominated by a haunting lead riff that is absolutely spine-chilling. On the opposite end, "Shadow of the Dawn" is pure fast and furious thrash that easily stands as one of the main highlights.

If you couldn't get past the vocals on the debut, give this album a try. It's amazing how much of a leap of quality happened in only a year, though either way this album is fantastic. If you're looking for a frantic speed/thrash album that has just the right balance of melody and bite, Living Death's Metal Revolution has got you covered. However, the best was soon to come.


Living Death - Vengeance of Hell Review

Vengeance of Hell (1984)
Genres: Speed Metal, Thrash Metal

The German thrash scene was a great one. It was home to many bands that would satisfy the taste of thrashers who wanted a more spitting and caustic attack that would end up influencing early death and black metal. You had the "big three" of Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction as well as bands like Tankard and Holy Moses (Which is my personal favorite German thrash band). Not that there weren't bands of this type elsewhere, as Canada was home to Razor and Voivod and Japan had Casbah and Jurassic Jade, but Germany is usually mentioned as the main hub of these types of thrash acts.

Living Death are one of these bands, and like many thrash bands, had a bit of a rough start with their debut. As with many early speed/thrash releases, Vengeance of Hell retains a lot of it's traditional heavy metal influences though adds in a bit of the grit and spit that's needed. Also you've got some amazing cover artwork that displays obscure metal art at it's finest. The original release of the album was absolutely ruined by a terribly muddy mixing, but thankfully the band must have realized that and remixed the album only a year later in 1985, so that's the version I'll be reviewing.

On the music end, everything's here. Soloing of the utmost classic metal tradition, pounding drums that constantly keep the foot tapping, skin-shredding riffs, and a penchant for great melodies. Speaking of melodies though, the vocals can sometimes be a bit of a problem. For the most part, Thorsten "Toto" Bergmann's vocals are fine and have that amateur charm to them. However, when he tries to reach higher pitched notes like in "You and Me" or "Night Light", he just sounds a bit silly. I feel like I'm listening to myself trying to sing Judas Priest songs, and in fact I probably sound exactly like this when I try.

Despite that, what really keeps this album from flopping is both the excellent music and the aforementioned charm. The album sounds like everyone's just having fun, and that's something that I almost always love hearing. I'd take some rather amateurish speed metal that's clearly having fun over ultra brutal, technical, and serious modern death metal any day. It's impossible to not love metal anthems like "Heavy Metal Hurricane", it is seriously a hidden classic metal gem. The chorus on it is just so catchy. Some of the other highlights are "My Victim", "Hellpike", and the excellent closing title track. Damn, the short crushing riff that ends the song is just a beast. It sadly only lasts the last 20 seconds and should have gone on longer, but it does provide a great finale.

The band would very much improve and hone in on their sound on the following two releases especially on the vocal end, but this is a fun album that should not be missed. If you can get past the sometimes dumb-sounding vocals and make sure to listen to the 1985 version, this is a great start to an underrated thrash/speed metal band's career.

Alice in Chains - Alice in Chains Review

Alice in Chains (1995)
Genres: Grunge, Alternative Metal, Doom Metal

Alice in Chains' self titled album, their last album to feature frontman Layne Staley, is one that is often forgotten or pushed aside in their discography. It is probably overshadowed by Dirt, which is often seen as the band's magnum opus and a crown jewel of the grunge genre, as well as the band's 2009 comeback album Black Gives Way to Blue, which is often seen as their best album after Dirt if not their best (Which I personally don't understand, I find that album pretty boring and bland, but that's a review for another day). 

Alice in Chains is an album where you can just hear all the band tensions and what was going on at the time. While Jerry Cantrell has expressed his joy with the finished product, it sounds like Staley's heroin addiction made it a pain to get the record done. The band has never been known for uplifting music, but this album might very well be their most outright depressing and dreary album.

The underlying doom metal influence that's always been with the band perhaps shows up the most on this album. However, it is blended with some bittersweet melodies, harmonies, and a creative use of the band's acoustic side shown on their EP's. The band finally brings their two sounds together on this album, and it works beautifully. Great examples of this are on the longer songs on the album, such as "Sludge Factory", "Heaven Beside You", and "Frogs". You get this mesh of sludgy riffing dripping with misery and twangy acoustic blues guitar that actually enhances the overall mood. "Sludge Factory" I believe uses this sound best and is probably my favorite on the album.

Cantrell's comment in an interview of "Our music's kind of about taking something ugly and making it beautiful", really paints a good picture of this album's sound. This is partly due to the harmonies the Cantrell and Staley always make even in a really heavy or somber song. I once again refer to the longer songs on the album, especially "Heaven Beside You", whose bittersweet chorus is always followed up by this heavy doom metal riff. There's also some great screeching soloing on this record, like with "Sludge Factory" as well as "Brush Away". "Nothin' Song" also features this combined with some excellent syncopation. For one of the more doom-sounding songs, they sure made it pretty catchy. I think they knew that with the inclusion of  lyrics such as "Well the nothin' song sticks to your mouth, like peanut butter on the brain".

This album is a perfect example of a grower. While Facelift has the instant appeal of it's infectiously catchy hooks and riffs, and Dirt has classic status, it takes a few listens for this one to fully sink in. Not to say there aren't some instant hooks on this album though, as I've always loved the classic opener of "Grind" and "Head Creeps" which immediately get you headbanging to the teeth-gritting riffs. If you've only heard this album once or twice and not thinking much of it, I recommend giving it another listen. It's a real underrated gem that deserves the same appreciation as the band's other albums.


Varga - Mileage (Single) Review

Mileage (Single) (2018)
Genre: Thrash Metal

Varga made a small name for themselves back in the early 90's with their single "Greed" being featured on the popular MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead. Said single came from the band's debut studio album, Prototype, which was an amazing industrial/groove/thrash metal album which had amazing riffs, hooks, and variety. It's really one of the best hidden gems of 90's metal. However, the band started out playing technical thrash metal with their debut demo. When the band returned from a long time away in 2011, they released two albums a few years later which saw a return to their original sound.

Now those two new studio albums were fantastic comeback albums, and it was great to see such an underrated band come back with flying colors. Now the band has returned yet again with a new single, that ranks with the band's absolute best songs. "Mileage" is a crushing thrash metal track that's full of bite and attitude. Joe Varga's vocals has his signature edgy thrash personality blended with some higher-range vocals that scream so much attitude with the chorus. His bass, Dan Fila on drums, and Sean Williamson's guitar work bring a fantastic and catchy groove to the whole song. Williamson plays a killer spinning chromatic guitar solo that is complimented perfectly with Varga's low tuned and driving bassline.

All in all, this is classic Varga. It's a perfect mix of the band's reformed tech thrash sound with the personality and groove of their classic Prototype. Speaking for myself as a huge Varga fan, this single has me hyped for more. Can't wait to hear what these guys have coming next!


Static-X - Wisconsin Death Trip Review

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)
Genre: Industrial Metal

"Speed toward hell, shed no tears"

By the end of the 90's, there was not an explosion of new fantastic industrial metal bands and albums like there was at the beginning of the decade. Treponem Pal had released their masterpiece "Higher" in '97, which would be their last album for about a decade, and Fear Factory and Rammstein were going strong. That was about it. However, come the year of 1999, and the industrial metal band Static-X unleashed their debut studio album Wisconsin Death Trip to the world.

Static-X brought their own fresh sound to the industrial metal scene, using a blend of the atmospheric heaviness of Fear Factory, the groove and catchiness of a Godflesh beat, and the pulsing EBM/Electro-Industrial of Front Line Assembly. Bringing together all the elements of what makes industrial music so great, while not copying any of these bands is what makes this album have such a winning sound.

As soon as the grooving "Push It" blasts through your speakers, this album doesn't let up until the ambient "December" closes out the album. This is perfect cyberpunk video game music, the kind of stuff that goes perfectly with a game of Quake II or even Doom. That's not to say that it doesn't work on it's own, quite the contrary. Take the mechanical screeching in "Push It" that emulate power drills, or the underlying atmosphere throughout the album, this embraces everything industrial. 

Going back to the mention of cyber, the menacing "The Trance is the Motion" showcases an early example of the cyber metal sound. It may take place as my favorite on the album. It is engulfed in a stark atmosphere, screeching and down-tuned riffs, chaotic screams, and has a pretty epic vibe for being only 5 minutes long. Honestly, I think this song should have closed out the album rather than the slightly boring "December". Apart from that last song though, the rest of the album is all fantastic. Especially the songs dominated by a massive groove while keeping the futuristic atmosphere. "Stem", "Bled for Days", and the title track are in particular highlights.

Despite the highlights, this is an album that is meant to be listened to all the way through. Each song bleeds into the next, and makes for a good CD to turn on for any occasion that requires a surge of industrial metal goodness. This is a classic album of the industrial genre, and one that the band wouldn't match until 2007's Cannibal.