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Heavy Mettle

Heavy Mettle - This is where the best metal albums of yore become enshrined at Rock Music Critic.

 

Twisted Sister - Stay Hungry

When I was a wee lad, one of my early and favorite metal bands was Twisted Sister. They may not seem as “metal” when compared to all the death and black metal bands of today, but back then this was metal at its finest. In a pre-Metallica world (the early thrash bands took a little while to filter into the Mid-West) this was the latest and greatest heavy metal had to offer. I have been meaning to write this album up for awhile, and since I am currently reading Dee Snider’s book “Shut Up and Give Me the Mic”, it seems like a perfect time to get it done.

I am not entirely sure how I first heard about Twisted Sister, but I remember ordering “Stay Hungry” from the Columbia Record & Tape Club without having heard any of the songs. I bought the album on reputation alone. When the cassette arrived I spent a considerable amount of time inspecting such bizarre looking album art. I do not think I had ever seen anything quite like Dee on that cover. I was too young to have experienced the glitter rock era and hair metal had not yet gone glam.

Upon listening to the album, I was immediately a fan. Of course the first song I loved was the one everybody loves, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I was never bothered by how they looked. I know some people thought they were gay because they dressed in women’s clothes and wore make-up, but that never occurred to me. First of all, they did not REALLY look as if they were trying to be women. I mean come on; they would have made exceedingly ugly women. I thought it was obvious that it was just a rebellious thing they did for shock value. Getting upset over something done so tongue-in-cheek just seemed ridiculous to me.

The video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (included below) was an early favorite of mine, as well. Since I was roughly thirteen at this time, I was just starting to experience teen angst and rebellion, and Twisted Sister seemed to be able to relate to the rage and injustice I felt. That video was so relatable that my hormone-addled mind decided Dee and the boys must be my new heroes. As metal became heavier and Twisted Sister less so, it became harder to justify my love for the band, but I never did give up on them.

Growing up, Star Wars taught me about right and wrong. It taught me about heroes. Twisted Sister taught me about justice. And vengeance. The track “Horror-Teria” was a horror story that seemed unthinkable to my young, suburban, Mid-West point of view. People actually did things like that to kids? And they got away with it? It blew my little mind. I used to bring a boombox into the bathroom and listen to music while getting ready for school in the morning. To this day I remember listening to this track in the shower, staring at the tiled wall as these ideas took root in my mind. Life is not fair, and people do terrible things. And if the justice system will not do anything, you have to take matters into your own hands. That day in the shower I vowed never to stand idly by when someone needed help; or someone needed an ass kicking. I have more or less kept that promise to myself. Years later Dee would write a movie called “Strangeland” which was based around the story in this song. Check it out if you get a chance. Thanks for the eye-opener, Dee, and for giving me some backbone.

“I Wanna Rock” was another of my favorites from this album. How could you not like this song? This is a classic. Another track that is apparently classic, but I did not know it at the time, was “The Price.” In retrospect, it seems “The Price” was a pretty big song, but at the time I never seriously gave it much notice. I think that I was too young to be able to relate to the lyrics in the song, and so it was not until years later that I eventually fell in love with it. Now it is one of my favorite Twisted Sister songs.

I cannot think about “The Beast” without thinking about my friend (and co-Twisted Sister Fanatic) Jim. He always called this song “The Nature of the Bitch”, which he dedicated to his mom. I think he even came up with new words for it. She was Jehovah Witness, which put a real damper on being a kid that loves heavy metal. She thought that the music I was exposing her son to was Satanic. Whenever she would find any of his heavy metal cassettes she would throw them out. To get around this, he started swiping her religious tapes, and we would record metal albums over them so they would be incognito. Ah, the good old days.

“S.M.F.”, which stands for Sick Mother Fucker, was another beloved song. While they never spelled out the words in the song, we knew what they meant. Especially since their fan club was called the Sick Mother Fucking Friends of Twisted Sister. Dee has a real knack for writing about things that angst-ridden teens could relate to, and this track was one more example.

I never got to see Twisted Sister play during their heyday, but eventually I got to see them play at Jaxx in Springfield, Virginia. Seeing them in such a small venue, while shit for them, was awesome for me. I got to get right up on the stage and at one point I high-fived Dee and got whipped in the face with his long blonde hair. Can you say Greatest. Moment. Ever? I know; I am such a dork.

In 2004, Twisted Sister re-recorded this album and released it under the title “Still Hungry.” It was a novelty to hear the songs done with the latest recording technology, but to longtime fans of the album, it just does not compare to the original. When listening to “Still Hungry” it sounds like the album I know, but lacks all the tiny little nuances that are tattooed on my consciousness and spark recognition. It just is not the same. If only George Lucas would learn that lesson and leave the original Star Wars trilogy alone.

One of the things in Dee’s book that made me chuckle was the design of the Twisted Sister TS logo. Dee talks about how he wanted it to carve-able, like the Van Halen VH logo. Growing up in the 80s I understand this, because I remember seeing school lockers and textbooks with the mighty VH winged logo emblazoned across them. Well, I was never much of an artist, but I did draw that TS logo on anything I could find, so I have to admit that the logo idea was brilliant.

I love the entire Twisted Sister catalog, even “Love is for Suckers” (I remember wearing out that album while taking driver’s education), but “Stay Hungry” will always be my favorite. I give my thanks to Dee, Jay Jay, Eddie, Mark and A.J. for making the soundtrack of my youth a rocking one.

Educate yourself with some of the Twisted Sister classics below.





Last Updated on July 10, 2012

Hits: 233

Trouble – The Skull

Yesterday my friend Buke sent me a text telling me that he had just heard “The Tempter”, from Trouble’s 1984 debut album “Psalm 9”, for the very first time. That got me to thinking that I had not listened to Trouble in awhile, which led to me listening to Trouble today, which leads us here to this write-up.

Trouble released their first three albums on Metal Blade. “The Skull” and “Run to the Light” were albums two and three. I first heard Trouble on one of the best of Metal Blade compilations I had on LP. It had “The Tempter” from “Psalm 9” and “Fear No Evil” from “The Skull.” The first Trouble album I bought was “Run to the Light” on cassette.

After “Run to the Light” the band left Metal Blade and headed in a less doom metal, more stoner metal direction. I have the four albums that followed as well, but I am not as familiar with them as I am with the first three. Of those first three albums, I think “The Skull” is probably my favorite. “Psalm 9” is cool, but the production is not quite as good. “Run to the Light” was often disdained by many old school fans, but I still think it is pretty decent. “The Skull” is a happy medium between the two.

When I talk about doom metal I often make comparisons to Candlemass, which makes sense, because other than the holy Black Sabbath itself, no one tops Candlemass at doom in my opinion. I would be lax in my duties if I did not mention that, along with Saint Vitus, Trouble is one of the cornerstones of doom metal. They are like the Ramones of metal; pioneers in the genre who never got the credit or commercial success that they deserved.

For awhile I stopped listening to the band because I heard they were Christian metal. I have Christian friends, and people can believe what they want, but I am not into Christian metal. As it turns out, they are not, in fact, Christian metal, but they do make biblical references. Candlemass made biblical references too, but I never thought they were Christian metal. At one point, they were labeled White Metal, the opposite of Black Metal. Well, having songs which discuss biblical stories and themes is not the same as preaching fire and brimstone, so eventually I came back to the band.

I hear there may be another Trouble album in the works, but I do not know if I would like it. Original singer Eric Wagner left the band for the second time a few years ago, and his distinctive voice makes or breaks Trouble for me. Though, I said that about Candlemass when Messiah left, and I recently raved about the latest Candlemass, so anything is possible I suppose. If nothing else, we have the old albums to enjoy still.

Check out my first track I ever heard off “The Skull.” I give you – “Fear No Evil.”

Last Updated on June 18, 2012

Hits: 308

Running Wild – Gates to Purgatory

I have been a Running Wild fan for about 28 years, which means I was 12 when I discovered their first album, “Gates to Purgatory.” Released in 1984, “Gates to Purgatory” was part of the vanguard of albums that changed the sound of metal and popularized speed, thrash, and early black metal. To give a little perspective, here are some of the other metal albums released in 1984: Anthrax’s “Fistful of Metal”, Venom’s “At War with Satan”, Voivod’s “War and Pain, Celtic Frost’s “Morbid Tales”, Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning”, Mercyful Fates’ “Don’t Break the Oath” and the first Bathory and Metal Church albums.

Back then there was a very small heavy metal section in my local record store, and since there was not much to choose from, I would go in and pick up albums that either I had heard about through word of mouth or for which I liked the name/album art. This store gave me my first experiences with Metallica, Voivod, Dio, and of course, Running Wild.

I picked up “Gates to Purgatory” on cassette, and this was my first taste of what I would come to know as black metal. The album bears little resemblance to what people think of as black metal today, but at this point, the only widely known black metal was Venom (if you recall, the other early well-known black metal band, Bathory, was just releasing their first album as well) and I had not heard Venom yet. Running Wild’s third album, “Under Jolly Roger”, would establish the pirate metal genre for which they became known, but many of these early songs had dark and satanic themes. In retrospect, they were decidedly tame compared to the antics of black metal yet to come.

Every one of the ten songs on “Gates to Purgatory” is a classic in my mind. Listening to anything off this album reminds me of sweaty, summer days mowing my parent’s lawn and giant foamy headphones connected to a string of cheap, expendable portable cassette players. For some reason, I also connect my first taste of Mountain Dew with mowing the lawn and listening to this album.

My favorite song from the album, and probably one of my favorite all-time Running Wild songs, is “Prisoner of Our Time.” This was the most catchy and anthemic song on the album and was the first of many great Running Wild songs to use this melodic gang-vocal formula. It is hard to list other highlights as I love every song, but stand-out favorites also included “Victim of States Power”, “Adrian S.O.S” (Son of Satan), and “Genghis Khan.”

One of my biggest heavy metal regrets is that I have never seen Running Wild live. They have not played in the U.S. since the 1986 Prepare For The Blitz tour with Celtic Frost and Voivod, and only rarely play shows in general anymore. When they do, it is either at a festival or a show in their native Germany. They are releasing their fourteenth album (“Shadowmaker”) next week, and you better believe I am watching their site to see if they schedule any shows. I hate flying, but if I can hop on a plane to Germany and catch a Running Wild show, I am ready to do it.

Last Updated on April 18, 2012

Hits: 414

Paradise Lost – Draconian Times

March is nearly over and soon April will bring “Tragic Idol” the 13th release from Paradise Lost. In anticipation of the new album, I’ve been listening to some of my favorite music from Paradise Lost. Some songs I like better than others, but judging based on entire albums I would have to name “Draconian Times” as my favorite.

Released in 1995, “Draconian Times” was already the fifth album from Paradise Lost. The band’s first three albums were death metal, but starting with their fourth album, “Icon”, they began moving towards a gothic/doom style that would culminate in the masterpiece “Draconian Times.” I feel this was the pinnacle of their catalog; from there on out things started to go down-hill. “Draconian Times” was followed by “One Second” where the band started to incorporate electronic elements into a much more commercial sound. I truly liked a lot of the songs on “One Second”, but it was the beginning of a series of mediocre albums. Eventually the band made their way back onto the metal path, and as far as I am concerned, are back to making quality albums once again.

In 1995, the metal scene of the 80s was all but dead. Except for larger bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, etc., most mainstream metal had either gone grunge or gone underground. Death metal and black metal were starting to revitalize and resurrect metal, but there just were not many bands playing music like that featured on “Draconian Times.” I picked up “Icon” several years earlier and liked it enough to try “Draconian Times” when I saw it at Tower Records. Once I had my hands on the CD, I began listening to it religiously, and rarely found myself parted from it. I would say that, for the mid-90s, Paradise Lost was easily my favorite band. Right up until I discovered Sentenced.

What makes “Draconian Times” so incredible is the outstanding balance between metal music and a gloomy, melancholy gothic style topped off with incredibly catchy hooks. The first time I heard the album it sounded timeless; like I had already been listening to it for years, and was just becoming reacquainted with it. I also liked the slight edge on Nick’s vocals. I thought it was so cool that he could sing clean but also kind of growl it up some. At this point in time, most singers were either still wailing like the 80s or adopting the all-out death/black growling that was becoming more popular. The melodic-with-a-harsh-edge vocals seemed like a brand new toy to me, and I wanted more.

I fully expect the “Tragic Idol” album will be another terrific release, but if you want to hear some classic Paradise Lost, just check out “Draconian Times.” You cannot go wrong with this album.

Last Updated on April 18, 2012

Hits: 444

Black Sabbath – Master of Reality

Earlier I posted a get well to Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi based on yesterday’s news that he is battling lymphoma. That got me feeling a little introspective about how much Black Sabbath has contributed to the good things in my life. Would there have been heavy metal without Black Sabbath? Maybe there would be, maybe not. But if there was, it would certainly be a different beast than the one we enjoy today. So for everything Tony and the rest of Sabbath have given us, I say thank you.

A lot of people cite the first album or “Vol. 4” as their favorite Sabbath album, but not me, I’m all about “Master of Reality”, which is rather ironic given that I didn’t really like the album when I first bought it. I remember I was living in Michigan and my school did a 7th grade trip to Toronto which involved a long bus ride, a hotel, and chaperones. I’m not sure how I got talked into this trip as that sort of school activity was really not my thing. But off I went and I remember really hating the trip. However, my parents had given me some money for food and essentials and somehow I found myself in a position to buy music. I think we may have been given the opportunity to buy souvenirs or something and instead I used the chance to buy some music north of the border.

I snagged the cassette version of “Master of Reality” which quickly made its way into my ever-present Walkman. I remember thinking it was weird because the cassette casing was black with white text rather than the white or beige case with black text that I was used to. At the time the album didn’t do much for me; I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it yet. That would come later. Sure, I liked the songs that I already knew from the “We Sold Our Soul For Rock and Roll” compilation (“Sweet Leaf” and “Children of the Grave”) but the rest of the songs, not so much.

It wasn’t until my late teens or early twenties that the true greatness of “Master of Reality” became clear. I mean, hello, “Lord of this World” is a killer track and one of my all time favorites. You hear it on the radio once in awhile, and Corrosion of Conformity did a killer cover of it for the “Nativity in Black” compilation.

Part of my initial discontent with the album may have been the two instrumental tracks, “Embryo” and “Orchid.” I had no patience for tracks like those at 13-14. Now I think they are cool little classically influenced baroque-like interludes that refresh the palette between tracks of monster riffage.

Whenever anyone would go on a rant about how Black Sabbath or Ozzy were purveyors of devil music I would just shake my head and point to “After Forever.” Maybe this song was a response to the people who were giving them a hard time, I don’t know, but this song basically smacks you in the face and tells you what a fool you are if you haven’t seen the light. They actually say the words “God is the only way to love.” I’m not a religious person but this is about the most anti-devil worship song I know this side of Stryper. I think it’s more of a layman’s perspective of God, which is cool, I can relate to that.

This leaves the last two songs on the album, “Into the Void” and “Solitude.” I’ve never been all that excited by “Into the Void”, but it does have some really cool guitar work. I tend to skip over it in my haste to get to “Solitude.” There’s nothing particularly metal about this song and it really surprised me when I heard it. This is the prettiest thing I’ve ever heard Ozzy sing. It’s slow and peaceful and practically New Age spa music. But it’s also one of my all time favorite Sab tunes. I can only think of maybe one or two other songs that I have ever heard that come close to touching the pure melancholy of this song. I don’t know what they wrote it about, but it touches on the loss of someone, probably a lover but it’s vague enough to be used with anyone, and how achingly alone they are in the resulting solitude. I break out this song when I’m at my lowest moments, which is probably why I have such a sentimental feeling towards it. Back in the day when I played I attempted my own recording of this song, but I couldn’t even hint at the greatness of the original.

So there you have it, my two cents on what I consider the greatest Black Sabbath album. Though that’s really like saying which of your children is your favorite. As soon as I name “Master of Reality” my favorite album I think of songs like “Snow Blind” and “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath” and feel guilt over not including those related albums as well. It’s tough, because Black Sabbath has given us such a wealth of classic heavy metal music. I’m looking forward to the currently-in-the-works Sabbath album as one more jewel in their crown.

Last Updated on April 18, 2012

Hits: 554

 

 

 

 

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