AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)

There are a lot of amazing things about this total definition of heavy metal as we know it, but one of the most amazing things about this album is that it was released only five months after Bon Scott died. And no, he didn’t die when the album was in the can, only to have it released by greedy record execs looking to make a buck. I mean the band actually had the balls, momentum, and determination to hire Brian Johnson to take the front slot, and then record one of the best heavy metal albums ever. In five fucking months. Most bands these days take five months to buy the outfits they wear on the pictures in the liner notes. It just took me five months to move a one-bedroom
apartment full of stuff across town. These guys laid town probably the most solid guitar-oriented 41:31 to be recorded ever in the same amount of time.

These ten tracks follow pretty close to the formula of the band’s previous release, Highway to Hell, with a mix of bluesy guitar played through sweet feedback and crunchy power chords, and a minimalist rhythm section, supporting the powerful wailing of the lead vocals. What’s different about this album is that the tracks are all a bit closer in consistency, while HtH had a few outstanding hits (“Highway to Hell,” “Girls Got Rhythm”), with tracks that dragged on a bit (“If You Want Blood”) and those that were simply lethargic (pretty much everything else.) I don’t know if the band had a lot of better ideas going into the studio, or if there was some kind of meeting, or if they observed this stuff after years of playing live, but this was the one album where they really got their shit together.

Let’s face it: you don’t listen to AC/DC because you want a history lesson, or because you want to see how many scales Angus Young can play in three seconds. AC/DC is a party band; they’re a lifestyle band. They drink Jack Daniel’s like you drink water, they close down bars every night, they have women in every port of the world, and just the sound of any one note on this album will instantly conjure the image of rough bars, rougher men, and even rougher women. And anywhere you go in America, or Australia, or anywhere else in the world, and you see someone in an AC/DC shirt working on their car, you know that guy is cool. You know when someone puts one of these tracks into a jukebox, it’s time to order another pitcher a beer and say “hell, yeah.” AC/DC is an instant summary of a whole unsummarizable lifestyle, and this album is the apex of that functionality. Every song here was written as a testament, in the same sense that the bible was written as a testament to God. It’s a work that spreads its message to all who are willing to receive it.

The album starts with the slow and sinister “Hells Bells,” a first-person tale of the guy who brings in the dead. I don’t know whether or not this was some conceptual thought having to do with Bon Scott’s death, or whether it’s just a cool way to draw people into a good album, but the song keeps slow and steady. It’s our first chance to hear Johnson’s pipes in action, and he’s got some volume and clear tone, although he shares that same bluesy, bottle-of-Jack-a-day tone that his predecessor had. On “Shoot to Thrill,” the band slowly brings it up a notch, to a nice idle-speed rumble, with Brian hitting some higher notes, and singing the infamous “too many women/ and too many pills,” as the song clicks along. It’s showing AC/DC in its normal state, like a Mercedes engine that always jumps to life on the first turn of the key and then smoothly chugs at 650 RPMs all day long. Part of the charm of the band is that over the years, they’ve written hundreds of songs, but most of them are the same song. It’s got the same drum beat, the same solos in the same places, and even more amazingly, they’re all good. The consistency of the band is its truly lovable quality, and a lot of the base for their future success is on the style and structure of the songs on this album.

There are a couple more songs that are similar yet still thoroughly enjoyable, like “What Do You Do For Money Honey,” “Givin the Dog a Bone,” and “Shake a Leg.” In the ultimate tribute to Bon Scott and his alcohol-related death, they wrote “Have a Drink on Me,” the ultimate drinking song. It’s also interesting, because it goes into a final repeat verse that’s faster and more powerful, showing the band can seriously hit the nitrous and add some boost to their power-chord formula when they need to get it to eleven at the end of a tune.

The title cut is also a big testament that the band’s still alive and here to stay. It’s a classic rock anthem, strutting through the music and screaming out the lyrics, with some absolutely classic soloing in between. They also got a lot of mileage out of the song “You Shook Me All Night Long”, which is forever associated with this album and used in commercials and movie trailers to this day. And the last song, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” is a great salute to all of us who listen to loud stereos, starting with a slow guitar riff and continuing at a mid-speed march. It’s like a power ballad, except the lyrics aren’t syrupy, and it’s about more than just some anonymous woman, it’s about rock and roll itself.

There’s only one minor flaw with the album, being the slow-paced “Let Me Put My Love Into You.” It’s not a horrible song, but it breaks up the pace of the album. Without it, the other nine songs fit together perfectly. If you listen to it out of context and by itself, it’s got a decent melody during the verse, but the chorus is a little goofy. Aside from that, the album is pretty much flawless. It’s a big step above their earlier bluesy work, and everything after this point is just imitating the classic. This album is a must-have, and when I rent a car and I have to stop at a K-Mart or a Wal-Mart to pick up a handful of CDs for the trip because I didn’t pack music, this is always the first thing I buy.

Rating: 9.5



David Lee Roth – No Holds Bar-B-Que (video)

Back in 2002, David Lee Roth came up with the idea to make a feature-length collage of music video and reality-type surreal TV, and spent about a million dollars of his own money doing it. The video went out to all of the big names in the music and TV industry, with the hopes that, on the heels of The Osbournes, Dave would get some sort of new reincarnation of Dave TV, but with more money. Instead, the people in the industry all simultaneously thought “what the fuck is this guy smoking?” and passed on the idea. There was talk of a DVD, maybe sold only from his web site, but nothing happened.

I never even heard about any of this, until I was cruising around and saw that bootlegs are available from your less reputable and out-of-the-way tape traders. I managed to snag a dub of the tape on VHS for only $4 plus shipping, so I figured I had nothing to lose, right? Riiight.

Do you remember back in the 80s, when those huge VHS camcorders became popular enough that some dude on your block had one, and you used to pretend to be friends with him so you could film dumb shit and imagine that an hour’s worth of footage of household produce getting flushed down your toilet would someday make you the next Marty Scorsese, or even better, George Romero? And then, when you had a party and this dude brought the camera, you’d set it up and everyone would do reeeally funny shit, like fake falls off the couch and talk with their mouth full and act like they were on MTV or something? Well, basically David Lee Roth has done the same thing in this video, but instead of a six-pack of Haams and a Little Caesar’s pizza, let’s just say his tastes are a little more, um, esoteric.

For starters, Dave’s got the women. That includes playmate Victoria Fuller and the Dahm triplets, also playmates. (If triplets are playmates, does that mean they are collectively one playmate, so like Erica Dahm is 1/3 a playmate, or would you say they are each a playmate, and collectively they are the miss December 1998s? I don’t know.) Anyway, there are models. There are also dwarves, or I guess they are now called little people, and there are guys dressed up as SWAT commandos, and rednecks, and lots of pirates, and Mexican dudes dressed in Hawaiian gear, and ninjas, and a lot of other shit. It’s basically like if you got a 12-year-old boy with a lot of money to direct a P. Diddy video, after he took a pound of mescaline.

There is no real theme here. It opens with Roth doing Kung Fu with a sword in Seattle at six in the morning, running down the street and doing high-kicks and splits and whatnot. Then it melts into a weird montage of him running around, the Dahm twins in either incredibly attractive (catwoman, skin-tight suits, hula girls) or disturbing (pregnant trailer trash, some kind of rabbit thing) outfits. The dwarf (sorry, “little guy”) runs around, and Dave breaks into Spanish when he’s not singing, unless audio from a porn tape is spliced in. The camera work is very jerky and all over the place, so much so that it would make an MTV Real World cameraman reach for the Dramamine. Colors are saturated and weird and acidic, and the sets range from cardboard to “why did he spend money on that?” mixed with stuff at his giant Pasadena house, where almost everything is filmed.

These aren’t music videos per se; it’s not a collection of VH1-ready clips from his last album, as much as it is him and his band running through songs in the background as the action is going on. Some songs are from previous albums, and sound good; some are really strange cover tunes, 70s stuff including a Beatles song and I think some BTO, along with Edgar Winter. When he gets bored of a number or a tune, it simply stops and it goes into something else. Between bits, Roth either be-bop improvises some weird raps or just goes off on a transcendial vocal riff in which he sells an imaginary product to an imaginary alien audience on the 17th dimension.

It’s really hard to sit and watch this tape, at least without some kind of mind-altering substance. This is so fucked up, it makes Crispin Glover’s most avante-garde filmwork look as conventional as an episode of Happy Days. If you have no tolerance for DLR, you won’t make it ten seconds into this thing. If you play it in the background, it’s weird. You will barely make it through the whole thing, but then wonder if maybe you should watch it again. If you get a copy with director’s commentary, it’s actually a much better film, only because Diamond Dave has no attention span, and he randomly yells out stuff like “WE WERE GONNA SHOP THIS PART OUT TO BURGER KING, BUT THEY SAID IT WASN’T PATRIOTIC ENOUGH” or “WE HAD AN OPEN CASTING CALL FOR CATWOMAN, AND INVITED BACK EVERYONE.” Then when he does some karate kicks and swings around his sword, he gets really serious and explains exactly what year of Japanese history influenced his form or something. I personally would pay any price to have Dave add commentary to somebody else’s movie.

So, neat stuff, but not for anyone. I’ve gotta wrap this up so I can make a sword out of my shower curtain rod and practice my dojo-mojo now.


Queensryche – Take Cover (2007)

There are a few different reasons a group would record an album of cover tunes. Bands just out of the gate might not have enough original material written, and need to fall back on the classics to come up with a CD’s worth of tunes. Other bands feel a need to “pay tribute” and record their own interpretations of their influences’ hit tunes. Some might want to do something weird. And others are looking for a quick way to make a buck, or, even better, get out of an album’s worth of obligation to a record deal. (See also the main reason live albums are recorded.) So which of these reasons best describe why Queensryche went into the studio and laid down eleven cover tunes for this album? Good question.

Queensryche, like many prog-rock bands, have a very narrowly-defined scope to work with, as far as their reach to do different-sounding things. Yes, they’ve progressed quite a bit over the years. But when they record almost any genre of song, it’s going to sound pretty much like a Queensryche song. And that’s the biggest failure of this album. The band set out to record a wide swath of different types of music for this collection, and only a few things worked well.

Credit where it’s due: this CD starts with a dead-on version of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Queensryche can do a pretty decent version of ‘Floyd, at least the post-Syd version. (In fact, the first time I ever heard “Silent Lucidity,” my initial response was “Jesus Christ, Roger Waters is going to sue them for copyright infringement, this sounds so much like one of his songs.”) They throw down a thick, synth-laden rendition, with some ethereal saxophone bits, super-sustained guitar licks, and somber lyrics, and it works well. Add to this the fact that the album doesn’t sound like it was recorded on a Radio Shack laptop ala Mindcrime 2, and it’s a pretty impressive number.

Another song that works is the band’s rendition of ‘Sabbath’s “Neon Knights.” When you figure that Queensryche started playing covers of old metal tunes, a rehash of a Dio-era classic doesn’t seem that far-fetched. (Add to that the fact that the band used to open for Dio back in their beginning days, and Ronnie James appeared on the aforementioned jambox-recorded Mindcrime 2, and it isn’t too peculiar to hear the band paying tribute to the Satanic dwarf.) The guitar is pretty spot-on, and although Tate tries a little too hard with his singing, it’s a decent recording.

The real problem with many of these tunes is that Tate’s operatic style is too distinct and inflexible. It’s like when William Shatner recorded all of those Beatles classics like “Lucy in the Sky”: no matter what he did, it sounded like a stick-up-the-ass Captain Kirk, and not a decent rendition of a Beatles tune. When I hear Geoff Tate try to belt out “Synchronicity II” or “Bullet the Blue Sky,” it’s so forced and inorganic, it makes Geddy Lee’s experiment with rapping sound smooth as silk.

Some of the song selections are absolutely baffling. They cover The Ojays’ “For the Love of Money,” which is basically an attempt at saying “hey, we’re 100% whitebread, but we want you to think we’re hip by covering an R&B number in the whitest possible way, with shrieking heavy metal guitar licks and an opera singer frontman piling on the tremolo! And our drum roadie’s brother once went to high school with a dude that was friends with a black guy, too! We’re multicultural!”

And a few of the songs are absolutely terrible. They do a completely unlistenable version of Queen’s “Innuendo,” a stumbling take of CSN&Y’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” and an awkward and uptight recording of “For What it’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. Overall, there are maybe three or four tracks that did not get an instant “never, ever play again” rating, and the rest are relatively forgettable. Like I said, the production is decent, though. Maybe they can write some new material and record it this well to get a decent album. Until then, I’d skip this one.

Rating: 4


Rush – Caress of Steel (1975)

Okay, before I start, I remembered this tiny bit of trivia, and it took me forever on google to confirm it, so I better just paste it in. This album, in the original LP form, had a bunch of city names under the names of each track. Turns out that the album was written on the road, and those are the names of the cities where that specific song was hashed out. I only find this interesting because a couple of these were written just down the road from where I grew up, in South Bend, Indiana. Here’s the full list, since this has been long-since deleted on CD reissues, as far as I know:

“Bastille Day”
Beamsville, Pittsburgh, Louisville
“I Think I’m Going Bold”
Saginaw, Fort Wayne, Lansing
“Lakeside Park”
South Bend, Saginaw, Terre Haute, Cincinnati
“The Necromancer”
Los Angeles, Toronto
“The Fountain Of Lamneth”
“In The Valley”
Beamsville, Atlanta
“Didacts & Narpets”
Beamsville, Toronto
“No-one At The Bridge”
Beamsville, Dallas, South Bend
Beamsville, Corpus Christi, Atlanta
“Bacchus Plateau”
Atlanta, Beamsville, Northampton Penn
“The Fountain”
Beamsville, Chicago, Dallas, Lansing, Detroit, Louisville

On to the review. This is a really lopsided album, I hate to say. It’s as if the band simultaneously realized they could write long-length prog rock epics, but needed to write short little AOR ditties to get on the radio. How did they reconcile this? By writing three little songs and two really big ones. They did some good stuff in here, but as an album, it’s not balanced. And the record company thought the same thing, especially since this album did not outsell its predecessor.

Both of the long tracks (“The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth”) remind me entirely of playing D&D in my mom’s basement. Actually, they remind me a little more of the days before my driver’s license or the invention of the opposite sex, when I used to build model airplanes (when they still had the good glue) and listen to Rush tapes on repeat, over and over. Both of the long tracks are excellent and overly geeky, with lots of weird drumming and some strange vocal effects and stories of mystical times and placest. “Necromancer” is totally about Lord of the Rings, while “Lamneth” is a more philosophical take on addiction and life. The former even includes a short tie-in to the last album, aka the song “By Tor and the Snow-Dog,” also a long-format tune that I guess needed just a little more. It’s great to listen to this stuff for the pure nerdiness of it, and to also see a precursor of what would later lead to 2112, among other things. My favorite little bit is “Didacts and Narpets,” which is nothing more than a really quick drum part from Neil Peart, with Geddy shouting a bunch of weird, unintelligible stuff over it. (Yes, I know there are exact lyrics and even a meaning for the title, but I’m too lazy to google for it, and I’m to afraid that if I paraphrase, I’ll get a million Rush fanatics correcting me. The truth is out there.)

Of the other three songs, “Bastille Day” is strong, and gives us a little history lesson wrapped in a Zep-like rock number. It’s solid, but always bugged me for some reason. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is absolutely stupid, and evidence that the band ran out of material in the studio. (It was actually written for Canadian band Max Webster.) “Lakeside Park” (written in South Bend!) is a mellower tune, talking about hanging out on Victoria Day at St. Catharine’s, on Lake Ontario. It’s a very sweet little song talking about hanging out with friends on the holiday, and I’ve always liked it. It got the band a fair bit of airplay, especially in their native Canada (although Geddy Lee, in a 1993 interview, says the song makes him cringe.)

Overall, this isn’t a bad album, although back in the days of tape, I had to do some careful fast-forwarding. It’s dated, and it’s not perfect, but it’s a good effort, considering all of these songs were written in hotel rooms after the band put in a full night gigging on the road. I wish I could give this a higher rating, but it’s not exactly like the kind of thing I’d leave in my car and listen to every other day. It’s probably my favorite of the pre-2112 albums, but that’s when things suddenly took off in full-prog-ahead mode, so this is more of an overlooked era for many.

Rating: 7



Van Halen – 1984 (1984)

I must have been 12 at the time, going on 13, when the video for “Jump” came out. I didn’t listen to much “heavy” music, but I spent at least ten hours a week glued to this new thing called MTV, and I thought that Van Halen was in the same league as Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Madness, Cyndi Lauper, and all of the other stuff in constant circulation on the new-fangled music video channel. But I secretly longed for heavier music, and I’d seen the live video for the band’s earlier song, “Unchained,” so I knew there was something more than just Eddie playing keyboards. I have to admit that I bought the single for “Jump” on 45 because I saw the video and fell for it. I picked up the single, which came out right before the album’s January 1 release date, and had to hide it from my friend Jim’s mom, because it depicted an angel smoking on the cover, and she was a Jesus freak that regularly searched his room like a warden at a prison, confiscating his Dungeons and Dragons gear and burning whatever music the 700 Club told her to ash-can.

The one thing that everyone will tell you about this album is that it introduced the synthesizer to metal. Maybe that’s true, maybe not (VH had used synth on a few other songs previously), but I can tell you that until about 1990, a lot of metal bands despised the synth, so maybe in some sense, the neutered Eddie Van Halen tapping away on his keys set back metal a few years, because a lot of long-hairs didn’t want to become him. Add to that the fact that before 1984, Eddie was a guitar genius, and his tapping style of fretwork was absolutely awe-inspiring. But by this album, every 15-year-old kid in a guitar store was playing “Eruption” with all ten fingers on the rosewood, so maybe it made sense for EVH to branch out and try some other instrument. It was probably wise for Eddie to bow out of the guitar god pissing contest that ensued, with every Steve Vai/Yngwie Malmsteen type slapping the strings as fast as possible to the point of ridiculousness. He probably made a hell of a lot more money with a lot less stress when he was laying more mindless riffs with Sammy Hagar and shilling Pepsi, anyway.

ANYWAY, this album starts out with the title track, which oddly enough is just a minute and seven seconds of weird synth intro that sounded like it should be on an ELP record. (This, years later, pissed me off when I was in a Pizza hut with a couple of friends and I fed a bunch of change into the jukebox and picked “1984,” not remembering this, and then getting nothing but a minute of swooshy synth for my quarter and not some hard rocking song instead.) This goes right into “Jump,” which I don’t need to review, as every human being alive from the years 1984 to present has heard this song at least 22 million times. It was a really cool song for about a month, then I forgot about it,
and then a year later when WGN and the Cubs decided to use this as the theme music for their games, I decided that maybe I needed to burn my single of the tune. This song got so much god damned airplay that my eighty-something grandparents could hum along. There were African tribes in the middle of nowhere who had never seen water before who could sing you this song. And yes, it had a cute little video which was nothing more than the band lip-syncing, with slo-mo shots of David Lee Roth jumping around in the air. Usually the band-singing-along videos are stupid, but this one was actually metaphorical. Well, I guess that REM song “Stand” is too, because they were standing up.

1984 was a harvesting ground for a lot of quick-growth hits, thanks again to that MTV thing. “Panama” was a hard-rocking song that either talked about David Lee Roth driving a sports car, or maybe getting a hand job in a sports car. Previous songs like the aforementioned “Unchained” usually had 80% cool parts that rocked and then 20% awkward or experimental bridges that didn’t really fit. But “Panama” pushed the envelope on its chorus, and then got into a slower, sexier part with Roth pretty much just talking, and it worked much better to create a continuous song that worked good on the radio and TV. Another big hit was “Hot for Teacher,” which was remembered as the song with the big concept video about a nerdy kid and some totally hot teachers, dancing on desks with bikinis. David Lee Roth should have traded in his leather pants for a director’s chair after metal got old for him, because his influence all over this video shows that he can market the idea of a band (and Van Halen is a big “idea” band, with that idea being partying) and totally make it come to life on the screen. Oddly enough, nobody remembers this song musically (it’s largely instead mentioned as a punchline when yet another middle-aged teacher starts banging a teenaged student, which seems to happen with an oddly increasing frequency these days, probably because I am no longer a teenager), because it’s one of the best cuts on the album. First of all, Eddie Van Halen, who I just mentioned wussing out on the synth from this point on, totally lights this track up on the six-string, practically playing straight solos through his entire part. And his brother Alex makes this probably the best double-bass drum track ever.

The rest of the album is still good, but a bit odd. There’s a track “Top Jimmy” that’s an old VH-style number, which is very good, but everybody forgets was on here. Same for “Drop Dead Legs,” except it wasn’t as great. “I’ll Wait” became an AOR hit for the band, and “Girl Gone Bad” was okay. “House of Pain” seemed to be a last-minute addition; it’s a really old track of the band’s that was recorded and thrown on, and doesn’t match any of the rest of the album. It’s not bad, but… weird.

As far as sound, production, all of that junk, there’s not much to talk about here, since all of the Van Halen albums have pretty stellar and clean production. Ted Templeman kept the band tight with good drums and clean guitar that had enough space that you’d swear there was a second guy on the axe backing up Eddie. I’m sure a true fan could argue as to which VH albums sounded better or worse, but for the most part, they had a commodity production to them, and maybe 1984 was a half-notch above that.

The weirdest part of this album is that with all of the stuff going on with those nine tracks, the whole thing weighs in at 33:08. I’m not expecting them to give up their three- and four-minute tracks and go all Rick Wakeman on my ass with a 17-minute prog rock-out, but the album is over before it starts. There’s also the issue that this will always be considered the “last” “real” Van Halen record. [Not true anymore, because they did an album with the classic lineup minus Michael Anthony in 2012.] Given that the band was at the peak of popularity in 1985 when Roth split/was fired, the record company would have rolled out some live album or greatest hits stopgap, rather than to rush in the studio. Either way, this album is an odd bookend for the first part of the band’s career.

Rating: 8



Rush – Rush (1974)

Every band has to start somewhere. What’s amazing about Rush, after listening to their self-titled first release, is that it’s so far removed from their later core releases, and they went through such a giant transformation by their second album. If you take their second or third album and remove the monster-solo prog-rock geekfests and the Tolkein-meets-Ayn Rand lyrics, you still aren’t anywhere near this one. It’s a miracle this obscure band, scraping by on a self-released album, even got the chance at a second one.

The easiest way to sonically describe this is Led Zeppelin clone with a chick singer. The band blows through eight numbers that are straight-up, simple, forgettable AOR rock. And I guess that’s forgivable. I mean, listen to some of AC/DC’s early stuff and it sure isn’t Back in Black. It’s barely metal as we know it today. Same with KISS, same with a lot of other bands that started before things really got categorized and defined. So here are some tracks of simple bar-band blues, and that’s fine. And Neil Peart wasn’t in the band yet, so you’re trading the all-time best drum wizard for regular old guy John Rutsey clonking away the basic beats. (Rutsey quit the band after their first release, saying that they weren’t going anywhere, and also citing his diabetes as being a problem with extended touring. He, oddly enough, got into amateur bodybuilding after he dropped out of music.)

Probably the biggest problem on this album is the big love-it-or-hate-it of Rush, being Geddy Lee’s vocals. Some people are immediately turned off by his high-register singing, which sounds slightly feminine or falsetto. I personally don’t mind his singing a lot of the time, but there are usually a couple of runs or notes per album that grate at me a bit. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff on this first album falls under that category. Maybe it’s because there’s a lot more “oooh yeeah” phrasing in the hard rock style, and by the time they started singing more sedate stuff about Dungeons and Dragons and not “baby-baby” bar music, he stopped doing that.

There are a couple of gems in this album. One is the song “Working Man,” which became a live staple for a while, and rocks out well. It also, like many of the songs here, shows that Alex Lifeson is a damn good guitarist, and can really jam away like he just got done listening to a bunch of Hendrix and wants to do similar work. This song is the reason a DJ in Ohio started spinning the record, playing the song on Friday afternoons to their working-class fans. (This later resulted in the band’s deal with Mercury records, and the wider rerelease of this album.) “Finding My Way” is a good opener, and “In the Mood” is funny, but maybe a bit corny. The other stuff is so un-Rush-like it’s only interesting as a historical note. Probably the most interesting thing about this material is that it deals with straight-up, hey-baby sex stuff, which became taboo as the band went on to talk about inevitable nuclear war and starships vanishing into black holes.

The album itself has some interesting history, in that it was pieced together from two different studios. The band’s first release, a cover of the song “Not Fade Away,” was recorded with an original B-side. This work was done at Toronto’s Eastern Studios (where Gordon Lightfoot was putting down most of his mid-seventies albums, too) in a series of graveyard shifts, and included two other original songs, plus the versions of “In the Mood” and “Take a Friend” that ended up on the LP. The band also laid down some more skeletal work on other songs on the studio’s 8-track before becoming dissatisfied and moving to Toronto Sound Studios and self-producing the rest of the album. No record company would touch the album or the “Not Fade Away” single, so the band and manager Ray Daniels formed Moon Records to release both. When the album got picked up by Mercury, long-time Rush producer Terry Brown re-mixed the album into the form most of us have heard.

(Also worth noting: in 2008, the band found an old tape with a different version of “Working Man”, including an alternate solo. This was released directly to the Rock Band video game, and then later released on iTunes. It’s worth the 99 cents to hear this slightly different version if you’re a Rush fanatic.)

All I can really say about this album is that it got a lot better really fast. Completists will obviously want check this out, but it’s a tough sell for the casual fan of the later music. If you’re only familiar with “Tom Sawyer” and newer, a better dip into the old catalog would be starting with Fly By Night, and catching the couple of good tunes here on the first live album with Neil on the drums.

Rating: 6.5

[I feel I need to put some kind of disclaimer on this for giving a Rush album a 6.5 and I’m sure I’m going to hear about it. So, sorry or whatever.]


Queensryche – Queensryche (1983)

Every band has to start somewhere. For prog-rockers Queensryche, they begin with a very NWOBHM-styled four-song EP. And it wasn’t even the same band initially – they were known as The Mob then, and Geoff Tate was enlisted to sign on the project, prior to him taking the full-time role as a frontman. The band recorded this release primarily as a demo, in a series of graveyard shift recording sessions at a local studio. They shopped it around with no avail, but when Kim and Diana Harris, owners of a Seattle record store, got a listen, they formed 206 records (206 being Seattle’s area code), managed the group, changed the band’s name, and released the demo as an EP in 1983. It got a huge following in Europe (thanks to Kerrang! magazine), and by the end of the year, the band signed on with EMI records and became a national act.

For as much as these four tracks don’t sound like Queensryche, they still do. The opener, “Queen of the Reich,” starts with Geoff Tate holding this impossibly long note in operatic style, and then launches into something similar to older Iron Maiden. The songs “Nightrider” and “Blinded” are structurally a bit more strange, and not straightforward rockers. The album finishes up with “The Lady Wore Black,” a slower tune that still rocks and shows the kind of direction the band wanted to go, with more progressive leanings and longer songs.

This is obviously a demo recorded by an unsigned band on a budget, and not an established act who is trying to explore their musicianship. It’s all very simple stuff here, without the extended set pieces, massive overdubs, or complicated introductions that the band would find later. The band clearly came from a NWOBHM background, with more influences in the metal area than any art-rock leanings. Even their photo resembles a band that probably plays Scorpions covers out of small bars in Federal Way, instead of the great prog-rock band that they later became.

For the longest time, if you bought this CD, it would come with “The Prophecy” as a bonus track, which is an excellent outtake from the Rage For Order sessions. With the later remaster, this EP now includes another seven live tracks, rescued from an old Warning-era live-in-Japan laserdisc that is no longer available. I’m an old fart with the older 5-song version (I actually had the tape, which repeated the same five songs on both sides), and I’ve always thought of the album as a good starting point for the band. I’m not sure what I’d think of the same release as a catch-all for a bunch of other stuff. It’s nice that they’ve added more bonus material, but for whatever reason, I like thinking of this as the same, little, 20-minute tape I got when I was first getting into the band.

Rating: 8



Chris Poland – Return to Metalopolis (1990)

Some metalheads may remember guitarist Chris Poland as one of the original guitarists in the band Megadeth. He appeared on their first two albums before getting fired by Dave Mustaine for his excessive drug use. (And you know if your drug use is excessive compared to a mid-1980s Dave Mustaine, you’ve got some serious problems.) After getting clean, he did a brief stint as bassist in the Circle Jerks, and then came back to metal and did this solo album. He’s since done more work in the Jazz-fusion-y direction with his band Ohm.

This ten-track (or nine-track – if you have the first release on tape, it won’t have the track “Heinous Interruptus”) album is an all-instrumental attempt to showcase Poland’s playing with melodic guitar that alternates thick rhythm with a lot of weaved textures of fast leads and some occasional acoustic. He plays everything on the album, bass and guitars, with his brother Mark on the drums.

Even though Poland originally worked with a straightforward thrash band, all of the compositions here are more jazz-metal oriented, more similar to someone more Joe Satriani. The guitar work is very modal, but it does sport more screaming leads in places. Each song has very memorable structure, like in “The Fall of Babylon,” which starts with acoustic guitar, then builds for four minutes, occasionally dipping back to the unamplified guitar before he wraps it up and bookends again with the acoustic. “Row of Crows” starts with a romping riff that then pulls to very soaring guitar sounds, then speeds up the drums on the way out, like a car driving like a bat out of hell toward the horizon. Probably one of the best tracks is the ending, “Khazad Dum,” which starts off minor and almost sinister, and at the end, completely takes off with quick double-bass drum and an almost constant solo that leaps to the finish.

This is an extremely impressive little album. Like I said, it weighs in at only about 35 minutes, but it’s the kind of thing I always, immediately have to listen to a second time. The most amazing thing about this album is that I found it as a cut-out in a dollar store in 1993, and for the longest time, I heard absolutely nothing else about it. Right after it came out, Enigma records went under, which effectively buried the album, There was a CD reissue in 1998, and a new reissue in 2002 with two extra tracks. They also released a live version of the album in 2007, originally recorded on a truncated 1991 live tour. I think people on the internet have spread the word on this little gem, though. It’s well worth finding, although I usually skip the bonus tracks and go for just the original stuff I found so awe-striking back when I first heard this.

Rating: 9