Most people who even know anything about Grim Reaper only know them from an episode of Beavis and Buttheadthat savagely made fun of a video of their most popular tune, “See You in Hell”, with one of the cartoon duo saying that they looked like a band you’d see at the county fair. If I was a typical metal fan that required total allegiance to bands that weren’t good but were still an “influence” or whatever, I would have been pretty upset by that cartoon. But, I’m not stupid like that, so I thought it was pretty damn funny, because face it: for the most part, Grim Reaper really did suck.
I actually did listen to these guys back in the day, mostly because a friend of mine made a mix tape called “Heavy Metal Hell” and it had a cut from each of the English band’s three albums. That made me rush out and buy their third (and last) album, Rock You to Hell, which made me think that even though they weren’t very original with their song titles, they sounded okay. This was also at a point when I was buying a lot of thrash metal, and maybe in comparison, it didn’t seem that bad. I lost or sold the tape a year or two later, and didn’t think much of it for a long time.
When trying to buy back a lot of my old favorites on CD, I picked up this compilation, which offered 17 cuts on one disc. As far as representing their three albums, there are most of the basics here, like “See You In Hell”, “Fear No Evil”, “Rock You To Hell”, “Waysted Love”, and “Suck It And See”. As you can see, these guys were not exactly prolific in the ability to come up with neat song titles. Maybe if they would have taken a note from Carcass and bought a medical thesaurus, their career would have lasted a bit longer.
Upon listening to the tracks, I really wonder why I ever liked these guys. As far as the basics, these guys are a typical NWOBHM-influenced early thrash band, with a very standard chorus-verse-solo-repeat style, nothing more. Their lead singer, Steve Grimmett, mostly belts out a bad falsetto that sounds like someone trying to imitate Don Dokken, although he occasionally does some “sexy” homoerotic grunts and “uhs” in various places. And Grimmett isn’t exactly the kind of guy you’d want up front in spandex, thrusting his codpiece against the mic stand. I guess other English frontmen like Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickenson or even Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott have been able to front a band with an equal lack of physical glam, but it just doesn’t work here. Maybe I liked this band so much in the 80s because back then, MTV didn’t play their videos, and I just didn’t know how Spinal Tap-eque they looked.
As for the actual songs, some of them are surprisingly similar, almost like they found a good melody and structure and just re-used it over and over. “See You in Hell” and “Now or Never” have such similar introductions, I thought my CD was messed up for a minute. Older stuff like “See You in Hell” sounds almost like a demo in quality, very compressed and tinny. They predictably have the cliched heavy metal “rain and thunder” intro on the song “Let the Thunder Roar”, and “Final Scream” has this weird intro with a screaming girl and a synthesized voice that is possible the worst King Diamond rip-off ever.
That said, some of cuts from their third album, Rock You to Hell, aren’t bad. I think they got the production figured out by then, with a much thicker sound, and the lead guitar work is more Dokken-eque, with good leads and tappy emphasis stuff here and there, but without totally showing off. The title cut, plus “Lust For Freedom” and “Waysted Love” are particularly decent metal from 1987. Grimmett’s vocals aren’t howling or shrieking, and although it’s not exactly Rob Halford or anything, they’re a dot or two ahead of the curve. I can’t ignore their song “Suck it and See”, though. Aside from the fact that this is a completely hilarious yet stupid song title, the actual song itself is pretty bad. You’d think with a title like that, it might be some sort of brutal, sexist theme song, like a thrashier version of “Ram it Down”. Instead, it’s this half-speed, swingy number that makes absolutely no sense.
In retrospect, I probably should have listened to these songs online somewhere and realized that it wasn’t worth having the first two albums, then bought the third and called it a day. It’s sad that a 17-song collection by a band that only had 26 published songs could actually not have two or three songs that I really wanted to hear. It’s even more sad that those 26 songs would probably fit on a CD with 40 minutes to spare. I think this whole thing is an exercise on how to not put together a collection.