Grim Reaper – The Best of Grim Reaper (1999)

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.” (ugh…) 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.

Rating: 4


Rush – Fly By Night (1975)

Following a self-titled debut of Led Zeppelin-clone originals and immediately before a tour, John Rutsey, the drummer of this Canadian three-piece walked away from the band, citing health reasons and/or a lack of interest in touring. This could have been the end of the struggling band, but a dude selling tractor parts with his dad showed up with a carful of drums, and became a key component in this band’s huge future.

Neil Peart, fresh off an 18-month stint of starvation, dead-end musical attempts, and a demeaning job of selling trinkets to tourists in London, joined Rush two weeks before their first US tour. In addition to adding his manic drum stylings to the band, he also became their chief lyricist. Both skills are obvious from the get-go on this eight-track LP, with the first song, “Anthem.” Even in the first sixty seconds, we hear Neil Peart’s drumming can drive more complex rhythms than the simple 4/4 Cream/Deep Purple rip-off beats of his predecessor. And the song’s about the Ayn Rand book of the same title, showcasing Neil’s bookworm-dom which would become apparent over the next few albums.

If you compare Fly by Night with the band’s first effort, there are many similarities. Although production is more consistent and solid, it still has the mid-70s echoey sound, as opposed to the cleaner recording on later albums. This was also recorded at Toronto Sound Studios, but instead of a one-inch 8-track, they used two-inch 16-track tape on a Studer deck with a Neve console, which gave it a warm sound and let them be more flexible with overdubs. And behind that Neve console was Terry Brown, the band’s long-time fourth member, who would produce this and the band’s next eight albums.

This album is split almost down the middle into two types of songs: “Life is rough on the road being a rock star,” and “I bet it would be smart to market ourselves to nerdy 15-year-olds who play a lot of D&D.” Case in point on the latter is “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” a near-nine-minute literary epic that introduces the band’s use of concept in their album-oriented music. It’s a prototypical rock music battle, much like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” except it was never featured in a John Travolta album, and the lyrics are more suited for the kind of guy who tries to make his own chain-mail out of soda can tabs and wear it to high school for yearbook picture day. Musically, it’s pretty impressive stuff; Peart is all over the place on the drum kit, and Alex Lifeson contributes a lot of shrieking guitar, including a very bluesy solo towards the end.

The band also showcases their love of J.R.R. Tolkien in the song “Rivendell,” which features some of the stupidest lyrics possible in a song. “Lying in the warm grass / feel the sun upon your…. face.” Ugh. And I should clarify for those of you born in the 1980s that back in 1975, it was not cool in any way to like Tolkein. This was long before the films made it cool, and you were looking at a serious ass-beating if you sat in study hall and perfected your Elven calligraphy between readings of The Two Towers. Taking metal music, the art form of Satan and Ozzy himself, and taking a sudden turn into dreamy poetry about Elves was prime grounds for your parents to whisk you away to some kind of backwater evangelical reprogramming camp, where the ex-con counselors could beat the living shit out of you until they were certain you were heterosexual and would never roll a 2d12 again.

This album’s not all bad. The title track, with lyrics penned by Peart to describe his exit from Canada to London, is a bit foppish but has some decent soloing in it. “Beneath, Between, & Behind” has some cool drumming, including probably what’s the first double-bass on a Rush album. “In the End” has a great sound to it, especially the more-electric second half of the song. Aside from “Rivendell” and “By-Tor,” most of the album is only a slight progression from their first LP’s extremely straightforward hard rock sensibilities. But it’s a good progression, and the birth of what later became a very unique formula.

There are a couple of oddities on this album, so I’ll put them in a nice bulleted list for you:

  • “Beneath, Between, & Behind” was the first song that Peart worked on, and the only Rush song that Geddy Lee did not work on writing-wise in any way.
  • “Making Memories” is the only Rush song featuring slide guitar.
  • “Rivendell” is the only Rush song that does not include drums.

This is a short one, clocking in at a mere 37:18. But if you can overlook the dorkiness, it’s a decent $8 investment for a listen at the first shot of this band’s golden lineup.

Rating: 7.5



Helloween: I Want Out: Live (1989)

After the release of Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. 2, you’d think the world would be great for Helloween, since it cracked the top 30 in England, but instead, it turned into a world of shit for the band. First, their leader and guitar player Kai Hansen freaked out and quit the band on the verge of a tour. Then, they got a deal with EMI to buy them out of their contract with Noise Records, but it tied them up in a huge legal dispute for over two years. The product of that dispute was three live EPs, released by EMI to keep the band alive during their troubles.

I have to admit that I bought the US version of the EP when it came out. (There are also UK and Japanese versions, with different recordings, but only slightly different setlists. Oh, and the EPs have Kai Hansen on guitar, they were recorded before he split.) And for whatever reason, I listened to it a LOT. I still listen to it now and again. But I have to be honest with you: 85 percent of this 42-minute album is completely useless. I know, that’s heresey, but it’s true! Since it’s short enough, I will break it down for you track by track.

1: Intro/A Little Time: They waste a lot of time with the crowd chanting “happy Helloween.” Okay, I timed it, and it’s only like 25 seconds, but it’s such a huge waste of time, and this is a short album that’s only made to make us pay to keep thinking about the band until they put out another album, right? The song is not bad, with very Bruce Dickinson-sounding lyrics that are pretty tight, but then about three minutes in, there’s some vamping part that’s in there to kill time, probably while vocalist Michael Kiske slaps hands with people in the front row or something stupid.

2: Doctor Stein: Kiske spends TWO AND A HALF MINUTES babbling like a drunken idiot before the song starts. The song is okay, except where Kiske inserts a “1-2-3-4” before singing part of a verse, which drives me fucking homicidal.

3: Future World: About a minute and a half of rambling and guitar tomfoolery until the song starts up. Kiske tries to get the audience to sing the first verse, and only about three people know the words. For fuck’s sake, if you are singer, DO YOUR JOB and sing the song instead of trying to get the audience to sing it. Nobody cares.
Seriously. He does this in one or two other places, with predictable results. Then about six minutes into the song, they go into one of those huge audience participation wastes of time where the drums keep the same beat, and the guitar does dumb shit for six bars, and then the singer tries to get everyone to sing, etc. Iron Maiden did it on the song “Running Free” and it wasn’t even cool when they did it.

4: We Got the Right: About thirty seconds of guitar noodling, which is actually better than the song. I hate this song for some reason. It’s just mid-paced ballady bullshit. I wish the US version
of this EP had something better here.

5: I Want Out: Finally! A really good song, no stupid intros, no audience sing-alongs. Unfortunately, it only lasts four minutes, and then we get a bunch of chanting of “here we go, here we go, here we go,” as Kiske tries to rev the audience up for an encore. Another two minutes are wasted, as he sets up the next song.

6: How Many Tears: Perfect. Nine whole minutes, a great song, good solos, the lyrics are great, and it’s a great choice to end a set. THIS IS GOOD. I even like the fake finish and total speedy climax thing they do halfway through the song.

This album could be good. I’d up my score by two points if it was trimmed of all banter by the lead singer, and if track four was replaced, and maybe one other track was added to make up for the difference. I don’t have the other two import EPs, so maybe that’s what they did. But otherwise, this is just awful. This should serve as an example to all other bands who put out a live album that we really don’t care what is on your singer’s mind. Just play your damn songs. I’m sorry this is such a low review, and for some reason, I still listen to this a lot. But it’s also trained me how to operate the fast-forward on my iPod, so keep that in mind.

Rating: 5 (but the last track is like an 8)



3 – …To the Power of Three (1988)

Every once in a while, I listen to a CD that I am almost certain no human on the face of the earth would ever listen to. For example, take this CD by the Keith Emerson-derivitave band simply called 3. This CD, called …To the Power of Three consists of eight songs that are top-40 friendly in the same way that the exceedingly sterile Pink Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason was supposed to be radio-friendly. With a reunion of former ELP stars Emerson on keys and drummer Carl Palmer, the band was fronted by Bay-Area producer and singer/songwriter Robert Berry.

This is a 1988 attempt at a serious rock album, back on the tail end of when Asia was charting pop tunes, and Yes actually got a smidge of mainstream airplay and even time on MTV. (Anyone else remember the April Fool’s day when they played like 267 different versions of the video “Leave It,” with the band upside down and singing? Except they swapped out band members for roadies and office staff at the studio and whoever else for the different iterations, and even played some of the commercials upside-down to keep with the joke. I know only like three people found that truly hilarious, but I was one of them…) This CD came out on the tail of an ELP reunion (but with Cozy Powell), a GTR album that sold some copies, and a few other prog-rock has-beens that picked up some Korg M1s and headless Steinberger basses and made another serious go at it. And this peaked at #97 on the Billboard 200, which tells you this formula worked to some extent.

Although it did chart, the 3 album is a pretty weak stab at world domination. Everything’s very ballady, and the sound overall is very tinny and brittle. The highlight is probably a song “Desde La Vida” that is a three-parter, the middle showing that Emerson can still get around the ivory. It’s also got a cover of “Eight Miles High” that’s marginally interesting, but the whole thing is basically 37:38 of vintage cheesomatic synth and very cookiecutter drums that could’ve been done by a synth or drum machine. Some of the songs have a slight memorable quality, but they are very much pop numbers and not prog-ish in any way, except for maybe a quick run or two on the keyboard by Emerson. It is not by any means an extension of ELP’s previous work, and even if you expect it to be 66% of something like Trilogy, you’d be very far off the mark.

I think I borrowed the tape from my friend Derik Rinehart at the time, and I’m not sure if I ever returned it (my old car had holes in the floors, many tapes didn’t make it.) A couple of years later, I found a used copy of the CD for 88 cents, and picked it up. It’s one of those albums that is definitely stuck in my head, that I listened to at the time and thought “wow, Emerson sure can play! This MIDI shit is the wave of the future!” and then got sidetracked when I found out about Primus or Nine Inch Nails or whatever else was cool at that second. Now, every once in a while, I listen to it (mostly because 3 is the first band on my iPod’s alphabetical display) and it immediately takes me back to 1988, when I listened to this stuff constantly. But yes, it’s a tough sell.

Rating: 6.5