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Wowzers...this album holds up pretty damn well for something released in 1987. This was released on the notorious Shrapnel Records imprint, so us old folks know what to expect from this. For those youngsters out there who aren't familiar with this label and its output: lots and lots and LOTS of stunning guitar work, most of it instrumental, was the hallmark of this (still-active) label. Most of it at the expense of actual songs, but this is an exception.
This album is mainly a vocal effort, unusual for Shrapnel Records at the time, with Peter Marrino's manly bellowing front and center, a pleasant change from the usual Halford wannabes of the time in the more mainstream circles. Well, OK, this is not *that* mainstream given the amazingly high level of musicianship--the guitar playing was cutting edge at the time and still is outstanding in these days of lameass wannabe riffers who worship at the alatar of Korn. But there are actual SONGS on display here with the guitar work cleverly worked into the framework of them, again an unusual thing for Shrapnel Records. Goofy lyrics, but hey, this was the 80s, so cut 'em some slack eh.
Musically, the title is a little misleading, or so I thought when I bought it years ago (on vinyl), not that speed metal at all, or at least the type of speed metal I was used to in those days (Slayer, etc). But there is still an abundance of solid, crunching riffs to go with the shred that are actually rather catchy.
Opener "Savage" is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, with well-written riffing surrounding Marrino's strong vocals (I didn't like him too much at the time I bought this, but after years of hearing tuneless death metal grunters and tuneless black metal shriekers it's a welcome change to hear a real singer trying to carry a tune and doing it as authoritatively as he does). Of course, as soon as the vocals drop out of the tune, the guitars take over, and I mean TAKE OVER. The whole middle part of the tune features some of the best guitar playing you will ever hear, on this album and elsewhere, starting with a slow melodic solo going into a creepy little atonal harmony bit, then right into an long, intense dual harmony solo that will have you gawking in amazement with its precision and melodic feel as well as occasional lapses into Oriental sounds. Even the rideout is excellent.
"Where My Fortune Lies" has a great slow chorus with emotional soloing beneath Marrino's vocals not overshadowing him that much at all--of course this comes in after the terrifying intro with its torrential legato runs like a volcano erupting and a speed metal verse. Atma Anur's drumming is always perfect for the tunes, he plays the right parts in the right places, and he is as solid as a rock. And Marty Friedman is a good bassist as well, right in the pocket and playing some nice tasteful parts, a perfect balance between mindless shredding and mindless plodding, with thick, solid tone too. The jarring whammy bar squalls after the second chorus lead into another amazing dual harmony solo that would make the likes of Yngwie wet his pants in terror--top THIS, Mr. "Bring The Fuckin' Fury!"--and leads into a sweet little atonal ending.
"The Ninja" starts with a quiet clean harmony part that sounds distinctly Oriental thanks to Marty's fascination with Asian music and is a sweet little tasty opener. It leads into the beginning of the song proper with tasteful clean soloing, and then of course the distortion roars back in to make a heavy, crunch riff that moves like a tank underneath majestic harmonies (these guys were all about the harmonies, like Racer X were back in those days). More strong vocals and another catchy chorus here too. Speeds up a little in the midsection, adding a level of excitement to the tune that would not have been there if it had stayed in the same slow tempo. Marty gets in a little shredding on the bass at the end as well.
"Concerto" is one of the two instrumentals on this album and is exactly what the title implies, a full-on neoclassical shredfest, but it has structure and flow unlike most shredders of the time had. Not much more to say about that. This reminds me quite a bit of Coroner's instrumental "Arc Light" from "Punishment for Decadence", actually.
"Burn The Ground" is actually about the only song I don't like here. It has a syncopated verse with an odd-meter feel to it and a nice shoutalong chorus, but it doesn't do it for me. The playing, of course, is excellent, but something about this tune just doesn't connect with me, hence the 95 rating.
"Desert Island" is one of the best tunes on this album, with yet another great scream-along chorus. It starts off with a menacing riff going into a more mainstream verse and that chorus! "DE-SERRRT IS-LAAAAND!!! Out in the sun!!!" Fabulous! I can relate to the lyrics, goofy though they are, about wanting to just get away from it all and live on an island. Does the guitar playing shred? Heh, you tell me.
"Speed Metal Symphony": The second instrumental, and just as good as the first, meaning while it ain't orthodox speed metal, it still holds its own with its usual staggering standard of guitar playing.
If you can't find this album, download it so you can get an idea of what truly good metal with both vocals and guitar playing on a relatively even keel is like. This is potent stuff, and maybe rediscovering it will inspire the next generation of guitar players to start learning how to command their instruments with the authority these guys did on this album. It is indeed tragic that Jason Becker, one of the guitarists on this landmark album, is virtually immobilized with Lou Gehrig's Disease and can no longer play. Get this for him, folks!!!