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In what seems a strange twist of irony, the first consecutive Exciter record to appear on the same label as its predecessor was also the first that resulted after a major line-up change. After the Feel the Knife EP was released, John Ricci had departed from the Canadians' roster and with it a pretty important chunk of what made this band sound as it did. To their credit, they snapped up a good replacement in one Brian McPhee, and did not deviate heavily from the style they had already established through Violence & Force and Long Live the Loud, but there were enough tweaks to the formula that it doesn't feel like a precise doppelganger of its steely siblings.
I understand that the band considers this the start of a more decidedly 'melodic' phase in their career, and certainly some of the songs hold to this. For example, "I Hate School Rules" and "Living Evil" are pretty stock hard rock/metal for the mid 80s that fans of bands like Twisted Sister and W.A.S.P. might enjoy, the one difference being Beehler's offsetting screams. Still a lot of NWOBHM to be heard in the structure of the chords, but there definitely seems a toning down of the roughshod intensity that the band had laid out over prior recordings. That's not to say that tracks of this sort are necessarily bad, I quite liked the pumping bass lines and the little guitar fills used in the latter, but I don't feel that they were contributing much to my dreams of robing myself in leather and brass knuckles and heading downtown to start a fight, something I consider tantamount to the success of an Exciter record.
Elsewhere, when the band picks up the pace and blazes along in the proper speed metal context, Unveiling the Wicked feels a lot stronger. McPhee was perhaps a more technically fluid guitarist, or perhaps 'flashy' would be the word, and he runs his lines all over cuts like "Shout It Out", "Live Fast, Die Young" or the diverse "Invasion/Waiting in the Dark". As I mentioned, I rather enjoyed the melodic fills he injects into the songwriting (like the verses of "Die In the Night"), it gives them an added dimension that Exciter was previously lacking, but often at the expense of the sheer force and tone. Of course, there are times when his prowess is displayed in less than desirable fashion, like the showy and unnecessary 90 second guitar solo instrumental "Brainstorm" that should have been omitted here and left to soundchecks at gigs...
He's also not helped by the tone of this record. The rhythm guitar has a really ruddy tone to it, but not as solid and punishing as the previous albums. Beehler sounds about the same, and his screaming really shines in the chorus of the opener "Break Down the Walls", one of the best on this whole album (alongside "Die In the Night"), and Alan Johnson's fat fingerings are still quite audible, but as a whole, Unveiling the Wicked just doesn't seem as straight in the face as Long Live the Loud. Drums seem more restrained, and the songs, though still often pretty fast and furious, might have been geared towards gaining a broader audience, a feat that was precluded by Dan's continued use of the grating, banshee pitch.
Ultimately, I believe that the 'essentials' of the Exciter legacy begin with Heavy Metal Maniac and end with Long Live the Loud, but this album was certainly passable for the time and I still think a few of the songs deserve the attention of anyone into melodic North American speed or power metal of the 80s. Some of the lyrics are pretty dumb, but then they were never among the 'laureates' of the form. Make no mistake, this is still pretty raw sounding speed metal, an aesthetic the band would change for the s/t follow-up in 1988 (with a new vocalist). But it's not quite so consistent as the three preceding albums and thus I can understand why some fans might not enjoy it at that level. I don't, either.
There is a scene in the 1986 horror movie "Trick or Treat" where the mother of the main character goes into her metal head son's bedroom and starts looking through his records. Among the handful the camera zoomed in on was Exciter's "Unveiling The Wicked" and as far as a 14/15 year old wanting to learn more about metal and would listen to anything that was heavy, it's always just stuck out for me. At least I can say I wasn't disappointed when I heard the album whenever I found a copy of this along with Exciter's first two albums at a local comic book store that sold used vinyl. But I knew there was a slight bit of difference in the sound.
Many changes we have here; First is the new guitarist Brain McPhee which is slightly different than John Ricci as far as playing style goes. Oh, the influences are the exact same as before but Brian McPhee brings in a slightly more heavier tone and more, dare I say "commercial" sound. No this is NOT pop metal by any means but there is a slight current of hard rock influences creeping in here. Second is the sound which is trying to be a throwback to the band's early days but the bass is not as fuzzy or warm. Last thing is the artwork which I've heard a lot of people complain about, but if these people knew ANYTHING it's a knock off the "V" television mini series which I'm surprised the band didn't get sued for. I like it. It's cheesy as fuck 80's metal artwork; a female ripping away the flesh from her face to show the monster underneath! A subliminal message that women are evil beings from outer space? Who knows(I seriously don't doubt this, hehe).
The first song "Break Down the Walls" is the best song on here with a main crunchy riff that seriously had me holding my ear up to the speaker because I was wondering if it was the distortion or was Brian really don't something slightly technical there. "Brainstorm" is a short instrumental which blends into "Die In the Night" where we start seeing the more hard rock influence. Well the next song "(I Hate) School Rules" almost sounds like fucking AC/DC. It didn't work for Twisted Sister, what the hell does it make Exciter think it's going to work for them? Worst song on the album. "Shout It Out" sees the band stop fucking around bringing it back to somewhere that would fit between the first two track and then we hit "Invasion/Waiting In the Dark" which could have easily come off "Violence & Force". "Living Evil" is the albums slow Black Sabbath cut and then we get into the killer "Live Fast, Die Young" which the main riff reminds me so much of "Fast As A Shark" by Accept and the killer "Night Danger" by Pretty Maids! "Mission Destroy" is another mid-paced cruncher that ends an almost disastrous album by a somewhat influential band.
So what have we learned Exciter? Don't try to pull a Twisted Sister "Leader of The Pack". Outside of that, the album follows the Exciter rule book but with a few songs that are nowhere as strong and almost filler-sounding. I would only recommend this album to Exciter die-hards who don't mind the album artwork and can look past the obvious low points.
For some reason Exciter fans consider the band to have faltered with this release. I actually totally disagree. I actually believe the band got better with Unveiling the Wicked. Don’t worry, I will soon say why.
One thing why I view this album to be better than their previous 3 efforts is for the fact guitarist John Ricci departed. Personally I found his departure the best thing for the band. Not that I didn’t like their first three albums, but his guitar playing was rather hum-drum and repetitive. This is where Unveiling the Wicked is better as it introduces new guitarist Brian McPhee. McPhee is a far better guitarist than Ricci the guitar solo’s are oh so much more fleshed out. It’s like McPhee brought new life to a band that was wallowing in retentiveness.
The album opens with Break Down the Walls, one of Exciter’s best songs altogether. It opens with a cool drum intro and then jumps into a great guitar riff. McPhee does a great job at overlapping the rhythm and lead guitar sounds that make this more pleasant to listen to than past Exciter efforts. Beehler does some grand screaming on this track and the solos are just great. Can’t get enough of this song!
Brainstorm is a little instrumental that leads up to the song Die in the Night. It’s not bad but I tend to hit the skip button on this track to get the next song. Die in the night again as a great guitar riff with cool rhythms and a catchy chorus.
The fourth track I Hate School Rules was the albums one and only single and ironically the bands worst song on the album, let alone one of the worst Exciter songs of all time. Frankly it was written to appeal to those young Exciter fans out there by going against school authority. It’s fine for young boys, but for grown men this song is a joke. This song brings the album down a few notches for me.
Shout It Out & Invasion/Waiting in the Dark are both mid paced songs and that latter song has some great slower guitar work interlaced within the song. Living Evil is a slower tack reminiscent of Pounding Metal on Violence & Force. It’s actually better than that classic Exciter tune do to a more fleshed out guitar sound.
These three tracks are all decent lead ups to another great song, Live Fast Die Young. This song absolutely has a great galloping guitar riff by McPhee with great screaming vocals by Beehler. It’s arguably the best song on the disc. Just a monster of a track. The album ends on a perfect not with Mission Destroy
Other than the lame track I Hate School Rules and a cheesy album cover, this album is pretty much better than all of Exciters previous albums on every level. The songs are better structured, the guitar playing is better, and the production is crisper. I personally would consider this album to be Exciter’s highest point and it’s a shame not more agree.