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Queen of Siam is one of those records that seems to downgrade in quality over the years, especially when you compare it to the band's next few, but seeing that it was released in 1986, it represents a few elements that were unique within the German scene of its day. For one, Holy Moses was already around for years, releasing a string of demos from 1980-1984 that saw them shift into more aggressive territory. In fact, by the time Queen of Siam emerged, bassist Ramon Brüssler was the only founding member left, though he was joined pretty early on by Sabina and Andy Classen, who were by this time married. So, not only did you have one of the only married couples in thrash, but one of the few notable female vocalists in the genre...
Not only female, but actually pretty damn aggressive, which for 1986 was insane. Sabina's vocals sounded here like a witch shouting orders to her swamp minions, or a leper giving his last rites on a street corner to any that would listen, his throat peeling off mid-oratory. Holy Moses also had a pretty unusual name. Destruction, Sodom, Kreator, all pretty recognizable as sadistic and metallic, but Holy Moses? Was this some sort of Christian metal? Apparently the name is based more in the cliche exclamation than the 'historical' entity. They also had far better cover art than a number of their peers, and a slightly different style, at least on the debut. Blunt, brute crunching thrash metal which had more akin with US mosh-hardy bands than most of their razor fast German peers. At the same time, the music does not reach quite the same level of what we were hearing from that section of the world by the mid-80s, and when compared to an album like Pleasure to Kill, Eternal Devastation, Zombie Attack or Obsessed by Cruelty, there's not a lot to revisit.
The primary issue is just a lack of worthy riffs throughout many of the tracks. No amount of Classen's oozing and growling can slather enough personality onto a track like "Necropolis" or "Don't Mess Around With the Bitch" to make it more than base level thrash, and the songs feel like just about anyone could have spent 5-10 minutes learning some mutes and power chords and voila. It can become such a drag that the album seems to become noticeably improved wherever it picks up even a sliver of speed, which is not very often. Tracks like "Dear Little Friend" and "Torches of Hire" are impossible to salvage, and even "Devils Dancer", "Bursting Rest" and "Walpurgisnight" throw away their momentum on uninteresting notation. The cover of Motorhead's "Roadcrew" doesn't help, since it feels distinctly different than its neighbors, and instead of just using Sabina's normal vocals, the band attempted to imitate Lemmy almost too directly.
I can remember at some point enjoying this record, but these days I find it difficult to listen beyond a track or two, especially when I can spin the impressive sophomore Finished With the Dogs, which is faster, crueler and superior to this in every single category. At best, Queen of Siam has a decent, polished mix and a style which slightly deviates from their contemporaries, clearly with more of an appeal for fans of simplistic American thrash, low on menace. A few of the leads are decent, and Sabina's vocals are impressive if only for their relative novelty in 1986, but the cumulative qualities of the album would be average in any year, especially one which saw the arrival of Darkness Descends, Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood and so forth. This is by no means bad, and at least it would only take Holy Moses a year to make it up to us.
There's a Dutch saying that says that every beginning is difficult. And there is of course a lot of wisdom in those words. While Holy Moses grew out to be one of my absolute favorite bands in the years to follow, their debut 'Queen Of Siam' wasn't all that impressive. Most notable about this album was the lead singer, a woman named Sabina Classen. She still is today, by the way. At a time that females in Metal bands were highly unusual, her vocals could be found somewhere in the middle between Celtic Frost's Tom G. Warrior and Motörhead's Lemmy.
Musically, that comparison is quite fitting too. Holy Moses is quite obviously aiming at a Thrash audience, but the playing and production are a bit too sloppy to be interesting for a Thrash audience. Once again, that goes for this album. Sabina Classen still sounds a bit weird and her then husband Andy Classen is still far from the skilled rhythm guitarist he would turn out to be later. Venom seems like an obvious reference on 'Queen Of Siam'.
However, the album starts quite okay. 'Necropolis' is quite a good song with a nice structure. It builds up nicely and Andy Classen's lead fills are pretty cool. It's still nothing special when you compare it to the band's later work, but on its own, it's not bad.
And there are more songs of that level on the album. 'Devil Dancer' and the title track ain't bad at all, I just think Sabina doesn't sound as sincere and inspired as later on in Holy Moses' carreer on this album. Most notably, this is on 'Don't Mess Around With The Bitch', which is, in my opnion, a horrible track. The playing is sloppy, the structure a mess and the vocals leave a bad taste in my mouth. Therefore, the first half of the album leaves an impression on me that is nothing more than "okay".
But just when you decide to put off the album, there's some stuff that sounds pretty good. 'Roadcrew' is a track which is sung by Andy Classen and he does that quite well. If you don't know the re-recorded version on 'Finished With The Dogs', which is far superior over this one, you'll probably enjoy that one. The title kind of betrays a little Motörhead influence and I don't think the band is ashamed of that. Very funny are the lyrics in the booklet, which are spelled in phonetical German.
'Walpurgisnight' is once again not bad at all, I hear a little Iron Maiden in the structure of the song. Same goes for the following 'Bursting Rest'. While 'Dear Little Friend', in my humble opinion the highlight of the album, is a NWOBHM party itself. Quite positive lyrics, which may be something people frown upon, but it's good. Very good. I'd like to hear this one live or re-recorded someday. Andy does some nice lead work on this track as well. Which also goes for the following closer 'Torches For Hire', which is an instrumental frenzy in the 'Transsylvania'/'Genghis Khan' style. I like it a lot! It's a nice way to close an album which stands on the border of mediocrity furthermore.
On the 2005 re-release, you will also find the 'Walpurgisnight'-demo tape. The demo was recorded with one microphone on tape in the rehearsal room, which results in a terrible sound quality. It's fun to have for the fanatic Holy Moses fan, but it makes the overall quality of the CD worse rather than better.
Concluding, I'd like to say that even though this started the carreer of Holy Moses, this is probalby not the right one to begin with if you want to know what the band is all about. Even though all the albums sound a little different, this one is not really representative of what the German Thrashers are about. True fans might find something of their liking here. People who are looking for quality Metal could better try 'The New Machine Of Liechtenstein' or 'Finished With The Dogs' first.
Sabina Classen wrote about this album, that in 1986 it was important to finish first or last in the soundcheck of German magazine Metal Hammer, cause either way, it meant to sell a lot of records. Well, they achieved their goal … and finished last.
Holy Moses were really lucky that the guys at Metal Hammer were probably the only ones who didn’t realize what a great album this was, and so “Queen Of Siam” sold really well and all the people who bought it could assure themselves of the quality of such soon-to-be-classics like “Roadcrew”, “Walpurgisnight” or the title track.
Although this album is full of great Speed/Thrash Metal songs, it was Sabina’s voice that stole the show and made this such a controversial and extreme output. Remember this was 1986 and there weren’t too many men around who “sang” like that, but it was unimaginable that a woman would be able to produce such sounds. Her singing is also the reason why this album qualifies for one of the very early Death Metal releases.
After this album Holy Moses would go on to play more technical thrash, while guitarist Andy Classen would become one of the hottest producers for Death and Black Metal bands.