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Unknown by many, this little outfit out of Phoenix somehow came up with this tasty debut album, released in 1984 and produced by the (now) legendary Mike Varney. At that time, there was plenty of Metal like this being released, and I think it just became a matter of saturation. The release garnered little attention, despite a decent touring schedule from the band and a slab of quality tunes that fit well into the commercial sensibilities of the day.
The track list is very strong here. Favorite tracks include Killer Machine with its slow plodding rhythm and the whole "am I talking about a car or a woman?" lyrics; Hot Desert Night's gallop and Clifford's almost growling vocal style; Rock n' Roll Maniac with its ridiculously over-the-top, "I'm addicted to this shit!!" lyrics (well actually a lot of the CD is like that). Under My Gun raises the roof and serves as a pick-me-up mid-point. Love the chorus riff, and the transition right before. Kicks it into gear very, very effectively.
There are several other solid moments here, and overall I'd say Icon hit the mark in most places. I really like Clifford's voice, rough where it needs to be, hits the high notes with little effort -- perfect for this style of commercially heavy music. Guitar work is a strong point, too. Tasty solos, great riffage -- doesn't really hold up to today's Metal, but for 1984 it was definitely stylish and well played, and most of the songs were really well-crafted and polished. That's probably Mike Varney's touch.
I'd rather not re-hash the whole "why didn't they hit it big?" question because it's not like they were the only band who put out some solid music and still didn't get anywhere. Much more important is what happened to them after their debut failed. Specifically, they decided to suck -- really hard. Actually, I'd argue if it wasn't for this piece, they don't even belong in the archives. They chased the glam thing after this, and completely and utterly failed. It's a shame. I would have enjoyed a heavier sequel.
There’s only one reason that would explain why this band remains almost unknown until today, after the release of this fantastic “Icon”... none of their following works can live up to the quallity shown in their debut.
As in a similar case to what happened with King Kobra, their first effort was an excellent expression of 80’s hard/heavy metal (however “Icon” sounds much heavier, as mixture between Dokken, Judas Priest or Racer X) but, after it’s release, they tried to pursue commercial sucess releasing an album of keyboard oriented glam metal that would make a Ratt album sound as thrash metal in comparison.
“Icon” had all the necessary elements to become a big success back in the 80’s:
- Mike Varney (renowned owner of Shrapnel Records) had signed the band to his label but, after recording the album and, taking notice of their big potential, he decided to “sell” them to Capitol Records.
- The album was recorded in 1984 and we have to realise that, in the same year other albums such as “W.A.S.P.”, “Tooth and Nail”, “Out from the Cellar” or “Stay Hungry” were recorded, all of them soon raising their owners to superstardom in the U.S.
- The sound of the album was way better than most of the things recorded back in the day, specially for a debut album (courtesy of Mike Varney).
- “Icon” has many potential hits as “(Rock on) though the Night”, “On your feet” (try and check this video on youtube), “World War”... or the mandatory ballad “It’s up to You” (in fact all the songs could have been big in the MTV or VH1).
- And obviously they also counted with a really solvent singer as Stephen Dixon (someone between Rob Halford, Blackie Lawless and Jeff Martin), and an excellent guitar team formed by Dan Wexler and John Aquilino (Mike Varney would never sign a band without good guitars).
Ok, some may think that all this elements don’t distinguish the band from the thousands of heavy metal projects appeared in the 80’s, but again we must think that this album was recorded in 1984, before the big explotion of the L.A. metal scene a couple of years later, and when some of the big american bands were releasing their debut or first “big” albums (just see the four mentioned above).
So, what made this album a part of all those basket bins of products from the 80’s? It’s not easy to say, but I just can think in a combination of bad luck, being from Phoenix and not L.A. and a really weak sophomore album (although is quite praised by some glam metal followers, it never achieved the expected success and they were dropped from Capitol).
All in all, I just can deeply recommend “Icon” to all those who like pure 80’s metal (Malice, Grim Reaper, Obsession, Lizzy Borden...) because, if they don’t know the band, they’re ignoring one of the best records done during that beloved decade.