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Icon; they look like glam, but are they? Judging by their silly outfits and spiky hair, one could assume so. Despite their arguably tacky looks, Icon were more than what they advertised with them. They actually delivered some of the finest heavy metal ever to come out of Arizona at that time. Even though they looked like Motley Crue, they certainly didn't sound like them. Don't believe me? Just give a listen to their self-titled debut album, released in 1984.
Icon, believe it or not, was actually one of few bands that looked like the next glam rock wannabes, but they were actually pretty serious about what they were doing. Nobody could expect an epic track like "World War" to come out of a band whose members dress funny. "World War" is actually quite edgy, for it contains a grim overtone with incredibly dark lyrics. Granted, they aren't really that poetic and don't use big words like "annihilation", but they come pretty close. "Hot Desert Night" is another track worthy of mention. It's a song that contains lyrics that aren't so obvious. It also has an ominous tone that is not often found in traditional heavy metal, at least not in glam bands. You would think that a song entitled "Rock 'N' Roll Maniac" would be incredibly insipid and peppy-sounding, but not with Icon! Here, we have a song that's more aggressive in terms of chord patterns. Sure, the lyrics can be cheesy, but the song makes up for that by having a more high-energy melody.
As the band dresses like a glam band, you could also expect some more radio-friendly songs. Icon has those, but they're more appetizing than anything Poison would come up with. They're the radio friendly songs that have a more rock influence rather than a pop influence, the latter of which is often associated with glam bands. Needless to say, they can actually be pretty entertaining. "On Your Feet" and "(Rock on) Through the Night" are prime examples, for they don't really feel like radio-friendly songs at all, they feel more like something that you'd actually enjoy, 'cos they've got some oomph to them. Poison would never do that. The high-pitched, yet gruff and growling voice of vocalist Stephen Clifford only punctuates that rock 'n roll feeling. It also goes well with the more edgier "World War", for it's also kind of aggressive.
There are only a few issues I have with this album, though, for there's the song, "It's up to You". It's a ballad that isn't quite so syrupy, and has a more dark and mysterious vibe to it, but the chorus isn't all that perfect, that's the problem. It's lyrics mainly consist of "what you're gonna do, it's up to you". That's it. I understand that if a ballad were to capture the attention of anyone that it would have a simple chorus to get people to remember it, but I feel that it can also be a lot better than just two sentences. There's also the chorus to "Under My Gun", which, ironically, is one of my favorite tracks on my album. It's a fast and driving song with a sweet intro and a rocking hook, but the chorus simply contains the song's title and "You're gonna die young". Icon may excel at creating hard rocking songs for all to enjoy, but they seem to fall short when coming up with an effective chorus.
As much as I like to grin and giggle at their ridiculous looks, Icon actually has some stuff that I must say has quite a lot of meat to it. It wasn't the standard glam band that you would expect it to be, no, these were guys that actually made some tasty and effective material. If you're looking for some superb traditional heavy metal, look no further than Icon's self-titled debut album. Just don't expect the choruses to be phenomenal.
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.