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Along with Dio, Crimson Glory, and many others, Leatherwolf is one of many magnificent power metal bands to emerge from the 80's. This band had released two self-titled albums, causing much confusion. To avoid this confusion, I call it their 1988 album because of its release date. Nonetheless, this self-titled album, released under the Island label, delivers some of the finest power metal to come out of the 80's.
Songs like "Rise or Fall" and "Gypsies and Thieves" deliver powerful fist-pump-inducing choruses that only a power metal band such as Leatherwolf could produce. "Rule the Night" is a hard, driving song that could borderline on speed metal, and is one of my favorites on the album. All of those songs contain tough crunching riffs and very tasty solos.
There is also the ballad, "Share a Dream". Normally, I dislike ballads, as I believe that they're signs of a wimpy "hair band" that writes puppy-love ballads, but this is a different ballad. Unlike most ballads, it actually has a lot of meat to it. The chorus is pleasing to listen to and the synthesizer riff is somewhat mysterious-sounding rather than a sweet-sounding riff that is normally found on power ballads. "Princess of Love" also has a cool synthesizer riff that mimics the sound of trumpets, which I find pretty cool.
However, this album got a few points off because of one little detail; it's cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising". Really guys? What was the point of that? Would the world fall out of balance if you didn't cover a song that originally wasn't meant to be covered by a metal band? Would the world crumble into dust and all life disappear if Leatherwolf didn't cover a cheesy classic rock song? Seriously! Oh well, I can't let just one song ruin an album, after all, it can be easily ignored.
That being said, Leatherwolf's 1988 self-titled album is one that I would highly recommend. It carries quite a lot for what it has to offer, and despite that one cover song, it still never fails to deliver the goods.
There are some bands out there who, by virtue of image and lyrical approach, have the capability of remaining undeniably metal in nature yet still be accessible to a wider audience, perhaps even the softer and less masculine glam rock base that all but ate up “Girls, Girls, Girls” despite the fact that there were only 2 songs on there worth listening to. Unlike that sort, the metal oriented outfit never puts out something loaded with filler and expecting people to spend the same amount of money on it that they could spend on an album with 40 minutes of top quality music from start to finish.
Along with the likes of Dokken, Accept, “Sacred Heart” era Dio, Crimson Glory and a whole barrage of others; Leatherwolf was among this elite group that could do little wrong whenever they put out an album. Even when putting out an album loaded with fairly consonant sounding acoustic and keyboard oriented ballad material, these guys just refuse to stay completely quiet and essentially turn what might be easy listening material into an epic set of songs. They don’t quite exhibit the intellectual poetry of Dio, nor do they vocally match the unfettered aggression of Accept or the wickedness of Crimson Glory, but instead carry a little bit of each and apply it to their multifaceted approach of 80s power metal.
Their second album titled “Leatherwolf” (Island), which I’m sure confused the hell out of a lot of people as it’s the exact same name that they gave their debut album despite having no songs in common with each other, is definitely tilted a little more in a Crimson Glory direction than their more famous offering “Street Ready”. They still maintain that balance of Queensryche style lead guitar harmony and hard edged Accept style riffing, but the atmospheric and tonal qualities of this, as well as Olivieri’s more warlock like vocal character, definitely draws some similarities to the Crimson Glory debut. This is particularly noticeable on their somewhat ethnic sounding “Gypsies and Thieves”, which is loaded with references to atmospheric mid-tempo haunters like “Valhalla” and “Angels Of War”.
There is also a greater employment of keyboards on here than the more famed follow up to this. “Princess Of Love” and the power ballad “Share A Dream” have a heavy amount of electric piano and string synthesizer layering that was probably borrowed to give the Italian power/progressive outfit Labyrinth that sound they exhibited in the late 90s. But in spite of this, they play this off with a lot of extremely memorable guitar riffing that give this album sort of a duality of being almost pop at times yet completely removed from it, almost like some of the mid to late 80s releases put out by Rush, although with a much more guitar oriented formula that doesn’t sound much like said band. “Cry Out” is the best example of this duality, as it starts off with this really predictable acoustic intro that sounds like an earlier incarnation of “Hide Away”, and then pulls one of those great Accept style riffs basically out of nowhere and throws your ears for a complete loop.
This whole album could be seen as something of a brilliant rough draft to “Street Ready” when you look at the two stand out tracks on here. “Rule The Night” has that classic “Exciter” speed metal character to it that was used a couple times by the band again with a tiny bit more finesse, although the end result once Olivieri’s half-dirty vocals and the atmosphere are taken into account this sounds very close to a fast song from “Russian Roulette”. Then of course there’s the epic opening song “Rise Or Fall”, which like “Wicked Ways” reaches right in to the “Heaven And Hell” era of Black Sabbath, soups it up a little with a really catchy fanfare chorus and a military march intro, and just goes right for the epic jugular. Although I prefer the album they released right after this one, I can’t quite pick a favorite between the two respective opening songs.
If you go in epic 80s power metal directions, particularly the sort who really liked Armored Saint and early Queensryche (before “Rage For Order), this is the next thing to get after you pick up “Street Ready”. And just like with that album, don’t let the cover fool you. There is just as much metal in this as there is in all of those evil looking Iron Maiden album covers that used to scare the shit out of everyone’s parents about 20 years ago.