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Believe me, these guys should have been much bigger. Maybe they were a bit too heavy for the massive audience, but they could have easily reached, for example, any W.A.S.P. fan. They almost had everything; great songs, an outstanding guitar team with the classic triple axe attack (the intro for the opening "Wicked Ways" speaks for itself), a powerful sound, a big label, and even a killer look.
It's obvious that we can't consider them a totally underground band (they even had high rotation with a couple of videos in the late '80s in MTV and VH1), but they never started to really take off. After their straightforward debut and their more melodic sophomore album (both inexplicably called "Leatherwolf"), they arrived at the end of the '80s with everything on their side. They closed themselves in the famous Compass Point Studios (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest) with Kevin Beamish (Y&T, Saxon, Keel, MSG) and registered an awesome collection of songs, ranging from the almost power metal of "Wicked Ways", "Take a Chance", and "Too Much" to catchy anthems as "Hideaway" and "Lonely Road". I suppose that their problem was the same as other bands from the time like Armored Saint, Lizzy Borden, Malice: they were too heavy for the hard rock/glam fans, but they weren't extreme enough for the thrash metal followers. However, if you like classic '80s heavy metal that's varied, precisely-played, and very well-written, you should revisit Leatherwolf's back catalog, especially this album.
Originally written for Ample Destruction 'zine.
When reflecting on the most metal moments I’ve ever participated in, one I had about a year and a half ago involving this particular album comes immediately to mind. It has often been customary for a person to down the volume when listening to something considered passé by the propagandized youth of today, particularly at the takeout window of a fast food establishment. But one particular evening when picking up my customary chicken sandwich and curly fries at my local Arby’s, I suddenly began channeling the spirit of 1989 and I had “Wicked Ways” blasting at full volume so that everyone within 30 feet of the window could hear it clear as day.
My faith that some shed of metal’s essence was still alive in today’s generation was given a boost when the 16 year old girl working the window said “Hey is that Queensryche?” It was immediately followed by the on duty manager saying “No, that’s definitely Accept.” Naturally both answers were wrong, but given the similarity that the song had with the sound of both bands, along with several others, I was reassured that there is something going on in this travesty that we call 21st century America aside from Nickelback and bombing the Middle East. After kindly informing both of them about the band known as Leatherwolf and their extensive career in the 80s and getting assurances that both of them would check these California metal monsters out, I went home with a new appreciation for this album.
To those who are not familiar with the aforementioned 80s outfit, they play a hard edged, rugged, and more aggressive alternative to the sleaze steeped LA scene. Comparisons to Queensryche and Accept are easily made, along with other famous 80s acts such as Dokken, Crimson Glory, Liege Lord and even “Ram It Down” era Judas Priest. The riffs definitely pay homage to the pre-thrash speed metal work of bands like Grave Digger and Metal Church, but with a helping of 80s power ballad work and some Iron Maiden sensibilities to boot. In terms of the aggression factor, picture a middle ground between the chunky heaviness of Accept and the lighthearted melodic nature of Dokken and you’ll be on the right track.
The distinctiveness that keeps these guys from coming off as generic is vocalist Mike Olivieri. He walks a tightrope between sounding like Don Dokken and Udo Dirkschneider, not quite sounding as soft and sensitive as the former while staying just a little cleaner than the dirty as hell Brain Johnson sounding screeches of the latter. Often he’ll drift a little towards one or the other depending on whether doing a ballad or a hard edged number, but there is definitely constancy to his approach. Forget this band’s glam looking image, and even the hair band looking album cover, this is much closer to what Accept does than the Cinderella oriented stuff that you might suspect based on those red herrings, which also apply in some respects to Riot classic album “Thundersteel”.
“Street Ready” is probably the most mainstream and accessible of their releases, but it kicks ass with the best of them. Just one listen to rapid paced speeders like “Too Much” and “Take A Chance” will set any skeptics of the band’s metal credentials straight. The guitars are always at the forefront, pushing out memorable riffs like no tomorrow, often making use of harmony parts between power chords for some excellent detailing. The choruses sound huge as hell, thanks to some heavy reverb usage, creating the same sort of backing chorus that filled out the dense atmospheres on various songs included on Dokken’s “Under Lock And Key” and Accept’s “Russian Roulette”.
Even ballads like “Hideaway” and “Lonely Road” rock out something amazing the minute the guitars kick in and the vocal hooks hit the speakers. This is the classic stuff that a lot of speed metal faithful like Helloween and Primal Fear tried to imitate but don’t quite succeed at during the late 90s, and is free of the sappiness and redundancy of some ballads out of bands like Hammerfall and Dream Evil. They carry the same awe inspiring atmosphere that Axel Rudi Pell’s ballads tend to, though with guitar work that sounds more akin to Glen Tipton or Chris DeGarmo and a much more upbeat tempo and a harder approach to choruses closer to what Accept normally puts forth.
The whole album is an absolute keeper, even and including the somewhat AC/DC sounding, hard rock oriented title song, but the absolute trump song that keeps me coming back is the opener “Wicked Ways”. Picture an intro that marries the evil and thrashy opening to a late 80s Anthrax song and a bunch of really beautiful dual lead guitar harmony work right out of “Operation Mindcrime” and you’ve got the first minute and a half of this mini-epic. There’s a collection of ballad sections where Olivieri shows off his love of acoustic guitar arpeggios, but mostly the song has this dual “Among The Living” meets “Tooth And Nail” sound to it that segues into this climactic “Heaven And Hell” ending loaded with Iron Maiden style melodic lead work and Judas Priest shredding.
To basically sum up, if anything that made 80s heavy metal great appeals to you, this album is the only excuse you’ll need to grow your hair back down to your ass and play air guitar like an escapee from the fucking leather clad nut house. Each song grabs you and shakes you so hard that you forget that stupid anti-metal slogans like cheesy or glam even exist. Don’t feel guilty about good music like this, blast it out in a fashion that would make Eric Adams proud, and if you’re feel especially metal, flip off or cut off any Kurt Cobain impersonators that happen to be on the road with you.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on November 11, 2008.
I guess someone has to review it so…
‘Things aren’t always what they seem to be’ – a line from opening song Wicked Ways and appropriate for a band trying to somehow square the circle of image, name, sound and 80’s America. The name and sound undoubtedly had their origins in the NWOBHM and perhaps older bands such as Priest and Scorpions, but by the mid to late 80’s America’s metal scene was becoming increasingly affected by a ‘pop’ mentality i.e. obsessed with image, and particularly how to attract young girls (or even young boys). Leatherwolf’s self-titled 1987 album, has the band looking like they’ve spent quite some time at the hairdresser’s for the cover shots and the music was starting to drift into power ballads and distance the band from original power metal peers such as Liege Lord and Fates Warning. Street Ready was supposedly the band’s attempt to scrub off some of the polish and be more … eh … Street Ready I guess. Did they succeed? To an extent.
Those nostalgic for good old 80’s power metal - perhaps the technical and slightly more professional upgrading of the NWOBHM that we got in the years ’83 to ’86 -may be disappointed. Those a little more open minded may want to sit down without prejudice and soak up the sheer quality of every member of this group both individually and collectively, and also admire the fact that they can write songs rather than widdling and rambling metal extravaganzas. Let’s face it – 3 guitars playing at one time could be a confusing mess if you’re not ‘working as a team’. Leatherwolf pull it off so well we can praise the ‘triple axe attack’ which, coined by another group, could be an insult.
One or two songs are admittedly a little close to the pop side of things mentioned earlier, particularly Hideaway (the first single off the album I believe). One of Leatherwolf’s problems is their blending of boundaries between hard rock and heavy metal - more traditional metallers may not like the melody rife through Lonely Road and The Way I Feel for example. But, in a sense this is what makes Leatherwolf special. While many metal bands never let a tune get in the way of their music, Leatherwolf have always used their instrumental expertise to assist the melody.
A compilation of the best tracks from 1987 and this 1989 album would get 100% but not having that option 90% will have to do. Highly recommended but not as good as Endangered Species despite it’s weak production - I'd give that album 95% if I had the time to write a review for it.