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There was this metal radio broadcast in Bulgaria, which started in 1989, that began and ended with 30-sec of fabulous speed metal fury. I was bewitched by this excerpt although I could find no information whatsoever about the band to whom it belonged. No one had listened to it, no one had any idea about who may have performed it… Truly depressing times for me which lasted for a couple of months; until one night I was talking to my father about that, and the wise man that he was provided the following solution, “Why don’t you just call the radio programme? Or write them a letter?” Bingo.
I chose the latter option as it made more sense for a 15-year old chap to write a letter rather than call although quite a few of my friends discouraged me by saying that no one would be bothered answering such trivial requests, and that I had better forget about it. Regardless, I gave it a shot, and armed myself with hope and patience. Two weeks later my prayers were answered as I did receive a reply from the radio; it only contained one sentence, “This is a song by the American band Leather Wolf”. Thank you very much.
I was eternally grateful to these folks for giving me this most detailed data that provided me with not only the name of the band, the album (the year of release, too), the song-title and also its exact position on it; but the band’s discography both before and after, with the band members’ names in full… Sarcasm aside, it was still something, and with these two precious pieces of information (band name & origin) I began my quest in tracking the band down. I went through several studios, perused through their extensive catalogues, back and forth, but nothing even remotely related to “Leather” and “Wolf” came up. Despair was the name of the game all over, but I didn’t give up and decided to check one more studio before taking a break. I first gave the band name to the guy there, but he had no idea so I started browsing through a huge catalogue which, to make matters worse, was assembled randomly, not in alphabetical order. To my utter delight some 20-min later I saw what I was looking for, “Leather Wolf, “Ready for the Street” (the translation to Bulgarian), 1989”. Boom.
I paid a higher fee so that the guy could recorded it for me on the spot (usually you picked your cassette the next day), and ran home to continue with the search. What was even better was that the guy also gave me a tracklist, translated in Bulgarian of course, quite faithfully except for the “Black Knight”, the track I was looking for, which had turned into “Black Killer”, and “Lonely Road” which had become “Road for Lonely People”. I skipped through the tracks expecting the coveted tune, fast forwarding which on the more advanced cassette recorders, if pressed together with the play button, used to stop on every pause between songs. Fifth time was the charm in this case as I found it, “Black Knight”, three of the most treasured minutes in metal history, all-instrumental speed metal at its most virtuoso and rifftastic. Wasn’t I the happiest metal fan in the Universe…
Totally fascinated by this number, I kind of neglected the remainder since not each of the other songs was a speed metal masterpiece, a fact that took me a bit to get over. Now I consider this grand opus one of the Big Four that summed up the three classic metal genres, heavy, power, and speed, alongside Judas Priest’s “Painkiller”, Riot’s “Thundersteel”, and Pretty Maids’ “Future World”. If the Great Danes’ opus favoured heavy metal more, the Riot saga focused on its tribute to the US power metal arena, and Judas concentrated more on unbridled speed metal fury, the album reviewed here was the most balanced of the lot with all the three styles finding equal share under the “wolf” sun. What amazed me back then was the inordinate riff density, matched by Priest a year later, which wasn’t such a surprise having in mind that there were three guitar players in the band including the vocalist Michael Olivieri, and were those guys shredding like a horde of Shrapnel guitar heroes on the loose… This is probably the most Shrapnel-sounding affair outside the company’s roster, a shining display of guitar dexterity seldom matched in the years to come.
It’s difficult to write about this album with a less biased stance since it’s such a huge part of my young metal years. So once the “Black Knight”” mania was over (it took a while though) I opened my perceptions for the rest of the album, and I found out that every other piece from it was a gem, without fail. I gaped with my mouth open wide at the guitar wizardry on “Wicked Ways”, one of the greatest openers in metal history; I nodded in approval on the infectious cheesy catchiness of the title-track; I recalled past love affairs (yes, I already had a few of those at the time) on the heart-breaking “Hideaway”; I ran rampant on “Take a Chance” turning up the volume to the max; I only marginally calmed down on the urgent thunders… sorry, gallops of “Thunder”, shouting the explosive chorus (I am the thunder that starts the rain…”) even way after the song was over; I listened in amazement to the lyrical heaviness of “The Way I Feel” and “Lonely Road”, both stunning combinations of ballads and more aggressive shreds; I moshed around on “Too Much” and on the more complex speedster “Spirits in the Wind” at the end… And then I started from the beginning, sometimes listening to the album four times on the same day.
This is one of the five efforts that I listen to every other week; it has become an indelible part of my bloodstream. Since it provides such a thorough rendition of three whole genres, logically there’s no need in listening to too many other albums out there. It only occurred to me years later, some time in the 90’s, that the band might have other works apart from this one. The search for the guys’ first two showings wasn’t as ardent as “Street Ready” was pretty much the whole package, the final destination for a few brands of metal time and again; but it was quite confusing since both LP’s had the same title. Someone even told me that the 1987 instalment was a re-recording of the debut which wasn’t true as I found out later. I by all means liked both as they were also strong exhibitions of musical mastery, less polished and more epic-prone, and slightly more naïve and youthfully enthusiastic in their execution. And they logically built up to this masterpiece here which was the last creation the metal world heard from the Leatherwolves for quite some time…
I was delighted to hear about the guys’ reunion although it occurred without Olivieri, a major missing link to these ears. The renowned Wade Black (Crimson Glory, Leash Law, Seven Witches) did a good job, and music-wise this opus had no seeming flaws “floating” within the old school metal confines without major aberrations. Still, it wasn’t the spontaneous, full of blistering genius “street ready” concoction which summed up an entire metal constellation 17 years prior. I guess another reason for its more pedestrian feel was that there was nothing to sum up at the time; classic metal was back in its full bloom with hopefully quite a few years ahead of it. The re-release of the album with Olivieri a year later was a major improvement except that the latter had lost his guitar somewhere, and the proverbial triple-guitar attack didn’t take place this time…
He will find it, I’m sure; until then what’s left for us is to indulge in what we’ve been indulging in all these years: their addictive “wicked ways” from the distant 1989.
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.