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Lizzy Borden spawned amid the beginning of metal's most important transitory era. The once fervent flames of the NWOBHM were beginning to burn out as most bands were either striving to become more aggressive and technically proficient (resulting in the formation of thrash), or progressing their songwriting to new heights and penning melodic ideas far exceeding the confines presented by metal's 'first wave'. The latter group, during the oft lauded golden period of US power metal, would spawn the Fates Warnings and the Crimson Glorys of the world, and with them would arrive perspective-changing masterpieces like The Spectre Within, Awaken the Guardian, Transcendence, and Hall of the Mountain King.
Then there was Lizzy Borden, who plainly distanced themselves (or himself) from all that intellectual stuff and delivered a hot slab of traditional metal riffs, hard rock energy, and showmanship finesse with a seemingly endless supply of charm. I'll save the outright worship for later, since their first two releases (the demo and EP Give 'Em the Axe) aren't exactly exemplary examples of this band's brilliance. However, I can't stress enough how impressive of a release this demo truly is. Released the year of the band's conception, Lizzy Borden already noticeably had it going on. Most of the tracks here would go on to appear on the ensuing EP and the group's incredible full length debut, Love You to Pieces. "Warfare" and "American Metal", two of their most persevering and enchanting anthems, appear here in prototype form with remarkably few changes from the professional versions to come.
Unfortunately, a couple glaring flaws keep this from classic demo status and push it closer to a 'hardcore fans only' type of release. Most notable, of course, is the production. I mean, wow. If Lizzy Borden managed to pen their deal with Metal Blade so quickly purely on the basis of this recording, then I'd like to honor Brian Slagel with a full salute and hug him for the output this pairing would soon produce. The sound is muffled nearly beyond any comprehension, almost as if it was a live bootleg that was recorded by a kid too young to make it into the gig. The lead guitar is almost nonexistent in this stew of ambiguity, and the natural power of Lizzy's pristine shrieks is reduced considerably. For lack of a better word, it just sounds bad. Amateurish, even, which a shame considering the professionalism and obvious talent of the band.
The second (and less significant) caveat is that the band is still in the development stage here, which is more of an interesting flaw than a detrimental one at the demonstration stage. Aside from the aforementioned classics and "Psychopath", these tracks wouldn't quite be up to snuff to appear on any of Lizzy's full-lengths. They were still in their stage of producing almost exclusively three minute songs, treading the line between the mid-pace material of British influence and outright speed metal in the way of Agent Steel or Exciter. Of most interest to fans here will be the two tracks that never saw the light of day on any official release by the band: "Over Your Head" and "Hungry For Her Love", two very brief numbers that put on an electric show of Maiden-esque guitarwork. They reflect the material soon to arrive with the EP, though only the titular "Give 'Em the Axe" would make the cut (ha!) for understandable reasons. Neither is particularly memorable, putting the pedal to the metal put rolling over the ear with little impact.
What we're left with is more of a curiosity than an essential listen. Only the unhealthy Lizzy-heads like yours truly will be able to decode the opaque haziness of the production, and the rewards found after doing so are merely "interesting" at best. Fans of the band's early era will want to experience it for historical significance or the sheer thrill of digging into the vault, but I'd suggest skipping it entirely and combing the glorious treasure trove on the horizon. The commercial potential of the band hadn't quite emerged from the primordial dust at this point, and neither had their more refined songwriting. The power and hunger is there, but it lies buried in sound constraints and youthful roughness. The fog would soon, but not immediately, be lifted...