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You know, I think I've been fairly grounded in my criticism of Lizzy Borden to this point. That could have to do with the fact that neither their debut demo nor Give 'em the Axe were exquisite examples of this band's potential, or that I was consciously avoiding doing so to maintain some amount of credibility for when the rave inevitably began, but that all ends here. Yes, I'm a pretty serious fanboy of the band in question, and yes, with Love You to Pieces, all bets are off. My indifference effectively died roughly three seconds into "Council For the Cauldron" with the intricate and wickedly beautiful guitar melody that erupts into a speed metal riot of the highest order. That would be the first of many, I would come to learn, as this is only the first in a series of anomalously good albums; and while I may prefer the spotless Visual Lies, it's hard to fault their full length debut for not being so absolutely perfect.
First and foremost, we must address the travesty that is the cover. Let me give you some personal background. I didn't live a second in the eighties, so the whole glam image has never seemed as repugnant to me as it might have to those who had to suffer seeing "I'll See the Light Tonight" juxtaposed to "Every Rose Has its Thorn" on MTV. I never cared for most of the music the scene produced (and I absolutely abhor much of it), but the actual image has always kind of appealed to me in a retro sense. It's almost like fascinating history that raises curiosity and interest because I didn't get the chance to experience it myself when I would have very much liked to. However, even with that said, what in the unholy hell is this mess? It's like wrapping a bar of gold in a used tampon. The only thing missing is the sticker demanding, "HEY! YOU! DON'T BUY THIS!" Imagine Ample Destruction or A Skeptic's Apocalypse with this artwork. What could possibly be the benefit of scaring the target audience of the music with an image that probably emasculated metal fans everywhere and stole the functioning of their ever-scarred eyeballs?
That was basically Lizzy Borden personified, though. With their ridiculously flamboyant image and terrible album art, as well as their confrontational attitude when looking at society, they were basically begging not to be liked. Luckily, if this was their mission, they failed miserably thanks to the fact that the actual music is utterly astounding. Granted, they're still quite an acquired taste. Lizzy himself was probably the biggest love/hate factor the band had, for his helium-addled shrieks and wails put quite a pain in the eardrums of many an unwilling listener. I for one love his vocals to death. His purity of voice (which has persevered to this day) and instantly distinguishable accent never fail to thrill me, as do his high pitched cries and outstanding phrasing. You never forget a Lizzy Borden vocal line. It just doesn't happen, and the lyrics, though somewhat typical and reflective of the time, are made outstanding due to their flair for simplicity and their eternally memorable nature. Themes of rebellion, love, anarchy, and power reign supreme in this vibrant musical setting, one marked by timeless melodies of both the vocal cord and the axe.
Many unsuspecting glam fans lured in by the AIDS-ridden pictorial hook were probably taken aback by the sheer amount of instrumental talent involved here. The group still had its most dynamic duo of guitarists at this point, with both Tony Matuzak and Gene Allen at the helm. In flurries of rollicking NWOBHM riffing, blue collar US power influences, and quick spouts into early speed metal (see "Godiva") these guys pave a complex web of guitar-work that remains accessible and even slightly radio-friendly. The latter factor would become prominent as the band consciously moved into more commercial territories and acquired a crystal-clear production, but that can be traced back to tunes like the excellent "Save Me," whose simple hooks, melodic leads, and swinging chorus instantly engrave themselves into the memory. Look elsewhere to find unforgettable pieces like the galloping "Warfare" and "American Metal." I would deem the latter as one of the best metal anthems ever composed, soaring high and marching triumphantly under the star-spangled banner. Usually I find any song involving the US to be a pandering and ill-advised propaganda campaign, but the passionate delivery, gang-shouted chorus, and piercing vocal summoning all create a spine-chilling serenade to the music we love.
Overall there are just too many highlights to name, like the inspiring balladry of the title track, which never goes stale. I really like the production here, which plays rough for the style but remains clear enough to discern each element in the mix. This was band with a vision to share and to cherish, and a sound strong enough to permeate all the hairspray and makeup and leave a permanent impression in the mind. The sudden leap from their somewhat plain traditional metal beginnings to a true force to be reckoned with can seem quite dumbfounding, but the music here proves to be just as sharp as the blades on the band's legendary logo. Listening to this, it's hard to believe Lizzy Borden would only hone their songcraft further and serve up an even better platter of melodic perfection just two years later. The rest, my friends, is history.