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Meanstreak was a thrash metal band who released one and only one full-length album in the late 80's then a demo in 1989 and another one in 1992. Forgive me if I don't know much about the back story, but it can't see any good reason for a band with such a strong debut album quitting the scene. The same fate hit another great thrash metal band known as Morbid Saint. Both band released masterpieces as their debut album in 1988 and disappeared just as them came. Morbid Saint's Spectrum of Death seems to get all the recognition it deserves. It is praised as one of the best thrash metal albums ever released by quite a few metalheads. Meanstreak's Roadkill kind of stayed of the radars a lot. These girls get a little attention every once in a while because of the relationships between some of the musicians of the band with musicians from Dream Theater and also because it's an all female band. These little trivialities seem to shadow the actual work put on the record. First of, Dream Theater doesn't have anything to do with this record and should therefore never be mentioned when discussing the actual musical content. Second of, the fact that this is an all-women band should in no way affect the listener's perception of the music because these women proves with their musicianship and quality song-writing that they don't rely on sexual factors to be successful. Forming the band with just women in the line-up doesn't feel like a commercial move as what you would find with bands like Kittie.
These trivilialities aside, we can now jump into the music itself. This album is absolutely insane! It's not just great, it's an underrated classic. Which just brings back the same question in my mind : "Why did Morbid Saint stood out so much and not Meanstreak ?" Well, like I said before the fun facts about the band may have shadowed the actual work. The title track kicks in with a solid drumline and tight as fuck guitar riff. Bettina France's vocals set the tone after just a few seconds of what is to come with this record. As the second riff kicks in, the powerful vocals, strong thrash metal guitars, dirty low bass and heavy drums are leading this record 120mph toward a successful record.
The other tracks all follow-up perfectly from there, and with enough uniqueness and creativity in every single one of them to keep the listener interested throughout the whole album. Searching Forever for example is slower-paced track that comes in right after Roadkill. Less focus on the guitars here... they play a cool rhythm riff to support the vocals. Which is great, really. Bettina France's vocals are powerful and do not need much support to shine. Having variety in which musician takes the front of the stage throughout the album makes the album Roadkill even more of a great album.
With the exception of Snake Pit, which I think is the weakest track on the album, the tracks are all memorable enough for me to consider this album a thrash metal classic. Nostradamus, It Seems to Me and the sublime Lost Stranger all have enough hooks, great vocals, great lead and rhythm guitars leading you through hard hitting and well written choruses and verses. The drums keep punching right at the perfect places, bringing great support to the whole album especially during the chorus of It Seems to Me :
"Lost inside - lost inside your mind
When you find yourself you're a million miles away
Lost inside - lost inside your mind
After all these years you know there’s nothing left to say"
The highest point of the album comes with Lost Stranger. A fast-paced and quite short track that pretty makes the listener realise by then that he or she has just found a forgotten gem.
Falling a little short under 35 minutes in length, this album is a little too short. Especially with such aggressive, well-produced, well-written and so fucking well-performed trash metal effort, you are just left there craving for more. Roadkill is the kind of album that makes you want to take out all of your old-school thrash metal and hard rock records and go back in the 70's and the 80's. Meanstreak's girls managed to retain both the great elements of late 70's hard rock and make them fit in with old-school thrash metal riffs. As thrash metal legends Metallica were releasing ...and Justice for All, and Megadeth, So Far, So Good...So What! this little piece of work know as Roadkill went pretty much unnoticed. It sure didn't help that the band only released one full-length album. But it is now time to spread the word so forgotten old-school metal classics can be rediscovered by younger metalheads.
Metal is often derided as being a chauvinistic style of music, despite all of the examples to the contrary going back to its height in popularity in the late 80s. But Meanstreak present the strongest refutation of this false sentiment by going into probably the nearly all men’s sub-genre of thrash metal and actually end up doing it somewhat better than several of their competitors. Their efforts yielded this lone studio offering “Roadkill”, which garnered some short term interest, but had since become an afterthought in the minds of most amid some gradual realignment going on in the genre and the very old school, USPM tendencies it has. But some interest has returned in recent years, which may eventually result in a reissue, we can only hope.
From a purely stylistic perspective, this is heavily informed by the mid 80s sound of Overkill, Flotsam And Jetsam, and to somewhat of a lesser extent, Metal Church. The songs range from being high speed to moderately up tempo with an archaic, melodic sense amongst the riffs and melody that is more informed by the NWOBHM influences still being carried by those bands, as opposed to the extreme chromatic tendencies of Slayer and the gritty punk tendencies of Anthrax (though some comparisons could be made to their first 2 albums). It’s performed quite well in spite of being maybe a year or two behind the cutting edge of the genre’s evolution, and features a quality vocal display that walks a fine line between Belladonna’s squeaky clean approach and Blitz Ellsworth’s maniacal howl.
While a bit old school, the amount of options available in this style are actually a bit greater given a lack of slavishness to speed and sheer aggression, and Meanstreak fully capitalizes on this from one song to the next. The opening title song is a proto-typical speed monster with a few gang choruses here and there, almost as if Anthrax and Overkill got together and decided running down Debbie Gibson fan-girls for a few laughs. “Snake Pit” mixes in some Mid-Eastern influences, including some auspicious guitar references to “The Snake Charmer” melodic that come in and out, and largely grooves at a mid-paced crunch not all that dissimilar from “Shout At The Devil”. There are even some more Iron Maiden-like melodic gallopers in “Nostradamus” and “Searching Forever”, and also a more Motörhead oriented speed rocker in “The Warning” for those who liked the mix approach typical to middle of the road bands in the Metal Church vain.
In spite of a few east coast thrash outfits being able to hold on through the changing musical landscape of the 90s, this band was not able to keep up the their output and disappeared after a couple of demos failed to garner further interest. Today this is a band that is sought after by old school fanatics, but often pigeonholed as being that band that has members married to guys in Dream Theater. While a bit on the short side, this is an album that does more than simply getting the job done, particularly with the impressive lead displays and versatile songwriting. It’s time to start tearing apart those backwater CD exchanges again, and with this quarry will come the added delight of shutting up a few politically correct pansies who think that metal is only for testosterone-heavy teenaged males.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 23, 2011.
The first time I heard the debut Roadkill from New York's all female street thrash outfit Meanstreak, I admit I thought that the members of Overkill had stepped through some strange gender bending machine and emerged as lethal vixens, so similar is the sound, but when you really dig deeper, small differences begin to emerge. For example, vocalist Bettina France's style often veers more into the territory of Eric A.K. Knutson of Flotsam & Jetsam, with the exception that she's got a better chance at an effective range. The guitars also take the occasional tangent, as you can hear both a classical and classic rock influence in the playing of Marlene Apuzzo and Rena Sands.
For the most part, though, the initial half of the record bounces between two poles: Overkill and Flotsam & Jetsam. The album's title track opener sounds like it could have appeared on Taking Over, with a savage burst of violent speed, France's vocals just as much reminiscent of an asylum escapee as Bobby Blitz. The guitars pack in some decent fills, and though the bridge at times seems sloppy, the lead itself is magnificent while it lasts. "Searching Forever" strides down a mid-paced power metal path, drawing slight comparisons to an Omen or Fates Warning, while "Snake Pit", despite the occasional unwanted clutter, reminds one of "Hard On You" or some other rock influences piece from Flotsam's "No Place for Disgrace". "Nostradamus" teases at some sorry ballad, but then turns around and delivers another solid, pumping power metal atmosphere with some thrash breaks.
After this, Meanstreak suddenly begin to broaden their horizons. "It Seems to Me" brings in a Maiden influence, especially the verses that dance in and out of the initial, melodic thrust, whereas "Lost Stranger" is almost pure Judas Priest or Steppenwolf worship, with a rock groove in the verse and extremely basic chord composition. "The Warning" dives back into the power/thrash mayhem, fusing it with a straight up metal attitude. The rhythm section works hard here, the bass of Lisa Martens Pace popping off and Diane Keyser's fills a real highlight. Closer "The Congretation" takes yet another turn, opening with a volley of technical thrash and then surging to what might be the most aggressive riff on the entire album. The middle of the track slows to some grooves and unusual percussion like gongs and woodblocks, and judging by the 7 minute length, this was obviously the 'epic' of the record.
Meanstreak is rarely spoken of anymore, despite the buzz they once had here on the East Coast as perhaps the first 'serious' all girl thrash metal band. Obviously the gender played into their popularity, since the genre was so male-dominated (always has been), but let's make no mistake about it, this is no gimmick band. Girls can give the thrash as good as they've gotten it, and Roadkill is but one shred of evidence. The debut isn't perfect, and in truth it can feel a little scatterbrained. It's also pissed off, serious and shows a wealth of potential despite the obvious sources that have influenced the style. Sadly, the band is best known now for the three members that married guys from Dream Theater. Judging by how wussy they make their husbands' music seem by comparison, I think we all know who is on top wearing the pants.
On the surface, "Roadkill" could so easily be another entry in the seemingly never-ending list of American thrash albums that made a bit of an impression before seeing the band go nowhere. After all, Meanstreak disbanded after this album and a bit more. Of course, that's only the surface. As with so much in this world, it's what you don't see at first that's quite interesting.
Firstly, all the members of Meanstreak were women. In this day and age, that's perhaps not so surprising, with no end of women fronting metal acts and plodding away on keyboards behind them. In terms of 80s thrash, though, it's a point of reasonable difference, as female singers or musicians tended to be used more as gimmicks than as legitimate musicians or singers at the time (plus ca change, I'm sure some of you are thinking right now). The key difference here, though, is that these girls were actually talented at what they did, rather than simply being thrown together because they could bash out a few riffs and didn't look too bad in a pair of tight jeans.
The second interesting point - and for me, at least, the reason I hunted this album out in the first place - is that three of these girls went on to marry members of Dream Theater. Indeed, Meanstreak apparently supported Dream Theater way back when, which I'm sure would have made for quite an interesting concert experience for fans of either straight-up thrash or prog. It's quite an unusual experience to be able to hear both halves of a musical marriage - and since I have the deepest respect for the husbands in these partnerships, I had to at least give the wives a listen.
So what's the album itself like? Well, as I said earlier, it's straight-up thrash metal with a good helping of melody and occasional (as another reviewer has suggested) NWOBHM influences. In short, every track has moments of being catchy as hell, and the overwhelming majority of the riffs are nicely-crafted ones. Listen for "Snake Pit", which begins with that memorable melody that every single film uses when the action is taking place anywhere from about Egypt to Bangladesh.
The only real drawback is that the songs are all (with the exception of "Congregation", which becomes ever so slightly an NWOBHM mini-epic) very short, generally around the 3-minute mark. On the one hand, this means nothing on this disc outstays its welcome, which is something of a lost art these days. Of course, on the other hand, with tracks this catchy, it's a real shame that we only have about 30 minutes of music to enjoy.
This is, I'm told, one of the rare gems of the 1980s. I can safely add my voice to those calling it that - if you find it, get your hands on it.