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“…we ride into the winds of a troubled land, all ready for the fight, we make our stand…”
The three brothers Resch are the crux of this early Alaskan four-piece originally known as Demon who, growing up in Fairbanks to find the scene there only so wonderful, sought the more motivational vista of L.A. and, with bassist Eric Resch and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald dropping out of school and doubtfully making their parents proud, loaded up their Ford Econoline van and moved there in ’81. Indeed, the city proved more their speed and fairly quickly they earned some buzz. Their prediction was an accurate one, for L.A. turned out to be their right place at the right time. Soon after, seeking not to abandon their moniker after learning of the UK band with the same name, Demon was enlarged to the more original Pandemonium.
Pandemonium has their small place in history as one of the chosen bands owing fealty to the debut Metal Massacre compilation of ’82. “Fighting Backwards”, culled from their ’80 Demon demo, with its unrushed Witchfinder General-esque style, proved as formidable as any of the compilation’s other finds and lead to the band signing with its label, Metal Blade Records, which resulted in ‘83’s assuringly-titled Heavy Metal Soldiers.
There within lies the album’s biggest problem - the title’s promise of metal to metal fans who’re looking to be pinned to the wall and just doesn’t deliver = let down city for those already awash in, well, just about any of the day’s then-modern metal, starting with primaries Priest, Sabbath, T. Sister, Maiden and Crue to the weakest Riot, Saxon, Accept, and Tygers of Pan Tang. The simple truth is more was expected from a band dubbed Pandemonium with an lp called Heavy Metal Soldiers, and I don’t think I speak only for myself here.
Sooner or later, you realize the trick to enjoying (or at least accepting) this album is to take it for what it is and not what gleamed in your eye as you strode up to the check-out counter.
Finding themselves shackled to glam scenery is not at all uncommon, yet cosmetically, of the four in the back cover shot, only blonde puffball drummer Glenn Holland gives the mascara-wearin’ willies. More importantly, other than cutesy song titles “Girls in Love”, “Little Lady Liar” and woeful “Kitten Mittens”, glam’s flash and fauna just aren’t there, at least not to any conspicuous extent (alright, I’ll give ya “Girls in Love” is more the sap sucker than not). It’s obvious the foundation of Heavy Metal Soldiers is clear and central hard rock that’s in apparent acceptance of further future hardening, however it seems to struggle at times while soaking up metal’s stepped-up sheen. Some habits die hard, but that doesn’t mean all the troops are addicts.
Spirited “Kitten Mittens” and “This World”, live-steppin’ opener “Road I’m Traveling”, the burly title tune with its wily-played militaristic start, and the sturdy mid-paced “The Prey” soak up enough light metal to balance things out, and even the lies of “Little Lady Liar” are fairly enjoyable from a musical standpoint. The lengthy undertaking of “Radiation Day” is yer broader-ranging, industrious ‘idea’ song and clear cut finale. Collectively this is all halfway decent, listenable material with shortfalls that are nothing irregular, and if the title Rock n’ Roll Soldiers ended up plastered across the album jacket, the feeling of running through quicksand may not have seemed as prevalent.
A routine search for weak links orange-alerts the rather scrawny and derivative vocals of Chris Resch, whose personal style graduated from the British new wave mid-high tenor academy so many other singers have attended. Also found is the link loosely holding the unsharpened production together, one that subsequently rubs the band’s mechanics dull and outdated, however the record’s overall amateur procession has to be blamed on its fairly mediocre songwriting.
Again, save your disappointment for more important things and let Pandemonium live their metal-soldiering daydream, a vision that comes to life more with follow-up Hole in the Sky.
Strangely, despite recording a three-track demo in ’82 of presumably updated material, the only throwbacks sheltered here are from the ’80 demo, and of the three, cool “Fighting Backwards” isn’t one of ‘em, plus it doesn’t make it easy to sound ’83 fresh.
“…now it was all black and grey on a radiation day…”
Unsurprisingly, given when they were formed, Pandemonium sounds a lot like a NWOBHM band. A second-rate NWOBHM band. Or, more accurately, a second-rate American band trying (and failing) to emulate NWOBHM music.
"Road I'm Traveling" starts the album off and it's not too bad, although nothing spectacular: inoffensive guitars, unambitious songwriting - the metal equivalent of smooth jazz. Then "Heavy Metal Soldiers" arrives and the album drops like a stone. The vocalist is the main culprit. He seems to be shooting for a Kevin Heybourne (Angel Witch) kind of sound, but plays it way too syrupy so that his vocals end up sounding sickeningly sweet at times. For the worst example of this, check out "Girls in Love", which is just nauseatingly saccharine comparable to a Firehouse ballad, perhaps. A more aggressive vocalist would have made 'Heavy Metal Soldiers' a better record, but it wouldn't have saved it.
Though there are some decent ideas here, Pandemonium is hampered by a restrained production and songwriting that plays it safe and dumb. Safe like the tepid and plain "Little Lady Liar", dumb like the awkward stuttering rhythm and fey "ray-di-AYYY" chant in "Radiation Day". Did I mention that these are some of the worst song titles I've ever heard?
Mediocre music doesn't usually move me to any kind of emotion, but 'Heavy Metal Soldiers' is just maddening, as it seems that Pandemonium went to great lengths to ensure that nothing good would come of their efforts. And so this ends up being one of the justly-forgotten pieces of eighties metal history.
I also have this band's 'Hole in the Sky', but someone else at Metal Archives can take up that cross. I've suffered enough.