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Perhaps better known known as 'The Field Guide on the Attack of the Disembodied Babyhead Legions', Powermad's sole full-length offering created quite a splash when it arrived right at the end of the 80s, a few years after the promising Madness Within EP. Here was a band not only capable of writing a catchy thrash tune, but infusing it with a classic metal sensibility, big hooks and memorable melodies that were unusual among the street level thrashing aggression that was perhaps all too typical. In fact, the Minnesotans were arguably as much a power or traditional metal band as a thrash outfit, equally accessible to fans of Fifth Angel or Queensryche as the larger Metallica/Megadeth mob, and this saw them not only scaling the ranks of the US 80s metal hopefuls, but also with a cameo appearance in the film Wild at Heart.
Well, the surge ended here, and Powermad would never release another album, going their separate ways and ultimately dissolving into the dusted linens of thrash closets everywhere, but what they left us with was a fairly enduring panorama of promise, a slew of simple but efficient riffs that will still get the head banging when blasted at high volumes, as corny as they can at some times feel. This corniness manifests itself in the bouncy bricklaying mannerisms that grace such milieus as "Return from Fear" or "Test the Steel (Powermad)", in which the vocals seem a little too pedestrian, and frankly loud. Granted, the latter track has an amazing riff structure that saves it from the slag pile, and through almost all of the material on Absolute Power, there is this amazing sense of melody and wonder that fuses itself to the very resonant tones. This is one reverb ridden tumult of an album, but it sticks far more often than not, and when the day is done, it ultimately deserves its place as a minor US thrash/power classic.
There are specifics. Songs that absolutely shatter the expectations of the EP and provoke the drooling, and they arrive in full force as "Slaughterhouse" commences the escalating battery or staggering breaks that soon transform into its core verse riffing. The old 'epic intro' trick at work, and the song itself is quite strong, Joel DuBay howling his clean but far cast tones over the shuffling, march-like war thrash rhythms. "Nice Dreams" is another scorcher, an amazingly melodic piece that would have been in regular MTV rotation had it appeared on Operation: Mindcrime and not this album. The riff is unforgettable, and amazing, like a "Sweet Child o' Mine" or "Speak the Word" if it was being hurled over a Midwest mountain range. Glorious. Once "Plastic Town" eschews its acoustic intro for a happy go lucky, rapid moving riff pattern, it too delivers, and "B.N.R." would be the second most elegant track (after "Nice Dreams"), if only for that excellent intro. "Brainstorms" and "Final Frontier" are also well worth the wait until they arrive at the close of the album, two bombastic pieces with well considered structures.
Most 80s ragers with even the most remote semblance of history or knowledge will already be well versed in this record, but it's 'absolutely' worth the finder's fee if you're a newcomer to the period's more pronounced acts. Powermad are not as forceful or complex as either the Bay Area or German thrash scenes, but they trade that level of callous-causing speed and raw flexibility for some decent (to great) songs with simpler, driving rock drums. It's astounding that the band did not have another in them, because "Nice Dreams" could have been huge had it gained some further exposure, and "Slaughterhouse" and "Final Frontier" (listen to that solo before 3:30) are knockout blows. Absolute Power is not without a few slackers, in which the sum of the riffing feels pale amongst no brainers, but it's not something I'll forget before the onset of Alzheimers.
Imagine Petrucci (Dream Theater) and Romeo (Symphony X) in a band together with the sole purpose of making speed/thrash metal with a huge dosage of NWOBHM influences (Judas Priest) and yet completely distinctive in their own right. Powermad are a progressive speed metal band that has some very enduring characteristics.
This album absolutely slays from track 1 through 10 and there is no filler whatsoever. The beauty of this band is that though there are some slight power metal influences in the vocals that are where the influences stop. The songs are undeniably fast and heavy in nature through the sheer complexity of the guitar leads and solos. To my knowledge this is the most potent speed/thrash/NWOBHM/progressive/technical/power metal album in existence.
The lyrics are absolutely relevant and the chorus on the song “Absolute Power” rings so true today that this feels like a modern release. “Absolute Power” also feels like a modern metal release due to the elite nature of the production. Every instrument is captured in its glory and the production helps this album reach even greater heights.
The drumming is surprisingly excellent and mix perfectly with the jaw dropping guitar playing. Overall, all of the musicians play very well. I definitely recommend this album to fans of “Ample Destruction” era Jag Panzer.
The late 80’s was a very interesting time for metal bands. Think about it, Powermad, a metal band from Minneapolis, MN (not exactly a metal hotspot) was signed to a major label deal after a couple of demo’s and one EP on Combat Records. Today, bands like Mastodon & Shadow’s Fall release many independent albums and tour incessantly before even being touched by a major label. As much as I hear about a metal resurgence in terms of popularity, nothing will ever eclipse how huge metal was in the late 80’s.
The major label was a curse however for Powermad. They weren’t part of the original thrash movement like Metallica, Megadeth, or Slayer. And they never had a chance to work up underground credibility like Kreator or Exodus before signing to a major label. Therefore when the popularity of metal declined during the “grunge” years, there was no label support and no large core group of fans developed over the years to fall back on.
Powermad excelled at catchy speed metal, sometimes bordering on thrash. Nothing terribly original, but their songs were well written. I’ll take well written songs over “avant-garde” any day of the week. If released in 1986, Powermad could have been huge. By 1989 metal had begun to splinter with the popularity of more extreme genres. They were too heavy for Motley Crue fans, but not heavy enough for Morbid Angel fans.
Absolute Power, their only full length album, was one half of an awesome album, with another half of average tunes. As stated before Powermad wrote catchy speed metal tunes. Most of the tunefulness of the songs revolved around the vocals of Joel Dubay. Mr. Dubay was by no means a great singer, but he had a distinctive voice. He was able to straddle that line between aggression and melody quite well.
The first five tracks of this album stand up as great metal songs. Most know the instantly classic intro to Slaughterhouse and the song itself is a perfect way to start the album. “Twisting your life as it slips by, if you don’t the slaughterhouse will.” Fuck yeah! Nice Dreams is an unbelievably catchy metal song that still pumps me up as it did nearly 20 years ago. The melodic guitar lines that open the song are instantly recognizable. With Return From Fear they pre-dated a number of tricks Pantera would build a career on. Heavy staccato palm muted riffs that proved Powermad could rip up a mosh pit with the best of them. The remaining two Absolute Power and Test the Steel (Powermad) are both fast speed metal songs that are heavy and catchy.
Unfortunately the second half of the album doesn’t compare to the first. BNR with its melodic guitar line intro is the best, while Brainstorms tries to recapture the kinetic thrash of Return From Fear, only somewhat successfully. None of the final five songs are bad, just nowhere as good as the ones that preceded them.
I’m not sure how easy it is to find this album today, but I would definitely recommend picking it up for the first five songs. Since grunge never allowed Powermad to release a follow up, who knows how their career might have gone. Had they release a full album like the first half of the album, it would be considered a masterpiece today.
For all you Heavy Metal/Thrash fiends out there who haven't heard of this band, shame on you. This album has everything necessary for heavy metal greatness. The guitars are very thrashy and of high enough quality to where you can make out the seperate guitar parts and can actually hear them crystal clearly. Like all good HM/THrash bands, the beat is also mid-fast paced. Each song done with meticulous care so as to produce a masterful album of heavy metal greatness. The solos on this album are amazing as well, such as on songs like "BNR" and "Nice Dreams" (keep an eye out for the intro solo, great shit). I am surprised that with this album, this band was unable to put out anymore material.
This shit should appeal to any fan of Thrash, Heavy Metal, or "Speed" Metal. Hahah, i said "should". More like it BETTER. I strongly recommend this to any of you who dare to hear greatness.