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One Half a Great Album - 84%

drewnm156, March 17th, 2007

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.