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Catchier than smallpox - 93%

Gutterscream, September 29th, 2005
Written based on this version: 1984, 12" vinyl, Capitol Records

“…I am the lord of liars and I command the force of fire…”

Did they look cheesy? No more or less than anyone else at the time. Were they glam? A few of the song titles are iffy and something of a ballad leered with “Sleeping (in the Fire)”, but I don’t see any Aquanet cans lying around, so I’d say nay. The cover's full skeleton looks fresh outta the warehouse box, but overall the sleeve's passably menacing for the time. Blackie’s acerbic lungs are enough to carve a canyon between W.A.S.P. and shake-yer-butt rock, so why were many writers throwing it into the glam pit? With thrash having so few soldiers thus far to be known and normal .38 Special-ish rock being too placid a style for this, and when a major like Capitol/EMI is sending out promos, the bulk of metal/rock writers hearing this wrote for mainstream rags, so basically it was for lack of a better place to stick ‘em. Some relatively on-the-ball writers offered the truthful assessment that the quartet wrote swarthy metal underscored with pop sensibility. After you stop cringing from the ‘pop’ notion, you’ll notice that most of the debut’s tracks are structured with just that sentiment – adaptable, chesty, openly catchy, and with sexually transmitted mainstream lyrics, however blunted with a meaner, jagged edge...and much of that edge is barbed by Blackie’s vocals. Prior to W.A.S.P., Blackie’s claim to fame is the fifteen days he spent with The New York Dolls in ’74. To further date the guy, it's said he was in a street gang with Ace Frehley. Needless to say, he wasn’t some pimply teenager when these songs were penned, and the rock mentality he grew up with is stealthily mixed into the brew without it sounding like Ted Nugent.

In addition, more conceivable anthems decorate this ten tracker than just about any other lp I can recall (especially if you have the remastered cd with “Animal” on it), and the songwriting is probably just the speed and texture Blackie wanted. It’s a baneful, radio-worthy effort quite heavier than Def Leppard’s Pyromania, is probably on par with Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, and takes Great White’s debut lp and flings it into the fire.

There’s barely four seconds of music before the first of two anthems comes hither and Blackie’s pipes start fuming. “I Wanna Be Somebody” and “L.O.V.E. Machine” are infectious extra-sticky webs that ensnarl the listener’s attention almost immediately. Stand-on-your-seat-and-shout choruses are mighty right and left crosses while the tracks take turns driving with main rhythms that are animated either quickly-picked or powerfully slow. Structurally they’re completely different, but both convey a communicable drama that makes them (and “Animal”) their best known tunes. Toning down the flow a bit is the more conventional chorus-heavy “The Flame”, which leads into an even more ‘relaxed’ “B.A.D.”, a song some say is filler, but the chorus is decent enough in its depressive nature to warrant more than a few whirls.

The most commercial is “School Daze”, another possible anthem, and its Diamond Dave-era Van Halen intro; there must be something about school defiance and teacher humping that galvanizes bands from the aforementioned to The Ramones to Anvil to Venom to delve into the subject. Sure, I worked in a school system for fourteen years, and while the kids were always ten years old and younger, the teachers weren’t, and I wasn’t the kind of maintenance guy they were used to seeing, so I can see the songs’ reasoning from a different angle. Despite its commercialism, it’s a fairly viable piece of writing that doesn’t skimp on catchiness, but the end of side one would’ve made a dandy place for the strident b-side “Show No Mercy” which can be found on the righteous Animal single.

Now that they’ve got you hooked, they can summon more of the stormbringers. Three fast-paced hellbenders command the flip side and sandwich the compelling burn of “Tormentor” and the strategically-placed “Sleeping (in the Fire)”, a softer number that, due to Blackie's scorched lungs that whisper sweet nothings into no one's ear, should've come off more unsure of itself than it does, and while the bleakness is there (like most near-ballads), it leans more toward an impending peril/“Waiting For Darkness”/Ozzy nuance.

“Hellion” starts the side determined enough and is weighted with a strong, chapped-chorded, hard-to-miss chorus that barely saves a prisoner. Following “Sleeping (in the Fire)” is “On Your Knees”, a deadly track decked out with a chorus stringent with relentless backing vocal action. More ominous is the chain-rattling “Tormentor", bearer of a dispirited chorus and scalding solo that spears in all directions at the end. “The Torture Never Stops” is a fine semi-galloping finale which features antagonized vocals charging into a rage-impassioned chorus, finalizing on the electrified ends of the album's last solo.

While the songs aren’t a complex lot, the solid ground crew of guitarists Chris Holmes and Randy Piper and drummer Tony Richards pivot with the action they’re creating with ease whether it be driven or standing idle, and it's not surprising when Holmes and Piper unleash solos that can frequently sear rhino hide.

So, “Animal” wasn’t a fluke and the band would go on to release a bunch of albums. Call this stuff shock rock or flash metal, but please don’t call it glam. Call it traditional or even power metal, but not the dubious G. Hanoi Rocks and Kix this isn’t.

“…the gods you worship are steel, at the altar of rock and roll you kneel…”