When reflecting on the most Metal moments I’ve ever participated in, one I had about a year and a half ago involving this particular album comes immediately to mind. It has often been customary for a person to down the volume when listening to something considered passé by the propagandized youth of today, particularly at the takeout window of a fast food establishment. But one particular evening when picking up my customary chicken sandwich and curly fries at my local Arby’s, I suddenly began channeling the spirit of 1989 and I had “Wicked Ways” blasting at full volume so that everyone within 30 feet of the window could hear it clear as day.
My faith that some shed of Metal’s essence was still alive in today’s generation was given a boost when the 16 year old girl working the window said “Hey is that QUEENSRYCHE?” It was immediately followed by the on duty manager saying “No, that’s definitely ACCEPT.” Naturally both answers were wrong, but given the similarity that the song had with the sound of both bands, along with several others, I was reassured that there is something going on in this travesty that we call 21st century America aside from NICKELBACK and bombing the Middle East. After kindly informing both of them about the band known as LEATHERWOLF and their extensive career in the 80s and getting assurances that both of them would check these California Metal monsters out, I went home with a new appreciation for this album.
To those who are not familiar with the aforementioned 80s outfit, they play a hard edged, rugged, and more aggressive alternative to the sleaze steeped LA scene. Comparisons to QUEENSRYCHE and ACCEPT are easily made, along with other famous 80s acts such as DOKKEN, CRIMSON GLORY, LIEGE LORD and even “Ram It Down” era JUDAS PRIEST. The riffs definitely pay homage to the pre-Thrash Speed Metal work of bands like GRAVE DIGGER and METAL CHURCH, but with a helping of 80s Power Ballad work and some IRON MAIDEN sensibilities to boot. In terms of the aggression factor, picture a middle ground between the chunky heaviness of ACCEPT and the lighthearted melodic nature of DOKKEN and you’ll be on the right track.
The distinctiveness that keeps these guys from coming off as generic is vocalist Mike Olivieri. He walks a tightrope between sounding like Don Dokken and Udo Dirkschneider, not quite sounding as soft and sensitive as the former while staying just a little cleaner than the dirty as hell Brain Johnson sounding screeches of the latter. Often he’ll drift a little towards one or the other depending on whether doing a ballad or a hard edged number, but there is definitely constancy to his approach. Forget this band’s glam looking image, and even the hair band looking album cover, this is much closer to what ACCEPT does than the CINDERELLA oriented stuff that you might suspect based on those red herrings, which also apply in some respects to RIOT classic album “Thundersteel”.
“Street Ready” is probably the most mainstream and accessible of their releases, but it kicks ass with the best of them. Just one listen to rapid paced speeders like “Too Much” and “Take A Chance” will set any skeptics of the band’s metal credentials straight. The guitars are always at the forefront, pushing out memorable riffs like no tomorrow, often making use of harmony parts between power chords for some excellent detailing. The choruses sound huge as hell, thanks to some heavy reverb usage, creating the same sort of backing chorus that filled out the dense atmospheres on various songs included on DOKKEN’S “Under Lock And Key” and ACCEPT’S “Russian Roulette”.
Even ballads like “Hideaway” and “Lonely Road” rock out something amazing the minute the guitars kick in and the vocal hooks hit the speakers. This is the classic stuff that a lot of Speed Metal faithful like HELLOWEEN and PRIMAL FEAR tried to imitate but don’t quite succeed at during the late 90s, and is free of the sappiness and redundancy of some ballads out of bands like HAMMERFALL and DREAM EVIL. They carry the same awe inspiring atmosphere that AXEL RUDI PELL’S ballads tend to, though with guitar work that sounds more akin to Glen Tipton or Chris DeGarmo and a much more upbeat tempo and a harder approach to choruses closer to what ACCEPT normally puts forth.
The whole album is an absolute keeper, even and including the somewhat AC/DC sounding, Hard Rock oriented title song, but the absolute trump song that keeps me coming back is the opener “Wicked Ways”. Picture an intro that marries the evil and Thrashy opening to a late 80s ANTHRAX song and a bunch of really beautiful dual lead guitar harmony work right out of “Operation Mindcrime” and you’ve got the first minute and a half of this mini-epic. There’s a collection of ballad sections where Olivieri shows off his love of acoustic guitar arpeggios, but mostly the song has this dual “Among The Living” meets “Tooth And Nail” sound to it that segues into this climactic “Heaven And Hell” ending loaded with IRON MAIDEN style melodic lead work and JUDAS PRIEST shredding.
To basically sum up, if anything that made 80s Heavy Metal great appeals to you, this album is the only excuse you’ll need to grow your hair back down to your ass and play air guitar like an escapee from the fucking leather clad nut house. Each song grabs you and shakes you so hard that you forget that stupid anti-Metal slogans like cheesy or glam even exist. Don’t feel guilty about good music like this, blast it out in a fashion that would make Eric Adams proud, and if you’re feel especially Metal, flip off or cut off any Kurt Cobain impersonators that happen to be on the road with you.
(Online November 30, 2008)