mercoledì 20 settembre 2017

The story of Proto-Speed/Thrash metal - PART II

In my opinion, the first true proto-speed metal albums in the history were released in 1981. Yes, you have to count still them on the fingers of a single hand but the cult for the speed was already international at that time. In fact, it sounds strange but...Venezuela was one of the very first proto-speed metal strongholds!

This is due firstly to Resistencia, an hopeful quintet that, after 4 years into the ranks, debuted just in 1981 with the proudly titled "Hecho en Venezuela" (Spanish for "Made in Venezuela"), showing already a strong original approach far from the lesson of the reigning NWOBHM.

In fact, their approach is so complex, polished and progressive that their songs are often long. But, on the other hand, Resistencia plays in a very hard, aggressive and fast way, and it isn't a case if, of the 7 songs of the album, even 4 of them are to be considered like speed metal outbursts. And if this isn't enough, there is need to say that the devastating aggressiveness of Resistencia comes a lot from the versatile vocals of Cesar Somoza that, with his warm and profound voce, is able to range from ear-splitting high-pitched falsettos to primordial growls, and you can hear all this especially in "Muerto en Vida".

But what are the aforementioned 4 speed metal outbursts? Oh yeah! They are the dynamic "Hassan Ben Sabbath", the hysterical "Pared de Concreto", just the furious "Muerto en Vida" and, after "Resistencia" with its oriental influences, the dark "Templo de la Oscuridad" (mentionable also for its chaotic but paranoid finale useful to end the album with the fireworks!). In addition, I have to cite also the warlike heavy metal anthem "Tierra Prometida", truly tough and heavy. Unlike all this, Resistencia wanted to develop better their progressive inclinations after this hammering album.

On the other side of the Planet, let's meet with Loudness from Japan!

These 4 guys from Osaka, formed in 1981 from the ashes of an hard rock band called Lazy, debuted after few months with "The Birthday Eve", a perfect expression of a totally demented and unpredictable heavy metal by a band able literally to do everything, included the composition of some very fast songs marked often by a good will to experiment strange solutions.

So, the speed metal numbers are 3 of 8 ("Sexy Woman", "I'm on Fire" and "Rock Shock (More and More)"), and all of them are characterized by an hysterical and dynamic intensity along with great technical skills so to reach their maximum result in the closing track "Rock Shock (More and More)". In this song, the sacred meets the profane in a devastaing mix between the street rock'n'roll riffing and the ultra-violent screams of Minoru Niihara with some elegant neoclassical solos and a kind of solo even by the drummer Munetaka Higuchi. Instead, very strange is the horny "Sexy Woman", a sort of speed metal song with an absurd jazzy intro. But stranger than that is the dark and complex "Street Woman", surely one of the heaviest songs of that time where the hallucinated vocals of Niihara reigns over all.

Ironically, you have to think that the late drummer Hiroyuki Tanaka, after founding Loudness with the same Niihara and the guitarist Akira Takasaki, left already them to join Neverland, a group the soundtracks for Japanese cartoons!

Now, old Europe. During those years, a band with an harmless moniker but with an atomic sound was sneaking around Netherlands: Picture. This is one of the main European metal acts also because they supported great artists like Ac/Dc or Ted Nugent, releasing, with an enviable prolificity, 7 full-lenght albums from 1980 to 1987!

The second one of them is "Heavy Metal Ears". Released by the British label Backdoor Records, it is to be considered with no doubts as one of the most violent metal albums of the early '80s. Secondly, it's relevant also because it shows a feature then typical of the speed/thrash metal albums to come: the alternation between the mid-songs with the faster ones, and this means that, after a fast track, there is generally a mid-tempo number, and viceversa.

So, here you are even 4 songs (the same titletrack, "I'm Just a Simple Man", "Out of Time" and "No No No") in pure speed metal-style of 9 (for the truth, they are 10, as you will see soon), that shows, taking the main inspirations from Saxon, a simple style but not lack of some surprises, so you can find speed outbursts also into normal mid-tempos like "Unemployed". In my opinion, the most violent track is the hyper-angry and desperate "No No No"...and I said "desperate" since it see the awkward Ronald Van Prooijen which damn his soul with a love story irredeemably finished! At the end of the album, there are 2 tracks in a single one for almost 8 minutes: the ballad "Rock'n'Roll" and the boogie metal called "Under Your Spell", where Picture seem to be a kind of less pissed-off Venom clones!

But, if "Heavy Metal Ears" is surely an incredibly fast album, the only "Killing Time" of the Northern Irishmen Sweet Savage (where there was even a very young Vivian Campbell, then destined to an everlasting glory with Def Leppard), annihilate songs like "No No No" in terms of violence and pure aggression.

And it's obvious! This because "Killing Time" is a track that crush seriously the listeners' ears with a true speed/thrash metal assault at an high shot of adrenaline made more aggressive not only by strong punk/HC influences but also by some gang choruses useful to emphasize the disarming fury of this number.

Unfortunately, Sweet Savage, for various reasons, did never realized a single full-lenght album during the golden years of the NWOBHM. But this dream came to reality after the mega-famous Metallica coverized, indeed, "Killing Time", a track originally recorded for the radio program BBC Friday Rock Night Show directed by Tommy Vance, and then released as a breathtaking B-side on their 1981 single "Take No Prisoners".

To speak nothing but the truth, the unmatchable stronghold of the proto-speed metal was in Great Britain, so in full NWOBHM territory: Newcastle. This was the place of many cult speed metal bands such as Raven, Satan, Venom, Avenger, and so on.

The first ones of this area to realize the debut album (excluded Fist with their 1980 "Turn the Hell On" but it isn't so fast) were Raven, that are my favorite band of the entire NWOBHM and also the crazier, even only for their tendency to create albums with endless lenghts but characterized by an intensity invariably inhuman.

January 1981. The small and emerging Neat Records release "Rock Until You Drop", first album of Raven that show their not so peaceful intentions already through its cover artwork: a chaos of gigantic proportions! And so it is!

"Rock Until You Drop", including 12 songs per 47 minutes (gulp!), is, indeed, a non-stop massacre focused mainly on the drunk and anarchist guitarwork of Mark, the neurotic vocals of his brother John able also to play some solos with his bass (the titletrack) and on the pyrotechnical drumming of Rob "Wacko" Hunter, a drummer able literally to injure himself because of his wild intensity during the live shows! All this for an unique and demented sound full of surprises and so out of control that Raven spew forth a song entitled "Over the Top" with the classic '80s spirit, a titletrack with reggae influences, an acoustic intermezzo ("39/40") destined to create a kind of mini-series of similar numbers, two Sweet covers at an high-amphetamine level, and a "Hell Patrol" gone down in history for a 10-seconds scream by John! And, if this isn't enough for you, the hostilities ends through the 7 minutes of the complex "Tyrant of the Airways", which is not only a perfect sum of the Raven-sound but also the faster song of the entire album where the band plays, in the middle of it, even an ultra-melodic and intimist slowdown that you have to exalt with the lighters!

But okay, we aren't still in the pure speed metal style of the next album "Wiped Out" but the approach is already that!

Not satisfied, Neat Records released, in December 1981, the devastating debut album of the other trio from Newcastle, this one supported by a very enthusiast Geoff Barton: "Welcome to Hell" of the mighty Venom!

Truly revolutionary and ferocious album, I see "Welcome to Hell" like a more furious and wilder version of "Ace of Spades", emphasizing all this with 3 features: the Satanic teenager lyrics, the incredibly narrow technical skills of Cronos and co., and the obscene production (in fact, the album was originally conceived as another demo to bring to Neat). But it's also truth that this kind of production is very useful because it adds to the music a more malign and darker atmosphere, especially in the psychedelic "In League with Satan", completely fit to celebrate the worst Satanic rituals...if you want to do them, obvious!
Said this, "Welcome to Hell" has 5 fast songs (of 11, included that absurd acoustic intermezzo titled "Mayhem with Mercy") which range from the opening heart attack assault "Sons of Satan" to the horny "Red Light Fever" through the maximum chaos and fury of "Angel Dust" (an anthem devoted to the drug with the same name). But, at the end, this album isn't so different from "Rock Until You Drop". I'm saying this because Venom and Raven are two different ways to express the same concept: the pure frontal aggression through an easygoing spirit that leads to some exhilarating and unpredictable solutions here and there, like the very cripple (!) bass solo of Cronos in "One Thousand Days in Sodom". Despite this, there is a fundamental difference between these two bands: in fact, thanks to three punkers with long hair as Venom, "Welcome to Hell" is so furious and chaotic to be THE speed metal album of the year 1981. Without any fuckin' doubts!

Ending this second part, these are the main acts in 1981 which anticipated the speed/thrash metal mania of the years to come. For anyone interested to deepen more this argument, I recommend some minor bands that had 2 or little more fast songs in their book: the angry Germans Beast of "Demo 1981" where there was a Doro Pesch before she became famous with Warlock; Arkangel of "Rock Nacional", another quintet from Venezuela with a good socio-political conscience; Gordi of "Pakleni Trio", the Serbian version of Motörhead able to play crazy missiles like "San" and the ultra-rebellious "Tebi ne Treba Niko" (Serbian for "You Don't Need Anybody"), also if, paradoxically, they started as a progressive rock band with a conciliatory approach with the Socialist Regime; the musculars Blitzkrieg of "Blitzed Alive", coming from near Newcastle and leaded by the unstoppable speed metal hero Brian Ross (after in Satan and Avenger, also) before they were coverized by Metallica; or even the London-based female squad Girlschool, that played in a more fast way for their sophomore album "Hit and Run", as exemplified perfectly in intense songs like "Watch Your Step".

And now, see ya for the third part of this special!!!

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