lunedì 29 gennaio 2018

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

1982 was an important year for the future speed/thrash metal movement that emerged within few years. In fact, it was just during in 1982 that bands like Metallica, Slayer, Exodus and Sodom started their own careers releasing also devastating demos as "Power Metal" (Metallica) or the noisy and obscene "Witching Metal" (Sodom). And we don't forget the fundamental contribution to the emerging speed/thrash metal given by the first two volumes (both edited, indeed, in 1982) of Metal Massacre, a series of compilations, released by the soon-to-be-famous US label Metal Blade Records owned by Brian Slagel, in order to spread the music of North American bands like Metallica (with their very famous song "Hit the Lights", then appeared in their debut album "Kill 'Em All"), Armored Saint, Cirith Ungol and many others. Finally, 1982 was the year in which many bands started to love the speed and the pure sonic aggression revolting also the way to conceive the heavy metal music.

This is the case of "Black Metal" (Neat Records), the long-awaited second album of Venom by which they created a new musical genre: black metal, indeed, that, in short, is an heavy metal with foul mouthed Satanic lyrics. But I would just add that few people knows that, supposedly, the "black metal" definition was used for the first time by the German band Holy Moses to title their very first demo "Black Metal Masters", released even in 1980...but I hope that this demo wasn't titled in this way only some years later to ride the wave of black metal...

An album very different from "Welcome to Hell" starting from a slighty cleaner production, "Black Metal" opens with the very famous titletrack, that is a kind of raw and malign speed/thrash metal destined to become the point of reference to emulate (and to break down) for the young thrash metal maniacs of that time. Now, it is notable that, back then, many albums opened with an ultra-fast song in order to start the hostilities with the maximum intensity, also in the case of normal heavy metal releases. So, there is need to underline that this is a basical feature of many releases analysed in this third part.

But, strangely, the only another song of the sophomore album similar to the titletrack is "Heaven's on Fire", that presents more influences from punk/HC. This means not only that "Black Metal" is slower than "Welcome to Hell" but it show also a more simplified and less chaotic approach, with the consequence that the new album contains few of the many funny solutions that characterized the entire debut full-lenght. The result of all this is that I find "Black Metal" as slighty inferior to "Welcome to Hell", also if, anyway, it has great songs like "Buried Alive" or the amusing "Teacher's Pet". Instead, to close definitely the second output, there is an interesting preview of "At War With Satan", the titletrack of the future third album then released in 1984 by which these 3 punkish metalheads sealed one of the most creative efforts of the entire NWOBHM with a...20 minutes epic song!

Meanwhile, their original inspirators Motörhead, back then on top of their game, continued to follow their hyper-violent path opened with "Ace of Spades" releasing another bombastic album: "Iron Fist" (Bronze Records).

In practice, "Iron Fist" is a copycat of "Ace of Spades" but with a cleaner production  and containing also a better variety even because Lemmy shouts here and there some line vocals more singalong than the usual. But, if in "Ace of Spades" the "fast and furious" songs were 5 of 12, in "Iron Fist" they are 4 of 12, and I am talking about: the famous titletrack, the following "Heart of Stone", the short "Sex and Outrage" and "Speefreak" (a true drugs manifest!). Of them, my favorite is, surely, "Iron Fist", that opens the album with a destructive speed metal intensity, and it isn't a case if it would have been coverized a bunch of times, included by Sodom for their "Persecution Mania" (1987).

But, unfortunately, "Iron Fist" was destined to be the last album with the classic Motörhead line-up. In fact, Fast Eddie Clarke, as all we know, left the band because he wasn't agreed with the other guys to play a cover of "Stand by Your Man" of Tammy Wynette to record for a curious split  with Plasmatics (a metallic punk band leaded by a mad woman named Wendy O. Williams). So, Fast Eddie was replaced by the troubled and eccentric Scottish guitarist Brian "Robo" Robertson for the strangely melodic 7th album "Another Perfect Day", that was very criticized back then but revalued positively during these last times. And this was the end of the most glorious and violent era of Motörhead.

It was just Fast Eddie the man that produced the debut album of one of the most promising young bands of the NWOBHM: Tank. This was the creature, founded in 1980, of Algy Ward, a punk rocker became metalhead with important past experiences in punk bands like The Damned, that in 1979 kicked out him due to his scarce involvement. But, fortunately, he involved all his energies for Tank releasing even two full-lenght albums in 1982 along with the Brabbs brothers, Mark and Peter (respectively drummer and guitarist): "Filth Hounds of Hades" (produced, indeed, by Fast Eddie) and "Power of the Hunter" (produced, instead, by Nigel Gray, the producer of nothing else than Police of Sting!), both edited by the small label Kamaflage Records.

The first one, surely the most known by the fans, is one of the real masterpieces of the NWOBHM due to a raw and direct style clearly influenced by Motörhead but strong of a relevant personality, a punkish approach and a fantastic variety. But it's also an album where the speed has a fundamental role, as already expressed perfectly by the first two songs called "Shellshock" (legendary for its tribal intro!) and "Struck by Lightning", and both shows an energetic speed metal with a rocking vibe.  But it isn't enough because the other speed songs are the very intense "Turn Your Head Around" (characterized by a stronger metallic approach and an excellent atmosphere with epic tunes!) and the uncontrollable and hilarious titletrack. In addition, Tank were so thrilled to shot a video just for "Turn Your Head Around" with an armed tank on the background!

Instead, "Power of the Hunter", for some mysterious reasons, is often not well considered by the fans. Despite this, it is, for me, fantastic already starting from a dusty production worthy of an "Ace of Spades". Then, it has absolutely contagious mid-tempos like "Biting and Scratching" and "Set Your Back on Fire" plus an amazing cover of the hard bluesy "Crazy Horses", the only heavy hit song released by the pop band The Osmonds. And here you are the speed songs that are 3 out of 10: I am talking about "Red Skull Rock", the same titletrack and the strange "T.A.N.K.", and I said "strange" because it's nothing else than an instrumental filled with the sound of diving aeroplanes and with the bass that seem to emulate the crawlers of an heavy tank! But it's curious that the first speed song is only the fifth one while the album ends just with "Red Skull Rock" and the titletrack, differently from the debut album that opened already very fast.

An NWOBHM band that had no chances to realize an album during the golden years of the movement was Hell. Fortunately reformed few days ago with a good success but totally unlucky back then, Hell recorded, between 1982 and 1983, various demos, included the one that I consider their most representative: "Hell", simply titled.

This demo has only a big problem: the production. In fact, its sonic quality is even more obscene if compared with "Welcome to Hell" of Venom but, in exchange, the music is a total perfection! There are 7 songs for the beauty of 39 minutes in which you will listen to a music very ahead for the time since Hell are to be intended as the British version of Mercyful Fate. This means that theirs is an heavy metal able to be elegant, complex and incredibly theatrical but also, at the same time, so tough and fast to include 4 speed metal songs full of a great intensity with frequent incursions into a proto-thrash metal, and they are named "Blasphemy and the Master", "Deliver Us from Evil", "In Earth as It is in Hell" and "Plague and Fire". In addition, the atmosphere is tremendously Satanic and worthy of the future black metal, also due to a singer named David Halliday that shows a very versatile and operatic style mixing Shakespearian delirium with occult themes into long and refined lyrics full of some verses even in Latin! Among the lyrics, it is notable to mention the one of "Plague and Fire", that is about the Great Fire of London, really happened between 2nd and 5th September 1666 (what a coincidence!).

But it was too late when the renowned Belgian label Mausoleum Records was interested to Hell. In fact, when Hell had the illusion in 1986 of a label deal in order to record their long-held debut album, Mauseoleum bankrupted. This led David Halliday even to suicide, so Hell split up in 1987.

After this slab of NWOBHM, now we have to go away from the classic British borders to meet 3 bands from around the world that were in love with a very aggressive speed.

The first one was Deep Throat. Little is known about these 5 maniacs from Nuremberg, Germany. But I know that they took their moniker from the 1972 erotic movie with the same name directed by the US director Gerard Damiano, and the same goes to the title of their only album "The Devil in Miss Jones" after of another Damiano's movie. The stranger thing is that it seem that Deep Throat had into their line-up a female bassplayer named E.Manuele, maybe taking inspirations from the erotic character, known as "Emmanuelle", created by the French writer Emanuelle Arsan.

The only album of Deep Throat is, without any fukken doubts, one of the most ferocious full-lenghts released in 1982! In fact, their style is very straightforward and aggressive, also thanks to the raucous and tough vocals of Peter Krettner and to some clear punk influences. At the same time, it's a style able to offer enough tempo/atmosphere changes and neoclassical solos, so you can expect abrupt speed outbursts also in mid-tempos like "Heavy Rosy". But, if you want real speed metal mayhem, then you have absolutely to listen to the opening titletrack, the demented "Midnight Magic", "Jack the Ripper" and "Rock'n'Roll Star" without forgetting moderately fast numbers as the vulgar "Dirty Party" and the conclusive and punkish "Let Me All Now". At this point, it's really a shame that Deep Throat disappeared literally after this spectacular album composed of 9 songs!

Another band that deserved a better doom was Mazo (Spanish for "deck, "mallet"). From Madrid, Spain, Mazo were so unlucky to record in 1983 a sophomore album then never published. So, what has remained to us is their great album with the same name released in 1982 by nothing else than the major Mercury Records.

Musically, Mazo are very close to Deep Throat but playing with a rawer style and this is also due to a production not so good because it seem to be a little bit empty. Anyway, the tracklist consist of 8 numbers, and 4 of them express a pure neckbreaking speed metal mania: the opening track "Balada Cafre", "Depresión" (in my opinion, the better fast song also because it is the more dynamic one since it contains the only tempo changes of the entire album), "Exterminación" and "Has Cambiado". The funny thing is that these songs are alternated with very contagious rock'n'roll numbers, exemplified at their best by the anthem "Vive la musica", a track full of gang choruses divided, through one of those wild guitar solos played by José Miguel Martinez, between an heavy bluesy part and a second one more focused on tough tunes. Another interesting feature comes from the vocal department that, divided between the aforementioned guitarist and the bassplayer Julio Diaz, shows a raw approach based on clear vocals but with ultra-screeching screams here and there, as in the first devastating seconds of "Balada Cafre".

And now it's the turn of a band that, back then, lived in a country under a military dictatorship destined to end their days in 1985: Stress from Brazil. Founded even in 1974 with the moniker Pingo D'água, Stress released in 1982 one of the most fantastic speed metal albums of that period, also due to a surprising fury mixed with an incredible versatility.

First of all, their eponymous debut album is filled by 4 speed metal songs, and they are: the opening "Sodoma e Gomorra", "Chacina", "O Viciado" and "Mate o Reu" (where, at a certain point, every instrument plays their own short solo, included the bass and the keyboards...YES, you read very well because I really wrote KEYBOARDS!). These tracks surprises a lot because of an undomable fury emphasized by the hysterical screams of the bassplayer Rodrigo "Bala" Cavalcante that seriously reminds me of the luciferine vocals of Tom Araya of Slayer; or by the ruvid guitars of Pedro Valente with his violent and noisy solos and his some rock'n'roll riffs à Motörhead. But we don't forget that the closing track "O Lixo" ends the album not at a breakneck speed as was the rule in the '80s but offering a continue alternance between Sabbathian doom passages and abrupt speed metal destructive outbursts.

But, as I said before, Stress are good to combine the most undomable fury with an incredible versatility, showing also notable technical skills. This allows to Stress to play some bizarre solutions for a band of this kind. For example, there are (very few, anyway) keyboards riffs by Leonardo Renda, that plays even a real solo in "2031"!

In addition, "Stress" is an important album also because, some years later its release, Rodrigo "Bala" Cavalcante claim that it is one of the first real thrash metal albums able to anticipate even the mayhem created in 1983 by Metallica and Slayer. Sincerely, also if the fury of "Stress" is really relevant for a metal album released before 1983, I am not agreed with this idea since Stress were still very close to the heavy metal standards of that time. And, said frankly, 1982 was the moment of a more amazing album than "Stress". But "amazing" in EVERY FUCKIN' sense!

"WIPED OUT"! Ladies and gentlemen, THIS IS the speed metal album par excellence of 1982, and also my favorite one in the entire heavy metal history!

Surely, Raven, with "Wiped Out", extremized definitely their formula expressed in "Rock Until You Drop" in order to create an album that has everything: fury and speed at unhuman levels but also creativity, technical skills, complexity, dynamicity, madness, chaos, experimentation, unpredictability, and so on. And the most absurd thing is that we are talking about a full-lenght that doesn't admit any wrong steps throughout its 52 minutes, a lenght absolutely prohibitive for many bands of the '80s but not for Raven!
"Wiped Out" consists of 12 songs and each of them is a classic. It ranges from supersonic songs like the opener "Faster than the Speed of Light" (a tile that doesn't need any explanations!), "Read All About It", or "Live at the Inferno" to the tour de force "To the Limit/To the Top"! You will find also the epic "Star War", the acoustic "20/21" (where there are some melodies taken by "To the Limit/To the Top"), or "Battlezone", ended by an endless scream by John Gallagher in a very similar way to "Hell Patrol". And, finally, you will be crushed completely by "Chainsaw", that ends the hostilities with a total chaos very fukken fit for a band of this kind!

So, in my opinion, every classic feature of thrash metal, nay, the ESSENCE of this metal genre is into "Wiped Out" in its entirety, and this by a band like Raven that, proudly active still today, were never a mainstream act, also if the diehard fans will unfortunately remember forever when John and co., during the mid-'80s, had a short commercial period (then rejected by the same band) because they need some money. For me, they are and will be forever the better ones of the NWOBHM!

I analysed many bands in this part if compared with the previous ones, so, regarding the additional bands to recommend, I would like to mention only Taipan, an unlucky Aussie act that, enough active today, released in 1982 the "Taipan/Breakout" EP, notable for "The Cellar", a very tough mid-tempo very close to the early Metallica.

But, with all these fast and furious bands, the metal music was now enough ready for the thrash metal revolution. Ergo, prepare for the fourth and last part of the proto-speed/thrash metal history, where I will talk you about a lot bands, known or not, but, anyway, I think that each of them has been fundamental for the future of heavy metal.

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