Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Martin Popoff is the author of The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal (previously known as Riff Kills Man!), now a 540 page, 600,000 word compendium comprising 3,700 heavy metal record reviews. Also included are rock lists, a glossary of terms, a concise listing of almost 500 9's and 10's, plus a roll-call of non-metal faves. New to this edition is an exclusive 19-track sampler CD from premiere metal label Century Media. The book is now in its second pressing. For more information, visit the book website or contact martinp@hardradio.com

Fresh Metal

Riot - Fire Down Under
(Metal Blade)

Oy, you lucky dogs, for over the next few months, you shall be witnessing reissues of a select bunch of Riot albums through Metal Blade. Here's the first one and probably the fan and critical fave, Fire Down Under pretty much universally acclaimed as a heat-stoked American-made classic about two years ahead of its time. Main distinguishing point of this one over past reissues of the album (in particular a French issue with six bonus tracks) is that label honcho Brian Slagel has found the long-lost original masters and restored the record to its sizzle-mix glory. And yes, it sounds and looks good (in direct contrast to the Restless Breed reissue which sounds muddy, contains no bonus tracks, no lyrics, and no liner notes except a hasty reshoot of the original vinyl's: for shame on all counts), Guy Speranza's vocals projecting clear and true, the drums dead on, everything tight and ready to burst. Swords & Tequila, Altar Of The King and Mark Reale's favourite Riot riot Outlaw are enough to bring the tingles fast and furious, especially in contrast to this one's two bonus tracks, which were a couple of the tunes Capitol had been pressuring the band to do to make them more radio-friendly. As a reissue, call this one slightly better than average (we do get lyrics and a few new photos: 7). As a piece of your metal history lesson, call this essential. Average it out, you get . . .
Rating 8.5

Anvil - Speed Of Sound

Three pint-raising beauty points to the latest Anvil spread, and one continued career-limiter. First the bad. Lyrically, Lips and the boys continue to keep it light, irreverent, comedic or socio-topical on a straight storytelling level. Hand it to them: this is their niche, stubbornly kept from day one, and it has probably earned them more distinction than any other lyrical direction I almost could not imagine. Porn, murder, metal, and general cantankerous complaint, just like every other Anvil record. But everything else manages to bolster, renew and reinvigorate, starting with Pierre Remillard's hard-edged hi-fi production. Next we've got truly jarring instrumental and vocal performances that energetically recapture the charged electricity of Forged In Fire (Life To Lead and Blood On The Playground: yow!), and finally, the band's most graceful graphical presentation yet. So lots to cheer about here, even an entirely catchy anthem called Bullshit, perhaps the band's most memorable slice of silliness in years, closely followed by the sly groove of Secret Agent Man, both tracks benefitting from some new shard-like guitar sounds from Lips and Ivan and the usual trainwreck tones from fuel-faced drummer Robb Reiner (no one ever mentions the bassist, do they? No respect: Glenn Five). All in all, a new carnal chapter in hi-fidelity old school thrash-onomics.
Rating 9

House Of Lords - Sahara
(Axe Killer)

Here's a hair band that is getting a well-deserved re-examination, this time at the hands of French reissue label Axe Killer, who are re-launching all sorts of diverse metal records, both over and underground. Sahara is decidely the latter, having done fairly brisk business with its blinding supersheen and not inconsequential amount of guitar histrionics from Michael Guy (who replaced the first record's Lanny Cordola). Rounded out by Greg Giuffria (Angel, Giuffria), Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot), Ken Mary (Alice Cooper) and James Christian (Canata), House Of Lords never did any one thing with particular individualism. But they did manage this palpable star quality, acting as if they had nothing to prove, playing with energy but a distinct lack of clutter. Even though the band did very little touring, they still sold well over a million in sales, which just goes to show how much metal things were in 1990. Note: reissue includes wrap-around cardboard sleeve, extra photos, brief but solid liner notes and an edited bonus track of the band's hit Winwood composition/cover Can't Find My Way Home.
Rating 8

Amorphis - Tuonela

As Amorphis moved through the years, they became the ultimate slash band, moving through death/doom, doom/folk and folk/death/progressive. But Tuonela wins the day over past wedgings by removing the harsh slash and weaving their disparate influences into a seamless whole. The doom's there but it doesn't stick out, just like the folk, just like the death metal, all intertwining and growing jungles of lush sound that leap past previous work in much the same manner all the progressive bands eventually embraced songs (think Abacab, and 90125 and a now unrecognizable Marillion). The novelty instrumentation is just that, fleeting novelty, Tuonela being more about Celtic Zep-ified death metal guitars, near stoner rock drums and a half dozen or so enigmatic vocal intentions from Tomi that become the focal point they should be. Fave tracks would be the first and the last, The Way being the smartest arrangement on the record, all drama and tone, highlighted by that Frippertronic-type guitar effect of which the name escapes me, and Summer's End hooking the listener post-Goth like Sentenced to the gentle wash of fat cymbal crashes. Two complaints: a sameyness of speed throughout (various slow to mid's), and a lack of treble, although neither could be considered grave errors, given the languid, non-jarring trip intended.
Rating 9

Hard Reviews Part 2