Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Fresh Metal

Helix - Half-Alive

Always a decibelian surf party live, Helix should get some sort of Canuck award for sticking it out and swingin' the North with such conviction. So slogging the bars has resulted in another record (after the experimental camp tunes of It's A Pleasure Doing Business), Half-Alive finally demonstrating the stage determination of the boys, while cranking the heat for a few new studio takes, which aim straight at the heart of the band's glory years. Four of the five are vintage primary-coloured churl rock, thank the headbanged gods, while the fifth tosser is a cover of Steppenwolf-via-Hoyt Axton's The Pusher (yaw-friggin'-n). The live stuff (ten tracks: a record in itself) is all old chestnuts done between 92 and 97, proving that age don't mean a thing.
Rating 8

Tank - This Means War
Tokyo Blade - Night Of The Blade
Piledriver - Metal Inquisition
(all three High Vaultage)

High Vaultage has been reissuing a swack of dusty headbanger classics as of late, sampling the unheralded catalogues of Cutty Sark, Railway, and Bullet, but it is these three which are widely considered the classics. First up, Tank's This Means War combined a scampered biker metal with epic war tales, sorta like Motorhead crossed with Maiden. Tokyo Blade sorta did the same thing, only they wanted to be Maiden, with the Motorhead being unintentional and budgetary. Competent mid-rift NWOBHM delivered in haste. Piledriver, well, that's a long story. Basically, it was a Canadian hoax, joke, ruse that again, unintentionally connected with the new meaning of shock metal. It was death, thrash, speed and gore cooked up and delivered by popsmiths, who mixed their fakery well. And the rest, as they say, is valid metal history. Bonus: these reissues are splendidly packaged, featuring liner notes from the artist, full lyrics, extra photos, and usually a bonus track or two.
Rating 9,7.5,9

Night Ranger - Seven

No one carries as much baggage as Night Ranger, the band that sold way too many records undermining all that is heavy, rocking out on a cushion of air, shredding where there was nothing to shred, cloying and annoying with hit after hit of infectious pomp. But after an ill-fated restart on Sony last year, it seems the boys have turned to men and really thought through this trend-faced world in which we live. Seven massages those trends, cherry-picks through them, ridicules them entirely without anomosity, and ultimately disarms critical radar on the subject. Fact be, Night Ranger have become a great modern pop metal band, mixing roots rock, southern acoustic, psychedelia, and the Beatles into a general rock swoosh that is damn good and mature. This should be no surprise. These are smart individuals, talented players and songsmiths that I'm sure have been enthusiastically cognizant of music's late '90s movements. But the only over-riding trend Night Ranger can be said to care about here is compactness, a lack of stadium-headed self-importance that lends this record a sky-high fun factor that says we can blind you with science, but we'd rather gather up a sing-along.
Rating 8

Savatage - The Wake Of Magellan

Feels kinda indie not seeing that Savatage logo on the cover art, but the 32 page booklet stuffed with plot will quickly dispel those thoughts that the 'tage could cheap out. The story this time ties three elements together: the horrific tossing overboard of three stowaways from the Maersk Dubai (true story), the gunning down of a heroic anti-drug citizen spokesman in Ireland (true story), and the suicide attempt of an old sailor (fiction). Quite thick plot-wise for sure, and another great fable from lyricist Paul O'Neill who reinforces with an encapsulated prose intro. But the coolest thing here is the immediate heaviness of the album, especially the first half, the band still the king of piano-to-riff dynamic (more Kansas than the much compared Queen), but this time getting right to the metal, a decidedly raw and basic metal oddly enough. One complaint: the recording doth not match the musical and lyrical ambition, lacking treble and general electricity. US version has the bonus tracks for once (three acoustic sleepies, yawn, goodnight).
Rating 8

Hard Reviews Part 2