“I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest.”

Summer of 1987.

This was the summer where I discovered metal. Speed metal, that is. I’d done the classics by the time I’d hit the 7th grade. Made my way through the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and Hendrix. AC/DC were in my collection, as well as a good chunk of hair metal. Most of 7th grade was consumed by Poison, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Dokken and Great White. But when summer rolled around, my brother introduced me to speed metal. Speed, thrash, whatever you want to call it. Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Overkill, Metal Church,…my eyes and ears had been opened to the double kick drum, lightning fast guitar riffs, the pained howl vocals, and lyrics that ranged from drug addiction, politics, and devil worship; to teen angst, witchcraft, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. It was the perfect place to land before heading back into Warsaw Middle School to start my 8th grade year.

Like with anything, you’ve got your good and bad metal bands. Most of what I came across I liked. I wasn’t all that picky. One afternoon my mom took me to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket so bought Fates Warning’s No Exit. To be honest, I’m not sure why I bought this album. I may have read a review in Metal Edge or Circus. Or quite possibly my older brother may have mentioned them. In order to one up said older brother I may have bought the album before he had a chance. So I left Butterfly Records with No Exit on cassette and headed off to a guitar lesson. On the ride home I popped the cassette tape into the cassette player of my mom and dad’s 1984 Honda Accord and was impressed. It had twin guitar attack, impressive drumming, and banshee-like vocals with doom-laden lyrics. What more could a 14 year old kid as for?

Fates Warning were an east coast metal band that formed in 1983 out of Connecticut. No Exit was the fourth album and their first with a line up change that included new singer Ray Alder. After experimenting with progressive rock tendencies the band really jumped head first into the progressive/art rock vibe on No Exit. There were acoustic interludes, lyrics about anarchy, death, silent cries, and even a whole side, 21 minute suite called “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”. When their next album dropped the next year in 1989 called Perfect Symmetry they had gone full progressive and were more in line with bands like Queensryche with that Q Prime management vibe; including heady music videos and more expensive hair products. But No Exit still possessed a sense of danger to it. There was still a darkness in the dissonant guitar lines and Alder’s operatic howls. They never hit the drug-fueled doldrums of say Megadeth, or the speed metal delights of Metallica or Slayer, or even the hardcore charms of Anthrax, but it was a great album for an 8th grader to shake his fist to quietly in his bedroom.

On a recent trip to Neat Neat Neat Records I found a super clean copy of No Exit for $10 and instantly nostalgia got the better of me. After about ten minutes of mulling around the store I made my way back to the “F” section of the metal albums and grabbed Fates Warning. I also snagged a copy of Fogg’s High Testament(we’ll talk about that one later.) Was it all warm fuzzies and harkening back to the heyday of my teen speed metal years? No, not really.

Sometimes nostalgia can give you a nice surprise. Recent purchases of albums like Cinderella’s Night Songs, Dokken’s Tooth and Nail, and even older grabs like Van Halen’s Fair Warning and Diver Down showed that I wasn’t all that bad at finding good music to listen to in my pre-teen and teen years. Sadly though, sometimes records don’t age all that well. No Exit, while still probably exactly as it was in 1988, just isn’t that memorable of a record. It’s a sort of paint-by-numbers affair as far as metal albums go.

So basically you’ve got your chugging metal riffs, the galloping metal riffs, and the occasional spritz of thrash thrown in with Fates Warning. Album opener “No Exit” is 41 seconds of sorrowful, dissonant guitars as singer Ray Alder basks in some serious doomy vocals. When I was a teenager it probably sounded a lot better. Now it just sounds out of tune(God, I’m old.) “Anarchy Divine” goes in hard with some decent thrash moments and some nice tempo changes. Alder, to me, sounds like a poor man’s Joey Belladonna. He hits those high notes well enough, but there’s no heft there. Even Geoff Tate had some color behind his wailing. “Silent Cries” hints at a more progressive sound the band would dig into with their next album, Perfect Symmetry. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no “oomph”. “In A Word” is the obligatory acoustic number all metal bands felt they needed to include back in the 80s. I guess it’s supposed to show off the soulful side of the band. Meh. I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest. “Shades Of Heavenly Death” has some nice early Anthrax vibes, but man those vocals just kind of bring everything down. I just can’t get into that wailing. “The Ivory Gates of Dreams” is the nearly 22-minute opus and works the best here. Alder keeps his vocals controlled here, and the band does a nice job of tempo changes and mixing up the art rock vibe with straight up speed metal. This takes up all of side B and I could see what I saw in these guys in the first place.

By 1989 the rough edges that were present on No Exit were mostly shaved off. In their place was arty, Rush-inspired progressive rock. It was a little more Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime and less Mercyful Fate’s Melissa. Fates Warning is still a quality progressive rock band, but No Exit won’t be spun again any time soon. Sometimes the past just needs to stay in the past I suppose. Let those sleeping dogs lie. Or those old rock records continue to collect dust in my memory.

Just The Alternative Facts, Ma’am

Okay, so here’s some alternative facts about me:

I’m 6’6″, 255 lbs with long wavy hair. I can bench press 455 lbs and can dead lift 575 lbs. I own 40,000 acres of land and I’m what you’d call a gentleman farmer. I dedicate 30,000 acres to growing produce that I give away free to those that need it. The other 10,000 acres I use as miniature schnauzer farms where I make sure the endangered miniature schnauzer can repopulate so they can one day take their rightful place as supreme leaders of Terra. When I was 15 years old I was a roadie for a Christian rock/funk band called Lovewar. My great-grandfather owned a record shop on Hollywood and Vine and hit it big in California oil fields in the 60s and for a short time I was the lead guitarist for the 80s rock band Cinderella.

Since alternative facts don’t have to be factual, I’m standing by each and every one of those, umm, facts. Okay, okay, you got me. I wasn’t ever the lead guitarist for Cinderella, but I sure did dig that first album Night Songs.

Night Songs came out in 1986 and I remember getting the cassette right around Christmas break of that year. That previous summer I’d gone through both an AC/DC and Aerosmith awakening(the AC/DC phase continues to this day), so when I first heard “Shake Me” I was instantly reminded of both the Australian crew and the Boston crew. Cinderella seemed to be pulling from both of those bands and making a rather unique and heavy sound all their own. While most bands of the day were more about the European side of metal, pulling heavily from the NWOBHM, Cinderella seemed rather content to pull from earthier roots. Now at 12 years old I wasn’t really looking at it that deeply. I was just thinking “I like this.”

I’d yet to get into true heavy metal, speed metal, or even anything that would remotely be considered alternative. At just the cusp of becoming a teenager I just wanted music that was visceral, loud, and could maybe occasionally pull on the old teen heartstrings. Night Songs covered it all, really. Opening track “Night Songs” was like a cross between “Hells Bells” and “Mama Kin”. It was this doomy track that appealed to the working class dude. Of course I wasn’t a working class dude. But my older brother was. I’d see him come home from working 3rd shift, beaten down and wore out and the only thing that made him feel good was noodling on his electric guitar in his bedroom and cranking up some music on the stereo. In that way I got it. “Drinking gasoline”…yeah, that’s what hard working long hairs do, man. Cool. Of course then you have “Shake Me”, the naughty hit single with the video where hot women dance sexily making teen boys awkward and uncomfortable in a good way. Things are starting to get re-wired in your brain when you hit 13. Girls become something to pine for, not run away from. In all honesty, I never went through a “girls are icky” phase. I’ve always been a fan. I had a crush on a young lady from when we were in pre-school clear to the 4th grade when she finally moved away. Always a lover, not a fighter. So when you come across a song like “Nobody’s Fool” and you have your first real heartbreak, it’s a combination that creates hours of feeling sorry for yourself in your bedroom as the song plays on and on and on.

cintwoI think the one thing I’ve noticed going back and re-listening to this album after years is that it’s still a pretty solid album. So many albums of this ilk were loaded with filler that surround one or two good tracks between two sides. While Night Songs isn’t a classic, it’s a solid listen all the way through. Songs like “Nothin’ For Nothin'”, “Hell On Wheels”, and “Somebody Save Me” aren’t just cushion to fill out sides. They’re damn good tunes. Also going back and revisiting these guys I’ve come to the conclusion that Cinderella was a band that would’ve rather always stuck to jeans and t-shirts, much like Tesla did for their entire career. They seemed like a working class rock band that bent to the current Sunset Strip trends of raiding your sister’s closet and hitting the stage at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. There’s some glammy strut in a song like “In From The Outside”, sure. But Tom Keifer seems like a guy that could hold his own in a bar fight. “Push Push” is pulling heavy from some serious AC/DC vibes. A nice mix of the Young brothers with some naughty Sunset Strip vibes. “Back Home Again” ends it all with a tip of the hat to Aerosmith’s “Nobody’s Fault”. A good head basher to end things on.

Maybe I might be regressing a bit hitting up all these old albums from my youth. That’s possible. One blogger pal even said as much. This may be true. Or maybe it’s an alternative fact. Or maybe it’s part truth and alternative fact. I will say this, Night Songs is still a pretty solid record after 30 years. Cinderella went the way of blues rock after this album and had a pretty monumental hit with “Don’t Know What You Got(Till It’s Gone)”. I liked Long Cold Winter enough. There were still plenty of girls to break my teenaged heart, so the big ballads and bluesy rockers were a welcomed reprieve from reality. But it didn’t keep my attention quite like that first time around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some miniature schnauzers to attend to and some compact cars to lift over my head and toss like mere twigs.

Random Thoughts Part III

spiderman helicopterThere’s one Christmas that sticks out from my childhood more than any. It was the Christmas I received the Spiderman Rescue Helicopter. This thing was massive. You know those Barbie Corvettes they used to sell to little girls that grew up to be big girls with huge expectations? Well, this helicopter was that big. Big enough for a Barbie doll-sized Spiderman to fit in. Walking out Christmas morning and finding that beautiful piece of Chinese-molded toy was a 7 year old kids dream come true. This thing was pimped out, too. Blades that moved with a button, a rescue raft that lowered on a string…you know, to save Mary Jane when that damn Corvette broke down over a stream, or on the Brooklyn Bridge. Plus, there was enough room in the cockpit for Spidey and a guest. Maybe Flash Thompson, or Firestar if Parker was feeling cheeky.

It was a glorious toy that I played with for nearly a week before the skids on my Spidey Helicopter broke. Then that damn rescue raft…the stupid string kept getting tangled. How can Spidey save the hot chick in the Corvette, or those kids that wandered too far out into the ocean when the damn string keeps getting tangled?? Stupid Chinese toy. And then Kevin Tennant THROWS Spiderman to me when I’m at the top of curly slide while he’s at the bottom during f*****g recess! What the f**k, dude?!?! You know I can’t catch s**t! I bring f*****g toys to school, not f*****g catchers mits!! Of course I miss the g*****n toy and Spidey falls to the ground, his plastic leg snapping. F**K!! Go to hell, Tennant!

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I was so obsessed with music as a kid that I would literally starve myself at school by not spending my lunch money so I could go buy cassettes at Butterfly Records, the only local music store when I was growing up. I remember I’d hoard all my lunch money during the week so by the end of the week I’d have enough for a trip to see the stoners that ran Butterfly.

These guys were the quintessential record store owners, at least one of them anyways. He always seemed as if he just woke up from a nap, or a coma. Long-ish hair and round, John Lennon-esque glasses -“Steve” we’ll call him- played bass in a local cover band(of course he did.) The other guy that ran Butterfly, we’ll call him “Jay”, was the older of the two and possibly the more businessman-like. He took care of the audio/visual and electronics side of the store. They sold TVs, stereos, and laser disc players. Butterfly Records also sold musical instruments(my brother bought an old Jazzmaster rip-off Framus for way too much from them.) I imagine roach clips were part of their inventory as well, though I never saw them.

Anyways, “Steve” was always recommending new stuff to me. I was raised to never take candy from a stranger, and that seeped into my record buying as I never took record buying advice either. Now I don’t follow that rule for every record store owner, not by a long shot. I’ve gotten some great recommendations over the years. Blister’s Calliope Death Music and Modern Modern’s Zealot Angles were great recommendations by Sig at Naughty Vinyl in Evansville, IN. And of course if it wasn’t for that kid with the lazy eye at Pubic Access Records in Jericho, New York I would never have pulled the trigger on that box set of 78s simply titled Presidential Gas: 100 Years of Presidential Farts. So there are some record store owners that have totally come through for me. But this “Steve” fellow, you couldn’t trust his taste. I can remember very vividly the night my brother had come home from town after just been at Butterfly Records(probably buying a roach clip.) He was in his room with this kind of crappy music playing on his stereo. “What is this?” I asked. “Oh, it’s a band Steve told me I should check out” my older brother replied. “Who are they?” I inquired, trying to refrain from laughing. “They’re called Autograph. They’ve got this song called “Turn Up The Radio” that’s pretty cool”, replied my brother in the same tone of voice one would try to make a s**t sandwich sound appetizing. “Huh” was all I said and walked away. You see, even at 10 years old I knew that was a horrible, horrible purchase. I’m sure “Steve” was probably high or tripping and saw my brother as an easy mark. Unfortunately, he was. That wasn’t the first time my dear, sweet older brother had gotten the business end of a lousy recommendation at Butterfly. There was that Grim Reaper cassette. Hell, even my parents were laughing in the front seat of the car on a family trip while we listened to that. My brother and I always brought a plethora of music to listen to on road trips, so my parents were aware of what we were listening to(my dad still has my cassette copy of Suicidal Tendencies Feel Like Shit Deja Vu/Controlled By Hatred.) Grim Reaper was a generic version of death metal, with a singer that sounded like a Muppet. It was hard not to keep a straight face listening to that.

As I was saying, I always knew what I wanted when I went into Butterfly Records. Whether it was the new Dokken, Megadeth, Anthrax, or Suicidal Tendencies; then later Joe Satriani, Stu Hamm, Rush, Fates Warning, Queensryche, and Faith No More. I didn’t need to be told I should buy this new Trixter album, or Firehouse. I knew those bands were bogus. I wasn’t starving myself for a s**t sandwich, “Steve”.

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There was that one time I was run over by a riding lawn mower. Wait, I should rephrase that…there was that time I ran MYSELF over with a riding lawn mower.