Spine of Overkill, by Woody High

Posted in Columns on March 13th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Before we get to the latest installment of Chris “Woody High” MacDermott‘s ongoing Spine of Overkill series, you should know that Woody‘s band, the most stoned Mighty High, are taking part in a charity auction of a test pressing for their Legalize Tre Bags album in cooperation with their label, Ripple Music.

Whatever money is raised goes to NYC’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. A good cause worthy of your attention and your cash. There’s more info on the forum, and the auction is on eBay here.

Now then, on to the metal. This time around, Woody takes on 1980 double-whammy of righteousness from Saxon. Enjoy:

1980 was a big year for metal — Back in Black, Ace of Spades, Blizzard of Ozz and British Steel all came out that year. There were also debuts from Iron Maiden, Girlschool, Diamond Head and the Michael Schenker Group alongside solid albums from Thin Lizzy, UFO, Scorpions, Ted Nugent, Blackfoot and Van Halen. Somehow with all of this going on, Saxon managed to release TWO albums in 1980. And not just any two albums, but two of their best — Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law.

Saxon‘s self-titled debut came out in May 1979, just as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was beginning to pick up steam. It’s a good album but kind of a mix of Deep Purple with Status Quo, more hard rock than full on metal. The band hit the road supporting Slade, then Nazareth and then Motörhead on the Bomber tour. They originally were trying to get on a European tour with UFO but it turns out that going out with Motörhead was the best thing to happen to Saxon. They had to work hard to win over Motörhead’s rabid fans and helped spread metal fever throughout the UK. Being force fed speed and vodka by Lemmy on that tour must have had something to do with the second Saxon album Wheels of Steel turning out so great. Check out the great Saxon documentary, Heavy Metal Thunder, for all the gory details of that tour.

Recorded in The Who‘s Ramport Studio and released in May 1980, Wheels of Steel was the right album at the right time. Kicking off with “Motorcycle Man” Saxon really lets it fly. This has everything a metal biker anthem needs — speedy riffs, killer guitar solos, frantic double bass drumming and belligerent lyrics. This is metal at its finest. Plus, any metal song that starts off with the sounds of a motorcycle (Manowar‘s “Death Tone,” the On Parole version of “Motörhead,” etc.) is a good thing. “Stand up and be Counted” slows the pace down a bit with a riff similar to Nugent‘s “Yank Me Crank Me” off Double Live Gonzo mixed with some nice Thin Lizzy guitar harmonies. “747 (Strangers in the Night)” is another all-time classic with memorable guitar fills and impassioned vocals from Biff. Side one wraps up with another road warrior anthem, “Wheels of Steel.” They still play it at every gig. This song was designed to be played loud in a car cruising down the highway. It has a groove I like to describe as “speed limit rock” that puts it up there with “Slow Ride” and “Highway Star.” If you play the opening chord of the song on a loop it sounds just like SunnO))). The rhythm section of bassist Steve “Dobby” Dawson and drummer Pete Gill really lay it down on this one while the underrated guitar duo of Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver pull out some great solos. Biff tells everyone about his killer machine and when he says he “don’t take no bull-SHIT” it’s a true fist-clenching metal moment.

Side two opens up with a killer flanged out drum solo before erupting into yet another powerful driving song, “Freeway Mad.” “See The Light Shining” is dedicated to Fast Eddie for some reason. It doesn’t sound anything like Motörhead but is a good fist pumping headbanger. “Street Fighting Gang” has a definite Motörhead “Over the Top” influence and has some awesome solos from every band member including Biff‘s whistling. “Suzie Hold On” was probably their attempt at getting on the radio and bears a resemblance to Nazareth at times. The album wraps up with the all out blitzkrieg of “Machine Gun,” one of their fastest songs. Pete Gill‘s double bass drumming totally smokes and the guitars doing some intense Hendrix/Blackmore whammy bar destruction. This album was hard for me to track down when it first came out. Luckily, I had a friend in high school who would visit relatives in Germany once or twice a year. I’d give him cash and a long list of records to search for at the World of Music store in Munich. The sticker on the front cover confirms he got it for me there in December of 1982. Thank you, Bruce Adler, wherever you are!

Somehow after touring the UK and Europe, Saxon had time to record another album at Ramport and get it released by September of 1980. Saxon were always more into drinking tea than booze or taking speed. Maybe there’s something to be said for reasonably healthy living. It’s hard to argue with the results of Strong Arm of the Law. This album wasn’t released in the US until 1982 and that’s when I picked it up. Imagine my dismay when a few months later I see an import copy with a gatefold sleeve and totally reshuffled track listing. I didn’t bother buying the import and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. I rarely see it anymore. The music’s the most important thing but one of these days I’ll own both.

Side one of the US version starts off with the truly epic jam “Dallas 1PM.” Not only does this six-and-a-half-minute song groove like hell, it’s also a history lesson. This song came in handy when we were learning about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 10th grade social studies. I actually paid attention to see if what they were trying to teach me matched up with the lyrics of the song. Too bad the rest of the class didn’t kick as much as this album. The title-track is up next and is a real metal thumper. Dobby and Pete Gill set up a heavy groove and the guitars come in with a simple but killer riff. Oliver and Quinn worked so well together, sort of like the middle ground between Downing/Tipton and the Young brothers. More great lyrics from Biff about getting hassled by the cops for being longhaired metal muthas. “Sixth Form Girls” is a very catch ditty about molesting young girls. Most bands approach this topic with a sleazy attitude but Saxon makes it almost charming. Side one wraps up with the mid-tempo heavy rockin’ “Hungry Years.”

“Heavy Metal Thunder” was track one of side one in the UK but starts off side two in the US. Doesn’t matter where you put it, this is one of the most ferocious metal anthems of all time. Fast and totally kickass with great lyrics praising those who decorate their denim jackets –

“If your backs are embroidered, come down to the front
Don’t sit there and do as they say
We’re an army of thousands surrounded by lights
Nobody stands in our way!”

What can you say after that except “fill your heads with heavy metal thunder!!!” AMEN!!!

“Taking Your Chances” and “To Hell and Back Again” are both good songs but have the misfortune of being in between “Heavy Metal Thunder” and the outstanding “20,000 Ft.” Despite having a speedy locomotive rhythm “20,000 Ft.” is about air travel and lifetime membership in the mile high club. Goddamn, that song rocks.

Saxon occupies a unique place in the world of metal. Musically and lyrically they cover a lot of ground. A band like Iron Maiden was based more in fantasy or history, while Motörhead was down on the streets. Saxon has always had a little bit of both. They also have a lot more straight forward hard rock in their music than a lot of metal bands. It was such a bummer when they tried going commercial later in the ‘80s. Holy shit, they looked ridiculous in glam metal attire and the songs they were writing were the pits. But no matter how bad it got I never stopped playing their five or six records and eventually they stopped trying to be commercial and returned to being a kickass metal band. Despite lineup changes and legal problems with ex members, Biff and Quinn have never quit. Saxon‘s never gone more than a few years without releasing an album and they’re always on tour. Denim & leather forever!

Saxon, “Dallas 1PM” live

Saxon, “Machine Gun” live

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Spine of Overkill, by Woody High

Posted in Columns on January 17th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Every time Chris “Woody High” MacDermott sends in one of these Spine of Overkill columns, I just want to spend the whole day listening to classic thrash. So it goes with this month’s, in which — after hearing Ben Smith of The Brought Low talk a bit of smack — he rallies to the defense of Exodus‘ 1985 ripper, Bonded by Blood. Could a Brought Low/Mighty High feud be in the works? Only time will tell.


Recently Ben from The Brought Low said on the internets that Exodus is whack and that he’s OK going on record with it. Chances are he’s thinking of the stupid videos for “Toxic Waltz” and “Low Rider” that he watched on channel U68 in Queens as a kid. Somehow I doubt in 1984 he was trying to track down a copy of their Whipping Queen demo or live tapes through the pages of low budget fanzines. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions but I’m here to set the record straight. Bonded by Blood is absolutely their greatest album and it fuckin’ kicks major ass!!

Formed in 1980 as a traditional Judas Priest/Iron Maiden-style metal band, the core Exodus members were drummer Tom Hunting along with the guitar tag team of Kirk Hammett and Gary Holt. It wasn’t until they discovered belligerent heavy metal maniac Paul Baloff and made him their singer that the Exodus attack was under way. A demo in 1982 unleashed the songs “Whipping Queen,” “Death & Domination” and “Warlords.” A live demo the following year contained a killer song called “Die by His Hand.” An important part of this song would later wind up in Metallica‘s “Creeping Death” and cause a lot of arguments in parking lots, basements and woods for years to come. It wasn’t until Kirk quit that the Exodus sound would really take shape. Under the direction of Gary, the band starting cranking out the ultra-violence jams that we all know and love as Bonded by Blood.

Opening with a bomber sound effect, the song “Bonded by Blood” explodes out of the speakers and causes immediate psychotic reaction. The first time you hear Baloff screaming lyrics like “Metal and blood come together as one/Onlookers they gasp in dismay,” there’s no going back to “Hot Rockin’” by Judas Priest. “Onlookers they gasp in dismay” is a key line for the time period. If you put this tape on at a party and started raging you might actually get to hear the entire song due the stunned nature of the non-metal brethren, especially when you scream “INTENSE METAL IS ALL THAT YOU NEED!” in the face of a cheerleader. And as you’re getting muscled out the door at least you get deliver the gospel of “Metal takes its price – BONDED BY BLOOD!!”

Now that you’ve been kicked out of the party, it’s time to rage to the rest of it in the safety of an empty field or, if you’re really lucky, in a moving car. Start to finish, this album is the definition of drunken, anti-social pugnaciousness. Their theme song “Exodus” has a pummeling riff that will give you that extra bit of adrenaline you need to pull stop signs out of the ground. “And Then There Were None” is a little slower but is just the right tempo for when you’re rocking a parked car back and forth trying to flip it over. “A Lesson in Violence” is great thing to threaten the old man at the liquor store with who wants to see your ID. All of this means you’re under the “Metal Command” of Exodus, “A wall of sonic sound with amps turned up to 10!” And that’s just side one!

Flip it over and Tom Hunting‘s drums set you up for an attack of “Piranha.” One of their fastest songs, it’s also a great warning not to try and do battle with this “deadly school.” Almost a full minute of solo acoustic guitar starts off “No Love.” That would be totally unacceptable if it wasn’t such a heavy song about human sacrifice. “Deliver Us to Evil” is what Mercyful Fate might have sounded like with John Brannon of Negative Approach singing instead of the caterwauling of Queen Rhinestone. The bloody mess of side two wraps up with the absolutely vicious “Strike of the Beast,” one of Gary‘s best riffs.

Recorded in 1984, Bonded by Blood was actively being passed around by tape traders long before its official release in the spring of ‘85. Exodus were huge in their native San Francisco but had not yet done a lot of touring. By that time Metallica was touring their second album Ride the Lightning and Slayer had put out their debut album and two EPs. But when Exodus finally did go on tour, it was with Slayer as they took turns blowing Venom off the stage. It’s well documented on the incredible VHS tape called The Ultimate Revenge, filmed at Studio 54 in New York City (later to become the “new” Ritz). You get to witness Baloff‘s giant afro, hilarious stage banter and the band’s methed up metal attack. Slayer‘s portion is unbelievably heavy. Poor Venom never stood a chance. Touring on the weak Possessed album and without original guitarist Mantas, they refused to let the live footage shot be used in the video. Instead there’s an interview with Cronos and Abaddon while promo videos take the place of their performance. It is to my eternal regret that I was not at this show.

Paul Baloff got the boot from Exodus not long after and things were never the same. Exodus went on to have some successful albums but they always seemed to be competing with Anthrax as to who could be silliest with the shorts and moshing business. They’ve been cranking out some brutally heavy albums for the past 10 years but a big portion of their set remains the Bonded by Blood album. This album was also a good bridge to the Master of Puppets fans who initially found stuff like Hell Awaits, War & Pain, Heavy Metal Maniac and Morbid Tales way too raw. As Baloff would say “metal rules & if you don’t like it, die!” Rage in peace, Paul. YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Exodus, “Die by His Hand”

Exodus, “The Ultimate Revenge”

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Spine of Overkill, by Woody High

Posted in Columns on December 17th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Following up on last month’s tribute to Exciter‘s Heavy Metal Maniac, in his latest Spine of Overkill column, Chris “Woody High” MacDermott takes us back 28 years to a night seeing Exciter, Mercyful Fate and Motörhead share a bill on Dec. 14, 1984, in New York. This is one for the ages. Please enjoy:


Zeptember 1984 was a big month for me. It was the beginning of my senior year of high school but more importantly, the rebirth of Motörhead. 1983’s Another Perfect Day was a great album with Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson, but was not received well by a lot of fans. I saw them live at L’Amours in the summer of ‘83 and was thoroughly blown away. I’d seen the Ramones up close and personal at Iona College and Judas Priest/Iron Maiden at Madison Square Garden in the cheap seats but neither event prepared me for Motörhead’s live assault. My ears rang for EIGHT DAYS afterwards. After Robbo left I faithfully checked every new issue of Kerrang for the latest news on Lemmy’s next move. It was announced that two new, unknown guitarists were to join the band — Phil Campbell and Wurzel. They looked dirty enough for the job. Then it was announced that Philthy Animal Taylor was leaving to go play in Robbo‘s new band. I was relieved to find out that Pete Gill of Saxon was replacing him. Having worn out Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, I knew he was the man for the job.

On a rare Saturday afternoon in Zeptember that I didn’t have to work, I hopped on a Metro-North train into Manhattan then headed downtown to It’s Only Rock N Roll on 8th Street. My mission was to spend every cent I had in my Motörhead velcro wallet on the latest metal releases. Turns out it was my lucky day. They had just gotten in the brand new Motörhead 12″ single “Killed by Death” and a brand new compilation album called No Remorse. Holy shit, I was excited. Not just for new Motörhead jams but No Remorse was in an album sleeve made of LEATHER!! I can’t remember what else I got that day but the awesome photos and liner notes inside No Remorse helped speed up the torturous train ride back to New Rochelle. More than just a greatest hits compilation, No Remorse had four killer new songs and a bunch of rare B-sides that I hadn’t been able to track down yet. The 12″ single had two great new ones, too, both titled “Under the Knife.” Fucking awesome!

But things were about to get even better. It was announced that the new line up of Motörhead were coming to tour the US. In the year since I had first seen them I had browbeaten several of my friends into getting into Motörhead, too. We were all ready. Alcohol and weeed consumption had greatly increased and tolerance for non-heavy jams was now a thing of the past. Metal or die! Motörhead‘s return to New York was scheduled for Friday, December 14, 1984, and they were bringing two of the heaviest bands with them — Mercyful Fate and Exciter. Holy fucking shit. I don’t remember where or when I got tickets but I do recall the weeks leading up to the concert as pure hell. Who wants to go to school or work when the heaviest bands of all time are coming to blow you away?

Finally December 14 arrived and it was time to get a pint of Jack Daniels to slip into the inside pocket of my denim jacket. We met up on the platform of the Metro North station in Pelham to go space truckin’ into NYC. Other passengers were probably going to a fruity Broadway show or something but we were going to see MOTÖRHEAD, MERCYFUL FATE and EXCITER!!! I can’t imagine that we talked about anything other than how awesome it was going to be. Before heading into the Beacon we hung out in Verdi Square on 72nd St. to guzzle JD and Coke and do one hits of cheap Bronx weeed. It was freezing that night but there’s nothing more metal than partying outdoors in the wintertime. Entering the venue was pure heaven. The merch stall was loaded with killer shirts for all three bands. This stuff was really hard to find back then, even in New York City. Not a lot of retailers were interested in carrying t-shirts with slogans like “Violence & Force” on them.

I’m not sure if we sat in our assigned seats or not but we had a killer view in the middle about halfway up from the stage. When Exciter took to the stage I went completely berserk. These guys were my heroes. I played their two albums Heavy Metal Maniac and Violence & Force constantly and I was finally about to see them. They were so loud and so fast I don’t remember seeing much of them because I was banging my head so frantically. Guitarist John Ricci and bassist Allan Johnson were covered in leather and spikes. All I could see of drummer/vocalist Dan Beehler was his enormous mushroom cloud afro behind his giant drum kit and a gooseneck mic stand angled down so he could scream into it. When he wasn’t singing he was headbangning. “Pounding Metal,” “Heavy Metal Maniac” and some other classics were played before Beehler announced a new song. They had a new album coming out called Long Live the Loud and played a song called “Sudden Impact.” Back then I wasn’t used to bands playing songs that hadn’t been released yet but something about this one grabbed me right away. I knew exactly when it was my turn to scream “Sudden Impact” so I did. It was all over and they walked off the stage. What the fuck, that was only like 15 minutes! Man, lemmy tell you, we were PISSED!! We started kicking the seats in front of us and screaming about “what kind of bullshit is this?” etc. Still fuming, we went downstairs to take a leak and stumbled upon an unlocked janitor’s closet. The memory is foggy but I do recall knocking over some shelves full of paint cans, making a big mess while ranting and raving about the injustice of Exciter‘s short set. I mean, really? Why bring them all the way to NYC from Ottawa for 15 fuckin’ minutes? They didn’t even get to play “Iron Dogs!”

Our mood improved when we stole some money off of one of the bars to buy beer. Mercyful Fate was up next and they better be really fucking good if they were going to be following Exciter. I must admit that back then I wasn’t sure how I felt about Fate. I loved their music but found King Diamond‘s singing pretty annoying. Bob Muldowney of my favorite fanzine Kick*Ass had started calling him Queen Rhinestone so I did, too. Fate‘s audience included a lot of dudes who were pretending to be Satanists, which I thought was silly. I had heard rumors of cults in Yonkers and White Plains but the reality was that they were living with their parents and smoking a lot of weeed, just like I was. I had a job after school and on the weekends which didn’t leave me a lot of time to worship Satan. Anyway, Mercyful Fate started playing and most people loved it while some hated it. I was pretty indifferent. I was also completely blotto. King Diamond was doing his banter in between songs in that ridiculous falsetto, which I thought was totally lame. I wasn’t really impressed with his bone mic stand, either but the band was tight as shit. I don’t think I watched their entire set and probably went back to the bar to try and steal more money for beer. I actually like Mercyful Fate a lot more now than I did back then and am able to enjoy King‘s unique voice. I often fantasize about an album I’d love to produce called Diamond Meets Diamond, duets between King Diamond and Neil Diamond. Can you imagine the incredible version of “Delilah” they could do?

Once Fate was done, it was time for the main event – MOTÖRHEAD! Exciter and Mercyful Fate both had a lot of amps on stage but Motörhead’s backline dwarfed them. This was gonna be good. Back then smoking was still allowed at shows and there was always a giant cloud of pot smoke over the crowd. As we were sitting there wishing we had saved some of our weeed, a good samaritan turned around and passed us a HUGE joint. It was Jim and Pete, two friends from Pelham that were a year or two ahead of us. They must have spotted us and decided to help us out. This random act of kindness would be repeated several times over the years – Johnny Winter, also at the Beacon, Bad Brains at L’Amours, Rollins Band at CBGB. Thanks again bros, I owe you both big time.

Now that our attitudes had been fully adjusted and my insanity level was at its peak, Motörhead strolled out. Lemmy picked up an empty Jack Daniels bottle off the stage and yelled into the mic “I get hit with anything, the show’s over!” before blasting off with “Iron Fist.” Just as I had hoped, it was really, really loud. The headbanging I’d done earlier in the night was merely a warmup. “Stay Clean,” “Metropolis,” and “Ace of Spades” were mixed in with the new “Killed by Death” and “Steal Your Face.” Everyone was going completely mental. Rows of seats were now completely loose, not just from people kicking them but from shaking them violently as they clutched them while headbanging. This was before slam dancing, or “moshing,” became expected at metal shows. Hair was flying around, fists pumping and row after row of heads moving in unison like pistons in a giant engine of steel. While introducing the song “Jailbait” Lemmy demanded to see some tits and several ladies obliged. Could things get any better? Yup. When they cranked out “No Class” none other than Wendy O. Williams came flying out on stage to sing it. She had barely any clothes on and was screaming her brains out while running around like a maniac. Eventually it all came to an end with “Overkill,” as it always should. Dumbfounded, everyone left. There was no question that Motörhead wrote the book on what was becoming known as thrash metal and were about to write a few new chapters for everyone else to steal from.

This really was one of the greatest nights of my life. It was so much fun and so full on. Not much has topped it in the past 28 years. As fate would have it, December 14, 201,2 fell on a Friday night and my band Mighty High played a gig at Trash Bar in Brooklyn. Was it anything close to what went down in 1984? No fucking way, but not a bad way to have celebrated this anniversary. Stay clean in 2013!

Motörhead “Steal Your Face” live 1984

Exciter “Iron Dogs” live 1985

Mercyful Fate “Into The Coven” live 1984

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Altered States, with Dr. Space

Posted in Columns on November 29th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

In his latest column for The Obelisk, Scott “Dr. Space” Heller of Danish psych jammers Øresund Space Collective takes us through a gem of obscure Japanese psychedelic heaviness, the 1987 debut LP No More Pain, by Tokyo trio Doom. Please enjoy:

Doom, No More Pain (Explosion Records EXP-HM283Q24)

DOOM were an amazing Japanese three-piece band that made some pioneering records in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. They were led by fretless bass player Koh Moroto, who sadly passed away in 1999. No More Pain was released only in Japan and came in April 1987. I received a copy on a promo tape earlier in the year and then the real vinyl copy arrived in April. I ran my own heavy metal fanzine called Metal Madness from 1984-1988 and followed the Japanese scene closely due to a good Japanese friend.

Anyway, I was totally blown away by this record and still am today. The band had previously released a 7” also on Explosion Records in 1986. This record starts off with the very intense, “Death to Wimp!” It has a slow looping Japanese drone, drum intro as the sound gets louder and louder and faster and faster then, bang – it just hits you full-force (especially if you have it cranked up loud!). Takashi Fujita was the brilliant riff master and psychedelic guitar solo deliverer and also the vocalist. The riff is heavy metal, thrash but then Takashi plays these really intense solos like in the slow part of this opening track which then suddenly switches after the slow section into Slayer-like thrash metal. Very intense stuff.

The record production is also really excellent and powerful. “Body No Body” starts with some really intense bass before the main section takes off at a fast pace. It is really the bass and intense time changes that drive this track. The solo section takes you to some otherworldly dimension as the sound floats over the top of the clear and intense bass lines. This was clearly way ahead of its time and some of the first what I would call psychedelic experimental metal. The spacey section in this track is just so cool. They had dynamics.

“I ‘m Your Junky Doll” is probably my favourite track on this record as it has this hypnotic rhythm and just cool strangeness to it and a killer guitar riff. Wow, what a powerful number. “Cry of You No Long Life” ends side A. The riff is very influenced by the fast songs of Slayer and Metallica of this era but has a really complex rhythm, amazing bass and dynamics. Again, Takashi plays some really psychedelic shredding and crazy guitar. You have to remember these guys were a three-piece and did not have two guitars so Koh, his bass playing is so powerful, they could just drive the tracks without the rhythm guitar when Takashi was soloing.

Flip the record over and you have the title-track, “No More Pain.” It starts slowly and quiet with a solo melodic guitar line, some ideas and things you hear on the first Dark Buddha Rising LP appear (I wonder if they ever heard this record) and the bassline comes in alone and then the band takes off with a massive intensity, but only briefly before a super-cool beautiful guitar section and an almost whispered vocal is mixed to a quite psychedelic effect.

Again, amazing dynamics. And the midsection is totally psyched-out with crazy guitar and voice and other effects, getting really intense before the beautiful parts return and repeat several times. “Iron Card” is a fast one with more cool bass and the band is tuned in a different way on this track, giving it a different sound. It is a bit like Motörhead almost at times. “Kick it Out” has a heavy riff and changing rhythm like Metallica, but they do it in their own way, and “Til Death” is a super-fast thrash number. Takashi returns with that really cool psychedelic guitar soloing sound that just lifts the solo out of the sound somehow.

This might not be for everyone but it was the first metal that I heard that I considered psychedelic. Two years ago, Victor in Japan rereleased four of the band’s CDs from the Killing Fields EP (1988) to Human Noise (1991). This record has still never been re-released. The CD is available in Japan with the first EP on it as well.

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Spine of Overkill, by Woody High

Posted in Columns on November 13th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Chris “Woody High” MacDermott‘s Spine of Overkill column just keeps getting better. This month, the Mighty High guitarist/vocalist takes a look at the roots of speed metal, focusing in on Canadian trio Exciter‘s 1983 debut album, Heavy Metal Maniac.

Please enjoy:


Just about every day I wish I wasn’t so fascinated by music history, but every single day I’m grateful to be a heavy metal maniac. What do these two things have in common? An awful lot when it comes to Ottawa’s heaviest export, Exciter. They’re often lumped in as “also rans” alongside Metallica, Slayer, etc., but the fact is that they predate just about everyone in the North American speed metal sweepstakes. They recorded a demo in 1980 that contained a song called “World War III” that eventually wound up on Shrapnel Records 1982 compilation US Metal Volume II. The first Metal Massacre compilation with Metallica on it also came out in 1982 but I’m not sure which one came first. Throughout 1982 Metallica was writing their first batch of originals and releasing them on demos alongside covers of obscure New Wave Of British Heavy Metal covers. Exodus, Slayer, Overkill and Anthrax were all doing mainly covers and Megadeth didn’t exist yet. Meanwhile, in the summer of ’82, Exciter were recording demos that would eventually be released as their debut album by Shrapnel in January 1983. Also in the summer of 1982 they got the chance to open for Black Sabbath in their hometown. Kill ‘Em All is often mentioned as the album the really kicked off the speed/thrash/whatever you want to call it movement of the ‘80s but for my money, the prize should go to Exciter. Distribution for this kind of metal was hard to come by, the general metal audience wasn’t ready for it and the label didn’t have enough resources to put the band on the road so most people discovered Exciter about a year later as the market started to get crowded.

Now that the history lesson’s over, Heavy Metal Maniac stands up as one of the heaviest, most belligerent documents of its time. A gust of spooky wind opens the album as a prelude to the brief instrumental “The Holocaust.” At least I think it’s wind. It’s hard to tell from all the tape hiss on top of the hiss coming out of John Ricci‘s guitar amps. An explosion ends the song and piledrives you straight into the metal anthem “Stand up and Fight.” Fast, furious and completely balls to the wall. John Ricci‘s guitar sounds like a swarm of distorted bees rounded out by Allan Johnson‘s thudding bass work. Dan Beehler‘s double bass drumming takes your head off but it’s his frantic screaming that really seals the deal. Any band with a singing drummer gets extra points, but the tally is ridiculously high when you’re hammering out beats like this. When it comes to frenzied metal preaching, Beehler‘s work here is up there with Paul Baloff on the classic Bonded by Blood album. The song “Heavy Metal Maniac” is even more inspired. The opening lyrics “Hey little honey come along with me/Won’t you take a free ride,” not only references Edgar Winter but gets you revved up for the chorus of “I’M A HEAVY! METAL! MANIAC!! STAND BACK!!!” I remember clearly listening to this song in my bedroom and being inspired to do more than just headbang. The music compelled me to jump around like an idiot and it felt good running straight into the walls. This was long before I ever saw “moshing” at metal shows. How do they follow up those two speed metal classics? By reminding everyone that only playing fast isn’t heavy at all. “Iron Dogs” starts off with one of the most crushing metal riffs of all time. I’m convinced that a lot of the New York hardcore bands studied this song for use in their “mosh” parts. For a bunch of dudes from Canada they capture a bleak urban feel as they unfold the horror story of “IRON DOGS EAT THE CITY!!!” When John Ricci switches gears to a faster riff you can hear him almost stumble but there’s no way he was going to stop the take and punch it in. This is raw meat metal at its finest. “Mistress of Evil” wraps up Side Heavy in fine molten style.

Flipping it over to Side Metal, you are under attack. Literally. Dan Beehler unloads a killer double bass fill before the band erupts on the pummeling thrasher “Under Attack.” They try to restrain themselves a bit on the intro of “Rising of the Dead” but quickly things get fast ‘n’ furious. About halfway through a nice “Children of the Grave”-style speed boogie emerges. The seven-minute “metal ballad” of “Black Witch” is interesting. A year later on Ride the Lightning, Metallica would include a seven-minute “metal ballad” called “Fade to Black” that bears some similarities to “Black Witch.” I’m sure Lars was keeping close tabs on the competition. I doubt Metallica intentionally ripped off Exciter but both songs share a lot of common roots. “Cry of the Banshee” gets things back to full on thrashing. Starting off with another classic Beehler drum intro, John Ricci‘s tortured Strat screams out another killer riff. They must have been proud of the lyrics to this one because they blew up one of the lines to print on the back cover – “When twilight burns across the sky you’d better run and hide/The beast will roar from deep inside.” 

As great as the music is, encountering Heavy Metal Maniac in a record store back then was even better. If you were looking for full-on metal, you knew this one wasn’t false advertising. You couldn’t hear this stuff anywhere so you had to go by gut instinct. Sometimes you’d see a killer album cover, take a chance and it would be kinda weak. There’d be keyboards, too many ballads or some horrible Geoff Tate-like vocalist. Not with Exciter. The front cover is an arm with studded leather wristbands and a tattoo of a heart with the word “METAL.” The hand is holding a switchblade and stabbing a Marshall speaker cabinet. The Exciter logo and words Heavy Metal Maniac are in blood red and in a font easy enough for anyone to scribble on a desk, wall or book cover. Flip it over and you see three metal maniacs covered in denim, leather and hair. Their friends and roadies thanked on the back cover have cool nicknames like T.N.T., Clint, Headbanger and Crank It Up. The guys in Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear don’t hang out with anyone named Crank It Up. I’ve never actually looked at one of their records. Maybe their sound guy is named Turn It Down for all I know. I also can’t say how much I appreciated them labeling the sides Heavy and Metal – something that inspired me to do the same on all my homemade metal mix tapes. In 2012, it seems unbelievable that a 1984 UK tour of The Rods, Metallica and Exciter was cancelled due to lack of ticket sales but it’s true. It wasn’t until December of 1984 that I actually got to see Exciter‘s brand of pounding metal live in concert with Motörhead and Mercyful Fate. Details of that adventure next time.

Exciter – Heavy Metal Maniac full album:

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Fire on the Mountain, by Ben Hogg

Posted in Columns on November 6th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It’s been a bit since we last heard from Ben Hogg, but the Beaten Back to Pure/Birds of Prey frontman has sent over another installment in his ongoing Fire on the Mountain series, and like all of them so far, it’s excellent. This time around, it’s bugs, bus drivers and his first inductions into the glories of heavy metal.

Please enjoy:

Fire on the Mountain

Welcome back y’all. As I perused my previous articles to refresh myself on what I’d gone over with you, kind readers, previously, I realize I have left out some of the minutia that made up life during my coming up years. The day to day, if you will.

The threat of impending insect stings was ever-present. I have sampled a bit of poison of every kind of flying insect I can think of in that region. Here’s a quick list in order from least painful to most intense: Honey bees are quaint, unless they get ya in a swarm, but we can suffice to say that that math applies to all these bastards, you just have to extrapolate the intensity. Next would be the yellow jacket. The bitch about these devils is they don’t even produce honey and they nest in a variety of ways. They can make hives against your house to get at you while you fiddle with your keys at the door, or in the ground so you can really piss them off by running your mower over their universe to the point they all bring their thunder.

From there, you really step up a couple of notches to the wasp type families. I’m grouping the dirt dauber into that mix because they appear to be the same insect but the dauber is all black instead of the classic red/black combo we are all most familiar with. The dirt daubers are most noted for the way they make homes in little clay tubes against any flat surface and the wasps have those evil looking grey cluster nests. Their biggest upside is that you usually have to fuck with them to get them on your ass. They tend to stay to themselves producing nothing except more wasps.

The next jump up is to the hornet clan — the yellow hornets that live in the hell houses, sometimes stolen from yellow jackets, that are the size of your pillow. They are ornery as they are big, which is the size of a fat pinky finger. They travel in packs and when you try to eliminate them, you better bring your ‘A’-game. If they get after you and get on you, there is a hospital visit coming. When stung by them you can feel their serum like a syringe depositing into you. Wildly unpleasant.

But they finish a mere second to the worst of all the flying offenders. The Japanese Hornets. I don’t know if that’s their official name, but I’ll assume it is. They are red and bigger than their yellow kin and almost all I have seen have taken over and killed off a hive of the yellow variety. Now you get stuck with these red devils who have a knack for getting indoors. Again, they ain’t to be trifled with. Bring the spray and the smoke to eliminate them from your barn or shed. Or just burn the structure down. I fucking hate them things. When you grow up outdoors, fishing or biking your summers away, you are gonna encounter them and I’ve luckily never been allergic to any of them, just pissed off and glad to know most of them die after they sting.

So… there is that. I recognize this is quite a bit to say about this topic, but it’s one that permeates my Appalachian experience and has me acutely aware of all these pests even to this day. Moving on…

I had a school bus driver named Frank Sosebee for many years and he was an interesting dude. Frank wasn’t big on kids and hated when people were fucking around. He must have made enough dough to stay in the game because it certainly didn’t seem to be his love of our education that kept him coming back year after year. He was hair trigger as hell to turn the bus around and have the principle whip our asses. The man didn’t play. I found out years later that Frank had been in WWII and was involved in the invasion of Normandy. He had gotten off the small boat and been shot immediately. The man was something of a war hero, yet never spoke a word about it.

On the other hand, he would talk about deer hunting. Normally his gaze was about 20 percent on the windy back country roads and 80 percent on any perceived shenanigans in the interior of the bus. A lot of “shushing” occurred. That bus was like a mausoleum. However if some of the dudes wanted to talk deer hunting he’d be all involved. He had a specific set of interests, I suppose. Regardless of his iron fist, some of my most memorable fights occurred on his mode of transportation. As it is today, it was then, not everybody likes the way I talk to them. I’m sure Frank is dead by now. Rest easy, you grumpy old prick.

I played baseball and football every year through ninth grade, and I know it may surprise a great many of you, but I was a decent ballplayer. I was an all-star catcher in baseball several times over and a decent enough offensive lineman to be ejected from a couple of games for playing a little outside the rules. I hated practice and lived for game day. Ask any of my former/present bandmates and they can attest to this trait lasting long into adulthood. Living in the sticks required much travel for road games and a colossal pain in the ass for my parents. Another less than commendable trait I developed at this time was being very into my own game. If the team lost but I had played well I remember being able to rest easy. I don’t know what that says about me. Towns County Indian for life! I’ll still smoke most of ya with my outside shot. Take me up on it but bring your wallet.

County days are filled with boredom, especially as an only child, but I’ve always had a knack for beating it back, whether I punted a football for hours at a time or went fishing by myself, I can melt hours away like no one you’ve ever met. It has served me well as a life skill. It also led to my discovery of metal music and complete immersion into it at a young age.

I’m sure many of you have asked yourself during these articles, “Where the hell is the music?” and that’s a fair question. So here it goes.

When I was eight, the year was 1980 and my stepdad turned me onto two Alice Cooper records, Love it to Death and School’s Out. I loved them both, still do to this day, played air guitar on a baseball bat and knew every riff that both of those records held within. After a couple of years though I had lost my way and was listening to Men Without Hats and Prince‘s “1999.” Neither of them had floored me the way Alice had but I was only 11 and still searching.

In Sixth grade the Scorps broke big in America with the “Rock You Like a Hurricane” single and their Love at First Sting album. “Hurricane” wasn’t getting airplay, at least not where I could hear it, but there was a commercial for the album on the radio that contained that opening riff and I knew I had to have it.

But how? I had no money. No record store. My mom surely wasn’t down with an album which had a naked chick and a metal dude screwing on the cover. I was at a loss. We had a gift exchange in our classroom, where you drew names and bought for that person. The girl who got my name asked me what I wanted. We certainly weren’t tight, as my lady-getting rap hadn’t been developed at that point either. I don’t know how they attained the cassette but they had and it all fell into place after that. 

Next were Quiet Riot and Mötley Crüe. Then I found magazines that had those bands in them and then I was exposed to Priest and Maiden. My next stoke of fortune occurred when my rolling stone father landed work in San Francisco and I’d visit during the summers and around the Christmas break. So I went looking for bands like Raven and Armoured Saint albums I had heard about and ended up stumbling into the Bay Area thrash explosion.

I saw an issue of Metal Mania magazine in a record store rack and it had Freddy Krueger and Scott Ian on the cover. Up till that point I had only seen Anthrax in small ads in glossy mags, now here they were on the cover of a news print rag. I soon after sent Attitude Adjustment and Mordred money for their 1985 demos and the dam had broken.

In the meantime my folks had scooped up a big-ass satellite dish, one of those 10-foot-wide fuckers that we planted in our garden and I’d have to go and hand crank that beast toward the Canadian sky and soon after I had found the “Pepsi Power Hour” on Canada’s Much Music Network. Canadian MTV, pretty much. I saw videos from Celtic Frost, Voivod and Venom and my interest in the whole thing was piqued.

Some people get the fever from their older siblings or a cool pot smoking neighbor but since I had neither, I found my own way. I remember the mailman, inexplicably, delivering a package that contained Destruction‘s Eternal Devastation to my school. Small town bullshit right there. It wouldn’t fit in my locker, so I had to tote it around the rest of the day, fielding questions. Nobody got it and the Bible thumpers (everyone?) were taken aback.

Well, there is more to that but I will pick up again in the next go around, I have to get ready to go to work.
Until next time, don’t be dicks and up the irons!!!

Ben Hogg

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Spine of Overkill, by Woody High

Posted in Columns on October 18th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

In his latest Spine of Overkill column, Chris “Woody High” MacDermott takes a look back at TT Quick and time spent at the Rising Son in Yonkers. As ever, he’s fucking brilliant. Please enjoy:

Hello to the Yo – a personal history of TT Quick and the Rising Sun

It’s going to be hard to top the reaction I got to last month’s column about the Big 4 Before The Big 4 (Anvil, Riot, The Rods and Twisted Sister). People from near and far went out of their way to lemmy know how much they enjoyed it and shared their own stories of growing up with those bands. I was just a hair too young to catch the class of 1982 in their club daze prime but a band I did get to see many, many times in a bar was the pride of Ozzy Osbornville, NJ – TT Quick. And not just any bar, the legendary, super scuzzy Rising Sun in Yonkers, NY. Truly a match made in metal heaven.

According to Yonkers.gov, “The City of Yonkers, located on the majestic Hudson River, is the fourth largest city in the State of New York and is the largest city in beautiful Westchester County.” There’s no mention of the fact that it was home to a large population of dusted out metal maniacs in the 1980s who made their counterparts in White Plains and New Rochelle (my hometown) seem positively tame. Yonkers Raceway has been rebranded as the Empire Casino, but back in my day it was just a landmark off of the New York State Thruway on the way to the Rising Sun. L’Amours in Brooklyn and L’Amours East in Queens were the metal capitols but the Rising Sun hosted some great shows. It was a regular stop for Twisted Sister on their never-ending club tours of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The Raven/Metallica “Kill ‘Em All For One” tour also made a pit stop there. Cover bands thrived there. There was still a large crowd of blue collar dudes that just wanted to relax and jam out to some Zep covers after a long day of smoking weeed at BOCES. It was also a total dump, but easy to get into if you were underage during the last days of the 18 (then later 19) year old drinking age. When the drinking age finally went to 21 in New York places like the Rising Sun disappeared and bands like TT Quick were left homeless.

During my last two years of high school 1984-‘85 TT Quick would play the Rising Sun every other Friday. I have no idea how many times I actually saw them play. It feels like dozens but maybe it’s because they used to play two sets a night. Maybe because I was drunk every single time and really don’t remember. Either way, they always kicked ass and put on a great show. Slowly but surely more and more of my friends started coming to the shows and bringing more people with them. 914 area code metal crowds were really strong back then. I have to give special credit to my friend Dave for driving me to every single one of these shows. I still owe you a tank of gas!

TT Quick was a great live band. Heavy enough for the dudes getting into all the new speed metal bands, but not too heavy to scare away the guys more into Zep/Aerosmith. A few girls even liked them. Every show was basically a big party. TT Quick specialized in doing kick ass covers. Without fail you’d get “Back in the Saddle” by Aerosmith, “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead and “Into the Void” by Black Sabbath. “Into the Void” was always killer because they’d line up at the front of the stage and do some cool synchronized moves on the ending riff. They’d get the Led out with “Ramble On” and/or “Out on the Tiles,” give the drummer some on “The Wizard” and get me really pumped up with “Son of a Bitch” by Accept. When singer Mark Tornillo became the new singer in Accept a few years ago I knew he’d be a great replacement for Udo. Hell, he did such a great job on Dio‘s “Last in Line” and “We Rock” he should work with Tony and Geezer, too. The rest of the band could really play. Guitarist David Dipietro was especially good. When all the other metal guitarists were switching to pointy Jacksons and Charvels, he stuck with a Les Paul and played the hell out of it. He gave guitar lessons back then and one of his students was none other than Zakk Wylde. Bassist Walt Fortune was very solid and looked pretty decent in leopard print pants. Drummer Glenn Evans was a monster behind the kit. He’d blow us all away by making it sound like he had a double bass kit by using a second floor tom like Bonham. He later joined Nuclear Assault but my memory isn’t strong enough to recall if he used two bass drums for them.

In addition to their killer covers, they’d throw in originals from their self titled EP released in 1984 by Avalanche Records. Avalanche was a short-lived subdivision of Megaforce and used the slogan “Heavy Metal at its Peak.” The best song on the record by far is “Child of Sin.” It’s got a killer stop/start chugga-chugga riff perfect for headbanging with built in pauses to yell “HEY!” Two years later an almost identical riff appeared as the instrumental “Intro” to I Against I by Bad Brains. I doubt Dr. Know pinched it, since it’s not the world’s most original riff, but it is a weird coincidence. I remember Vernon Reid of Living Colour reviewed I Against I for the Village Voice and described “Intro” as “Mahavishnu-esque.” I doubt he’d say the same thing about TT Quick. “Go for the Throat,” “Metal Man” and “Victims” are great US metal songs that rocked hard live. Oddly enough for a band that specialized in heavy rock covers live, they included “Fortunate Son” by CCR on the EP. It’s not a bad version but who wants Creedence in their metal? I don’t ever remember them playing this one live. Chances are if they did I would probably use it as a chance to hit the can and get another bottle of Bud. TT Quick should have been sponsored by Budweiser with all the empties they’d have piled on the stage by the end of the night. Mark Tornillo had a cool shirt that said something like “Olympic Beer Drinking Team.”

In the fall of 1985 I went upstate for college and that put an end to spending every other Friday night in Yonkers with a great band. I only went to the Rising Sun a few more times after that on breaks from school. One of the most insane shows I ever witnessed took place there in October 1985 when Overkill (listed as “Overhill” on the club’s flyer) with S.O.D. opening up. That was right at the start of “moshing” at metal shows and there was a lot of fights between the guys that just wanted to headbang and the new breed of metal slam dancers. Billy Milano wore my Suicidal hat on stage when they covered “War Inside My Head” that night. Every now and then photos from that night show up on the internet. My hat is prominent but luckily I am not visible. TT Quick went on to release Metal of Honor on Megaforce in 1986. It’s a shame that they didn’t achieve more success earlier in their career. By ‘86 metal was either thrash or poser crap and TT Quick didn’t fit into either category. The Rising Sun is now a strip club, so at least there’s still some seedy activity going on at that address. It’s probably for the best that it closed down because I’d probably be living above the place strung out on coke and waiting for the next TT Quick show. New Jersey bangers are well aware that Mark will be fronting Accept on tour now. Be sure to heckle him by yelling out for “Child of Sin” all night long.

“Child of Sin” live at L’Amours 1986

“Supernaut” live at L’Amours 1987

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Altered States, with Dr. Space

Posted in Columns on October 3rd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

One thing about Scott Heller (aka Dr. Space): The dude loves him some space. In his second “Altered States” column for The Obelisk, the Øresund Space Collective jammer takes a song-by-song look at the underrated Pleasant Journey in Heavy Tunes, released in 2000 by Danish outfit Gas Giant. Heller was intimately familiar with the band from their days as Blind Man Bluff, and one can almost feel the grooves of the songs themselves reading his review.

Hope you enjoy:

GAS GIANT- PLEASANT JOURNEY IN HEAVY TUNES (Burnt Hippie Records BHR-003/Loudsprecher LSD043)

While this Danish psychedelic stoner space rock band does not officially exist anymore (the three main guys still play together and make music), in 2000, they released this all time classic record. I met the guys back in 1998, when the band was still called Blind Man Buff. They started BMB in the mid-‘90s after disbanding the ZZ Top cover band, Tube Snake Boogie. These guys were really hard working and from 1995-2001, were meeting three days a week to jam and make songs and listen to Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Kyuss, Black Sabbath, etc… They would occasionally come out and play live as well but not that often.

In 1999, I started hanging out with the band and recording a number of their rehearsals and all their live shows. In January, they entered the studio with local soundman and producer, Ralph Rjeily, (who recently passed away and I wrote a tribute piece to here on this site), where they recorded at the local Black Tornado Studios. These were some intense days as they jammed and laid down the basic tracks for this classic record. The big muff sound on the bass and guitar, with Stefan’s vintage Sound City head and late ‘60s Marshall cabinet was a mean, dirty, fucking heavy sound and pretty well captured on these raw recordings.

One of the things that made the record so intense was the really raw and in your face sound of the guitar and bass, which was mixed really up front, leaving the drummer Pete Hell, in the back but still audible.

The CD starts off with what is now a stoner rock classic, “Too Stoned” (it was the first song on the High times Magazine compilation, High Volume: The Stoner Rock Collection [2004]). The band had previously recorded this song on the Blind Man Buff EP two years before but were not totally satisfied with it. It starts off with the sound of a water pipe as the main guitar riff enters before the killer bassline kicks in. The delays on Jesper’s voice also give it a really psychedelic feel. The main chorus arrives with a powerful Kyuss-like riff and Jesper ramps up the intensity in his vocal delivery as well. The midsection is very spacey and then the tune just takes off with a heavy groove and an uptempo ending.

“Sit Down” starts with the heavy bass before the monster guitar riff kicks in. The lyrics are always very interesting and strange and Jesper delivers a very powerful performance on every song with a catchy chorus that you can sing along to. This one is very raw, a bit looser, grooving but focused on being heavy. Stefan starts to let loose some guitar solos but just teasing you to start. Down the Highway has one of the most nasty guitar and heavy bass from this time period to start this track in this slow grooving track. The mid section slows almost to a stop and there are some spacey sounds before Pete kicks in with the drums again and Thomas leads the groove with the heavy bass line. “All Creatures” starts off with a very psychedelic effected vocal part before the killer groove just takes off again with that really fuzzed out, raw nasty sound. The mid section is really spacey with a lot more effects, delay vocals, cool guitar and heavy bass and then they just rock out like a mother fucker! ”The celebration is about to begin, may I have this dance…”

“Super Sun Trigger” is a very short, catchy and powerful song built on the killer flange guitar riff and sing-along chorus that just gets you hooked. Jesper sings in a bit more laid back fashion until the chorus, “Rescue me/The super sun trigger is coming to you.” “Desert Call” is actually quite an old song of the band’s dating back to 1996. It slows things down a lot but has a real basic easygoing feel and you eventually get hooked. Thomas’s bass line is so intense in the mix, really in your face. “Freak Sensation” is another fuzzed out number with a catchy groove. Jesper has an added effect on the vocal and like “Down the Highway,” the band space out in the middle (live this was often really far out and cool), with Thomas playing some wah bass and Stefan some nasty soloing (what a sound!) before they kick it into high gear and take off again.

The regular CD ends with one of my favourite Gas Giant songs, “Storm of My Enemies,” which used to develop into monster jams live, sometimes over 20 minutes! It is a slow, psychedelic track and when the main guitar riff kicks in complimented by the bass, it is very powerful. Thomas even plays the didgeridoo on this one in the sections before the main riff takes hold. Heavy, intense, psychedelic. The CD features an unlisted track called “Holy Walker,” which was completely conceived in the studio. It is a sort of an electric ballad that came up very spontaneously and features some great guitar and passionate vocals.

Unfortunately for those who never got to see this band live, they were a real mean machine and the songs here were never played like they are on the record and Stefan always did a lot more guitar soloing live and jamming. Lucky for you guys, I recorded nearly ever live concert they played from 1999 until 2005. You can find them at www.archive.org under the Live concert archive. Check out the concert from Leipzeig 2002 for a real blast. The band who made the Mana record (Elektrohasch, 2003) have reunited for a couple of special shows here in Denmark in 2012 but it is unlikely to lead to a full reunion as the guys are busy with other music projects and family obligations.

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