Epic! No other word will do to describe the latest Spine of Overkill column by Woody High. Dude has outdone himself, speaking from both personal experience and critical expertise about the Big 4 before the Big 4. All metal, no marketing. Cheers to Woody and dig this if you dare:
The Big 4 (Before The Big 4)
The past few years there’s been all this hoopla about “the Big Four of Thrash Metal” and who’s in it, who’s not, who should be, etc. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth are certainly the biggest four bands to have emerged out of the 1980s thrash heap and all of ‘em put out big albums in 1986-‘87. Exodus and Overkill predate some of those bands and paid the price for being a little too early to the party, doing too many whippets and passing out before everyone showed up. Exciter never gets mentioned in the discussion even though their landmark debut Heavy Metal Maniac was recorded in 1982 and released in January ‘83.
But the road all these bands traveled on were paved by what I like to call “The Big 4 Before The Big 4″ – Anvil, The Rods, Riot and Twisted Sister. These bands were all on the wrong continent to be part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal but helped inspire the first wave of thrash and rabid metal mongers in search of faster and louder. If 1986 is looked at as the pinnacle of thrash, then 1982 can be seen as the peak of the underground street metal era.
By now everyone’s seen the Anvil movie and there’s even been a bit of a backlash against them because they’re sort of popular. Whatever. The fact remains that their second album, Metal on Metal, came out in April 1982 and kicked major ass. I read about Anvil in the pages of my favorite zine, Kick*Ass, and knew right away I had to check this band out. Anvil took their Ted Nugent, Deep Purple and Motörhead influences and mixed them with potent Canadian beer to form a speedy new hybrid. Metal on Metal contains many classics like the anthemic title-track, “Mothra,” “666″ and the killer instrumental “March of the Crabs.” I was thrilled by the dirty lyrics of “Jackhammer,” “Tease Me, Please Me,” “Tag Team,” “Heatsink,” and “Scenery.” The only song that I was not that into was “Stop Me,” sung by pretty boy rhythm guitarist Dave Allison. Back in 1982, you usually had to put up with one kinda wimpy song that you know the record company made them do to try and get on the radio. Lips‘ lead guitar playing is killer on the entire album. He combined a fancy Michael Schenker/Ritchie Blackmore Euro style with a full on gonzo Nugent malicious intent that’s quite impressive. Robb Reiner‘s drumming took inspiration from Carmine Appice and Tommy Aldridge but he was also smart enough to get hip to the swinging approach from Louis Bellson, an early double bass drummer in the jazz world. (Check out Bellson‘s classic drum solo piece “Skin Deep” if you don’t believe me.)
I never got to see Anvil at their peak in ‘82 or ‘83 when they were deafening everyone at L’Amours and in New Jersey clubs but I caught them a few years later in Rochester, NY. It was either 1987 or ‘88 when they played a club called Backstreets (the radio ads said, “Backstreets is HUUUUUUUUUGE!”) on a frigid, rainy, snowy night in the middle of the week. There was hardly anyone in the place. The guy who I had convinced to drive wanted to leave before they even played when he saw all the gear on stage. Back then, Lips would have three Fender Twin amps sitting on top of three extension cabinets. Bassist Ian Dickson had a pair of Ampeg SVT stacks and Dave had double Marshall stacks. Robb‘s drum kit was enormous with a giant anvil in between the bass drums. There was no way I was going to split so I had to promise I’d buy him a garbage plate from Nick Tahou‘s after the show to get him to stick around. I’d seen bands play to small crowds and it was obvious they weren’t into it. Anvil came out blasting at full volume and went completely nuts on stage like they were headlining a stadium. They really pulled out all the stops. When Lips busted out the vibrator for the solo on “Bondage” he stuck it in some girl’s drink to stir it up for her. I’m sure it must have improved the flavor greatly. Before playing the song “Mad Dog,” Lips pulled his bulldog onstage and showed the crowd the dog’s balls. Classy and classic.
Anvil – “March of the Crabs” and “666″ Live in Japan 1983
The Rods traveled a similar path to Anvil. Hailing from upstate NY but making a name for themselves in the clubs of outer borough NYC and New Jersey, The Rods were another deafening live act. The Rods took inspiration from late ‘60s loud power trios like Cream, Hedrix, James Gang, Blue Cheer and sped it up. Playing Led Zep covers in Jersey dumps to underage drinkers requires desperate measures to get their attention. Their independently released debut Rock Hard came out in 1980 but was picked up and repackaged as The Rods in 1981 by Arista. The Rods were getting a lot of attention in the UK newspaper Sounds and toured over there with Iron Maiden. It didn’t hurt that guitarist David “Rock” Feinstein was the cousin of Ronnie James Dio and played with him in his pre-Rainbow band Elf.
By the time they got around to recording their second album Wild Dogs in 1982 it looked like they were going to be a really big band. Wild Dogs is a bombastic, belligerent collection of songs that belonged in the tape deck of every Trans Am in the Tri-State and beyond. Still does as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter where I am but as long as it’s warm enough to have all the windows of my car rolled down I’m cranking “Too Hot to Stop” and I don’t give a fuck who doesn’t like it. The opening riff is one of the best that AC/DC didn’t write and the lyrics “I’m low down and dirty/I’m a nasty man” are great to yell at some uptight broad in the car next to you at the red light. And when you’re burning rubber and she’s choking on your smoke everyone knows that you are indeed “Too Hot to Stop.” Unless you’re pulling up to the liquor store, of course. Then it’s okay to stop. But when you get back in there are plenty more kickass jams to blast. There are so many great lyrics on Wild Dogs. “Rockin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ Again” has some of the best like, “Red hot women, snortin’ cocaine/Line ‘em up I wanna hit ‘em again!” The Rods love rock ‘n’ roll and love writing songs about rock ‘n’ roll like, “The Night Lives to Rock” and sleazy road-life-inspired, gonorrhea-drenched love songs like “Violation” (“I didn’t know she was only 17!”) and “No Sweet Talk, Honey.” Their attempt at getting on the radio was with a cover of a cover. Vanilla Fudge had a hit in the ‘60s with a slowed down version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes. The Rods’ version is shorter and a bit faster but didn’t give them a hit.
It is to my eternal regret that I have never once seen The Rods, one of my all-time favorite bands. They’re back in action again and put out a new album last year called Vengeance that was pretty good. I’m hoping they play New York someday and bring down those custom speaker cabinets that Rock and bassist Gary Bordonaro used to play through. The back cover of their Live album shows TWELVE cabinets on either side of Carl Canedy‘s giant, shiny double bass drum kit. Back in the pre-Dave Lombardo days, Carl was the only guy to rival Robb Reiner in the double bass wars. Phil Taylor was too Keith Moon-ish to compete with the accuracy of Carl and Robb. For those who don’t know, Carl plays drums on the first Manowar demo and produced a lot of bands for Combat Records including Overkill, Anthrax, Exciter and Possessed.
The Rods – “Power Lover” live in NY 1983
If ever a band deserved the two-hour Behind The Music treatment, it’s Brooklyn’s own Riot. Founding member Mark Reale started the band in 1975 and sadly passed away earlier this year. There’s a box set titled A Study in Frustration of swing-era band leader Fletcher Henderson. That same title could be used if they ever decide to make a movie about Riot. The new issue of Classic Rock Magazine has a great article about Riot‘s formation and career struggles through the 1980s that will tell you everything you need to know. If ever a band deserved more success it was them. Bands like Anvil and The Rods were ultimately too heavy and wild for an AC/DC mainstream hard rock crowd in 1982, but Riot could have gone the distance. 1981′s Fire Down Under is an undeniable classic. Heavy enough for a metal crowd, melodic enough for normal people and great playing for the musicianly types. Plus, singer Guy Speranza had a killer afro to rival Handsome Dick Manitoba or Don Brewer.
When Guy decided to cut his ‘fro and quit the band, they came up with a winner in his replacement Rhett Forrester. Rhett had poofy blonde hair, a lot of charisma and a great bluesy voice. The album Restless Breed is another classic. Some purists say Fire Down Under is better but I’ve always put them on equal footing. The only drawback Riot really had was their goofy half-man/half-seal mascot and some people never took them seriously because of the album covers. Their loss. Restless Breed has some of the heaviest songs they ever did like “Hard Lovin’ Man” (not the Deep Purple song), “CIA,” “Violent Crimes,” and “Loanshark.” Backing up Rhett was the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Kip Lemming and drummer Sandy Slavin and the excellent guitar team of Mark Reale and Rick Ventura. The title-track is a moody slow burn that should have become an afternoon drive time anthem alongside Blackfoot‘s “Highway Song.” If you ever need a song to go riding off into the sunset with, this is it. “Loved by You” could have easily won over Van Halen fans but David Lee Roth always maintained a “no blonde singer” policy for his opening acts. If you had a girlfriend in 1982, she probably would have liked “Over to You” (not the Black Sabbath song), “Showdown” and “Dream Away.” Riot‘s attempt at getting on the radio with a cover of “When I was Young” by The Animals could have worked in getting some older classic rock fans to check them out. Both Guy and Rhett died way too young and under tragic circumstances. It’s sad that Mark‘s passing has made more people aware of Riot‘s classic albums but it would be even sadder if they were totally ignored.
Riot – “Restless Breed” live
Rounding out this class of 1982 is Long Island’s own Twisted Fuckin’ Sister. Everybody’s aware of their huge MTV video hits but hardcore metal freaks like me still cling to their early singles, EPs and live tapes. By 1982, Twisted Sister had created a huge following in the NY/NJ/CT area by blasting out a couple sets a night four or five times a week. The drinking age was 18 and fake IDs were very easy to get. When underage girls are at a show that guarantees a ton of guys are going to be there trying to get in their pants. Twisted Sister were loved by blue collar suburban metalheads but looked at as a joke by the industry and hipsters in NYC. They couldn’t get a record deal and rarely ever played in Manhattan. They’d rent out the Palladium and sell it out but would get no media attention. Other bar bands like The Good Rats or Zebra had big followings but Twisted Sister crowds were the rowdiest. They’d rile everyone up with smokin’ versions of “Draw the Line” by Aerosmith, “Sin City” by AC/DC and “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Rainbow before pulling out their originals. As a kid I heard their name all the time on the local rock radio stations concert listings and seen some of the older burnouts in school wearing their shirts. In early 1982 I saw them play live on a tv show and they totally blew my mind. I stayed up late to watch a show hosted by Flo & Eddie from The Turtles but I was a big fan of their work with Frank Zappa. They introduced this bunch of freaks that all looked like Alice Cooper (who I’ve always been a huge fan of) and then they blasted into “Under the Blade.” You can bet when they finally released their debut album, also called Under the Blade, I picked it up the day it came out.
In recent years, Twisted Sister has been acknowledging their early days more often and have answered some demands from fans. One of them was to finally re-release Under the Blade as it originally came out (they remixed it at some point in the ‘80s and Atlantic reissued it) alongside the Ruff Kuts EP. Last year they did just that and packaged it with an unbelievable DVD from their set at the Reading Festival right after they recorded the album. They also put out an incredible DVD of a full show from earlier that summer right before they took off for England to go into the studio with Pete Way of UFO as producer. “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)” is one of the best opening fuck-you songs of all time. Very Alice Cooper influenced, it tells lays it down that if you’re not into this then you’re lame and get the fuck out. Twisted Sister often get compared to KISS and there are a lot of similarities, but they always had more in common with Alice‘s blend of anthemic hard rock and theatrics. “Shoot ‘em Down” and “Bad Boys (of Rock ‘n’ Roll)” are classic Bon Scott-era influenced AC/DC songs and “Sin After Sin” is a great Judas Priest song mixed with “1969″ by The Stooges.” “Tear It Loose” is pure Motörhead and “Day of the Rocker” is a great Rose Tattoo tribute. “Run For Your Life” and “Destroyer” are so fuckin heavy but the title track is the real highlight of the album. So creepy and heavy at the same time. If you can’t headbang to this song then you must have been born without a neck. I was lucky enough to catch Twisted Sister a few times in their pre-fame club daze and they remain one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. If you don’t believe me, there’s plenty of evidence out there to confirm it. A friend of mine’s been hooking me up with some vintage live tapes the past few years. Anyone who wants to check ‘em out, get in touch and I’ll be glad to hook you up.
Twisted Sister – “Under The Blade” live 1982
I recently turned 45 years old, which means I’ve been listening to these records for 30 years. Jesus, that’s a long fucking time. Each year some new aches and pains seem to come out of nowhere but I can accurately pinpoint the beginning of my hearing loss.