Released: 2011, Pure Steel Records
It is no secret that some of the key factors in the longevity of certain Metal bands are the passion and drive of the artists and fans. There are certain bands that avoid trends, ignore the fads, and continue on year after year, with or without commercial success. They continue to write, record and tour because, like us they love Metal. I would hazard a guess that at this point 30 years into a career, it’s not about the fame and fortune. I happened to notice that recently seven classic bands have reached (or are about to reach) their 30th anniversary and all of them have put our new, full-length studio albums in the past few months. 30 years is a long time in any career, especially one as fickle as the Rock ’n’ Roll business. This month, I decided to pay tribute to these fine bands in a feature where I review all their most recent releases. As of 2012, most of these bands have little or no representation on this site, and I’m here to fix that. It’s hard to imagine that almost 30 years ago, as a teenager, I was buying the debut albums of all of these bands, on cassette! The bands in this feature are Burning Starr (US), Exxplorer (US) Halloween (US), Mad Max (Ger), Oz (Fin), Sinner (Ger), Vengeance (Hol). They are the unsung, heads-down, in the trenches, Metal veterans that emerged in the very early 80’s, and are still going strong. They deserve your respect and attention.
Exxplorer has the distinction of being the least productive and least prolific of all the bands in this feature. That is generally irrelevant because what they are doing today is what counts! Back to the past again for a moment, they put out one great little record called Symphonies Of Steel in 1984. It had not one but two different album covers. I bought the cool one with the skeleton on fire playing the guitar. SYMPHONIES OF STEEL was a decent little album but never did much and they disappeared. The album had enough cache that it has been reissued a number if times and there are now five versions of it each with different cover art! The band resurfaced ten years later in 1994 for a couple more albums that did not capture the bands original sound and vision and then they took another hiatus, this time 15 years! That brings up to 2011 with album number four called VENGEANCE RIDES AN ANGRY HORSE.
The biggest change is the return of original vocalist Lenny Rizzo. This album also sees drummer Mike Makowski joining the lineup. Exxplorer have landed on Pure Steel Records, which is a perfect fit for a band like this. All the pieces are in place for a nice comeback, a new logo, new label, original singer is back, but how does the music hold up?
This 10 track, 55 minute long album starts strong with a cut called ‘Gypsy’ with a gang chorus slightly reminiscent of Dokken’s ‘Cry Of The Gypsy’ from BACK TO THE ATTACK in 1987. The album drives along from there with cut after cut of pure American Metal. I love this stuff. Many people talk about ‘80’s Metal’ with the implication it was all about the commercially successful bands like Poison and Warrant but to me THIS is 80’s Metal along with bands like Lizzy Borden, Malice and all those guys. Every song has a great classic Metal feel, hints of Hard Rock in the melodies, heavy-steady riffs, decent soloing, catchy choruses and clear, powerful vocals that could have been a bit more upfront in the mix. A highlight cut for me is ‘As The Crow Flies’ which starts with very subdued with song excellent soloing and a laidback vocal from Lenny before ripping into an epic tale that gallops along as good as any Maiden song.
Although I have a soft spot for the debut, I feel VENGEAQNCE RIDES AN ANGRY HORSE may be their strongest album of their career. I hope to hell they won’t wait another decade for another album but if this is the last thing they ever do at least they went out on a high-note.