Released: 2012, HPGD Production
Sometimes when a band goes retro, they make sure to add enough modern edge to the project to bring in the younger fans and often forget to deliver the best of the retro goods that are likely to have the crossover appeal to pull in the older fans as well. Downingtown, Pennsylvania’s On Top did not make that mistake. They have delivered a righteous blast from the past, from speed metal riffs, to vocals to…well everything but issuing it on cassette. Infused within the throwback sounds are modern production values, the midrange vocals in place of the helium highs of the 80s’, and a focus on more punky speed combined with street riffs rather than anything sugary. In fact, you will find no ballads here. Quite simply, TOP HEAVY sounds like an American version of Saxon, the similarities to NWOBHM being far greater than to L.A. sleaze or hair metal, which makes the album cover about as poor an indicator of the music within as there has been in a long time.
The band is a legitimate power trio, with bassist/vocalist Jaron Gulino’s singing style being a unique hybrid of Ace Frehley and Zach de la Rocha (yeah, I know, listen to “Sick And Tired” if you don’t believe me). With a style like that, only attitude can save the songs, that attitude basically saying that “I can’t sing to save my ass and do not really give a shit”. And that my friends, is the main appeal of the entire album, the fact that it is delivered with a genuine in your face attitude. The riffs are decent, the production kind of scrappy like a drunken demo, and the songs about on par with your average bar band. The band’s secret weapon is that guitarist Alex Kulick is the real deal, writing some killer riffs and nailing that vintage guitar sleaze tone fused with NWOBHM speed. “Into The Night” would have to be the album’s signature track, and a minor hit in Philadelphia from what I gather. Actually, everybody in the band can play though, but in order to get on board you have to embrace the simplicity and predictability, which for me began to wear thin around the second half of the album.
In essence, On Top is a modern NWOBHM/speed metal band with some elements of sleaze. It is almost obligatory that you chase this with your favorite tasty beverage and indulge in the seamless crafting of early speed metal delivered in 2012. As I said earlier, the band exudes that ass kicking attitude that has pushed many lesser bands over the top. At this point though, the songs do not quite match the attitude but if at some point they do, you can bet these dudes could become a hell of a band. Recommended for NWOBHM and early speed metal fans.