Released: 1986, Shrapnel
Recently, EvilG stopped by my house for a gathering of local metal fans. (It was just the two of us.) Anyway, since he doesn’t have the new disc by Primal Fear yet, I played him a few tracks from my copy. (He loved it, by the way.) Afterward, I put on Racer X’s Street Lethal to point out the similarity between the bridge of "Into the Future" (by PF) and the verse of "Blowin’ Up the Radio" (by RX). Not being familiar with much of Racer X’s material, he asked to hear a little more. Prior to EvilG pointing it out to me, I had never noticed the similarity in the riffing styles of both Racer X and Primal Fear. That was when he suggested that I review Street Lethal as the next Classic Pick. Since I’m such a nice guy, I said "Sure. Why the hell not?"
Hailing from the land of sin and silicone (a.k.a. Los Angeles) in a time when the "poofiness" of a musician’s hair was usually an accurate indicator of his brain tissue density, Racer X first came to my attention through the Shrapnel Records ads which appeared every month on the inside cover of "Guitar for the Practicing Musician". Being a young guitar-god wannabe, I was completely fascinated by the ads and desperately wished to get my hands on some of the recordings that were shown. But alas, every month at the bottom of the page appeared the most frustrating of phrases... "NO ORDERS OUTSIDE U.S.A." As if finding quality music in the Canadian wastelands wasn’t already hard enough, I couldn’t even get the music I longed for via mail-order! Every month I’d look at the ads in "Guitar..." and cry out to the heavens... "LORD!!! WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?!?!?!"
The Metal Gods must have gotten sick of my constant whining, because during my second semester of university in early 1991, I met a fellow metalhead (EvilG) who would introduce me to metallic wonders beyond my imagination. A plethora of new bands (no Racer X, though) varying in both intensity and style, but remaining true to the metal genre were suddenly made known to me... A gift for which I will always be grateful. But one question remained... Where would I find such treasures for myself? The answer came in the form of a Metal Disc catalogue. The selection of music that was now available to me was staggering. And... Oh, Lord... Could it be??? Yes!!! They carried Shrapnel releases!!! Finally, I could get my dirty little paws on some Racer X CD’s (I was even more anxious to hear them at this point since drummer Scott Travis had just recently joined Judas Priest.).
The first Racer X disc I purchased was Live: Extreme Volume. I was utterly dumbfounded by the skill levels of each band member, especially guitarists Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet (*Note: Bouillet didn’t join Racer X until the Second Heat CD in late ‘86.). To be able to perform live such technical and complex, yet exceptionally melodic AND (sometimes) harmonized solos was nothing short of mind-blowing. Sure, a couple of the songs were a little weak, but overall, the band was impressive enough for me to buy more. It was then that I ordered Street Lethal.
When it finally arrived, I rushed home from the Post Office and immediately threw it on the stereo... Only to be left completely slack-jawed by (a then only 19) Paul Gilbert’s guitar solo intro "Frenzy". Sweeps, arpeggios, tapping, staccato... You name it, it was in there. I just sat there... Amazed. And then... The title track began. "Street Lethal" roared from the speakers with a Primal Fear-like opening riff, interwoven with licks and fills that could make the most experienced of guitarists weep in self-pity. It was beyond comprehension! Listening to Gilbert’s maniacal guitar riffs driven on by the pounding rhythm section of bassist John Alderete and original drummer Harry Gschoesser was practically a religious experience! Vocalist Jeff Martin however, did take a little getting used to on this recording. While he did turn in a good performance, his voice did sound somewhat strained on a few of the higher notes. But after listening to this band for over eight years now, I can’t imagine anyone else doing the job.
Overall, the CD was very impressive. Unfortunately, there just weren’t enough tracks in the same vein as "Street Lethal". "Loud and Clear" and "Blowin’ Up the Radio" were similar in aggressiveness, but the rest were a little "laid back" in comparison. But considering the place and the time (L.A., 1986), a certain number of "radio friendly" tunes was to be expected. (Shrapnel artists have to eat too, I guess.) But even the more "glam" sounding songs, like "Into the Night", "Getaway", and "Dangerous Love" were good too, filled with their share of killer riffs and lead-work. Needless to say, I was convinced enough to place an order for Second Heat a short time after that, as well as their second live album, Live: Extreme Volume II, when it became available in 1992.
With the exception of Scott Travis moving on to work with Judas Priest, the other members’ post-Racer X fates were not so glorious... John Alderete and Bruce Bouillet formed The Scream with vocalist John Corabi (who, as most of you are aware, had a brief stint in Motley Crue). They played bluesy, Zeppelin-esque hard rock which nobody (especially me) cared for, and thus faded into obscurity. Jeff Martin disappeared for a while, only to resurface playing drums (?!?) for Badlands just prior to Ray Gillan’s death. He’s since faded into obscurity as well. And Paul Gilbert... Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you know that he and bassist extraordinaire Billy Sheehan formed the Cat Stevens tribute band, Mr. Big. They were semi-good early in their career, but after hearing "To Be With You", an all acoustic pop ballad which did very well on the charts a few years back, Paul Gilbert has been officially listed as "Killed in Action" by guitar enthusiasts worldwide. (Why, Paul? Why?!?!?!) And original drummer Harry Gschoesser... Nobody knows.
Looking at power metal’s resurgence in recent years, Racer X were definitely a band ahead of their time. It’s rather unfortunate that they were only together for such a short period of time, since they could have been an incredible asset to North America’s currently pathetic metal scene. It would be great if these guys could realize just how good they were at this type of music and reunite. (Scott Travis, if you’re reading this... STAY WHERE YOU ARE!!! You are currently on the right path, Grasshopper... Do not stray from it. Haha...) But despite the brevity of their existence, Racer X were surprisingly influential on many of today’s musicians and are remembered fondly as one of America’s premiere metal acts.