The Saturday Metal Review

Alice Cooper

Constrictor

MCA

Released September 22, 1986

In Many ways Alice Cooper’s 16th studio album Constrictor released in 1986 was a new beginning for the rock God. His two previous albums Zipper Catches Skin and DaDa had failed to resonate fully with fans and Cooper for the first three years of the 80s was in his own personal blackout of drugs and alcohol. To this day the rocker can’t remember recording those albums. By 1983 it was time for a break and Warner Bros had also ended their association with him. Though Cooper by the end of that year had sorted his personal problems out and rid himself of his demons, it was fair to say that he seemed to be heading back to obscurity. For the next few years Cooper did just that, although he did star in a video for Twisted Sister’s the deliciously titled ‘Be Chrool to Your Scuel’.

There was talk in the Cooper camp as early as 1985 that he would return with the sequel to Welcome to My Nightmare which was celebrating its tenth anniversary. There was also talk that Cooper would recruit one Joe Perry, yes Joe Perry of Aerosmith fame. Both rumours would indeed come true but that was much later in Cooper’s discography.

A year later after what seemed like an eternity for fans, Cooper returned with Constrictor. Cooper tapped up guitarist Kane Roberts for the record. Roberts would dress up like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character when playing shows and with the glam period at the time, men with long hair and ribbed muscles Roberts was perfect for Cooper’s set up. Producer Beau Hill who had helped Ratt with their first record suggested that Kip Winger was brought in, the bassist would later go on to form his own band Winger a year later.

In truth Constrictor was not a huge departure from Cooper’s early 80s records that had failed but fans were quick to see that Cooper had reinvented himself at least personally and was focused. Plus for the tour staple songs from the record were metalled up so to speak and always sounded heavier.

Still fans instantly caught on to tracks such as ‘Teenage Frankenstein’ and ‘He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”. Indeed there was to be a neat tie in when Cooper teamed up with the makers of Friday the 13th to score three tracks for that summer’s movie which was the often loved Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Cooper added ‘Hard Rock Summer’ as the third song although it doesn’t appear on Constrictor. But Cooper’s teaming up with an instantly recognizable horror franchise was lightning in a bottle. Though he didn’t star in the movie a video was made for ‘He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” which starred Cooper and some actors from the movie including Jason Voorhees played by CJ Graham. Cooper had always intertwined his live shows with the macabre and this made perfect sense, it was a no brainer.

The record charted at No.59 on the Billboard chart making what appeared to be just a splash in the ocean, but considering his last two records barely scraped the top 200, Cooper was heading back in the right direction.

Constrictor ended up being a huge crossroads for Cooper- had that record failed had he not teamed up with Mr Jason Voorhees and had he not got the right guys in at the time in Roberts and Winger, the future could have been very different. Instead it launched a springboard and gave Cooper a second bite at the apple, and he never looked back.

 

 

 

 

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The Saturday Metal Review

Metal Church

Blessing in Disguise

Elektra Records

Released Feb 7 1989

Metal Church has always been unsung heroes in the American metal scene of the 80’s. Some have compared them to other great thrash bands of the time period, often lumping them in with Bay Area bands like Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. In fact some even include their sophomore effort (The Dark) from 1986 as a seminal thrash classic, but they had a style that blended thrash, power and traditional metal. If anything they seemed to get lost in the shuffle a bit, when you consider how many important thrash albums were released in the mid to late 80’s. One such release was their 1989 follow-up Blessing in Disguise which should have lifted Metal Church to stardom, but in fact it dwarfed them when you think about albums like Metallica’s Justice and Flotz’s No Place for Disgrace; both released slightly before this follow-up.

But still, Metal Church was a formidable act when you consider the full-bodied sound of the guitars, coupled with the strength of incoming Heretic Vocalist Mike Howe (stepping in to replace David Wayne). Even former Metallica guitar tech John Marshall was added to the roster to help bolster their sound, but something was still missing. The tracks were all solid efforts and this was the band’s highest charting release and best-selling album, so all wasn’t lost as some might make it seem to be.

According to some experts, producer Terry Date’s production of the album is very thin and sounding dated by today’s standards, but there is no mistaking the bestial roar of opening track “Fake Healer”. Even tracks like “Rest in Pieces” and “The Spell Can’t Be Broken” display muscular riffs and give way to a certain dynamic playing to keep the listener transfixed. Personally, epic tracks like “Anthem to the Estranged” and “Badlands” proves the band had more in the kitty then given credit for and the group also supplies a competent instrumental track “It’s A Secret” to boot. There’s much to like with this release and it needs a good re-mastering to rival today’s standards.

Best tracks on this release are: “Fake Healer”, “Rest in Pieces (April 15, 1912)”, “Anthem to the Estranged” and “Badlands”. I’m giving this album a solid 7 out of 10.

 

The Saturday Metal Review

Kane Roberts

Kane Roberts

MCA Records

Released in 1987

During Alice Cooper’s resurgence in the 80’s as a heavy metal act, his guitarist Kane Roberts flexed some muscle of his own; recording a solo album in between Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell. Kane proved his mettle; boldly showing off his Rambo-like physique on the album cover and laying down eleven tracks of molten metal with the help of some friends along the way. He enlisted popular metal producer Michael Wagener and teamed up with fellow musicians Steve Steele and Victor Ruzzo to bring his first solo venture to life in late 1987. Kane even brought in Alice Cooper and Kip Winger to co-write a few songs, but the majority of the music is solely credited to the man himself.

As for the music; the riffs are beefy, layered with that patented sound we have come accustomed to hearing on Cooper’s 80’s releases. Kane even proves his vocals is up to snuff, capable of delivering an extreme high range on a batch of songs that would prove the man could compete with the best metal bands of the 80’s. Roberts had a unique look and amazing sound for the time, but sadly his solo career never really took off in the way it should have.

Some critics cited the album as being over the top and clichéd, but there is no denying that Roberts set out to accomplish a musical platform to showcase his song writing abilities and his penchant as fret master on the guitar. He would go on to continue his solo career with a couple albums later on and even finding time to cross over into a second career as a graphic artist and video game programmer.

My favorite tracks on this release are: “Rock Doll”, “Triple X”, “Outlaw”, “If This is Heaven”, “Out For Blood” and “Full Pull”. I am giving this album a solid 8.5 out of 10.

The Saturday Metal Review

Alice Cooper

Raise Your Fist and Yell

MCA

Released on September 28 1987

In the 80’s, Alice Cooper became synonymous with horror films and saw a huge resurgence in his musical career. He starred in Monster Dog, produced a song He’s Back (The Man Behind the Man) for Friday the 13th Part VI and even had a bit part in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Cooper was catching on with a different generation of fans into gory cinema and fist pumping heavy metal, so it was inevitable he would produce an album to reflect those tastes. His song writing turned towards violent actions, evolved into defiant feelings and ultimately became darker than any other album previously produced. In short, he delivered Raise Your Fist and Yell in 1987 and embarked on a tour (Live In The Flesh) to prove his new predatory ways.

The tour became infamous for its graphic violence and theatricality, but still included some of Cooper’s staple moments from past live shows. The difference here was how it was presented in such grand guignol fashion; including impaling a person with a bike, a multitude of onstage deaths and heaping amounts of stage blood! Cooper was truly a madman during this phase of his musical career and the fans ate it up like candy. The new songs detailed a penchant for murderous deeds and defiant actions in numbers like “Time To Kill”, “Chop, Chop, Chop” and “Step On You”. Alice became meaner and nastier; proving songs like “Freedom” and “Lock Me Up” could sway the metal loving kids of the 80’s. It also helped to have the meaty riffs of guitarist Kane Roberts and Kip Winger to back up this new and improved sound, allowing Alice’s newfound image to gestate fully into the 80s metal period.

My favorite tracks on this release are: “Freedom”, “Lock Me Up”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Time to Kill” and “Gail”. I am giving this album a solid 9 out of 10 and will go on to say this is my favorite Alice Cooper release of all time.

The Saturday Metal Review

Steelheart

Steelheart

MCA

Released May 10th 1990

Could it be the music video you watch just before going to work, will be one of a band you’re a fan of for life?

Such was the case in the summer of 1991.  Steelheart’s debut music video of “(Angel Eyes) I’ll Never Let You Go,” appeared on MTV. I was immediately entranced by Miljenko Matijevic’s broad vocal range. So much so I almost forgot to go to work. But I didn’t forget that responsibility…or to remember this latter-day glam rock band.

For Steelheart to not appear on the scene until that era was on its death bed and a mere few years before the birth of grunge, in my humble opinion, made them less than what they could have been. Nonetheless, “(Angel Eyes) I’ll Never Let You Go” reached number 14 on the Billboard charts and the video as the second most requested one on MTV in 1990.

Though they had a few subsequent albums after Steelheart, such as Tangled in Reins, Steelheart this one was the best ever for them. The same can be said about the band members: Chris Risola and Frank DiCostanzo as the guitarists, James Ward on bass, and John Fowler on drums.

There were a few things about this band and this debut album that were firsts for me.

Not to be analytical about trivial things about music, most of the songs’ duration was no less than five minutes. I recall having to buy blank tapes that were 120 minutes long when I made copies for my friends. Before I discovered this band, I don’t think I had done that.

In any case, the unusual duration of the songs was inconsequential in light of what you’d hear.  By the time “(Angel Eyes) I’ll Never Let You Go” is in queue, you will have heard three songs that include but are not limited to a building, heart-thumping intro, thanks to the bass drum; a rippling guitar riff in “Like Never Before”; and tight musical chemistry in “Can’t Stop Me Loving You.” After that song ends, you have four more that have the same qualities, not the least of which is the steady pace of the songs, all of which would make the hair on your arms stay up, and most of all Matijevic’s high notes.  One of those is “Sheila,” the only one of its kind with a rich and decided blues riff and a building call-and-response at the end: “OH, SHEEEEEEEIIIIILLLLLLA!”

My three favorites on there are “Like Never Before,” “Gimme Gimme” and “Down and Dirty.”  Why? Because I “feel” the gutsiness and grit in them, especially in the latter song. That’s how I have, after twenty-five years, remembered this album, the eternal impressions it has made on me.

I therefore give it a 9 out of 10.

Written by Julia Pope