When a bootleg live CD just has a picture of the bass player on the front, you know you’re not in for a perfect listening experience (Motorhead, Kiss and Iron Maiden bootlegs excepted). Nothing against Johnny Lee Middleton of course, but it would make more sense to put Jon or Criss Oliva on the cover. U.S.A. 1990 (released 1994) comes from Live Storm in Italy, where many bootlegs originated. It seems to consist of songs from multiple shows, due to the repeating “Of Rage and War” and “Hounds”.
Repeat aside, U.S.A. 1990 focuses on early heavy tracks with not a single ballad. Fans of early ‘Tage are going to love getting live versions of “The Dungeons are Calling” and “City Beneath the Surface” from the Dungeons are Calling EP (1984). There is also the amazing riff-tastic title track from Sirens (1983), to this day still one of their best tracks. Interestly enough, this very same version of “Sirens” was released officially (and in official sound quality) as a bonus track on the long deleted Music For Nations pressing of Sirens. You can tell when Jon screams “Danke schön! Hello Deutschland! You are metal!” It’s the same version…but wait a sec! Last I checked, Deutschland is not in the U.S.A.! Such is the charm of a bootleg release.
“Hounds” from Gutter Ballet (1990) is ominous and evil-sounding, made more so by Jon’s blood curdling screams and howls. He calls it “doom music”. Also from 1990, “She’s in Love” is just speed on top of riffs on top of screams. Gutter Ballet was an ambitious album, and part of that was a three-song suite about insanity. From that suite “Thorazine Shuffle” is lifted, a classic example of Criss Oliva’s style of snaky guitars. “Of Rage and War” brings another menacing riff, and a topical lyrical message:
Better listen to me you son of a bitch,
Better disarm those missiles sleeping in the ditch,
You have no goddamn right to do the things you do,
The world would be a better place if we were rid of you!
“Sirens” is the centerpiece, a stormy metal drama loaded with waves of guitar crashing against the rocks, wrecking everything in their way. Jon’s shrieks warn away the meek and timid. Only the strong will survive the “Sirens”. You will find no refuge in the “Hall of the Mountain King” either. This castle of stone shall offer no protection from the riffage pouring down. Madness reigns, so just go with the groove and get your stomping boots on. The final track is the upbeat rager “Power of the Night”, the title track from their 1985 album. It’s a string of lyrical cliches backed by some serious heavy rock. Raise the fist of the metal child! Unfortunately the track is cut short.
U.S.A. 1990 is a fairly common bootleg, so if you find one in the $7-8 range, take a shot.