Carey Howe

REVIEW: Leatherwolf – Street Ready (1989 Japanese import)

LEATHERWOLF – Street Ready (1989 Island/Polystar Japan)

Leatherwolf progressed in just three albums from an unremarkable thrash band to a melodic, heavy rock quintet with a knack for a hook.  They also had a gimmick: the “Triple Axe Attack”.  Unlike most bands of the time, Leatherwolf boasted three guitarists.  Geoff Gayer and Carey Howe handled the leads while singer Michael Olivieri played the rhythm.  Their first album was just OK, but on their second they signed to a major label and had some decent production.  They also wrote better tunes, and embellished their sound with keyboards and ballads.

By the third, their songwriting chops had really grown.  In the end, this album is less heavy than the first two; a little more straightforward. It still retains thrash metal aspects mixed with ballads, but on the whole this album is more middle of the road.  Track for track, it’s free of filler and each song has some kind of memorable hook that makes return visits a pleasure.

Traditional metal guitar harmonies and thrashing chords blend on the opener “Wicked Ways”, which careens from slow to fast and back again.  Focus is solidly on the guitars, though Michael Olivieri certainly blows all the fuses on lead vocals.  A great melding of styles, like an 80s Iron Maiden song fueled by nuclear fusion.

For a song called “Street Ready”, a dirty groove is most appropriate.  That’s where Leatherwolf take this nasty little tune with bite.  The riff recalls their single “The Calling” from the previous album.  But the first single this time was the balladesque “Hideaway”. A power ballad with the emphasis on power.  Singer Michael Olivieri had a great range and plenty of lung capacity.  A ballad with bite.

Back to heavy, “Take A Chance” is quite thrash, but faster than the mainstream.  The choppy riff could have come from an early Scorpions album, when they had sting.  Keeping the pace is “Black Knight”, an instrumental thrash rocker with amazing drumming courtesy of Dean “Drum Machine” Roberts.  Faster and heavier than anything since their debut.

Back when albums had sides, side two opened with a big powerful anthem, a roll of bass, and earthshaking chorus.  “I am the thunder that starts the rain.”  This song must have been a killer live.  Slow in pace, but the weight comes from that heavy anthemic feeling, defying the storm.

A second ballad “The Way I Feel” is soft by comparison, but doesn’t lack backbone.  Comparable to “Share A Dream” from the last album. Not for everyone — thrash metal people should certainly avoid.  Everyone else will enjoy its melodic power.  Speaking of power, back in that direction is the ragged “Too Much”, careening off the rails at top acceleration.

“Lonely Road” takes us back to huge anthem territory, like “Thunder”, but faster.  A soft keyboard intro is deceptive.  This ain’t no ballad.  This is a banger; you have to let it get going.  They go full-on for closer “Spirits In The Wind”.  Great tune with lots of metal guitar thrills.

In Japan however that wasn’t the closer.  A bonus track “Alone in the Night” is tacked on for added value.  This originated on the 1988 Return of the Living Dead Part II soundtrack (which also featured Zodiac Mindwarp and two Anthrax tunes).  It has a thinner sound to it, indicating it came from a separate recording session.  Not one of Leatherwolf’s better songs, but not a throwaway either.  Just not as memorable, but a valuable addition.

Song for song, Street Ready is the best Leatherwolf album.  Metal bands just don’t try to sound like this anymore.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Leatherwolf – Endangered Species (1984)

LEATHERWOLF – Endangered Species (1984 Tropical Records / 1985 Heavy Metal America)

Leatherwolf carry on today but their origins are found on a humble indi debut from Heavy Metal America records back in 1984.  The Florida band’s original lineup boasted lead vocalist/guitarist Michael Olivieri, who was finding his feet here on the first album.  His voice was enviable; the fact that he could play guitar led to a gimmick called the “triple axe attack” long before Iron Maiden were able to execute the concept themselves.

Opening track “Spiter” takes influence from the aforementioned Iron Maiden as well as the thrash scene on the west coast.  Its blast of metal power serves to open the album with gusto.  The title track “Endangered Species” has a cool layered riff that is almost buried beneath the heavy production.  This is a busy band, with drummer Dean “Drum Machine” Roberts keeping all limbs in a flurry.  A great vintage heavy metal track here, just begging for a recording less flat and brittle.  Plenty of hooks and ideas packed into five minutes.

“Tonight’s the Night” isn’t as memorable, though Olivieri sure gives the vocal his all.  I can’t but laugh at “The Hook”.  “Hey honey, looking for a date?”  Songs about the world’s oldest occupation oh so often veer into cringe territory.  This is no “Charlotte the Harlot” though that seems to be the intent.  “Keep your eye out for the hook!” sings Michael.  The quiet section in the middle is pretty cool and there are multiple nifty riffs, but the song is a clanker.

Side two begins with acoustic guitars, a needed change of tone, and soon it’s back to hammering riffs.  “Season of the Witch” isn’t half bad.  As usual one riff just isn’t enough.  An amped-up Beast-era Iron Maiden seems to be the primary influence.  “Off the Track” has a shouted chorus that passes for a hook.  Not bad, but somehow incomplete like its parts weren’t fully assembled.  A slower tempo and sonic effects make “Kill and Kill Again” an effectively heavy change of pace.  A lot of Maiden in the faster outro, though.  Then accelerate into “Vagrant” which is further into the thrash side, but the production renders the guitars too tinny and without depth.  Fortunately the album closes on title track “Leatherwolf”, a mighty strong Priest-like street fight.

Though they still remained a heavy metal band with three lead guitarists, Leatherwolf added considerably more commercial elements such as ballads and keyboards by the time of their major label debut.  Michael Olivieri would tone down the screamy side of his style, which is used excessively here.  The band had a lot of room to grow, but their youthful exuberance helps make up for it.  There are a few worthwhile tracks that may have a place in your collection, and any fan of the heavier side of vintage metal will enjoy a spin.

2/5 stars

REVIEWS: Leatherwolf – New World Asylum & World Asylum (Japanese import)

Epic Review Time!  Here’s a two-fer for you!

LEATHERWOLF – World Asylum (2006 King Record Co. Japan)

Leatherwolf were one of my favourite bands in the late 80’s. They had a unique sound, a potent mix of traditional metal, glam rock, and thrash elements. In addition they sported the Triple Axe Attack: 3 lead guitar players, and before Iron Maiden did it.  When they reformed in 1999 and released the live album Wide Open, I was excited for some new music. Then, lead singer/guitarist Mike Olivieri quit, and the band hooked up with Jeff Martin (ex-Racer X, Badlands) on lead vocals. With him they did an excellent 3 song demo: “Behind The Gun”, “Burned”, and “Disconnect”, plus one instrumental called “Tension”. (Track them down!)

Then for whatever reason Martin was out and Wade Black (Crimson Glory) was in. I’m sorry, Glory fans, I’m just not that into Black. His voice is fine, particularly on the three  more melodic songs that they originally did with Martin (Note:  “Burned” has been re-named “The Grail”). I’m just not feeling it.  On some of the other songs, he’s verging on nu-metal territory too much for my taste, like on the downbeat “Institutions”.  And for some reason his voice grates on me after the length of a full album.  Maybe I find it a bit too shrill.

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World Asylum album is heavy, the heaviest thing Leatherwolf have ever done. The guitar solos are highlights, but the riffs are just not as memorable as the old days.  The drumming by Dean Roberts is fast, precise and hit the spot.  The keyboards of old are gone.  I found the first five songs to be excellent, but after that the album tends to slide. At times, those metal guitar harmonies are back. At others, there’s nothing to grab me.  Lyrically the “asylum” theme runs through the record, but I wouldn’t call it a concept album or even that interesting.

This Japanese edition has one bonus track, which is the great “Tools of Discipline”, originally heard on the old Wide Open live album.  (It also comes with stickers!)  Gotta say I prefer Olivieri’s vocals better than Wade Black’s.  I prefer Jeff Martin’s vocals to Wade Black’s as well.  Sorry guys.  If it all came down to the singer, Black doesn’t do it for me.  But in a weird twist, Michael Olivieri returned the following year, and he re-recorded all the vocals. That album was issued as New World Asylum (without the bonus track). The original singer is usually best suited to the job, but more on that in the next review below.

2.5/5 stars


LEATHERWOLF – New World Asylum (2007 Leatherwolf Music)

So Michael Olivieri, the original Leatherwolf singer came back on board to stay this time.  So did guitarist Carey Howe, replacing Eric Halpern.  This restored 4/5 of the classic Leatherwolf lineup.  It made sense to have them re-record their parts on their latest album and re-release it.  No sense promoting a lineup that doesn’t exist anymore, right?  I think it was the right move for another reason.  I’m just not that into Wade Black, the singer on the original World Asylum. He verges on nu-metal teritory too much for my taste. I’ve never liked nu-metal; I appreciate the talent that goes into writing and performing nu-metal, but it’s not music I enjoy listening to, largely due to the vocals. I like traditional metal vocals, in general.

With the new lead vocals, World Asylum was retitled New World Asylum, and released with differently coloured cover art. This is my version of choice, metal fans! Maybe it’s familiarity, but Olivieri’s voice just sounds right.  The character of Leatherwolf feels like it’s in his voice.  I prefer his version of every single track. The melody and recognizable character are there, and he throws in a couple of those old-school screams. The end result is not necessarily a better batch of songs, just a more enjoyable listen.

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Strongest tracks here include “King of the Ward”, a slamming song with a teasing chorus.  Strange how I didn’t like it on the Wade Black version.  I think “Behind the Gun” is probably the best tune here.  Having heard it with three different singers, I have to say this version is champion.  “I Am the Law” and the groovy “Dr. Wicked (Rx O.D.)” are also pretty cool.  But again, I didn’t like “Dr. Wicked” on the Wade version.  It all comes down to the vocals.

The original album’s bonus track, “Tools Of Discipline”, was not re-recorded here, I guess because there is a live version available with Olivieri singing on Wide Open.

My recommendation: Leatherwolf fans, pick this up rather than World Asylum, unless you’re a die hard. Casual fans and the curious, go with New World Asylum as it’s just a better listen.

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Leatherwolf- Leatherwolf (1988)

Found in the late 1990’s at Natural Sound in Kitchener.

 

LEATHERWOLF – Leatherwolf (1988 Island)

I first saw Leatherwolf in a 1988 Hit Parader magazine. Their gimmick was the “triple-axe attack”. Their singer, Michael Olivieri, doubled on guitar so during those twin harmony solos, the rhythm guitar wouldn’t drop out. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t sound like much, now that Maiden have three full time lead guitarists. At the time it was enough to get me interested enough to have a listen. I saw the video for “The Calling” on MuchMusic — instant fan!

This album, originally released on Island records (then home of U2), is quite good.  It’s an amalgam of thrash metal’s heaviness and pounding double bass — and glam rock. An odd mixture, but it works. The first album Endangered Species was pretty straight forward thrash, but this self-titled is tempered by keyboards and ballads.

Leatherwolf commences with some sweet acoustics: “Rise Or Fall” soon kicks into gear with some march-style drums and “Genghis Khan” (Iron Maiden)-style riffing. Then, another time change and the song careens into high gear with thick backing vocals, time changes, and guitar harmonies.  The aforementioned “The Calling” was the anthemic first single. A fist pumper. I love the riff on this one. Very cool and chunky.  The chorus ain’t too shabby either, nor the verses.  Although it’s a bit early for a balld, “Share a Dream” is next.  Most metal guys out there will probably have no problem skipping this too soft keyboard ballad. I don’t mind it, but it’s a jarring change of pace.

At first you might think “Cry Out” is another ballad, but once the intro is over the song nails it. This one is quite the anthem, with plenty of shouted backing vocals, and power to spare.  That was the side closer, and side two was introduced by “Gypsies And Thieves”.  Like the album opener, it’s complex with plenty of changes and fast parts.  Good for getting back on track.  Leatherwolf are a metal band after all, not Bon Jovi!

I was enamored with “Bad Moon Rising”a a teenager.  Yes, the CCR cover, but performed as a fast-paced two-minute thrash rocker. Some won’t like it, as a cover is always a dangerous weapon to behold.  I always thought it would have made a great theme song to an 80’s horror movie.  Remember back when you absolutely had to have a rock theme song in every horror movie?  In fact, in the 12th grade I gathered my friends Anand and Danesh with the intent of creating a student film along those lines.  Unfortunately we only finished one scene before our star one day just decided to stop showing up at school!

“Princess Of Love” is not a ballad, but it is quite keyboard heavy and gothic. Another winner in my books.  “Magical Eyes” is one of the only dull songs on the record.  It’s heavy, but inferior in quality to a song like “Rise Or Fall”.  Skip button territory. Because it would have been folly to end the album on anything but, “Rule The Night” is a metallic anthem. Shout-able choruses redeem the album.  Leatherwolf threatens to run off the rails once or twice, but it always centers itself before it’s too late.

As you have seen, Leatherwolf walks the fine line between thrash metal and commercial pop metal. As such the band never fell in with either camp and broke up after the next album Street Ready, which was actually way better than this one. Some closed-minded listeners didn’t get this strange mixture of seemingly contradictory styles.  That’s too bad.  There’s a lot to like here.  The only real drawback to this CD is the 80’s production values by Kevin Beamish. It’s a little too dense, a little too echo-y.

The band reunited in the 90’s with the live Wide Open CD, and went through several lineup changes in the lead vocals department. Olivieri left to be replaced by former Racer X singer Jeff Martin who did some awesome demos with them (check them out).  Then he in turn was replaced by ex-Crimson Glory singer Wade Black on the studio album World Asylum. When he left, World Asylum was re-recorded with Olivieri back on vocals and retitled New World Asylum! Whew!  And I believe the band are working on new music as you read this.  Stay tuned.

4/5 stars