Drew Masters

REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 1 – Various Artists (1990)

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RAW M.E.A.T 1 (1990 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Drew Masters’ legendary metal magazine M.E.A.T took a lot of pride in promoting Canadian talent.  The next logical step was putting out a CD featuring the best of the best in unsigned Canadian rock and metal.  The flagship band was Toronto’s Slash Puppet.  On this first volume, only groups from the province of Ontario signed up.   Even though the talent all came from a small region in and around Toronto (with one exception), it’s a surprisingly diverse selection of styles.

I look at Raw M.E.A.T as a first tapping of an oil reserve.  It was a gusher.  So much untapped raw talent, unheard in suburbs.

“Slow Down” by Slash Puppet was previously issued on their indi tape, but Raw M.E.A.T 1 was its first issue on CD.  The track has been described as Motorhead meets Faster Pussycat and that still fits the bill.  Lead singer Anthony J. Mifsud was the sandpaper throat to go with the rough and tumble music.  You can hear why there was such a buzz around Slash Puppet.  They had pro-level tunes and performance. All they needed was a break.

Most Raw M.E.A.T buyers knew what they were getting with Slash Puppet. The rest of the tunes were uncharted territory.

Eiffel Power, from Taranna, knocked it out with “City Action”.  Singer Lionel Lois  had ample range and lung capacity for this fun metal shuffle, very current for the time.  Think of Extreme’s first album but with more muscle.  Then there’s the instantly likeable “Feel Me Sweet” by Brampton’s own Ragadee Anne.  Yes, it’s true:  coming up with names for bands isn’t always easy, but “Feel Me Sweet” kicks.  One reason they sound so professional is due to the production by Tom Treumuth (Triumph), surely an advantage in the studio.  Glam rock with bite and youthful innocence sure sounds good.

Blackglama (Toronto) take it to the streets with the rock/rap hybrid of “Playin’ Hardball (With the Big Boys)”.  This was just a year or two ahead of its time, though director Bruce McDonald used it in his 1991 film Highway 61  (but not the soundtrack CD).  The next group, Washington Wives, bring it to immaculately composed AOR rock.  “Memoirs, Etc.” has backing vocals from Phil Naro, from just across the border in Buffalo.  Naro is best known for Talas and his work with Kiss’ Peter Criss.  “Memoirs, Etc.” is vaguely familiar, as if you’ve heard its like on the radio before (Journey? Night Ranger?), but there’s no question this track was hit-ready.  Zero fat content, this is all meat of the most melodic variety.

Short Avenue has another “name” attached, that being “Scarpelli”.  Guitarist Gene Scarpelli is the son of Gino, of Toronto’s Goddo.  Short Avenue sounds nothing like Goddo, rather more like some tough street punks ready to mix it up.  With hindsight, they sound like precursors to The Four Horsemen.  “Push Comes to Shove” is right in the same vein as the Horsemen’s “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  From the Horsemen to the Cult:  The Cult have always been big in Canada.  First impressions are that Trouble In Mind (Toronto) were very inspired by Ian Astbury.  Regardless, their track “Sweet Addictions” is album quality.  Lead singer Beau (just “Beau”) turned up on a later instalment of the Raw M.E.A.T series, but that’s another story.

We depart Toronto momentarily for a trip to the nation’s capitol.  Ottawa’s Antix had been self-releasing vinyl since 1986, and “Kick It Up” was a new track.  With a Van Halen shuffle, their track hits the right spots, but suffers from inadequate production.   It’s unfortunate that the most experienced band has one of the poorest sounding tracks on the CD.

Russian Blue received their first major exposure via Raw M.E.A.T, and thanks to their incredible song “Once a Madman”, they gained a cult following.  They were a double threat:  a magnificent singer and a terrific guitar player.   Vocalist Jo E. Donner found himself compared to a young Robert Plant.  Richard Gauci backed that up with memorable guitar hooks.  “Once a Madman” gets the job done in just 3:15, leaving behind an unforgettable and unique rocker that begs for repeat listens.  One reason it sounds so good?  Produced by a pre-fame Harry Hess of Harem Scarem.

The next band, Zyle, sound like they were going for a traditional metal sound.  The Scorpions come to mind immediately, as does fellow Canadian rockers White Wolf.  They needed a bit more originality.  The guitar solo directly quotes Randy Rhoads, too close for comfort.  But then it’s The Remains with something a little more street punk.  A variation of the classic Peter Gunn riff, “Too Much” is actually never enough.  It’s the right mixture of middle finger and middle eight.

Hanging out just down the QEW are Hamilton and Oakville, from which come the last two groups.  Cathouse prove that you can never have enough permutations of the classic Van Halen shuffle.  “In For the Kill” nails it, with a vocalist who seems like equal parts Skid Roper and Rob Halford.  Finally, Oakville’s Johannes Linstead is best known today for his flamenco guitar albums.  He didn’t start there!  Wildside (later to become Gypsy Jayne) are about that sleaze rock.  You can hear that the guitarist is something special, though you wouldn’t predict the future from this one track.

It’s difficult to be objective, even though so many years have passed since Raw M.E.A.T 1.   Many (if not most) of these bands had potential.  Toronto in the early 90s was ready to explode as “the next Seattle”, but there was no “next Seattle”.  12 of these 13 songs are really fondly remembered, with one just needing a little more originality.

4.5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: White Lion – The Best Of (1992)

WHITE LION – The Best Of (1992 Atlantic)

I’m going to keep it short and sweet this time, and defer to a 1992 review by M.E.A.T Magazine’s Drew Masters (issue 38, Nov. 92):

BEST OF WHITE LION_0001

He’s right.  I don’t agree with the single M rating though; these are mostly good tunes.  They’re sequenced awkwardly as fuck though.  The flow on this disc is just completely fucked.  The songs don’t work in the sequence they’re in.  And Drew is correct in inferring that many of White Lion’s prouder, heavier moments are missing.   Vito smokes on the live tracks, but Tramp can’t hit the notes.  Buy Pride, not this.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Dio – Lock Up the Wolves (1990)

DIO – Lock Up the Wolves (1990)

July 1990: A M.E.A.T. Magazine interview (issue #14) with Ronnie James Dio states that he was unhappy with Dream Evil, one of my favourite Dio albums. He felt the songwriting was unfinished, that the songs needed tightening up. Supposedly some of the changes he made were a response to that. If that’s indeed the case, then Lock of the Wolves came as a total shock. These songs feel even less finished than any Dio album before.

Dio had completely revamped his band. Craig Goldy (guitar) was the first one to leave. Apparently Vinnie Appice, Jimmy Bain and Claude Schnell didn’t care for Goldie, but they all ended up departing too. Ronnie was no longer happy with the writing process nor the dischord that had set into the making of Dream Evil.  Because of these circumstances he was able to revamp the entire Dio lineup but not by choice.

Ronnie took on a young and international crew: Swedish Jens Johansson on keyboards (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), new York kid Teddy Cook on bass, ex-AC/DC skin-pounder Simon Wright, and the young 17 year old Scot, Rowan Robertson as his new guitar wizard. Robertson won the role after a cattle-call resulted in 5000 tapes sent to Dio for his consideration.  The end combination was a band of skilled players, but lacking in road-tested chemistry. Plus the pressure was certainly on Robertson, having guitarists like Vivian Campbell and Richie Blackmore writing the solos you were going to be playing.

About half the album was written when Bain and Appice were still in the band, and they appear on several writing credits. Robertson has a co-write on every song, and Jens Johansson has two, while new bassist Cook has one. Regardless of the numerous writers, the album is very singular in its direction. That is to say Lock Up the Wolves is a painfully sloooowww Dio album.

I was very disappointed that there are only a couple fast rockers to keep the blood pumping. The first track, “Wild One”, fools you into thinking this album will be a rocking good time full of tasty guitar hooks and wicked Dio lyrics. However, “Born On The Sun”, while boasting a great chorus melody, sags and droops. “Hey Angel” and “Between Two Hearts” are more of the same. I kept waiting for another fast song, or just something different to keep me awake. I had realized that Lock Up the Wolves is loaded with boring pseudo-bluesy riffs, slow to the point of coma-inducing.

The only slow tunes that really have spark of any kind are the monstrous title track (over 8 minutes of drama) and the ballady “My Eyes”. “My Eyes” is my personal favourite track on the album, and perhaps worth the price of purchase if you can find the album cheap. It’s also fun to play the game “How many of Dio’s other song titles are in the lyrics?” with this one.  The CD-only bonus track “Why Are They Watching Me” is the only other serious fast rocker on the album, and I have no idea why it was the CD-only bonus track, because the album desperately needed a kick in the pants.

And that is Lock Up the Wolves in a nutshell. Approximately 50 minutes of slow, pseudo-bluesy guitar and dull rhythms. About 10 minutes of heavy metal. That’s it.

I do love the cover art.

2/5 stars

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