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.