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.
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.
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.
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.