rarities

REVIEW: Mötley Crüe – Too Fast For Love (1981 Leathür and CD remasters)

MÖTLEY CRÜE – Too Fast For Love (Originally 1981 Leathür Records, 2003 CD reissues)

I was so lucky to grow up not with the Elektra remix of Too Fast For Love, but the original Leathür Records version. Though I didn’t know anything about it at the time, Motley Crue’s debut existed in two different versions and I had the rarer of the two on an old cassette.  The original mix released in 1981 on the band’s own label was a raw beauty.  When Elektra signed the band, Roy Thomas Baker remixed the album for worldwide reissue.  But in Canada, we received the original mix on cassette first before the remix was even released.  This was so Motley had some music to promote on their first Canadian tour.  We were very lucky.  The Elektra mix came out and eventually replaced the original on shelves.

The differences are significant, including the deletion of an entire song (“Stick To Your Guns”) from the original on the Elektra release.  For nostalgia reasons, I always preferred the Leathür mix of this album.  “Come On And Dance” for example is a completely different and much longer recording.  It must be stated the Roy Thomas Baker mix is technically the better of the two.  It’s well balanced and has the required punch.  Vocal lines are thickened up.  It will undoubtedly sound better on your high end stereo.  There is more nuance.  The changes are especially audible on songs like “Starry Eyes” and “Live Wire”, but I simply have a preference for the raw, rough version I grew up with.  There’s something to be said for independent production values.  Additionally, the track listing was jumbled and the original running order flows better, so that’s the order we’ll be discussing the songs in.

Fortunately for you, you don’t have to track down an original vinyl or even an obscure Canadian cassette release to get the original Too Fast For Love.  It was officially reissued one time only on CD, in the 2003 Motley Crue box set called Music To Crash Your Car To Volume I.  In fact that box set includes both mixes of the album, plus the related CD bonus tracks.  (Actually, the box set is only missing one song, which we’ll discuss further on.)  For the money, Music To Crash Your Car To Volume I is the best way to get “all” the tracks.

The audio for the original Leathür mix is sourced directly from original vinyl, with the tapes presumably lost.  Audiophiles take note as you will hear the telltale sound of old vinyl.


It took a while for young me to get into Too Fast For Love.  The album was generally much different from the metal assault of Shout at the Devil.  That was the Motley I was familiar with.  The basic garage glam metal of Too Fast For Love was alien to me.  When I first received the cassette, I gave it a fair shake but didn’t start clicking with it until Easter of 1986.  It was a deliberate effort on my part.  “I want to hear and appreciate this album like my friends do.”  Bob Schipper had the songs he liked:  “Live Wire” (there was a music video, but he did not like the part with Mick Mars spitting up blood), “Merry-Go-Round”, and especially “On With the Show”.

No matter which version of the album you own, we begin on “Live Wire”, a blitzkrieg of an opener with punk-like pacing.  It’s dirty and messy cocaine-fueled mayhem, and the Leathür version sounds sharper and more chaotic.  Vince Neil is so young, less seasoned and a little shrill.  But the band is on fire with Mick Mars puking out one of his trademark riffs.

The Elektra reissue goes into “Come On and Dance” here, but Leathür puts “Public Enemy # 1” second.  It’s perfectly at home in this slot.  With the careless glee of youth, the song is one of Motley’s early pop rock deep cuts.  There is a lot of pop on Too Far For Love, especially in the vocal melodies.  “Public Enemy # 1” must go back to Nikki Sixx’s days in the band London, since it’s a co-write with London’s Lizzie Grey.  It then gives way to another blitzkrieg of a riff on “Take Me To the Top”.  This turns into a choppy groove, and yet another melodic Vince Neil vocal to keep you hanging on.  There’s that pop side again.  You could isolate Vince’s vocal and turn it into a pop song.  It’s like you have this three-man wall of pounding rock with Tommy Lee, Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx slamming in unison.  But on top of that you have Vince Neil singing a candy-sweet melody.

A ballad “Merry-Go-Round” gives your ears a slight rest.  Though Nikki wrote it, Mick has a way with these kinds of chords that makes them just sound “Mars”.  This song is given an urgency by Vince who, as it turns out, was quite a great singer in his early days.  The first side closes on “Piece of Your Action”, a song that has been remixed a number of times over the years.  It’s also Vince Neil’s first co-writing credit (lyrics).  With a sharp steely riff and aggressive vocals, this song will knock down walls.

The old mix of “Starry Eyes” sounds overblown and slurred compared to the Baker version, yet that’s its charm.  “Starry Eyes” has a disco-like groove and another sugar sweet Vince Neil vocal.  Nikki Sixx doesn’t get a lot of attention as a bassist, but he’s not content just to hang around banging out a rhythm.  He likes to play melodically too, and “Starry Eyes” is a fun song to listen to him play.

Only the Leathür version has “Stick to Your Guns” at this point in the running order.  It’s a busy song with different tempos and flavours, from fast verses, to a slow and choppy chorus riff, and a funky instrumental jam out.  Perhaps it was left off the Elektra reissue because it’s a little more complex than the rest of the album.  It also might have been because the song had been issued a couple times already:  “Stick to Your Guns” was also the flipside of Motley Crue’s very first single, “Toast of the Town” (to be discussed further on).

“Come On and Dance” has a heavy riff that flows well out of “Stick to Your Guns”, but it’s the most different between the two versions of the album, so you can choose your preference.  The original is longer and the vocal is better.

Regardless of which version you own, “Too Fast For Love” is always the second-last song on the album…but in two very different mixes.  4:16 on Leathür with a unique intro, and 3:21 on Elektra, going straight into the riff.  On Leathür the slow, ballady opening acts as a feint.  Mick then cranks up an unforgettable riff, and we are off into one of Motley’s true early classics.  The primitive gang backing vocals are quaint by modern standards, but again, that’s the charm.

Finally “On With the Show” is the emotional closer.  “Frankie died just the other night, some say it was suicide, but we know how the story goes.”  In real life nobody died (yet) but “Frankie” is Frank Feranna, the birth name of Nikki Sixx.  That name was his past, and Nikki Sixx was his future.  The ride was just beginning, and this song has both a sadness and a certain amount of glee.  “But you see Frankie was fast, he was too fast to know.  He wouldn’t go slow until his lethal dose.”  That part turned out to be somewhat prophetic.  Regardless, “On With the Show” is the fist-pounding pop metal album closer needed for a record like Too Fast For Love.  If you’re headbanging along with it, the you should feel well pooped out by the end!


In 1999, Motley Crue began reissuing all their albums on CD in a series called Crucial Crue on Motley Records, but the end result was disappointing.  The bonus tracks varied in quality, but the real problem was that each CD was given an additional bonus track in Japan, and they were pretty good ones too.  Fortunately this was rectified in 2003 with yet another series of reissues, adding the Japanese bonus tracks.  The box set Music To Crash Your Car To Volume I has all this bonus material as well.  For Too Fast For Love, the Japanese bonus track that was restored in 2003 was a live version of “Merry-Go-Round” recorded in San Antonio with an obviously very young Vince Neil on vocals.  Though the singing is shaky live, it’s a genuine live recording capturing the band at this early stage of their careers.

“Toast of the Town” was one of those song titles I kept hearing about as a kid, but nobody I knew had ever heard the first ever Motley Crue single.  According to the liner notes in the box set, this single was only given away at shows in L.A. for a limited time.  Both it and its B-side “Stick to Your Guns” are restored on the CD reissues as bonus track.  “Toast of the Town”, like Too Fast For Love itself, is a pop rocker with punch.

An unreleased song called “Tonight” is actually a Raspberries cover (there’s that pop side again).  And it’s bloody awesome.  They were already halfway there by covering it, but they made it work with their sound, basically just by adding distortion and turning it all up.  It sounds like this version was fully recorded and produced for release, so why it wasn’t, we don’t know.  Too pop?  Perhaps.

The last bonus track to discuss is “Too Fast For Love” with the alternate intro.  This is the same intro as on the Leathür version of the album, but it sounds like it was mixed to the higher standards of the Elektra version.  Regardless, there are three distinct versions of the song for you to enjoy.

One track is missing from these releases.  The one from this same era that they neglected to include is called “Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Lonely”.  Its only official release to date is as a bonus track on a 20 year old Motley Crue live DVD.  At seven minutes long, it plods along with a deliberate and heavy groove.  Nikki Sixx has praised the guitar work of Mick Mars, and it has a bizarrely funky drum breakdown at the end.  In order to get the complete picture of this era of Motley Crue, track down “Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Lonely”.  You can understand how a seven minute song didn’t make an album release, though it is certainly well overdue for a re-release on any format other than DVD.


Any way you go, Leathür or Elektra, CD or vinyl, or bloody Canadian cassette tape, Too Fast For Love is a hell of a debut album.  Few bands have as many haters as Motley Crue, but this album is an innocent reckless joy.  Shout at the Devil sounds contrived by comparison, with Motley Crue adopting a doomier metal sound and dropping the pop-punk pretences.  As good as Shout at the Devil undoubtedly is, this one sounds far more natural.  It’s the real deal.  This is the Crue laying it down hard, fast, getting it done quick and not messing around.  Love it or hate it.  I know how I feel.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Japanese import)

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Sony Japan)

Fun fact:  in 1998, there were three Judas Priest live albums released.  First was the official ’98 Live Meltdown, featuring then-current singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.  There was also Concert Classics, an unauthorised CD from the British Steel tour that the band swiftly took legal action to remove from store shelves.  Finally, a CD called Priest, Live & Rare released by their old label Sony in Japan, featuring a smorgasbord of live B-sides.

Judas Priest’s B-sides don’t garner a lot of attention, but are worth looking in to.  Fortunately, a large assortment of them are collected on this compilation.  Covering a period from 1978 to 1986, Priest released a number of live B-sides (and one remix) that are included here.  Only two (“Starbreaker”, and a version of “Breaking the Law”) were released on CD in the 2004 Metalogy box set.  Because Priest were conscious of giving value to fans, the live B-sides are not the same familiar versions from live albums.

From the “Evening Star” single in 1978 comes “Beyond the Realms of Death”, Judas Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or so some said.  It’s a rather weak comparison, but “Beyond the Realms of Death” does hold special status.  Glen’s solo, though imperfect, drips with the tension that comes from the live performance.  From the same gig, but lifted from the “Take on the World” single comes “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Starbreaker”.  You can hear the life in the songs, from Les Binks’ organic drum work to Rob’s impassioned performance.  The man is in top voice especially on “White Heat, Red Hot”.  Les Binks has an extended energized drum solo on “Starbreaker”.  These are fantastic live versions that need to be in a diehard’s collection.

The next single visited is 1981’s “Hot Rockin'”, with two live B-sides:  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” from that year in Holland.  The drum stool has changed hands from Les Binks to Dave Holland, and it is like the band has had a heart transplant.  The difference is notable given that on this CD, Binks went out on a drum solo.  It’s like a pacemaker has been installed and the pulse of the beast has been tamed.  But that’s 80s Priest for you, and with that said, these are two excellent versions of some serious Priest hits.  Refreshing to hear, after the same familiar ones over and over again.

Priest’s set at the 1983 US Festival has not been released on CD yet, but here are some for you.  (The Festival on DVD is not an issue — the deluxe Screaming for Vengeance contains the whole thing.)  Here you get “Green Manalishi”, “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  “Green Manalishi” is a fantastic version (at least for one with Dave Holland on drums!) and Rob is peak Halford.  These three tracks are sourced from a live 1983 Japanese “Green Manalishi” EP that costs some fair funds on its own.  (This is the version of “Breaking the Law” that you can also find on the Metalogy box set.)

“Private Propety” (originally from 1986’s Turbo) is a rare live take from St. Louis. It was originally released on the “Parental Guidance” 12″ single.  Therefore it’s not the same one from Priest Live, nor the Turbo 30th anniversary set.  This one predates the release of the others and has a nice untampered quality.  Finally, also from the “Parental Guidance” single, is the only disappointing B-side in this collection.  It’s the “Hi-Octane” extended remix of “Turbo Lover”!  Extended remixes were a popular thing in the 80s.  Every mainstream artist did them; for example Def Leppard, Kiss and Aerosmith.  “Turbo Lover” is one of the poorer such examples.  Were any dance clubs likely to play Judas Priest?  No, but the Priest did try.

Unweildy ham-fisted “Turbo Lover” aside, Priest, Live & Rare is a highly recommended collection to get 10 rare Priest B-sides in one fell swoop.  Definitely cheaper than tracking down all those singles.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Metallica – Death Magnetic (Coffin Box)

METALLICA – Death Magnetic (2008 Vertigo Coffin Box)

“What don’t kill ya, make ya more strong!”

Like many bands these days, Metallica decided to release a boxed special edition of Death Magnetic to make a little extra cash.  And also like a lot of other bands, this “coffin box” edition was crazy expensive. To me the deciding factor wasn’t all the bells and whistles (and there are a lot of them) it was the inclusion of the exclusive CD Demo Magnetic. This disc includes 10 demo tracks, unfinished and otherwise unreleased versions of the final Death Magnetic songs.

There were only 2000 copies of this made, so if you didn’t pre-order, chances are you gotta pay the late tax.

Contents:

  • Death Magnetic CD (the digipack version, identical to the retail release)
  • Demo Magnetic CD
  • The Making of Death Magnetic DVD
  • Four imitation guitar picks (made of flimsy plastic, not actual guitar picks)
  • Exclusive T-shirt
  • Exclusive bandana
  • Backstage pass with lanyard
  • A card with a download code for a free show
  • Coffin-shaped poster

Death Magnetic is, unfortunately, one of the most famous victims of the Loudness Wars.  Why put time and effort into production only to drown it all out in the mastering?  Apparently the version of Death Magnetic that was used in the video game Rock Band 3 was mastered “normally”, and is far better.  This CD has punch though, I’ll give it that.

On its own the album is worth 4 stars.  Mastering aside,  It is an above-average collection of typical Metallica rockers. Gone are the nu-metal tendencies of St. Anger and that was the correct move. Clearly, Metallica were reaching back and trying to write riffs that sound like the late 80s and that’s also fine.  Metallica are not Dream Theater.  They do what they do, and they do it quite well.

Expect typical Metallica riffage, barking Hetfield vocals, the usual Lars drumming, some tasty solos from Kirk, and slamming bass from Robert.  That is what Metallica do.  It’s not a bad album and some of these songs are damned near as good as the old days.  You’ll love “Broke, Beaten & Scarred”, “That Was Just Your Life”, and “The End of the Line”.  A favourite song for sheer chorus reasons is “All Nightmare Long”. The demo version (called “Flamingo”) is also really decent.

If you’re a diehard Metallica fan, the kind who owns Fan Cans, then you’ll want this box set for the exclusive music. It’s sure to become a rare collectible.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Honkin’ On Bobo (2004)

AEROSMITH – Honkin’ On Bobo (2014 Columbia)

Sometimes we take one for the team. For no reason other than to get it done, we take out albums we strongly dislike just for the sake of writing them up. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises and time has been kinder than our memories have been. And sometimes you’re just Honkin’ on Bobo, whatever the fuck that means. It could be code for Sucking the Big One.

Necessary background:  After 2001’s putrid Just Push Play, Aerosmith were eager to strip it back to basics and record an album live in the studio.  They returned to producer Jack Douglas and picked an album’s worth of blues covers to Aero-fy.  This is a formula that rarely works out well for rock bands, and Aerosmith fell into the blues cover trap with both feet.

The only exception is one new original, a ballady blues called “The Grind”.  It happens to be one of the best tracks, though firmly within that Aerosmith bluesy ballad niche that they carved out for themselves in the early 90s with “Cryin'” and “Blind Man”.  That this is an album highlight is a warning as sure as a watchman yelling “iceberg dead ahead!”  We’re about to take on water, and there aren’t enough lifeboats.

One of Aerosmith’s issues since the mid to late 90s is how they’ve become a caricature of themselves.  Bob Diddley’s “Road Runner” is thick with Aerosmith clichés to the point that it sounds like an Aerosmith covers band filling their set out with standards.  “Road Runner” isn’t limber, it’s thick in the thighs with thuddy rock tropes.  Joey Kramer injects some life into “Shame, Shame, Shame” but it only makes you wish Aerosmith had tackled the track in 1974 instead of 2004 so it wouldn’t sound so contrived.  “Eyesight to the Blind” (Sonny Boy Williamson) isn’t convincing, as Tyler huffs through the song like a burlesque singer.  “Baby Please Don’t Go” makes you crave AC/DC’s superior version, although the groove on this one is positively unearthly.  It’s an unbelievable groove that perhaps should have been made into an Aerosmith original rather than a throwaway cover.

Aretha’s “Never Loved a Man” is transformed into “Never Loved a Girl”, and with the Memphis Horns on board there’s some value to it, but compared to Aretha they sound like rookies.  Like an amateur artist copying a master with crayons.  “Back Back Train” is actually OK, and it might be that Joe Perry is a more appropriate vocalist for a blues classic.  Tyler’s histrionics wear thin on this album, but Perry’s laid back singing works better.  Tyler surely doesn’t aid the sluggish “You Gotta Move”.

A dreary “I’m Ready” (Muddy Waters) is still a long way from the end.  “Temperature” also drags along, Tyler turning it into a parody.  Fleetwood Mac get the Aero treatment on “Stop Messin’ Around”, at least the second Mac cover that Aerosmith have done after “Rattlesnake Shake”.  Please welcome Joe Perry back to the microphone on “Stop Messin’ Around”, and please keep Tyler away!  Unfortunately it’s a boring tune (blazing fretwork aside), and so is the closer “Jesus is on the Main Line”.

Even the most stalwart defender must concede that Honkin’ On Bobo isn’t a blues album for a blues lover.  It’s a blues-rock forgery that occasionally captures the odd highlight for posterity, but is otherwise expendable.  In other words if you’re in a Zombie apocalypse looking for CDs to chuck at the undead, Honkin’ On Bobo can be flung guilt-free.

1.5/5 stars

And once again, it’s the return of the dreaded flaming turd!

 

 

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REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Live at the Marquee (2011)

“Ladies and gentlemen…Twisted mother fuckin’ Sister!”  – Lemmy Kilmister

 

TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino Handmade)

First of all, this thing is huge.  There’s a CD in there somewhere.

You already know some of these recordings from the Big Hits and Nasty Cuts CD.  In 2011, finally, after numerous B-sides and compilations, the entire legendary Marquee club show was made available on CD from the fine folks at Rhino Handmade. Coming in this beautiful (but fragile) cardboard die-cut cover, this was so long overdue.  For a long long time people sank many dollars into collecting as many of these live versions as possible.  Few collected all the released tracks, but now the entire show is available.  That means you get all those B-sides plus a bunch of unreleased songs from the gig, including all the talking.

From Lemmy’s now legendary introduction to the final notes of “Feel So Fine”, this is Twisted Sister at their absolute heaviest. When I first heard five of these recordings as the “Nasty Cuts” on the Big Hits (1992) CD, they turned me off a bit. They were too heavy. Too fast. Too ragged. Too punk rock. Not what I was expecting from what I considered to be a pop rock band, back then. However, Dee’s rants made this so difficult to turn off! You never know what was going to come out of Dee’s mouth next.

Eventually I realized, this stuff is actually Twisted Sister at their absolute best! They are in their element and in their glory, playing these songs for the fans and also the haters in the crowd that night, whom Dee addresses frequently.

I’m sure the band won the haters over that night.

The recording is crisp, clear, and powerful. It is in your face.  It feels like you are right there on that stage with the band.  The mix is perfect.  The guitars have good separation and the drums are recorded perfectly.  The vocals are also clear and only slightly overpowered by the stampeding band.

Personal fave: “You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll”. The crowd had never heard this one before, being brand new and unreleased.  Finally I am hearing a version of “You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll” that lives up to the song’s potential. The album version, as great as it is, isn’t as heavy as it was live. This, my friends, is Sister at their absolute best. I’m saying that without a trace of hyperbole. For me, this is it. This is Twisted Sister at their tightest, fastest, heaviest and inspired. The crowd eats it up.

Honorable Mention: “I Am (I’m Me)”, which comes close to the end of the set. Dee’s voice is off on a few notes, but this is rock and roll baby! I’d pay my life savings to be able to sing as well as Dee did that night!  (note: my life savings are not much, but I’d pay ’em anyway.)

Dud: “Leader Of The Pack”. It’s just weird to hear it at a show this insane. It kinda slows things down a bit much (even though it’s so much heavier than the Ruff Cuts version).

5/5 fuckin’ stars!


     

 

Sunday Afternoon Test Stream

With all apologies to Aaron, the old backdrop of checkers and lighthouses is gone.  Behold the new backdrop of a cloth with a paper logo!

But that’s not all.  Before this afternoon’s listening, I decided to un-package a rare 2016 limited edition 180 gram reissue of Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger.  Lemme tell you folks, it sounds great.  But it also looks cool and you can see it fresh out of the package in the live stream below.

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Bodies of Water (1995 cassette)

MAX THE AXE – Bodies of Water (1995 independant cassette)

This has to be one of the rarest items I own.  I have acquired the only remaining cassette copy of the first Max the Axe release, a five song tape called Bodies of Water.  In a rare move, the cassette had the bonus track rather than the CD.  Back in 1995, Max the Axe didn’t have a drummer so the drums on this release are programmed.  That lends it a streetwise but quaint mid-90s nostalgia.

Opening intensely with “Hard Drive”, Max the Axe’s music defies genres from the first track.  Heavy sludge riffs, flute, saxophone, a keyboard orchestra!  Lead vocals on this track by Pam Hammond leap beyond expectation as she bellows powerfully over the complex track.  You get more sax (courtesy Rockin’ Randy Harrison) on “Where’s Pablo?” featuring Mickey Straight on lead vocals.  This has a cool, dirty street vibe groove.

The  cassette bonus track “Guns To Iran” is dead center, and features “Max the Swinging Axe” on distorted lead vocals.  Pure metal on electronic steroids.  I’m immediately reminded of “Manic Mechanic” by ZZ Top, but a thrash metal version.

“I’m Glad Now” has another singer, Tim Rolland, and a completely different vibe.  Straight noctural, memorable melodic hard rock with a growly singer.  But then the screamer “Fair Ophelia” ends the cassette on a seriously heavy note.  Pam Hammond and Max the Axe return on vocals, assaulting the ear with aggressive heaviness.  Max does the metal grunting while Hammond sings in classic screamin’ metal style.

This is good stuff and surprisingly well preserved 25 years later.  Max’s sharp jabs of guitar solo adrenaline still rock the speakers with intended impact.  Maybe the Axe will remaster and reissue his early tunes so the rest of you can hear them too.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes (1994 Japanese version)

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes (1994 EMI Japan)

Cross Purposes catches a lot of crap from fans, and maybe it is the softest Sabbath, but it ain’t bad.  The Tony Martin era was unfairly derided when he was the singer in Black Sabbath.  “Only Ozzy or Ronnie — no Tony!” complained some fans.  Well, we had Ronnie for Dehumanizer and that didn’t last.  Tony Martin was probably always the backup plan in case things went south with Dio.  It is said that Tony Martin recorded his own set of vocals for the Dehumanizer album in case Dio left abruptly.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Tony Iommi called up Martin when Dio did inevitably walk.

Ronnie brought drummer Vinny Appice with him, which meant Sabbath were replacing two members.  In a genius move, Iommi snapped up ex-Rainbow heavy-hitter Bobby Rondinelli.  Bassist Geezer Butler stayed put, but not without regrets.  He would later say that he thought they were recording an album for a new band, but that Iommi decided to use the name Black Sabbath.  This seems hard to believe given that Iommi always returned to the Sabbath name in the past.

Tony Martin & Bobby Rondinelli

Whatever the case may be, Cross Purposes was met with mixed reactions when it was released in 1994.  While some welcomed the return of a classic sounding band, others called them irrelevant in the face of grunge.  Indeed, Sabbath were accused of copying the style of Alice in Chains on “Virtual Death”, featuring a double tracked vocal similar to the Seattle band’s trademark sound.

True as that may be, there is no question that opener “I Witness” sounds like no band other than Black Sabbath.  From Iommi’s squealing guitar shrieks to Geezer’s slinky bass, only one band sounds like this.  Yes, on the surface Tony Martin sounds like Dio, but that sells him short.  Dio has more grit, while Martin takes it smooth.  “I Witness” is one of those blazingly fast Sabbath openers, and Rondinelli’s massive snare sound just kills it.  I’ve always enjoyed how Black Sabbath worked their name into certain lyrics, like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.  Here, Tony Martin (an underrated lyricist) refers to the “pilgrims of Sabbocracy”, a word that doesn’t seem to exist outside the Black Sabbath pantheon.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons this album was poorly received is that two of its best songs are ballads.  People forget that Sabbath have many classic ballads — “Solitude”, “Changes” and “Born Again” come to mind.  “Cross of Thorns” is a vocal workout for Martin that darkens the sky and shakes the seas.  An acoustic riff begins the journey, but it transforms into something bigger and more dramatic.  It also includes one of Iommi’s most memorable guitar solos from his entire career.  Special mention goes to late keyboardist Geoff Nicholls who provides much atmosphere for this dark burner.

“Psychophobia” is an interesting song; not the most memorable but with a tricky riff that’ll get the heads banging.   The middle section exactly halfway into the song is outstanding.  It’s also a gas to hear Martin singing “It’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye”.  A sly jab at Dio?  Fans will probably always see it that way.  But then comes “Virtual Death”.  Its possible grunge inspirations stick out like the sorest of thumbs on side one.  This slow song drags too long.  The whole “virtual reality” trend was well worn out by 1994, so that did not help matters much.  Fortunately the first side redeems itself with a resounding closer called “Immaculate Deception”.  The beguilement here is that the song seems like trudge at first, until Rondinelli puts it in turbo on the choruses.

Side two opens with the second ballad (more of a blues really) called “Dying For Love”.  This is reminiscent of “Feels Good to Me” from the Tyr album.  Interestingly, Geezer’s bassline sounds like the one Bob Daisley played on “The Shining” in 1987.  (Geezer was around when “The Shining” was written, possibly under the name “No Way Out”.)  It must be said that, as great as Tony Martin is on this song, it would have sounded out of this world had Dio sung it.

“Back to Eden” is a skipper.  Nothing particular wrong with it, just not as good as other tracks.  We resume on the single, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”.  A keyboard opening gives way to a killer Iommi riff, one that sticks in your brain for days.  Top it off with an excellent chorus and this track is a winner.  Shame it never had a chance as a single.  “Cardinal Sin”, like “Back to Eden”, isn’t much to talk about, though it does have a cool keyboard line.

The standard album ends on “Evil Eye”, a song that incredibly came about through an unlikely 1993 jam with Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen laid down a solo, but the band weren’t recording properly.  According to Tony Martin, the Van Halen recording is simply too poor in quality to release.  I don’t think fans would mind, but that is wishful thinking considering they couldn’t even give Eddie a writing credit due to contractual wranglings.  This song just grinds, like a mountain over the aeons.  Tony Martin wails on the chorus, and Tony Iommi lays down several minutes of guitar licks that may or not have been inspired by Van Halen’s original solos.

A big thanks must go out to Harrison the Mad Metal Man for locating this Japanese printing of Cross Purposes that you are looking at.  A Sabbath collection that began in earnest back in 1992 was finally completed in 2020.  The bonus track here is “What’s the Use”, a song that doesn’t quite sound like the rest of the album.  The short choppy Iommi riff sounds more like Judas Priest than Sabbath, but it’s a welcome addition because it’s unlike the usual.

Had Cross Purposes come out under a different band name (something anonymously 90’s…like, I dunno, Carpet or something) with “Virtual Death” as the single, who knows what might have happened?  Probably nothing, because just as there were too many glam rock acts in the late 80s, the 90s were choked to the gills with alterna-bands.  A Japanese copy is expensive to come by, so don’t hesitate too much if you find a gently used domestic CD in the wild.  The album is, of course, out of print.

4/5 stars

 

Saturday Live Stream: 6:00 PM E.S.T – No Theme, Just Stream!

No theme, just stream!  Stuff planned for this week:

  • Oddball releases
  • New arrivals
  • Cassette singles
  • Coffee
  • Special guests
  • Pants optional

Weather and technology permitting, I may do this live stream outdoors.  Change of scenery!

6:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.  Facebook:  Michael Ladano

 

Live Stream – More Vinyl & Special Guests – Saturday May 9

Pardon the technical difficulties, we had some audio lag and some viewers experienced frozen video. I think we pushed the limits of what Facebook and our own bandwidth could handle.

The best live stream of the series so far is available for you to watch below! We went for 90 minutes and featured so much vinyl your head will spin. We also had three special guests joining us: Dr. Kathryn Ladano, Uncle Meat, Scotty P, all local legends in their own rights!