thrash metal

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

REVIEW: Sword – “In Kommand” (2020 single)

SWORD – “In Kommand” (2020 Combat single)

For only two bucks, you could be the owner of the first new Sword single in 32 years.  The Quebec band made up of Rick and Dan Hughes, Mike LaRock, and Mike Plant have not released a new song since 1988’s Sweet Dreams.  Yes, that’s all four original members, intact and back for Round Two.  Don’t say nothing good came from 2020!  New Sword — betcha didn’t see that coming.

Sword reverted straight to their trash roots on “In Kommand”, a blitzkrieg of a tune with all the necessary goods:  riffs, chugs, and heavy drum blasts.  It would have been among Sword’s heaviest songs if it was on one of their older albums.  How have they not aged?  Over the course of 32 years, it is usually the singer who has changed the most.  Rick Hughes can still get the job done, even throwing in some screams for old times’ sake.  Incidentally, Mike Plant has never gotten his due as a lead guitarist either, and it’s like he hasn’t skipped a beat since 1988.  If there is only one highlight to “In Kommand”, it is the guitar playing of Mike Plant.

According to Rick Hughes, there is an album coming.  They have Dave Ellefson and Combat Records behind them.  “In Kommand” will have to tide us over until then, but things are sounding good so far.  While Sword albums have always been diverse with an assortment of different kinds of heavy, this track is a good sign.  It means they can still do what the fans expect.  If “In Kommand” is anything to judge by, we have an excellently heavy Sword album in our futures.

3.75/5 stars

Support the artist!  Buy the track, don’t just Spotify!

 

REVIEW: Testament – The Ritual (1992)

TESTAMENT – The Ritual (1992 Atlantic)

This may have been the first thrash metal album I ever bought.  I was late to the mosh pit, but I think I chose a good first thrash.  Lead video “Electric Crown” was in rotation on the Power 30, and I loved the speed combined with melody and a virtuoso guitarist.  To me, “Electric Crown” blew away any of the Metallica singles I’d heard so far.  It was way superior to the overly simplistic “Enter Sandman”.

One of the coolest sounds I ever heard came from Alex Skolnick’s guitar. In that melodic, four-note descending lick, the fourth note…just shakes. I sat there in my bedroom with my guitar, trying to make the same sound, failing every time. Skolnick was increasingly interested in jazz, and you can hear that in some of the soloing and tubey tone.

The Ritual is the most commercial Testament album.  That made it an easy gateway to thrash.  Did they sell out?  By all accounts, The Ritual is the album on which Alex Skolnick stepped up in terms on contributions.  As a schooled musician he wanted to try some different things, and indeed he left the band shortly after to grow as a player.  This isn’t a sellout, but it’s the album on which the guy who was trained by Joe Satriani had a lot more influence.  (After he left, the band went hard back to the extremes of thrash with Low and Demonic.)

Not a sellout, then.  But there are definite parallels to the contemporary Metallica album.  The slower metal chug of “So Many Lies” is this album’s “Sad But True”.  The Ritual also has a modern, crisp production (by Tony Platt) though not as fully stuffed as Metallica.

Immediately after “So Many Lies”, drummer Louie Clemente goes into a gallop on “Let Go Of My World”, an angry testament to independence.  See what I did there?  The longest song on the album is the title track, an anti-drug anthem that rocks it slow and forboding.  “Kill yourself, killing time.”  Vocalist Chuck Billy has a mighty set of lungs, the kind that make you listen up.  These lungs are put to great effect on “Deadline”, the mid-tempo banger that finishes side one.  There’s something just slightly different about the beat and there’s nothing equivalent on the Metallica album.  “Deadline” is arresting, kickin’ and menacing all at once.

“As the Seasons Grey” continues the blistering metal, not as fast as yesteryear but more measured.  Dig that false ending.  “Agony” and “The Sermon” offer some variety, but Testament are best when served fast.  Right?  Right?  No – check out the ballad “Return to Serenity”!  Testament were of course no strangers to ballads.  “The Ballad” and “The Legacy” worked out well for them previously, but “Return to Serenity” blows them away.  Alex Skolnick’s clever, echoey guitar hook is spellbinding.  This incredible ballad really should have been a hit.  That’s why they included it again on 1993’s Return to the Apocalyptic City EP.  It should be as well known as hit ballads by another big name thrash band.  The Ritual closes on a stampeding “Troubled Dreams”, an album highlight and as persistent as the wandering nomad in the lyrics.

There are more important Testament albums than The Ritual, such as their landmark Practice What You Preach.  It still remains a high water mark in the catalogue.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Sword – The Best Of (2009)

SWORD – The Best Of (2009 Unidisc reissue)

There are two versions of this CD:  a 2006 release on Aquarius, and a 2009 reissue on Unidisc.  Don’t waste your time on the 2006 CD, which is made up of previously released material.  Go for the 2009 disc, with three unreleased bonus tracks!

Sword (not The Sword) are a Canadian band from Quebec who released an impressive heavy metal debut album in 1986.  They gained the attention of Motorhead who took them out on tour.  They followed it in ’88 with Sweet Dreams, just as good as the first, but commercial success eluded the band.   They toiled away on a third album, but eventually the band dissolved leaving only singer Rick Hughes.   He returned in 1992 with Saints & Sinners, and a new hard rock sound, but that was fated to sell poorly too.  It was inevitable after grunge hit.

Rick Hughes remained active as a singer in Quebec and in 2016, he released a Sword live album, Live Hammersmith, recorded in ’87 on the Motorhead tour.   Then, unexpectedly in 2018, the original lineup reunited!  They have already played live gigs and are recording a new Sword album.  If you plan on catching up (and you should!) then check out the 2009 Best of Sword disc.  Besides the three unreleased demos, you’ll get a dozen rockers and thrashers that will melt skin.

The first salvo of “Stoned Again” and “F.T.W.” are a pair of killers.  They were the singles from the first album, well loved by Canadian fans of the Pepsi Power Hour.  “F.T.W.” is a smokeshow, with a blistering gallop and brain-burning chorus.  On the other hand, groove is all about “Stoned Again”, a surprisingly catchy number that is hard to forget.  Strangely, their final single “The Trouble Is” (from Sweet Dreams) isn’t on here.  “Life on the Sharp Edge” is also missing.

Omissions aside, The Best of Sword showcases the sound of the band with a lot of their best material.  More serious and topical songs like “Land of the Brave” will appeal to the thinking metal head.  Meanwhile “State of Shock” will rip skulls right off — be careful you don’t play it too loud!

The first of the bonus tracks, a song called “Get It While You Can”, might be a demo from the third album, before they transitioned into Saints & Sinners.  It’s the most “hard rock” Sword song of all of them.  It definitely sounds like a stepping stone to what would become the Saints & Sinners album.  The other two tracks are demos of “Runaway” and “Stuck in Rock” from the first LP, with different lyrics.

Because the first two albums are out of print, The Best of Sword is an easy way to sample their tunes before that third album comes.  Go for it — but only the full 15 track version.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Sword – Sweet Dreams (1988)

scan_20170121SWORD – Sweet Dreams (1988 Capitol)

Canada’s mighty Sword took another swing on their second and final album Sweet Dreams.  They recorded a fine debut in Metalized (1986), but as with any band, growth is expected on album #2.  No problem for Sword.

Metalized was relentless, thrashy, fast, and punishing.  Sweet Dreams is heavy but diverse.  This is immediately obvious on the opening title track.  The tempo is condensed to a slow metal Zeppelin stomp.  The melodies are more focused.  The sound (thanks to Gggarth and Jack Richardson) has more oomph and depth.  What the band sacrificed in speed was paid back in other qualities.

Capitol records released “The Trouble Is” as the first single/video. Rick Hughes’ enviable voice makes it sound like Sword, otherwise it could have been one of Dokken’s heaviest tracks. The lyrics are surprisingly still valid in 2017: “People are lying, they keep on trying, to live where they can be free. They jam into boats with a knife at their throats…” It hasn’t changed much in 30 years. “Land of the Brave” tackles war, a popular metal topic ever since Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs” back in 1970. The screams of Rick Hughes mimic the horrors of the battlefield. An apt comparison would be Iron Maiden, with a little bit of Metallica. For some rebellious attitude, check out “Back Off”, which hits the gas pedal during the chorus. Another popular metal topic: “Back off preacher, stay away!” Ozzy would have been proud. Guitarist Mike Plant blasts through his solos effortlessly, showing off a variety of rock styles. “Prepare to Die” (also heard on the recent Live Hammersmith CD) is the thrashiest of the bunch on side one, sounding like vintage Sword.

Cool thrashy shreddery kicks “Caught in the Act” right in the nuts to commence side two.  It switches up on “Until Death Do Us Part”, focused by the stomp of the beat.  If Sweet Dreams has any weakness it is that there are two Swords.  The speedy metal of “Caught in the Act” and “Until Death Do Us Part” are a contrast to the more accessible rock of “The Trouble Is”.  One of the most stunning tracks on the album is “The Threat”, on which all the ingredients mix perfectly.  (They get bonus points for naming themselves in the lyrics:  “Ride with the sword in your hand, and some day with the sword you will die.”)  For a real surprise check out the slide guitar grease of the incredible “Life on the Sharp Edge”.  It’s all over with “State of Shock” which will knock you senseless for all the headbangin’ going on.  Seems Motorhead must have rubbed off on them a bit.  “State of Shock” goes out like a champ leaving you punched out drooling on the mat.

Sword stopped after two albums and Rick Hughes moved on to the mainstream rock band Saints & Sinners.  (Check out a review of that album by Deke.)  Sweet Dreams succeeded as a second album should.  It pushed the sound outwards.  Hughes and company should be proud of both of their records.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sword – Live Hammersmith (2016)

scan_20170103SWORD – Live Hammersmith (2016)

30 years ago, there was a heavy metal band from Quebec named Sword.  They only released two albums (Metalized and the more ambitious Sweet Dreams) before disbanding at the end of the 1980s.  Lead singer Rick Hughes is one talented guy though, and he gave it another shot with a hard rock band called Saints & Sinners in 1992, who were produced by Aldo Nova.

Hughes has remained active in Canada, though Sword are now long gone.  Fortunately the internet has given old metal bands like Sword a way to get back in touch with their fans.  Thanks to the web, you can now buy a live CD recorded in 1987 on Sword’s opening tour with Motorhead.  Lemmy took the band under his wing early on and fortunately this live tape survived.  They played two nights at Hammersmith Odeon and recorded them to 4-track tape.  The liner notes do not state which gig the CD is from, or if it is a mixture of both.  Considering the age of the tapes, Sword’s Live Hammersmith CD stands up remarkably well.  There is a real sense of “being there” at Hammersmith, in spite of (or because of) the sonics.

Ripping through all 10 tracks from their debut album, Sword made the most of their opening slot.  Even so, they still had time for a brand new song too, “Prepare to Die” (later released on Sweet Dreams).  With 11 songs and only 36 minutes, Sword’s already thrashy material seemed faster live.  Sword’s songs had the goods, too.  These blazing aggressive tunes weren’t simple or easy.  Most importantly, Rick Hughes’ incredible metal shrieks were 100% intact in the live setting.  Hughes’ voice was critical to the Sword sound, being their most unique characteristic.  It is always disappointing when you hear a band live, and the singer can’t scream like the album.  Not a problem with Sword.

The singles “F.T.W.” (“Follow the Wheels”) and “Stoned Again” are the immediate highlights.  The gallop of “F.T.W.” sounds like a heavier Iron Maiden, while “Stoned Again” goes for the groove.  If anything, the songs have more impact in the live CD setting.  It is quite possible that Sword were one of those bands who were better live than on album.  They were, at the very least, flawless live.  Rick Hughes didn’t miss a note, word or scream.  Dan Hughes (drums) was also bang-on.  You can’t get a live album like this without the rhythm section doing it right.  Dan Hughes and bassist Mike Larock were right there, locked in, and driving the machine forward.  Larock had the groove, and also a knack for throwing in catchy bass runs.  As for the lead work, Sword were a one-guitar band, so Mike Plant had to switch from rhythm to lead seamlessly, and he made it all sound easy.

Inhabiting the fine line between metal and straight-up thrash, perhaps Sword were not unique out there in the 80s trying to make it.  This CD proves that they did have the talent.  As Henry Rollins says, live is “the only way to know for sure”.  A soundboard recording like this is as close as you will get.

As an added bonus (always appreciated in these frugal days), the Sword CD is signed by all four members and comes in a jewel case.  A very nice reward for the devoted fan.  You can buy Live Hammersmith from the Sword Facebook page.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction (Remixed & Remastered) #200wordchallenge

200 word


Scan_20160826MEGADETH – Countdown to Extinction (2004 Remixed & Remastered edition, originally 1992)

Dave Mustaine is a visionary, there is little question of that. He knows what he wants with each record and goes for it. With this one, “precision” was the word of the day. Recorded digitally, Countdown to Extinction is perfection embodied. Not one bum note, every beat is metronomically correct. So what could possibly be improved on a remaster?

This excellent series of Megadeth remasters are actually all remixed from the original tapes. This was done with Dave himself at the helm, still the perfectionist. Countdown being flawless already, I’m sure he didn’t have to do much remixing. You can hear some changes and some additional effects added here and there, and some different takes of instrumental tracks. In general though, the differences are the kind only diehards will notice. This CD sounds three-dimensional even on the cheapest of sound systems.  Dave Mustaine, this is your Sgt. Peppers!

I won’t even bother discussing the tunes. You know them all anyway.  “Symphony of Destuction”, “Sweating Bullets”, “Foreclosure of a Dream”…they are all excellent examples of technically sharp and aggressive heavy metal.   For bonus tracks, you get one hard-to-find B-sides and some interesting demos, but not the coveted rare Trent Reznor remix.

4.5/5 stars

 


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REVIEW: Metallica – “Hardwired” (2016 single)

METALLICA – “Hardwired” (2016 single)

YES!  Now this is what I’m talking about.  Metallica haterz can leave the room now, because there is nothing here they will enjoy.

“Hardwired” is the first single from the forthcoming album Hardwired…To Self Destruct due in November.  There’s plenty here for the fans to sink their teeth into.  A very punk-like metal track, “Hardwired” is promising.  Even Lars sounds on top of it. The drums are one of the hooks of the song.  Jaymz drops an F-bomb for that street cred, but what matters most is that this is pure rock.  Call it metal, call it thrash, whatever — doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that Metallica are rocking the fuck out with a great, heavy and blazingly fast track. I love how Jaymz just spits out the words. “We’re so fucked — shit out of luck.” Metallica’s worldview is just as rosy as it was in 1984!

I don’t think anybody reasonably expects Metallica to turn back the clock, or discover some crazy new direction with this album. Fans will dig it, haterz won’t listen with an open mind, but where the single could succeed is bringing in young metal fans who might never have bought a Metallica album before. It sounds just as energetic as a new band.

As it was with Death Magnetic, the new album will be available in a variety of formats including deluxe box set.  The last single, 2014’s “Lords of Summer”, will be on one of them.  Get ready for another onslaught of Metallica.

4/5 stars

TALLICA

TRACKLIST

Disc One

Hardwired
Atlas, Rise!
Now That We’re Dead
Moth Into Flame
Am I Savage?
Halo On Fire

Disc Two

Confusion
Dream No More
ManUNkind
Here Comes Revenge
Murder One
Spit Out The Bone

Disc Three (Deluxe Edition Only)

Lords Of Summer
Riff Charge (Riff Origins)
N.W.O.B.H.M. A.T.M. (Riff Origins)
Tin Shot (Riff Origins)
Plow (Riff Origins)
Sawblade (Riff Origins)
RIP (Riff Origins)
Lima (Riff Origins)
91 (Riff Origins)
MTO (Riff Origins)
RL72 (Riff Origins)
Frankenstein (Riff Origins)
CHI (Riff Origins)
X Dust (Riff Origins)

REVIEW: Evilyn Strange – Evilution (2016 EP)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160301EVILYN STRANGE – Evilution (2016 limited edition promo EP)

Well alright alright alright!  2016 has been a stinky year so far with the winter “blahs” and far too many musical deaths.  It’s time for something new and something positive.  Thankfully the trio Evilyn Strange have picked this time to return with their new EP, Evilution.

I like a sense of continuity in cover art, and lead singer Phillip Strange is responsible for this one.  I like that you can immediately tell it’s the same band.  With the last album, Mourning Phoebe, I couldn’t quite tell what kind of music I was going to find inside.  Evilution on the other hand looks like rock and roll and nothing but.  Are you ready to be slain?

I was surprised by the heaviness and speed of the opening track “Let It Rain”.  Great riff, great vocal melody, and tasteful use of backing keyboards — I get a sense of 80’s metal meeting the modern age, and I like that just fine.  In particular it’s the menacing double bass of “The Ghost” (drums/keys) that drives the song into your skull.  Once it’s in there, it ain’t coming out.

“Invisible Man” grooves rather than thrashes, but again the tasteful backing keyboard adds nice accents and moods.  Phillip kicks ass on this vocal, imbuing the song with melancholy power.  Throw on a smoking solo by Mikael Johannesson and step back because this baby explodes!  I can’t say who this song reminds me of.  It has elements of lots of bands that I enjoy, from Sabbath to Whitesnake.  But “Storm Clouds” is thrash metal, pure and simple.  I can’t find a more appropriate tag.  The Ghost’s slamming on it, while Mikael riffs away faster than I can headbang.  The only thing unlike thrash metal is Phillip’s singing, always melodic.  This is challenging, impressive stuff — maybe a bit too busy?  It packs more into one song than most hard rock bands put into an entire side.

More Strange-like is “Never”, a powerful metal ballad.  Phillip injects the song with the required angst and there’s even a hint of some bluesy slide guitar.  A proper soft ballad ends the EP on a dramatic note.  This song “Stay” couldn’t be more different from “Storm Clouds”, only two songs prior.  Somehow it all works as a fairly cohesive EP.  That’s the vocals of Phillip Strange holding it together, I think, tying the songs.

Evilyn Strange named this EP appropriately.  They are evolving, as all bands must.  That they took such a strong lean on old, classic thrash and metal influences was a delightful surprise to me.  I didn’t see that one coming.  But much like evolution in the biological world, old traits still remain.  These are the memorable riffs, melodies and musical themes.  What’s very interesting however is that Evilyn Strange have a full-length album coming later this year, and it’s entirely new material.  Can we expect another evolution?  I think it’s possible….

Check out Evilyn Strange at evilynstrange.co.uk, where you can buy this limited edition CD for a piddly £3.99.  Click the link on their page if you prefer iTunes.  Do what you need to get this in your ears!

4.5/5 stars

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For Deke‘s review over at 80’s Metal Shatz N Giggles, click here!

For Aaron‘s review at KeepsMeAlive, click here!

For Jon‘s review at e-tainment reviews, click here!