WHAT OLD SCHOOL BANDS DID U WANT TO LIKE, BUT COULDN’T???
Anyone who was unfortunate enough to have well-meaning-yet-clueless relatives knows the feeling of disappointment. After weeks of anticipation, staring at the shiny boxes under the Christmas tree and wondering what’s inside, you eagerly tear open your presents. What lies inside? GI Joes? Transformers?? A BB gun? A new Nintendo?!? Mind racing and adrenaline pumping, you open the first box and are brutally assaulted by reality: your hippie uncle got you some handmade, wooden train from his recent trip to Chile. And it only gets worse — grandma gave you a subscription to Highlights, and mom got you enough socks and underwear to last you through high school. Dejected, you retreat to your bedroom and pout while thinking about all the awesome presents the other kids must have gotten.
This is the same feeling I got all too often as a young metal fan in the late 80s/early 90s. Back then, without the internet, finding new bands was a real crapshoot — you really never knew what you were in for when you bought a new record unless you manged to catch them on Headbanger’s Ball. You did the best you could with what you had, but it wasn’t much to go on. Time and time again I was tricked by a cool logo, sweet cover art, or a name that sounded brutal — what I thought was going to be ass-ripping thrash or hardcore turned out to be dreadful hard rock, third-rate speed metal, or limp-wristed art rock. I tried so hard to be positive and enjoy the album that I had squandered my $8 on, but I just couldn’t do it.
In no particular order, here are a few of the dozens upon dozens of bands who I tried to like, but simply could not. What are yours??
Back in the late 90s, this band was probably more popular than when they were actually around thanks to Max Ward of Spazz. I first heard them on whatever volume of Metal Massacre they were on, and instantly filed them away with Vio-lence, Holy Terror, and Toxik in the “bands I would like if they had a different singer” bucket.
Speaking of power violence scene-fixtures, I jocked Despise You’s Chris Elder more than Max Ward, so anything Chris liked, I would check out. As a 14 year-old Despise You fanboy, I had high hopes for this band: they were endorsed by Chris, had hard-as-fuck cover art, and were affiliated with Suicidal Tendencies. I rushed home with this album in hand, expecting it to sound like No Mercy or Excel, only to be super bummed that it turned out to be more like “shitty Motorhead in Dickies.”
OK, this song is actually a bad example because it FUCKING COMPLETELY RULES, but let’s be honest: Manowar is mostly awful. This is one of the rare catchy, awesome songs in a catalog that is 99% full of turgid, dull, lifeless songs that are completely interchangeable. More importantly, they were certainly not at all what I was expecting as a kid — I mean, they said they were the fucking kings of metal!! Since the cover of this album sort of looked like the Slayer eagle logo and they had a cool name, I figured they would be sick thrash like Destruction or something, but little did I know they were essentially the non-sarcastic version of Spinal Tap. It seriously took me well over a decade to be sure they weren’t joking. That said, I will say that Manowar has some cuts — when they’re on their game, they are are great (this song, “Metal Daze,” etc).
This is a very obvious example: the cover art and logo look brutal as fuck, but the music sounds like a wimpier version of So Cal punk ala DI, The Adolescents, or TSOL. There has perhaps never been a bigger disparity between apparent brutalness (based on band name/logo/artwork) and actual brutalness of the music. Runner-up: Rotting Christ.
Speaking of which, Samhain was another huge punk/hardcore letdown. I was never the world’s biggest Misfits fan, but I liked them just fine. I especially got into their last album, Earth AD, which was a surprisingly heavy, borderline-thrash record that was very ahead of its time for 1983. I figured that Danzig’s follow-up band, Samhain, would pick up where they left off, especially since the cover art of Initium was brutal as fuck. Needless to say, Samhain failed hard at living up to my expectations — instead of a sequel to Earth AD, I got a slowed-down, boring version of Walk Among Us with a snare drum that (in the words of Steve Albini) sounded like a sampled sneeze.
Not too much more to say about this that I haven’t already said before: brutal-sounding name, cool logo and cover art. In this particular case, I was tricked because (for whatever reason) they always had the Annihilator tapes on a little display next to the Sodom Agent Orange tapes at my local record store. Obviously Sodom is a sick band, and their cover art kinda sorta looked like the Annihilator covers, so my dumb teenage brain figured they might sound similar… clearly I was not correct! Looking back, Annihilator have their moments (e.g., the awesome pre-chorus and chorus in “Bats In The Belfry,” and most of that album as a whole), but at 13 all I wanted to hear was the fastest, sickest hardcore, thrash, and death metal I could find — Canadian speed metal with tasteful prog touches was not exactly up my alley at the time.
You can basically file this under the same heading as Annihilator, Helix, Keel, Kick Axe, Doro, Bitch, Virgin Steele, and any band who has ever appeared on Metal Massacre except for Overcast: “bands who I thought were sick thrash but turned out to be boring speed metal.” I am mostly including this because the video is fucking hilarious (note the cardboard tombstones that are about to fall over). My main question: Meliah Rage is popular enough to have a Vevo account?!
I saw this band in 1991 or so, I believe they opened for Suicidal Tendencies? For whatever reason, I walked away from their live show thinking they were a thrash band, and was once again terribly let down once I actually bought their album — and let’s not even get started on how awful Bush-era Anthrax was. This video is a great example of the 80s “metal band as post-apocalyptic freedom fighters” meme (see also Queensryche’s “Queen of the Reich” and Keel’s “The Right To Rock“) — the track is pretty catchy, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think the video was an SNL “Digital Short.”
Although I chose this band, you could just as easily substitute Nazareth, Yes, Marillion, Meatloaf, or any number of other late-70s, early-80s hard rock bands who had names, logos, and covers that appeared metal but were just boring hard rock (although with age, I have come to appreciate Yes). Like their kissing cousins Lizzy Borden, Molly Hatchet were a big shock — you put on the LP and were highly disappointed to hear Aerosmith/Lynyrd Skynyrd-style “barbecue rock” when you were expecting Sodom, Destruction or Possessed. It’s kind of like when you take a drink from a glass that you think is full of water, and it ends up being Sprite.
Younger readers, what do you think of these bands?? Are they as disappointing and awful to you today as they were to me in 1990? Are u surprised that I know more than just slam metal and metalcore?? Did it make u froth with nerd rage when u realized I know the details of Annihilator’s mid-90s output????