Strange Disappearances: Metal's One Album Wonders

January 15, 2018, a year ago

Mark Gromen

feature heavy metal

Strange Disappearances: Metal's One Album Wonders

Metal is Forever, which is why it's rare for bands to release just one full-length and never be heard from again. There's been tons of books, documentaries and other sites devoted to so-called “One Hit Wonders,” so this is by no means a comprehensive list, nor will it dwell on NWOBHM artists that vanished before the scene was established. Likewise, there are countless “local legends” that formed, succeeded (on a a regional level) and dispersed, prior to the Internet. Instead, I've opted to concentrate on acts who had international distribution, yet somehow only managed to issue one LP during their heyday (ignoring demos, EPs and posthumous/reunion compilations and or live/bootleg recordings). At the same time, want to give exciting newcomers, who are still viable, the likes of Crypt Sermon, Against Evil or Lethal Steel (amongst countless others), time to issue a sophomore effort, before being included in any such list. Happy hunting the bargain bins and online auctions!

Divine Symphonies (Adipocere: '95)
Cool combination of classical orchestration, with bits of black/death metal, opening with synthesized strings and tympani. Such are the limitations of a mid-‘90s one man project, on an under-funded French label. Akin to a film score, as opposed to actual songs, the vocals range from a whisper to snarling growl. At times, there's more than one voice present, although the majority of the disc is instrumental, in nature. All manner of instrumentation is employed, including piano, tambourine, church bells, organ and the usual metallic choices for aural destruction. Neat stuff, if you’re into real “mood music.”

Rise To Offend (New Renaissance: '86)
Although still a going concern, playing out sporadically in the Philly area, with all original members, the four-piece only have this debut to their name. High pitched vocals atop East Coast thrash, similar to Nuclear Assault, albeit more proficient. “Life After Death” tries to spread its embryonic wings beyond on mere bashing, with restrained tempo and tasty guitar break. Lyrical topics on the punky, sound effects begun “Maggot Infestation”, “Cyanide & Arsenic” and “Shark Attack” predate the death metal craze. The whammy bar heavy, signature track, which closes the album (with enthusiastic “fuck yeah” midway through) remains their calling card.

Armour (Primitive Reaction: '09)
Saw these retro-metallers in Helsinki, where they looked/sounded more akin to the NWOBHM, but most of this material could have been plucked off the streets of LA circa ’83: simply constructed and attitude ridden. The vocals have a nasal twang akin to early denizens like Vince Neil, Ron Keel and Blackie Lawless, along with gang choruses. The up tempo “Sex Demon” certainly fits that mold, even if it’s a lyrical anomaly. The turbo fueled “Satan’s Knights” and “Hellfire” stand apart from the more epic, mid-tempo numbers. Empty bottles rolling on the floor introduce the “Heavy Metal Drinkers” finale. Old-school fun: crack open a cold one and start to headbang.

Afterlife (CMC International: '93)
Struggling to find relevance in the early '90s grunge purge, a supergroup of sorts, including Graham Bonnet (vox: ex-MSG/ex-Rainbow), master session guitarist Bob Kulick, Quiet Riot/ex-W.A.S.P. drummer Frankie Banali, well-traveled keyboardist Jimmy Waldo and Guiffria/House Of Lords/Quiet Riot bassist Chuck Wright, who was reuniting with Bonnet (the two having been with Impellitteri, previously). A throwback to early ‘80s, strongest tracks are more aggressive “Breaking The Chains” and “Cradle To The Grave”. The majority of the nine originals (a cover of Bonnet's signature Rainbow tune, “All Night Long” is included) are upbeat anthems with a sing-along chorus. Given the turn of events, lyrical themes concern living life to the fullest, although “Sex Crime” is more foreboding. Autograph singer Steve Plunkett lends his voice, in addition to co-writing a trio of songs. Keel guitarist Marc Ferrari helped pen “Hard Feelings” and Bob's more well-known (ex-Kiss) brother Bruce guests on “Over And Over”.

Blaze (Wild One: '07)
Japanese outfit who has absolutely NOTHING to do with the former Iron Maiden frontman and the non-descript cover art, of a sailing vessel in silhouette, did nothing to pique interest. Flashback to the ‘70s/early ‘80s when Michael Schenker was an underrated guitar hero on these shores, overshadowed by Eddie Van Halen and America’s lack of world view. Come to think of it, the accented/mispronounced English lyrics are also reminiscent of those early (RCA) Scorpions discs. Hisashi Suzuki has obviously spent a good portion of his life ingesting UFO/MSG platters, as his licks are heavily inspired by the Teutonic fretster. The playing is not all about speed (of which there are moments: “See The Light”), but emotive tone. A hard to find import that’s worth any search to find!

Get Tough (Auburn: '87)
Especially in Germany, viewed as a classic, although the music was enlivened and always came across heavier, onstage. Although the moniker references Accept, the sounds emanating from this Cleveland quintet were inspired by the tandem guitars in UFO and Scorpions, pre-1980. Plagued by line-up issues that robbed them of the best years in the Eighties, took a while to eventually get down to recording (a 45 vinyl single was available in '83). Oh what could have been. Most of this track listing was included in a live, Dec. 2017 reunion of the original band, but can't go wrong with “10 Seconds In”, guitar workout “Lie To Me”, thumping speeder “Razor's Edge”, single “Blood Money” and the title cut. Was reissued with a load of extras.

Carving A Crimson Career - (Nuclear Blast: ‘98)
Swedish one off combines the speed metal approach of COB with burgeoning HammerFall retro-power metal, all sung with gruff, pseudo death vox. Amon Amarth-lite, if you will. Apart from the Germanic beer hall anthem “Heavy Metal Kid” and the acoustic beginning to the title track, this is melodic speed, start-to-finish. Definitely a couple of years ahead of its time, as both styles were still finding a foothold in the post-death metal, pre-black metal dominated era.

World Of Myths (Adipocere: '93)
Seven adventurous takes at death metal and a sludgy “The Sleeping God” instrumental, from Swedish sextet, with female keyboardist. Early adopters of the dual vocal approach (clean vs. grunts, plus spoken word) at a time when the Swedish/Tampa metal scenes were all the rage. Instead of relying on rudimentary guitar, the fleet fingered six-strings recall Schenker's days in UFO or early MSG. At the time of recording, some of the tracks were already three years old and there's even a glaring Metallica “reference” point in “Stormbringer”.

The Dagger (Century Media: '14)
New, but sadly already defunct homage to old school hard rock/early traditional metal, chaired by Grave bassist Tobias Christiansson and former members of Dismember: drummer Fred Estby and guitarist David Blomqvist (who also did a stint in Entombed). The Dagger took a stab at England, circa '78, influenced by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Riot (while American, definitely bigger overseas) and the emerging NWOBHM. Recalling the vinyl era, the ten tracks run 44:22, enough to squeeze on one side of a 90 minute cassette, although there a CD bonus, the cover of Quartz' “Mainline Riders” (previously issued as a 7 inch single) gives insight into their mindset. The late Jon Lord (Deep Purple) would have enjoyed the keyboard filled drone on “Ballad Of An Old Man” while “Nocturnal Triumph” has a Godz feel to it, accented by cowbell and clap-along chorus. “Inside The Monolithic Dome” would have been called proto-heavy metal, once upon a time. Not too far afield to countrymen Grand Magus. One for the old-timers, or kids interested in looking back, yet moving forward.

Ways Of Destiny (Megavolt: '88)
Perhaps best known for Udo Dirkschneider's (ex-Accept singer) brother Peter being the frontman, prior to starting Vanize, with bassist/bandmate Marcus Bielenberg (who also spent some time with Majesty, after leaving Vanize, although Peter remains the singer to this day). The band broke up almost upon the debut's release. The brothers share a similar guttural vocal delivery and love of high energy traditional heavy metal, although here, Peter hits more high pitched notes. The title track, cut from the Accept cloth, and a reworked “Fast As A Shark”, called “Sandy”, are the stand outs, alongside “Stalingrad” (yes, the title was used before Mark Tornillo joined the better known Germans), gritty “Don't Forget Me” and simplistic, cowbell heavy “Knock, Knock”.

Ascend From The Cauldron (New Renaissance: '88)
Shame that just as they were about to make some noise (even play the Milwaukee Metalfest, back when it meant something), they sacked their stratospheric singer Ski. There is no Deadly Blessing without Ski, as several reformations and overseas festival appearance, as well as the BW&BK 6-Pack will attest. Unfortunately, like Crimson Glory, Warlord, and earliest recordings by both Savatage and Fates Warning, no one knew how to market these twin lead guitar “tweeners”: not thrash and too heavy to be connected to the burgeoning commercial/hair metal sounds. Amazing high notes (“Search And Destroy”, “Cry Of Medusa” and “Deliver Us From Evil”) need to be heard to be believed. And he could pull it off live! Nick Douglas (bass) went on to a multi-decade career with Doro.

Entombed In The Midnight Hour (Hammerheart: ‘99)
Imagine a combination of atmospheric black metal, ala Dimmu Borgir, combined with the speedy guitar flash of Children Of Bodom. Even has a similarly COB phrasing to its moniker. Dead Silent Slumber certainly had the potential to go on to bigger things, but as the one-man project of Naglfar’s Jens Ryden, completing a viable live line-up proved elusive.

March Of The Norse (Nuclear Blast: '11)
The sidelined Immortal guitarist issues his own album, even though he’s rumored to have taken over the vocals reins, in Abbath departure, for the forthcoming release, alongside drummer Horgh. Here, Demonaz’s joined by Enslaved/I guitarist Ice Dale, who also handles bass, plus original Immortal drummer, Armagedda. Uncanny vocal resemblance to Abbath, must be all those cigarettes, liquor and smoke-filled Bergen club dates. Dynamics is the name of the game here. At The Heart Of Winter and the I debut are easy reference points, albeit more grandiose/epic and less rollicking than the latter. Hammerheart-era Bathory is also a calling card, for those that are cognizant of such comparisons. Plenty of fire, mountains and ice in the lyrical mix. While there are ten titles, two are less than 60 seconds intros and the closing, somewhat AC/DC inspired odd-ball "Dying Sun" was originally penned in ’98. Can't wait to hear what he comes up with next.

Doctor Butcher (GUN: '94)
My original review said the reunion of Savatage's Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery “pissed all over the last few 'Tage records. Cleansed of personal demons, and apparently the need to write piano oriented ballads and melodic rock operas, Oliva returns to the style that made him and his last band famous, aggressive thrash, with an infectious touch. The key differences between Doc. Butcher and the Floridians' output since Hall Of The Mountain King is the reliance on searing guitar and avoiding sappy structures.” Today, we know a little more about the inner workings/restraints within the Savs' camp, but stand by those words, all these years later.

Fix (Pony Canyon: '93)
Japanese release, featuring 4/5 of Laaz Rockit (and Defiance drummer Matt Vander Ende), following the release of the Rockit's live album, Taste Of Rebellion, a year earlier. Around the same time, fellow Frisco thrashers Death Angel rechristened themselves The Organization, attempting to keep relevant, Stateside. Although slang for heroin is hardly a commercial moniker, guess they saw/heard the changing musical tides too. While most of the material remains Bay Area inspired thrash (check out “Show Me Why” and album opener “Pure”), there are a couple of numbers seemingly focuses on the emerging hotbed to the North (Seattle), namely slower, drawn out “Liquid Palace” and “How Does It Feel”. One and done, it would be another decade before Laaz Rockit would reunite.

Engineering The Rule (Season Of Mist: '09)
Originally the brainchild of Atheist drummer Steve Flynn (helped out on these ten mind-numbing offerings by co-bandmates guitarist Chris Baker and bassist Jonathan Thompson), Gnostic inhabit a similar plane to latter day Death, Atheist (naturally) and Cynic: progressive proto-jazz death metal, with harsh, screamed vocals. Unlike the younger crop of oft atonal, 12 note scale, Meshuggah inspired math rockers, the sound actually bears a closer resemblance to old thrash, than death. Since it’s Flynn’s baby, he showcases the wood block (“Wall Of Lies”) and vintage Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa rolls/fills on “Life Suffering”, the farthest left of field stretch included herein. Certainly not easy listening, but a worthy experience nonetheless.

Journeys, Fables & Lore (Farvahar: '08)
Celtic battle metal, sporting three-part vocal harmonies, from the cornfields of southern Ohio? Sounds too corny to be true, yet somehow the intriguing blend of oft a cappella, war torn lyrics melded to folky and simultaneously thrashy European power metal works! The sound throughout the 15 tunes remains lively and upbeat. Themes range from the fun-loving (“Trollslayer”, “Ale”) to battlefield valor (“War Cry”, a superb, naked high pitch voiced “Hail The Fallen”, “Brothers In Arms”) and historical “1066”. The closest comparison might be Falconer (“Sea Dragons”), as the key to this mixture is the talented clean voice of Cineed Loreweaver, ably backed by a smattering of gruffer throats. Raise a flagon in celebration of a new discovery. Cheers!

Tied To The Trax (Auburn: '86)
Before he went to his own surnamed Hatrix and eventually fame & fortune, with Mushroomhead, Cleveland singer Jeff Hatrix fronted a tight traditional metal minded speed/proto-thrash unit: Purgatory. Because of them, Jon Schaffer had to rename his unit Iced Earth. The railroad crossing warning and gradually quickening drums (plus train whistle) kick off the title cut, the first stop on a 39 minute pummeling excursion, the boxcars laden with infectious rhythms. At times striking the same intensity as the Metal Church debut (think “Hitman”/ “Beyond The Black”), with the likes of “Crush The Black Cross”, “Fear Of The Night” and signature tune closer, although “Lost Angels” and the tempo changing “Valley Of The Shadow Of Death” are head and shoulders above the rest. Shame it's never been officially reissued.

Steeler (Shrapnel: '83)
Not to be confused with Axel Rudi Pell's German band of the same name, this was the early-'80s So-Cal outfit that introduced Ron Keel (vocals) and a young Swedish guitarist, Yngwie Malmsteen, to the world. Musically, early Sunset Strip material similar to early W.A.S.P. and/or the Motley Crue debut: big on singable choruses, punctuated by flashy guitar breaks/intros. Yngwie is all over the album. While Shrapnel was already a home for guitar shredders, the screaming neo-classical solo to open “Hot On Your Heels” was unlike anything heard at the time. Others that retain some oomph, all these decades later include the “Cold Day In Hell” opener, progressively faster “Backseat Driver”, “On The Rox” and “Born To Rock”, which sounds suspiciously like a future Keel hit. Touchstone moment that reverberated throughout the ‘80s.

Breaking Point (Torrid: '86)
Interesting, not just since two of the prominent members maintained a high profile following the demise of Tension. Originally known as Deuce (can see the tattoo on the sweating hands on the cover art), bequeathed metaldom guitarist Marty Friedman (Cacophony/Hawaii/Megadeth, although not part of this recording line-up) as well as mainstay/guitarist/singer Tom Gattis (Metal Blade artists Wardog/Ballistic). Being from the Baltimore/DC metro area, outside one of the big hubs (and not really near the label's Scarsdale, NY home office), much like all Torrid signees, the band struggled for recognition in the suddenly saturated domestic metal market. A little too musical to be considered thrash, the aggressive, guitar driven material somehow struggled to make inroads with metalheads, despite speedsters like “Wrecking Crew”, soaring vocal “Shock Treatment” and crescendo building, acoustic begun “Angels From The Past”.

Written In Waters (Misanthropy: '95)
Wow, even as a fan of WatchTower, Psychotic Waltz and Mekong Delta, these young Norwegians were a seismic musical shift. In a way, similar to jazz improv, only sticking with a sense of rhythm for a short time, before altering the soundscape 180 degrees. The initial pair (“I Sang For The Swans” and “You, That May Wither”) give the impression, via melodious chant, that Veds are something of a doom project, but the sinister witchy vocal and quick run through “Den Saakaldte” prove otherwise. “To Swarm Deserted Away” closer utilizes concertina/accordion, sporadic piano notes and sounds as if recorded over the phone. For only the most adventurous souls: definitely not like anything else you'll ever hear.

Maybe there's a few of your favorites here and hopefully a couple more, to warrant further investigation/discussion.

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