Review: By 1991, it was clear that speed metal was exploding. Metallica's "...And Justice for All" had defied all critics and risen to number six in the charts, proving that as usual the Hollywood trendmakers were wrong and that, whether or not it was low-brow and violent and dangerous, heavy metal was appreciated by a large section of the American audience that did not normally make itself known. Arising from a collaboration between labels, this compilation was an attempt to chronicle some history and cash in by lumping on mediocre bands to ride coattails. This compilation shows us both how badly off most metal was at the time speed metal came around, and reiterates the endless lesson that leaving music to marketers (record labels) produces clever abominations that entirely miss the point. To be democratic, we must say that if you are a flaming moron you may disagree and we respect that just like the labels do (because money is worth the same from any hand). Really.
1. Burnt Offerings (Testament)
2. Acid Queen (Venom)
3. Black Funeral (Mercyful Fate)
4. Across the River/Howling Furies (Anthrax)
5. Metal Rap (Lone Rager)
6. Blitzkrieg (Blitzkrieg)
7. Sonic Reducer (Overkill)
8. Victims (T.T. Quick)
9. Take It Away (Raven)
10. Ram It Up (S.O.D.)
11. Is This Life (The Beast)
12. The Shape (The Beast)
13. If the Shoe Fits (M.O.D.)
14. Death Revenge (Exciter)
1. Testament - Burnt Offerings: no surprise this demo version was included, in that the production and playing emphasize the gentler and more energetic aspects of this track and come across less deadpan and self-obsessed than the final album version. Steve Souza, known for Exodus, is one of the few who can handle the hybrid of singing and shouting that makes a good speed metal vocalist. People buy this compilation for this track. The staircase riff that defines this track for most listeners gets irritating after multiple listens but the chanted, militaristic chorus will always win a crowd.
2. Venom - Acid Queen: this band remains popular because their choruses are catchy and their lyrics and image a soap opera of pushing parental hot buttons. Based on simple heavy metal with punkish constant offbeat rhythm, their songs are like pumping machines that run into advertising jingles. Note introduction riff that apes Discharge "Protest and Survive" recorded the previous year. This song seems less organized than most. Also, while educated misogyny like "Of Women" provokes thought, the violent resentment of males of dubious sexual appeal here just makes us want to become monks.
3. Mercyful Fate - Black Funeral: While the combination between adroitly subtle speed metal riffing and the operatic vocals of heavy metal sensu Iron Maiden or Queensryche is appealing, this version of this song lacks studio refinements and as such sounds like a drunk man singing falsetto at band practice. The quality here is higher than most and as always, beneath the superstar vocals the main attraction is the precise but subliminally offbeat lead rhythm riffing which integrates seamlessly around song transitions and thus avoids the "train ride" feel of most speed metal.
4. Anthrax - Across the River/Howling Furies: equal parts ripoff of Iron Maiden and other speed metal bands, this early live performance by Anthrax shows us why few people could stand this band: they are annoying. Their first album, "Fistful of Metal," was a regurgitation of the traditions of metal at the time and as such quality, but they did not come up with anything but goofy, repetitive, annoyingly catchy material until someone they knew died and they came up with the Christian-themed "Persistence of Time," their musical apex. This track is totally forgettable in every way, and seems to have arch-irritant vocalist Joey Belladonna wailing like a queen stuck in traffic at the forefront. Hearing the moron say "Nice tits" to some member of the audience reminds us that labels want to sell us on the image "metal=retard" so we can grow out of it and start buying Creed and Enya albums.
5. Lone Rager - Metal Rap: bands are either humor bands, or use humor as part of their repetoire. This track, like most humor band work, is insubstantial beyond its premise, and the steady flow of groundbreaking amazing releases by Lone Rager (?) seems to confirm their stranding in the humor band category. If your IQ is safely below the speed limit you'll think this track is "unique" and "funny." Orbiting aliens who discover this track and then nuke planet earth are fully morally and aesthetically justified. Let us hope they skip this one.
6. Blitzkrieg - Blitzkrieg: basically a NWOBHM band who learned to use speed metal riffing, Blitzkrieg crafted a number of influential tracks, including this one -- famous because Metallica covered it. With the addition of pretty but un-forceful vocals this track is a looser-swinging version of the rigid and faithful Metallica cover: an out-of-the-ballpark winner of an open strum riff and a chorus that is pure hook. Why they didn't just add more Blitzkrieg tracks instead of the junk that clutters the latter half of this compilation is beyond this reviewer.
7. Overkill - Sonic Reducer: Overkill were the forgotten speed metal band because they were inconsistent. Their early material like this is goofy heavy metal with a hardcore-style riot shout chorus, like a more intelligent forerunner of Pantera, but they really peaked on the punk/metal/prog hybrid "The Years of Decay." This track is from their chanty, ploddy period and as such is both some fine musicianship and some tedious listening except when one is distracted by an opportune task like cleaning floors, typing memoranda, or replacing cylinder heads.
8. T.T. Quick - Victims: In very few occasions does a moronic band name not imply moon-faced retard music. Indie rock melodic hook and utterly predictable speed metal repetitive-strum riffing with a whining vocalist make this supernaturally tedious. If Sisyphus ever thought, "It can't get any worse," sadistic gods put this on the stereo.
9. Raven - Take it Away: Don't they realize wailing music as predictable as pouring concrete was the reason most of us defected from heavy metal to speed metal in the first place? People seem to worship this band but the mystery widens when you ask them why. Like a more technically proficient Venom with the vocal sensibilities of (vomit) Anthrax.
10. S.O.D. - Ram It Up: After thrash -- the hybrid genre of speed metal riffs at punk rhythms in blistering short songs -- had shot its wad, some New Yorkers thought it might be funny to do a joke band. As usual, when one cannot put meaning into art, it's much easier to make "entertainment," and that's what this is - if your life is so boring that this amuses you.
11, 12. The Beast - Is This life and The Shape: Sounding like a discount version of Mercyful Fate without the control over dynamics that makes that band listenable over the years, The Beast plods ahead without changing our lives or even distracting us all that well. This is another case of a clearly musically-competent act who lack ideas.
13. M.O.D. - If The Shoe Fits: see entry for S.O.D. We think we're funny, and we got signed, so you should, too. Only listen if your TV is broken and you can't make a dentist appointment.
14. Exciter - Death Revenge: This band have the speed of their music going for them and very little else. When one does a metal/punk hybrid, it's important to keep the harmonic variation of metal in mind, or one ends up with sped up linear music that leaves the sensation of ash: long ago something burned out the interest bits and left us with the impression of fire. When reviewers are in a kind mood, they use Politically Correct terms like "Harmonically Limited" and "Complexity Challenged" for this track.