When you think of the Los Angeles metal bands of the 80’s who comes to mind? Motley Crue? Ratt? W.A.S.P? Poison? Guns N Roses? Maybe even Armored Saint. While all these bands are terrific and have made their mark in the heavy metal community, the scene wouldn’t have kicked off without a group called Dokken. While they didn’t directly influence their younger peers like the New York Dolls and Aerosmith, they did essentially create the 80’s sunset strip sound that all of their colleagues followed. Leader and singer Don Dokken started forming the band around the same time Van Halen were about to explode. He wanted to combine clear, radio friendly melody with an equally heavy instrumentation to go along. The result? Pop metal was born. Dokken set out to find the right players for his group. Initially he was singing in a Los Angeles based group entitled ‘Airborne’. They scored a small record contract in Germany which amounted to nothing. It was around this time that he witnessed a live performance of the band ‘Xciter’ featuring drummer Mick Brown and guitarist George Lynch. Dokken knew what he had to do, get these guys in a band with him. It took much convincing on Dokkens part to get the two to join his fantasy group, as well as bassist Juan Crucier (later replaced by Jeff Pilson when he went on to join Ratt). Eventually they joined what Don Dokken decided to name ‘Dokken’. Unfortunately there was tension from day one, particularly between Lynch and Dokken. However, the band knew they had something special and cut their first album ‘Breaking the Chains’ which would become the first hair metal album. The first of hundreds, maybe even thousands of it’s kind; released over the course of 12 years. The album featured polished melodies, a tight rhythm section and guitar playing so advanced that even the heaviest of the metal listeners, most of whom hated the growing pop metal trend, had to admit was pretty bad ass. Dokken would go on to major success in the following decade, although they never really got the credit they ultimately deserved. Yes they were big, but they weren’t a top ten band by any means. This is probably due to the fact that the group couldn’t get along. After four albums the band was set to become the biggest group in the world, but they imploded due to tension and the opportunity was lost in time. Know one has any idea what could have been. We can only imagine that Dokken would have rocked on through the 90’s surviving the alternative revolution and beyond. Fortunately there are hopes of a full scale reunion tour as the classic line-up is set to play four dates in Japan at the end of 2016. Fingers crossed.
An era is born!!
Their popularity did last through the 90’s while others faded. Even after replacing George Lynch who was iconic to the bands image. However, they never gained their due as a top 10 band, even in the 80’s.
Live from the Sun theater (a large theater) in Anaheim 1999.
Very few people have heard of Chicago’s Enuff Z-Nuff. The band was a common case of irresponsible marketing in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Instead of being placed with the growing alternative metal movement they were lumped in with the dying hair metal phenomenon. Ultimately their sound was deemed too clean for alternative and too alternative for hair metal. Their second single and biggest hit ‘Fly High Michelle’ didn’t help matters much either. The song solidified the band as a power ballad group full of neon colors instead of their true identity as an updated version of The Beatles. In 1990, a year after ‘Fly High Michelle’, Enuff Z-Nuff quickly entered the studio to set the record straight about who they were. 1991’s ‘Strength’ showed the band in a much more mature and organic atmosphere. Adding strings and horns to their songs without the use of synthesizers was a vert smart move. Again, the alternative masses thought their sound was too polished and the hair metal movement rejected their audacity to be different. The damage had been done and now Enuff Z-Nuff were doomed to have a life in the deepest depths of the underground. Fortunately, they have kept a consistent album catalog for their fans producing 12 studio albums and a live album. Unlike many of their peers, Enuff Z-Nuff never lost their passion, their sound or their dignity. Plus the writing duo of Chip Z-Nuff and Donnie Vie is a machine that continuously churns out classic, high quality song writing. They continue to make great work and somehow haven’t lost their vigor to the all common down-tuning situation that’s happening. If you’re unfamiliar with the band I highly encourage you to check out their extensive catalog. Strongest albums include: ‘Strength’, ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’, ‘Tweaked’, ‘Paraphernalia’, ’10’ and ‘Dissonance’.
Ever hear of the funky, heavy rock band ‘Love on Ice’? Didn’t think so. The Portland outfit was a part of a saturated market. A cocktail of hair metal from Los Angeles and alternative metal from Seattle. Love on Ice fit right in between, not only geographically, but sonically as well. Tinted with thick psychedelic vocal harmonies, heavy grooves and high energy live shows, Love on Ice was one of a kind. Led by guitarist Dirk Sullivan and vocalist Dan Krueger, the outfit quickly hit the Portland scene and gained a lot of popularity very quickly. At first it seemed the band was only to be a part of the local scene. They recorded an Ep and sent it to Atlantic records only to receive and brutal rejection letter. A few years later Interscope discovered the group and saw something the other record industries didn’t. The band was signed and shipped north to Seattle in order to record their debut album. Finally, ‘Nude’ was released in 1992. It’s a near perfect rock spectacle from beginning to end. A diverse set of songs ranging from the very heavy ‘Self In Blue’ to the beautiful ballad ‘Can O’ Worms’. Unfortunately the album wasn’t promoted and it died a silent commercial death. The band broke up soon after Interscope lost the money to produce their second album. However, ‘Nude’ has quite a cult following. It’s easy to understand why. It’s combination of metal, funk, psychedelic melodies and punk attitude still hold up to this day.
By the time 1986 rolled around for the Judas Priest, they had been through a lot. Rob Halford had been through the deepest trudges of alcohol and pain pill addiction. His former boyfriend couldn’t take the pressure of the record industry keeping their relationship closeted and shot himself in the head; right in front of Halford. The band on the other hand had been enjoying multi-platinum success. However, Tipper Gore put them on her stupid ass list of 15 most dangerous acts due to the song ‘Eat Me Alive’ from 1984’s ‘Defenders of the Faith’ album. While it did little to stifle their fan base, they record industry insisted that the band was reckless and demanded reform. The result was a record that none of the heavy metal world expected, well not really. A clean, synth infused heavy metal record called ‘Turbo’. It fit the times perfectly, particularly in the United States, where it was a smash hit. While the album was their most successful stateside at this point, it did alienate the hardcore fans who had been following the band since 1976’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’. The often thought provoking, dark lyrics were replaced with themes of partying, summer nights, hot babes and general teenage hormone induced frenzies. The heavy proto-thrash that Judas Priest invented was glossed over by smooth, synth guitars and a digital production. The record was and still remains their most controversial among fans. Many love it, many truly loath the album with a fervor typically saved for wartime. Personally, it’s one of my absolute favorites. Judas Priest were smart, they new how to mix their sound with the ongoing keyboard revolution. It is, without a doubt, a Judas Priest record. It has their sound all over it. It is a little glossy on the production. But honestly, I think that the synths are used to beef up their sound. The sound is so crisp, thick and Ian Hills bass shines through the production cut; something lacking in previous records. If you really care about what Judas Priest are singing about then okay. I understand why this album may not be for you. It’s not particularly lyrically stimulating. What it is however, is musically stimulating. The songs are upbeat, the vocal melodies are catchy as hell, the guitars are heavy and dense. It also has some of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton’s best solos in the entire Priest catalogue. While all of those elements make it a great Priest record, it’s also a true piece of American generation X culture. Check out the documentary ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’. It captures the tailgating hours of a Priest concert showing a truth of 80’s youth culture. The ‘Turbo’ album went above and beyond the Priest story, it became a piece of documented heavy metal history. Unfortunately the album would come back to bite them in the long run and their follow up, 1988’s ‘Ram it Down’, flopped. The album returned to their traditional sound, but the new fans didn’t buy into the sound and the faithful had lost their faith. Ultimately, the results of ‘Turbo’ would go on to fuel the band to completely reinvent themselves for the 90’s resulting in the perfect album ‘Painkiller’, which every Priest fan worships. If you hate the ‘Turbo’ album, just think, if it weren’t for the record, ‘Painkiller’ may have never happened. For that we can always be thankful, despite our different opinions on the ‘Turbo’ album.
I never really understood what ‘Grunge’ really is. Is it an actual genre of rock music? Or is it a term that was created by the record industry to describe a collective of bands that have nothing to do with each other, other than the fact that they are from Seattle. Some are punk, some are metal, some are metal with a progressive touch, some are just classic rock updated for the 90’s. The only musical constant between any of the bands is the vocal style created by Layne Staley known as yarling. Even then, each vocalist had their own way of handling the baritone vocal trend. Curt Cobain took a raw, nasal approach that resembled The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Then there’s Eddie Vedder who’s yarling represents an obvious ode to Bruce Springsteen. Who can forget the awesome power of the one known as Chris Cornell? One of the biggest ranges in all of heavy metal. He can hit lowest of the yarled ‘yeaaahhh’s as well as reach heights only heard from Rob Halford and the like. Of course, the originator, Layne Staley follows in a similar vein. Not quite reaching the heights of Cornell, but certainly outdoing any of the Seattle singers in sheer force. Other than those similar, yet very different singers, none of the bands sound alike.
The wail of Cornell
It’s also clear from this song that Soundgarden is a heavy metal band. Why are they labeled ‘grunge’?
The rawness of Cobain
As you can hear, this band leans far more to the punk end of the rock spectrum. ‘Grunge’? Hmmmmm….
The classic style of Eddie Vedder.
Pearl Jam ultimately is a terrific, updated, classic rock band. Their sound is timeless, not to be put in a box of time with a label such as ‘grunge’.
The power and passion of Layne Staley
Like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains is a heavy metal band. Think, heavy guitars. Fluid, perfectly tuned vocal harmonies. Sludgy, meaty tempo. All the makings of a great heavy metal song. Just listen to that chorus!!
These are only four examples of many many bands that come from the same area. They’re all different. The guitar tones are significantly different. The album productions sound nothing alike. Sure, they’re all rock bands, but most of the similarities end there. I think of the era as simply an evolution of heavy music out of the eighties. Spandex and make-up couldn’t last forever could it? After all, the groups are influenced by all the same acts. Pearl Jam loves KISS as much as Poison does. If you listen with only your ears you just might draw the conclusion that all these labels are for fashion purposes and selling clothes. Motley Crue has much more in common with Alice in Chains than not, yet, they are in completely different sub-genres. Again I ask…What is ‘grunge’ music exactly? Is it really a musical term, or something created by the record industry to alienate and sell records?
Lookout Big Four, Dream Theater and any other thrash/progressive oriented metal bands, Fates Warning roar back with their second album since their near 10 year hiatus. Whoever thought the comeback album ‘Darkness in a Different Light’ was a fluke is surely silenced by this masterpiece. This album follows in the same vein as their previous one. Always changing formulas while still remaining themselves, Fates Warning found a winning formula with their previous album. With ‘Theories of Flight’ the band stick to what seems to be working quite well. This album solidifies the new era for the group and the comeback of a lifetime. Hopefully they will continue in this vein for years to come. The album starts with a career defining track ‘From the Rooftops’. I mean, this song is so good when I heard it I just walked over to Ameoba music and bought the album. The track starts off with a traditional, catchy amniotic groove for the band. The track then morphs into what is arguably one of their heaviest songs. The riff twists and churns ready to set off a circle pit of epic proportions. Ray Alder keeps the band grounded with his clean, soaring voice and accessible melodies. The album then moves into ‘Seven Stars’ and ‘SOS’. Both of which are masterfully arranged. Time changes, heavy riffs and break downs show why this band are the true kings of math metal. They invented it after all and it’s clear they want their due title. ‘The Light and Shade of Things’ can be lyrically bland at first, but the music delivers on all fronts. The lyrics get more specific as the song moves forward. Like their younger peers Dream Theater, Fates Warning have an uncanny ability to write a ten minute song that feels like five. ‘The Light and Shade of Things’ is the perfect example of that. Wherever the song goes, it never feels tired; it’s always fresh. The centerpiece of the album ‘White Flag’ is one of the strongest songs the band has ever written. A perfect fusion of thrash and progressive metal, ‘White Flag’ captures any metal listeners ears instantly. It’s a track that makes me personally question why this band isn’t more popular. The record keeps truckin’ with ‘Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen’ which sounds like it might be a soft ballad, but don’t judge a book by it’s cover. It’s a thrash masterpiece of heavy fucking metal. One that ranks up with the big four, and even maybe beyond. The album closes in traditional Fates Warning fashion. ‘The Ghosts of Home’ and ‘Theories of Flight’ could be one track. The latter is an instrumental piece of amniotic sounds and recorded voice samples. The former is a Fates Warning epic that belongs on every album. ‘The Ghosts of Home’ challenges the government establishment on gentrification. Again, it never gets tired. The formula is the same as the other album epic ‘The Light and Shade of Things’. This album proves how enduring Fates Warning really are. This is their twelfth album even tough they never got the album sales they deserve. This album is proving to break that mold a bit, it’s a hit on spotify which is essentially saving heavy metal music. Maybe, just maybe Fates Warning were simply ahead of their time and now their time has come.
In the Rock and Metal world, few line up numbers have had the impact that the trio has. Yes, quartets and quintets are much more common, but an efficient trio can prove that you don’t need more than three members to have the density of a full orchestra. An excellent trio always seems to be a band that sticks out. There’s good reason for that. Here are the council of 9 trios.
9. The Winery Dogs
The new kids on the block. Well, kind of. The band is a supergroup that actually lives up to the name ‘supergroup’, a rarity indeed. The group is comprised of three true prodigies: Mike Portnoy – Drums (Dream Theater/Avenged Sevenfold), Billy Sheehan – Bass (Racer X, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Steve Vai) and the incomparable Richie Kotzen – Guitars/Lead Vocals (Solo, Poison, Mr. Big). To those that know of these players, it should seem obvious. After all it was to famed heavy metal DJ Eddie Trunk who suggested that the trio get together. The band formed in their veteran years, just three years ago. At first it was going to be a single album endeavor. But their debut gained much more momentum then expected, even getting Richie Kotzen back into the mainstream a bit. The tour was a success and a follow up album came with the amazing ‘Hot Streak’. This album completely exceeded not only my expectations, but those of the entire hard rock and metal world. The song’s were perfect, as perfect as the members playing. However, this album had much more to offer than just ballads and ‘technical’ hard rock exercises. The melodies are deep and fluent. The songs are meaningful and full of feeling. All while rocking your socks off. They even manage to mix their technicality with melody in the same songs as opposed to having two types of songs dedicated to each craft. It’s a perfect album that does this trio justice and proves they should be around for a while.
For those who get thrown off by sound of KISS after seeing their image will certainly be more satisfied the band Venom. While they didn’t fair face paint like their less intimidating sounding brethren from the other side of the pond. Venom came out the late 70’s in England while the British New Wave of heavy metal was just beginning to flourish. These guys were anything but however. They traded in the neoclassical sounds of the new wave of heavy metal with a much more violent and deeply deeply satanic image. Like, to the point that they actually might believe what they’re doing on stage (although they claim they’re just entertainers. Their biggest contribution to the heavy metal industry is their second album entitled ‘Black Metal’. This album would go on to be the blueprint of the the sub-genre Black Metal. They grew and grew until line up changes started to ensue. Soon fans couldn’t keep up with the revolving door of members and they started to jump ship. That’s the risk of a Trio. Line up changes effect the groups popularity and image much more profoundly. Venom finally reunited in 1996 and have been steady ever since.
The Kurt Cobain led Nirvana was the most successful band of the 90’s. Hailing from Seattle they get put into the grunge scene. They represented the punk side of the genre, while bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains represented the metal side. In all honestly, these punk oriented Seattle bands weren’t particularly talented. What they did do well was use the tools they had to their full potential. Nirvana may not have created the most technical music ever, but they seemed to be a genuine band giving it their all. The audience bought it, and in 1991 they exploded with their sophomore effort ‘Nevermind’. The success was staggering and Nirvana were charged. That is until Cobain shot himself with a very revealing suicide note. It turns out Cobain had become the one thing he hated, started abusing heroin and eventually went crazy. The death of Cobain has martyred Nirvana in a way that no other band had been. Sales of ‘Nevermind’ are reaching the 20 million mark and lets be honest, there are much better albums that represent the Seattle scene than ‘Nevermind’. However, the cards were dealt how they were and Nirvana remains one of the most influential bands of all time.
Combining the progressive technicalities of Rush and the soul of Led Zeppelin. Along with pop sensibilities, Zebra remains one of the most overlooked bands of the past 30 years. Actually, their fall into the mainstream abyss is rather puzzling. In 1983, the bands debut was the fastest selling debut in Atlantic records history. The future looked paved and bright for the trio out of New Orleans consisting of: Randy Jackson – Guitars/lead vocals, Guy Gelso – Drums, Felix Hanemann – Bass/keyboards. Unfortunately something dropped off. Maybe the follow up album, 1984’s ‘No Tellin’ Lies’, was a little rushed and lacked the consistent quality of the first album. The record and tour bombed and Randy Jackson went down the addiction road. That road was short lived for the guitar player who’s skill must have been acquired only by being left alone on a space station for 10 years. Jackson got the crew back together for what is arguably their finest hour, 1986’s 3.V. This album should have put them back on the map. Jacksons innovative song ideas flourish, he even scats at times. Who the fuck scats…convincingly, on a hard rock album? However, it wasn’t very well promoted. The tour did alright. The band recorded a live album for contract purposes. The group died a silent death until 2003 when they reunited for a tour and 2004’s excellent album, ‘IV’. Zebra are still active off an on. I highly recommend you check them out.
Perhaps the creators of the power trio and the supergroup, Cream emerged out of the first British invasion consisting of: Jack Bruce – Bass/Vocals (Graham Bond Organization), Ginger Baker – Drums (Graham Bond Organization), and Eric Clapton – Guitars/Vocals (The Yardbirds, John Mayall and the Blues Breakers). While the band itself is not particularly a part of the first British invasion, clearly it’s members were. The band did debut in 1966 so it’s easy why some people categorize them as British invasion. However, their sound was more likened to psychedelic blues jamming. Their second album ‘Disraeli Gears’ was a smash state side and over seas. The album would give legendary song writing that stands to this day. ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ would go on to become their fan signature. Their radio signature however, would be reserved for their next and final album. 1968’s ‘Wheels of Fire’ contained the lead track and smash hit ‘White Room’. The band had morphed into a full fledged psychedelic hard rock act. Unfortunately John Mayall and Ginger Baker fucking hate each other with such a passion as to actually ruin each others instruments in tantrum on stage, middle of performance. So, obviously two and half years and three albums seemed to be enough of a run for the power trio.
I know I know. “How could you possibly put Prong ahead of Cream!!!???” Well, it’s simple, I like them more. Prong are truly a band that learned as they went. Formed in 1985 in New York City. Prong consisted of three staff members of CBGB: Tommy Victor – Guitars/Lead Vocals (Sound Engineer), Mike Kirkland – Bass (Door Security) and Ted Parsons – Drums (Formerly of the Swans). The band initially started out as a group that really didn’t seem to have any direction. They just kind of made noise and it was evident Tommy and Mike were amateurs to the performance side of metal. However, after five years of hard work and two independent albums, Prong had formed into an incredibly efficient thrash metal outfit. Not only that but they became the blueprint for all of 90’s heavy metal. 1990’s ‘Beg to Differ’ proves this. You can literally hear the album fueling the next decade of heavy music. Their influence on Pantera to become the brutal juggernaught they became is clearly evident. Unfortunately Prong would never get the credit they deserved. Most likely due to line-up changes. There were a couple of years where they weren’t a trio even. The follow up album ‘Prove You Wrong’ didn’t do nearly as well as expected. Tommy Victor then took charge and reformed the group for 1994’s ‘Cleansing’. It remains hands down, one of the most overlooked masterpieces of mutha fuckin metal. The record is skewed deeply in heavy, infectious grooves that put any groove metal master to the test. The group would break up in the mid 90’s an reform and then break up again. Currently, Prong are riding on a success wave with three incredible studio albums released back to back.
While it is true that Motorhead were not a trio during their entire career, they were a trio for about 90% of it. Much like their unrecognized little brother above. Motorhead came out of the ashes of Hawkwind upon bass player Lemmy Kilmister’s departure. No band has perhaps encountered every turmoil imaginable besides Motorhead. The group was founded on the steadfast strength of Kilmister’s endurance to stick to his guns. Even during the recording of the debut, prominent producer Dave Edmunds was fired by the bass player. Why? Simply due to clash in opinion of what the band should sound like. Raw, ugly, fast, loud with a heavy metal attitude but with a punk vibe. What this amounted to was the creation of what would go on to become known as thrash metal. Lemmy knew what he wanted and he made it happen. This is part of the legacy of the band. He was thirty-two when their debut came out in 1977 so people in your mid to late twenties fretting about it being too late, don’t fret. There’s still plenty of time to get to the 40 year marathon mark that Motorhead reached. Of course, the band’s biggest album, 1980’s ‘Ace of Spades’ would go on to become an ultimate classic. The album influenced pretty much every thrash metal band in The United State and Europe. It’s easy to understand why, it’s a perfect piece of heavy fucking metal. The American thrash movement would have never happened without this band. We owe our allegiance the the forever immortalized Motorhead.
What can one say about Rush? They exceed all necessary calls to arm for a trio. What’s truly impressive is how they replicate what they put on record live without adding any extra musicians. From the 1974 debut album to 2012’s ‘Clockwork Angels’, this is, for many, the band the defines them all. They’ve sold more albums worldwide than just about any other artist. They have the longest running streak of top 10 albums than any other band in history. Sold out show after sold out show, year after year, album after album. Rush has stood the test of time and will forever be embezzled in the echelons of artist royalty. They did after all coin the phrase ‘art rock’. Three world class musicians: Geddy Lee – Bass/Lead Vocals/Keyboards, Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Neil Peart – Drums. These three gentlemen created what others could only dream of. It actually took a while for the band to find it’s melodic side. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough tasty technical, progressive heavy rock in the earlier catalogue. The diversity of their catalogue results in a multitude of different types of fans. There are some who love the early progressive works of ‘2112’ and ‘Hemispheres’. There are those who prefer the early 80’s work from their most successful point in their carrier. Some take a liking to the mid to late 80’s work where the band learned to incorporate melody and serious, meaningful lyrics into their songs. As opposed to ski-fi fantasy. Many are drawn to the later years of the band, like myself. They retain their early heavy tone while Neil Pearts lyrics remain 3rd dimensional and relevant. What’s truly incredible is that through all of the phases and changes, Rush always remained Rush. They never deterred from who they are. The never sold out or sold their souls. It’s evident, this is not only one of the great trios of all time, they’re one of the greatest bands of all time.
Number 1 – King’s X
The number one trio is without question King’s X. What this band accomplishes within three members is not only astonishing, it’s revolutionary. It’s revolutionary to the point that no other band has dared try to follow in their footsteps. This is perhaps why they are one of the lesser known bands in the heavy metal cannon. They are so original in their sound that it can be confusing to some, despite the accessibility. This is the perfect melodic heavy metal band. This group combines funk, drop-d heavy metal, pitch perfect beatles vocal harmonies, a hint of gospel and progressive jamming the likes of which no one has seen with exception of Dream Theater. They do this all within three members: Dug Pinnick – Bass/Vocals, Ty Tabor – Guitars/Vocals, Jerry Gaskell – Drums/Vocals. They all possess perfect pitch, making their shows sound just like their records. In fact, after listening to one studio track, I wondered how they replicated it live and whether or not it sounded like the studio recording. I still wonder how they create such a full sound with only their instruments and voices. What’s astonishing though, is their lack of recognition. How is it that a band that can write such fluent, accessible melodies and not become the biggest band in the world? It’s not as if they didn’t have support. They went on the road with Living Colour and AC/DC for crying out loud. Every rock star promoted the hell out the band whenever possible. Sill, King’s X was destined for the underground and they are Gods within it. To this day King’s X has released 15 studio albums and four live albums, a rarity in the record industry despite album sales. A sound that was too original for it’s time is making it’s way into the future.
The 90’s were an interesting decade for music. Many musical acts that had experienced lengthy amounts of success in the previous decade started to become obsolete. It wasn’t overnight, in fact some of the bands debuted in 1990 with overwhelming success. Over time however, change inevitably set in. Some of the 80’s bands changed with the times, some for better, some for worse. A few groups decided it wasn’t worth a try to compete and broke up. Some stayed true to their original sound of pure, heavy rock and did their damn hardest to represent the genre. Some bands even held on to their sound while growing as musicians and fitting in with current trends, despite poor album sales. In fact, most of the bands fit into the latter and it’s a shame they didn’t get the recognition deserved because of stereotypes. This post is about those bands, everything ranging from hair metal, to prog to, thrash metal. This is the 80’s bands in the 90’s.
Lets start with an obvious one. The 90’s were extremely turbulent for the band that released a #1 album in 1989 with six #1 singles. Fortunately their 80’s success was big enough to sustain the Crue through the 90’s in terms of relevance. Initially the decade set out to be a successful one as the band released ‘Decade of Decadence’, a greatest hits collection with a few new tracks. The momentum quickly shifted as the band fired singer Vince Neil. They would go on to hire former ‘Scream’ singer John Corabi and released their self titled and only album him on vocals in ’94. Honestly, it’s their best record and Motley Crue certainly used the current heavy metal trends to their advantage. They truly created a masterpiece. The problem? People simple didn’t recognize the band as Motley Crue without Vince Neil on vocals. The success of Dr. Feelgood had come back to bite them in the ass. Eventually the record label forced a reunion by 1997 through shady tactics. The band released their most dysfunctional album in their career. 1997’s ‘Generation Swine’ is a strange attempt at being a 90’s glam metal band with strong industrial metal overtones. The album proved to be a bust at the end of the day, although there are some strong tracks. The saving grace at this point actually became the success of ‘Dr. Feelgood’ as the band embarked on a huge summer tour filled with audience members aching to hear the classics.
In many ways Poison had the most successful of the 90’s careers. Although they didn’t hit the long run like their earlier brethren, Motley Crue, Poison enjoyed success during the grunge revolution that none of their peers achieved. All after firing original guitarist C.C. Deville and replacing him with prodigy Richie Kotzen. The move served the band as they shed their glam fashion for more traditional, raw, funky, blues based hard rock. The result in my opinion is that they released their strongest album. ‘Native Tongue’ was released in 1993 and debuted in the top ten going double platinum. They embarked on a huge world tour that only their comrades could have imagined during the grunge movement. Unfortunately, the success was short lived and Michaels kicked Kotzen out of the band. Poison soldiered on trying to duplicated the same success as ‘Native Tongue’. They had a set release in 1996 with the album ‘Crack a Smile’ with another new guitar player. However, the album got shelved and the dysfunction of the band got the best of them. They all but disappeared until a reunion in 2000 with C.C. Deville. This clip shows the height of the ‘Native tongue’ era, even though Arcenio Hall introduced the wrong album title.
Warrants case is simply one of too much success too soon in the wrong department at the wrong time. Their debut album came out in 1989, a typical year for Hollywood Hair bands to cash in on a dying trend. The following year they beat the sophomore slump with their even more successful album ‘Cherry Pie’. The title track would dominate their career for the rest of their lives. Most of the band didn’t really mind except of frontman and head song writer Jani Lane. 1992 saw the band take a much heavier and more serious direction with ‘Dog Eat Dog’. Unfortunately the people didn’t care about quality and only cared that their bands come from the pacific northwest. Warrant couldn’t escape it, despite creating their finest hour in 1995 with ‘Ultraphobic’. This album represented the real Warrant. It wasn’t a cheap, fuck me and get it over with album. It was a thoughtful and quality effort. Again, they aren’t from Seattle so the album flopped. The following album ‘Belly to Belly volume one.’ was to be an epic two parter, but the album couldn’t generate enough sales to complete the journey. The band faded and never regained their former chemistry. In 2011, Jani Lane was found dead in a hotel room.
Skid Row in many respects did the opposite of selling out. Their 1989, self titled debut did remarkably well in a saturated market. However, the band saw where heavy metal was going and in 1991 released the incredible ‘Slave to the Grind’. The album was 80 million times heavier than the first record It debuted at number one and was the first of it’s kind to do so, opening the door for Pantera to debut at number one three years later. The tour proved strenuous and the band went on a hiatus afterwards. In 1995 they released the equally excellent ‘Subhuman Race’ and it went gold and eventually platinum. A remarkable feat for a band of their era. Unfortunately, the band started having inner friction and frontman and songwriter Sebastian Bach left the group. They rest of the band dismembered following. Both have regrouped in their own worlds but we have yet to see a real Skid Row reunion.
Although the band debuted in the 90’s, Slaughter has it’s roots in the 80’s. Out of the band that was the Vinnie Vincent Invasion which was born out of Vinnie Vincent’t tenure in KISS came Slaughter. Their anthems gained them major instant success with their first album ‘Stick it to Ya’. Heavy MTV rotation gave them the upper edge as they won best new artist under the networks new awards ceremony. They won over Alice in Chains and the upcoming Nirvana. This gave Slaughter the incentive to continue their mission of bringing ‘old school’, high quality arena rock. They stuck with their sound and their 1992 album, ‘The Wild Life’ debuted at number 8. The tour was a success in the midst of the grunge revolution and Slaughter continued their sound with 1995’s ‘Fear No Evil’. The release stuck to the original Slaughter sound but the band was in turmoil. That mixed with musical trends ended in doom for the band and they faded out as the years went on. They released two more records.
The Big Four
The Big Four obviously refers the big four originators of thrash metal: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. What’s interesting is that they all follow a similar pattern. In the 80’s they are mega aggressive innovators that fuzed punk with British new wave heavy metal and progressive metal. As the years go on they all seem to slow down the tempos and focus on the groove and melody aspect of metal. This is an excellent evolution and makes for diverse album collections from all four bands. As the 90’s happened they worked with the times, while retaining what made each individual band who they are. This amounts to integrity which amounts to retention of fan bases. Time has caught up with the big four as melodic thrash metal is moving back into the mainstream. Here’s hoping they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
Seattle’s Queensryche had a strong following in the 80’s that was hard earned through learning, evolving and finding a signature sound. By 1990 the band had reached major mainstream status with their release ‘Empire’. What’s truly unique however is that the band didn’t release an album for another four years. Most bands would fold under the time pressure, but Queensryche had other plans. In 1994 their sixth album ‘Promised Land’ debuted at number 3 on the hot 200. Simply a remarkably statement about what the band had to offer. They endured on a major amphitheater tour with a three and half hour long set. The tour set a standard that the band could have lived up to for the rest of it’s career. Having the lead single on a major blockbuster film didn’t hurt things either. Unfortunately the band fizzled out with wom3 success after their 1997 release ‘Hear In the Now Frontier’. Once the tour finished founding member Chris DeGarmo left the band and the magic faded out through time.
Alright, one final band here. Tesla has a great story from the 80’s to the 90’s. Initially the band had trouble taking off because their debut in 1986 didn’t offer much of an image apart from it’s excellent album cover. The band didn’t dress in spandex. They didn’t put on make up or wear ridiculous leather outfits. They were a band that in rare cases, started selling albums because they wrote good songs. The band eventually took off and their lack of image ended up paying off in the long run. 1991’s ‘Psychotic Supper’ went double platinum in the beginning of the Seattle revolution. Mostly due to their ‘lack of image’, their jeans and t-shirt aesthetic. Their follow up ‘Bust a Nut’ was released in 1994 and debuted in the top 20 selling 800,000 copies. Eventually the album went platinum. A testament to the quality of a terrific band. The success was short lived unfortunately as a member succumbed to drug issues. The group continued as a quartet (a quintet previously), with underrated guitarist Frank Hannon dealing with all guitar duties. The group reunited for a short time in 2000 but could never quite capture the momentum of their late 80’s and early 90’s success.
These are the top bands from the 80’s that transitioned into the 90’s. I wish some of the groups had more success and became recognized as more than just ‘hair metal’. Either way, many of the groups kept the music alive and it’s still alive today.
One of the biggest fan splitting issues in any band ever. Who’s a better frontman for the legendary Van Halen? The bombastic, in your face style of David Lee Roth? Or the lush, full melodic style of Sammy Hagar? It is a question that will forever be engrained in the bands history. It’s two different styles within one entity that is Van Halen. The David Lee Roth years are filled with pulse pounding, tough hard rock fueled by partying and being a ‘rock star’. The shameless frontman was part of what made the band such an attraction. I mean shameless in a good way, it’s his schtick, what makes him an individual and one of the greatest showmen is history. While other frontmen were trying to be serious and menacing, David Lee Roth played the old school, ‘big wave, big smile’ game. Van Halen were actually one of the first bands in hard rock and metal to openly smile during photo shoots. It paid off, as the partying attitudes of Roth drove the rest of the band into a perfect frenzy of funhouse hard rock, which would help to sell millions and millions of albums. Not that the music wasn’t important. Eddie Van Halen did after all revolutionize guitar from the very first moments of the debut album. However, as their career kept on, their live showes became more and more about David Lee Roth’s schtick and banter than the songs.
The increasingly long and reckless speeches from Roth, “Hey!! I’m gonna fuck your girlfriend PAL!!” or the famous “This isn’t a microphone in my pants I’m just happy to see ya!!”, coupled with his opposition to adding synthesizers to the bands sound ultimately resulted in his departure in 1985. Enter the more mature Sammy Hagar. The sound evolved and ended up in their first number one in 1986. With Hagar, Van Halen would do something they never did with Roth. Have four consecutive number one albums in a row and 12 number one hits. Granted the Roth era helped build this level of success. But I very seriously doubt they could have held on to the level of success that they did had they kept Roth as a their frontman. From 1986’s ‘5150’ to 1995’s ‘Balance’, Van Halen stretched their musical limits all while still remaining true to their sound. The band traded in their almost punk influenced three minute rockers for more lush, melodic five minute rockers. The most important element however, is that as much as they matured, they never lost their fun edge. Is Sammy Hagar much more balanced than David Lee Roth? Hell yeah he is!! Does that mean that the music is any less fun? FUCK NO!! The title to 1991’s ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ alone is proof. Known as the ‘F.U.C.K.’ album, ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ would see the band in it’s finest hour. It also spawned Van Halen’s biggest tour in their career. The tour was such a smash that Van Halen would achieve what almost none of their peers did within its wake. In 1995, Van Halen released a number one album with ‘Balance’. No other group of this genre or the like had come close to this with the exception of maybe one or two groups. Certainly none of their immediate peers accomplished this.
While these two videos show the two extremes of the Van Halen Camp, one being partying and banter, the other being focused on music. That doesn’t mean that the David Lee Roth era of the band doesn’t have great music that shows growth. 1981’s ‘Fair Warning’ shows significant growth since the groups 1978 debut.
At the end of the day though, it’s Sammy Hagar that takes the cake. He showed a complete package of partying, discipline and natural rock star ability. He also brought in a sense of being into the band. They felt natural and dignified. Their songs were actually about something, Roth on the other hand always felt forced in my opinion, to the point of parody. Sammy naturally fits on the stage and his voice still carries to this day. Roth on the other hand seems to be struggling to hold on to his youthful essence. Although Van Halen has had very successful recent tours with David Lee Roth, everyone knows that they still aren’t reaching their full potential. I can only hope that Sammy will return with Michael Anthony on bass for one last go round.
On the fourth of May, 1996 Metallica finally unleashed their first album in five years. While it may have been a departure of their original sound, the album was a strong one. The riffs were killer, the grooves were infectious and the production was raw and energized. Most of the songs take a mid-tempo and melodic journey which many original fans took issue with. That along with the decision to cut their hair made ‘Load’ the most controversial Metallica album to date. They didn’t feel like Metallica was their band anymore. The reality though, is that Metallica were taking a direction that all of their big four brothers took. In the mid to late nineties, thrash metal wasn’t as commercially viable as it was in the previous decade. Many members of Anthrax had short hair for over five years by 1996 and no one questioned their metal credentials. In fact, Anthrax started the big four push towards mid-tempo, melodic metal with their 1992 classic ‘Sounds of White Noise’. Did anyone take an issue with it? No! Actually, they were praised for their direction and replacement of singer Joey Belladonna with John Bush. However, despite similarities, Metallica is not Anthrax. Metallica reached a level of success that none of their peers thought possible. On that level of commercial success, there are many people who listen with their eyes. They like whats popular or what’s in fashion and Metallica were a part of that world with their success. The result? Change = major controversy. Fortunately, the people that listen with their eyes are a minority in heavy metal. ‘Load’ debuted at number 1 in 1996, a feat no tradition or thrash metal or hard rock band can claim in the late 90’s. Deservingly so. The album is a near perfect journey of hard rock and heavy metal. From the aggressive ‘Aint My Bitch’ to the grooves of ‘Cure’ and ‘2X4’, ‘Load’ keeps the listener guessing as to what comes next. The album delivers on all fronts. ‘King Nothing’ is still a fan favorite that’s used in set lists. ‘Hero of the Day’ is a terrific ballad that see the band experimenting with traditional classic rock sounds mixed with Metallica thrash. To all those who say that this is not a Metallica album, I urge you, go back and give it another listen. Don’t limit yourself because the band changed their clothes and hair styles. Use you ears and you’ll find that this is a classic Metallica album that ranks among some of the best hard rock and heavy metal albums.