BLACKSMITH - Strike While the Iron's Hot CD
Heaven and Hell Records
Genre: NWOBHM/Classic Heavy Metal
Before listening to this I read through the band's bio on the label's website and found out this was a compilation from an Albany, New York act who originally started out back in the mid 80s. Their story also followed the same script which every one of us whose been into Metal since the late 70's/early 80's knows all too well. A band starts out with a lot of promise, has a local following, gets some national/international press, does some touring, finally puts out a release and right at the cusp of that breakthrough moment they split up. That's the first half of the story. Part two starts with the one last band member, in this case it's guitarist David Smith, not wanting to see it all end so he decides to restart the band with new members. Things start picking up again as they record an album, get signed, have their songs played on the radio, tour relentlessly and just as they see that shining star up ahead waiting to be grasped the light fades to darkness. In this band's case it was the end of the 80's and with a new decade came new tastes in music, more specifically Grunge. Although Metal, aka: classic sounding stuff, really never left all together. It went underground and harnessed a huge number of cult followers to this very day. The lion's share of releases by this label as well as a few more in Europe prove that. After reading everything I shot a message to a friend of mine who is a semi expert in obscure Metal bands from the late 70's early 80's. I asked if he ever heard of BLACKSMITH and as if on cue yeah he knew about em.
Like I said at the beginning of this review Strike While the Iron's Hot (which ironically is what this band failed to do) is a compilation. It features all of their recorded material from both 80's line-ups. While listening to the first cut, a two part song titled "The Bone March/Tower of London" with the first part instrumental and the second with vocals, I'm thinking holy shit this is damm good. Their original singer was a woman named Heidi Packard aka: Heidi Black who sounds similar to Dinah Cancer from 45 GRAVE albeit with a better vocal range. Musically it's Paul DiAnno era IRON MAIDEN to the freakin hilt. Second cut the aptly titled "Rock Hard" blasts forth and I'm wondering how the fuck did this band not make it big? "Rock Hard" is pure fuckin NWOBHM strained through a MOTLEY CRUE band member's spandex pants, you pick from who. Next cut "Louder Than Hell" is the same formula and Miss Heidi Black lets loose with some righteous heavy metal vixen screams. The following cut, “The Blacksmith”, gets a little too funky with the bass and drum beat for my taste and the vocals sound too nasal. Sadly that's it for the Heidi Black era of tunes from BLACKSMITH's 1986 self titled debut EP. But once again I have to ask how the fuck did this band not make it big or at least seminal big with these cuts? Sure the music business back then was sexist and Metal was definitely a man's world but if WARLOCK and GIRLSCHOOL could do it hey the door was ajar. (Also having a hot looking front woman decked out in fab 80's slut apparel had to have been a plus in their favor) From reading their bio it seems internal problems killed em. Hmmm let me guess? Somebody was fuckin somebody they shouldn't have? Strike One!
What follows next are some cuts from the band's second era with new vocalist Malcolm Mania Lovegrove who sounds like a cross between King Diamond and the late great David Wayne from METAL CHURCH. Musically the band does move forward with the times as their sound turns to Thrash. The first cut here is "The Beast" which is from the band's debut full length from 1989, Fire From Within. The song starts out with a pseudo horrific atmospheric keyboard intro then builds up into a full on thrasher with a glass shattering Heavy Metal scream by Malcolm. The song itself is about Aleister Crowley which I believe (although I could be wrong) is only the second time he's been used as a muse in 80's Metal. Ozzy did it first with his classic "Mr. Crowley" if you've forgotten. Next up it's more thrash with the song "House" which kinda reminds me of fellow New Yorkers, ANTHRAX, albeit with better vocals. Both of these cuts could fit on any best of 80's Thrash comp from back in the day. The next cut is a re-recording of "Louder Than Hell" retro-fitted with heavy guitar crunch and Malcolm's superior vocal range. If I were to choose then I'd pick this version over Miss Black's since her version is a cool Metal song while Malcom and the new line-up turns it into a full blown anthem. "A Taste of Darkness" borrows a lot from MERCYFUL FATE to the point where one would think it's really an outtake from Don't Break the Oath which was left in the studio for obvious reasons. The re-recording of the band's earlier material continues, this time it's "The Bone March/Tower of London". Even though the guitars have a much more sinister crunch to them, the soloing is far better and Malcom's over the top vocal presence shines I still like the original with Miss Black.
Unfortunately the last handful of cuts don't quite reach the mark the earlier ones did. The eight minute "Theatres Des Vampires" does feature some great soloing but as far as the rest of it I'm thinking album closing Halloween cheese which even contains some faux vampire spoken word play. "Hell to Pay" is the obligatory 80's Heavy Metal ballad. Let me slit my wrists before you tell me there's a video of this lurking about which actually made it on MTV. The next cut “Fug It” is a half a minute speed metal joke. Finally it all comes to a close with “Black Attack”, another mediocre 80's metal repeating song title chorus cut. I bet they couldn't play this one in the city without some fool claiming it had racial overtones. Malcolm's vocals really sound too over the top silly as well. Fortunately a few not so perfect cuts don't hurt the overall greatness of this compilation. According to their bio the band did return to the studio in 1990 but as I referred to earlier their style of Metal had seen better days. Grunge or better yet, the smell of teen spirit took over. Strike Two! Ah but now it's 2011. I wouldn't go as far as to say there's a full blown revival in the works. But I will say that there's a growing new audience out there in the realm of underground who spit upon the heroin chic of the 1990's and crave the Metal sounds of the late 70's/early 80's. You might know some of the new bands influenced by those days of denim and leather like ENFORCER, IN SOLITUDE, CAULDRON and VOLTURE just to name a few. Young long haired high school kids are raiding the bins at used record stores in search original vinyl from bands of that era. Not only are they scarfing up the PRIEST and MAIDEN essentials but they're also after bands like EXCITER, RIOT and GRIM REAPER. I'm not saying BLACKSMITH should make a comeback now (although I'd bet they could get a show or two in Europe, most likely in Germany) but at least this comp is a document which some kid with a OVERKILL pin on his denim cut-off and a cheap guitar slung over his back just might want.