Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Vicious Rumors - Welcome to the Ball (1991)

When I decided to review this album for V, I thought it would feel like a new cd to me - as I can barely remember listening to it. However, as soon as I put on the first track, it all came flooding back to me. By the second track, I remembered that their vocalist had died in a car accident (in 1995) which always made the song "you only live twice" particularly ironic.

Vicious Rumors are also considered a Power Metal band. However, unlike most of the PM genre that I listen to, they hail from America. This means that they are closer to thrash metal than the classically inspired PM of Europe. Like many of the US Metal bands of this style, they come from San Francisco's Bay Area, which seems to have inspired a goodly amount of heavier bands with (moderately) more melodic vocals. Musically, their stylings are quite complex and the vocals range from baritone to falsetto. Instead of the "happy sounding" metal of Europe, with strong fantasy elements and triumphant structures, they have gone more for the aggressive and intense.

Founded in 1979, VR released four albums before Carl Albert's unfortunate death (car accident) and made a tribute album for him, going on in his honour. They did experiment a bit with sound however, and suffer from line-up insatibilities. In 2006 they returned to their classic sound, and they are still active today.

The cover says it all, really - the title "Welcome to the Ball" is a phrase with duel meaning, in this case the large metal ball that is about to wipe out what could be a concert hall. The band photo reminds me rather of the Savatage ones, although that may be the permed hair which in this case appears in a variety of colours and various from intensely curly to slightly wavey. The men of this era seemed to have better hair than some of the ladies. Expressions range from glares to the slightest hint of a smile.

The album opens with the pounding, angry rifts of "Abandoned". This is the sort of song I used to play loud and mosh about to in my room when I was feeling angry, depressed and... well, abandoned. Albert's voice is not overly high, but has a razor-edged whine to it.

"You Only Live Twice" introduces a bit more melody into the vocals, as they surge alongside the pounding drums and the guitar plays in short bursts, before being permitted full reign. There is a nice versatility to the drum rhythms. Vocals are still at the same pitch, with the whine and occasional lilting rise. The chorus is nicely melodic.

Starting with some ominous beats, "Savior from Anger" promises to be a powerful thrash song. Vocals are faster paced with a bit of shouting and higher pitched anger. Albert's voice is a pleasant pitch, actually, never getting shrill (like say, King Diamond) and varying up and down from baritone to tenor. This song has political conotations and is (like many of 1991) focused around the conflict in the Middle East.

Another song with social-political conotations,  "Children" is a slower song with meaningful, thought-provoking lyrics, and in the chorus Albert's pleasantly low vocals rise into an almost-falsetto. The guitar and drums are simply in this song, implying that it is almost, kind of a ballad, and it fades into light guitar, vocal accompaniment and children at play.
"All the children are the heirs, taking what we give them..."
 Another slower song, "Dust to Dust" starts with aching guitar before another joins it and the two form a formidable wall. Vocals remind me of Dio - about the same pitch and with the same edge to them.

"Raise Your Hands" is another catchy piece with slower, rockier rhythms and  a rather catchy chorus. Good to shout along with!

"Strange Behaviour" is another solid metal number, with more shouted choruses and good rifts. Nothing outstanding.

Rather sinister girlish giggling begins the thrashing "Six Stepsisters" which has rather disturbing lyrics and races along at a rapid, almost frantic pace.
"I couldn't take it, her screaming like that. Six tortured souls in one body trapped.
They fight to control the thoughts of one brain. Blood thirsty kin one in the same."
Sex or horror? I'm not sure!

For some reason, "Mastermind" seems more familiar than the others. It has a nicely distorted chorus and politically orientated lyrics. Solid thrash metal with good vocals and strong rhythms.

Now it's time for a ballad - "When Love Comes Down" allows the sorrowful edge of Albert's voice a chance to reign, although at times it rises into frustrated and desperate.

The album concludes with "The Ends of the Earth" which pounds away with aggressive determination.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Vicious Rumours. They remind me of other bands of the era - Overkill, Forbidden, Testament, Exodus... many of these from the Bay Area Thrash Metal scene. (except Overkill, who were from New Jersey). Overall, more aggressive than their European counterparts. They have a goodly mix of the fast and the slower, and even a semi-ballad for good measure.

I'll give them 7/10.

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