HAMMER HEAD, Rock Forever (1987, Power Outage)
The dudes in Tacoma’s Hammer Head were sitting around one rainy day in 1987 chugging cans of Olympia beer and listening to Thor when they came up with the metalhead’s alternative to the Rock, Paper, Scissors game. They called it Rock, Hammer, Skull, and while the specifics of the rules are still being hammered out (no pun intended) decades later, they do know that the outcome of the game is always the same: rock wins, because rock is forever. As seen from the panel of the game instructions the band used for their album cover, it has been determined that hammer smashes skull. We’re not sure what the official game rules state regarding the specific powers and weaknesses of the skull, but we’re pretty sure they’ll be releasing the final rules booklet for Rock, Hammer, Skull any year now. And please note the innovative use of pink…probably an attempt to attract the women-folk.
In a nutshell, Hammer Head sounds a lot like Anvil in the Metal Blade years (Strength of Steel, Pound for Pound) without the ability to craft memorable songs. Even the vocals are Lips-esque, here draped in a chilly fog of reverb, just enough to keep it from sounding dry. The drums have a similarly processed/effected sound, while the guitars crank out in standard-issue ’80s heavy metal style without much in the way of unique personality. While Hammer Head’s songs are dull in their composition, the execution gets plus points thanks to the tasty guitar work of Greg Martin. I’ll bet if Mike Shrapnel had heard this guy back in the day, he would have signed Hammer Head based on Martin’s work alone. Certainly not for the songs, but Shrapnel were not always concerned about songs as much as having another kickass guitarist was in the house. A song like “Point Nine” has absolutely nothing going for it other than the lead work, while the title track is a plodder in the vein of Anvil’s “Strength of Steel.” “Stone Cold Crazy” is not the Queen song of the same name; it sounds like Ultimate Sin-era Ozzy in the verses, and, again, Anvil in the chorus. “Angel” is a worthless ballad, not because ballads are automatically worthless (they’re not), but because it’s a worthless ballad. “Holocaust” is an acoustic guitar-led semi-epic, but its cock-rock delivery and cheeseball sound effects are not very holocausty. Ultimately Hammer Head should be given credit for attempting to craft a fairly diverse album, but lacking any discernible vision and without much songwriting acumen, they’re doomed to be remembered by the small handful of metal fans who will eat up any US metal band that released an album on a tiny label in the 1980s. Probably goes for $300 on eBay.
— Friar Wagner