BETRAYED, 1879 Tales of War (1990, Oso)
The war in question is the Saltpetre war, which I’m guessing not many people outside of South America have ever heard about, but in short, the war was about control of nitrate deposits in the Atacama desert (hence the sand) and was fought by Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. I doubt the combat involved men racing across the sands on foot firing pistols at their enemies, but you never know. Maybe that’s how it went down, and maybe this is the most historically authentic Big Dumb Skull ever. At the least, it seems likely that this is an original photo for this album, which makes it the first classic snap-a-shot-of-a-real-skull BDS in a long time. Well played, Betrayed.
I was going to say that Betrayed play thrash like high schoolers, but then I remembered that Death Angel were just kids when they recorded The Ultra-Violence, so I guess Betrayed play like grade schoolers. That alone would only make them medium bad on the broad spectrum of old thrash quality, though. It’s the vocals that really push Betrayed into the red. The “singing” here kinda sounds like Snake doing an interview, or Tom G. Warrior in “Mesmerized” if he sounded a little less like a haunted house ghost. It’s a weirdly accented Sprechgesang. Betrayed wear their influences on their sleeves, too: a Voivod riff here, a Kreator knick there, Metallica throughout. There’s not an original (or good) idea to be had here, and to boot the playing and production are terrible. The only people who would like this are the guys who only listen to shit no one else has heard of. If you’re one of those dudes, then Betrayed just might become your new favorite band.
— Friar Johnsen
BLACK JACK, Five Pieces of Eight (1985, Metal For Melbourne)
This is the second skull cover I’ve seen this week that includes a hovering pistol. (And that’s a sentence I have never before typed in my life.) But everything’s levitating here: the gun, the sword, the skull itself — although skulls do lots of floating around these parts. The image is made complete by the headband, earring and eyepatch, even if the latter is functionless on a skull. The dude is clearly out for revenge, ready to kill those who glanced that cannonball off his head and took some bone off the top. And check out the extra contrivance of an ear bone, an artistic prosthesis of sorts, so the skull could sport an earring. Muhfugga’s crazy! This skull has all the goods to rape and pillage on the high seas…except a ship.
Back in 1983 when Running Wild were still singing about evil, hell, and the occult, this band from Melbourne, Australia quietly invented the genre that Running Wild gets credited with founding: pirate metal. Their ’83 demo flys the Jolly Roger right there on the tape cover and features songs like “Crusader’s Revenge” and “Spanish Lover,” back when Rock ‘n’ Rolf’s only knowledge of a “Jolly Roger” was the gay bar down the street in Hamburg. Black Jack released this EP in 1985 and continued the pirate theme. “Man at Arms” is doom-laden and dirgy, with some loping, soaring guitar leads, and the guy’s pretty good, although the song itself meanders. They pick up the pace on “Highwayman’s Inn” (clunky NWOBHM-style stuff) while “Hot Rocket” pairs terrible lyrics with even worse vocals. The playing is sufficient, and the lead guitarist better than that. The energy is high too, but the recording is downright dire. A bit of a shambles, really, and something for only the most indiscriminate lover of metal obscurities. Ultimately its 25 minutes soar by in a fog of uselessness. On a historical basis, you gotta hail Black Jack, the true founders of Pirate Metal! (Or “Damn you Black Jack!” if you think the whole pirate metal thing is totally fucking silly.)
— Friar Wagner
CALIBRE 38, Calibre 38 (1988, Heavy Discos)
Look at this cover. See how dodgy it is. Now imagine that, 11 years later, it was released on CD with a very similar skull cover, yet even more dodgily rendered! (“Dodgily” is not a real word, but it is in the land of Big Dumb Skulls.) We’re sticklers here at BDS, so let’s examine the original: It would appear this skull has some blood left in it from the long-gone fleshly remains, enough to have sprayed “Calibre” on that white piece of driftwood (or chewing gum stick) above the skull. The gun (apparently a .38 caliber pistol) possesses the magical power of levitation. But what’s pulling the trigger? The lousily-drawn skull has no answers; he’s one of the dumbest and clueless specimens we’ve come across, so no point trying to get answers out of him. At least the “artist” added some fire and lightning. You can’t lose with fire, lightning, guns and blood.
You wanna talk about “dodgy,” you’ve come to the right place. This 37-minute album features 6 over-long songs that sound very much like the product of excited young heavy metal fans with barely-adequate talent hashing together riffs stolen from their favorite NWOBHM obscurities. The vocals are the worst part of this thing: yelping, ridiculous, impossible to appreciate. This is very much in the strictest NWOBHM tradition, complete with its rawness and naivete, although none of these songs make much sense, their arrangements ranging from haphazard to absolutely confused. (Kind of rare that a metal band from Brazil was playing anything but death/thrash/black metal in 1988.) Opener “Futura Passagem” benefits from being the shortest track here, in that they have less time to go astray. So it’s a good choice as opener. Closer “Tempestade” opens with the storm sounds of “Black Sabbath,” so similar that they might be sampled from the original 1970 recording, I’d have to A/B that to make sure (not that I’m actually going to waste anymore time with this thing than I have to). The opening riff in “Tempestade” sounds like they inverted the famous main riff to “Smoke on the Water.” I’m not saying “Tempestade” is a highlight of Calibre 38, I’m just saying stuff about it because there’s something to say. There are no highlights here. Don’t waste your time.
— Friar Wagner