WICKED LESTER, Better Off Dead (1998, RSR)
These guys thought no one would care if they stole the original name of the band that would become KISS, but when they tried it, a couple of goons showed up and roughed up the band’s mascot, knocking out a few of his teeth. Undeterred, Wicked Lester pressed on and released an album, but I think it’s not a coincidence that they never released a follow-up. This poor skull, or what’s left of him, is probably in the cement under the newest pool in one of Gene Simmons’s mansions.
Wicked Lester released their demo in 1989, but didn’t follow it up until 1998 with this full length album, and knowing that, Wicked Lester make a lot of sense. This is clearly a band whose musical sensibilities were formed in the 80s, but they obviously didn’t have their shit together to capitalize on the brief (in retrospect) popularity of this sort of melodic heavy metal. By the time they finally managed to eke out a disc, they had compromised their vision (such as I imagine it was) with a bevy of lame attempts to do what the biggies were doing in the 90s, from Pantera (the beginning of “Mad as Hell” is a complete “This Love” ripoff) to Megadeth (the entire album reeks of bad Mustaine-style “grooves”). At their best, Wicked Lester roughly approximate the US power metal of bands like Leatherwolf and Fifth Angel (see: “Rage,” an almost great song), but at their worst, they’re exactly the sort of overconfident and undertalented band that sadly littered the mid 90s trad metal scene in the States. If I had heard this when it came out, I might have treated it generously as a demo, imagining the band capable of something better. But this album was the end of the line for Wicked Lester, and judged on the merits, Better Off Dead isn’t good enough to compete with the great 80s albums that inspired it, and it didn’t do enough to distinguish the band during the dark days of the late 90s.
— Friar Johnsen