XCURSION, Xcursion (1983, Rampage)

The skull:
This EP is sometimes called Skull Queen for obvious and awesome reasons. Look at this thing! Although it’s obviously a cheap, one-piece plaster replica, the crowned ladyskull with diamond eyes is nevertheless a thing of beauty and a big dumb metaphor to boot (even if it could and should have been framed larger in the shot.) The presumably sumptuous, velvet pillow is icing, but for my money, the element that MAKES this cover is the grid. In the early 80s, “GRID = THE FUTURE” for some reason. Think Tron. Nowadays, you see something like this and you wonder, “What’s the deal with the grid?” but contemporary viewers in 1983 would have accepted it as a signifier that made sense. But even they might have noticed that the grid only goes back like 2 feet and scowled, because the whole point of these things was to suggest an ordered infinity, not a just an ordered few square meters. If nothing else, this Xcursion cover reminds us of the good ol’ days when, if you wanted a skull on your cover, you were just as likely to call a photographer as a painter. Nowadays, if you wanted an infinite grid, you could have it even if you started with this selfsame photo. But back then, budgetary and technological limits were as hard as the men who put skulls on their albums. Maybe even harder.

The music:
Xcursion’s claim to fame is that it was Mark Slaughter’s first band, but don’t hold the man’s subsequent poser activities against him when considering Xcursion, who were actually a fine heavy metal band. Through they hailed from Las Vegas, XCursion remind me more of early L.A. metal bands like Lizzy Borden, 3rd Stage Alert, Malice, etc, not to mention Detroit’s Seduce, whose first album is very much of a piece with Xcursion’s output. Recall, 1983 was before hair metal as we would grow to hate it became its own thing, and back then, legit metal bands might play songs titled, “Love Is Blind,” and even heavy bands would sometimes resort to hard rock stylings. Xcursion were not exactly master musicians, but they got the job done, and while Slaughter lacked the fine control he would later develop over his reedy falsetto, his young voice is nonetheless less shrill here than on “Fly to the Angels” or any of his other execrable hits. If you like early U.S. metal, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this. It’s hardly essential, but once you’ve collected all the classics, this is well worth tracking down. Xcursion’s complete works were “reissued” on Old Metal Records, but that disc is long out of print, and I’d imagine the LPs are even more scarce, so probably blogs and YouTube are your best bet for hearing this curious but of H.M. history.
— Friar Johnsen


GAMMADION, The Fuse is Lit (2005, Strong Survive)

The skull:
Remember all those cool Dave McKean photocollage covers from the 90s, with random neat shit in antique boxes? You know, like the Disincarnate album or the first My Dying Bride full length? Well, this is kind of like that, but with just a single box, and crappy. And also not a collage. The best part is obviously the blocky skull pillow, though. I never thought about the needs of sleepy skulls before, but this cover has really brought the issue to my attention. It’s no wonder so many of the skulls we see look so cranky. Evidently they have to rest their heads on stepstools. I’d be a mess, too, if that was how I had to sleep.

The music:
Nazi true metal from Poland. Musically, it’s not terrible, kind of in the same vein as Atlantean Kodex, minus the doomy parts. Occasionally they drop into a blast beat, but it always feels out of place, as if they know that they’re putting on airs. The Polish-language speak-singing is pretty bad, though, and of course the lyrics are presumably about white supremacy and the master race and whatnot. “Gammadion” is the Greek work for “swastika,” so you know they’ve gone all-in on the NS bullshit. If the lyrics were about something a little less ridiculous, like unicorns or muscle cars, I would be tempted to say that maybe Gammadion are on to something, but I’m not about to endorse the work of racist thugs.
— Friar Johnsen