BLACK JACK, Five Pieces of Eight  (1985, Metal For Melbourne)

The skull:
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.

The music:
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


SACRIFICE, Crest of Black (1986, demo)

The skull:
Even by the standards of the hand-drawn demo cover, this skull is pretty lame. Why does a skull with no eyes need an eyepatch? Why not wear two, then? The pentagram is of course always a welcome addition, and it’s nice that instead of the cliched knife in the teeth, this pirate skull is biting down on a big axe, it’s notched blade glinting in the sun. How he’s going to wield it is another question for another time.

The music:
Early Japanese thrash that’s pretty much exactly as good as you’re imagining. It’s easy to forget when you hear something this murky and terrible that in 1986, thrash was actually pretty advanced. It’s the year of Reign in Blood, Peace Sells, and Master of Puppets, but you’d think from listening to Crest of Black that Hellhammer’s first demo had just been released, that Mantas was still in Venom, and that Quorthon was still squatting over pentagrams. This demo sounds terrible, the songs are awful, and the playing and singing are atrocious. I know there’s a whole scene of people for whom this kind of “authenticity” trumps all other concerns (and it is for exactly this undiscerning crowd that this barely-a-footnote demo was bootlegged on vinyl), but I for one demand a bit more than an unusual (for metal) provenance and a yellowing photocopied tape sleeve. Don’t hear small sound indeed!
— Friar Johnsen