METALLICA, Harvester of Sorrow  (1988, Vertigo)

The skull:
Although he would become one of the most copied rock culture artists ever, the wanna-bes have yet to dilute the greatness of Pushead in his prime. One of the most frequent tools in Pus’s kit was bone; bones ripped from all over the skeleton. Here we have but one skull, qualifying it for inclusion in the Skullection. It’s a fine one too. In the hands of a lesser talent, this could have looked pretty stupid, a fist punching through the top of a skull, holding scales (scales of justice, apparently). The skull looks absolutely wrecked from this probably quite painful ordeal. And there are bandages too. Pushead loved bandage as much as he loved bone. It’s not clear if it’s the arm or skull’s neck that’s bandaged, maybe both, but it kinda looks like neither. I’m thinking the skull is resting on a bandaged tree stump. Yeah, shit gets pretty surreal in Pushead-world. And who knows from where the hand originates? Best not to question these things. I’ll bet it was the record label’s decision to lay this image over the crinkled black stuff in the background. Probably pissed Pushead off at time, but then again, record labels have done much, much worse to desecrate an artist’s version. An A- then.

The music:
Little band outta L.A./San Fran here, never quite got the recognition they deserved. Sound sorta like Gaskin. This 12″ single from 1988 features one of the least interesting songs from that same year’s …And Justice for All, although even the worst on this album is listenable, serviceable, clinical thrash, or in this song’s case, half-thrash. This is one of those Metallica songs that buckles down at half speed and attempts something throbbing, or at least, with its infamous “implied bass” production, let’s say “heavy” instead of throbbing. And it achieves that aim, succeeding as a solid example of where the guys’ heads where at in 1988 and where they would go next. And with Metallica, the good and the bad, you always get a ton of personality from each player. I’ll always stand up for Lars Ulrich’s drumming. He’s not a technical mastermind, but he’s got what many clinicians lack: style and character. His approach is a huge ingredient for what makes Metallica Metallica. People who say they wish Metallica had a better drummer are nuts; it would no longer be Metallica. James Hetfield delivers some of his best lyrics with a menacing sneer, and the solo is one of Kirk Hammett’s most direct, sounding like it was lifted from the Kill ‘Em All sessions. He lays off the wah pedal for once, delivering a short and sweet passage that’s more thematic than solo-y. Favorite moment: James snarling “infanticiiiide.” Elsewhere on the EP, Metallica prove my opinion that they are the best cover band of all time. About 95% of the songs they choose to cover end up sounding absolutely fresh in their re-molded state (one of the best but least known is their bold reinterpretation of Iron Maiden’s “Remember Tomorrow”). The b-side of this slab contains two killer covers: the systematic rape of and power infusion given to Budgie’s “Breadfan” and a totally majestic treatment of Diamond Head’s “The Prince.” So lookie here, an addition to the Skullection boasting a truly killer skull on the cover and equally high-quality music inside. A rare convergence! (Incidentally, I believe Friar Johnsen will be saying the same thing of Overkill’s The Years of Decay, skull328, which comes before this one, but which I have not read yet.) The Council are getting drunk on mead, guzzled out of mugs made of human skulls, of course…these are high times for Big Dumb Skulls!
— Frair Wagner


BLITZSPEER, Live (1990, Epic)

The skull:
Finally! Some actual Pushead, to go along with all the pushead knockoffs littering the skullection. This is hardly Mr. Head’s finest work, but it’s still pretty excellent in its simplicity. Skull, eyepatch, crossbones, checkered flags. Looks like the painting was then slapped unceremoniously over a photo of some asphalt, but half-assedness was the order of the day, as we shall see.

The music:
In the late 80s, there was a halo effect around hair metal, the aquanet tide lifting all ships in the metal fleet. Thrash, in particular, seemed like it might be the next big thing, and every major label scrambled to sign any band that might possibly become the next Metallica, or, failing that, the next Testament. A lot of bands without so much as a demo got snapped up and rushed to market well before their due, and as a result you’d see things like Meliah Rage’s Live Kill Blitzspeer’s Live taking up space and creating “buzz” while the bands got their shit together for a full length. As it happened, by the time those LPs were finally shit out, so too had Nevermind been shat, and the thrash Titanic made a beeline for the ocean floor. A lot of great bands undeservedly took it on the chin in those dark times (see: Wrathchild America), but it can’t be said that Blitzspeer didn’t deserve their almost immediate obscurity. A tepid mix of thrash and biker rock, delivered with a well-rehearsed NYC punk sneer, Blitzspeer weren’t bad so much as totally, completely forgettable. Live is actually a really nicely recorded document, and while at least half of these songs appeared on the band’s studio debut (and swansong) Saves, these live versions are clearly more energetic than their properly tracked counterparts. That’s not enough to really make it worth your time to track this stuff down, but I guess if you’re dead set on owning some Blitzspeer, this is the one you want.
— Friar Johnsen