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LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE’S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2020

It’s that time of year where Limelight Magazine ranks its top 10 albums of the year.  While the pandemic wrecked havoc on the world in 2020, it was a great year for new music which brought comfort during these challenging times. Here are the 10 best records of 2020. We highly encourage our readers to give these albums a listen or even add them to your collection.

#10 Deep Purple – Woosh!

On their 21st studio album and third with legendary producer Bob Ezrin, Deep Purple show no signs of slowing down. Woosh! is one of the band’s most diverse studio offerings. If there is one thing that stands out with Ezrin behind the boards is his ability to give the band the freedom to breath and have fun in the studio. Don Airey’s keyboard wizardry is more profound and at the forefront on most of the songs on the album. I thought no one could replace Jon Lord in Deep Purple but Airey has filled the part nicely with his keyboard excellence, especially on the Hammond A-100. The rhythm section of Roger Glover and Ian Paice is in typical fine form and guitarist Steve Morse continues to dazzle with his six-string tones and phrasings. It’s hard to believe that he has already been in the band for 24 years and has recorded six studio albums with them. Lastly, it’s interesting to note that the band re-recorded the instrumental “And the Address” from their debut album Shades of Deep Purple (1968). It is the first song on that album and it’s the last one on Woosh!, excluding bonus tracks. If they did this deliberately to mark the end of their studio output, it was a nice touch. But, here’s hoping the band doesn’t go away anytime soon. (Standout tracks: “Throw My Bones” & “Nothing At All”)

#9 Kansas – The Absence of Presence

On their second studio album since the retirement of former vocalist Steve Walsh, Kansas continue to exceed expectations in every way. From the first song “The Absence of Presence” to the final track “The Song the River Sang,” it’s clear the band made a concerted effort to record songs that were in the vein of former member and primary songwriter Kerry Livgren. Whereas their last album The Prelude Implicit (2016) was more prog rock sounding, this album has that quintessential Kansas sound with some of the best harmonies the band has ever recorded in the studio. Tom Brislin has replaced David Manion on keyboard and is another welcome addition to the band, writing or co-writing seven of the nine songs. Once again, we want to give major kudos to original members Phil Ehart and Rich Williams for keeping the band going for nearly five decades and raising the bar high for quality musicianship and songwriting. (Standout tracks: “The Absence of Presence ” & “Throwing Mountains”)

#8 Metal Church – From the Vault

I’m sure that it is tempting to simply write off From The Vault as a run-of-the-mill compilation release since if features live cuts, songs left over from the recording sessions for the Damned If You Do album and other such material.

But if you do that, you are missing out on what I consider my own personal album of the year. While the various tracks may have been sourced from other parts of the band’s recording history, where they come from matters less than just how amazing the material actually is.

The newly written songs like “Dead On The Vine” and “For No Reason” are amazing. The Damned If You Do material like “False Flag” and “Tell Lie Vision” demonstrate that they could’ve been justifiably included on that release and the band’s covers of “Black Betty” and “Please Don’t Judas Me” are filled with a ton of emotion and adrenaline. Even the live songs fill a void you didn’t know you had!

Yes, strictly speaking, this is a compilation release. But the quality of the material amply demonstrates that Metal Church’s From The Vault is a utterly undeniably great album! (Standout tracks: “For No Reason” & “Above the Madness” – Jay Roberts, Special Contributor to Limelight Magazine

#7 Testament – Titans of Creation

While the studio output of some thrash metal bands from the 1980s has been inconsistent over the years, Testament never fails to disappoint. Since releasing The Formation of Damnation in 2008, Testament seems to only get better with age. On their 13th studio album, Titans of Creation contains 12 highly aggressive, in your face, tracks that matches anything up-and-coming bands of the genre have released. Furthermore, this album even raises the bar for their peers. If you’re a fan of trash metal, this a must have release. It’s full throttle from start to finish. (Standout tracks: “Children of the Next Level” & “City of Angels”)

#6 Stryper – Even the Devil Believes

When hair metal bands were at their peak in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I’ll admit that I never listened to Stryper other than when their videos aired on MTV. I found myself drawn to the excesses of Motley Crue than the Christian four-piece band. While my musical tastes have expanded over the years, it wasn’t until the release of No More Hell to Pay in 2013 that I paid attention Stryper. That record blew me away. It was the first Stryper release I purchased and I eventually bought their entire back catalog to add to my CD collection.

Since that release, Stryper has continued to create the best music of their career with Fallen (2015), God Damn Evil (2018), and again with this year’s Even the Devil Believes. This record oozes confidence, supreme songwriting, and showcases all the elements of Stryper’s trademark sound, from catchy rock (“Make Love Great Again”) to emotional ballads (“This I Pray”) to the hard and heavy (“Divider”). Whether you are a casual or die hard fan, this is definitely an album you need to listen to and have in your collection. This band continues to operate on all cylinders and we can only hope their renaissance continues well into the future. (Standout tracks: “Divider” & “Blood From Above”)

#5 AC/DC – Power Up

The first AC/DC album I ever bought was The Razor’s Edge in 1990. I recall reading a review at the time that said the band continues to release the same album over and over again. While that may be a detriment to some bands, it’s clearly worked in AC/DC’s favor throughout their career and they clearly take pride in it. 

On AC/DC’s 17th studio album Power Up, which opened at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the band reunited with producer Brendan O’Brien who helmed Black Ice in 2008 and Rock or Bust in 2014. I still can’t pinpoint the reason, but those continue to be my least played AC/DC albums. I enjoyed O’Brien’s work with bands such as Stone Temple Pilots, King’s X, and Mastodon, but I was unsure if he was the right fit for AC/DC. Power Up clearly changed that perception as this is one of their best releases to date.

Every song on Power Up maintains AC/DC’s signature sound and is solid and catchy. It’s everything you’d want an AC/DC album to be with no filler. While this is the band’s first release without co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcom Young, his fingerprints are all over the songs. He received co-writing credit on every track with his brother Angus. To quote vocalist Brian Johnson from an interview in The Guardian on Nov. 13th, “When we were in the studio, and I was trying out singing certain lines, it just kept flashing through my mind: ‘Is this how Malcolm wants this song?’ Malcolm was a strong character. He just commanded respect without even trying. And even though he’s not with us anymore, it’s still there. We don’t want to sound gooey, but facts is facts.”

In short, AC/DC are once again not trying to reinvent themselves on Power Up, but instead proving that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (Standout tracks: “Shot in the Dark” and “Demon Fire”)

#4 Blue Oyster Cult – The Symbol Remains

I have always found Blue Oyster Cult’s Curse of the Hidden Mirror (2001) to be a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the songs, I have played the album less than any other in their catalog. For a while, it looked like that was going to be their final studio effort, but the band surprised us this year by releasing The Symbol Remains on October 9th. The 19-year gap between albums has proven to be well worth the wait. Production-wise the 14 tracks sound amazing. Collectively, the songs contain all of the elements that Blue Oyster Cult fans have come to enjoy for nearly five decades. From the hard driving “That Was Me” to the instant classic “The Alchemist,” this album doesn’t disappoint and makes a strong case for them to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yes, we believe they should have been inducted years ago and it’s a darn shame they have been overlooked for so long!)

As to the band itself, original members Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Eric Bloom are in fine form, while “newer” members Richie Castellano, Danny Miranda, and Jules Radino make many worthy contributions, especially Castellano who wrote/co-wrote many of the songs, sings lead on three outstanding tracks (“Tainted Blood,” “The Machine,” “The Return of St. Cecilia”) and co-produced the album with Roeser and Bloom.

In 2020, Blue Oyster Cult may not get the airplay or press coverage they once did. But it’s truly heartening to see a band who can still hold a candle to their glory days. (Standout tracks: “The Alchemist” & “Stand and Fight”)

#3 Lady Gaga – Chromatica

About 10 years ago, we ran a contest asking our readers to create their own supergroup of musicians. Our former managing editor had Lady Gaga as the lead vocalist of her supergroup and I was indifferent either way. Fast forward to February 5, 2017. On this date, Lady Gaga headlined the Super Bowl LI Halftime show and I was blown away by her performance so much that I actually started to listen to her music. I picked up her most recent album Joanne and loved the stripped back approach she took to this record. I eventually purchased her entire back catalog and saw her twice in concert since then. So, now that I consider myself a fan, it’s time to delve into her newest studio album.

On Chromatica, Lady Gaga has returned to her dance orientated pop sound of the early days of her career. Ignoring three orchestral interludes, the 13 songs are deep, personal and extremely catchy. In fact, each song could be a stand-alone hit on its own. As many critics have noted, Chromatica is Lady Gaga’s love letter to disco and house music and we fully agree with this sentiment. From the infectious lead single “Stupid Love” to the retro pop sounds of “Replay” and her collaborations with Ariana Grande (“Rain On Me”), BLACKPINK (“Sour Candy”) and Elton John (“Sine From Above”), this is Lady Gaga’s catchiest album since Born This Way. Quite simply, it’s pure pop perfection and we can’t wait to see her perform these songs live when it’s safe to do so again. (Standout tracks: “911” and “Sour Candy”)

#2 Alcatrazz – Born Innocent

Alcatrazz is one band that I never expected to release another studio album. After calling it quits in 1986, Alcatrazz resurfaced in 2006 and has had a couple reincarnations since then with various lineups. With the core lineup of vocalist Graham Bonnet, bassist Gary Shea and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo back together, the band recruited drummer Mark Benquechea and guitarist Joe Stump for the new record. So, how does their first album in 34 years hold up? It’s nothing short of fantastic and flat out rocks!

At 72 years old, Bonnet’s vocals are in top form and he belts it out on the title song “Born Innocent” and “Dirty Like the City.” Shea and Waldo, who are also members of the underrated rock band New England, are in fine form and always create magic when they record together in the studio. The percussive stylings of Benquechea fit in perfectly with the rest of the band. And while Alacatrazz will always be known for featuring young guitar phenom Yngwie Malmsteem on their debut album No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983) and Steve Vai on their sophomore release Disturbing the Peace (1985), Joe Stump is every bit their equal. His fretwork is incredible especially on songs like “London 1966” and “Polar Bear.” In short, Alcatrazz is back with a vengeance and Born Innocent delivers the goods. (Standout Tracks: “We Still Remember” and “London 1966)

#1 Static-X – Project: Regeneration Vol. 1

Our top album of 2020 is a complete shock to us! Prior to this year, I never considered myself a fan of Static-X. My brother used to listen to their debut album Wisconsin Death Trip when he was a senior in high school, and I saw them twice in concert because they were part of the WBCN River Rave and Ozzfest lineups of 2000. If you asked me to name a song other than “Push It,” I sadly could not name one. I recall vocalist Wayne Static’s passing in November of 2014 at the age of 48, but other than that, I never paid attention to the band or even considered listening to them.

Fast forward to the spring of this year. While I rarely watch anything on TV, I decided to tune into the news to get an update on the Covid-19 pandemic. I accidentally hit a wrong number on the remote and ended up on the Music Choice Metal channel. Static-X’s music video for the song “Hollow” was airing and it immediately caught my attention. I absolutely loved the song and couldn’t get it out of my head. I went online to gather more information about the song and found out it was the band’s first single in 10 years taken from Project: Regeneration Vol. 1 that would be released over the summer.

In a press release, I read the album would include some of the last vocal recordings of Static and his role would be filled by new front man XerO. The album would mark the return of original Static-X members Tony Campos, Koichi Fukuda and Ken Jay and long-time producer Ulrich Wild who was behind the boards for Wisconsin Death Trip. I was looking forward to the release, and finally delved into the band’s back catalog for the first time.

While I liked almost everything I heard from their previous six albums, Project: Regeneration Vol. 1 is the band’s finest recording to date. The album is relentlessly heavy. The 12 songs manage to be both industrial and melodic with none of them sounding like leftover tracks that were omitted from previous albums. Finding a new vocalist to fill someone else’s shoes is no easy task but Xer0 absolutely kills it in every way, especially on “Otsego Placebo” and “My Destruction.” Static-X’s returning members don’t miss a beat and capture the essence of the band’s sound. But most of all, everyone involved in this project does Wayne Static justice. This is a pure Static-X album from start to finish and is the album that made me a fan of the band. I cannot wait for Project:  Regeneration Vol 2 and to see the band perform some of these songs live when the pandemic is over. (Standout tracks: “Hollow” & “Terminator Oscillator”)

THE BEST OF THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES 2020 – YEAR 4

By JAY ROBERTS

The year of 2020 will definitely not be remembered fondly by the world at-large. I mean, can you really think of all that much that is worth celebrating this year?

Here in the insulated world of The Cassette Chronicles though, I still wanted to take a look back at some of the albums that really made a mark on me as I wrote about them this year. Looking back, we pretty much topped out in terms of productivity for the series. There were 47 articles written this year and that means I got to discover and/or rediscover an amazing assortment of great music.

The series will be back in 2021 but for now I just wanted to give another day in the sun to some albums that I thoroughly enjoyed both listening to and writing about in 2020.

My thanks go out to the continued support from Limelight Magazine, everyone who reads these articles and to those few bands that made a point of sharing them on their social media pages. Here’s to a wildly improved 2021 and I hope to see you all back here again for another year of exploring the 1980’s and 1990’s with The Cassette Chronicles.

And now…(blatantly ripping off Casey Kasem) on with the “countdown”.

Click on the title of the cassette to read the review.

#1 – METAL CHURCH – HANGING IN THE BALANCE

#2 – TORA TORA – WILD AMERICA

#3 – DAVID LEE ROTH – A LITTLE AIN’T ENOUGH

#4 – MICHAEL MONROE – NOT FAKIN’ IT

#5 – MARIA MCKEE – MARIA MCKEE

#6 – Y&T – TEN

#7 – TED NUGENT – IF YOU CAN’T LICK ‘EM…LICK ‘EM

#8 – HOUSE OF LORDS – HOUSE OF LORDS

#9 – BANSHEE – RACE AGAINST TIME

#10 – GLASS TIGER – THE THIN RED LINE

“TUESDAY TUNE” RECAP (FALL 2020)

During the autumn months of 2020, Limelight Magazine launched a new weekly series on our social media pages called Tuesday Tune. Each Tuesday we featured a new song from a band or musician that was rated on 1 -10 scale by a seven-member committee. We took the average rank and called it our Lemon-Lime Scale. If the song was a lemon, it ranked below five. If it was a lime, it ranked above five. It’s our version of Rotton Tomatoes for songs! Thanks to Giuliana Amaral, Marc Botelho, Tim Cobb, Kevin DeLue, David Kelber, and Maddie Scott for serving our our committee along with JKB Entertainment Group/Limelight Magazine co-owner Jay Kenney.

Here’s all the songs we featured and how they ranked in order of favorability.

“Shot in the Dark” – AC/DC (average score 9.1)

“That Was Me” – Blue Oyster Cult (average score 8.1)

“Scars” – Fates Warning (average score 7.7)

“Sinners Hymn” – Orianthi (average score 7.6)

“Age of Machine” – Greta Van Fleet (average score 7.4)

“The Undertaker” – Accept (average score 7.4)*

“Protect the Land” – System of a Down (average score 7.4)*

“Gonna Make You Love Me” – Tony Lewis (average score 7.3)

“Under My Skin” – Blackfield (average score 7.2)

“Gimme Back My Life” – Loverboy (average score 7.1)

“Raise the Cain” – Richie Kotzen (average score 6.7)

“Show Them The Way” – Stevie Nicks (average score 6.6)

“Shame Shame” – Foo Fighters (average score 5.8)

* These two songs were an exact tie.

FILMING LOCATION SPOTLIGHT – “INSIDIOUS: chapter 3” (2015)

On the second and fourth Friday of every month in 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlights the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films and TV shows. Today we spotlight one of the filming locations for Insidious 3 (2015). The top photo is a screen shot taken from the movie while the photo underneath it is what the location looks like when I visited in October 2015. Elise Rainier’s (played by Lin Shaye) home in this movie is located at 445 N Ave. 53 in Los Angeles, CA.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – SAVATAGE’S ‘HANDFUL OF RAIN’

By Jay Roberts

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

(WRITER’S NOTE: This is the last article in The Cassette Chronicles series for 2020. The annual “Best Of” article will come next week. The series will return in 2021 but there will be a slight change. For the first six months, the articles will appear on a twice monthly schedule. A return to the weekly article format may return in July 2021.)

SAVATAGE – HANDFUL OF RAIN (1994)

“Which of us is now in exile
which in need of amnesty
Are you now but an illusion
in my mind alone you breathe”

That line from the closing song “Alone You Breathe” on the 1994 Savatage album Handful Of Rain is likely the best way to summarize what was going on as the album was written and recorded in the shadow of the death of founding guitarist Criss Oliva in 1993.

The odd thing about writing this article this week is that I had intended to write about a completely different album instead. But there I was at my friend Roger’s record shop [Purchase Street Records] the other day. I had popped in to pick up a special order he’d gotten in for me and as I looked around the shop, I saw that he had a cassette edition of Handful of Rain. I’ve owned the album on CD since it was originally released so it wasn’t like I haven’t heard the album a multitude of times over the years. After all, Savatage is my personal favorite band. But when I saw the cassette just sitting there in one of the racks, I just HAD to have it. And I knew that I’d be listening to it so that I could write about it.

Following the recording of their previous album Edge Of Thorns, Savatage had lost Criss Oliva in a car accident that also seriously injured his wife Dawn (she later died in 2005). I remember reading an article in one of the music magazines of the day about the Edge of Thorns album. But I hadn’t heard about Criss’s death at that point so I was more than a bit shocked when the article had a disclaimer that it had been written before his death.

This was kind of a huge blow to me because Criss Oliva was the first guitar player that ever really made me sit up and take notice of his playing. Normally I’m a vocalist and lyrics guy. The music is great of course, but since I’m not a musician myself, I found it hard to really sink my teeth into what goes into writing music or the playing of a specific instrument. Criss changed that for me. To this day, one of my prized possessions is a photo of myself with Criss before a concert in Rhode Island back in 1990.

From left, Cassette Chronicles author Jay Roberts when he got to meet the late Criss Oliva in 1990.

 

So when I got my hands on Handful of Rain, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Over the years, the album has been referred to as more of a Jon Oliva solo album and given how he was playing most of the instruments, singing and co-writing the songs with producer Paul O’Neill, you can understand why.

But what about the music itself? Despite being made under such trying circumstances, the album is flat out fantastic in my book!

The album opens in a hard-hitting in your face fashion with the song “Taunting Cobras”. Singer Zachary Stevens helps give the feeling of metallic assault with his vocal delivery. You can feel the way the song is just cutting loose. This track is one of the two that Criss Oliva has a co-writing credit on the album. The other song is “Nothing Going On” which mirrors “Taunting Cobras” for how heavy and fast the guitar driven track turns out.

The album’s title track starts off with the music and vocals delivered in a much softer tone but that doesn’t last as the song pretty much goes for the heavy pounding rhythms after the first verse of the song.

While each of the songs (save perhaps the instrumental “Visions” that opens up side two of the album) serves to make the album into a cohesive whole, there are a couple of tracks that serve as the emotional showcase for Handful of Rain.

The first of those songs is “Chance”. It’s a beautifully constructed theatrically heavy epic that serves up a fantastic point/counterpoint vocal later in the song. It was the first time that particular vocal style had been employed on a Savatage song/album and believe me it worked in stunning fashion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve envisioned seeing this song played out in some kind of way on a Broadway stage.

Of course then you have songs like “Stare Into The Sun” and “Watching You Fall”. Each of them are much slower in tempo overall, though the chorus does find each getting a bit heavier in tempo. “Stare Into The Sun” is actually kind of bluesy in spots which I found to be a big draw for me.

The first side of the album closed out on the song “Castles Burning”, a song with multiple tempo changes that give an extra sense of depth to the track. I can’t remember if I knew this before now, but after researching the album online a bit, “Castles Burning” turns out to be a song about an Italian judge who was killed by the mafia in 1992. I also discovered (or re-discovered thanks to my faulty memory) that “Chance” is about a Japanese diplomat in World War II. Funny how you can learn things you never knew or had forgotten even decades after an album has been released.

On the song “Symmetry”, the song’s tempo starts off slow and grows into more of a heavy rock sound. It’s actually a damn good song but there’s part of the lyric that would go on to serve as the title of a future Savatage album. I’m not going to tell you more about that here, I’ll let you do some investigating on your own. If for no other reason than I really would love anyone who reads this piece to listen to the album in full.

And that brings us to “Alone You Breathe”. I mentioned at the top of this article that the song closes out the album. It is a tribute song for Criss Oliva though it is said the song is not specifically about Criss. The point remains that it is a fitting tribute to Criss from his brother Jon and packs the kind of emotional punch you’d probably be surprised to feel. Every time I hear “Alone You Breathe”, it brings me back to when I first discovered the band. How I became enamored of their music and how much I just loved Criss’s guitar playing.

In the end, Handful Of Rain might not have been the album people would’ve expected from Savatage but it did serve as being the right album at the right time for the band to pay tribute to the passing of Criss Oliva and give them the foundation to move forward from the loss. On top of which, like I said, it is a damn fantastic record in and of itself.

NOTES OF INTEREST: There have been three CD reissues of the album (1992, 2002 and 2011). Each time the reissue was put out it contained at least one bonus track, with said track(s) being different than the previous release. The tour Savatage did in support of this album got a live release entitled Japan Live ’94.

The album features Zachary Stevens on vocals and Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick on lead guitar. Otherwise, Jon Oliva and Paul O’Neill played the rest of the instruments. While bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve “Dr. Killdrums” Wacholz didn’t play on the album (despite being credited as doing so) they did appear in the video for the “Handful of Rain” song. The tour for the album saw Middleton return to the lineup but Wacholz had left the band and was replaced by drummer Jeff Plate.

The death of Criss Oliva not only left a big mark on the Savatage family and fanbase, but other bands as well. Testament dedicated their album Low to him, while Vicious Rumors did the same on their album Word Of Mouth. Overkill wrote the song “R.I.P. (Undone)” on their album W.F.O. for Criss as well.

SCENES FROM ‘THE ART OF JOHN LENNON EXHIBIT’

Since today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon, here are some photos we took at “The Art of John Lennon” traveling exhibit at Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks, CA, in October 2015. This weekend exhibit was held in observation of Lennon’s 75th birthday. The artwork-on-the-road exhibit began in 1990 and regularly visits up to 15 cities each year.

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – HELIX’S ‘LONG WAY TO HEAVEN’

By Jay Roberts

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

HELIX – LONG WAY TO HEAVEN (1985)

It was just two weeks ago that I wrote about the Helix album Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge. In that article I mentioned how I had tried to listen to Long Way To Heaven a while back but the tape had imploded. I had planned to head off to a friend’s record shop where I knew he had another copy of that album. But that brief road trip turned out to be unnecessary. I was digging into The Big Box of Cassettes and was surprised to pull out another copy of Long Way To Heaven!

While it has happened before, I don’t typically make a habit of writing about the same band in back to back articles. But finding another copy of this album seemed like a sign to me and so here we are.

The Helix album Long Way To Heaven is the band’s fifth studio release. It falls in between Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge and Wild In The Streets. Since I love both of those albums, I had high hopes for this one as well.

And let’s just say that those hopes weren’t dashed against the rocks like a ship in a storm. Rather, I found this album to be pretty much in line with the albums that sandwich it in the band’s discography.

The album kicks off with “The Kids Are All Shakin'”, which was the second single released from Long Way To Heaven. It’s a lively ball of rock and roll energy with a nice hook to it, so I can see why it got released as a single. It’s a great way to start off an album.

Oddly enough, at least to me, the album’s first single was more of a power ballad. The song “Deep Cuts The Knife” is the second song on side one and it finds singer Brian Vollmer laying the vocals with a heaping helping of the emotions called for with the song’s lyrics. The music has the requisite tempo changes you’d expect from a ballad, with a more plaintive delivery in the main verses. But the chorus reflects more of a rocking pace. While I wouldn’t say that I was moved emotionally or anything, I did find myself actually enjoying the song as a whole.

If you are looking for that big rock anthem kind of song, you’d be remiss to pass by “Ride The Rocket”. I know that there’s a big double entendre in the reading of that song title but leaving that aside, the song is really good! You get the fast driving rock pacing but when you throw in the big backing vocal sound on the chorus, you get a pump your fist in the sky kind of feeling. I know that I got a burst of adrenaline as I listened.

The album’s title track was pretty rocking but I really dug the way “House On Fire” captured the band’s ability to rock your socks off. It’s a really great sounding performance that let’s the band’s combined abilities really shine through.

As for side two, I did like the opening track “Christine”, another bit of pure rocking energy. However, the second power ballad of the album, “Without You (Jasmine’s Song)” felt a bit off to me. Much like “Deep Cuts The Knife”, the music goes from slow balladry to a more rocking feel for the song’s chorus. But despite the similarity in musical template, there was just something I found missing with this song. Maybe it is just a case of just not liking the song rather than some deeper notion but either way, this track wasn’t for me.

But that bit of negativity aside, the rest of side two is damn good! On “School Of Hard Knocks”, the music starts off a bit slower (without drifting into ballad territory) but then picks up the pace and brings the some home to the listener.

Of course, even that track pales in comparison to the closing two songs on the album. “Don’t Touch The Merchandise” has a bit of that playful enticement I’ve noticed that Helix likes to put into their music and lyrics. It’s got that straight up rock pacing but gives you this groove to dig into at the same time.

Saving the best for last, the band finishes the album off with “Bangin’ Off-A-The Bricks”, which is just a killer rock and roll track with a touch of the anthem to it. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs on the album, one that I’d listen to over and over again without getting bored in the least.

It was a long road before I got to hear Long Way To Heaven for the first time but much like the other two albums I’ve written about in this series, I’ve come to quickly appreciate just how much Helix had going for them in the mid-1980’s. Discovering just how good their earlier material really was has me longing for the ability to travel back in time so that I could give the albums the appreciation they deserved back then.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Though the album was released in 1985, it wasn’t until 1999 that Long Way To Heaven got its first CD edition.

The video for “The Kids Are All Shakin” used a remix version of the song rather than the album version.

The band’s tour cycle for the album saw them open for Accept and Keel when not doing their own headline shows. According to the album’s Wikipedia page, they also did one off shows with Meatloaf and Heart.

FILMING LOCATION SPOTLIGHT – “I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE: DEJA VU” (2019)

On the second and fourth Friday of every month in 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlights the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films and TV shows. Today we spotlight one of the filming locations for I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu  (2019). The top photo is a screen shot taken from the movie while the photo underneath it is what the location looks like when I visited in October 2019. This shot was taken at Evergreen Cemetery, 204 North Evergreen Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. This exact location was also used in Mausoleum (1983) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

THE CASSETTE CHRONICLES – HELIX’S ‘WALKIN’ THE RAZOR’S EDGE’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

HELIX – WALKIN’ THE RAZOR’S EDGE (1984)

For longtime readers of The Cassette Chronicles, you might recall that the 1987 Helix album Wild In The Streets was the very first album to be spotlighted. It was the band’s sixth studio album but it was the very first time that I’d ever even heard of the band. Despite my enduring love of that album, I never really tried to hear the early Helix material until just recently. I tried to listen to a copy of Long Way To Heaven a while back but the tape pretty much imploded before I got two songs into it.

But after 160 or so articles since that first one on Wild In The Streets, I thought it was time to take another listen to the band’s earlier offerings and ended up pulling a copy of Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge out of The Big Box of Cassettes.

As I was taking notes I was surprised to see that the band recorded two covers amongst the ten tracks on the album. I did like their cover of the Crazy Elephant song “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin” which was amped up rather nicely. However, I was a little less enthused by the cover of the A Foot In Coldwater track “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”. It’s the only song on the album that you find the band hitting the brakes and making a turn towards balladry. I didn’t think the song was terrible in and of itself, but it just doesn’t really get me excited overall.

As for the rest of the album, what else can I say but…WOW! The band rocks out hard and fast throughout the other nine tracks (including the Crazy Elephant cover). And this is kind of why I seem to have an affinity for Helix. They just come out and rock your socks off with some hard charging rock and roll that sounds like it is the perfect soundtrack for a rocking Saturday night party. The fast fretwork from Brent Doerner and Paul Hackman get the blood pumping and singer Brian Vollmer (the only original member of the band still in the band lineup to this day) draws you in. I hope no one takes this in a negative way but his vocals always seem to be a little tongue in cheek. It’s a playful smart aleck kind of tone that helps enliven the proceedings just that much more. Vollmer’s vocals strike me that he’s having just as much of a good time as the music is intended to make the listener have for themselves.

The album opens with “Rock You” which was the first single released from the album. It’s got a perfectly catchy anthemic sound and sets the stage for the rest of the album’s fast charging rocking bent. The rest of Side One is just as aggresively entertaining as that song. The tracks “Young & Wreckless”, “Animal House”, “Feel The Fire” and the outstandingly cool sounding “When The Hammer Falls” are all designed to get you up and pumping your fists in the air.

The album’s two cover songs are on Side Two but sandwiched amid them are three more uptempo tracks. “My Kind of Rock” is another anthemic track with “You Keep Me Rockin'” closing out the album quite nicely. But it’s the song “Six Strings, Nine Lives” that really showcases just how furiously fast the band could rock out musically when they put their foot on the gas.

As I said, I’ve been very remiss in checking out the early origins of the band. But after listening to Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge, it is high time for me to rectify that gap in my musical experience. This is a hellaciously entertaining good time and show’s just how good a time it was to be growing up in the middle of the 1980’s hard rock uprising!

NOTES OF INTEREST: As I said, I want to check out more of the band’s early work and that should be a bit easier as four of their albums in total have been reissued on CD by Rock Candy Records. Besides Wild In The Streets and Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge (which has three live cuts included as bonus tracks), the No Rest For The Wicked and Long Way To Heaven albums are also available.

The band shot three videos for the album. They were for the songs “Rock You”, “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” and “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”. According to the Wikipedia entry for the Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge album, Helix actually shot two versions of the video for “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”. One was the regular version to be shown on regular music channels. But the second one was the “adult” version which featured topless models in the video. However, I’m not sure that that version is available to see online because one of the models was porn star Traci Lords, who unbeknownst to the entire industry at the time (in 1984) was actually underage during the majority of her adult career. (Additional fun fact, I actually met Traci Lords at one of the Super Mega Fest conventions a few years back).

The song “Rock You” was written by Bob Halligan, Jr. He’s had a pretty prolific career both as a performer and a songwriter. Some of his credits include writing “(Take These) Chains” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” for Judas Priest. He also wrote “Twist” for the Halford album Resurrection. He co-wrote seven of the ten songs on the Kix album Midnite Dynamite and co-wrote the band’s biggest hit song “Don’t Close Your Eyes” (from the Blow My Fuse album). He also co-wrote “Rise To It” and “Read My Body” with Paul Stanley for the Kiss album Hot In The Shade. Halligan Jr. has his own band called Ceili Rain.

FILMING LOCATION SPOTLIGHT – “FRIDAY THE 13TH: pART 2” (1981)

On the second and fourth Friday of every month in 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlights the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films and TV shows. Today we spotlight some of the filming locations for Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981). The top photo is a screen shot taken from the movie while the photo underneath it is what the location looks like when I visited in June 2015.

These locations were shot in the towns of New Preston and Kent, CT. Unfortunately, all of the camp cabins used in the film that were located at North Spectacle Pond in Kent, CT, have been torn down.