Southern California had a great run with heavy metal in the 80’s. A veritable horde of bands from that time and geography legitimately earned top shelf status in true metal lore including Cirith Ungol, Savage Grace, Omen, Armored Saint and Agent Steel. The middle shelf was pretty damn crowded as well with the likes of Warrior, Heretic and Ruthless. A quick side bar on all that to make the observation that some of those bands are back and delivering albeit it to mixed results: Cirith Ungol has returned triumphantly, Omen in a much less heroic fashion, Ruthless has upped their game significantly, and Heretic is chugging along with no loss of stride.
As the decade started winding down to its close and a new one began things really started coming apart at the seams with the exceptions of the thrash and death metal scenes. If you played traditional metal not firmly ensconced in either of those camps you were pretty much guaranteed to be buried under the debris and Aquanet residue from the Hair Metal explosion and/or shoved off radio and TV media by the gathering drizzle, soon to be deluge, of Grunge. Amidst that very inhospitable landscape a small handful of quality true metal acts made valiant attempts to scratch and claw their way to the surface. Unfortunately, none made it very far. In this article I am going to point you to four songs, one each from a quartet of bands, recorded during that rough period. Each of these songs truly deserves to be heard by fans of true metal. My hope is that some fans who might never have gotten to know of their existence get to clasp ears around some good stuff they would have missed out on. If you like them there are in most, but not all, cases more material worth your while tracking down.
First up, and probably most well known of the bunch is Stone Soldier. This crew of maniacs, who for part of their existence featured Heretic singer Julian Mendez, absolutely blew the roof off of most clubs they played in and inspired such a rabid reaction among fans that they were black listed from more than one club who did not wish to deal with the mayhem. They released one official demo Invincible Metal in 1988 and some other various recordings made their way to the surface the following year. They are definitely traditional metal if you focus in on the riffs and song structures, although the energy, passion, and velocity could easily have it confused for thrash or speed. It is the title track from that first demo that we’re going to feature here. Recorded on a shoe-string budget, with some assistance from the legendary Bill Metoyer, you can feel a hint of the crackling energy that exploded with this band live. It is all too short at under three minutes length but as metal as a rabid iron wolverine on the attack. I’ve heard some rumors that there might be a reformation in the works but nothing specific seems to have happened as of yet. You can find their stuff out there on the internet without breaking too big a sweat. Bang thy head indeed to this one.
Next up we have Warbride. This all female band was definitely an extension of metal’s roots in the 1970’s…and lest you start expecting any bongtarded stonerisms let me tell you that we’re referencing the Rainbow, Scorpions, UFO variety of the 70’s stuff here. Call it Retro Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, Melodic Metal, or anything else you want, just don’t miss out on hearing it. These ladies were an amazing band who were quite different from anything else going or heard since. There was a two song basically bedroom demo (some rumors that Ron Keel assisted to some extent but that is really neither here nor there) in 1988, followed a four song demo with much better recording quality the following year, and after some shifts ion the line up a final one song demo in 1990. The core of the band through all of those was Lori Linstruth on guitar and Velia Garay on the keyboards with original drummer Sandy Sledge (Malibu Barbi, Rude Girl, Sledge Leather) possibly being the most well-known member to the metal underground. Heavily melodic with extremely well written material and jaw droppingly adept musicianship they killed it on recordings and live pretty much irrespective of who was handling the bass or the mic at the moment. I remember one show in particular they did up in Fresno with Desolation Angels during the short period that band was relocated to LA…man those kids went full ape shit as well they should have, Fresno has probably not had two metal bands of that caliber play together in a club since. For your taster here we’re going to use Slaves of the Sword from the 1988 demo. Yes, that demo has rough sound quality and yes this is full on Rainbow worship, but when we’re talking early Rainbow I don’t want to live in a world where that is not a good thing. This and the other Warbride material can be found if you scour the internet. A brief reunion was attempted but did not get off the ground and is unlikely to start up again with Lori now a longtime resident of Sweden.
Next up is a band that to my knowledge never made it out to a live stage. Von Skeletor were the brain-child of Megadeth drummer Nick Menza (R.I.P.) and even more so long time compadre guitarist John “Gumby” Goodwin. The played together in Rhoads and roadied together for Megadeth before Nick got his gig with them. The Injection of Death demo came out in 1991 and encompassed quite a range of material most of it rooted in true metal soil. There is more than an occasional nod to thrash territory and more than one semi tongue in cheek (only semi mind you) back hand smack at heavy drug abusers (Gumby was roommates with Guns n’ Roses Steven Adler at the height of their debauchery so let’s just say source material was not in short supply). Picking the right track for this article was a close one (straight up trad metal pounder “The Highlander” was a close second) but when it really came down to which track metalheads who have not heard it just need to be exposed to it has to be “The Bludgeonist”. This one has Juan Alvarez on lead vocals rather than Nick Menza who sang on most of their material. Just a straight up face smasher well in line with its title, this ditty is about as ferocious and head-bang-able as metal gets. You can get all this and more of their material over at CD Baby.
Last and most obscure of the lot we have Chambers from Orange County featuring whiz kid teen guitarist Randy Chambers with Midnight (no not the Crimson Glory one, this is a Native American lady here) on vocals. I don’t think they ever got an official release of any kind out. I have a dubbed tape with this song, one other complete song and an instrumental version of one more the vocals had not been recorded for yet. There is a video floating around somewhere for this song, though I don’t think it ever hit the internet (not sure where this audio on Youtube even came from). Definitely landing on the commercial side of true metal, Chambers did play out at least a handful of gigs and more commercial or not “Night of the Warrior” featured here and “War Games” (which I only have an instrumental version of) were just flat out smokin’ metal tunes. Not sure anything other than this song is available out there on the net but enjoy it none the less, this band deserved to go a lot further than they did.
So there you go, a handful of gems from the mud and rubble of late 80’s early 90’s SoCal metal. Hopefully this makes a few headbangers happy and gets songs that fully deserved more listeners a few more. Horns Up!