Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wrath “Nothing To Fear” and Columbo 5x5 “Now You See Him!” - Tag team review !

So it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, and since I know the internet has been waiting with collective baited breath, I’m doing a two in one review of Z-list speed metalers Wrath’s sophmore LP “Nothing To Fear” and a season 5 episode of Columbo from 1976 entitled “Now You See Him”. I will be doing this review in an exciting new review format I’m pioneering called “tag team” in which each paragraph will “tag off” (if you will) to the previous topic of discussion. I know, it’s heady stuff, but I think it might catch on. I mean, people are busy these days, so if you can read two reviews at once on your iPhone, think of the time you'll have to play angrybirds! Let’s go!

You may remember Wrath from the infamously awesome “Leatherface” soundtrack (their pretty fucking badass contribution to that soundtrack, “When Worlds Collide” is taken from this LP), although I’m gonna’ bet while that record may have inspired you to pick up some Sacred Reich or Laaz Rockit, you probably never got to Wrath. So, while never reaching the lofty heights of similar speed metal brethren like the for-mentioned Laaz Rockit, Chicago’s Wrath can possibly blame it on a few obvious missteps, the main being their shitty album covers. All 3 lps have some seriously boring stuff going on (a smashed guitar? Wow, thrill me. A photo of a burnt up baby doll? Be still my heart.), but this one is the worst by far. I’m guessing the strange decision to not have something like a giant, slavering soldier with a minigun or a flying bodiless skull on the cover of your second LP (this being entitled “Nothing To Fear”), and instead opting for a record that looks to be a jacket covered in non-descript black skateboard grip tape and emblazoned with their rather boring, ectoplasm-y logo sitting on the record store shelf next to other 1987 speed metal releases deterred many a fellow headbanger from purchasing this LP. Why would you go for this with your hard earned lawnmowing money when you could have the hand/eye monster roaring in pain on the cover to “Release From Agony”, whatever 10 Ed Repka covers came out that year, or even the flipping you off Ghostbuster from the Xentrix EP that would have been sitting next to this Wrath record at your local Sam Goody? Blame the band? Blame Medusa Records? Either way, this album would definitely be a lot more well known if it had ANY art at all on the cover. Shit, even that poorly drawn muscle man-Skrull from that E-X-E LP had to move more units than just your bands crummy logo in green toothpaste.

So part of the fun of Columbo, besides the backwards mystery format (IE showing the murder commited and who-dun-it at the start, and then the show being HOW they end up getting nicked as Columbo figures it all out) is the slobs vs. snobs aspect. Every time, the murderer/murderess is some stuck up, rich, society jerk off who thinks they’re soooo much smarter and better than me... I mean Columbo and everyone else in the episode, and their sociopathic ego-mania leads them to commit murder most foul… then, we get to see them treat Columbo like he’s the dumb shlub he pretends to be, before he suckers them into over confidence and brings them crashing down. The rush you get from seeing these stuck up jerks brought down a few notches is the draw of the whole show… and that’s why this episode is a particular stand out. What better stuck up jerkoff to be come crashing down than an escaped Nazi Gestapo agent who went into hiding and was able to develop a successful career surrounded by riches and beautiful women as a famous magician! The career every single one of us slobs wishes we could have! Oh man! It makes my fists clench just thinking about it!

Another problem Wrath may have had was blowing the whole band budget on Ronnie Montrose to produce… Maybe they could have plunked down some cash for a big, dayglo toxic waste Repka piece (with song titles like “Hell Is Full” and “Ripped Into Pieces” I’m sure he could have done something bad as fuck… maybe even come up with a cool mascot… the Wrath Wraith perhaps? Feel free to use that for the re-union fellas, unless your hearts are set on bringing back the burnt up baby doll). There’s a giant hot pink sticker on the cover that says “SPEED TECH MASTERS produced BY RONNIE MONTROSE!”. Now, speed tech masters gets my attention… the wheels turnin’ wondering if it’s like Megadeth-y, or maybe along the lines of the first Racer X? Oh man I love that album. Either way, I’d probably be on the hook… but fucking Montrose? What thrasher ever bought a record because Ronnie Montrose’s name was on it? That might impress the guys at the pool hall my uncle bought weed at in 87, but my friends and I trading Suicidal and Exodus tapes with each other couldn’t have given less of a flying fuck. Sure the production is good, but no better or worse than any other “speed tech” releases of the time. Should have saved your money boys, think of the tour van you could have splurged on instead of having to take turns in the windowless back of the Wrath U-Haul.

By the fifth season the format of "Columbo" was pretty much set in stone, so the writers just had to come up with a comedy gimmick, and then the gimmick for the murder. This one’s pretty good, because to solve the crime, Columbo has to figure out how each of the magic tricks The Great Santini aka Nazi death camp guard/SS troop Stephan Mueller (played with icy 70s bad guy perfection by “hey it’s that guy!” character actor Jack Cassidy) performs in his act… which also happens to be his alibi! Genius! The murder (revealed in the first scene of course, so this really isn’t a spoiler) is pretty cool, as he runs off during his act to murder the blackmailing club owner played by Robert Loggia (man stars every fucking where!), and then re-appears on stage to seal his trains running on time air tight natzi alibi. Dirty natzi fucker.

At this point, I probably sound like I don’t like this record, but that’s not true. As fans of the "Leatherface" soundtrack already know, Wrath are pretty fucking killer as far as this style goes… just not THAT killer. They laydown some fairly headbanging, solid, workmanlike speed/thrash. Gary Goldwitzer does a commendable job of the “Starscream/Chris Latta” nasal speed metal vocal ala Blitz, Zetro and Michael Coons, although he never reaches just quite to the intensity/charisma of those dudes. He’s good, don’t get me wrong (the sad, speed metal wail he lets loose on the memorable chorus of “Mutants” being a vocal hi-light), but, much like the band itself, it just never really reaches the intensity/speed metal ripping your face-ness of other, more well known bands of the era. The musicianship is solid, the tunes are fairly catchy, but just sort of cruising at 55-60, instead of hitting the nitro boosters. There’s some shit that will stoke you out for sure, like the opening section of the title track, and of course “Worlds Collide”, but taking the whole record on in one listen gets to be a little bit luke warm by the end. Some what shreddy solos, somewhat knecksnapping riffs, somewhat thrashing doublebass… the whole thing is just kind of a "somewhat" operation.

The episode was written by Michael Sloan, who wrote for the original “Outer Limits” and reached awesome heights in the 70s and 80s as one of the creators of the original “Battlestar Gallactica” and “The Equalizer” before slumming it at the end of his career in the 90s on shows like “Baywatch Nights” and “Kung Fu The Legend Continues”, and his writing chops and tight pacing are fully in effect here. He came up with a pretty funny on going gag ta' boot that in which the oft-mentioned but never shown Mrs. Columbo got her husband a stylish/funny looking new jacket that he continually tries to misplace throughout the episode but then is returned to him by some well meaning lower officer every time before he finally ditches it and puts on his classic rumpled trench coat. The time that takes makes for a little less of him annoying the villain, who moves to actually trying to avoid/confront Columbo quicker than the murderer usually does, but considering that he’s a natzi, you don’t really want to see him chumming around with Peter Falk like he’s Robert Culp or something, so it works out alright despite the episode missing some of the usual beats.

So, despite my harsh-ings, Wrath "Nothing To Fear" is a good record, especially if you like this style (and of course I do!), and cuts like “Painless”, “When Worlds Collide” and my personal jam “Mutants” are definite wins for fans of nasal, teched out late 80s speedthrash, but, even if you dig on this stuff, you might want to wait ‘till you see it in a local blow out bin and just play “Alice In Hell” and “Nothing$ $acred” for the 100th time in until then… hold out and don’t be tempted to be a speed metal completest and pay Ebay shipping, it’ll make the chorus to “Mutants” all the sweeter when you only paid less than 10 clams for it like I did.
7.5 out of 10 fucking Oscars.

This episode also features the return of Bob Dishy as the by the book sychophant Sgt Wilson, who always is investigating the wrong lead, and can be a funny counter to Columbo but after several appearances the gag had kind of worn thin at this point for me, although I still got a few chuckles off of it. The end confrontation is a little surprising as I thought it might be one of the rare instances where the villain pulls a gun or tries to kill Columbo (I mean he is a fucking natzi bastard!), but, like most, once he knows the gig is up he admits defeat and goes quietly into the giant prison I like to imagine that houses all the Columbo rogues, sort of like a Peter Falk Arkham Asylum.

All in all "Now You See Him" is a pretty damn good episode, especially for a post season 3 one, which can often drag into the formula a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the worst Columbo episode is still 1000x better than most bullshit that’s on today, but I’m rating this on my Columbo rating scale, and it’s a pretty good one. 8.5 out of 10 fucking Oscars – it’s available as a “Watch It Now” episode on Netflix too, so you have no excuse to not check it out.

now playing -
Evil Dead - "Annihilation Of Civilization" LP
Voivod - "Spectrum" demo
Immortal Fate - "Beautiful" LP
Stench - "In Putrescence" LP
Onslaught - "Hatred Towards The System" demo (on LP!)
Eazy - E - "EZ Does It" anniversary double LP


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