Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The opening riffs of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid single pointed the way towards modern heavy metal. Released in August 1970, the song was a step forward from the band’s debut album released just 6 months earlier. All of the elements that made Black Sabbath great came together for this song – memorable doom laden riffs, pounding drum & bass, and Ozzy’s detached & demonic vocals. If Ozzy sounds like he is reading the lyrics as he is singing them that’s because he is. The song was written as an afterthought for their 2nd album (also named Paranoid) and came together in under an hour according to all band members. The song was a top 10 hit in the UK and remains one of Black Sabbath’s signature tunes. Curiously, the song never mentions the word paranoid in its lyrics – instead, the lyrics deal with depression in a poetic fashion. Worlds away from the Satanic imagery the band was / is known for. I’ve always thought the band’s lyrics were deeper than their reputation in some circles and this song is proof. “People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time / All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy / Think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t find something to pacify”. Perfection.

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Motörhead – Bad Magic

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There’s really only one band in my mind that has successfully bridged the gap between punk and heavy metal. Of course I’m talking about Justin Timberlake’s favorite band, Motörhead. Formed in the wake of Lemmy Kilmister’s ouster from space rockers Hawkwind, the band has churned out album after album of solid hard rock, punk, and metal anthems. Always changing, always the same – I believe John Peel said that in reference to The Fall, but he could have easily been talking about Motörhead. Members have come and gone over the last 40 years, and yet Lemmy is still standing (though drinking vodka instead of whiskey for health reasons). The current lineup of Lemmy on vocals & bass, Phil “Wizzo” Campbell on guitar, and Mikkey Dee on drums has been together since 1992, making it the longest latest incarnation of the band. Bad Magic is the band’s 22nd studio album and comes hot on the heels of 2013’s very strong Aftershock.

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Helmet – Unsung

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The summer of 1992 found me at an odd juncture – trying to find my place in this world as a disillusioned 15-year-old. Fortunately, 1992 was the summer of The Cure (Wish) and Helmet (In The Meantime). Two bands that were / are on the opposite ends of the spectrum – The Cure brooding and melancholy, Helmet reveling in pure metallic aggression. At the time, it all seemed to be labeled “Alternative”. The most notable single pulled from Helmet’s album was Unsung – an unusual song from the band due to the increased focus on melody during the verses. It features a memorable thrash based guitar riff, enveloped in staccato. Page Hamilton’s vocals provide the melodic contrast needed to make it one of the best singles of the 90’s. MTV played the video non stop throughout the 2nd half of 1992 and it never failed to keep me enthralled. I like quite a few records by Helmet, but honestly – this is the song I absolutely love. Everything works perfectly – from the menacing bass riff that opens to the military-like drum fills (I’ve already touched on guitar & vox). The song was recorded by Steve Albini and remixed by Andy Wallace, lending the song an odd mix of feeling raw AND polished. The track hit #29 on the Alternative charts and #32 on the Rock charts and proved to be a huge influence to the band Pantera. As for The Cure? Well, that is a story for another day. These words will get stuck in your head after listening to Unsung just once: “Your contribution left unnoticed some / Association with an image / Just credit time for showing up again / Attention wandered I’m left with it”

Scorpions – The Sails of Charon

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

If I were to make a silly list of Top 5 heavy metal bands, Scorpions would make the list every time. Not for their 80’s hits that are known by almost everyone and helped the band rocket to 100 million total albums sold. No, the records that solidify the band’s stature for me are the 5 studio albums cut from years 1972 to 1978 – the latter 4 featuring guitarist Uli Jon Roth. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix and adopting neo-classical shredding that in turn inspired the next generation of guitar heroes, Roth’s contributions to the mid to late 70’s Scorpions cannot be overstated. 1978’s Taken By Force would be the last album to feature him, and it boasted a handful of musical masterpieces. “The Sails of Charon” has a deep groove that seems to grow in power with each verse – the menacing vocals by Klaus Meine might be a pleasant surprise for those of you who’ve only heard the 80’s hits. The band locks into the rhythm, impressive considering this was the 1st record featuring Hermann Rarebell on drums. Founding member Rudolf Schenker’s performance on rhythm guitar is easy to overlook, but without it Uli Jon Roth wouldn’t be free to offer up his melodic and complex lead guitar solos. This track is a perfect hard rock / heavy metal song and the killer guitar riffs will stick with you. Francis Buchholz’s bass work keeps the whole thing from falling apart, giving it a steady – almost disco – vibe.  A track rooted in mysticism with the final verse offering hope “Keep on! For the Kingdom of light / There is no darkness  / And there is no night.”

Black Sabbath – 13

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Black Sabbath’s 13 is the first #1 record for anyone in the band – even taking into consideration the wonderful solo career of Ozzy Osbourne. I didn’t believe that when I 1st read it, but a scan through historical data confirms it is true. How we got to this point in mid 2013 is a story of persistence and endurance. Black Sabbath had actually reunited in 2007 or so with their other iconic lead singer, Ronnie James Dio (I still love you too Tony Martin). What started out as 3 song mini session for a box set turned into a full-fledged reunion, resulting in the 2009 album The Devil You Know (released under the Heaven & Hell name due to legalities). Life is funny sometimes though, and not “ha ha” funny. Ronnie was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and almost just as quickly was taken away from us. The band regrouped with original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne – officially announced on 11-11-11 – and have overcome Tony Iommi’s Cancer and Ozzy Osbourne’s relapse into alcoholism to deliver a masterpiece. An album that clearly is a follow-up to The Devil You Know but also looks to the early 70’s for inspiration.

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White Lion – Lonely Nights

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

I first bought White Lion’s Pride album at the Willow Grove Mall in Willow Grove, PA (on the site of the old Willow Grove Park) in 1987 or possibly 1988. The album had a few pop metal songs on the radio and on the surface seemed very much of the time period. Little did I know that this album was actually White Lion’s 2nd record and would enchant me for the next 25 years and counting (the 1st, Fight to Survive, is a much harder edged speed metal masterpiece from 1984). Digging beneath the pop metal surface, the album featured amazing guitar work from Vito Bratta, world-weary lyrics & vocals from Mike Tramp, and a solid rhythm section (Greg D’Angelo on drums, James LoMenzo on bass). “Lonely Nights” in particular has always called out to me as a “forgotten classic” and would appeal to any fan of music, not just those who enjoy hard rock / heavy metal. The song begins with acoustic guitar with a slight classical influence (surely indebted to the great Yngwie Malmsteen). The band kicks in with a harder edge than you might remember from White Lion. Tramp’s vocals are emotional and evocative leading up to the stunning chorus. It almost reminds me of Del Shannon’s 1961 hit “Runaway” married to a darker pop metal song, the atmosphere is very similar. The guitar solo from Vito Bratta is breathtaking in the way skill is married to emotion. Mike Tramp went on to lead Freak of Nature, lead a solo career, and reform White Lion with new members. Vito Bratta dropped out of the music industry to care for his parents while D’Angelo and LoMenzo have performed with such luminaries as Zakk Wylde, Megadeth, David Lee Roth, and Ace Frehley. I love all the other projects (especially Mike Tramp’s solo tribute to Ronnie James Dio from 2010), but for me the original White Lion was such a special project. You might find yourself blown away by the atmosphere in this song as Mike Tramp sings these lyrics:

The little girl standing in the rain
On the corner of 42nd street
And she’s all alone on the bad side of town
Cause there was a little boy
That she loved with all her heart
But he’s far away with another girl
Now she’s searching for a friend
Just to hold her when she cries

In her lonely nights, lonely nights
Where no one seems to care