Monday, October 31, 2011

Amethyst - "Innocent As Hell" Review!!

It's now time for our 28th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and a little Halloween treat for you guys, especially if you remember this band from their heyday! With no new albums available to review from local metal acts, I've dipped into the archives this month for our oldest CD review to date, and it's of "Innocent As Hell", the last album from defunct local metal band Amethyst! It's the band's only CD, but it followed at least one cassette tape from the late 1980s, which I don't have yet (Any help?) Released in 1994 through Sludgemonkey Music, "Innocent As Hell" was recorded with producer John Hartman at Atomic Sound Studios in Sudbury in 1991 & 1992, and was later mastered by George Graves at Lacquer Channel in Toronto. The band's lineup on this album included singer Rick "Widow" DellaVedova (now of CML Productions), guitarists Jose "Wales" Temporao and Mike Haas (who also supplied keyboard parts), bassist Chipp Robb (now musically active in the Calgary area), and Jose's brother Phil (a.k.a. "Phily S. Tempo") of Meatplow & Sebastien 6 fame on drums.

"Innocent As Hell" is currently out of print (remember, this came out 17 years ago), but you can buy it in mp3 format for $9.99 at this location, with individual tracks going for 99¢ each and $2.49 each for ringtones. I also uploaded the whole album onto our YouTube channel before it was posted for sale again (thanks again to Arthur Lacasse for the CD!), so though I've linked the song titles below to my uploads for streaming, support Amethyst and pick the album up! Featuring 11 tracks with around 45 minutes of music, let's begin this month's review with the opening song "You've Been Caught"! (Updated on September 29th, 2012)

"You've Been Caught" opens with a nice keyboard intro that gives a grand entrance feel, and it shows Mike Haas' skill well for other instruments! Then the hard rock kicks in in full force with Brian Johnson-esque vocals from Rick Widow and some very catchy riffs to go along with it! A definite late 1980s feel is present on this song, and in the verses, Rick shows off good hard rock singing even when he's not channeling AC/DC in the choruses! Melodic and harsher when need be, but never out of tune with the song's sound. Written about what sounds like a criminal stalking and catching someone, it's heavier than the production would imply, and I wish it was ratcheted up a bit to service the band's hard rock talents here. I also found that the guitar solos were way too short and didn't show off Jose Wales' skill as well as later tracks likely will. Overall though, this is a very entertaining opener to "Innocent As Hell", and a good harbinger of what's to come! Agressive, familar, and well played all around, even if there were a few things to correct!

Next is "I'm The One", and after an odd intro that eventually leads to (fittingly) kids trick or treating, and the violent result you wouldn't expect, the metal kicks off in a slower and heavier pace than on the previous track. Sort of a Pantera vibe, kind of, but with much more melodic vocals. Rick had a very nice range, I was surprised! The song is lyrically a love song "of sorts" (note the quotation marks) and it's a cool track with a low groove while still being heavy, though it's not as good as "You've Been Caught". It's not as energetic, the chorus gets very reptitive, and the lack of a guitar solo is disappointing, but it's still an entertaining song that'll interest classic metalheads who like stuff a little darker in sound! Things pick up though with track #3, "Don't Run Away", which is basically about trying to keep a woman around for romantic needs, instead of letting her run away. Much higher tempo and it makes good use of another heavy and catchy guitar work and nice melodic singing from Rick! This time though, the backing vocals are to the service of the song, and Phily's drumming adds nicely too the pacing! The guitar work here isn't too fast, but it's sure done well, and Jose's guitar solo is long and varied, which I like! I'd have sped the song up a bit though, and the end was drawn out too long, but this is still a really nice song and easily better than "I'm The One" in both sound and energy!

The fourth song on the CD is the longest and one of my favourites, entitled "Guilty By Suspicion"! Seemingly about being blamed and judged needlessly, it starts well with some very catchy instrumentation and some nice hard rock singing from Rick that flows excellently with the song, with very complementary backing work in the chorus! The guitar riffs are awesome, but again, the production could have been tightened up, as it's heavier than it sounds for quality. Nothing too ricky here, just some old school metal with a nice groove, solid lyrics, and an awesome guitar solo, Jose's best of the CD so far! Not as heavy as "You've Been Caught" but for my money, it's more listenable, and we got some more AC/DC-esque vocals to end this standout track with! One of my favourites for sure on "Innocent As Hell", Amethyst were at their best here for sure!

Then comes "Presence of Mind", which starts heavy with a slow pounding riff and some interesting walkie talkie-esque speaking before launching into a solid hard rock riff with great drumming and some interesting keyboard wipe effects that add a shine effect onto the track, it's hard to explain. I'm not digging the chorus too much, particularly the effects on the backing vocals, which drags down my enjoyment of the rest of the song, which is otherwise really good! The riffing is heavy and has a nice beat to go along with it, with cool and tense vocals, and they show good chemistry here, but the chorus isn't on the same level. Really good though! Sixth on the CD is the intentionally misspelled "Hardwear", which opens with a nice rapid-fire electronic drum intro from Phily before launching into more AC/DC inspired vocals (which are present throughout the track) and continued solid drumming! Rick can handle the AC/DC singing well, and it flows with the material, adding to his vocal arsenal in the Amethyst heyday! I like that this song doesn't copy the others too much, and Jose's guitar solo is varied enough to keep fans happy! Another excellent song on a so far quality release, and nice use of external samples too!

"Long Time Comin'", which is the album's shortest track, follows in the seventh spot, and the guitar work from Mike and Jose is great from the get-go, even with some nice pinch harmonics here! This song feels like a David Lee Roth-era Van Halen track in some respects, and they pack a lot of lyrics (though repetitive in the choruses) into just over 3 minutes, including very nice backing singing in the choruses! The instrumental section midway through starts oddly though, it feels too mechanical and doesn't flow with the track, like it was taken from a different song. Nice catchy classic metal number, though I'd have lengthened it and made it flow a bit better throughout the whole song. Then we have "Snakeye Strut", a gambling-referencing hard rocker that is also pretty good! The riffing has a classic rock tinge, Rick's singing is as melodic and old school-cool as we've came to expect, and Chipp's bass work is really good here, some of his best on the CD! It doesn't add anything too new to their arsenal, but it has that cool swagger going for it that will keep your head bobbing, and that works just fine!

"Callin' Spells" is ninth on "Innocent As Hell", and it starts with a nice hard rock intro riff that feels different than anything we've heard so far, and it's got a darkness going for it! The song has sort of a combined Southern rock/hair metal sound, and though it has an upbeat tone throughout, it's not one of the heavier tracks on the CD. The singing is top notch though, and Rick and the backing vocals suit the mood of the track nicely, along with some cool guitar parts. I prefer heavier tracks like "Hardwear" and "Guilty By Suspicion", but this stands out on it's own! This song is followed by "Sky", which is bascially the album's ballad. It start with a slow and soft guitar opening with some softer and higher pitched singing from Rick Widow overtop before it picks up a bit with more instruments. The song seems to be about the sadness of losing someone, despite the sun always shining on the world, which is a good topic for a ballad! I dunno if this is an accurate comparison, but "Sky" reminds me of "Hole Hearted" by Extreme by it's sound, though that could just be a general thought. It's well performed, and you'd never guess it was Amethyst by the sound. It honestly doesn't even sound like the same band that did the earlier songs, but that just shows what range they had! Good song, but being a metalhead, I naturally wouldn't prefer it to Amethyst's heavier material.

"Innocent As Hell" concludes with "Over The Limit", which is the only song on the CD with every band member credited for writing it. After a low Pantera-ish intro, it builds to a hard rock sizzle with even a funk-ish bass line from Chipp Robb and solid singing from Rick about a woman who's good at... "romantic satisfaction" (that'll do!) Not a lyrically strong track, but it has stellar bass and some nice hard rock riffing, including a solid guitar solo and very nice drumming, so I can forgive the slightly minimal lyrics. It's a solid capper for the CD, and though it kinda feels empty at points, it has enough hard rock goodness and classic sounds to appeal to most fans of older metal, so don't let it slip by either!

So how do I grade Amethyst's last album? Well, without comparing it to their debut cassette (would love to get it though, hint hint), I'll say that it's a very entertaining classic metal album that I hope did really well in it's intial release! The 5 members of Amethyst clearly had talent as a metal and hard rock outfit, and they had clear chemistry on "Innocent As Hell", from Rick Widow's varied and rangy lead vocals to excellent lead guitar work and solos from Jose Wales! His brother Phily was great on drums, and his skills from recent local work were clearly present back then, while Mike Haas' had tons of good riffs, and Chipp Robb proved to be more than capable on bass on this album! I have a feeling this was a pretty definitive cross-section of Amethyst's sound, but part of me thinks it's a shame that they released this in 1994, as I have a feeling their 1980s-skewed sound would have been seen as dated in the scene back then. Luckily, I wouldn't say that's so now, and I know their high energy 1980s metal sound would be sure to gain a lot of fans if their material was spread farther, and if they were played on "The Hair Scare" on Rock 101, it sure would fit well!

As for flaws, I'll say that the production could have been altered a bit. John Hartman did a good job to make everything clear and sounding nice, but at the same time, most of the songs don't sound as heavy as they probably did live. Note that I own and listened to a SIGNED copy of the original CD, so this isn't a quality loss issue from mp3s. Some songs also got slightly repetitive or had empty stretches, the quality seemed to slightly drop in the second half, and I naturally prefered heavier songs instead of tracks like "Sky" or "Callin' Spells", but that's subjective. On tracks like "Guilty By Suspicion", "You've Been Caught", and "Hardwear", Amethyst showed their heavy metal chops and high talents equally, and I can easily see myself headbanging to them at their concerts if I could have! Overall though, this is a great time capsule look at one of the more prominent local metal bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and hopefully their album gains some posthumous recognition! Who knows, maybe they could reunite down the road? I can't see it happening, but it would be something else! Stream or buy "Innocent As Hell" at the above links!

I hope you guys liked this month's CD review! So, what album is getting reviewed in November? Of course, it will be a new album if one comes out from a local metal or hard rock band, but will any? We've thought many were coming out soon in recent months only to be kept waiting, so who knows. Stay tuned for our next "Where Are The New Albums?" post on Wednesday to see what could be on the horizon soon for albums, as there are a bunch in the pipeline! If no new albums come out, we will look at an old album from the local archives, hopefully tied in with a band or artist playing locally next month. Of albums I own or have access to for possible future reviews, I'll say that next month's review will NOT be of a Foothill Road, Sykotyk Rampage, or Woods of Ypres CD, as it's too soon from my last reviews of theirs (the same would apply if I obtained Amethyst's cassette next month, it's too soon yet.) It could be of Theater of Night's album "Christmas Night" to kick off the holiday season, depending on album release schedules. So whether we review something old or something new, look out for our next CD review likely between November 24th and 30th! That's all for today, but stay tuned for more news tomorrow! Thanks everyone!

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