Monday, November 20, 2017

Amethyst - "Amethyst" EP Review!!

Now's a good time for our 101st monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and with no new metal, hard rock, or punk releases in my possession this month (aside from "Suburban Dream", coming next month), we're dipping into the archives for a look at defunct local heavy/power metal quintet Amethyst's self-titled debut EP! I chose this particular release to tie in with frontman Rick "Widow" Dellavedova's set as drummer with his brother Paul's solo band at Toystock on Sunday. Released on cassette tapes in 1990 through Kuntare Music, this EP was recorded at Satellite Sound Studios with producer Bob McLeod, and preceded their more famous CD "Innocent As Hell" from 1994. Amethyst are represented here by their classic lineup, including Rick (billed here as "Rick Vedova") on vocals, alongside guitarists Jose "Wales" Temperao & Mike Haas, future Plaid Tongued Devils bassist Gordon "Chipp" Robb, and later Meatplow frontman Phil "Sebastien Phily" Temperao on drums, while Rhonda Ralph sings backing vocals on "Sky".

This album is long since out of print, and is unavailable on the band's posthumous social media pages, but I bought my copy of "Amethyst" at The Rad Zone a few months ago for $25, and song names linked below will take you to our upload of this rare EP. Also, note that the EP's contents (4 songs and one bonus track across 18 minutes) were recorded on both sides of the tape with no changes. Now, let's begin our review of Amethyst's debut!

The EP begins with "Midnight Queen",  which starts with a methodical bass intro from Chipp that soon features increased input from the rest of the band, and while it never gets too fast in pace, it builds nicely in intensity and purpose! Singing about the title character, Rick showcases his strong rangy vocals to good effect here, including a piercing scream later on, and the guitar solo is solid too! It's an effective track, but I would have increased the tempo, as it would have better matched the song's mood, and have given Phil a bigger showcase on drums. Second is the EP's single "Waste of Time", which received a music video at the time, though it unfortunately hasn't been available on YouTube in a few years. More energetically paced than it's predecessor, this has more of a care-free hair metal vibe to it, with nice backing vocal layering to the chorus (even if it's fairly repetitive.) Phil has more room to shine on this track, which has a very catchy guitar riff too, and everyone mashes together well, so this is a standout track! I just wish the chorus lyrics were more varied.

Third is their softer ballad "Sky", which is the only song on this tape to survive in re-recorded form on their follow-up "Innocent As Hell" four years later. The two copies are structurally very similar, so I won't re-review it here, but you can check out our thoughts of the 1994 version in our review of that CD from 2011 if you're so inclined, and stream that version at this link. The later version is higher in recording quality, while also about 20 seconds shorter, but my big takeaway from the 1990 original is that Rick's vocals seem more forced, without the ease and pitch he would develop in the coming years. I prefer Amethyst's heavy songs, and Rhonda's backing vocals are a good fit, but of the two versions, I'd go with the latter.

The EP's last advertised song is also it's longest, "Rock First, Roll Later" (though it's shortened to just "Rock First" on the back of the booklet.) Uniquely, Amethyst added audience sound effects to the start and end of this song, giving the illusion that it was a live recording. If you were going to do that to a song on the tape, this would be the one, as it has a catchy sing-along vibe with a chorus that was prime and ready for fans to sing along with live! Chipp's bass work is a highlight on this song, and the drumming matches up nicely, and Jose & Mike handle guitar nicely! Overall, this is a strong way to end "Amethyst"... or is it? 2 minutes after "Rock First" ends, an 80 second bonus track begins that features a comical rendition of "The Infernal Galop" from Jacques Offenbach's 1858 operetta "Orpheus of the Underworld" (a.k.a., the "Can-Can" dance song.) Featuring the guys using bad Russian-esque accents and playing the song on instruments like the kazoo, this is an amusing palate cleanser, so enjoy it for what it is!

So, what are my final thoughts on Amethyst's debut cassette tape? Overall, it's a solid debut release from one of the premier local metal bands from the turn of the 1990s, and while I think "Innocent As Hell" was a stronger showcase of their talent and range, this was a very positive first step in their run together! Everyone in the band had clear talent, from Rick Vedova's rangy melodic vocals to Jose Temperao and Mike Haas' solid dual riffs and solos, while Jose's brother Phil gave them solid rhythm on these tracks, and Chipp was a standout on bass from start to finish! That said, they all improved in the ensuing four years, as you can best hear when comparing both versions of "Sky". I liked "Waste of Time" and "Rock First, Roll Later" the best, with the opening track not as fast as it's instrumentation should warrant, and "Sky" moving away from my usual music preferences. I will say that it seems to have more of a hair metal essence to it than even "Innocent As Hell" did, but 1990 was before the grunge boom, so that could be a given.

While not as refined as their future CD, "Amethyst" is a quality debut, which I am very glad to own and finally review on here, so give it a listen above, and see if any copies turn up second hand, as you never know what might turn up at The Rad Zone or elsewhere! I hope you guys liked this month's CD (well, tape) review, and stay tuned in early December for our long awaited review of The Din's final studio album "Suburban Dream", plus more news and notes this week! Thanks everyone!

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