HEAVY METAL ODDITIES: IT CAME FROM THE 80’S UNDERGROUND
1980’s Heavy Metal is usually boiled down to a typical history of the big bands and bands that became bigger on into the next decade – i.e. – Metallica, Pantera or the various sub-genres or the fashion and so on. While all that’s good for a general timeline, I’ve been far more interested in a bigger picture which includes the deeper and, at times, weirder history of genre. We’re gonna look two examples: an Italian mystery band with bizarre lyrics to some dodgy drugoids from Ohio.
First up is Rollerball an Italian heavy metal act who admittedly I’ve only heard two songs from. Yet what strange and fascinating songs they are! For starters the Florence band created the bafflingly excellent song (from their 1985 EP Outlast the Game) titled “Do You Know Allen?” which has a great NWOBHM riff and bouncy bass. The vocals are somewhere between first EP-era Mercyful Fate and an even more bonkers version of Thorsten “Toto” (but didn’t write “Africa”) Bergmann of Living Death – in other words some of the wildest falsettos you’ll ever hear. Massimo “Maxx Bells” Campana’s voice is truly out of this stratosphere. Lyrically I have no idea if most of this is in English (it’s certainly not in Italian). Their lyrics are as non-linear as a giallo film.
Do you know Allen/One of the best guys/Have you seen Allen?/ He did the least to die / His captive nature/ His mighty sear /Do you know Allen/Don’t let ’em go/ Do you know Allen/ do you read the niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight?!?
And check out 3:27 for a bass line that sounds like a springy, lazy cowbell.
My best guess on the final go-’round of the chorus’ is:
Do you know Allen/Some back chords ? /Have you seen Allen? / Somebody’s true/They might Cain and Abel’s/ The Bee Gees dance! / Do you know Allen? / Two bloody prayers!
Rollerball previously appeared appeared on the Italian compilation Heavy Metal Eruption in 1983 with the song “Wild Town”. This has a “weirder than early Death SS crossed with an attempt at Dollar Tree 80’s anthemic heavy metal” effect. The oddness continues with a “click, click bonk!” bass that fades in and out, yet a blazing buncha guitar leads mixing with paper-thin production. But then there’s more of their loud, ultra-hiiiiigh vocals that have well, a lotta personality to say the least. The rest of the band doesn’t often care minus the occasional solo and occasionally they make a riff on time in time with the drummer who might as well be hitting paper plates. Overall, I guess I’d call it “discount Mercyful Fate played through a dying tape recorder”
I could only find one review of Rollerball’s second and final release, 1985’s Don’t Push the Button. This was via a reviewer on metal collector’s site, The Corroseum who says: “I was very sad to discover that in only one year, the band had completely turned away from Metal. This peculiar double-12″ contains 6 songs of plain, poppy New Wave/Post-punk, and as a closet (but very selective) nw/pp-fan I can vouch for the fact that they’re not handling this new direction very gallantly.” Now I’ve heard a decent amount of Italian metal from this era and no singer in the scene could get anywhere near the high weirdness of ‘ol Maxx Bells.
Well, do YOU know Allen? And if so, do you read the night?
Now we’re gonna delve into a band with a controversial name that apparently is not what you might think they were. I’m talking about a short-lived band from Columbus, OH who for some very bad reason used the name of Georgia’s governor and hardcore segregationist, Lester Maddox. Maddox’s claim to shame is he refused to serve black customers at his restaurant and frequently chased out any black people trying to get into the place while wielding an pistol or ax handle. One of his (many) dumb quotes is: “Inequality, I think breeds freedom and gives a man opportunity.” To make matters worse their only studio album, 1986’s Gothic Lore has a song called “White Power” but the full title is “White Power (The Ode To D.C.)”. Not sure who the D.C. is but I do know it’s not a predictive commentary on what’s happening in current politics. I tracked down an interview with them from 2011 from Chips and Beer magazine (Issue 5). The interview is a short one but it does shed at least some light on the controversy. L.M. band member Dale says: “I don’t really remember when we decided to call ourselves Lester Maddox” WHAAAAT?!? BUT YOU DID! The vagueness continues: “I know we would have been drunk, mixed with other mind-alternating substances and I think we just thought it sounded right.” Dale continues by spinning another circle of uncertainty: “No glorification for anything, and for which we knew there would always be attempts at connecting it to things of which I’ve seen written, that just aren’t true. But, what they say, any attention is good attention. The song is about addiction.” Yet he doesn’t expand on this subject just flatly says it’s about addiction which is a way does make sense as the lyrics have supringly nothing to do with racial superiority and instead this lazy, sludgey rocker throws out an ode to Sabbath’s “Paranoid” in the line “Am I crazy or am I insane”. Then the lyrics go: “won’t you help me? / with white power” Always remember bands: context REALLY matters. OK this makes no fucking sense until maybe the line: “can’t you help me make it through the night /with white power” which might just have to do with as they said addiction to cocaine but then…I NEVER HEARD OF A FUCKIN’ NAZI SLOGAN AS A METAPHOR FOR DRUG ADDICTION! Must’ve been some super shitty drugs in Central Ohio back then or these guys or colossally dumb or both.
Dale later mentions influences ranging from Motown to Russian composer Shostakovich to Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople, none of which the band even remotely sounds like but okeeeey. Dale goes on to say, “The 80’s should’ve never happened. Originality died in the 80’s” (StoneColdSteveAustinSaysWhat dot gif). The other songs are slow, OK-ish hard rock/late 70’s metal that just seems a touch “off”. It has a major like of the raw energy and looseness of Cirith Ungol’s Frost and Fire. The vocals sound like Bon Jovi after 10 years of bourbon and the cheapest cartons of cigs from the Speedway station. However, the doomy psych guitars on “In the Heat of the Night” are pretty interesting. The band also recorded a song titled similar to Dio’s “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” only it’s called “Egypt (The Chains Are Off)” which they say in the interview “was conceived by acid”. The LP was put out on their own label, DRD who later released their live album Burning the World in 1988. According to the liner notes this LP was “recorded live at Frankie’s Outpost…in a sleepy suburb of Columbus, Ohio” It also includes a song called “White Snuff” which might be a retitled version of “White Power” along with a few other songs not on the first LP. They’re so off the radar I don’t even think anyone in the local Columbus metal scene even knows of them much less anyone outside of hardcore collectors. Gothic Lore goes for the absurd price of $128 which regardless of the dodgy name and some terrible song names is an otherwise small-press, mediocre 80’s hard rock / metal LP. At the end of the Chips and Beer interview, Dale says “Life is better with Metal. Bang your fucking heads off and always attack life with a stiff dick!” While it’s not too profound and despite his band’s name he at least doesn’t sound like he posts on Stormfront.
Weirdly I had heard of the Lester Maddox the band, before I heard of the politician (thanks a lot, Reagan-era schools). Not long after Gothic Lore came out as they had a small ad in Aardschok America which was the US version of the Dutch heavy metal magazine. The US version of the mag had a newsprint section for a lot of the smaller, more underground band features including some really cool scene reports from Portland/Seattle, Chicago and the Bay Area (the latter written by Metal Mania zine/Rampage Radio host/Metallica namer, Ron Quintana). At the time I asked my mom’s then-boyfriend who Lester Maddox was and he said “He was a big racist governor in Georgia” and he referred to the stories about Maddox kicking out black people from his restaurant with baseball bats. I also thought the 3 figures on the cover were supposed to be medieval Klansmen. Plus, back then having a white friend originally from Arkansas who threw around the n-word like it was nothing – I decided I REALLY didn’t need to hear anything else about this band. Sure enough through the Internet and a revival of metal fanzines in the current decade I did and hoo-boy was this a fucking oddity.