Let’s shake things up a bit, shall we? Since some bands have multiple albums deserving of the Retro-spective treatment, why not give those few, those happy few, a more inclusive career retrospective. First up on the block is criminally underrated, serially overlooked Canadian thrashers, Razor. To handle this piece of historical research, I’ve enlisted the other primary source here at AMG, my fellow geezer, Al Kikuras, who also grew up admiring these speedsters from the Great White North.
Though Razor was a highly productive, early second wave thrash act, they never got anywhere near the attention of American peers like Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. Regardless, albums like Evil Invaders and Violent Restitution are top-notch, blue-collar, beer and brawn thrash with scads of personality. They always had a unique sound somewhere between all out speed and traditional metal, along with an overabundance of musical quirks (courtesy of M-Bro’s oddball drumming and Dave Carlo’s unusual riffing). They weren’t slick and they definitely weren’t subtle, but Razor made the perfect music for a rowdy, drunken bender. That’s why they sound almost as good in 2014 as they did in 1985.
When you spin their debut EP, Armed and Dangerous, you hear a sloppy, amateurish hybrid of vintage metal and thrash, with obvious nods to Motorhead and early Anthrax. It’s barely better than demo quality, but has an endearingly tongue-in-cheek feeling not far afield from Anvil. The title track, “Fast and Loud” and “Hot Metal” are rocked out metal anthems, not very fast, but shitloads of fun. The real thrash is confined to “Take This Torch,” which is a great tune with a uber memorable chorus due to a wild vocal trick from front man Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren.
Most of these tunes were re-recorded for the Executioner’s Song full length, benefitting from a better, somewhat black metal style production. This early platter also featured the gritty, street ready thrash of “City of Damnation,” where Sheepdog began to demonstrate why he was a special thrash vocalist. His raspy, tough guy sneer was perfect for the rough and tumble vibe, and his ear-piercing screams rival anything ever recorded. He shines on hooky ragers like “March of Death” and “Deathrace,” imparting a big slice of character and thuggish sensibility to the straight forward, uncomplicated material. The best way to describe him is Popeye doing thrash metal, and though that sounds silly, it works damn well!
Executioner’s Song was but a warm up for their first true thrash opus; the cult darling Evil Invaders. Here everything was faster, meaner and all the knobs were turned to 11.5. The material was much more confident, tough and angry and for the first time, Razor sounded like they could hold their own with the titans of the genre. The title track became their calling card anthem and features crazed speed along with maniacal ramblings from Sheepdog which are indecipherable even with a lyric sheet. His throat tearing screams are some of the best in metal history, the song is insanely catchy and even a bit comical in its mega- metalness. The rest of the album is caked with Harley grease and cheap beer, and tracks like “Cross Me Fool,” “Iron Hammer” and “Legacy of Doom” are all potent thrashers with loads of personality and low brow charm.
Their Malicious Intent follow-up was more simplistic and less catchy, though nuggets like the title track, “Tear Me to Pieces,” “Grindstone,” “Cage the Ragers” and “Rebel Onslaught” are all keepers. The album is a solid listen, but the songs bleed together on the back half and there isn’t much variety in the material. The traditional metal roots were also creeping back into the sound, though it doesn’t hurt the band’s rowdy, pugilistic vibe.
From there, things got mighty strange at Razor Base Alpha. Internal friction around musical direction led them to radically alter their style and Custom Killing saw them attempted something like their version of Metallica‘s Master of Puppets, with long, bloated songs low on speed, but heavy on classic metal ideals. While some of the songs like the short, punchy “Shootout” and “Forced Annihilation” were fun, the long, meandering tracks like “Survival of the Fittest” and especially the Manowar-esque “Last Rites” were tough to love. Razor just weren’t talented enough to pull off these kinds of songs and they ended up sounding cartoonish and awkward. Even Sheepdog sounded out of his depth, trying to sing instead of snarl and scream. Custom Killing sits uncomfortably in their catalogue like their own little Cold Lake, and though it isn’t quite that bad, it’s certainly a strange, confused platter.
Luckily, the band went back to their roots with a vengeance on 1988s Violent Restitution, which may be their ultimate statement on thrash. It also marked the end of an era as Sheepdog left following the recording. One thing is certain, the man went out on a high note, delivering his most ferocious and ugly performance on the newly stripped down and vicious material. Short thrash bombs like “Hypertension,” “Taste the Floor” and “Enforcer” display an almost hardcore punk style, but the trademark Razor grit, dirt and catchiness is still there and the combination makes for a deliciously adrenaline soaked spin. It may also feature their best song with “Edge of the Razor,” where Sheepdog goes off the rails with sick screams and menacing mumblings.
Because I could never get my mind around the Sheepdog-less version of Razor, I’ll recuse myself and allow my codger colleague to run through Razor‘s dreaded second phase. Then you’ll know… the rest of the story.
Sheepless Nights: Thoughts on the Post-Sheepdog Era by Al Kikuras
Steel Druhm and I are the elder statesmen here at Angry Metal Guy. The other writers pull out chairs for us, poke us at staff meetings when we nod off, and we get the closest parking spots out of respect. We share incontinence, general irritability and a love of obscure 80s thrash, yet we don’t always see eye to eye, and Razor‘s legacy is one of our main sources of contention.
In my opinion, Steel suffers from ‘new singer syndrome.’ I’ve been victim of this disorder myself. To this day I can’t listen to The Sound of White Noise, yet I think We’ve Come For You All is as good an Anthrax album as any. Exodus? Fans would probably kill their dog to get Baloff out of the grave, even though it’s been almost 30 years and several excellent albums since Bonded By Blood was released. While many proclaim that Razor lost their edge when Sheepdog was cut, as Bob Reid exclaims on one of Open Hostility‘s best tracks, “I disagree.”
1990’s Shotgun Justice ushered in a new decade and a new front man, Bob Reid. While Reid certainly didn’t have the range of Sheepdog, he made up for it in pure obnoxious attitude and spitfire delivery, spewing some of the angriest lyrics of Razor‘s reign with such venomous spite that you can feel the spit spraying from the speakers. Shotgun Justice, despite cover art so cheesy it’s practically a wheel of smoked Gouda, is relentless from start to finish and one of the most hostile thrash albums ever. It also features some of Dave Carlo’s best riffs. Songs like “Parricide,” “Meaning of Pain,” and “Stabbed in the Back” are among the best the band ever penned. “Violence Condoned” and “American Luck” are biographical songs, the former about a riot at a show and the latter focusing on Razor‘s belief that they were denied American success because they were Canadian. Considering the ferocity of the music here, I’m still surprised that so many wrote Razor off in the album’s wake.
Open Hostility followed in 1991 and like Shotgun Justice, it never lets up. Any scraps of subtlety left in the Razor camp prior to the 1990s had, by this point, been hammered to dust by Rob Mills’s ball peen snare, though on Open Hostility, the drums are all programmed. While the songwriting isn’t as consistent as Shotgun Justice, when Open Hostility is great, it’s absofuckinglutely great. “In Protest” is another biographical piece about the video from the previous album being banned, and there’s something so endearing about Razor writing songs about Razor. Elsewhere, “Sucker for Punishment,” “Bad Vibrations,” and “Road Gunner” have all the impact of a carpet bombing. This came out at a time when many thrash bands were venturing off into experimental territories and paddling for more commercial waters, but not Razor. Open Hostility is a middle finger in the face of mainstream music [As is that godawful album cover. — Steel Druhm].
While I wouldn’t call 1997s Decibels a complete failure, it teeters on the edge. Had it been released by a band I revered less, I might hold it in higher regard, but on the heels of what is a relatively flawless discography (Custom Killing aside), Decibels pales. The tempos were taken down a notch and it’s a bit less thrashy, leaning more towards standard metal. This time the band was rounded out by the bass player and drummer from Reid’s previous act, SFH, who were punkish metal with thrash elements, so it’s no surprise those influences crept in to the detriment of Razor. The fraction of a second breaks between songs ala Reign In Blood only serve to accentuate how redundant the songs are because, at times, I’m not even sure when a new song begins. Keyboards are peppered in and Reid actually sings at times, but as we learned on Custom Killing, experimentation isn’t what we want from Razor. We want full on thrash and sadly, Decibels didn’t deliver.
Razor‘s legacy remains intact, however, as they never sold out, they just made some bad decisions that are easily forgiven. I suspect Dave Carlo himself knows Decibels is the band’s low point, as he didn’t even mention it in Bravewords’ sprawling expose about his feud with Sheepdog. Said feud seems to be the final nail in the coffin for any hope of a classic lineup reunion. Razor is performing with the Shotgun Justice lineup at the 2015 Maryland Deathfest and this fan is thrilled at the possibility of new music, or at least a live performance that lives up to the legacy of one of thrash’s most underrated and underappreciated bands [No Sheepdog, no peace! — Steel Druhm].