Johnny Touch may be one of the all time worst band names, sounding more like the local playground creeper than the throwback 80s metal act they are (the cover art totally makes up for it though). That aside, this little known Aussie act has adopted an extremely old school sound influenced by early American acts like Riot and Cities as well as the earliest Dio, Ozzy and Yngwie solo albums. Basically this is as retro as metal can get since there’s scant room to crawl further up the genre’s ass before you’re stumbling across The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. Fortunately, they have a keen ear for the era of music they worship and they’re quite deft at replicating the sound and the style of those bygone days. Their loyal and delusional PR department bills this as one of the best metal albums of 2014 and an instant classic, but they may want to slow their roll and manage expectations. Although the band does flash some above average writing chops, some of the material is inconsistent. Still, I can’t deny the appeal and despite some glitches, it’s a likeable trip to the past.
Inner City Wolves kicks off very well with a few indisputably smoking metal tunes. “It’s Alright” is the perfect opener and grabs the listener by the gullet with enough old timey metal glory to choke a dragon AND a unicorn. It’s all chrome, leather and attitude and it captures the early 80s better than anything I’ve heard in a long time. The best moments arive with “The Metal Embrace,” which mercilessly rips off the lead riff from Dio‘s “We Rock” but it’s so much fun you likely won’t care. The guitar pyrotechnics remind of Riot‘s glory days and it’s cooking with both gas and lasers.
Then they drop a long-winded piece called “Lady Stutter,” and though it’s an interestingly vintage rocker in the vein of long forgotten Warlord, it’s very laid back and slow to boil. It totally derails the momentum the album was building, but it’s a worthwhile tune and a real grower. They follow that up with a very over-the-top instrumental by the name of “Radiation Axeposure” and it’s real noodle fest. They steal ideas from “Eruption,” “Anesthesia Pulling Teeth” and even “Black Arrows” as they rock away with gleeful abandon. It’s more a parody of metal instrumentals, but it’s fun nonetheless.
After the very satisfying Yngwie-like speed and aggression of “Dishonorable Discharge,” the compositional quality declines, with the worst offender being the overlong closer “Black Company.” This one is a meandering, incoherent patchwork of Arch-era Fates Warning and Sanctuary ideas stitched together with gum and silly string. You can hear how talented the band is and you really want to love it, but they don’t give you enough to work with. It ends the album on a flat note and that’s a bummer because there’s some good stuff here.
This is the rare short and sweet album at 38 minutes and that definitely works in their favor. It also sounds great and comes in at a shocking DR11! The music has depth and warmth and they clearly took great pains to recapture that organic analog sound of the early 80s. The guitars sound burly and though the vocals are a tad high in the mix, it all works just fine.
Jamie Whyte’s guitar style is steeped in the past and he really nails the early metal riffing I grew up on. The man can play and he’s not afraid to put a foot on the monitor and go full Spinal Tap. He has the kind of style that quickly gets you onboard and wanting more and most importantly, it’s a lot of fun. Pahl Hodgson’s vocals are also a museum piece and he perfectly captures the early American metal sound, hovering between Riot‘s Rhett Forester and Cities‘ Ron Angel. This is a tight band that isn’t afraid to get sloppy in the pursuit of metallic overkill and for that, I salute them.
Though hardly album of the year material, Inner City Wolves is a fun, rollicking return to the days of wine coolers and parachute pants and though it suffers from poor track ordering and a less that stellar denouement, it’s still a blast, especially for those who grew up in the 80s. Now, where’s my Members Only jacket?