Label: Shrapnel Records
Unlike some of the olden chestnuts I’ve tabbed for a retro-spective look back, Exciter is a bit better known and had a more successful run in the gerbil wheel of metal. Still, I feel like they’re one of those bands tumbling off the radar of younger bashers, and that’s a low down, dirty shame! Along with Anvil, Exciter was one of Canada’s earliest metal exports and, like Anvil, they played a part in the birth of the speed/thrash genres. Their Heavy Metal Maniac debut arrived in 1983, right alongside Metallica‘s Kill Em All and Slayer‘s Show No Mercy, and had things broken differently, it might have been them (or Anvil for that matter) claiming the position of flag bearer for the fledgling style. Their debut certainly had attitude, balls and grit and while it couldn’t match the overall heaviness Metallica and Slayer brought to bear, it’s nearly as catchy and memorable, and it’s anthemic, fist-pumping energy is hard to resist.
Rather than adopting a quasi-satanic vibe like Slayer, or a crunchy “speed for speed’s sake” approach like Metallica, Exciter took what were basically traditional metal ideas and sped them up to Motorhead-like tempos and beyond. Their raucous speed combined with a one-of-a-kind, static-filled, fuzzed out guitar tone set them apart from anyone else. Tracks like “Stand Up and Fight,” “Cry of the Banshee” and the rowdy title track rumble and roar with a primal, adrenaline-fueled lust and although the playing and song structures are as simple as can be, they stick with you and rattle around in your head like some kind of purgatory pop music. Take “Rising of the Dead” or “Under Attack” for example: they couldn’t be more rudimentary in form or conception, but both smoke and shake with pure, old school metallic rage in a way that makes me smile to this day.
Even when they slow to an ugly mid-tempo grind on “Iron Dogs,” the music still sounds venomous and menacing. Hell, even the semi-ballad “Blackwitch” simmers and roils with barely suppressed aggression and antisocial intentions. At a mere 37 minutes (unless your version included “World War II” and “Feel the Knife”), it’s a short, but relentless pummel and every song hits the spot and stays with you. No filler, no screwing around, just serious metal with a mean streak.
Acting as a power trio, Exciter were notable as the only speed/thrash act where the drummer also handled vocals, and Dan Beehler was quite the sight to behold live, bashing away at the skins with abandon while uncorking his gruff shouts, infamous shrieks and stuck pig wails. Though he kept things pretty simple on the debut, that crazy upper register makes appearances (especially on “Cry of the Banshee”). Those wails became much more commonplace on later releases, thereby making him a love or truly hate kind of vocalist.
John Ricci’s guitar playing was never flashy and often lacked technical precision, but his fast, sloppy, and frenetic style suited the Exciter ethos perfectly. He perpetually sounded as if he was losing control of the wall of sound he was hurling from the amps and his solos sounded like they were building inevitably toward a nuclear conflagration that all were powerless to stop. In short, it sounded metal-as-fuck.
Metallica ultimately got all the credit for the thrash explosion and along with Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, stole most of the publics’ attention. Exciter never got mentioned in the same breath as these acts, and that’s a real shame. They churned out three high quality thrash outings (Violence and Force being one of my all time favorite albums) before spiraling into career disaster with Unveiling the Wicked, and all the early output stands the critical test of time. Give Exciter their due and spin this album and the two that followed. They deserve it and you will enjoy it. Win win.