Cities // Annihilation Absolute
Label: Metal Blade Records
With these retro reviews, I’ve balanced albums from bands that had a decent following at one time and then fell off the map (Wargasm, Holy Terror) with those that had virtually no following at all despite a quality release (Hall Aflame, Damn the Machine). Count Cities as one of the latter for sure. As a side band for Twisted Sister‘s drummer A.J. Pero, Cities spent the 80s toiling in extreme obscurity, with only a small, but loyal fanclub in and around the New York area. With numerous line-up changes and breakups, they only managed one album; the excellent Annihilation Absolute and then promptly sank into nothingness. Their lack of success stands in stark contrast to the quality of that sole recording, which is a ripping, muscular rocker of the traditional metal kind, similar to early Armored Saint, Jag Panzer, Fistful of Metal era Anthrax and Burning Star era Helstar, with traces of NWoBHM acts like early Iron Maiden and Satan. The songs are simple, catchy and heavy enough to satisfy, with some bordering on thrash, yet the album was criminally overlooked at the time of release, despite being on Metal Blade and having a tune included on their Best of Metal Blade compilation series. Though burdened by truly terrible, Hall of Shame worthy cover art (I’ve seen better stuff on high school notebooks), this one is the real goddamn deal and a testament to how old school metal should sound.
Annihilation Absolute is full of straight-ahead metal without frill or fluff. Lead track “Stop the Race” sets the tone with gritty, hard-nosed riffing and vocalist Ron Angell’s edgy, commanding voice. When he cuts loose with those great screams during the chorus, it sticks in the brain forevermore. It’s such a simple song, but works so well and kicks a ton of ass (that’s 80s metal for ya!). They pump up the power for “Fight for Your Life” which is heavy, instantly accessible, and must have sounded awesome live. The “single” of the album, “Burn Forever” is a stately, regal sounding affair with a larger-than-life vibe and when Angell’s slick, anthemic singing is paired with Steve Mironovich’s crunchy riffing and soaring, but sloppy solos, it’s like mana from Metal Heaven (A.K.A. Valhalla).
All the songs are great, but other notables include the moody, Helstar-esque, mid-tempo rumble of “The Cruel Sea” where Angell has his best vocal performance, and the speedy, tough-as-nails “Shades of Black,” where Mironovich uncorks some chaotic soloing that screams OLD SCHOOL to the rafters and beyond!
Though A.J. Pero was the “face” of the band because of his higher profile gig, their sound hummed because of the fusion of Angell’s vocals and Mironovich’s riffing and soloing. Angell wasn’t the most talented singer, but he had the kind of voice that sells metal to the masses and his ability to rock a working class mid-range, yet still hit those high notes really put the songs over. Likewise, nobody ever accused Mironovich of being an Yngwie-clone, but his unhinged, free-for-all solos are a joy to hear and he had a knack for writing simple, ultra-effective riffs to drive the songs.
As with many 80s albums, the sound leaves something to be desired and it’s slightly muffled, muddy and reverb-filled, though the guitars have a terrifically raw, hard tone that hit with power. With the passing of so much time, even the glitches in the production makes it feel all the more retro and authentic.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how Annihilation Absolute missed its intended audience. The wrapper proudly proclaimed “featuring Twisted Sister‘s A.J. Pero” which likely turned off legions of discerning metal fans who had enough of Sister‘s cheesy drag queen shtick. Add the fuck-tastically bad cover art and nondescript band moniker and doom was almost certain (compounding these significant missteps, this was confusingly released in both EP and LP formats a year apart). Shite marketing aside, this is great album and it sounds as good now as it did then and proudly bears the style all the “retro-bands” have so desperately tried to replicate and co-opt as their own. These guys should have been the big New York hit instead of Twisted fucking Sister, so if you REALLY wanna rock, hunt this down.