As a kid growing up in the 80s, one of my favorite metal bands was Connecticut’s own Obsession. After getting featured on Metal Massacre II way back in 82 they went on to release a killer EP and two very impressive albums of heavy but melodic metal merging speed with an almost hair metal approach loaded with hooks. A big part of Obsession‘s charm came from the powerhouse, leather-lunged delivery of Michael Vescera. After Obsession folded up shop in 88, he became a kind of metal Ronin, wandering the Earth selling his talents to the likes of Loudness and Yngwie Malmsteen, even putting in a regrettable stint in Animetal USA, as well as fronting several super groups (MVP, The Reign of Terror) and his own eponymous act (Michael Vescera). Now he’s dropped the first name and created a new project with members of the Italian metal group Nighthawks, and he’s poised to unleash a very 80s flavored metal assault on the unsuspecting masses with Beyond the Fight. Is it good enough to become my brand new obsession?
No, it’s not, but it still offers plenty of old timey heavy metal fun with enough leather and denim to choke Godzilla. Opener “Blackout in Paradise” takess off at mach 10 with a speedy attack reminiscent of the material on classic Riot albums like Thundersteel. The guitars blaze, the drums pound and Mike Vescera wails away like a stuck banshee. The hooks are there and though the chorus sounds like something Alice Cooper would have written in the 90s, it still sticks. Better still is “In the Night” which is an awesomely rocking tune with plenty of crunching guitars and a slightly Misfits-like chorus that cannot be denied.
Other highlights include the very catchy, Kix-esque “Dynamite,” the thrashy “Stand and Fight” and “Looking for Trouble,” which could have been an old Obsession cut. “Never Let You Go” is like a metal tune written for Broadway and the chorus is way more jazz handsy than one would expect, but somehow it still works in an amusingly over-the-top way. The band resists the urge to drop a power ballad, with “Troubled Man” being as close as it gets, but even that tune is like a speedy Riot tune with some bluesy moments jammed in for extra emotion.
At a super tight 9 songs and 36 minutes, there isn’t much fat to trim and all the tracks have merit and replay value. With all the songs living in that 3-4 minute sweet spot, the material flies by and no song overstays its welcome. The production is a bit skewed toward the drums, but that’s a minor issue and won’t impair anyone’s listening enjoyment.
Mike Vescera is the main attraction and his pipes have aged exceptionally well. He can still hit those higher ranges and he proves it often. At times he reminds me of Tony Moore (ex-Riot), which is unexpected but quite cool. The only issue I have with his delivery is his overuse of his upper range shriek at the expense of his gravelly mid-range and silky smooth clean singing. It isn’t as bad as when King Diamond first went solo and completely abandoned all aspects of his range except his falsetto screaming, but it’s heading that way. This makes for a less dynamic, dramatic presentation and the wailing can get a bit played out at times. I’m completely unfamiliar with the band Mike co-opted to form this project, but it certainly features some talented folks. Mike Petrone is a highly skilled, flashy guitarist and there are many shreddy solo breaks to feast on here. Frank Leone’s bass-work is also admirable and often audible. The band is rounded out well by Fabio Alessandrini (Annihilator) on drums. As a unit there’s no doubt the boys have major chops, but never overdo it or show off at the expense of the songs.
Beyond the Fight is an unexpected but welcome little rocker with a lot to recommend it. It’s not going to set the metal world aflame, but it’s a consistent, enjoyable old school metal album delivered by one of my favorite metal vocalists. It’s the best thing Mr. Vescera has released in a long time and since Riot has been quiet for a while, this is a good stand in album for those who love this particular style of metal. Always a pleasure, Mike. Journey on.