Vicious Rumors – The Atlantic Years (3CD Set)


Formed in 1979, Vicious Rumors were born from the same fertile Bay Area scene that also spawned the likes of Death Angel and Exodus. After releasing two albums on Shrapnel/Roadrunner, the band scored a major label deal at the beginning of the ‘90s. Collecting two studio albums, and a live release, The Atlantic Years plots the evolution of America’s most respected and revered power metal bands, and presents it on a lavish three-disc set.

Disc One: Vicious Rumors (1990)

By the time Vicious Rumors released their self-titled third album in 1990, the pressure was really on. Not only had they stepped up to a major label, they also had to follow their sophomore release (Digital Dictator) which was awarded “instant classic” status. Attesting to a sense of purpose, Vicious Rumors dispenses with any frilly introductions, and gets straight down to business with the hard-as-nails, aptly-titled ‘Don’t Wait For Me’. There’s so much to admire here, from the razor-sharp riff to the metronomic drumming via Carl Albert’s versatile vocals. Existing somewhere between Mike Howe (Metal Church) and Geoff Tate (Queensryche), Carl’s impressive range breathes life into these songs, and is often supplemented by heavenly harmonies or harsh gang vocals, and turns tracks such as ‘Thrill Of The Hunt’ into cold-eyed killers.

One of the benefits of a major label deal is a big production. Of course, that can also be a curse, there’s always a risk that a band will have their rough-hewn charm marbled, and lose all their power (like Samson’s hair). No fear with Vicious Rumors, as producer Michael Rosen gave the band a bombastic sound and, as with all good heavy metal, the more you increase the volume, the better it sounds! Case in point being ‘Hellraiser’, a wrecking ball that swings from speaker to speaker, and causes all sorts of carnage. The bass guitar, all to often buried in the mix, is bold as brass and adds weight to an already hefty sound, while the twin guitar attack of Geoff Thorpe and Mark McGee, ties the listener up in knots. Bombastic, heavy, and catchy as hell, Vicious Rumors gives a glimpse of what the ‘90s could have been, had a little thing like grunge not happened

Disc Two: Welcome To The Ball (1991)

Despite the whirlwind of success that Vicious Rumors brought, the band still found time to record another album, and, released barely a year later, Welcome To The Ball picks right up where its predecessor left off. That’s no surprise as this record was largely written on the hoof, as the band blazed a trail across the continents, and opening shot ‘Abandoned’ (indeed, the whole album) has an urgency born from this experience. If anything, this is a darker effort, and there’s just the right amount of tension bubbling beneath the surface which puts a fire underneath tracks such as ‘You Only Live Twice’. Although only 12 months had passed Carl Albert’s vocals have aged exponentially, it’s as if they’ve been soaked in honey, and his pipes have been put to good use on the ballad ‘Children’. The inclusion of a ballad is a new development for the band, but it works rather well by creating a nice foil for the heavier tracks.

While Vicious Rumors were often placed in the power metal bracket, (a scene they helped pioneer) they were far greater in scope, and Welcome To The Ball incorporates elements of speed and thrash, and reassembles them as a whole new beast. A good example would be ‘Six Stepsisters’, a track propelled by Larry Howe’s powerhouse drumming, and despite threatening to go off the Richter Scale, the band never lose sight of song structure, and ensures it retains the band’s trademark melody. Once again produced by Michael Rosen (with some help from Geoff Thorpe) Welcome To The Ball contains lots of subtle studio trickery which gives the album a real depth, and makes for a multi-dimensional listen. Departing as they came, ‘Ends Of The Earth’ makes for a high-octane closer, and makes the silence that follows positively deafening. Dividing fans as to what is the band’s best album, Welcome To The Ball just shades Vicious Rumors by dint of its experimentation.

Disc Three: Plug In And Hang On: Live In Tokyo (1992)

By the time Vicious Rumors hit Tokyo’s Club Citta in February of 1992, they were road warriors hardened by the usual mishaps that accompany lengthy tours. With fans waiting for them in hotel lobbies and train stations, things were verging on Beatle-mania, and it was in the midst of this storm that Plug In And Hang On: Live In Tokyo was caught on tape. Recorded on the second of two nights at Club Citta, Plug In And Hang On finds the band on top form and playing to a rabid crowd. Opening with the one-two punch of ‘Abandoned’ and ‘Savior From Anger’ (both from Welcome To The Ball) the knockout punch is landed by two tracks from Vicious Rumors. With the minimum of overdubs, this is the authentic live experience with all the bum notes left intact (though this being Vicious Rumors, they’re mighty rare).

My only complaint with Plug In And Hold On is the track selection. Seven of the eight songs are culled from the two Atlantic albums, so it would have been nice to hear a few cuts from their first two independent releases, but when an elongated ‘Lady Took A Chance’ and ‘When Loves Comes Down’ are unleashed, it seems petty to grumble. ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ opened this collection, so it’s fitting that a live version should bring it to a conclusion. With the added adrenaline of a live performance, ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ is a ferocious way to bring down the curtain.

While the band are still very much a going concern, The Atlantic Years was an important part of Vicious Rumors history, and it’s finally been documented in this three-disc set. It not only charts the development of one of America’s premier power metal bands, it’s also a fine memorial to the deceased, one-of-a-kind vocalist Carl Albert.

Track List:

Disc One: Vicious Rumors (1990)

  1. Don’t Wait For Me
  2. World Church
  3. On The Edge
  4. Ship Of Fools
  5. Can You Hear It
  6. Down To The Temple
  7. Hellraiser
  8. Electric Twilight
  9. Thrill Of The Hunt
  10. Axe And Smash

Disc Two: Welcome To The Ball (1991)

  1. Abandoned
  2. You Only Live Twice
  3. Savior From Anger
  4. Children
  5. Dust To Dust
  6. Raise Your Hands
  7. Strange Behavior
  8. Six Stepsisters
  9. Mastermind
  10. When Loves Come Down
  11. Ends Of The Earth

Disc Three: Plug In And Hold On: Live In Tokyo (1992)

  1. Abandoned
  2. Savior From Anger
  3. Down To The Temple
  4. Ship Of Fools
  5. Lady Took A Chance
  6. When Love Comes Down
  7. March Or Die
  8. Don’t Wait For Me