Monday, February 22, 2010

Grand Halls 42

XCURSION – “Ready To Roll” 1984 (Rampage, US) – First of all, I have to preface this by saying that this is one of the odder rarities that has come my way over the years, but also surely a great one. If I said the name “Mark Slaughter” to you, what would come to mind? Probably the commercially-oriented hard rock band he fronted during the late ‘80’s who made quite a splash on MTV, right? So you’re saying “How does that fit in with the usual Grand Halls fare, Ray? What’s coming next, reviews of White Lion & Poison records?” My answer would be, if anybody in those bands has something like this hanging in their closet, I’ll sure as hell write about it too! Actually, XCURSION made their vinyl debut in 1983 with a self-titled EP (on the Rampage imprint) that was issued in a limited edition red wax format. The band includes: Mark Slaughter – guitar, vocals; Rex Rumley – bass, backing vocals; Anthony White – drums, vocals. The EP is composed of 4 cuts that are ok ‘80’s metal, nothing to write home about, with kind of a light guitar sound. It’s now still fairly common, going for small numbers in catalogs. I wouldn’t spend $20 or anything, but if you see it for a few bucks, it’s probably worth it for a cut like “Mouthful Of Steel.”

XCURSION went on, however, to issue the full-length album “Ready To Roll” in 1984 (once again on this Rampage label). The cover photo here is quite interesting in that it shows the band (same 3 guys) looking quite the prettied-up rock stars, in white suits and piles of hairspray. In fact, you’d probably be expecting the 2nd coming of Angel but there are no keyboards here. The title cut gets things going with some up-tempo riffing, plenty of melody and a chorus that reminds me of a bit more mellow version of Riot’s “Hot For Love.” The backing vocals here and throughout the album, pop-like mingled with hard rock guitar, remind me a lot of some of the vintage Sweet material, something I instantly like. “Until We Meet Again” is one of the only 2 real “commercial” cuts on offer, a bit rock-&-roll-ish but with quite a heavy pre-chorus riff. With “Too Fast,” however, all hell breaks loose! This is ripping power metal at it’s best, fast motorized riffing and a totally shredding lead guitar solo that kicks major butt. It’s amazing to know that this is Mark Slaughter, playing metal guitar like a madman…apparently most people only knew one side of this guy! “Over The Edge” continues this break-neck power assault with more scalding riffs and leads. Think back to Sweet cuts like “Sweet F.A.” and the like! Cool as hell. Side One comes to a close with “Ladies Of The Night,” kind of a cross between mid-period Priest and Starz around “Violation.” Slaughter goes off big time on the solo here and the bass work is not far behind.

Side Two of “Ready To Roll” opens with “Never Again.” It starts with a deceptive acoustic ballad-style intro then turns into an excellent melodic power metal gem. Next, XCURSION opens up the jets again and kicks into another butt-kicker, “Tear It Down.” Fast and furious, you look at the album cover again, then listen to this song and say “What the hell?!” “Solid As A Rock” is easily the most commercial song on the record and it’s kinda obvious that it, along with “Until We Meet…” were aimed at possible airplay. Not bad, just not killer. “Mind Over Matter,” however, is killer!!! This is my favourite cut on the album. It starts as a mid-paced chunker with a super catchy chorus, then midway it erupts into a hell-bent fast paced rhythm over which Slaughter lays down a completely wicked, ear-splitting guitar solo. At the end of his finger-frying run, the rhythm kicks back into the mid-paced grind and Mark continues to wail for awhile longer, proving just what an unknown fretsman he was. “Ridin’ High” brings the record to close and it reminds me of what it would’ve sounded like if Sweet had done a version of Priest’s “Steeler.” Really great stuff, I love it!

All in all, I must be honest in saying that if all you love is doom or death metal, this album is probably not going to be your cup of sunshine. But if you’re like me and love melodic power metal (among many other things, which is why I’m fucking broke!) XCURSION’s “Ready To Roll” is a real treat. Of course, as you might expect, this record is super rare and you can figure on paying in 3 figures for an original copy. On the other hand, there have been at least a couple re-issues (legitimate or not) that can be tracked down cheaper or, think about it this way: you could go out and buy 15 or 20 current-day CD’s and, in a lot of cases, have nothing but a pile of worthless plastic in your hands, know what I mean. High Roller, Baby, She Is


Mark said...

Thats what I'm talking about! Great review, great obscure album.

raysrealm said...

Monster LP, I actually sold this as part of my collection a few years back. Have it on cassette with a slew of other things I've gotta burn to disc. Shit, even saying that makes me sound old, doesn't it?