Sunday, March 7, 2010

Grand Halls 45

C.I.A. – “Top Secret” 4-song 7” EP – (Fatdaddy, 1981) – Whoa! This is a small package, but man is it killer! When I heard “Top Secret,” I was floored, not only by the heaviness spewing out of the speakers but also by the super-obscurity of the piece itself. A little background is in order. Way back when, in the 1980-era, a Baltimore (hometown!) cover band called Rock-It ws slugging it out on the bar circuit. They featured blonde-haired guitarist Fred Vanover, bassist William Walker and drummer Rich Beavers. They were also fronted by a singer named John Bieski, who used to work at Record & Tape Collector, your’s truly’s former place of employment. Rock-It was a cover band and they did some totally jacked-up versions of great classics like “Wishing Well” and “Too Rolling Stoned.” The latter would go off on a 7-8 minute guitar solo by Fred that would make the hair (I actually had some then) stand up on end. The guy was a god and, although it’s almost 30 years back, those nights down at the Rocky Point Inn were special. Time went by and Rock-It seemed to fade from the scene but about a year later, word came down about a new band called C.I.A. with Vanover, Walker and Beavers being joined by a new vocalist. With very little warning, this group issued a 4-song EP and did at least a couple live shows, one that I luckily attended at Coast-To-Coast in West Baltimore.

Looking at the “Top Secret” EP, it’s amazing now, how rare it looks! To begin with, it comes in a 7” sleeve that is at least ¼ inch taller than the standard size. The thick cover is strangely made, in that it’s kind of hard to tell what is supposed to be the front and back. On the side where the opening faces the right (usually the “front”) is a black & white photo of the band members (plus some other dude!) sitting around a conference table and dressed in suits. They’re also sporting short haircuts, I guess to live up to the C.I.A. image. Below the photo is the title “Top Secret” in a rectangular box. Flip the cover over and there’s a large, round logo in blue. It’s a take-off on the official C.I.A. seal, with an eagle in the center clutching a guitar & bass and with a Ludwig drum logo emblazoned across it’s chest. This cover alone would make for a killer piece but reach inside and you’ll find a 10-page booklet revealing not only the lyrics to all 4 cuts, but great b/w photos of the band in the studio. Other pertinent information is listed as well, such as the name of the new vocalist, Randy Meadows.

Of course, the music is what counts however, so what’s the story there? The answer is GREAT! Side One kicks off with “Devil Cashes In.” This is a ripping, fast-paced assault, perfectly mirroring the NWOBHM that was flourishing across the pond at that very moment. Hacking riffs and searing lead runs merge with Meadow’s rough-yet-melodic vocals to mark one of the very few times true metal emerged from Baltimore at that time. After this 4-minute call to arms, C.I.A. finish off Side One of the EP with one of the most gut-level grinders you’ll ever hear, “Scramble Out Of Town.” The riff here is likely to peel the paint off most walls within a 100 mile radius. Side Two opens with “What Did I Do,” a more hard rock & roll number that, while probably the most uneventful cut on offer, is still head-and-shoulders above a lot of other tracks you’ll hear called “great.” But, as you may have guessed, C.I.A. saves the best for last with the 6+ minute “Heavy Box.” Telling an eerie tale about finding a buried Pandoran artifact, this one stands among some of the greatest doomy metal classics of all-time, right up there with the best of Legend, Pagan Altar and April 16th. Fred Vanover and Randy Meadows are godly on axe and vocals respectively and you will get guaranteed chills every time.

Sadly, C.I.A. faded into total obscurity after issuing this massive local private gem and doing maybe one handful of live shows (in which they actually played in business suits!). If anybody, anywhere knows of this band or their record or, better yet, has any contact info on band member, I’d really love to hear from you. As a rather sad (for me!) footnote, I also am in need of another copy of this masterpiece myself, as the one I’d kept became a victim of water damage a few years back. I Spy


Joel said...

I was just talking to a friend last night about C.I.A. I taped "Devil Cashes In" off the radio (most likely 98 Rock) during the short time it got airplay, but never owned the 45. Unfortunately, the cassette with that song has long since been unplayable. I still remember the riff and the chorus ("What's gonna happen when the devil cashes in? What's gonna happen when it's time to pay your dues? With all your fame and fortune..." (it gets kind of fuzzy after that.)) Anyway, I'd love to get a hold of that song again, or even all four songs based on your review. If you ever come across it, I'd appreciate it if you could let us know!

williamwalker said...

William Walker here, bassist for CIA, I may have a few records left.
cell 443-807-7730 Loved the review,
Thank you,

Bill Walker