Although they've not produced anything worthwhile in over 20 years now, Florida's Nasty Savage were once an anomaly in the American metal landscape: a highly polished hybrid of thrash and classic heavy metal aesthetics with one of the more charismatic vocalists on the job at the time. Yes, the band is largely known for the wild vocals of 'Nasty Ronnie', who would spiral from primal power/thrash shrieking to an edged middle range, and then become even stranger as he'd insert some deeper testosterone. It was a little off-putting when I was younger, as I half felt he was making fun of the very music he was fronting. But over the years, I've come to appreciate the guy's charisma, and for the most part it's not too distracting here.
Nasty Savage was released through Metal Blade in 1985, a year after the band produced a pair of demos in Raw Mayhem and Wage of Mayhem, and it was quite a striking album due to its high level of production quality, which was rare outside of the bigger names of the period. The tones are clean and powerful, the leads burning, the vocals (despite their insanity) never leeching out the life of the songs, and overall it was one of the better sounding albums on the earlier Metal Blade roster. The band's mix of emergent styles was also harder to define than many of their peers, so they were almost instantly recognizable for embracing the current of thrashing aggression without abandoning many of the metal cliches in their lyrics and vocal delivery. I'm not going to lie, tracks like "Metal Knights" and "Gladiator" are hilarious, but considering how many bands make careers out of this crap today (the awful 3 Inches of Blood, for example), shouldn't we just break out our Nasty Savage debut instead? To paraphrase a famous film super villain, they're not monsters...they were just ahead of the curve.
The album burns a hole right into your curiosity from the first, brooding synths that inaugurate "No Sympathy", which make you feel like you've been cast into the middle of some desolate 80s horror flick. Then the guitars rattle out some excellent riffs, which exhibit a slight leaning towards both technicality and mystique, consuming a number of memorable melodies. The band plays it a little straighter in the verse, with a mid-paced chugging quality ala classic power metal. "Gladiator" functions around a lazy but gut busting thrash rhythm as Ronnie delivers some hilarious and awesome lyrics in both a manly hymn and a few off the hook falsetto shrieks. He also deserves some credit for throwing the words 'metal gear' into the first verse. I like the lead break-downs, with a nice thick bass tone and some fine shredding over a decent thrash riff. "Fear Beyond the Vision" is actually one of the more distinct tracks on the debut, with a grisly, ghastly vocal delivery in the verse and a somewhat catchy chorus that has Ronnie wailing away like a Southern King Diamond.
"Metal Knights" is a riot due to its lyrics, but the power of its grooving, molten metal rhythms is impossible to deny, and the way some of the lyrics like 'too many rockers' strike in the verse is the kind of entertainment 1,000 bands full of ironic 18 year olds in 2010 could not combine to muster. "Garden of Temptation" is a gracious interlude with a dueling pair of acoustic guitars, which took me by surprise and shows the depth and sophistication that Nasty Savage were always capable of producing in the 80s when they backed away from their strictly metal persona, while "Asmodeus" is a kickass, viral tribute to one of the greatest fictional lords of Hell, with some great drumming that carries the weight of the bomber bass lines and wicked riffing.
"Dungeon of Pleasure" provides you with the perfect soundtrack for a 'night in' with your sweetie, complete with cock rings, whips and chains to suspend one another from the basement ceiling, in addition to the killer bass and guitars and one of Ronnie's more subdued (but still funny) performances on the record. He then narrates over the eerie, clean guitars that open "The Morgue", which offers an air of doom before rising to a mid-paced melodic thrash. "Instigator" is like a wilder take on a band like Helstar, where the main similarity is the vocals but the riffs actually flow at quite the same consistency of rage and neo-classical riffing structure. Quite a good track, followed by "Psycopath" which also lives up to this album's high standard for hard riffing and melody. "End of Time" opening in a 'one two fuck you' cadence might lead some to believe its some punk douche rocker to close the album, but it quickly transforms into another of the band's burning leather seducer anthems that whispers at you from the shadows where it lurks in a campy mail-order executioner's mask.
Criticism leveled against such a weathered beast as this album becomes rubber in place of glue, because nothing really sticks. The vocals are an acquired taste, and I remember them as an immediate barrier to entry for many of my friends that I tried to persuade onto their sound. But bad? No. Nasty Ronnie had the range, he just liked to 'play around' in it. The album still sounds amazing after 25 years, with production that holds up to or exceeds most of the modern wave of retro heavy metal bands that have begun to spring up. The awful logo-art is a legitimate complaint here, especially when placed alongside the more curious abstraction of the following album (and subsequent EP), but as long as you don't judge this book by its cover, you're in for a welcome surprise. Still one of the band's best recordings.
Highlights: No Sympathy, Fear Beyond the Vision, Metal Knights, Dungeon of Pleasure, Instigator
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (turn up the mayhem)