Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dungeon - Fortress of Rock (1985)

Most would associate the name Dungeon with the Australian power metal band, who had a reasonably lengthy and successful career as one of the few acts from that nation to truly delve into the style. This Dungeon, however, is an American super obscurity who fall into the category of 'so bad they're good'. Yes, Dungeon are either the worst Savatage ripoff in history, or they just happen to have some similar taste in song titles and imagery. I like to think the answer is the latter, for while they've got a dirty hard rockin'/metal tone not unlike a Power of the Night or Fight for the Rock, and a dash of added gloom akin to Sirens or The Dungeons are Calling, the vocalist is a little higher pitched than Jon Oliva and the riffs are not quite so well thought out as Savatage.

The thing is, Fortress of Rock is an immensely enjoyable parody that has no idea its actually a parody. The vocals and hooks are fucking hilarious, and the use of the narrator in the band's namesake "Dungeon" alone is enough to buy a copy of this, because you will not stop laughing, forever. Musically, the band are not entirely slouches. The guitarist writes some cutting, groovy passages akin to Savatage, Judas Priest and influences that make a lot of sense, and the bassist and drummer are pretty good all things considered. The vocals are an acquired taste, because he's another of those guys that takes it a little too over the top, his inflection one of the very punchlines that warm my cold metal heart. But he's not really 'bad', just a dash daft. How could you really take it seriously, anyway, after seeing the band hanging on the wall of some executioner's subterranean den, on the cover?

"Under a Rock" leads the charge through the Fortress of Rock, and the chorus of 'we came from under a rock' is instantly memorable as an emblem of unintentional humor. The riffs are fairly groovy and competent, and it sounds pretty fresh, mixed well, with some nice little shrieks at the end of phrases. The solo breakdown is decent, with the inevitable dual lead tracked and the uplifting bridge back into a third verse/chorus. The bass is surprisingly funky and fresh throughout, which was not the case for a lot of these metal bands in the 80s. "Dungeon" itself opens with some glittery, thick acoustics, soon joined by a hilarious vocoded, pitch shifted narrator who spouts some of the most ridiculous fluff prose I've ever heard on a metal record. Seriously, record this and send it to someone as a phone message. It's that good. The metal track that accompanies this absurdity is another mid-paced tune with some spry spikes of lead twisted throughout, not bad.

The album does get quite better as it proceeds, through the mean and dirty "Infernal Regions", which clearly sounds like old Savatage, with shining, popped off chords at the end of the verse phrases and a very dire vocal set which reminds me of a less bruising Cirith Ungol. Following, "Permanent Wish" has some interesting use of guitars that rattle off at the end of each rhythm line (they do this on a number of songs), and on "Eternal Contract" the vocal goes perhaps a little too shrill, which is hilarious despite itself. "Witches Brew" is honestly a tight instrumental piece with some decent leads and a clear Iron Maiden/Judas Priest influence, while "Season of the Witch" is just fucking bad ass, another song that fuses Savatage and Cirith Ungol. Other tracks I'd recommend are the smutty "Screen Queen", and the awful "Smash Palace" which closes the record with some lackluster backing vocals and cheesy ass lyrics and vocals like 'ain't no wimps allowed at the smash palace!'. The latter is recommended more for its ironic qualities than actual qualities, though. You were warned.

It is almost impossible for me to cast Fortress of Rock in a truly negative light, because it's just fun heavy metal which seems highly out of date by this point. If a band were mocking 80s metal as a genre, then this is what they might sound like Dungeon, but this was the genuine article, and many of the riffs sound rather good, though they're not exactly original nor unique for the time period. Hey, they're better than shit like 3 Inches of Blood. Unless you like higher, shrill vocalists, you might be turned off by the performance of Buddy Hughes, but if you enjoy Jon Oliva, Udo Dirkschneider, or even Lizzy Borden, you will not be dismayed. Experiencing Fortress of Rock is like watching a bad sci-fi movie late at night stoked on dopamine, you're going to enjoy yourself, there's just no escaping the viral purity of what this band laid down to tape in their limited existence. Just make sure you're sharing it with the best of friends.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

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