Monday, September 20, 2010

Leather - Shock Waves (1989)

The name is regrettably obscure in any discussion of female vocalists in traditional US metal, but Leather Leone had a wonderful 5 year run as the frontwoman for the band Chastain, named for its guitar god founder David T. Chastain. From 1985-1990 the pair produced five full-length albums of distinct quality, culminating in what I'd consider their structural best, For Those Who Dare, the first album to leap from David's Leviathan label to the visibility of Roadrunner, who at this point were still a phenomenal label to kick start the recognition of scores of excellent heavy, thrash and death metal outfits.

As part of this signing, or tangent to it, gears were spun around, and the decision was made that Leather would produce a solo effort with a lineup of musicians that have filtered in and out of the Leviathan rotation through the years; namely the rhythm section of David Harbour (bass) and John Luke Herbert (drums) who have also worked with King Diamond, and Michael Harris on guitar, who has also played in Arch Rival, Surgeon and one of Chastain's other bands Zanister. The style here is not entirely different than, say For Those Who Dare, largely due to the rhythmic section's cautious but competent performance and Leone's vocals, which seem like a Pat Benatar given grisly injections of power metal hormones; the one signature missing would be Chastain's distinct sense of Baroque darkness, prevalent in his scaling techniques and overall shredding (though he produced this album). Harris was of course a budding talent in his own right by the late 80s, and his own personal touches are fluent, but shot straight for the hip.

Thus, Shock Waves is not quite the measure of any of Leather's work in Chastain, if only because the actual riffing does not truly compare in quality. Otherwise, the similarities abound in the pure approach to 80s power metal with a slight thrashing vitriol, and Leather herself is in the same form as For Those Who Dare or The Voice of the Cult, the albums that sandwiched this. Tracks like "All Your Neon", "Shock Waves" and the slower anthem "Diamonds Are For Real" offer well scripted if ultimately unmemorable sequences of power chords and galloping energy, with conservative volleys of Harris shredding and rock solid rhythm work that matches but does not exceed any of the standard US flock.

Where the album really breaks free is in the slower, atmospheric work like a "No Place Called Home" which is slower paced, with riffs not unlike seminal doom metal acts, glazed in unkempt leads and doses of synthesizer-driven atmosphere. "Something in This Life" seems at first like a lost Queensryche ballad that might have appeared on an alternate universe Empire, then snorting out some ballsy, bruising power metal grooves that perfectly suit Leone's warlike siren tones. "In a Dream" and "It's Still In Your Eyes" follow a similar course, and though I never thought I'd really say it, the slower fare on this album overall trumps the faster paced metal. She is no alien to this approach, as Chastain had a number of comparable pieces, but there is just something intangible about how her voice matches the longing desperation of these pieces, and you can picture an audience spontaneously holding their lighters high without any of the excess glamor and glitz that might usually entail.

Shock Waves would not see a follow-up, and after one more Chastain album in 1990, Leather would essentially stand down from the metal scene to follow another career (she did appear on an EP by a band known as Malibu Barbi in 1992). This was a loss to us all, because she never showed any real sign of her performances weakening, and I was never quite so into her successor Kate French (though she undoubtedly kicks ass in Vainglory), and Chastain's music took a turn for the worse in general. But at the very least, we are left with this legacy of six albums, five by Leone's better known band and this one solo effort. If I could turn back time I would beseech Leone to either grow or paste a thick mane of armpit hair to accompany the horrible pose that was captured for this (miserable) album cover, as if to shout 'fuck you' to all that let this talent slip through their grasp.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (I wished I'd been there)

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