In the days before CD players, iPods and file sharing services became a part of everyday life (aka The Dark Ages), the mix tape was an essential part of a music lover’s life. There were two varieties of mix tapes – homemade (for yourself or some girlfriend/boyfriend whose name you can’t even remember anymore) and store-bought.
Store-bought mix tapes (known in the industry as “compilations”) were superior in two ways – they exposed you to bands you might have never heard before, and they didn’t take five hours to put together on your crappy home stereo. During a road trip from New Jersey to Florida in the mid-’80s, I purchased my first mix tape at a Stuckey’s in South Carolina. Or maybe it was North Carolina. No, it was South Carolina. Maybe Georgia.
Anyway, being a proud metal head at the time, I could not resist the opportunity to pick up a compilation called Slave to the Metal. It could’ve been the song selection or band listing, but it was probably the cover art. I mean, it had the metal-ish font (not the traditional Olde English or Gothic, mind you) and a skeleton. But the topper? The bars of the window were really guitar fret boards. It doesn’t get much more metal than that.
But what about the songs themselves? Well, since you ask, here is my take on the actual content of Slave to the Metal, nearly 20 years after its initial purchase:
Twisted Sister, “The Price” — I was never a big Twisted Sister fan. I loved their videos, but never got into them past that. Still, “The Price” is actually a decent song that still holds up pretty well. It lacks the tongue-in-cheek humor of the group’s more popular songs, which is probably a good thing.
W.A.S.P., “Blind in Texas” – Now things really kick into high gear! Apparently W.A.S.P. is fond of drinking, and celebrates it with vigor in this song. This little slice of hedonism is definitely a relic of its time, but still fun to listen to.
Scorpions, “Can’t Live Without You” – How a balding guy with a thick German accent was at one time one of the biggest singers in the world is beyond me. That being said, the best stuff the Scorps produced was at once heavy and extremely melodic. This cut is no exception.
Accept, “Balls to the Wall” – This is the epitome of the metal anthem. It’s got the march-like plod, violent lyrics, shrieking guitars, and even more shrieking vocals. But alas, it’s a bit too corny and heavy-handed to be a true classic. When you actually hear the sound of a nutcracker, you know you’ve crossed into Spinal Tap territory. There is indeed a fine line between clever and stupid.
Stryper, “Soldiers Under Command” – Christianity and metal. Each is fine on its own, but combine them and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. ‘Nuff said. This one always prompted a dive for the fast forward button, but I’ve warmed up to it a little as the haze of nostalgia grows thicker.
Judas Priest, “Love Bites” – Ahhh, that’s better. A solid entry from one of metal’s all-time best bands, from their last decent album of the ’80s (Defenders of the Faith).
Dio, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” – Dio never really was able to recapture the magic he had with his early ’80s Black Sabbath albums. Banal lyrics, and a video that is about as cliché as they come. Still, that voice carries the day. RIP Ronnie.
Yngwie Malmsteen, “I’ll See the Light Tonight” – I admit it, I dig this song a lot. It is completely cheesy and over-the-top in every way possible, but I can’t stop listening. We all have songs like that; this is one of mine. Jeff Scott Soto’s vocals are insane.
Helix, “Heavy Metal Love” – A pretty bland entry from one of the rockinest bands to come out of Ontario! The lyrics actually contain the words “caress of steel.” Perhaps they hoped that making an oblique Rush reference would elevate this otherwise turgid tune. If it weren’t for the fact that it was on Slave to the Metal, I wouldn’t have listened to this song 79 times like I have.
Queensrÿche, “The Lady Wore Black” – A great way to end the tape. This is a very good song from the period in Queensrÿche’s existence when they had yet to make the transition from slightly above-average metal band to top-notch art/progressive rock band.
While my musical horizons have expanded a great deal since my youthful metal phase, I still own Slave to the Metal and view it with fondness. So much so that I actually made a mix CD of the exact same songs. All of them. Even Stryper. Because damnit, I am a slave to the metal!