United Without Regret: A Hair Metal Primer from James Malone of Arsis

Technical/melodic death metal unit Arsis are primed and ready to drop Visitant, their sixth full-length, via longtime label Nuclear Blast, on November 2. In addition to being the guitarist and vocalist of Arsis, founding member James Malone is also the band’s resident hair metal fan. Malone was kind enough to provide a hair metal primer for those of you interested in trading your sweatpants for leather pants. Visitant can be pre-ordered here.

Leatherwolf – Street Ready (Japanese Import)

Leatherwolf will always be one of my absolute favorites. I can remember the guitar instructor that I had in 9th grade (the year was 1994) telling me I should check them out. He told tale of how his band opened up for them around 1987 and that not only did their guitarists shred, but their singer was incredible. To top everything off, he said the singer could also rip on guitar. I was intrigued and looked high and low for a copy of one of their releases. This was years before searching out new music on the internet was a reality, so I found myself in every establishment that carried used CDs and cassettes desperately trying to find something by the fabled Leatherwolf. One day in a pawn shop, I happened upon their self-titled release and quickly purchased the CD. I was hooked from the first listen. The riffs, the solos, the tones, the overall presentation… it was just what I was looking for. At this stage in my life, I think I prefer their sophomore release, Street Ready. If you are lucky enough to find a copy of the Japanese import, you will be graced with a bonus track called ‘Alone in the Night’ and it is a raging anthem. If you are like me and grew up in the 80’s with HBO then you probably saw a film called Return of the Living Dead 2. This song was featured on the soundtrack and I didn’t realize it until years later. Amazing stuff!

Fifth Angel – Time Will Tell

When I was in high school, I was very much into any and all of the Shrapnel Records releases. One of the albums that they were advertising pretty heavily at the time was a solo album by James Byrd. I noticed that in every advertisement, they would credit him as having played with a band called Fifth Angel. One day when I was in a local record shop, I was able to find a copy of their 2nd release, Time Will Tell. As it turned out, this album did not include James Byrd but featured another guitarist named Kendall Bechtel. To this day, I can still put on this record and appreciate his musicianship as much as I did in high school. He’s precise but plays guitar with an attitude that I can only describe as ‘slutty.’ This attitude is something I strive for in my own playing and am only able to achieve to varying degrees of success. I keep trying though.

Vain – No Respect

Used cassettes were literally EVERYWHERE in the ’90s. CDs had taken over but people still very much purchased music. As a result, every shopping mall would have at one used cassette kiosk in addition to the chain record stores. Cassettes at these kiosks weren’t guaranteed to work but they were cheap, so I took some chances on quite a few. One of these ‘chances’ was on an album called No Respect by Vain. This album may not be for everyone, mainly because of the vocals, but I think they’re brilliant. What really sticks out about this record is the songwriting. It’s beyond stripped down, at times the songs may only have 1 riff, but they knew how to finesse these riffs to the max. Absolutely killer debut hair metal album.

Loudness – Soldier of Fortune

Another ‘shopping mall used cassette kiosk’ album that I took a chance on in high school. You can argue all day that Loudness was not a ‘hair metal’ band, but I challenge anyone who’s seen their album inserts to make this claim with a straight face… this is if they still have a face after the blazing might that is Akira Takasaki’s guitar playing. This album, and ALL of their other releases, are essential in my opinion. The performances, songwriting and production were so classy for their time and the genre.

King Diamond – Them

Another album that may some will argue is not ‘hair metal.’ The reality is that, if we are using image and attitude as criteria for something being ‘hair metal,’ then this album fits the bill for sure. One look at the promo shots and it’s clear the band (sans the King himself) were full-on embracing the hair metal image of the late ’80s. One listen to the wild vibrato of Andy LaRoque and Pete Blakk and it’s clear that these guys had an attitude in their playing that was as promiscuous as any licks that Mick Mars or Slash could pull out of a guitar. These factors coupled with the majesty that is King Diamond might make this a perfect introduction to hair metal for an extreme metal fan. In my humble opinion, it is a perfect album.

Q5 –When the Mirror Cracks

I think we can all agree that the Floyd Rose tremolo system is one of the most important inventions for the electric guitar… ever. Extreme metal just would not sound the same without the Floyd Rose. Tuning would be a bitch… there would be no dive bombs, no flutters… no fun. But let’s not forget about Floyd Rose, the man and musician. And let’s not forget about Floyd Rose’s band Q5 and their fantastic album, When the Mirror Cracks. The album is packed with great songs and shredding licks. These dudes had the aesthetic on lock down too. No mirrors were cracking because of them.

Banshee – Race Against Time

One doesn’t usually think about Kansas City when they think of hair metal, but they should, and solely for Banshee. This band is incredible! EVERY PART ABOUT IT. The guitarist had great style reminiscent of Randy Rhoads and the singer was gunning for Dio’s job… in Dio. It’s on Spotify, so drop everything and check this one out!

Dirty Looks – Cool From the Wire

This is really my plug for AC/DC. They’re like your favorite death metal band, just with more ripping leads, a better rhythm guitar tone,  a singer with balls and a more solid drummer. Seriously, everyone needs to be on board with the fact that they are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Dirty Looks is like a hair metal version of AC/DC with more shred. That makes them cooler than most bands.