This is a special review for me, as I am one of the early LA metal scene enthusiasts and a cult follower of this legendary metal band. I used to ride around in my ’77 Camaro Rally Sport, blasting Malice throughout the neighborhood while a cloud of smoke escaped out the window. I turned those Lynyrd Skynyrd-listening fools into LA Metal aficionados.
Once upon a time in the early/mid Eighties, Malice> made some serious noise and had a formidable lineup of top-notch musicians. Unfortunately, the band failed to achieve the superstar status that other LA metal bands did, but they definitely left a mark in the metal world, a cult mark, if you will.
Malice was formed in 1981. They played the LA club scene and had a great following. playing their type of classic metal, comparable to Judas Priest. I admit I am a huge Malice fan, and have both of their full-length albums. To me, a metal authority, the two albums License To Kill and In The Beginning were two albums that should be in every oldschool metal head’s CD collection. Malice’s music is very early Eighties sounding but not in a cheesy way. They managed to bring some exceptional talent to the thriving LA metal scene in a time when most bands were all about the look rather than the music. Malice had excellent chops and wrote great songs. Guitarists Jay Reynolds (formerly with Metal Church as well) and Mick Zane were unholy on guitar and worked so well together that it almost brought tears. Their solos cut through your heart and ripped out your very soul. It was very emotional and moving playing. Malice’s singer, James Neal, was an all-out vocal god. His recorded tracks are simply unreal. Neal’s voice was super high-pitched and could reach heights other singers only wished they could achieve. Neal’s vibrato technique was superb. His voice still gives me chills twenty-seven years later.
They also were part of the first legendary Metal Massacre sampler in 1982; indeed, they were the only band with two songs included. Malice toured in the US, Canada and Europe with bands like Alice Cooper, WASP and Slayer. The band’s most memorable gig was in 1982, in Los Angeles at the Troubador Club. The support act was an unknown band called – Metallica. Talk about historic!
The Return: Malice decided to reform and cut an album with Steamhammer/SPV and bring back some true metal to the masses. They decided to re-record several tracks off the two albums, and add four new songs as well. Unfortunately James Neal was unavailable, so they enlisted former Helstar vocalist James Rivera, and former Black N’ Blue drummer Pete Holmes.
James Rivera is another vocalist who kicks much ass. I first became a fan of James Rivera when he with the band Destiny’s End. I loved his work in that band and have both albums (I wore them out!). I even traveled 100 miles to see them in Cincinnati with Iced Earth. (That was the night that I had a fist-fight with Iced Earth’s guitarist Jon Schaffer.) Destiny’s End blew the headliners away that night. Anyway, James and Destiny’s End were great people. He even hugged me when we left that night. Super cool people.
James has the high-pitched vocals that were needed to recreate some of the earlier Malice classic songs like “Godz Of Thunderz,” “Circle Of Fire” and “Against The Empire.” Not just any singer can pull off some James Neal vocals, so finding the right guy was imperative. Malice got tight again as a band and played some shows in 2011 that went very well. So they went into the studio to record New Breed Of Godz.
The result: I am excited as heck. I get to review new material that isn’t even out yet from a band I grew up to. It don’t get much better. The title song sounds great and is one of the new songs. There are some nice guitar harmonies going on in the track and Rivera sounds better than ever. The chorus reminds me of Iron Maiden a little. “Hellrider” is smokin’ too, but the effects on Rivera’s vocals seem a bit cheap-sounding and maybe a hair overdone, especially the delay. A bit to much on the repeats maybe? The music is killing though. Definitely heavier this time around.
“Against The Empire” kicks ass. I think I might blow a musical nut! Ha. Rivera is awesome on this one! Very good recreation. “Branded” is another new track. It reminds me of Destiny’s End a bit with the galloping riff. The guitar solo is wicked and has a wonderful tone with a fat chorus on it. I would have maybe ended it a bit earlier, though. Not bad, but not as good as the Eighties material. “Sinister Double” sounds decent but Rivera’s vocals on this one are throwing me and my female guest off a bit. It’s not that they are bad vocals , it’s just that I’ve listened to the original track so long that I have come to expect Neal’s ultra-highs every time. Rivera does things a bit different on this version. One of my favorites, “Circle Of Fire,” starts out with a different beginning. Once again the vocals are throwing me off. Rivera is in a lower octave than the original. I don’t like the change. You can understand the words much better with Rivera, though. The lead guitar in this wails. The music rocks. Rivera’s vocals on “Stellar Masters” is better, maybe because the notes aren’t as high. “Winds Of Death (Angel Of Light)” is a new ballad that sounds good, and so does Rivera. Great chorus and lyrics! Go James! Ha.
This is like “No Haven for The Raven” Part Two!!! Hell, yeah. I like this song the best so far of the new music. It’s not heavy but there is feeling and emotion. And that is what gets me. A memorable track. I’ll be singing this one for days I’m sure. “Air Attack” starts with an added air raid siren not on the first album. Very good! Rivera does good on this one except when he chooses to bypass the ending high notes in the verse. “Chain Gang Woman” rocks! I love how Rivera says Nasty. Cool.
I friggin’ love this song. I sometimes change the words to “Gang Bang Woman” though. Rivera does great on this one, too. This is sweet. “Slipping Through The Cracks” is a cool new track that has a “Vigilante”-type feel that I like. Every song doesn’t have to be heavy as hell. This is my second favorite new track! I like the bass-oriented grooves Mark Behn has going on. The bass stands out in this one.
“Godz Of Thunder” is the last song. The music is pounding. Good quality recording at Silver Cloud Studios in LA.
Alas, once again the vocals fall short of the original recordings. The notes in this song are not matching the originals. They are in a lower vocal range. Rivera was playing it safe. I would be too if I was expected to recreate that chit. I would be a nervous, stressed, worrying MF. But let’s be honest; listen to Malice’s “Gods Of Thunder” or “Circle Of Fire” on Youtube, and you will see that for anyone to recreate that singing accurately to the “T,” you would have to find a fifteen-year-old-boy just out of opera training school with an unreal octave range that can break glass, or put someone’s scrotum in a vise and squeeze till they hit the note. And then only maybe! As much as I love Rivera, he can only do so much these days. We Eighties rockers are getting up there in age, and 90% of the time, vocal skills go a bit downward as one ages. So considering everything I’ve said, James Rivera did an amazing job. I’ve always liked his vocals and I think it’s a great fit for Malice.
There were only a few moments when the lower octaves put a damper on my recollections.
The band sounds killer. The guitars on the album are just as expected – badass. The new additions of guitar alterations work well, so well that I am willing to drive a few hundred miles to see them live when they go on tour. I’m going to talk to their people and see if they can stop here in Louisville. I can probably get them on at the infamous Phoenix Hill Tavern. But only if my band Krosjoint opens!
New Breed Of Godz comes out June 19 in the USA. It’s already out in Europe.