|Musical Style: Classic Metal||Produced By: Paul Krueger|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2007||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 24||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 105:13|
Armageddon came together in the early eighties while initially under the moniker Second Chance. A group originating in the Washington D.C. area, Second Chance started out as a project when vocalist Mike Vance and guitarist Robby Lee met through an ad placed in a local newspaper. The duo soon joined forces with bassist and drummer Mark Miley and began work on the material that would make up the Second Chance demo tapes. After placing the track “(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland” on the East Coast Metal compilation in 1988, the band permanently changed its name to Armageddon before signing with Talkingtown Records the very next year. The Money Mask, Armageddon’s full length Talkingtown debut, came out in 1989 but subsequently went out of print several years later. A hard to find and highly sought after collectors item, The Money Mask was re-issued in late 2007 by Retroactive Records with a bonus disc made up of rough mixes of six tracks, two rehearsal outtakes and the bands demo material, which includes two unreleased songs in “Get In Line” and “In Your Face”.
The best way to describe Armageddon would be classic metal inviting comparison to Saint, Judas Priest, Barren Cross and Sardonyx. This is best demonstrated on the albums pull no punches title track and the high energy sounds of “Mercenaries Of Injustice” and “More Than Conquerors”. “Looking Out For You” moves in a more melodic based direction while “The Ship Of Changes” is the bands lone attempt at a ballad. “(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland” delivers a heavy handed (almost thrash-like) sound and the Priest influenced “Nightlight” an excess of non-stop hooks that almost come across mesmerizing in feel. Closing things out is the speed metal juggernaut “We’re Outa’ Here”. Only “Giving It To You” and “The Judge” fall short of the mark, two tracks lacking that extra ounce of energy and inspiration the albums better material brings to the table.
Lead vocalist Mike Vance contributes a gritty and gut level vocal style that trends towards the mid-octave side of things. Think Josh Kramer (Saint), Tom Denlinger (Sardonyx) or even Anders Johansson (Green Sleeves). A total of three guitarists perform on the album: Robby Lee, Charlie Phillips and Phil Zeo. The trio combine to provide for the upfront crunch on rhythm guitar in addition to lead guitar of the fast paced and aggressive variety. Dan Wilkinson (Taker) performs steadily on bass, while Mark Miley handles drums on seven tracks and the incredible Joe Hasselvander (Raven) the other three.
Production values come across crisp but raw in giving rise to a slight touch of thinness (particularly in the low end).
The Money Mask
The albums energetic title track begins to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar before kicking into high gear at the start of its first verse. Gaining further initiative throughout the second, “The Money Mask” quickly drives ahead to the catchy but resolute chorus that follows. Several seconds of blistering lead guitar brings out the best in a song dealing with religious leaders out to make a buck at the expense of others:
Wolves in sheeps clothing
Tell you what to say
Scheming liars, leading you astray
The man (steal you blind while he's behind)
Behind the money mask...
“Mercenaries Of Injustice” opens as Mike Vance’s voice bounces between the left and right channel. The song proceeds to power through its first verse to a sledgehammer-like riff, not culminating until gaining hold of an aggressively delivered chorus shored up by vocal harmonies. Lee and Philips add to the spirited scene with a fiery dual lead guitar trade off.
The metal anthem “More Than Conquerors” jumps out of the gate to a charging rhythm guitar. Stepping up the pace at the start of its first verse, the song maintains the ardent momentum on the way to an unwavering chorus talking about victory in the life of a Christian:
You know there may be some oppression
But we’re protected by His might
The overcomers of transgression
We’re more than conquerors
Lee and Phillips combine for more blazing dual lead work. Hasselvander tears it up on drums as well.
The eerie keyboards at the start of “Looking Out For You” give way to a voice counting down from five and a drum solo. The pace immediately picks up, however, as the rhythm guitar steps forward and compels things to a spirited chorus mirroring itself with the up-tempo environment. The melodic based lead work of Lee and Phillips helps put things over the top.
The power ballad “The Ship Of Changes” opens to several seconds of pouring rain that gives way to an acoustic guitar. Gracefully drifting through its first verse, the song picks up in pace as the rhythm guitar takes over just prior to a background vocal driven chorus of a near commercial variety. The acoustic guitar returns as “The Ship Of Changes” moves on to an instrumental section carried by an emotionally played guitar solo. What we have here is a song talking about the trials and tribulations of life:
Into storms of open fire
Rising high above the tide
Higher, higher, higher
Look what it’s doin’ to me
All my reason – another season slips away
Another new day taking me far away
I felt the winds of change fill my sails of yearning
This ship of battle scars sails the path of learning
Thru the tides of time - thru the waves of chances
By my course revealed the unknown expenses
The heavy duty – almost thrash influenced - "(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland" comes across about as subtle as a punch in the mouth. Introduced to a drum solo, the song races ahead with a fury of abandon prior to acquiring an impassioned chorus sustained by Vance’s robust vocal delivery. Robby Lee adds to the ardent scene with a stretch of torrid soloing. The focus of "(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland" is on the One who is the source of our salvation:
Received a power that is stronger than temptation
The gift of God, the Redeemer and Salvation
We lift Him up to excel our exultation
The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, our liberation
Our liberation from the wasteland!
“Nightlight” is by far the strongest track on The Money Mask. The song gets underway to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar before pummeling through its verse portions in authoritative fashion. After making an even transition to a chorus with a huge catchy hook, “Nightlight” breaks for just under a minute of the albums best lead guitar work. This song just plain kicks. “Nightlight” deals with being a light in the midst of darkness:
The master of darkness is seeking ways to do you in
Twisting truth with the slyest lies, leading us to sin
Prepare for the battle against the spirits of the night
On the Rock our strength is founded, soldier of light
Standing here in the midst of light
A patrol on the line of wrong and right
You’ve heard the truth will set you free
So what is it you believe?
The pedestrian “Giving It To You” does not quite make the grade. The song almost borders on the lackluster, failing to showcase that extra punch and power characteristic to the albums better material. Vocal harmonies back a chorus I might describe as average at best. It does not help matters that the lyrics here are on the trite side of things:
Sometimes when I'm feelin' lonely I want to get away
I look around and I find myself
Lookin' for a song to rock me away
Rock Me On This!
Vance, appropriately, shouts “Honor in your court!” to open “The Judge”. Things go downhill from there. Similar to “Giving It To You”, the song lacks a notable chorus hook while the band does not quite deliver the all out raw and inspired energy it is best known for. It’s lyrics, however, are quite good:
Father forgive me for what I’ve done and said
I’ve turned my back against you, denied the gift of your Son
In my heart I need you ‘cause oh God I’m a sinner
One path to Paradise and many to the pitfall
Accept His sacrifice or accept nothing at all
"We're Outa' Here" launches into a double bass driven speed metal riff after opening to acappella vocal harmonies. Advancing through its first verse at breakneck speed, the song swiftly flows to an energy laden chorus back tenaciously by pounding drums. A lighting fast guitar solo stands out cleanly in the mix.
Closing out disc one is the East Coast Metal version of "(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland". The two renditions of the song prove quite similar in highlighting a muscular rhythm guitar sound, plenty of searing lead work and Vance’s commanding performance on vocals. In all honesty I find it difficult to tell the two apart after repeated listen.
Disc two starts to rough mixes of six songs from The Money Mask.
Production wise the six might lack the polish of The Money Mask material but still bring a sound I might describe as clean and professional.
Musically, the rough mixes pretty much stay true to the spirit of their The Money Mask counterparts but with a few noticeable differences.
“Looking Out For You”, for instance, lacks its “eerie” keyboard driven opening. And while the song continues to be an up-tempo and melodic piece, backing vocals no longer stand in support of its chorus. Please note that this is an observation and not a critique, though after listening to “Looking Out For You” with backing vocals for years it seems rather awkward without them.
“We’re Outa Here” still comes across in the form of a speed metal romp. The main difference to report, however, is that the rhythm guitar carries the songs instrumental section as opposed to a blistering guitar solo.
“More Than Conquerors” maintains its driving impetus but now lacks backing vocals in its chorus and guitar solo in its instrumental section (observation and not critique in both cases).
“Nightlight” has been cut by roughly 45 seconds and no longer includes the bizarre bouncing between the left and right channel that takes place at 4:15 on The Money Mask. Otherwise, “Nightlight” has been captured in all its hook driven and rousing glory. Again, the song just plain kicks.
The background vocals have also been cut from the chorus to “The Money Mask” but in this case it proves a bit of a distraction. The main reason being is that the key phrases “steal you blind while he’s behind” and “while he smiles he’ll steal you blind” are now missing, leaving one with the feeling the song is not quite complete. Still, these ARE rough mixes so I am sure you can agree it is important to be forgiving in this case.
“Ship Of Changes” almost sounds like a completely different song- both musically and lyrically. Its chorus now moves at the much slower tempo while Vance sings in a lower key (not to mention the lack of pouring rain in its introduction).
The two rehearsal outtakes, “More Than Conquerors” and “We’re Outa’ Here”, are as rough and raw as you can get but still cool. Both are instrumentals that serve to showcase the bands trademark high energy and tight as a nail rhythm section.
The demo material is also a bit thin sounding but very listenable (and good to hear for the first time after all these years). “Money Mask”, “Nightlight” and “Blazing Wasteland”, similar to the rough mixes, stay true to their The Money Mask counterparts. All around, what we have is Armageddon/Second Chance in its earliest incarnation and, while the element of polish might be wanting, the bands potential shines thru.
The highlight to the bonus disc is its unreleased demo tracks, “Get In Line” and “In Your Face”.
“Get In Line” is an upbeat hard rocker with a groove based – almost bluesy – feel. The song actually proves the least heavy of all the groups material in that the rhythm guitar comes across on the thin side of things (I am sure better production would have beefed things up). Irregardless, despite being a half a step behind the better The Money Mask Material, “Get In Line” proves an interesting listen as a result of its nostalgic feel.
I would rate the aptly entitled “In Your Face” as the better and heavier of the two. Now, this one would sound right at home on The Money Mask with its upfront rhythm guitar and punchy chorus (I definitely would have chosen it over “Giving It To You” or “The Judge”). Vance also shines with a surprisingly smooth sounding vocal performance. Quite the classy piece, “In Your Face” will be stuck in your head in no time.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Disc One): "The Money Mask" (3:20), "Mercenaries Of Injustice" (4:08), "More Than Conquerors" (3:58), "Looking Out For You" (5:42), "The Ship Of Changes" (5:23), "(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland" (3:45), "Nightlight" (5:44), "Giving It To You" (4:23), "The Judge" (4:50), "We’re Outa’ Here" (3:59)
Track Listing (Disc Two): "Looking Out For You" (4:55), "We’re Outa’ Here" (3:46), "More Than Conquerors" (3:50), “Nightlight” (5:07), “Money Mask” (3:28), “Ship Of Changes” (4:42), "More Than Conquerors" (3:46), "We’re Outa’ Here" (4:16), “Money Mask” (3:14), “Nightlight” (5:18), “Get In Line” (5:02), “In Your Face” (4:40), “Blazing Wasteland” (3:43)
Mike Vance – Vocals
Robby Lee, Charlie Phillips & Phil Zeo – Guitars
Dan Wilkinson – Bass
Mark Miley & Joe Hasselvander - Drums
Janusz Smulski & Lamont Coward - Keyboards
Also Reviewed: Various Artists - East Coast Metal
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"Metal News." White Throne 6 (1990): 2.
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"White Metal News." White Throne 5 (1989): 3.