ANVIL/WHITE WIZZARD/MIDNITE HELLION/AIRACOBRA/BON SCROPION
July 29, 2022
The Crucible, Madison, WI
By Dr. Abner Mality
Brian, BON SCROPION
Time to head up north for some true heavy metal. And it doesn’t get much truer than Canada’s ANVIL, who have been treading the boards for 45 years straight now! My main mission was to grab an interview with Lips from ANVIL in person. Glad to say my mission was accomplished and you can read the result HERE at Wormwood.
Before delving into this evening of steel, I want to give a shout out to the Brothers 3 restaurant, just a block up the road from the Crucible Club. With this being a Friday night in Wisconsin, what else could I do but indulge in a genuine fish fry? Man, this place does it right. A great meal, a cute waitress, a cold beer and perfect weather during an open air dinner put this ghoulish gourmet in a proper frame of mind. I highly recommend this joint!
After greeting the No Fun Shogun and promoter extraordinaire Randy K, I settled in for a night of metal. Things got underway pretty darn early with local Madison band BON SCROPION. This was my first time checking out this strangely named outfit, who favored a very classical sound much in the vein of the NWOBHM and American power metal of the 80’s. Lots of galloping tempos and twin guitar harmony solos with thunderous drumming was their stock in trade and for the kind of metal fan who appreciates ANVIL, they were a good pick to start things off. One thing I think might benefit the band is a frontman handling singing duties. It would give them more of a visual edge live and allow guitarist/vocalist Brian to concentrate on guitar. Pretty good opening set and fortunately, they did not sound like a cross between BON JOVI and THE SCORPIONS!
I really can’t give much of a rundown of second band AIRACOBRA, as I was summoned to the back to interview Lips and missed half of their set. Once I made my way back to the concert area, I tried to make sense of what these guys were. It looked like they were doing some kind of half assed black metal look with poor makeup and leather gear, but they moved around more like a glam band. The guitarist with the Marine haircut, giant spikes on his shoulders and black eye makeup frankly looked goofy as hell. Musically, they seemed to be playing some high energy metal with a hard rock influence. I can’t really give a fair assessment of their set since I caught only half of it, but the visual part of it was utterly confused.
Next up was MIDNITE HELLION, a name I was familiar with, but whose music I never had an opportunity to check out. A three piece from New Jersey, these guys were in the “sweet spot” of the lineup, the middle of the 5 band bill. That’s a good place to be, as the first and last band tend to play to thinner crowds and that’s exactly what happened tonight. These guys won the crowd over with a lot of sweat and hard work. They exist at the crossroads of high energy 70’s hard rock and the power and melody of the NWOBHM. The hooks in many of their songs reminded me of stuff like MONTROSE and if you are really into obscure 70’s bands, HIGHWAY ROBBERY. Like rock n roll on steroids. But they had their more flat out metal moments as well, with plenty of PRIEST-ish overtones. These guys worked their ass off and the room really responded to them. I didn’t catch all the song titles, but “Cross The Line” and “Speed Demon” were two for sure. Madison sure liked what they heard. I will sure keep an eye and ear out for further product from MIDNITE HELLION.
It was many years ago when I first heard the name of WHITE WIZZARD. At one time, they were heavily pushed as the saviors of melodic metal in the US. To be honest, I didn’t think they were still around. Well, tonight put that silly idea to bed. These guys ruled and in my opinion, delivered the set of the night. The amazing thing about it? I didn’t see a bass player with them! They were down to a three piece. Now Jon Leon the bass player had been the one constant throughout their history. I don’t know if he was out with Covid or what, but WHITE WIZZARD was a three-piece tonight and that didn’t bode particularly well.
The strange thing was, a bass sound was still detectable throughout the set. Was it all taped? Doesn’t seem possible, but it was there for sure. That put a lot of pressure on guitarist Will Wallner in particular, but he rose to the challenge magnificently and put on a sizzling display of old school metal guitar pyrotechnics anyway. I detected just a couple of minor timing issues, but wow, the whole band...such as it was...came through big time. As good as Wallner and powerhouse drummer Devin Lebsack were, the real jaw-dropping performance came from singer Mikey Dean.
Mikey Dean, WHITE WIZZARD
In front of a crowd of about 60 people or so, Dean put on one of the 5 best vocal performances I have ever seen from a metal singer. Seriously. If Halford quit PRIEST tomorrow, this guy could fill in, no problem. He had an incredible piercing voice that could unleash air raid siren level screams and also do very clear, melodic tones. Very much like Ripper Owens or Ralf Scheepers...he could stand toe to toe with those guys. When Lips from ANVIL came out next, there was frankly no comparison...Dean is that good. As for WHITE WIZZARD, I don’t know what was up with the bass situation, but the three guys on stage played like their life depended on it and delivered a great set full of up-tempo, classic metal songs. In this day and age, I know it’s a forlorn hope, but I really hope someone gets behind this band and gives them at least a little daylight, a little bit of a reward for this kind of quality.
Ending the night’s festivities were the Canadian destroyers ANVIL. This was my second time checking the band out. After 45 years of road dogging it, these guys have got their show down to a science. Sometimes perhaps too much so. I saw them a few years back at one of the NYDM Spring Bashes and just like back then, the gig started with Lips going into the crowd and playing the instrumental “March of the Crabs”. It’s a great and cool way to start a show and yielded some neat pics as well. He then jumped back on stage and dived into “666”.
LIPS laying it down!
If you take out the new songs from the latest album “Impact Is Imminent”, ANVIL in fact played pretty much the exact same set that I saw at the Bash. Even Lips’ monologue where he talks about doing speed with Lemmy from MOTÖRHEAD was almost the same word for word. We got a barrage of straight up metal rockers like “Ooh Baby”, “Badass Rock N Roll”, “Winged Assassins” and perhaps my favorite, the epic “Free As The Wind”. They tossed in some slower, more grinding numbers like “Bitch In the Box” and “This Is Thirteen” as well.
From the new album, we got the chunky “Take A Lesson” and the fast and furious “Ghost Shadow”. The band was always on point and never missed a note, but I got the feeling the setlist is so set in stone that almost all spontaneity is lost. That’s especially true of the final surge of tracks...”Mothra” (probably the best giant monster metal song after BLUE OYSTER CULT’s “Godzilla), the instrumental “Swing Time” with solo spots for bassist Chris Robertson and drummer Robb Reiner (whose thunderous drum skill is untouched by time), and, inevitably, the lumbering crunch of “Metal on Metal”. Well, a riot would probably break out if the band left out of any of these tracks, so go with what you know!
With ANVIL you know you are going to see a balls-out heavy metal show by professionals who have devoted their life to the craft. That’s what we saw in Madison tonight. But honesty compels me to state that the night really belonged to Mikey Dean and WHITE WIZZARD.
Mikey, WHITE WIZZARD
Chris and Robb, ANVIL