Some say tribute albums are unnecessary. I disagree. To be sure, *some* tribute albums are an ill-conceived, superfluous waste of time. But when the album is designed to pay tribute to the right band, and the right artists participate, and the right song choices are made, and the right performances are captured, the result can be nothing less than magical. Such is the case with Pounding Metal: A Tribute to Exciter, out now on Skol Records. Canadian speed-metal trio Exciter richly deserve a tribute album. Their first three albums (and, I would argue, even their fourth, Unveiling the Wicked, notwithstanding the stylistic and personnel changes) are all bona fide classics of the genre, chock full of amazing songs that influenced countless bands during the intervening 30+ years. The tracklisting reads like a veritable “who’s who” of underground traditional/true heavy metal luminaries, featuring 12 mostly newer bands (with notable exceptions like Attacker and October 31) hailing from eight countries, all paying tribute to the original heavy metal maniacs themselves by covering songs off the first three Exciter records. (Okay, technically, Vulture’s pick, “Feel the Knife,” was the title track of a separate EP, and Ironsword’s “Death Revenge” was written during that time period but released only on a Megaforce compilation album.) Exciter’s influence on the contributing artists is open and obvious, a fact to which they each attest in the heartfelt liner notes / testimonials accompanying each track.
The most beautiful thing about Pounding Metal is that each band brought its A-game and absolutely hit the ball out of the park. This is the kind of rare tribute album that you listen to, and as each song ends you say to yourself, “Wow, that cover version is the best one on the album.” And then the next song starts and the cycle repeats itself. The bands all deserve praise for maintaining their own sound and style, and fitting their chosen Exciter song into their own characteristic sonic parameters. Of course, for some of the bands (Ranger, Vulture, Evil Invaders) the Exciter influence is so pervasive that they really don’t have to change anything. But then Masters of Disguise delivers a regal rendition of “Black Witch” with a clean, masterful vocal from Alexx Stahl taking the song to previously unseen emotional heights. Crystal Viper works up a polished, powerful, precise take on “Long Live the Loud,” and Visigoth brings epic metal choirs to “Rising of the Dead.” On the other end of the spectrum, Savage Master goes for the jugular with a raw, reckless, rip-roaring run through “Saxons of the Fire,” Stacey Savage shrieking like a woman possessed and the band hammering away like the devil’s henchmen. Wow! October 31’s version of “Stand Up and Fight” is the sonic equivalent of a bulldozer crashing into your living room. Then there’s Attacker’s “Cry of the Banshee,” my all-time favorite Exciter song played just like it was an Attacker original, with pummeling energy for miles. There’s not a single errant step or misfire throughout the 12-song, 48-minute duration of this album. Every band does a terrific job. Every song kills. I can’t imagine a better, more fitting tribute to the legacy wrought by Dan Beehler, John Ricci and Allan Johnson.
Two more observations are appropriate in closing. First, producer / label boss Bart Gabriel deserves a hearty “attaboy” for bringing this Exciter tribute album to fruition. This project was his brainchild, and he handpicked the contributing artists, just as he has for past Skol Records tribute albums honoring Riot and Anvil. It’s no secret that Gabriel doesn’t make money on these tribute album endeavors; to the contrary, he ends up in the red each time. Gabriel does it purely for love of the game, which is the best reason to do anything in my book. I’m thankful to have this killer collection on my shelf, and it wouldn’t exist but for Bart’s dedication to the cause. Second, it speaks volumes about how ridiculously good Exciter’s early catalog is to realize that there are enough stellar songs off the glorious trinity of Heavy Metal Maniac, Violence and Force, and Long Live the Loud that one could compile another awesome Exciter tribute album consisting of the unused leftovers (“Pounding Metal,” “Under Attack,” “Scream in the Night,” “Iron Dogs,” “Sudden Impact,” “Heavy Metal Maniac,” “I am the Beast,” etc.) from this one. And that’s not even counting the overlooked, underrated Unveiling the Wicked record. All hail Exciter, the true kings of Canadian speed!!!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~