Review Summary: An essential metal release that stands up to any of the multi-platinum juggernauts released in 1991.
In the early 90’s, as the tuned down sludge emanating from Seattle was effectively laying waste to Glam metal, a cavalcade of desperate hair metal warriors scrambled to re-invent their sound, releasing “departure albums” that either tried to be grunge or a feeble attempt at real metal. The “new” glam sound ranged from the embarrassingly bad: Def Leppard’s “Slang” and Poison’s “Native Tongue,” to merely below average: Winger’s “Pull,” and Warrant’s “Dog Eat Dog.” Motley Crue’s reinvention with the John Corabi experiment can probably be considered a notch above, but a description above “average” would be a strong reach.
At their inception, Skid Row took a different path than their brethren. They came on to the scene late, only two years before the executioners named Staley, Cobain, and Vedder came calling. They were from New Jersey, not the Sunset Strip, and while their debut album was bristling with over the top hair metal stereotypes, it had a tougher edge, and laid the foundation for what was about to come. The sound was glam for sure, but it was dirtier, largely thanks to the effective macho posturing of frontman Sebastian Bach and the underlying sleaze embodied by guitarists Scotti Hill and Dave “The Snake” Sabo, and bassist Rachel Bolan. They wrote soaring ballads, laid down chart topping formulaic rock hits, and still tried really hard to get chicks. The only difference is they did it with attitude, not Ferraris and blow.
Skid Row had several advantages over their glam counterparts. The singer, aside from being a recalcitrant and utterly obnoxious diva, was legit, arguably one of the greatest hard rock vocalists of the last 25 years (talent wise anyway). This album was released in 1991, the same year as Metallica’s Black and the “Use Your Illusion” projects. Metal was still alive, and it was shown as “Slave to the Grind” became the first metal album to enter the Billboard Charts at #1.
It’s hard to say whether “Slave To The Grind” was created specifically to disassociate from Glam Metal or if these guys were simply “metal” at heart and wanted to show it. Regardless of the motivation, this album is one rollicking, ass kicking, chest thumping, boisterous metal masterpiece. Filled with over-the top screams, “all dudes together” chorus chants, a deliciously groove saturated bottom end, and ferocious guitar playing, “Slave to the Grind” delivers a fervent intensity that makes every other glam band’s attempt to sound legit seem laughable.
Unlike their debut, there are no songs about Sweet Little Sisters, Big Racks (Guns), Rattlesnake Shakes, or tender love ballads. There are ballads, but they are about drugs, abandonment, and being completely f*cking lost, not about taking long walks on the beach with a high school flame. The heavier tracks are bristling with thick and quick riffs, complimented nicely by a much improved rhythm section. The lyrical content is an ode to the dregs of society, the junkies, pimps, prisoners, and punks. In order to match the lyrical content and musical style, Bach spends a large portion of the album trying to sound as tough and macho as humanly possible, and for the most part it works deliciously. He ranges from ear shattering screams to low register growls, and finishes the package with amazingly stark clean vocals on the ballads. As was often intended in the glam metal genre, the vocalist was supposed to be the centerpiece, complimenting the vapid power chord pondering of the CC Deville’s of the world. Bach is the rare genre frontman that steals the show for legitimate reasons, and combined with the superior musicianship of the band, the finished package unquestionably delivers.
The opener, “Monkey Business,” is one of those songs that you put on to purposely kick the ass of the person next to you. Opening with a foreboding and bluesy acoustic lick, the track explodes with a face melting scream from Back set atop one of the grandest riffs you will ever hear. Combined with rapid fire vocals and a huge chorus, “Monkey Business,” to use a famously bad pun, means serious business. Simply put, it’s one of the best metal songs of the 90’s and a perfect way to set the tone for the record. Wasting no time, “Monkey Business” bolts directly into the title track, which carries a thrash-like riff and an impossibly good groove, topped off yet again by a huge “dude chant” chorus. “The Threat” does little to slow down the pace, and finishes off one of the strongest opening quarters to an album in recent memory.
Scattered throughout the album are three strong ballads that add a nice change of pace instead of being merely obligatory throw ins to sell records. “In a Darkened Room,” “Quicksand Jesus,” and “Wasted Time” are all ominous and gorgeous at the same time. The former is the closest comparison to a quintessential power ballad, the middle is the most pleading, and the latter is the final piece to the record, chronicling a perilous downfall from drug use. All three combine strong melodies with soaring vocals, and “Wasted Time” is especially one of Bach’s strongest efforts, delivering the line “I see you scream in agony, but the horse stampedes and rages in the name of desperation” in a totally convincing and heartfelt manner.
The rest of the album is chalk full of hard charging juggernauts with very little filler or weaknesses. “Riot Act” is a blistering punk-like anthem that serves up a wallop of ass-kickery courtesy of a furious pace and enormous chorus. “Mudkicker” is pure sludge, showcasing an infectious funk-like riff and some of Bach’s more guttural vocals. “Living on a Chain Gang” begins with furious screaming by Bach complimented by the classic formula of a start-stop riff, before melding into much higher speeds and you guessed it, a huge chorus. “Creepshow” “Psycho Love,” and “Get The *** Out,” or “Beggars Day,” depending on which version you own, are probably the weakest tracks offered, although they can still be considered average at worst.
Much like their glam metal brethren, Skid Row suffered a fast fall from grace, and to be fair, they themselves tried to go grunge three years later with “Subhuman Race.” Despite this, they are one of the few bands from the genre to release a masterpiece, let alone one that brought a stark departure of style with it. “Slave To The Grind” is a perfect melding of strong riffs and grooves, and a wild diva-like frontman that made monumental boasts but delivered the goods with little effort. This is an album to listen to before a fight, while driving, and when releasing aggression. There is very little to complain about, every track is solid, and it sounds as fresh today as it did 18 years ago. 1991 was a monumental year in the music industry, and "Slave to The Grind" holds up against any of the blockbuster juggernauts released that year.