Review Summary: Vinnie Moore's Shrapnel Records debut, and an impressive album - until it runs out of steam.
Formed in 1979 by guitarist Geoff Thorpe, Vicious Rumors were a mainstay of the San Francisco Bay Area metal scene for years, sharing stages with the likes of Exodus, Metallica and Slayer – an experience which doubtlessly influenced their sound. Soon enough, Vicious Rumors broke away from the rest of the pack in terms of musical direction and picked up a record contract with then-fledgling shredder outfit Shrapnel Records. Through this connection, the band acquired the services of singer Gary St. Pierre, who had performed on another Shrapnel release: Hawaii’s One Nation Underground
, featuring future Megadeth superstar and guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman. The Shrapnel connection also brought the final piece of the puzzle, in up-and-coming shredder Vinnie Moore – one of the first disciples of Yngwie Malmsteen to pop up in the post-Rising Force era.
With the line-up solidified and the United States power metal scene having been inaugurated by the release of Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction
the previous year, Vicious Rumors released Soldiers of the Night
on the 25th of May, 1985. Aside from being a successful underground release which retains a cult following to this day (as many Shrapnel releases do), it was also an accomplished debut from a skilled, experienced band which had clearly honed their sound over the course of the six years preceding this album’s release.
Words need not be minced: half of this album is easily flawless. Opening instrumental “Premonition” isn’t just a one-minute technical tour de force, it also serves as a great primer for what’s to come, and displays Moore’s greatest strength in his amazing restraint – he may be a lightning-quick shredder, but every note he plays contributes itself to the music. Introduced by the sound of revving motorcycles, the full band takes its first swing with the near warp-speed “Ride (Into the Sun)” and hits it right out of the park. Vocalist St. Pierre lights a fire under the band’s collective arses with a shrieked delivery that could make even the most unforgiving listener forget about his transgressions on One Nation Underground
, and the band responds amply to his call to arms, with drummer Larry Howe particularly notable for his powerhouse performance behind the kit.
“Medusa” manages to be almost as good, making heavy use of another Vicious Rumors trademark in its shouted gang choruses (think Anthrax with less hardcore influence), which are peppered here and there. The first high point of the album, however, comes with the epic, anthemic march of the title track, which boasts powerful, irresistible galloped riffs, and generously heaps on the call-and-response gang choruses. As per usual for Moore, the lead work is dazzling, but never intrusive. The album makes its first stumble in the unremarkable “Murder”, which unashamedly rips off two Iron Maiden songs simultaneously – “Invaders” for its gang chorus, and “Run to the Hills” for its lyric. Fortunately, the first side of the album closes on another high point with the mega-powerful “March or Die”, which features memorable, sombre lead work courtesy of Moore, almost making the song come across as a lament about the futility of war.
Side two opens with the rampaging, careening double-bass onslaught of “Blitz the World”, and doesn’t let up in intensity one bit: St. Pierre cranks the delivery up a notch, adding even more malice to his shriek, while Thorpe provides freewheeling riffs and Moore checks in with another solo which is sure to inspire many guitarists to either play better or stop completely. This also happens to be exactly what the following “Invader” is: an unaccompanied Moore solo, containing equal nods to Van Halen’s “Eruption” and just about any Malmsteen piece you can think of.
Unfortunately, the album may as well have ended here, for it spectacularly runs out of steam for the final three cuts. “In Fire” sees St. Pierre and the band reliving the worst moments from the absolutely hysterical One Nation Underground
, and with Moore able to match Friedman’s ability, it’s easy to believe. “Domestic Bliss” is an embarrassing attempt at a semi-ballad, and again the biggest gripe is St. Pierre’s delivery – he just doesn’t have the subtlety required for such a piece. Closing number “Blistering Winds” is better than either of the two, in that much like the aforementioned “Murder”, it’s merely unremarkable, but that is its only crime. Aside from the lack of closing power, there’s scant reason to complain; the production job, if typically 1980s in its reverb-drenched vocal, is pleasant, punchy and clear. The liner notes are worth a giggle, too, listing the solos by guitarist, and giving the game away: Thorpe is indeed a competent lead player.
Vinnie Moore and Gary St. Pierre parted ways with Vicious Rumors immediately after the album’s release, with the former citing musical differences and his beckoning solo career with Shrapnel. They were replaced by Mark McGee and Carl Albert, respectively, for their next effort, 1988’s much-acclaimed Digital Dictator
. This line-up would last until Albert’s untimely death in 1995. Soldiers of the Night
remains a worthy debut, though, and should be of equal interest to fans of power metal and shred guitar. It also remains out of print, so hunt around.