Review Summary: Young album by an inexperienced band that still manages to rock hard.
1983, Steeler needed a lead guitar player to add to their debut self titled album. Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records convinced a young Yngwie J. Malmsteen to come and play on the record. According to Yngwie, he found the group "banal" and states that he only wanted to be on some U.S. vinyl. The lineup was now complete. Ron Keel, Mark Edwards, Yngwie, and the Fox recorded a strong debut record. At times it is unremarkable, but it ultimately satisfies thanks to some virtuoso solos by Malmsteen, some catchy tunes, and Ron Keel's banshee wail.
Steeler was recorded on a shoe string budget and the sound of the album is predictably rough. It has a very thin sound overall. The drums sound like Mark is banging on some cardboard boxes too close to the mic. There is almost no reverb on any of the instruments or vocals making the sound unpleasantly direct. The bass is pretty quiet throughout the whole thing, but Rik Fox doesn't play anything too interesting on the LP anyway. Ron Keel occasionally slips out of key and talk sings a few tunes. This makes the vocals another rough point. The guitars sound very odd. They're thin and a bit over-saturated on the tape, but there's something else about them I can't put my finger on.
As far as musicianship goes, Yngwie is really the only highlight here. The drums are pretty basic, as are the bass-lines. Keel is good on rhythm guitar, but his vocals are a bit disappointing. I listened to his later band Keel before hearing this album, and when I went back to this I was slightly disappointed. Ron is screaming his balls off on albums like "The Final Frontier" and "Lay Down the Law", but on here he stays in a rather middle of the road vocal octave, and only goes up there occasionally. When he does make it up to his ridiculous wail, it's not as confident or as long. Malmsteen really is carrying the band from a technical standpoint.
The songs themselves run together. They are all generic early '80s rockers with quasi-catchy choruses and the typical lyrics with a center point on sex, and punks in the streets. A lot of people including myself eat this s**t for breakfast, and these songs are up to par with other acts of the day that made it big, Ratt, Quiet Riot, etc. These guys were slightly heavier than those bands thanks to the low recording budget and Yngwie Malmsteen on lead guitars. The solos in these songs definitely set these guys a step above pedestrian level. His inhuman speed and classical tinge makes for some sublime guitar features. The three and a half minute solo intro to "Hot On Your Heels" starts with classical inspired acoustic lines and swiftly builds up to that god like pace that the man is known for. The rest of the song is a fast paced catchy rocker with some very aggressive vocals by Keel, and the most excited Mark Edwards becomes on the record. The performances are inspired and full of youthful energy. Ron Keel has a record of going way over-the-top, and his first appearance on a full length LP doesn't refute that statement. Yngwie shreds of course, and the rhythm section sound like they're having fun playing the basics.
Only one song is not the standard fast paced rocker, and that is the excellent ballad, "Serenade". Textured with melodic acoustic in the background, and some heartfelt singing by Ron Keel, this ballad comes across as sincere. With some better production and a bit of editing, this song probably could have been a hit. The first solo is not one of Malmsteen's flashiest, but it is very melodic and touching. The second solo is pretty flashy, and helps put the "power" in power ballad. The song slowly fades out with Yngwie doing his thing, blowing the minds of the few that actually bought this independent release in the process.
Overall the release is a bit generic, but is still a pretty good and catchy early '80s metal record that certainly had more metal bite than the scene leaders of the time. Though both Ron Keel and Malmsteen would make better records, this is a very good introduction to both of their lines of work, and is essential to anyone infatuated with speed/neo-classical guitar.