If famed musicologist Alan Lomax were reincarnated as an ’80s metal aficionado, he might compile a release of field recordings like Lehigh Valley Rocks! The Best of 1984-1994. This two-disc compilation captures in loving detail the sounds of 27 bands from an almost forgotten frontier of the spandex nation.
Is it really any surprise that Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley–a blue-collar region long synonymous with steel production–birthed a raucous cast of independent heavy metal and hard rock groups throughout the ’80s and early ’90s? While nearby Philadelphia spawned gold and platinum acts like Britny Fox and Cinderella, this neglected corner of the Keystone State gave rise to “could’ve beens” such as Shok Graffiti, Sweet Tequila and Vicious Barreka.
Disc one offers a parade of bands that might have easily enjoyed airplay and MTV support in their era. From the saccharine strains of Omynus’ “Don’t Ever Say Goodbye” to the lusty bravado of Teeze’s “Party Hardy,” Lehigh Valley Rocks! shows that unsigned hair metal is just as good (or bad, depending on your perspective) as the corporate stuff. Elsewhere, Sweet Tequila take a salty romp through Black Crowes-inspired territory on “I Won’t Be Cryin'” and Idle Threats blend a galloping sound reminiscent of early QueensrÃ¿che with pop-friendly hooks on “Find a Way.” Washed’s epic and nuanced “Guilty,” meanwhile, treads experimental territory and proves that you don’t have to be Ravi Shankar to rock a sitar.
Disc two digs even deeper into the underground to spotlight the Lehigh Valley scene’s heavier side. Groups like Vicious Barreka and Leviathen unleash the primitive ferocity of thrash metal, while Atom West is a crossover act in the vein of D.R.I. or early Corrosion of Conformity. A welcome moment of demented comic relief comes in the form of Vic Missy’s “Terror/Cartoon Lady.” The tune’s disjointed song structure and menacing soundscapes evoke the creepiness of Mike Patton’s Mr. Bungle project.
The compilation’s carefully researched liner notes–featuring brief band bios/lineups, songwriting/publishing credits and the bands’ current websites or MySpace pages–also deserve kudos. Lomax would be proud.
By Theodore Thimou