“I’m screaming with pleasure, you’re screaming with pain” - Nitro, ‘Fighting Mad’
I’m not sure who invented the derisive term “hair metal” or when. Certainly not at the time the style was prevalent. I mean, they all had hair, it would have been redundant. And nobody was ashamed of their flowing locks back then, not even me. You could’ve just as easily called it “Wrestling shoes metal” or “Microphone Spinning Metal” or “Songs about 17 year old girls metal”, because all that shit was happening just as often. So everybody had long hair, big deal. Whoever came up with “hair metal” is a dick, if you ask me. And the term is really only relevant for two bands: Madame X (more on them later) and Nitro. There is no getting around it, Nitro was a hair band, 100%. In fact, they had the biggest hair of any metal band ever. On purpose. Don’t bother searching, you will never find a metal band with bigger hair. It’s like trying to find a heavier group than Black Sabbath before they released their first record. It’s fruitless. And in the world of 80’s metal, that would probably have been enough to sell half a million records. But that’s not all Nitro had. Nitro also had double-necked guitars, and the most over-the-top shredder since Yngwie J wielding them. They also had a singer with a four-octave range who could break wine glasses by screaming at them, and they wore so much make-up they barreled right across androgynous and straight into full-on ladyboy territory. And they were as much an accidental power metal band as they were flash metal. They had so much going on at once that confetti poured out of your speakers when you played their records. If Spinal Tap’s amps went to 11, Nitro’s went to 23, easy.
Nitro formed soon after singer Jim Gillette left Arizona glamsters Tuff. Tuff sounded exactly like you think they did. Nitro was basically Tuff with a mad scientist on guitars (Michael Angelo Batio) and a penchant for taking things completely over the top. They released their self-produced debut, O.F.R. (Out-Fucking-Rageous), in 1989. And surely it was. There is really no way to adequately prepare you for hearing O.F.R. for the first time. It’s the sonic equivalent of being thrown, headfirst, out of a three-story window. Reports are conflicting, but Jim Gillette was either living in an alley or with porn star Ron Jeremy when writing this record. Both seem equally plausible. It opens with Freight Train, Nitro’s stab at a single. It’s the least “single” sounding song you’ll ever hear. It’s just Gillette screaming “I’m a freight train!” at some alarming, helium-sucking upper-register while Batio lets his fingers fly through half a dozen solos in three minutes. It sounds like the work of crazy people. And that’s just the opener. It gets weirder. Long Way From Home is the least sincere ballad ever written, I mean comically artificial. Machine Gunn Eddie’s first minute is just one sustained screech, and then it turns into a pseudo-black metal dirge. Bring It Down sounds like Mercyful Fate being chased down and run over by a Mack Truck. Shot Heard Round the World sounds like The Sweet with traumatic brain injuries. Basically every second of this record is amazing. Not always “good” amazing, but amazing nonetheless. And after it’s over you feel like you just survived a murder attempt. Nobody could really handle it in 1989. They’d be even less likely to handle it now. It’s too heavy in every way possible.
Like every overly-optimistic glam metal band that joined the party way too late, Nitro released a follow-up album in 1991, the same year as Nevermind, Gish, Ten, Loveless, and Bandwagonesque. I mean Jesus, can you imagine? So that was that, basically. The end. Let’s not weep for our hairsprayed heroes, however. Michael Angelo Batio went on to teach a whole new generation how to shred via instructional DVDs and tours the world showing off his loony four-necked guitars. Jim Gillette married Lita Ford and she went on and on in interviews for years about their crazed sex life, so that dude did just fine. Better than most. Dunno what’s up with the rest of the guys, but how bad is life ever going to get when your name is KC Comet? I’m sure they’re all ok. Still, every once in awhile I wonder if we blew it by not supporting Nitro when they needed us most. Looking back at O.F.R., it almost seems like a gateway to a far-out new dimension of excess, profanity and cosmic barbarism that we never bothered to explore. It’s like Jim Gillette gave us a glimpse of the pleasures and terrors of Grope Mountain and we were just too scared to climb it. And so we got the fucking Smashing Pumpkins instead. Shame on us, man. Shame on us.
Next: DAD are famous (or maybe I just dreamed they were).