“The longboat force is back again, to take on all the world!” - Seven Seas
I dunno, I remember these dudes doing flips. In my head, they were Vikings who played in front of a longboat wearing loincloths and did somersaults and shit. But the flipping was probably Killer Dwarfs or Nasty Savage, and I’m pretty sure now that the loincloths were Manowar or Carnivore. I don’t think these guys did a lot more than wear tight pants and shake their hair around. TNT were a lot better in my mind. But what the hell, they did have a boat (at least for one video) and we’re here already, so we might as well tell their tawdry tale.
Let’s give ‘em this much: long before Turbonegro’s denim demonology or the church burning, skull-stabbing antics of Mayhem and Burzum, TNT were pretty much the first gang of Norwegians to bring Scandinavian rock to the Man. Prior to that, what did people even equate Norway with? Vikings. That’s it. TNT were hip to that. They knew it was a good gimmick, so Knights was peppered with songs about sailing the high seas and beating their enemy’s heads in with axes and hammers. In fact, they had already released a debut album in their Norwegian tongue in 1982 and that whole thing was pretty much barbaric biker metal dosed with a healthy amount of bloodlust.
But even that record had a song called USA (re-recorded for Knights) about how they wanted to ‘make it’ over here, and that meant significantly watering down their sound to mollify western ears. By the time Knights was released in 1984, they had already (ran)sacked their original singer, and got one of those screechy, spandex-sporting Yanks (Tony Harnell, ex-Jackal – the NY band, not the chainsaw wielding loons) to really Americanise their sound. Knights, in fact, was a collection of earlier TNT songs, revamped and re-recorded with English lyrics, so that they slipped, pretty effortlessly, into the mid-80’s Glamerican metal mainstream.
Knights opens with the Norse battlecry Seven Seas, which cleverly (or tragically, depends on your tastes) mixes two classic 80’s metal genres – overwrought flash metal and even more overwrought melodic metal – into one big ball of glass-shattering screeches and Maiden-meets Halen shred n’ chug. TNT sound, in essence, like either a more manly Europe or like Stryper, if Stryper liked sailing the ocean pillaging shit, and Seven Seas is pretty much the ultimate TNT track. They never really had to record anything else. But, you know, they sure as hell did.
Every other song on Knights is some variation of the sound established on Seas - stuff like the signature ‘tasty’ metal lick, part DIO-era Sabbath, part latter day Thin Lizzy, so over-produced that it sounds like Ronni Le Tekro is playing it atop a windy, magic mountain; the crazed soprano yelping of Harnell, the Viking grunt-along background vocals, and about 17 minutes worth of flashy solos crammed into 254 seconds. OK, so Tekro’s three-handed riff-offs are pretty masterful, but I tell ya, this doesn’t sound like the American party metal they were hoping for. Sex and sleaze and bad fun all packed their bags and headed for the hills once the acoustic trills of instrumental Klassick Romance kicked in, and you are about 1,000 times more likely to die alone if you ever even thought of turning down the lights and playing the truly wretched melodi-metal ballad Without Your Love for any self-respecting 80’s metal ice queen.
Knights’ flip fares a little better, as both Break the Ice and USA are energetic, punchy arena-flash rockers, kinda like Yngwie-era Steeler. Eddie is about a neighborhood teen-creep stabbing people’s pets, so that’s kinda cool, even if the music is a godawful mix between Iron Maiden and AOR-era Uriah Heep. Deadly Metal is as stupid as it sounds, but at least features some super-shred from an amped-up Tekro. Title closer Knights of the New Thunder tosses a weird haunted house synth line over heavy riffs and ends up sounding just like Armored Saint with the Abominable Doctor Phibes on keyboards. And then it’s over, except for the expected canned explosion. Not the worst 80’s metal record you’ll ever hear, but certainly nothing to, uh, flip over, either. With it’s nails-on-chalkboard vocals and Spanish guitar bullshit and phony-baloney ballads, TNT’s New Thunder dates itself into Old-Timey Thunder before the title track is even over. I mean, if you ask me. Lots of people think this album is TNT’s finest hour.
While Knights established TNT in the US, it wasn’t until their follow-up, 1987’s Tell No Tales that Invasion:USA actually worked, at least on a small scale, as TNT did manage to garner some heavy MTV rotation time with two singles from that album (10,000 Lovers, Everyone’s A Star), and toured the US with both Jap-metal kamikazes Loudness and Hollywood Jesus-boosters Stryper. Still, their neo-classical, melodic-power puff stuff failed to keep the hearts and crotches of the flash metal kids aflame, and by ’88, TNT were no longer a factor in American metal. Not that they cared all that much, as TNT continued to thrive in Europe, as they do right now. Their albums usually chart in Norway and they still fill big rooms in Europe and Scandinavia. Which ain’t bad for a band that peaked when pink Flying Vees were still acceptable. Still, maybe they would’ve made a bigger impact with loincloths and somersaults. I know I would’ve liked them better.
Next: You didn’t really ‘axe’ for it, but you got it: The Mentors