“When I was born/They threw me outside” - Code of Honour
Committing Flash Metal Suicide in the US in 1987 was easy, man. Everybody was doing it. Biting the spandex bullet in Holland, tho? That took pros. That took the high-flying party metal Dutchmen known collectively as Vengeance. I know, you don’t remember Vengeance. Despite being on Columbia records in the US and having a would-be single, the amazingly titled Rock N’ Roll Shower force-fed to stateside rock radio, folks ‘round these parts just couldn’t cotton to Vengeance. I dunno why, really, because they were state-of-the-art arena metal. Maybe it was because of their exotic-sounding names. Arjen Lucassen is not a guitar-hero handle. Course, neither was Yngwie Malmsteen, and it worked for him.
Anyway, Vengeance was formed when Lucassen left Accept-like proto-power metal weirdos Bodine and hooked up with afro-ed howler Leon Goewie and a bunch of similarly named cats. They got signed five minutes after their first gig (or so the legend goes) to CBS Holland, which was just as good as the real CBS, only much smaller. They released their first, self-titled record in ’84, and gained a healthy home-bound following. Two years later, they followed it up with the awesomely named We Have Ways of Making You Rock, and although they had yet to break out of Euro-star status, CBSH licensed out the next one, Take it Or Leave It to Columbia, which is the first time you or me (well, ok, just me) ever heard them
The Vengeance sound was heavy, melodic, Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock mixed with pyrotechnic flash metal. It was big. Matter of fact, the production on Take It, by one John Sonneveld, rivals EZO for sheer excess. It’s crazy how loud this record is. Not that it helped all that much. The title track cracks thing open with a whole buncha skittering noises and evil laughter, followed by a propulsive, mountainous flash metal riff, followed by a rousing chorus, dive-bombing guitar solo, and nonsensical cards/sex metaphors (“You name the price, I deal the cards/The winner takes it all/But don’t be surprised if I call the guards”). Killer, really. Code of Honour is more snarly flash, with a rippin’ Skid Row riff and Halford-esque vox, but the first sign of trouble creeps in on the chorus, when they drag in a choir full of kids. I hate when they drag in the fuckin’ kids. It’s got big ol’ skull-crushing drums, though.
Rock and Roll Shower is the highlight, of that there is no doubt. I mean, this has gotta be most ridiculous attempt at a flash metal superhit ever. Dig this — the first line really is “Went to a party on a Saturday night”. Swear to Christ. I think even Lita Ford was joking when she wrote the same line for that “didn’t get laid” song. Not Vengeance, tho. Vengeance mean it, man. “The girls were pretty, but the band wasn’t right”, Leon laments, so he grabs the mic and proceeds to give all the hearty-party people a “Rock and Roll Shower!” They use a Vocoder or whatever you call that Peter Frampton sound, on the chorus. And they cop Lizzy’s Chinatown for the solo. All that’s ok, but what the fuck is a rock n’ roll shower? Have I ever had one? Have you? Crazy Dutchmen.
The rest of side one is pure metal. Well, mostly. Take Me To The Limit is power metal except for the brief flurry of New Model Army-esque fiddles. Whatever. Lots of solos round out the rest. End side one. The flip has half a kick ass track, and it’s a quick descent into suckville from there. Hear Me Out is big, blistering swagger rock which is derailed like a motherfucker by a jazzy, sax-driven interlude. Hanoi Rocks Vengeance most certainly were not. That’s really the crux of the Vengeance situation — they were fantastic players, they had monstrous rock songs, but they were dorks at heart. Cue the obligatory puffball power ballad Women in the World with its lilting acoustic guitars and lines like “I’m begging you, please give me another night”. It kinda turns into a thumping metal song halfway through, but it’s too late by then, man. By then, the lighters are out, and the party is over.
Looks of a Winner is Vengeance’s attempt at full blown pop metal, rife with Van Hagar guitars and pumping keyboards, but it sounds way more like Autograph then Poison or whoever they thought they were aping. Oh, and it’s got phoney crowd noises, too. And a sports announcer. Kinda like Meatloaf, only not as, uh… cool, I guess. Closer Ain’t Gonna Take You Home is blues-y boogie rock, but, ya know, only in theory. Mostly it sounds like the Damn Yankees, another band full of virtuoso-types pretending to be rock. It’s loud, sure, but you can be loud and still sound lily-livered, you know. Even White Lion had loud amps.
Vengeance kept releasing records after Take It, but the only one that ever even got out of Europe was ‘89’s Arabia, and by then they had gone full-on prog metal, which, let’s face it, is what they really were in the first place. It just so happens that they were around when bands had long hair and wrote songs about parties and chicks, and they briefly tried fitting in with the cool kids. For further proof of their inherent geek-factor, 2000’s Wings of an Arrow has a song on it called Football Crazy and a cover of Freddy fucking Fender’s When the Last Teardrop Falls. Oh, and since 1995, Lucassen’s been doing a series of rock operas under the name of Ayreon, where he plays oboes and everything. Which is pretty goddamn far away from We Have Ways of Making You Rock, that’s for sure.
So, then, a Flash Metal Suicide recap:
- Rock and Roll Shower * Fiddles * Fake boogie rock * Children’s choir * Vocoder (or whatever) * This line: “So sad, it makes me mad/I’ve been the saddest man that you’ve ever met” * Sports announcer * Non-Hanoi Rocks saxophone solo * Freddy Fender cover * Rock operas * I think this bears repeating: Rock N’ Roll Shower
Next week: Not So True Sounds of Liberty