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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews


Complete Atco Recordings 1982-2004

Review by Gary Hill

I was never completely sold on 80s metal. To me it was largely not what I consider to be heavy metal. That's as true today as it was then. I include it under metal these days because that's the accepted classification, but I'm not sure how well it fits.

All that said, I was always more impressed by Vandenberg. Their guitarist, Adrian Vandenberg had some real classical and shredder talent that transcended the genre limitations. I know they got labeled as "hair metal," as it was often called, but I think that label only fit so well. This new collection gathers up their first three albums and adds a fourth CD of rarities. It is all put together in a classy clamshell box set. I consider this to be a great set of music.

While guitar is obviously the flag-ship here, you can't ignore the drums. They are far enough up in the mix and interesting enough to really stand out. One of the other trademarks of this set are vocal sections that call to mind the kind of thing Sweet and Queen did. There are other things that lean toward Rush and more. This is a great way to jump start a Vandenberg collection.

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Track by Track Review
CD1: Vandenberg (1982)
Your Love Is In Vain

This powers in meaty and hard-edged. The guitar sound is so cool. It drops to a bit more stripped down section for the entrance of the vocals. This is a powerhouse stomper and a great opener. It has meaty riffs and solid hooks.

Back On My Feet
I really like this a lot. It's perhaps a bit meaner in tone. It definitely feels bulkier in a good way. There is some smoking hot guitar work on this thing.
There is an awesome, neo-classical guitar solo at the start of this track. The cut works out from there to a tune that's part blues rocker, part 80s metal stomper. It has some more solid hooks. This one earns a bit of a parental advisory on the lyrics.
Burning Heart
More of a mainstream hard rock sound is at the core of this. The tune is essentially a power ballad. It has some particularly tasty guitar work. The guitar soloing on this number is passionate and evocative. Yet, it's also quite technical. That's a hard combination to pull off.
Ready For You
More of a mean metal sound is on display here. This is sort of a good marriage of the 80s metal sound and an older, more real steel metal.
Too Late
I dig the fast paced and meaty rocker that is "Too Late." It's another effective powerhouse.
Nothing To Lose
Another meaty hard rocking metal stomper, this has some great hooks.
Lost In A City
The opening of this song has some of the more "real steel" music of this first disc. The cut has more of a mainstream 80s metal vibe for the dropped down verses, but the serious metal emerges here and there, too. The killer guitar solo section rocks like mad.
Out In The Streets
Fast paced drumming that at times almost makes me think of Neil Peart powers this in. As the guitar joins Rush a valid reference for a short time. When it shifts to the song proper this is more mainstream metal. It is actually quite fierce at times.
CD2: Heading For A Storm (1983)


Friday Night

This lands more firmly in the 80s metal sound than the first album did. That said, there is still plenty of meat on these bones.

Welcome To The Club
Things get meatier and rawer here. Yet it still has the tastefully polished angles we expect.
Time Will Tell
Another that's on the more edgy side of things. this rocks really well. It's not a huge change, but rather another particularly effective melodic metal tune in a set with no shortage of such things.
Different Worlds
While at its heart this is a power ballad, that doesn't do it justice. This has so much emotion, drama and magic packed into it. It's a killer tune that is among the best of the whole set. It really transcends its genre and style.
This Is War
Here get another fierce hard rocker with plenty of metal built into it. It's another standout of the whole set. I love the guitar fills on this in particular.
I’m On Fire
I love how this track combines older school metal and the 80s variety. It's a bit more of a straight-ahead rocker.
Heading For A Storm
Another scorching hot metal stomper, I really love this song.
Rock On
As you might gather from the title, this is a more generic rocker. That said, it's Vandenberg, so you have to expect some class and style above the norm, and it delivers.
Waiting For The Night
Classical acoustic guitar work is on the menu as this gets underway. This introductory section gives way to a dramatic hard rocking mode that is so classy. This is another highlight of the set. The guitar solo section on this is impeccable. The song also earns another minor advisory on the lyrics.
CD3: Alibi (1985)
All The Way

The opening section of this is dramatic and intriguing. It has some street sounds that are too far up in the mix, though. After those drop away this works better. This has some killer guitar fills and tasty riffing. It's a powerhouse stomper, if a bit on the generic side.

Pedal To The Metal
Now, this has some killer hooks. It's a screaming hot metal tune that has plenty of both the 80s style and the older one. It's perhaps a bit generic, but it's also so strong.
Once In A Lifetime
Here is another that seems more like a power-ballad. That said, parts of this really make me think of Queen in some ways.
Another meaty 80s metal styled tune, this has a lot of power and style built into it. I really love the multi-layered vocal arrangement on this thing.
Dressed To Kill
The guitar sound on this is mean. The whole song has some real ferocity to it. This is another standout tune.
Fighting Against The World
This song is downright amazing. It has some power metal textures a bit like Manowar. It has some intriguing shifts and turns that have almost proggy changes. It's another standout.
How Long
Here we get another evocative ballad. It does prove itself to be a power ballad as it soars later. It really shows how this band elevate the basics of the genre.
Prelude Mortale
A classical acoustic guitar solo with some serious Spanish elements, this is on fire.
This powers in like a fairly standard 1980s metal tune. That said, as always these guys transcend the formula without stretching it.
An instrumental, this is amazing. It has a lot of proggy changes and concepts built into it, but it's also built on meaty metal. Rush is certainly worth mentioning. This is without question one of the biggest highlights of the disc. It really shows the talent of this band.
CD4: Rarities & Live Tracks (1982-2004)
Back On My Feet (Demo)

Raw and meaty, this doesn't really feel like a demo. It's more like a less polished metal stomper. I'm reminded just a little of Iron Maiden here.

Ready For You (Demo)
High energy and rocking, this is another song that seems to benefit from the rawer texture. Again, this isn't the kind of thing you think of as a demo, but it is less polished than the stuff on the actual albums. The guitar solo is fierce. 
Nothing To Lose (Demo)
More of an 80s metal sound is at the heart of this. It feels just a little more "demo-like," but not to any detrimental degree. It's more just about the mix. Still, this rocker works like crazy.
I’m On Fire (Demo)
I love the killer metal sound on this thing. It's another that really benefits from a rawer mix. Mind you, it's also another that seems like it could have been released on an album, rather some bootleg demo. The guitar solo section features some killer rock and roll jamming.
Out In The Streets (Demo)
Frantic drumming brings this into being. As the guitar joins, I'm definitely reminded of Rush. The cut shifts to more of a mainstream rocker from there. The extensive guitar solo section is on fire.
Out Of Cash (Demo)
A synthesized opening starts this. Then an old-school metal riff joins. The cut fires out from there is another straightforward metal tune.
Help Me Thru The Night (Demo)
The intricate guitar work on this song is so classy. The track is a balladic one. It's packed full of evocative textures, too. This eventually makes its way to more rocking zones before it's over.
Burning Heart (Special Edit)
A variant of the song from the first album, but works well like this, too.
Once In A Lifetime (Special Mix)
And, here we get a variant on a song from Alibi. I'm not so sure this mix works all that well. I'm picking up some serious Michael Bolton vibes at times here.
Burning Heart (Mono Edit)
Another variant, again this isn't a big change, but another effective piece.
Ready For You (Live)
After a classical introduction, the band fire out into some smoking hot metal. There is quite a bit of feedback on this recording.
Lost In A City (Live)
As this fires out it's even meaner and meatier than the previous cut. The guitar soloing at the start is on fire. An extended guitar solo later in the track really soars. The number is a scorcher.
Friday Night (Live In Japan)
This is a killer hard rocking metal tune. It's mainstream and tasty.
Welcome To The Club (Live In Japan)
Another screaming hot live metal tune, the sound is better on this one and the previous tune than it was on the first two live pieces.
Roll Through The Night (Live In the USA)
Feeling a little raw, I'm not sure if this track works as well as some of the rest. Still, it has its charms and does rock like crazy.
Too Late (Live)
Here we get another straight-ahead live stomper. The neo-classical, technical guitar playing is on fire.
Burning Heart (2004 Unplugged)
This song works so well in an unplugged arrangement. The guitar and vocals both have so much emotion and passion in them. Classical strings are a nice touch.
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