Having known Mike Sabbatini for at least six years (Arctic Flame rehearsed in the next room over from Attacker before our rehearsal space was bought, knocked down, and turned into a TD bank) It's surprising for myself that I've only recently gave , much of their material the time it deserves, especially since Attacker have played a large part in New Jersey metal for a long time. In the case of Battle At Helms Deep, however, this is an album I've been listening to for a long time, since way before expecting to ever actually be on a first name basis with Mike. I'm not surprised, however, that it doesn't get a lot of attention since by 1985, most of the focus had shifted in the States away from thrash, a sentiment echoed by bassist Lou Ciarlo (ex-Hades) in the liner notes of this particular version of the release. Metal Blade apparently had few resources to get the band on tours with other appropriate acts and when a chance came to get on a billing with Fates Warning after their debut, lineup changes with guitarist Victor Arduini forced that opportunity to turn south.
So Battle at Helms Deep, a release which contains some classic US Heavy Metal tracks such as "Slayer's Blade" (which I sampled for my radio show promo back when I was on air) and the excellent "Disciple" make this an album which, while perhaps not essential listening for everyone, is an obvious recommendation for anyone exploring that mid 80's era of US power metal. Also worth pointing out is that with the renewed lineup of Attacker, it's definitely worth checking out the back catalog of the band since they may be popping into a local dive near you at any time and, as I've seen the band at least three times so far in the past couple months, their live show is worth seeing especially considering some of their upcoming shows in the area are with Liege Lord and Hellwitch.
I'm listening to the 1999 version of this album released by Sentinel Steel, a New Jersey based label that while never doing much local promotion, has maintained importance internationally as an important distributor. It's a great release and includes tons of additional info on the album including some great pictures in the booklet and it also includes what I expect to be the intended original cover along which is not nearly as awesome as the infamous portrayal of an incredibly frightened Sylvester Stallone versus the three legged roach dragon while Dick Clark looks on from the parapets. Also, Attacker at one point were also called, for at least one show, Allacker. What I found also really fascinating is that just like Dave Reynolds of Metal Forces also thought that the demo tracks of the three classic tracks off Helms Deep were better than the album versions due to having a bit more grit.
I don't think it is apparent on a track like "(Call On) The Attacker," but it's definitely noticeable on "Slayer's Blade" and "Disciple" particularly in the kick drum sound which is much more powerful on the demo. It's not that the sound on the album is weak though. While the kick drum lacks a bit of the punchiness the rest of the production is really great and it flatters the best attributes of Attacker's writing sensibilities - namely the twin guitar parts and Bob Mitchell's nasally, wailing and passionate vocal performance. Today, we would never be so blessed with such an original sounding guitar tone. There is definitely emphasis on the mids and treble and little low-end on the guitar tracks. Second track "Wrath of Nevermore" shows how well the mix gels with acoustic guitars clearly audible and the bass pronounced and a major rhythmic focus.
The album is not without it's faults however. As pointed out by Reynolds in his Metal Forces review, arrangements on newer tracks could have been refined to sound more decisive and less dialed in. For example, "Nevermore" has a particularly long intro theme that repeats severely with no variation, "Downfall" suffers similarly and, though a bonus track, "Trapped" is excessive, even though it is bookmarked by an awesome intro and killer solos and leads. A lot of the songs do have a loquacious nature. The best tracks are more punctual and succinct. "Kick In Your Face," is also a problem for me. It's the only track on the album which thematically has nothing in common with the other tracks. While the album in most respects is perfectly happy to fight dragons, battle warlocks and slay monsters, Kick Your Face is a cliche Heavy Metal anthem with sub par lyrics. I don't feel particularly manly touting that "beer drinkers, hell raisers and headbangers wanna cheer."
The anthem, now dead to most metal fans, however at that point was a necessary addition to an album so I can't take too much stock in it's inclusion. I would have much rather have seen a trimmed down and perfected "Trapped" as an inclusion on the original track listing. Though it's a track I am always in favor of skipping, "Kick In Your Face" goes over well live as do almost all the tracks on this album which Attacker oftentimes pull from their bag of tricks. Battle at Helms Deep is classic US Heavy Metal for a reason. A majority of the tracks here are memorable, killer songs with great guitar leads, great riffs and vocals which send us back to when metal was just as often about being unique as it was about being heavy and aggressive.