This happens a lot.
A band of bozos, utterly in love with what they feel is the best music ever, start a band to play said music. Said music comes, as you might expect, with a lot of contemporary cultural baggage. Maybe you wanted to be a rapper and started in 1989, got very, very good, loaded up on the relevant ideals of the time and set out. You eventually get your big break in 1994. You release a fantastic album…for 1989. In fact, the music is great for any moment in history, but YOU are stuck in 1989. No one in the audience really takes you seriously—except other rappers who recognize your talent. They talk you up, push you to friends and colleagues, honor your music. Awesome. But YOU never really reap any rewards because, ridiculously, the fashions and trends left YOU behind. You will always have a hard core fan-base, but they will not be enough to keep you in business.
It breaks one’s heart. I have seen this quite a few times, and it always leaves me a little upset with fans. But I also recognize that part of being a successful artist is keeping an eye on trends. Like a cover letter for a resume, you have to make yourself relevant with your first impression. Period.
When TT Quick released the absolutely furious Metal Of Honor, they were able to compete, musically, with the likes of Accept, Priest, Armored Saint, and Grim Reaper on their own terms… if those terms had been 1983. Unfortunately, it was 1986, and those three years changed everything. Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer had essentially flipped the spandex and leather tables in the temple of metal. We, as in the fans at the moment, wanted our bands to look like us: jeans and T-shirts, maybe nascent battle jackets. OK, sure, wear a bullet belt or spikes on your cuffs, but we wanted to see ourselves in these performers. Metallica delivered. Cliff’s bell bottoms reminded me of how long after that trend had died I was stuck with them myself. James and Kirk’s shirts were not bullshit 80’s loopy iconographic bands of color, they were awesome 80’s iconographic band logos! And I’m sure Lars was doing something, too. The point is, Metallica was the fans and the fans were Metallica. We were a tribe.
TT Quick maybe didn’t get the memo. They played early 80’s metal while the world was after thrash. But they played the living fuck out of it. For my money, this band took every lesson taught by every metal band in the early 80’s and congealed it into maybe the last truly great pure trad American Metal record of the decade. Tesla and GnR were playing 70’s Aerosmith. Ratt and Crue, if they ever actually were metal, had long since ditched it for bubble glam. The best underground metal acts had lost steam—The Rods are one sad example. But TT brought the real deal, hard and with no apologies, to a table that was already being bused.
The thing is: I would let friends and fellow musicians hear the title track, and not a single one of them could deny it slaughtered. If I let them hear the whole record, they wanted to tape a copy. Everyone who heard it loved it. But not enough to actually go buy it, I guess. Or maybe they did and the 80’s music industry didn’t care enough to make any more of an investment. I really don’t know. What I know is that I never heard from them again. And that pisses me off.
Well, let’s go ahead and tackle the 1000-foot monster that is the opening track: “Metal of Honor”. A guitar riff via David DiPietro that would have felt very comfortable front loading Balls To The Wall or Delirious Nomad starts it up, all by itself, chugging away. With the second measure the bass joins in, root-notey and effective. When the drums kick in, the beat registers and your head is yes-ing. Cool, but nothing out of the ordinary for the early 80’s. The lyric introduces vocalist Mark Tornillo, and you can hear the raspy, whiskey style of the Udo’s and Steve Grimmett’s of the world. Its rhythm changes to a nice little shuffle accented by big chords holding the ropes.
It’s that first chorus though that lets you know this band did not come to slap, they came to kill. Tornillo opens up and goes full Halford, but with Udo’s vivacious rasp. And then you understand: This band loved all the same bands you loved growing up, and they know how to make that kind of metal. PERFECTLY. No nasally, gussied up baby doll LA glam, nor essentially European stadium stalwarts. These guys were American. Their songs sounded like Harleys and guns and stepsiders, but with that added sense of YOUR friends’ Harleys and guns and stepsiders.
The rest of the album has ups and downs, but retains two things that keep it listenable today: riffs and gusto. These songs are not built for a band getting drum solo blowjobs backstage. These songs are Saxontastic homages to head banging in the basement with ten or fifteen friends, 3 or 4 bottles of vodka, and at least one working monster speaker.
The ups come in the form of songs like “Front Burner” and “Child of Sin.” “Front Burner” is single minded, hard rocking and sans bullshit. It delivers what the LA scenesters were lacking, for all their fashion and attitude: authenticity. “Front Burner” is the kind of transition rock-to-metal song that had become passé by the time Metal of Honor came out, but TT does not care about any of that. It’s a cool, powerful song, and by fuck, you are going to hear it.
“Child Of Sin” is a song that manages to be both catchy, exceedingly dark and heavy as hell at the same time. A crawling subdued lyric and memorable chorus tell the story of innocents victimized by big city snakes. Sort of a preamble to “Welcome to the Jungle,” except with appropriately reptilian riffing. The vocals are emotive without being syrupy, and the solo is flavorful. It has the sleaze the subject matter calls for.
The kind of metal song you really don’t hear any more opens up side two. “Come Beat the Band” is a joyful recounting of how great it is to be fucked over by promoters, managers, club owners, PR guys… not a new subject by any means, but rarely has it been coupled with such a fierce and fun tune. Working with a sweet little boogie shuffle, Tornillo even delivers a Dave Lee Rothian spoken word break, complete with a “Bang…Zoom” Honeymooners reference. Very 80’s, but so infectious that you are all in.
In what can only be classified as a magic trick, the band spends the next to last track making a godawful Dave Clark Five “pop” song actually pop with energy and panache. Using their own ganged chorals to mimic DC5’s, the guitars are up front, and Tornillo is doing his best Biff Byford meets Bon Scott to add some adrenaline to the goofy number. And it works. It works far better than Quiet Riot’s versions of Slade songs, or Ratt’s versions of Ratt songs. It is not a game changer, but fuck me if it’s not a HOOT.
The lows aren’t actually that low, but “Queen of the Scene” is more like the standard hair metal that Exodus and Slayer came to eradicate. Same with “Hard as a Rock” and “Hell to Pay,” though each of these maintains at least some aspect that keeps them at a quality level above their peers.
For the time, the production was competent, though considering how heavy things were getting elsewhere, the band really could have pushed their thicker parts a little. But it is a good listen and will elicit bangs of the head regardless.
Tornillo would move forward to become the singer of one of the bands we all loved in the period I earlier mentioned, Accept, and has done Udo as much service as anyone who isn’t Udo possibly can. That alone should pique your interest. But the rest of the band are just as fantastic. It really is a shame this project didn’t last.
But now that you know, do yourself a gigantic favor and seek this record out. Revel in its early 80’s actual METAL American metal goodness. And look as well for similar acts from other periods that just missed a heyday they didn’t even know was a heyday, but still managed to put out fantastic music. With time all fads cease to be important, and all that really matters is quality. TT Quick’s Metal of Honor is exactly that: quality.