Way back when we started this Diamonds & Rust feature, the idea behind it was to allow our staff of obsessive listeners the opportunity to wax poetic about classic albums, to finally put onscreen some (hopefully) more coherent variation upon the neverending conversations we’ve all had about our respective favorites. So, naturally, most of the albums we’ve covered have been just that — long-time companions, purchases made during our youthful forays into heavy metal fandom, like this one… or this one… or this one. We use these chances to wipe the dust off our diamonds and remind us all how bright they will always shine.
Now I’m going to change the game a bit and write about a classic album that I managed to overlook entirely for thirty-one years.
But first, since these pieces are invariably semi-autobiographical, an exposition not only of the album in question but also of the writer’s relationship to it, a quick two-fold note about me: Among the myriad random things in this world that I love are Queensrÿche and the Green Bay Packers. So when I’m surfing around, digging through the virtual crates of the internet for long-lost metal gems, and I run across a previously-unknown-to-me band described as “the Queensrÿche of Wisconsin,” well… color me interested. Add to that the incredible Vohaul’s Revenge-looking cover of the band’s debut, and I’m completely on board without even hearing a note.
One beauty of the internet age, of course, is that very few albums remain truly lost any longer. If I’d run across Screamer back when I was beginning my journey into metal, back when Target: Earth was only a few years old, I’d probably have been lucky to find it. Based on the fact that I spent hours and hours in the half a rack devoted to metal at my nearest Camelot Records and never once saw it, I’m guessing that it never made much of a mark in Southeast Tennessee. Maybe I could have special ordered it, but that would’ve taken weeks and thus required a patience that teenage me didn’t have. It would’ve been easier and faster just to spend my lawn-mowing money on a record that was already there, and so I’m sure that’s exactly what I did.
But in 2019, almost every record ever is out there to hear. So after one quick visit to YouTube, and one click through to “Visionary,” and one quick trip to Amazon, middle-aged me scored a CD copy of Target: Earth for about a tenth of the price that it’s currently commanding. It still took a week or so to get it — I’m more patient now, I guess — but in the eight months or so since it landed on my doorstep, it’s found its way into the player dozens and dozens of times already, and I don’t see its spin rate changing in the foreseeable future…
So what of it, you say? What is this ridiculous looking beast you’re so fascinated with? Well, it’s pretty much how it was described to me: It’s heavily indebted to early Queensrÿche, and like the state that birthed it, it’s definitely got its share of glorious cheese. Imagine, please, the Queensrÿche that existed between the EP and The Warning, but instead of pushing further towards their progressive side, they continued on with that powerful blend of stately traditional metal, further upping their Iron Maiden influence in the process. Imagine if this Alternate ‘Rÿche were a less polished outfit — one a little rough around the edges, one not as subtly intricate, and yet one still very capable of bringing the majesty. And then call them Screamer.
Screamer’s most definable and immediate trait is the one they’re likely named for: Bill Carter’s soaring wail. From the first verse of “Visionary,” the man is in the stratosphere, full-on flying, and I hope you like that head voice because he doesn’t often step away from it. (In the instances when he does get closer to earth, his voice is noticeably less Tate / Kiske, and noticeably less powerful.) He’s got the range, for sure, and he’s got the lung capacity, but the tone isn’t always quite there, so it’s a little slippery in certain instances, a little loose but never disastrously so. His melodies are catchy, even as they twist and turn in unexpected ways. (There he’s more akin to John Arch than to Geoff Tate.) What criticisms I read of Target: Earth inevitably centered around these vocals, but I have no problem with them. It’s a power metal album from 1988, so soaring and searing is the name of the game, and bless him, Carter’s going all-in from minute one.
Beneath the siren, guitarists Michael Schantek and Ronny Valeo bob and weave, tossing in plenty of gallops, interlocked harmonies, and shreddy solos. Bassist Paul Bigalke and drummer Kevin Litz keep the pulse bristling with energy, even though nothing here approaches truly speeding tempos. Screamer circa 1988 was a good band, and Target: Earth’s production is good enough, but yet, it’s all just rough enough to give the album a certain slightly unpolished edge. A slicker production and a more perfect vocal performance would’ve certainly accented the band’s best qualities, but part of Target Earth’s charm is that it’s redolent of — but not exactly like — any of the records to which it’s comparable. It’s not as ambitious as Awaken The Guardian, not as skillfully executed as The Warning, nor as dramatic as Transcendence, not as idiosyncratic as Winter Kill or as technical as Graceful Inheritance.
The Queensrÿche comparison is inevitable from the first few bars of “Visionary,” even before Carter’s epic and infectious melody floats in, as it does so sky-high above a midtempo tandem guitar riff that (ahem) screams DeGarmo / Wilton. Third track “Time Master” is the closest the band comes to the moodiness that characterizes most progressive metal, opening with acoustic guitar arpeggios beneath a Hammett-like solo that leads back into more of that Maiden-inflected power metal gallop. Follow-up “Forgotten One” suffers from a chorus that works against Carter’s strengths, one of the moments where his voice drops out of the clouds and loses the footing beneath it, but overall, it’s not a bad track.
As good as “Visionary” and “Outcast” are, through my repeated obsessive listens, Target: Earth’s second four tracks have soundly proven themselves to be the album’s better half. None are as immediate as those first two, and yet each is better constructed, the more progressive half of Screamer’s prog-power formula. The title track’s killer dual-guitar intro leads through more riff-heavy power to a closure punctuated by epic keyboard stabs, a brief symphonic nod that could’ve been further explored to greater results across the album and sadly wasn’t. Sharing a title with both a Helloween classic and a Pretty Maids classic, “Future World” stands as Target: Earth’s finest moment, with its 9/4 main riff and pulsing verse, all of it running headlong into a bouncy bridge section lifted straight from the Steve Harris playbook. It’s the band’s finest performance — even Carter stays out of the heavens and sounds good doing it, while Litz’ drumwork is particularly strong. By the time “Heir To The Throne” closes everything with further Maiden / Queensrÿche flair, Target: Earth stands as thirty-six minutes of quality USPM, clearly harking to its antecedents, but also strong enough to stand on its own.
Thirty-two years ago, Target: Earth was released on Hellion main-woman Ann Boleyn’s New Renaissance Records, and as near as I can tell, it sank without a trace. It would be Screamer’s only offering for 20 years, until 2008’s What Excites You. Now two decades removed from the glory days of USPM, that follow-up wasn’t anything that… well… excited me much. By then, both Valeo and Schantek had departed, and Carter had traded the shriek for a midrange chest voice, better controlled but nowhere near as distinctive, now closer to Michael Sweet than to Geoff Tate. What Excites You isn’t a bad record, by any means, but it’s not Target: Earth, not by a long shot.
History is full of records that never got their due. Sometimes you find them; sometimes they find you. Target: Earth is one of those records, and now that we’re all aware of it, the end result should always be the same: Dust off the diamond; crank up the metal.