Animal - Virus 4/5

Reviewed: 2-6-09


1. Cardiac arrest
2. Can't stop
3. Don't wanna die
4. Crying eagle
5. Unnatural high
6. Judgement day
7. Who's next
8. Zombie
9. Shoot to kill
10. L.U.S.T

Yes, the cover art is atrocious. But let's not judge this book by its cover, because there's some fine American steel within. The band name Animal may not click with you immediately, but if you hear the name Randy Piper's Animal instead, suddenly it all starts to make sense. Randy Piper, of course, played guitar (along with the spotlight-grabbing, vodka-in-his-mother's-swimming-pool-chugging Chris Holmes) on those seminal early W.A.S.P. releases, including the classic debut, the 'Animal' single, and 'The last command'. When Blackie Lawless switched from bass to rhythm guitar prior to the rather dubious 'Inside the electric circus' CD, Piper got the heave-ho and vanished into obscurity, only to resurface many years later with a band named after perhaps the most infamous, PMRC-tainted W.A.S.P. track of all time. 'Virus' is actually Animal's 3rd CD release, but it is my first encounter with the band. I like what I hear.

Based on Piper's pedigree, you might assume that 'Virus' is chock-full of 80s-styled ballsy U.S. metal of its more radio-friendly, streamlined variant. If you did, you'd be right. Listening to this CD is like a trip down memory lane recalling some of the heavier commercial metal acts from the 80s, such as W.A.S.P., Skid Row, Malice, Leatherwolf, Keel, etc. Before you dismiss it out of hand as warmed-over hair metal fluff, know this: Animal bring plenty of heaviness and power to the table. Was "I wanna be somebody" or "On your knees" a wimpy song? What about "Slave to the grind" or "Monkey business"? "Speed demon" or "Arm and a leg"? Okay, you catch my drift. If those songs are sufficiently metal for you (and why wouldn't they be?), then so is Animal.

There are a few prime ingredients that make 'Virus' a compelling listen. The most immediate factor is vocalist Rich Lewis, who bears a striking similarity to early Blackie Lawless, but with more versatility and power. Sometimes Lewis so eerily captures that emotive Lawless rasp that I'd swear it was the flaming-codpieced one himself at the microphone. Of course, a good singer is worth little in the absence of decent songs, and the writing on 'Virus' is uniformly superb. Each track is compact, catchy, memorable, and easily distinguished from its brethren. Opener "Cardiac arrest" is an unabashed monster of a song, sporting a simply brilliant bridge and a devastating vocal hook. The first few seconds of "Crying eagle" lull the listener into thinking it'll be an overwrought melodramatic acoustic tune a la Iced Earth's "When the eagle cries", but then Piper's jagged power chords kick in, the intensity and tempo pick up, and Lewis delivers another awesome chorus. "Unnatural high", "Judgment day", "L.U.S.T." (cringe-inducingly hamfisted S&M lyrics aside), all are winners. Special mention must be given to the unexpected cover song on this CD, a metallized romp through the Cranberries' 90s radio smash, "Zombie". I always found the original to be haunting and powerful, so to hear a revved-up, amphetamine-fueled metal arrangement of it really hits the spot.

It wouldn't be quite accurate, however, to classify 'Virus' as mere retro-80s metal or a W.A.S.P. clone; rather, I'd say Animal are more akin to a band like Sister Sin. Both acts are steeped heavily in that rockin', attitude-laden, tough-talkin' L.A. metal style from the 80s, yet both add their own twist, bringing the music into the present by adding just enough of an updated feel to the sound that no one would confuse it for something recorded in 1985. I gotta say that I highly approve of this movement. 'Virus' may not be deep, cerebral or groundbreaking, but it kicks mucho posterior and absolutely wipes the floor with Blackie Lawless's overblown 'Neon god' outings.




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