Ruffians - Desert of tears 3.5/5

Reviewed: 1-12-07


1. I believe
2. Running blind
3. Day of the champion
4. Desert of tears
5. I will fly
6. Darkness of light
7. It ain't over
8. Live by the sword
9. Soldiers fate
10. Chosen one
11. Freedom
12. Risen (bonus track)

Anyone who reads these pages with regularity knows I've been reveling in the surfeit of high quality traditional U.S. metal releases hitting the shelves of late. Within the last few months, I've raved about the new Leatherwolf, Wretch and Vicious Rumors CDs. I'm pleased to inform you that San Francisco's Ruffians have kept the streak alive with an excellent reunion recording. Ruffians first burst on the scene with their brand of high energy, catchy, anthemic metal back in 1984, when they featured the late, great Carl Albert (later of Vicious Rumors fame) on vocals. Following Albert's separation from the band in late 1985, Ruffians recruited a more than competent replacement in Rich Wilde, but struggled to gain traction in a difficult marketplace polarized into hair metal and thrash camps, neither of which embraced Ruffians. By the late 80s, Ruffians called it a day, only to reunite in 2004 for a slot on Germany's prestigious Bang Your Head festival, to be followed by a fine retrospective compilation CD released in Europe under the moniker ''85 and Live' and in the U.S. as 'There & back'. Now, with 'Desert of tears', the intrepid San Franciscans present a full-fledged, full-length reunion CD, featuring 3/5 of the 1985 line-up, plus Wilde back behind the mike, and well regarded bassist Tommy Sisco (ex-Vicious Rumors), taking over for the recently deceased Dan Moura.

On 'Desert of tears', Ruffians pretend like the last 20 years never happened, conjuring up a pure, unadulterated dose of grade A American metal. Unlike many elder statesman bands returning to the scene following a lengthy hiatus/exile, Ruffians have elected not to modernize or update their style, but are instead holding steadfast and true to their original sound. Honestly, I don't know how many of these songs date from the 80s (although the title track definitely originated from the Albert days, as it appeared in a 1985 live recording on the recent compilation CD), but nearly all of them have that unmistakable ring of 80s authenticity. To some, it may sound dated and tired. To me, it sounds vibrant and pure. Stylistically, this CD is like latter-day Metal Church, with some of the commercial sensibilities of 'Welcome to the ball'-era Vicious Rumors, a pinch of Armored Saint, and maybe even a dash of prime Lizzy Borden.

The individual performances here are fantastic. Founding guitarists Craig Behrhorst and Chris Atchison know how to gallop and how to wail, all firmly within the borders of that classic 80s U.S. metal sound. The rhythm section of Luke Bowman (also a founding member) and Sisco adds plenty of heft to the bottom end. And thankfully, the years have been kind to Wilde's voice, as he sings with power, emotion and a fine range. Put David Wayne, Vic Hix, and Mark Boals in a blender, add a charisma booster shot, and you'll have Wilde. From a songwriting standpoint, the only mis-step is the 3-minute acoustic ballad, "It ain't over", with its half-whispered vocals, weak lyrics, and jangly bits. Everything else pretty much crushes, with special hails going out to the riffy "Darkest of light", the uplifting "I believe", and the more grandiose "Freedom". My only global criticism is that speed mavens may be disappointed, as the band largely lays off the gas pedal (with the exception of the lively "Live by the sword" and "Soldier's fate"), in favor of a steady midtempo approach. Also, some of the choruses might not be quite as captivating as those gracing the 1985 EP, but this is good stuff, Maynard.

Overall, 'Desert of tears' is a symbol of salvation for classic U.S. heavy metal, delivered straight from the heart and with absolute purity of purpose. Fans of the style, or of well done no-frills metal generally, should not hesitate to check it out. U.S. availability is spotty at the moment, as I understand that Metal Heaven does not yet have steady American distribution, but watch out for an imminent domestic release on Old School Metal Records. For what it's worth, the Metal Heaven pressing comes in a slip case and includes a cool bonus track, "Risen".




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