1. Freight Train
2. Double Trouble
3. Machine Gunn Eddie
4. Long Way From Home
5. Bring It Down
6. Nasty Reputation
7. Fighting Mad
8. Shot Heard ‘Round The World
The prevailing mindset of the eighties was epitomized by an exchange in John Carpenter's classic sci-fi/horror film They Live, in which one young, weary yuppie turns to his older colleague and tells him, matter-of-factly, "I'm so depressed. What do I do?" The crotchety old man (who, incidentally, is in fact an alien in disguise), without even turning to look at his distressed coworker, delivers a short, cold response: "Go for, man". No elaboration, no explanation, no stratagem. Just "go for it".
It was this idea of just "going for it" without actually thinking about what it was that you were going for, or what the consequences might have been, that made for a cultural climate in which Americans seriously acted upon the idea of electing a Hollywood actor to president of the United States. It also gave way to the coke-fueled rise of the young cutthroat businessman (the yuppie), and allowed the public to be okay with spending billions on putting a laser gun in space rather than food on the tables of its citizens. Unmitigated decadence was the name of the game, and popular culture both reflected and re-enforced the idea of the New Morning American wanting all of it all of the time, whenever they wanted it. Meanwhile, the newly established MTV revolutionized the music industry by stepping up the level of crassness in the marketing of musicians, reorienting the playing field towards primarily being about the selling of looks, not hooks. Thus, video's murder of the radio star resulted in Reagan-era youth being bombarded with images of what they were supposed to want than ever before: Big parties, big tits, big drinking, big hair, big everything. Having a good time meant reveling in total excess, and as Poison sang, people "don't need nothin' but a good time". All else was irrelevant.
The glam metal band (now retroactively known as the "hair metal" band) is today an instantly identifiable symbol of the eighties – as immediate of a signifier of the Reagan Era as is the ol' Gipper himself. The huge sound of the gated snare drum bellows a giant beat over obvious, loud guitar riffs, delivered by band members who themselves visually reflect the larger-than-life music they play through their garish, borderline androgynous image. Today, glam metal, despite enjoying an unfortunate resurgence amongst certain music fans, is mostly the stuff of kitsch – but back in its own time, it served as one of the most pervasive and prominent forms of popular rock music. Bands such as Poison, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot and their ilk served as the soundtrack to thousands of youths getting boozed, getting loose, and generally having a good time all across the nation.
However, by the end of the decade, the party was pretty much over. Reagan was out, the economy was in a state of recession, and crack, AIDS, and unemployment were all on the rise. Consequently, the optimism which had characterized the beginning of the decade had effectively been replaced by a palpable sense unrest and anxiety that not even the dismantling of the Berlin Wall could shake. Just "going for it" was no longer cool – it was reckless, and could lead one to ruining their life or losing it altogether if they were not careful. Consequently, the wild guitar party that once dominated the charts as "glam metal" had largely transformed into something more quiet and contemplative – centering around acoustics and power ballads, best exemplified by seminally wimpy acts such as Winger and Nelson. And of course, grunge loomed just around the corner, soon to snuff out what little commercial interest remained in a trend clearly at the end of its rope.
It was against this backdrop that Nitro released O.F.R., quite possibly the most absolutely ridiculous and excessive album of the entire glam metal era…and, appropriately enough, nobody gave a shit.
Initially ignited in 1987, Nitro formed as a project between lead shrieker Jim Gillette and six-string wiz kid Michael Angelo Batio with the express purpose of becoming the most all-around extreme band on the (by now ailing) glam metal scene. The riffs were to be louder and faster, the singing was to be higher pitched, and the hair was to stand taller than all others. What exactly motivated Nitro to specifically strive towards the goal of outdoing everybody for it's own sake isn't known at the moment, but I suppose the logic would have to be that after almost a full decade (by that point) of cookie-cutter glam metal, and the subsequent degeneration into the pattern of the one tepid party single followed by the even more tepid power ballad, Nitro hoped to capture the public's attention by delivering a product too entirely overblown to possibly be ignored. And from the outset, it would seem that if there was any way left for a set of musicians to shock the public through glam metal, Nitro had the chops to deliver. Gillette possessed a three-octave singing range, which, with enough amplification, allowed him to break wine glasses with the power of his utterly shrill scream from onstage. Meanwhile, Batio was no slouch with his guitar, either. Far more than just another big-haired dolt who fumbled around a few power chords like the lot of his contemporaries, he was a master shredder with far too much dexterity and technical ability than that required to be content figuring how best to rearrange uber-derivative Johnny Thunders licks. He was capable of lightning-fast note runs and fluid chord shifts, and thus utilized the skill set of a neoclassical player (ala Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen) to reinterpret cock rock in a way it had never before been conceived – as a fast, tight, technical affair with searing speedball solos delivered courtesy of his custom built, four-necked X-shaped guitar. With the addition of bassist T.J. Racer and Vinnie Vincent Invasion refugee Bobby Rock on the skins, the newly-minted Nitro set about to change the terms of the glam metal game with their debut recording, O.F.R.
Opening with the quintessential Nitro tune, "Freight Train", O.F.R. (Out Fuckin' Rageous) starts with a bang, as this track (also the album's first single) is an explosive, hilarious, and not slightly disquieting blast of total bombast. You can almost smell the Aquanet exude from your speakers as chugging, smarmy riffs collide with the multitracked, high-pitched bellows of Jim Gillette and occasional New York Hardcore style gang shouted vocals, resulting into what is already a complete and utter sensory overload prior to the chorus. Then, before you know it, a ridiculously speedy, note-crammed guitar solo comes ripping in more loudly over all the rest of the music, running all over the place and back before the song finally returns to its familiar refrain of "Watch out world, ready or nah-AHHHHHHHHHHHHT!" The song is at once one of the most stupid and brilliant nuggets ever committed to tape in the name of metal, and it instantly lays to waste any pretense at "extremity" previously undertaken by the likes of such posers as Motley Crue and W.A.S.P. The only downside to starting one's album off on such a ringing high note is that the hope of topping it anywhere else on the disc becomes a massively tall order, and suffice to say, nothing else on O.F.R. is quite as memorable as "Freight Train". But to be fair, this isn't due to a lack of trying on Nitro's part. In particular, both "Machine Gun Eddie" and "Bring It Down" contain lightning fast riffing (easily on par with the thrash and speed metal also being churned out at the time, in terms of tempo if not necessarily grit or aggression) and the former song, perhaps the most musically extreme on all of O.F.R., boasts both a thirty second long sustained scream and quite possibly the very first usage of a blast beat in a non-extreme metal song. Most of the other tunes, if not exactly eye-popping in terms of their creativity (let's face it – by track four, you've pretty much heard every gimmick this band is going to throw at you on the CD), do feature catchy, uptempo cock rock riffing, gratuitous solos galore, and enough vocal gymnastics (aside from the already mentioned high pitched screams, Gillette also embraces a bizarre, low-ended grunt/whine on certain songs, causing him to sound like something of a mix between Dave Mustaine and Attila of Mayhem!) to keep things consistently entertaining throughout most of the album's forty-one minute duration.
However, despite having a sound which Nitro can be proud to call their own, O.F.R. is certainly not without its flaws as well. The first is a product of the times. Although Nitro may have been the most extreme glam metal band on the planet, there were still nonetheless a glam metal band, and by 1989, that meant that no album was complete without at least one weak-kneed soft rock tune. In Nitro's case, that song is "Long Way From Home". It is wimpy, generic, and pretty much the only completely dull track on the entire album…which is especially unfortunate considering that it's also the second longest song as well. "Double Trouble" is also about as cookie-cutter as anything which had been seen in the realm of macho pop metal in the eight years prior, all flailing wails and arbitrarily inserted shred fests aside. Finally, there's no escaping the fact that the production on this album (handled by Michael Angelo and Jim Gillette) is very weak. Everything is audible but sterile, and there's absolutely no guts in the sound whatsoever – no heaviness, and barely any bass to be heard (not that it's really doing anything all that interesting anyway). And once a guitar solo comes flying at you, you'd better enjoy it, as Angelo's self-serving production drowns out all of the other instruments as soon as he lets loose with the shredding. A band with a name like Nitro (to say nothing of the band's sound) should naturally boom out from your speakers, but unfortunately, the production leaves the much of the impact neutered, and the presentation of the music suffers for it.
But of course, by the time O.F.R. was released, the number of shortcomings in the songwriting or production was ultimately irrelevant. Nitro may have been the most extreme glam metal band in America (if not the entire world), but that extremity translated to little in terms of currency with a public who was already looking forward to the next big thing, not to be confused and quite possibly frightened by a high-speed glam act featuring a castrato version of King Diamond on vocals. Within two years, Nirvana's Nevermind would drop like a bomb, leaving in its wake a forever-changed pop music landscape dotted with the smoldering carcasses of careers hung upon the glam metal trend. The few cockroaches that could scurry underground and adapt to the wave of alternative radiation did (Pantera), but for the lot of big-haired spandex pushers, the ride had come to an end. Nitro released one more album in 1992 before dissolving into the ether shortly thereafter. Michael Angelo Batio went on to a predictable solo career as a neoclassical shredder and producer of guitar-tech tutorial tapes. Bizarrely enough, Jim Gillette took a deep dive into the world of professional weightlifting, transforming from a meek, platinum blonde poodletop into a bald-headed muscleman married to pop metal diva Lita Ford. He was recently seen on an episode of VH1 Classic's That Metal Show, manhandling one of the hosts from onstage.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Although Nitro didn't exactly set the world on fire with O.F.R., it is nonetheless essential listening for anybody who desires to hear what glam metal would sound like if taken to its complete, illogical conclusion. It manages to be side-splitting, baffling, and cringe-inducing often all at the same time, and even at its dullest moments still beats the hell out of suffering through a Warrant album. But most importantly of all, Nitro, for all their hyper-cheesy imagery and over-the-top gimmickry, did something that few glam metal acts dared to do: They dared to be different. Even if you hate glam metal (and I'm writing this as somebody who does hate glam metal, vehemently at that), Nitro deserves to be heard because they truly did "go for it" to the fullest hilt, and although fame eluded them, they were still able to walk away with a truly unique sound and a cult following. Whether they were the victims of bad timing or bad concept is anybody's guess, although it doesn't really matter much either way. The point is that nobody cares which pack of mincing hair-teasers made it to number twelve on the Billboard charts towards the end of 1984, but those who create truly bold, truly weird, or truly stupid (read: truly great) pieces of art will have their small, devoted followings forever. Nitro is one such band. O.F.R. isn't exactly easy to get ahold of now (at least not in physical form), but if you happen to come across it, get it. But, if nothing else, please take the next couple minutes to at least look up the video of "Freight Train". Should cynicism not defeat you, you shan't be let down. Long live Nitro…like a freight train comin'!
Review by Hunter Brawer
Review date: 01/2011