Welcome back to Riffs from the Crypt! Today, we’re disinterring a mass grave. In 1988, Norway’s Angel Records released a five-band split called Norway Rocks, featuring Anesthesia, Manitou, Shellshock, Get Lost, and Thunderdome. The quality of the tracks featured here is outstanding, particularly the contributions from Anesthesia and Manitou. But alas, not every song could be rescued from their Norwegian tomb: both songs from Get Lost have permanently gotten themselves lost, and Shellshock’s second effort appears to have been obliterated. What is left, then, is seven tracks of speed/thrash/power metal intensity, full of tapping solos, tremolo riffs, and headbanging choruses that deserve a second chance in the light.
The unquestionable king of the split is Anesthesia. Comfortingly, they were the only band not to fade into complete obscurity after Norway Rocks. Several years later, after a lineup and name change, Anesthesia morphed into Spiral Architect, a prog metal band who managed a measure of success. Anesthesia kick off the A-side with the powerful and catchy “Jihad (Victim of Faith)”. (I don’t think the song is Islamaphobic — it seems to be from the perspective of a Muslim soldier caught up in a war he doesn’t believe in.) A spiraling guitar riff sends the song downward into chaos, where fast and articulate riffs take over to power an extremely catchy chorus. Anesthesia doesn’t rest for a moment in their thrash onslaught, and their song to open the B-side, “Prelude to Ruin” is no exception. (Interestingly, Spiral Architect released a cover of a song called “Prelude to Ruin”, but it’s actually a cover of a Fates Warning song.) “Prelude to Ruin” is an absolute demon of a song, featuring absurdly fast tremolo riffs, a surprisingly danceable stomping beat, and a harried vocal performance that sounds like the singer is being chased. The production leaves something to be desired in its muddy fuzz, but there’s no mistaking the incredible riffs branding every single second of this song. Seriously — listen closely, and you’ll hear top-tier, blazing riffs even when they’re buried under the vocal verses. Anesthesia ooze with talent and songwriting prowess during every second of runtime they’re granted on the split. I’m glad they got their due as Spiral Architect, but I would rather they had continued playing thrash metal!
Manitou is the next band to make their impression on the split. Their A-side effort “Stay a While with Me” is a decent effort, if a little overlong, but their B-side “Flyin’ Away” reveals their potential. The riffs are quick and deliciously upbeat, constantly pushing a giddy pace in between beautiful tapping guitar leads. This is what glam metal would sound like if glam metal wasn’t objectively terrible. The singer isn’t anything special, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the innocent energy of the song.
Shellshock were blessed with the best vocalist of any of the bands featured, and somehow ended up with easily the best production as well. Some bands just have it all! Despite these advantages, however, “Hard Times” is rather uncreative on the songwriting side. The riffs aren’t as well-written or in-your-face intense as some of the others on the split, but a great solo helps to rescue the song and give it some identity.
Finally, Thunderdome round out the A and B-sides of Norway Rocks. “Lucifer’s Eye” pounds out of the gate with a few quick cymbal hits and a dual guitar riff duel. The gang-shout chorus is about as catchy and fun as any chorus I’ve ever heard. Every second of this song works perfectly, from the galloping riffs relentlessly driving the song to the zenith of the chorus to the creative and articulate solo. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s a tall task to not headbang and grin like an idiot while listening to this song. The success of “Lucifer’s Eye”, then, makes the closer “Sudden Death” quite a disappointment. Tasked with concluding the album, Thunderdome wrote a seven minute snoozefest that doesn’t have any of the verve or tenacity of “Lucifer’s Eye”. The song is mid-paced throughout and has no standout moments. It’s not a bad song, but it’s a disappointment considering the stunning quality of the rest of Norway Rocks.
I am continually amazed by the incredible quality of forgotten metal, and the bands on Norway Rocks are more forgotten than most. Shellshock, Get Lost, and Thunderdome never released anything more than the two songs on the split. Seven years later, Manitou managed one album. Anesthesia floundered for a few fruitless years before becoming a completely different band. It’s a travesty to see five band’s worth of hard work and talent reduced to footnotes in the metal archives — but that’s what Riffs from the Crypt is here for.