Appointment With Death
posted on 1/2008 By:
Of all the bands that could have possibly reformed in the new millennium, Lizzy Borden was one that I never thought actually would. Not because they didn’t have a few minor glories to relive, as dated as those may be, but simply because I figured no one would care if they did. I figured that, at best, Borden would be forever relegated to the status of “ironic goofus metal band logo on undersized vintage t-shirt for the hipster crowd.” Their brand of theatrical metal was second-tier even in 1988, an Alice Cooper homage perpetually in the shadow of Blackie Lawless. Yeah, they might have managed to get a video or two on MTV, and they even scored something of a hit with “Me Against The World.” (Bring that video up on YouTube, kids, and behold the spectacle of Borden’s namesake singer in a metallic silver suit with matching lipstick and a three-foot-wide perm...) But still, even with a performance in Penelope Spheeris’ classic “The Decline Of Western Civilization, Part 2: The Metal Years,” Borden could barely overcome the goofy theatricality of their act. And why is that? Because, honestly, in their catalog of six or so records, there are only a few scattered moments that are really worthwhile. Most of their material was underdeveloped and overblown, and though their riffage may have been decidedly more metallic than that of Poison, they suffered from the same creative problem: their image far overshadowed their music.
So enough of the history lesson, what of the record at hand, this second Lizzy Borden opus of the last eighteen years? Well, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect, except (gasp) it’s good. Like Armored Saint, Borden was always more indebted to metal giants like Maiden and Priest than their party-hard LA-scene contemporaries. Following suit, Appointment is a traditional metal album with some surprisingly great moments. For this one, Lizzy (the man) is joined by drummer Joey Scott, the only returning member of the original group—not surprising, since he’s also Lizzy’s brother—plus guitarist Ira Black and bassist Marten Andersson. Scott has never been a flashy drummer, and both Black and Andersson have performed with other leftover acts, so the musicianship is workmanlike but certainly acceptable. (You might remember Andersson from the Lynch Mob reunion shows… No? Really? Where were you?) Lizzy’s voice sounds far better here than I ever remembered it sounding, rangy and powerful like Tate or Dickinson or Deris and without the god-awful vibrato he (over)employed in his heyday. All the vocals are clean and operatic, with some falsetto action, but thankfully no “updated” attempts at any type of growling. He manages to make his vocal approach equally modern and vintage, soaring but not as thin and reedy as he sounded in 1987.
Boiling it down, there are two crucial differences between Appointment With Death and what I remember of Borden’s past. Difference number one is that Appointment is better produced—recorded by Lizzy and Scott and mixed by Erik Rutan, it sounds modern and big, slick but not weak. Difference number two is that the songs are well-written and memorable—and hell, they’re even memorable for good reasons this time… There are big sing-along choruses, some nimble-fingered guitar work, and more delicious cheese than Pizza Hut’s new Triple-Layer Parmesan-Crust Mozzarella-Injected Ooey-Gooey Dairy Bomb. There’s a gothic melodrama to Appointment that invokes early Queensryche, especially with Lizzy’s vocal similarities to Tate. (Check out “Perfect World” and “The Death Of Love” for distinctly ‘Ryche-like performances.) There are guest appearances by Rutan, George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob, Dave Meniketti of Y&T, and for the young ‘uns, Corey Beaulieu of Trivium. As with the best of earlier Borden, the music sticks to the commercial side of power metal, with a few forays on either side of the line. You’ve got Dokken-like harmony-laden mid-tempos (“Live Forever”) balanced against Bruce Dickinson-isms (the title track, “Bloody Tears”). Large parts of Appointment sound like a cross between vintage Queensryche and modern Helloween’s poppier, less speed-drenched moments. It’s worth mentioning again that Borden has never been known for particularly good songwriting, so the simple presence of quality songs—even the eerily emo-ish “Under Your Skin”—is as shocking as anything the band may do on stage. Lyrically, Appointment is a concept record, but I won’t lie: I didn’t find the lyrics particularly compelling, so I decided to tackle this one without digging too deep into them—it’s an album about death, and that was enough for me to know. The album’s only downright embarrassing moment is also its last one: the closing ballad “The Darker Side,” which is equally grating and laughable. (Damn, those falsetto squeals are piercing in all the wrong ways…)
The bottom line: Sadly, no matter how good Appointment With Death may be, I doubt it’s going to re-ignite any significant interest in Lizzy Borden amongst the youngsters. But for faithful fans and the few curious who may dare to seek it out, it’s an enjoyable old-school metal record from a band that I certainly never believed would—or could—have made one.
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