Thursday, December 24, 2020

SPEED STROKE "Scene Of The Crime"


(c) 2020 Street Symphonies Records

  1. Heartbeat
  2. Scene of the Crime
  3. After Dark
  4. Soul Punx
  5. No Love
  6. Red Eyes
  7. Out Of Money
  8. Who Fkd Who
  9. One Last Day
  10. Hero No. 1
Jack--Lead Vocals
Michael--Rhythm Guitar

Speed Stroke is a band I first encountered about a decade ago, and many of you may have ran into them, as well, on the Crashdiet tribute album, Reborn In Sleaze.  After releasing a couple of albums and touring with a virtual Who's Who of New Wave of European Sleaze and Hair Metal bands (Confess, Reckless Love, Hardcore Superstar, Backyard Babies, Crazy Lixx, 69 Eyes, etc.), the Italian band made the move to Street Symphonies Records and the Burning Minds Music Group to release Scene Of The Crime.  With the move comes the most complete record of the guys' decade-long career!

If you are familiar with Speed Stroke from previous releases, much about the band stays the same on the new record.  Jack's vocals aren't your typical hair/sleaze vocals, as he tends to stay lower in his range than most.  Yes, he can scream, and he has some higher end, but he relies more on snarl and attitude in his delivery than he does on range, which is okay with me.  They may take a bit of getting used to for some folks, but to me, Jack is a big piece of what makes Speed Stroke the quality band they are.  They twin guitars are every bit as solid as they have ever been, with D.B. really ripping into some tasty leads throughout the album while Michael works with Fungo and Andrew to set a gritty rhythm and tempo for the rockers that dominate the album.  But on Scene Of The Crime, the songwriting takes a definite step forward (not that it was bad before) and several songs here are more mature in their approach than in the past.  Oh, sure, there are still the rough and rowdy sleaze rockers (I mean, come on..."Who F'd Who"?), but to me, a track like "No Love" would never have been the excellent ballad that it is here.

"Heartbeat" opens the album and has a straight-outta-88 guitar riff and some group "oh oh ohs" from the outset, as the music builds and the drums intensify before the dirty rhythm riffs from Michael's guitars burst forward into a balls-out rocker to kick the album off.  Jack's easily identifiable vocals ooze from the speakers through the verse sections, with some gang back-up, and then the melodic "oh oh ohs" return in the chorus section.  D.B. launches into the first of numerous high octane solos here, and to say he has the 80s style and sound down pat would be an understatement.  Just an excellent launching pad for Scene Of The Crime to take off from.    

Speaking of the title, the title track is up next, and it is instant ear candy.  The gang-shouted chorus actually kicks off the track, with the drums and guitars kicking in shortly thereafter, giving the track a different feel from the rest of the songs here.  Those gang-shouted vocals show up in numerous spots on this record and are really a great addition to a song like this, even tackling small parts of the verses here and there, which I think is pretty cool.  Jack shows off a wailing scream before the solo run from D.B., and there is a definite Skid Row feel to this track that I think will hook listeners from the get go.  Love it.

"After Dark" has a swinging feel to the rhythm that is unlike anything else on the album, and the first point of reference that popped into my head was "D'Stroll" by D'Molls, although "After Dark", to me, is a far superior song.  There's just more meat to the track, more going on musically, and a better solo from D.B.  Fun and bouncy, but with a shade of darkness to the overall vibe, "After Dark" isn't going to clobber you head on, but it's going to sneak up on you and take you by surprise, sandwiched as it is between the two up-tempo tracks, "Scene Of The Crime" and the next on, "Soul Punx".

Speaking of "Soul Punx", this is a fun, high-octane rocker that I think truly captures the style and sound of the 80s scene as well as just about anything I have heard from any band this year.  The noodling guitars at the beginning of the track, the sharp, snappy drums, the snarling lead vocals, and the fast and furious solo from D.B., all contribute to make this an absolute blast of a song.  A few f*bombs are dropped throughout the song, but this is modern sleaze, folks, so what do we really expect?  All in all, possibly my favorite track on the record.  Check out the video below.

As mentioned before, "No Love" is a killer ballad that I found myself really drawn to from the very first time I heard it.  The piano is a great addition here, and the vocal approach from Jack is perfect for the emotion of the song.  At times reminiscent of GnR's "November Rain", this is a beast of a track and one that really showcases the musical growth of the band. The flamenco-styled guitar at the 3:30 mark is a nice touch, as is the stylistic change that accompanies it, both of which set the stage for D.B. to really dive into a soul-exposing guitar solo here.  The gang chorus coming out of that solo is great, and the whole band just nails the track, giving this six minute track an epic feel without getting overly sappy with the production or dropping in programmed string sections that are unnecessary, etc.  This is a great, great ballad and among the best I have heard from the sleaze genre this year, hands down.  Just like "Soul Punx", this track gets a lot of repeated listens.

"Red Eyes" picks up the pace with an edgy, three-chord rocker that again features more of the excellent backing vocals from the band that I think do an amazing job of setting Speed Stroke apart from many of their peers.  D.B. contributes a fun little solo, and while "Red Eyes" isn't a track that stands up and screams "LOOK AT ME", it is a solid transition from an epic ballad to a sleaze-fueled rocker, "Who Fkd Who?", and is definitely not a skip-track by any means.

If something dirtier and sleazier is what you are looking for, you need look no further than "Who Fkd Who?".  Sounding a whole lot like a Kix track, musically, this is a sleaze-infused rocker with plenty of tongue-in-cheek attitude and a really solid backbeat from Fungo and Andrew that keep the track driving along.  I've stated several times in several reviews that bands, especially European bands, like to throw the f*bomb around to excess, especially when there is no apparent reason for it, but I will say that on this particular track, it doesn't come off as excessive, "look at us and our attitude" lyrical candy, so much as it comes across as the general attitude of the song and band, in general...and I can live with that.  The guitar work is excellent here, and D.B. blisters his way through another aggressive, dirty solo.  Definitely a top 5 track here on an album filled with great tracks.

"One Last Day" slows things down...a final time, but it's not really a song, per se, as much as it is a musical interlude.  Andrew and his drums get a break here (he gets to smack a tambourine a few times), as do Fungo and the bass, as this is just Jack and D.B., along with some backing vocals, on a great, soul-baring piece of music that may seem somewhat pointless to a few but that I really, really like.  There is just something about the performances here that draw me in. 

Album closer, "Hero No. 1" is another straight ahead rocker, packed with attitude and dripping with sleaze.  Jack comes off every bit as aggressive and edgy as he does anywhere else on the record, and the gang-shouted backing vocals are spot-on perfect for this big fist-pumper!  D.B. blasts into one final guitar solo, unleashing any flash and speed he had left in the tank from the previous nine songs, and while it is a bit shorter than I would have liked, there is little doubt that he is a serious talent on guitar that more people need to hear. This finale is one that really leaves me hoping for big things from the band in 2021 and beyond!

My only gripe here is the production.  There are several tracks where the mix sounds rather muddy, especially around the vocals and lead guitars.  Now, this is a digital promo copy that I am working from, and on more than one occasion the files sound considerably worse than the actual CD does, so I am hopeful that this is the case.  Even if not, this is still a great record, but if so these production issus do take a bit of polish off the greatness of Scene Of The Crime.

To say that there are a lot of great modern hair/sleaze bands in Europe these days would be an understatement, but I truly feel that Speed Stroke deserves to be mentioned with some of the best.  Scene Of The Crime is one of the true surprises of 2020 for me and is an album that hasn't left my player since I first popped it into the disc changer.  While numerous folks have likely head-banged along with Burn 'Em All by Confess this year, there are several other bands that deserve your attention, and Speed Stroke, with Scene Of The Crime, is one such band.  Seek this record out!

Rating:  Lovin' what I'm hearin' from these guys, and musically I would say crank this fun record to 9!  Unfortunately, the production issues drop this to a 7.5!

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