Album Review of Black Bambi: Black Bambi (20th Century Music)
There’s so much good, throwback-styled, ’80s melodic hard rock out there these days, and this self-titled disc from Black Bambi ranks among the best of this past year’s batch. Or, at least, it would. But it was recorded nearly 30 years ago, scheduled for a 1990 release before all-too-common record-company issues landed it on the sideline. Punch, pop, big vocals, power guitars, and monster hooks. It’s a fun, well-crafted adrenaline rush from a cadre of talented compadres. I don’t typically review re-issues – though others who write for me sometimes choose to – but as with every rule, this one is made to be broken, and is it really a reissue if it was never released in the first place? I’d’ve probably given this release five stars if I had reviewed it back in 1990, when I was wordsmithing for hard rock and heavy metal magazine Tough Tracks. (Our star rankings went up to five, didn’t they, Lisa?) This many years later, I’m equally impressed, and with the resurgence in recordings of melodic hard rock (also referred to by the term “hair metal,” which I dismiss because it doesn’t describe the music) from bands and musicians active in its heyday as well as young, new artists, this seems like an ideal time to release – and to review – Black Bambi’s newly released old recording. (Technically, this album was also released in 2001, so this really a second release, but I missed the 2001 version, so it’s new to me and, in all probability, to you, too.)
I’d place the band on the heaviness scale around where Tyketto was back in that band’s heyday but not as heavy as Tyketto is now or as L.A. Guns typically is. Perhaps a bit crunchier than bands like Sweet F.A. were back in the early ’90s, though.
“Mary’s Birthday” kicks things off strong, showing the guitars and drums, riffing a little, then delivering in memorably catchy melodic hard rock fashion, plowing somewhat straight ahead but with a little Extreme-reminiscent funk and lightly-instrumented bridges. This is a great selection for a first track, kicking the album off strong.
It’s followed by another of my favorite tracks, “In the Meantime,” pulsing guitars and drums joined by a thin Skid Row-esque ’80s vocal line as the song plods forcefully forward, providing ample contrasting backdrop to the song’s harmonious bridges and guitar solo noodling.
“Crucified” adds a little blues wail to the mix, spicing things up without obscuring the song’s ’80s hair metal roots. “Seven Miles to Rome” stands out for its heavy, plodding power; it’s a force of nature that grows on the listener more with each playing, sparsely-instrumented – almost the exact opposite of wall-of-sound – emphasizing the tune’s heavy axework.
“Down” is a pulsing rocker that blends a street cred-building heaviness with Ratt-like vocals and a hypnotically catchy repeating rhythm; “The Celebration” follows that with a little funky vibe driving its hooky hard rock rhythm and wails.
My favorite song on the disc is probably “99 1/2,” whose verses recalled Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” a bit the first few times I listened to it, but by now I have trouble hearing anything in it but Black Bambi.
In all, this is a terrific throwback disc. It’s a shame it wasn’t released when it was recorded – an all-too-frequent tale of music careers getting delayed and derailed by record label politics – but for those of us who loved that musical era, Black Bambi’s eponymous album is a welcome gift, a new discovery via an unearthed time capsule.