RAZOR – Escape the Fire (2021)REVIEW

An island in their own right to start and a tall-standing stone forever since, the Toronto-adjacent legacy of Canadian speed/thrash metal quartet Razor may be bound tightly to the 80’s (and early 90’s) in terms of history yet their original seven album run still serves as timeless, glorious inspiration for each successive ‘generation’ of heavy metal beyond. On paper their stylistic progression from a staunch and squarely-stated heavy metal act towards one of the most distinct underground thrash metal bands worldwide is familiar enough in stages but, these guys were one of few who’d ultimately put their own spin on thrash metal rather than stand in line at the mill as an also-ran. They didn’t go death metal, they didn’t go prog or cut their hair and crank out bad alternative rock, they were just Razor and still are and hey that counts for something. As we approach this archival release of their pivotal “lost” set of recordings, meant to be their debut full-length for Attic Records‘ metal sub-division Viper Records, you gotta know this was a band who’d stormed out of the gates with a very well received self-financed mini-album (‘Armed and Dangerous‘, 1984) whom weren’t intending to go the way of thrash… ’til they did and if there is anything fresh to pull from ‘Escape the Fire‘ it is what a strong reaction this “record before the record” might’ve been to the Bay Area eruption but with the core Razor sonic personae already well developed.

So, the story isn’t as complex as it sounds as we figure why this (beautifully restored, professionally executed and crystal clear) pre-production demo was both a bone to pick then and a kind of rad relic now. Riff-maestro Dave Carlo had explained this back in 1985 while doing press for ‘Evil Invaders‘ (1985) not long after the end result (‘Executioner’s Song‘, 1985) had released (via Metal Forces #14) “Well, we supplied Viper with a demo of 11 totally new songs. But they couldn’t make up their mind whether to release a totally new album or include some of the best songs from Armed And Dangerous, seeing that there was obviously so many people who hadn’t heard it. So in the end they decided to remix all 18 songs, including the seven from Armed And Dangerous, and we picked which out of the songs we wanted to release.” Very direct provenance at face value but, it is worth noting that Razor were ready to go hard and kick into a ‘Show No Mercy’ and ‘Kill ‘Em All’ influenced rub on that first album and the level of indecision or disagreement at the time kinda left them with a record that was a half-step back into their original material, which in hindsight still rules but wasn’t where they wanted to be while shit was hot and hitting the fan. I’m not at all suggesting that ‘Escape the Fire’ is better or heavier (it is faster though!) than ‘Executioner’s Song’ but that it was maybe a more logical precursor to ‘Evil Invaders’ in hindsight since placing the B-side from ‘Armed and Dangerous’ on Side A emphasizes the more traditional heavy metal influences of the band and we lose some of the vital insanity from Sheepdog‘s vocals on the debut by comparison. Think of it as if Hexx had put a few songs from ‘No Escape’ onto ‘Under the Spell’, yes it still ultimately fits but the times were a changin’ in every case and a backwards half-step is still an alright first impression.

With all of that said, this record is (again) ultimately going to be most exciting a prospect for folks who are still obsessed with Razor‘s earliest period as the material here is an ideal representation of their sound from 1983 ’til at least April 1985; The same way only certain fans will go nuts over a long lost Turbin-era Anthrax tape, those keen on the spikes n’ leather era will be most up for ‘Escape the Fire’. The songs you’ve likely not heard before are the most ‘traditional’ and generally arrive in a clump near the middle of the running order starting with the long-noodling “Metal Avenger”, the made-for-the-stage “Heavy Metal Attack”, and some shades of Motörhead fandom on “Ready For Action” and “Frost Bite”. This is as 1984 as Razor gets and I find it all pretty ace personally, not only as a fan of Carlo‘s work but loving the over the top style of the vocalist whom was still relatively new to the whole gig. In terms of my own taste, I do personally lean way, way towards ‘Evil Invaders’ as the first truly big deal release from Razor but this is neither here nor there, the band is essential and this is an important piece for die-hards to experience.

In terms of a restored and re-rendered archival release ‘Escape the Fire’ is ideal thanks to Patrick W. Engel‘s (Temple of Disharmony) master pulled from an original cassette with a bright and generally distortion free listen, either the tape was beautifully preserved or he’s done a very fine job. There are a few unavoidable peaks in the vocals and the guitar distortion crumbles off very slightly beneath a few drum hits along the way but this isn’t at all a garage demo level headache — it actually sounds leagues better than the scuffed up 2002 remaster of ‘Executioner’s Song’ I’ve got to compare it with, for what its worth! Only gripe here is the album art isn’t anything special, not bad/not great. As for the overall package of course the recommendation depends on you and your acquaintance with Razor, this’ll either be a great way to facilitate a run through their greater discography front to back or it’ll be a long-awaited addendum for collectors looking to have the whole kit on their shelf. For my own taste, a very high recommendation aimed at the fellow thrash metal archivist.

Very high recommendation. (86/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Escape the Fire
TYPE:Archival, Pre-Production Demo
LABEL(S):High Roller Records
RELEASE DATE:July 16th, 2021
BUY:High Roller Records Store
GENRE(S):Speed/Thrash Metal


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