Forgotten Legends: Razor – Violent Restitution
Forgotten Legends is an ongoing series where we look back on those extraordinary yet often overlooked albums that are essential to any serious metal collection. They can be of any format, released at any time. As always, a dynamic range measurement is provided for reference.
I think it’s safe to say now that 2016 has become a banner year for thrash. I mean we’ve already seen a number of thrastastic records from industry stalwarts Megadeth, Anthrax, and Death Angel to more nouveau acts like Vektor and Destroyer 666, and there is still a lot more yet to come with new releases looming from the likes of Revocation and of course that little known band you may have heard of called Metallica. As a result, I’ve found myself trying to get in touch with my inner thrash, spinning various golden oldies that for me, really epitomize the genre. And I can’t think of no better specimen than Razor‘s thrasherpiece, 1988’s Violent Restitution.
Razor was founded in 1983 by lead guitarist/songwriter Dave Carlo, bassist Mike Campagnolo, and drummer Mike “M-Bro” Embro. Since the band had no official vocalist out the gate, they decided to rehearse and write new material in captivity until one could be found. But they didn’t have to wait long, as in the spring of ’84 they found their man in Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren, just a few weeks before this newly solidified line-up was to enter the studio and record their first ever EP entitled Armed and Dangerous. Amazingly, although this mini-LP was completely financed and promoted by the band themselves, they had no trouble whatsoever selling out of every single one of its 1200 pressings, garnering the attention of Attic Records who eventually signed them to a record deal soon after.
While the band’s every intention was to be the heaviest thing out of Canada outside of maple syrup, musically they evolved into your fairly prototypical second-wave thrash/speed metal act. In fact, Razor are now part of what is loosely referred to as Canada’s original Big Four, with Anvil, Exciter, and Voivod rounding out the mix.
Unfortunately, after making an initial splash with their first two outings, 1985’s Executioner’s Song, and its immediate follow up, Evil Invaders, the band stumbled somewhat on their third and fourth attempts, 1986’s Malicious Intent and 1992’s Custom Killing, with the former not really capturing the magic of the prior two and the later meandering into more experimental territory that just didn’t resonate with fans. Carlo quickly recognized this fact and decided to immediately switch gears and get back to basics. His thought was that if you are going to go down, you go down thrashing. The net result was 1988’s Violent Restitution.
Pound for pound, you ain’t gonna find a record in the entire annals of metal that is more thrash than this one. Yet what I believe makes Restitution truly stand out is its clear sense of purpose, which is to get in, thrash the living beejesus out of you, and get out, i.e. all thriller no filler. Songs are for the most part under three minutes long, and Carlo gets to business almost immediately the minute you press play. In fact, I challenge you to pick any random song off this album and not start nodding your head within the first fifteen seconds of hearing it with your horns firmly locked in their upright position. Tracks like “Enforcer,” “Bellow the Belt,” and the title one are just relentless, pummeling you with one catchy riff after the next. Couple that with McLaren’s iconic howls, screams, and general sense of mayhem, Restitution is a nonstop roller coaster ride that must be ridden at least once in your life if you call yourself a real thrasher.
The album was recorded in the winter of ’87 at Phase One Studios in Toronto and engineered by Billy Kennedy. The original Canadian pressing on Fringe will now set you back a pretty penny. So if you must wax, I recommend one of the reissues on either War on Music or High Roller Records since to my knowledge they are all for the most part equivalent and cost a fraction less. On the silvery plastic side of things, your choices are basically the original 1988 Steamhammer version clocking in at DR12 and the recently remastered one on Relapse measuring DR6. The remaster is a classic case of where the engineer over compensated for the fact that the original Kennedy master is probably a bit too quiet for most modern tastes (you heard it hear first!). Unfortunately, the Relapse version is now just too loud, with the drums lacking the same muster of the original as well as the guitars loosing all of their rugged charm in favor of a more modern, clean room sound. Though some might still prefer the louder version overall, my advice is to stick with the original and just turn the volume knob up! It is still by far the best sounding version.
Razor is always just one of those bands that always gets lost in the shuffle went talking about second-wave thrash, constantly being overshadowed by their US counterparts that dominated the scene back then. And by 1992, when the band finally decided to call it quits, metal was on its way out of the public conscious anyway, supplanted by the Seattle grunge movement that was taking over the airwaves by storm. Yet Razor still remains arguably one of Canada’s greatest metal exports and a bona fide institution in their own right. Recently, Carlo announced that he has gotten the band back together again (third time’s a charm), sans McLaren, and intends to release a new record in the near future. So while we all wait with baited breath for new Razor music to materialize, I encourage you to explore their back catalog, especially the trifecta of Executioner’s Song, Evil Invaders, and of course Violent Restitution, as all of them remain some of greatest thrash records of all time. In other words, keep calm and Razor on!