Stripshow - Late Nite Cult Show
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Before Dimma there was The Michael Bruce Group, and before that... there was Stripshow. Yes, it's more rock and roll from Iceland courtesy of the Geirdal Bros and assorted other icelandic musos. This time it's a blast from the past with a 10th anniversary re-issue of this long out of print album by their pre-MBG band Stripshow, and just to add a little more Alice to the brew it comes complete with a new song featuring Dennis Dunaway on bass.
The professionally produced (as always) CD comes in a card slip cover hiding a jewel case containing a 12 page glossy booklet with brief history of the band, photo, lyrics and credits, all in English. It's very nicely presented, only maybe let down by the original cover art which doesn`t do the rest of the packaging justice. The slipcase does a good job in hiding it though! The CD is a concept album based on the idea of a freak show in which the deprived "freak" slaves ultimately conquer their dictator and master of ceremonies. Apparently this was too much for South Korea where it was originally banned from all radio and TV play for "immoral" lyrics so you have been warned!!
On putting the disc in your computer the first thing that comes up is actually a video for the opening song ''Where Are We Now'. It's a very professional production that wouldn't be out of place on MTV/VH-1. The band are seen both in a bizarre and slightly disturbing concept piece as well as playing on a cliff top and it's all very theatrical boding well for the music on the album. The song itself starts with a moody acoustic intro before hitting into the main song which a great classic rock track with lots of cool guitar breaks and a chugging riff/vocal melody that really sticks in your head (I found myself humming it driving across town after just one listen!).
Moving onto the music, the album opens with the aforementioned 'Where Are They Now' before moving onto 'Whiplash', a frenetic rocker that does have a slight euro-metal feel to it but without the Iron Maiden fixation much of that genre seems to have. Unlike Dimma the vocals by Gudmundar do have a slight accent but all lyrics are in english. The song invites the listener to come to see the freak show, the late night cult show, naming some bizarre characters we'll probably meet again later.
Track three, 'Pinheads' changes the pace completely with an circus style intro which highlights the bands use of duel vocals (the main voice plus a demented counterpoint by Ingo, kinda like Alice and Donovan on 'Billion Dollar Babies') before hitting into another grinding groove. 'Blind' opens with beautiful acoustic vocal piece before becoming a little more twisted. In his intro notes Ingo mentions that journalists had trouble pigeonholing the band into a set genre, and he's exactly right. The band can change from one idea or style to another with ease while never losing sight of the overall picture. Everything sits side by side with ease and you just feel like going with the flow and enjoying the music for what it is. 'Blind' ends with an eastern feel before 'Lady Tarantula' enters the scene with a great rock hook to get us back on a more metal path again.
'Spooks' ups the creep factor a few points and is very reminiscent of 'This House Is Haunted', accept you have to remember this was recorded some years before Alice thought up his own ghostly tale. The similarities are striking in parts even down to the spooky sound effects. However unlike Alice's take, which always seemed to me to be rather incomplete, Stripshow make a full epic out of it including a full scale 'Omen' style choir!! Very impressive.
The title track, 'Late Nite Cult Show' follows and features some nice solo bass work from Silli while Ingo gets to show off his licks on a blistering solo. 'Sentimental Jack and the Puppets' rocks along nicely before 'Rhapsody In Black' brings us back down again. There's more of Ingo's excellent acoustic playing on this emotive power ballad with a great vocal performance from Gudmundar. A highlight.
'Cleptolanzia' is a more straight ahead rocker but 'Freaks', the longest track on the album, is another epic song mixing a quiet moody intro with heavier sections as the singer calls out for more understanding of the freak show's inhabitants who do what they do because they can't be accepted any other way. An excellently structured song that even at eight and a half minutes doesn't outstay it's welcome.
'Psychodrama' brings the album proper to a close with another power ballad, something these guys obviously do very well. Their use of light and shade makes them stand out from the more straight ahead metal bands that were a dime a dozen for many years, especially in Europe. That, the use of sound effects. and mix of musical sounds and ideas gives them something different.
Finally, the song many will be most interested in. 'Here Comes The Spider' is a recording of an old song from the same period as the rest of the album, but which was actually recorded this year with the original band lineup and Alice Coopers' Dennis Dunaway guesting on bass (Silli switching to second guitar). Nice as it always is to hear Dennis playing on anything, the song sits perfectly well on the album and I'm not sure he adds that much that wouldn`t have been there anyway. You notice the bass more then normal because you know who it is, but as Silli is a top rank player in his own right the appearance of Dennis is really just a nice little bonus for AC fans (which includes the band I'm sure) rather then something that probably adds that much over all.
So, 67 minutes later the album ends on a high point, although there's barely a dip in quality, or musicianship, anywhere. You can hear the roots of what would become Dimma in the grooves of Stripshow and it is maybe surprising that the band didn't get more attention at the time then they did. They were a top flight unit but maybe their locale (Iceland) made it difficult for them to get mainstream attention in the UK or US and without that you are fighting an up hill battle all the way. This release is a quality package and while subsequently surpassed by the superb Dimma album it would be a great shame to dismiss what is a very solid recording in it's own right. One which would stand up to pretty much anything around at the time.