The early 1990s were a dark time for classic hard rock and metal artists, amidst a changing musical landscape. Bands essentially had a choice to adapt to the changing times, or continue to stay true to themselves, running the risk of virtual nothingness as far as record sales go. All kinds of artists in this era tried their hand at both approaches. But regardless of which path they chose, almost none of them were ever able to recover their past glories.
While I understand the situation many of these artists were in, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the ones that stayed true to themselves and continued to make quality classic-style hard rock, regardless of what the world happened to be listening to in terms of popular music. These are the true rock soldiers.
Blackthorne was a short-lived supergroup that only recorded and released one album, but it was five classic hard rock musicians who more or less said “screw what’s popular.” The quintet put out an amazing record akin to what was coming out in rock and metal’s glory days, with heavier, modernized production. Sadly, it is a very obscure and forgotten band and album; even die-hard rock and metal fans do not know about this group on a very large scale.
Blackthorne was comprised of the following musicians:
-Bob Kulick on guitar. Kulick auditioned for KISS in the early 1970s, with Ace Frehley getting the gig. However, Kulick played and wrote songs for a number of late 70s/early 80s KISS releases. He has also played with Meat Loaf, in the band Balance, and in WASP in the early 1990s.
-Graham Bonnet on vocals. Bonnet will forever be known as Ronnie James Dio’s initial replacement in Rainbow and singing on one of their biggest hits, “Since You Been Gone.” He also sang for the Michael Schenker Group and the band Alcatrazz. Recently, he has been making a comeback with a new solo band.
-Jimmy Waldo on keyboards. Another former member of Alcatrazz alongside Bonnet. Earlier in his career, he was in the AOR band New England.
-Frankie Banali on drums. Banali’s claim to fame is being the drummer in Quiet Riot; he is the band’s sole remaining member from the classic 1983 Metal Health lineup. Prior to this, he had played drums on recordings from artists like Billy Thorpe and Billy Idol. Following Quiet Riot’s initial tenure, he also played for WASP; he has since reformed Quiet Riot.
-Chuck Wright on bass. Like Banali, Wright played in Quiet Riot in the 80s, and is also in the reunited version of the band that currently plays and tours. Prior to Quiet Riot, he was the bassist in Giuffria, and later played in its spin-off band, House of Lords.
-Guests on the album include Bruce Kulick (Bob’s brother, who was with KISS at the time) and Steve Plunkett (formerly of the band Autograph). Marc Ferrari (of Keel) gets a writing credit on one track.
Supergroups can be a hit and miss affair. They usually do not last very long for a wide variety of reasons, and what little output they put out is generally either a disgrace to the musician’s legacies, or a forgotten masterpiece; there is seldom an “in between.” I am thankful to report that the lone release from Blackthorne is a kick-ass hard rock album that definitely ranks amongst the best work any of these artists has ever appeared on, despite the lack of publicity or popularity. If you are a fan of classic hard rock, this is a release that will not disappoint.
It is tough to pinpoint the exact sound of the band, though I would liken it to a heavier, more modern sounding Alcatrazz. Former Alcatrazz frontman Graham Bonnet gives one of his most powerful vocal performances on this album; he is an underrated as hell singer, and his musical diversity is shown off beautifully on this record; you can tell he is pushing himself on each and every song on this album. The true stand-out member of the band on these recordings is guitarist Bob Kulick, who gives us some of his hardest, heaviest, and loudest playing; this is the extreme opposite end of the spectrum as the melodic AOR he gave us in Balance a decade prior to these recordings, yet the result is no less satisfying. His guitar work dominates every song on the record.
The rhythm section stands out as well. There are a few moments where the underrated-as-hell Chuck Wright plays “lead bass” and these are some of the true highlights of the record. The always competent and reliable Frankie Banali pounds away on every single track, proving why he is one of the best names in the business, a reputation he upholds to this day. All of the parts gel together nicely as a result of the personnel involved, all of whom are masters of their respective instruments. This is a dream supergroup, and it is a shame that these recordings did not get more publicity than they did.
Hard and heavy throughout, there are no dull moments in the album’s nearly 50 minute duration. Each track rocks hard and is absolutely relentless. While other artists were making a desperate attempt to sell out and give in the musical trends of the day to make a living wage, this quintet was kicking ass and staying true to themselves musically. If there is one minor weakness with this release, it is that the album is a little TOO relentless at times; it would have been interesting to have had songs exploring a more melodic and progressive direction, since we know how diverse the artists comprising the group are. That very minor hiccup aside, this stands as an album that deserves to be rediscovered, or in many cases, discovered by fans for the first time.
What are the highlights of this record? Well, every damn track is good. But some personal favorites include the speedy, relentless musical assault of “Breaking the Chains” (NOT a cover of the Dokken song) and the ominous, powerful sounds of “We Won’t Be Forgotten.” “Babe You’re the Blood,” with Jimmy Waldo’s keyboards out in full force, feels like a lost Alcatrazz song. The album even ends with a cover of Bonnet’s old Rainbow classic, “All Night Long,” which is heavier and more powerful in this incarnation, which feels gritty and down to earth when compared to the version from Down to Earth (pardon the terrible pun).
This is one of those criminally underrated albums that time forgot. Graham Bonnet, Bob Kulick, Frankie Banali, Chuck Wright, and Jimmy Waldo in the same band? If that alone does not sell you on the premise here, the songs themselves definitely will. Amongst the hardest, heaviest, and most relentless recordings to ever feature these musicians, no fan of theirs is going to do be disappointed by what they hear on this album. It is well worth hunting down and absolutely, positively should not be overlooked. The only and only release from Blackthorne gets my highest recommendation.
UPDATE: The band's shelved second album was finally released in September 2016! Along with it, the band's debut, Afterlife, reviewed here, was also reissued, with three bonus tracks.