"Steel Assassin"—Can You Help Stormspell Records Find This "Mystery Band?"
A Heavy Metal Mystery...
When I received my most recent shipment of audio goodies from the tiny-but-true heavy metal purveyors at Stormspell Records, I discovered an unexpected bonus: a CD cryptically labeled "Mystery Band—1986." The CD's cover was a picture of a beat-up, age-stained box with the words "STEEL ASSASSIN Master" crudely scrawled across it in black marker. A bright red banner at the corner of the cover warned me that this disc was "NOT FOR SALE!"
The back cover of the disc repeats that this CD is "NOT FOR SALE" and even has my name hand-written on the back ("This Copy Belongs To..."), in what seems to be a low-tech security measure. By now, my curiosity was running high, and I hadn't even taken the CD out of the case yet! "What the hell is this?" I said aloud.
When I opened the CD and read the notes on the inside cover, it quickly became clear that I was holding something special in my hand: an honest-to-God lost recording by a still-unknown band, with a backstory fit for an episode of the old TV show, Unsolved Mysteries.
The Tale of the Tape...
The tale begins several years ago when Stormspell Records label honcho "Danny" first came across a reel of recording tape at a flea market near his California home base. The band name "Steel Assassin" (which actually looks like "Steev Assassin" at first glance!) was Sharpie'd on the front of the tape box, but there were no song titles, band members' names, credits or any other details on the package -- just a contact address for a "Haymarket Productions" in San Francisco and the words "J.T. Productions, July 1986" written on the side. The dealer Danny bought it from had acquired the tape as part of a storage-unit auction, so he had no idea who the band was or where they were from. When Danny listened to the "mystery tape," he realized that whoever "Steel Assassin" was, their material was a perfect candidate for release on his record label, which specializes in obscure, traditional heavy metal from the '80s. Unfortunately, the tape held few clues to uncovering the band's identity or how to track the musicians down. None of Danny's extensive contacts in the underground metal scene were familiar with the band, and the "Haymarket Productions" address turned out to be a nondescript Frisco apartment building. As it turns out, there is a well known underground metal band from Massachusetts called "Steel Assassin," but Danny was quickly able to determine that the "mystery tape" was not recorded by that group.
After running into constant dead ends trying to locate anyone with a connection to the mysterious "Steel Assassin," Stormspell decided to press a limited number of CDs of their music and send them as free bonuses to anyone who placed an order at the label's web shop. This "semi-official bootleg" is being given away in the hopes that someone might recognize the songs and finally help I.D. the musicians. Stormspell wants to find out who this band is/was, so they can either negotiate a legitimate full-scale re-release of the material, or at least give them their master tape back!
Unfortunately, I won't be able to help Stormspell ID this group - they don't sound familiar. However, the seven tracks on this disc are certainly an enjoyable listen, and the rough-and-ready, underproduced demo-tape quality only adds to their charming, retro vibe.
The disc opens with a crunchy instrumental intro that reminded me of Armored Saint before it rips into the first track proper, "Queen of Sin," a high-energy metal anthem with some Rob Haford-esque screams and squealing guitar solos. (Note: since the Mystery Tape did not have any song titles on it, Stormspell gave each of them a wild-guess title based on the lyrics.) "Soul Shaker" sounds a bit like something that might've been on Dokken's Tooth & Nail album, and "On The Highway" is a speedy number that resembles vintage Judas Priest. "Heart of Stone" is a moody, mid-paced track with a Motley Crue-ish chorus and then "Coming Home" is a tender acoustic ballad about being on the road and missing your one true love. (Every '80s metal band had to have one of those songs. It was practically in the Constitution.) The disc then wraps up with "Living on the Edge," another high-energy rocker in the Ratt/W.A.S.P./Lizzy Borden vein.
In short, this band had the goods so it would certainly be interesting to find out who they were, or if they have more material waiting to be discovered!
After numerous listens I am still fascinated by this recording, which prompts so many questions and so few answers. Who are the players on this tape? Where are they now? Where were these songs recorded? Is the band's name "Steel Assassin" or "Steev Assassin?" Was this intended as an album release or a demo tape? Who or what was "J.T. Productions?" Somebody out there has got to know!
Can you help?
Stormspell hasn't put any of the Mystery Band's music on their YouTube channel since they don't have ownership/copyright of the tunes, but there are a couple of samples on their Bandcamp page that you can check out if you're curious.
Come on, people - let's spread the word! The guys who played on this tape have got to be out there somewhere! Does the guy at your oil change place always talk about how his old band "could'a been huge," or that they opened for Malice at Ruthie's Inn back in 1985? If so, you could hold the key to solving this mystery. Stormspell Records wants to hear from you!!
© 2018 Keith Abt