Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Piledriver, "Metal Inquisition" (1985)
Piledriver, "Metal Inquisition" (Cobra Records, 1985)
I was a pimply high school freshman in 1985, with no girlfriend, no car, and no job. I may not have been one of the "cool kids," but I was definitely one of the heavy metal kids. The highlight of my week came each Friday night, when my local rock radio station broadcast the "Metal Mania" program from midnight to 3 a.m. This show played the newest, most obnoxious sounds from the then-exploding heavy metal underground. The playlists served as my record-buying guide on a weekly basis. "Metal Mania" introduced me to such now-legendary names as Loudness, Accept, W.A.S.P., and Armored Saint, to name just a few. I'd hear songs by these and many other bands for the first time on "Metal Mania" on Friday night, and then I'd rush to the Sam Goody store at the mall first thing on Saturday morning to blow my allowance money on their albums.
Thrash Metal was just beginning its rise from the underground in '85. Metallica was well known among the hardcore headbanger fraternity, but they were still a few years away from being mega-stars. Ditto for their compatriots in Exodus, Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth. I was hip to all of of these bands at the time, as well as Overkill, Metal Church, Mercyful Fate, and countless others, but one fateful night "Metal Mania" played a track by a mysterious new band called Piledriver. The song was called "Metal Inquisition" and amidst a backdrop of buzz-saw guitars and unhinged, screeching vocals, came this now-classic refrain that hooked me immediately:
"If you're not a metalhead you might as well be dead!
Weeeeee're the Metal Inquisition... we sentence you to DEATH...by guillotine!"
The "death!" was punctuated by the sound of a falling guillotine blade, which just made the whole thing even cooler. I was sold! I had to hear more from this band.
My headbanger friends and I always discussed the past weekend's Metal Mania show at school on Monday morning... and that particular week, everyone was raving about "that guillotine song!" One of my buddies ran off to the record store and bought Piledriver's Metal Inquisition LP, causing the rest of us to "oooh" and "ahhh" with jealousy.
For a bunch of 14 year olds, the cover to Metal Inquisition appeared to be the image of Heavy Metal Incarnate, with its unforgettable photo of The Piledriver -- a hulking dude clad in a leather-and-spikes S&M outfit, complete with mask, using a Flying V guitar to jackhammer some luckless poser to death against a backdrop of Marshall amps and dry ice fog. My pal generously offered to record the album onto a cassette tape for me, as was the custom at the time, since we were all perennially broke teenagers -- if one of us bought an album, we'd make copies for the rest of our gang; then the next time another member of the group would make an album purchase and spread it around to the rest. If memory serves, he recorded the soundtrack to "This is Spinal Tap" on the flip side of that tape. Many years later it would occur to me that Spinal Tap was the perfect companion piece to Metal Inquisition and its heady Canadian brew of over the top guitar histrionics, offensive-on-purpose lyrical content and vocals that seemed to come from the depths of Hell itself.
"Witch Hunt...We're Goin' on a Witch Hunt!"
Though the title track was far and away the best song on Metal Inquisition, the rest of the tracks were not slouches either. Every groove of the LP overflowed with pounding bravado and ear-splitting guitar abuse made for shaggy 14-year-olds to headbang along with.
The lyrics were hilariously macho, gory-to-the-extreme comic book nonsense about alien invaders marauding their way across Earth ("Alien Raid"), sentencing witches to violent deaths ("Witch Hunt"), and of course, that awesome title track, which praised all things METAL and warned anyone into disco or country music that they were going to get their asses royally kicked.
Eventually my brother and I obtained our own copy of Metal Inquisition and pretty much played it to death. We were sure that Piledriver would soon rise to the status enjoyed by underground heroes like Metallica and Slayer and we dreamed of seeing the band live one day so we could worship at the altar of "The Pile." Unfortunately, it never happened. Piledriver stuck around for one more album, 1986's Stay Ugly, and then they seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving only the stench of brimstone behind them.
Several years later a college friend scored an original Canadian pressing of Metal Inquisition (on the Canuck "Cobra Records" label) and I was surprised to learn that it contained two tracks that weren't on the U.S. version I owned (released by the here-today, gone-tomorrow indie "H.M.E. Records")—"Sex With Satan" and "Sodomize the Dead" were replaced by "Devil's Lust" and "Twister" on my tape. I also learned that one of my favorite tracks, known as "Alien Raid" on my copy, was actually titled "Alien Rape," according to the Canadian pressing. Presumably the U.S. label made these changes rather than invite controversy from the PMRC, which was making lots of noise about "demonic" heavy metal music in the halls of Congress at the time.
"Sex With Satan"
The Shocking Revelations!!!
By the late 1990s, metal fanzines and web sites began to wonder, "Whatever happened to Piledriver, anyway?" but when journalists tried to hunt down the band members for interviews, Metaldom at Large was shocked to learn that Piledriver had never really been an actual "band" at all, but a studio creation assembled by Cobra Records to cash in on the burgeoning thrash-metal craze. The Metal Inquisition tracks were whipped up by Leslie Howe and Louise Reny, a pair of Canadian musicians who then called in a young singer named Gord Kirchin, with whom they'd previously jammed in a band called "Mainstream," to provide vocals for their pre-existing songs.
Kirchin also supplied vox for another fictitious "band" on Cobra Records -- Convict, whose Go Ahead...Make My Day! was also released in 1985. Aside from Gord on vocals, the only other "member" of Convict was studio musician Conrad Taylor.
The second Piledriver album, 1986's Stay Ugly, continued this arrangement. Though a new lineup of (bogus) musicians were listed on the album's credits, all the songs on Stay Ugly were written and performed by David DeFeis and Edward Pursino of Long Island, New York power-metal band Virgin Steele, with Kirchin once again providing vocals. In spite of these revelations, the band and their albums had already achieved Cult Classic status.
The Return of the Pile!!
Sadly, the first two Piledriver albums have been out of print for many years. They were "re-issued" on CD several times during the 1990s and '00s in poor quality bootleg form, and even those discs have become pricey collector's items.
After Piledriver, Gord Kirchin kicked around the Canadian metal scene in a number of bands, most notably Dogs With Jobs and SOFA-Q, before obeying The Voice of the Cult and re-forming his most famous project. With a slight name change to "The Exalted Piledriver" and fronting an all new lineup, Kirchin released the first new Piledriver material in nearly 20 years in 2005 with the demo tape Metal Manifesto, followed by 2008's studio album of the same name. Piledriver played its first-ever live shows (!) in their native Canada at that time and made several appearances at European metal festivals. The Exalted Piledriver's most recent release, a live disc from 2011 called Night of the Unpolished Turd, shows that they're still alive and kickin' and just as sick as ever.
According to The Exalted Piledriver's official Facebook page, writing has begun on a new studio album, which will be entitled Humans Suck ... so even if you've missed out on the Metal Inquisition up till now, take heart... you still have a chance to join them, the mighty and the proud!!
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© 2012 Keith Abt