Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Widowmaker, "Blood and Bullets" (1992)
Widowmaker: "Blood and Bullets"
(Esquire Records, 1992)
Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider certainly earned his rep as one of heavy metal's original bad mother-effers. After years on the rough and tumble New York club circuit, Twisted Sister broke into the mainstream in 1984 with their Stay Hungry album, which featured the enduring anthems "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock." Snider's burly, tough-guy persona wasn't a front; the man lived for his music and his fans, and he was willing to go to the mat for both. During the infamous P.M.R.C. anti-rock Senate Hearings of 1985, Dee was the only metal artist with enough guts to go to Capitol Hill and get in Tipper Gore's face, for which all metalheads past, present and future owe him a debt of gratitude. Sadly, though Twisted Sister's flame burned brightly, it also burned quickly. When TS' fifth studio album Love Is For Suckers failed to ignite the Billboard charts in 1987, the band disintegrated in the face of declining record and ticket sales, road burnout, and clashing egos. It would be five years before Snider would resurface with his new combo, a no-frills metal outfit he called Widowmaker.
Goodbye Desperado, Hello Widowmaker
Widowmaker might never have happened if it weren't for the untimely demise of Snider's first post-Twisted Sister project, Desperado. Following the breakup of TS, Snider joined forces with former Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr and Irish guitarist Bernie Torme' in this blues-flavored hard rock "supergroup." Desperado signed to Elektra Records and their Bloodied But Unbowed debut album was slated to be released in 1990. Snider maintains to this day that Desperado was "the finest work" of his career, but Elektra abruptly cancelled the album's release at the last minute and put it permanently on the shelf. Devastated to see all their hard work go down the drain, the members of Desperado went their separate ways and Snider took some time off from the music business to be with his family. When he returned to the scene in 1992 with Widowmaker, Dee was joined by journeyman guitarist Al Pitrelli, onetime Desperado bassist Marc Russell, and former Twisted Sister drummer Joey Franco (who'd played on the final TS album, Love Is For Suckers). Widowmaker's debut album, Blood and Bullets, was released on a tiny Long Island, New York based indie label called Esquire Records.
Enter the Widowmaker!!
In late 1992 or early '93, I ventured out to a now long-gone rock dive in Wallington, New Jersey called "Rock the House" to see Widowmaker in concert. I hadn't yet heard the Blood and Bullets album, but I was a long time Twisted Sister fan and I wanted to see how well Dee's new combo could throw down. I wasn't disappointed! Widowmaker's material wasn't far removed from Twisted Sister's beloved meat-and-potatoes metal, and Dee naturally dropped a few TS songs into the set as well. It must also be noted that this particular show was the single LOUDEST concert I have ever attended. Despite the fact that we were in a shoebox-sized, hole-in-the-wall club, Dee and the band still brought enough stacks of Marshall amps to blow the roof off of Madison Square Garden, and I was right up at the front of the stage the entire time. By the end of the show I'd picked up a persistent ringing in my ears that lasted for an unsettlingly long time; after three days of constant buzz I was afraid that I'd suffered some permanent damage. Fortunately my hearing (slowly) returned to normal, so when I hit my local record store for a copy of Blood and Bullets several days after the show I was able to listen to it with my full attention. I'd also learned a valuable lesson about volume levels at rock shows, and from that point on I always kept a pair of ear plugs in my pocket when I went to gigs, just in case.
"The Widowmaker" from "Blood and Bullets"
Blood and Bullets may be a 1990s release but it makes few, if any, concessions to the time period. This is a classic '80s style anthemic metal album through and through, picking up exactly where Dee left off with Twisted Sister. In fact, it's actually a stronger record than either of Twisted Sister's last two releases (1985's Come Out and Play and 87's Love Is For Suckers), which were slick, overproduced, and lacked the teeth of their earlier classics like Under the Blade and You Can't Stop Rock N Roll. On Blood and Bullets, Dee's fangs were back and he was taking no prisoners! Things kick off nicely with the machine-gunning opener "Emaheevul," one of three cuts on this album that were originally written and recorded by Desperado for their ill-fated debut. From there we head into the laid back, sinister groove of "The Widowmaker," which features killer bass work by Russell and suitably menacing vox from Snider. (As an "Easter egg" for Twisted Sister fans, Snider hisses "Come here, my sweet..." at one point in this track, ala the dreaded villain Captain Howdy from TS' classic Stay Hungry epic "Horror-Teria.") The piledriving "Snot Nosed Kid," "Blood and Bullets (Pissin' Against the Wind)" and "Reason To Kill" provide further proof that Snider hadn't lost a step during his time away from the music scene. Things do slow down from time to time, like on the moody blues/rock number "Blue For You" (nice wailing guitar from Pitrelli on this one,and Snider gets to show his soulful vocal side) and "Calling For You" (the second recycled Desperado track; the third being the middling, mid-tempo "Gone Bad") before the album ends with a satisfying bang via the closing "We Are The Dead." Blood and Bullets was a mission statement to all the posers that had sprung up while Dee was on sabbatical: he was back and he could still kick your ass! If the universe were fair, this album would've signaled the start of a big time comeback for the man.
"Blue For You"
So What Happened?
Sadly, Blood & Bullets never caught on outside of Snider's core audience. Of course, it was the early 90s and the band wasn't wearing flannel, so Widowmaker probably would've faced an uphill climb no matter who their frontman was. Being signed to a small indie label certainly didn't help matters; Esquire Records didn't have the marketing muscle to properly promote the album's release, leaving Widowmaker to go it alone on the club scene playing to small but loyal audiences. Widowmaker were reportedly offered an opening position on Skid Row's 1992 Slave to the Grind U.S. tour, but Dee and company were forced to turn it down due to lack of tour support from their label. The opening slot ended up going to a then-unknown Texas band called Pantera, and well... we all know how things turned out for them.
Esquire Records was out of business by the time Widowmaker returned in 1994 with their sophomore album. The aggro-tinged Stand By For Pain was released on CMC International, a retro-rock label which specialized in picking up classic '80s rock artists who'd been given the heave-ho by the majors when the Grunge tide came rolling in. Stand By For Pain kept Dee's underground following happy, but it didn't set the charts on fire. Dee saw the writing on the wall, and Widowmaker disbanded after touring commitments for the disc were completed.
In the years since Widowmaker's demise, Dee Snider has become a true Heavy Metal Renaissance Man. He conquered radio as a morning-drive DJ, has performed voiceover work for television and video games, and starred in films like the cult 1998 horror opus Strangeland (based on the Twisted Sister character "Captain Howdy") and TV shows like NBC's Celebrity Apprentice, A&E's Growing Up Twisted and CMT's Gone Country. He's even appeared on the legitimate theatrical stage, in the Off Broadway jukebox musical hit Rock Of Ages.
Happily, Dee also settled his differences with his Twisted Sister bandmates. Nearly fifteen years after their bitter breakup, Twisted Sister reunited for a 9/11 benefit concert in New York in late 2001. The band continued to tour sporadically while also releasing a steady stream of new CDs (like 2006's surprise holiday hit A Twisted Christmas) until they officially "retired" from the road in 2016.
Dee published his autobiography in 2012 (Shut Up and Give Me the Mic) and has released several a solo albums including the hilarious Dee Does Broadway, where he performs rocked-out versions of classic show tunes. Howard Stern may call himself the "King of All Media," but he's got nothin' on Dee Snider!!
Wherever he goes from here, Dee Snider will remain one of Heavy Metal's most enduring icons. Though it didn't get its proper due when it was first released, Widowmaker's Blood and Bullets is worthy of a spot in every loyal S.M.F.'s album collection.
© 2012 Keith Abt