I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Blackthorne – Afterlife/Don't Kill The Thrill
Genre: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Length: 2 CDs
Label: The Store For Music
I only recently became aware of the short lived early 90s hard rock "supergroup" Blackthorne, which is kind of odd, because all of the band members have been well known to me for many years.
Blackthorne featured powerhouse vocalist Graham Bonnet (from Rainbow, MSG, and Alcatrazz), the late Bob Kulick (Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper, W.A.S.P., and frequent KISS guest) on guitar, bassist Chuck Garric, and the late Frankie Banali on drums (both of Quiet Riot). Based on that lineup, I am not sure how this project flew under my radar back in the day.
Blackthorne's debut album, Afterlife, was released in 1993 on the retro-rock specialist label CMC International Records. Given the grunge-crazed time period in which it appeared, I can only assume that it was met with total indifference. A second album, Don't Kill The Thrill, was recorded around the same time but it went unreleased until 2016.
In 2021, both albums were re-packaged in a 2 CD set by the Store For Music label with a host of demos, live tracks, and alternate versions tacked on as bonus cuts.
Based on the musicians involved, I felt like this package was a pretty safe purchase, so I ordered it without hearing a note of their music beforehand. Just as I'd hoped, Blackthorne was right up my alley—hard hitting, frenzied, flashy, '80s-as-hell melodic hard rock/heavy metal. Unfortunately, in spite of their musical firepower, Blackthorne arrived too late to make any impact on the scene.
Disc 1: "Afterlife"
1993's Afterlife debut blasts out of the gate with the ferocious "Cradle To The Grave," with Graham Bonnet screaming his ass off over some seriously badass Bob Kulick guitar riffage. "Afterlife" kicks off with more pummeling Kulick guitar work and righteous pounding from the late, great Mr. Banali, but Bonnet seems like he's lost in the mix and screeching to be heard over his bandmates.
The ironically-titled "We Won't Be Forgotten" kicks off with a riff that's seemingly cribbed from AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" (the nerve!) before settling into its own dirty, rhythmic groove. Similarly, "Breaking The Chains" (no, it's not a Dokken cover) kicks off with a bass line straight out of Rush's "YYZ" before the main riff kicks in that recalls Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher."
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...okay, so obviously Blackthorne was not the most original band ever to come down the pike, but they made up for their lack of innovation with their fiery, energetic performance!
"Over And Over" and "Hard Feelings" are killer slabs of sleazy, Sunset Strip hard rock, with Kulick leading the charge yet again. It's a shame that Bob spent most of his career as a side man for other artists because as these tracks show, when he let it rip, he was just as good as any of the other "guitar heroes" making the rounds.
The synth accents in "Baby You're The Blood" lend a brief AOR feel to the proceedings, before the sinister "Sex Crime" brings things back to hard rockin' territory with Bonnet adopting a reptilian, lock-up-your-daughters snarl. "Love From The Ashes" returns to the AC/DC blues-rock playbook, and a cover of Bonnet's Rainbow-era hit "All Night Long" metalizes the classic rock chestnut to the point where it's almost unrecognizable.
The Afterlife album tracks end there, but the rest of Disc 1 is padded out with a half dozen live and demo bonus cuts of varying quality. I particularly liked the updated cover of Bonnet's Rainbow oldie "Since You've Been Gone" (recorded in 1992, with vocals added in 2018), and a rough draft of "Afterlife" which featured Tony Palacios, of the Christian hard-rock band Guardian, on guitar.
Disc 2: "Don't Kill The Thrill"
Don't Kill The Thrill pretty much picks up where Afterlife left off. It kicks off with the heavy-as-stink title track, which has a great, rumbling bass groove by Garric and crunchy riffing from Kulick. "Wild Inside" and "Skeletons In The Closet" continue this crushing tradition and then "Dreaming In The Hideaway" mellows things out slightly. The bluesy rocker "Man In A Black Hat" and the speed burner "Twist The Blade" keep the energy level high, as do the rip-roaring, chunky "Judgement Day" and the twisting "Insanity."
"Save Me" ends the album on a high note, and then like on Disc 1, the rest of the CD is filled out with a clutch of bonus tracks, most of which are listenable, but unremarkable demo versions of album cuts.
Summing It Up
I hate to say it, but Graham Bonnet was the weak spot in Blackthorne for me. Don't get me wrong, I have nothin' but respect for the man (anybody who can work with the notoriously temperamental likes of Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, AND Yngwie Malmsteen without ever throwing a punch deserves a medal!), but on most of these tracks he over-sings, to the point where his yowling drowns out the work of his equally talented band mates.
Blackthorne definitely had chops, but they needed a producer who could establish a proper balance between Bonnet's vocal hysterics and Kulick's guitar heroics.
That said, this 2-CD set is a nicely packaged collectible that is well worth investigating for fans of '80s metal obscurities, especially now that that two of the band members (Kulick and Banali) have passed on. Reissues like this guarantee that Bob and Frankie will continue to rock on ... in the Afterlife.
© 2022 Keith Abt