The heavy metal scene of the late '80s and early '90s died out for the same reason as the dinosaurs — it refused to evolve. Fans got bored of the same screams and guitar riffs recycled over and over again without change.

But now, just when you thought it was truly dead and buried, the metallic ones from days of yore are back — though mostly on smaller labels. Columbia has reactivated its old Portrait label imprint this summer to serve as a new bastion for old heavy metal machines to release new material, probably noting that CMC has, for the past year or two, managed to eke out an existence releasing almost nothing but albums by washed up hard rockers.

 

Slaughter - Back To Reality Slaughter
Back To Reality
(CMC)


Slaughter is one band that steadfastly has refused to evolve. From the first crunched guitar chord and squeaky scream on this CD, you're transported back to about 1989 and the reign of hair metal. Slaughter has released a couple of comeback albums on CMC now, and while they showed a brief touch of creativity with the hippie-esque "American Pie" from its Revolution CD, this disc sticks to poorly recorded, cliched hair metal from start to finish.

There's a nicely done instrumental guitar ballad in "Silence of Ba," which proves that the band could be crafting more intelligent music. And there are paint-by-numbers power ballads in "Love Is Forever" and "On My Own," which show that Mark Slaughter definitely sounds a lot better when he's not shrieking. But most of the disc is made up of ear-piercing, high-treble metal that has washed out the bass so much it sounds like the band recorded this disc in a closet through an AM radio. Even the cover (a huge hand reaching for a naked girl) looks cheesy and dated. Ew.

 

Scorpions - Eye II Eye Scorpions
Eye II Eye
(Koch)


There were a dozen Top 40 bands at the beginning of this decade trying to sound like Scorpions. "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Wind of Change" became the blueprints for a heavy metal pop smash.

While they could have rested on that trademark sound, Scorpions' 14th disc goes a long way toward modernizing. The first track, "Mysterious," oozes low voiced background vocals and rests on a danceable beat — this could have been a hard rock Roxette song. While the guitars are still grinding, Eye II Eye doesn't rely on dated metal styles to sell its material.

These songs fuse modern beats with sing-along pop choruses taking Scorpions from a has-been metal band to a current rock outfit with continued strong hit potential. That's not to say that the "old" sound of Scorpions is completely missing.

Nothing could mask the vocal style of Klaus Meine, and the disc delivers a gorgeous metal power ballad in "Obsession" that would have been a smash on radio a decade ago. It should be today, too, but whether an unknown label like Koch can get anyone to give this band a second chance remains to be seen.

 

Great White - Can't Get There From Here Great White
Can't Get There From Here
(Portrait)
½


Great White's blues-rock-metal hybrid sound — which found its best hit moment with a classic '70s cover, "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" — put them sometimes at odds with the glam metal scene of the late '80s, and the '90s haven't found them any more at home — they've switched record labels like underwear. But with the help of Damn Yankee Jack Blades in the producer and occasional co-writer's chair, the band returns on Portrait with another album of rock in the classic style.

These guys sound less like a metal band and more like a leftover powerhouse from the '70s on Can't Get There From Here. "Rollin' Stoned" takes its homage title a step further and actually cops a Rolling Stones-ish switchblade guitar riff, producing one of the Great White's best songs. While "Ain't No Shame" and "Silent Night" go for the early '90s Poison – Warrant, et al multi-voiced metal choruses –other songs here fall in the T-Rex and The Black Crowes side of the dial more than the glam hairclub for men. For a solid, if not groudbreaking summer rock 'n' roll disc, this one ain't bad.

 

Ratt
Ratt
(Portrait)


While Jack Blades helps out on one song, and Great White's Jack Russell co-writes a couple, that doesn't save this disc from the cliche bin. If you loved Ratt then, you'll love them now. Musical styles may have grown and evolved in the past decade, but you'd never know it from this CD. Stephen Pearcy and the rest of the gang may be a tad quieter and rootsier in their hard rock approach.

But otherwise it's full speed ahead on the familiar high harmony vocals, crunch bass lines and squealing guitar solos. It's recorded better than Slaughter's disc, but otherwise, this sound is the same as it ever was ... and it's tired today.

 

Def Leppard - Euphoria Def Leppard
Euphoria
(Mercury)


Somehow Def Leppard's brand of high-pomp, octane heavy metal never completely goes out of style (sort of like Aerosmith). And while its last album, 1996's Slang, stumbled, Euphoria again delivers the kind of calculated, layered vocal pounding beat paradise that made "Photograph," "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and others unstoppable pop rock hits.

This one leads off with "Demolition Man," a frenzied romp that sets the stage for a disc of classic pop metal that, while perhaps not quite as current or volatile as DF discs of old, certainly provides plenty of fist-shaking material for convertible drivers and beach parties.

"Promises" starts with a Pyromania-ish guitar line, while "Back In Your Face" cops a Gary Glitter handclap and "Heys" at its outset. There's a classic big harmony power ballad in "Goodbye," and 10 more classic slabs of Leppard. If you've missed 'em, they're back.

 

ESP
ESP
(Hard Rock)


What happens to the replacements? When Motley Crue took back original lead singer Vince Neil, John Corabi found himself bandless. And when KISS reformed with all-original members, KISS second-stringers Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick, as well as Ace Frehley band member Karl Cochran, were all suddenly unemployed. Put 'em all together and you get ESP, a glorified hard rock cover band. They're certainly all talented rock musicians, but show very little creativity in their first release, a collection of songs by their favorite artists.

Covered here with KISS-like energy are Sweet's "Set Me Free," "Humble Pie's "Four Day Creep" Edgar Winter's "Free Ride," Johnny Winter's "Still Alive and Well," Deep Purple's" Never Before," KISS' "Goin Blind," The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" and Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," among others. It's a good way to introduce the fans of Singer et al to the rock they cut their teeth on.

But the band brings nothing new to the material; there's nothing to separate these guys from a really good local classic rock cover band except their names. And those aren't exactly household words.