There comes a time when most bands start to lose it and if you were to ask me, this would happen to Vicious Rumors in 1991. Falling somewhere between familiar US power metal and uninspired hard rock, Welcome to the Ball is a clear step downhill when compared to its predecessor.
For a realistic comparison, think of what Metal Church were doing in the same year, yet whereas they had bigger ears for hooks and wrote more exciting riffs, Vicious Rumors aren’t capable of pulling all their ideas off with that kind of conviction. It’s a shame, because from time to time, these guys still show what they’re good at. Carl Albert is arguably at his most versatile here; as his vocal attack ranges from a commanding snarl to a distorted yell that’s reminiscent of Mike Howe. The guitarists, too, bring a variety of ideas to the table. ‘You Only Live Twice’ feature riffs that speed up the highway, yet even certain mid-paced rhythms that have been scattered around the album manage to stand out (not to be confused with the bizarre groove direction that the band would take in 1994). I should also mention how exciting and vibrant the guitar solos sound. Elaborated and thoughtfully written, no note ever appears out of place and of course, these always make songs slightly more interesting to my ears.
What makes Welcome to the Ball a frustrating album is certainly not rocket science. It just doesn’t rock well; as we’re not talking about fun anthems that would stick into your brain for good and even some of the metallic tracks that remain present lack magic. Tunes like ‘Savior from Anger’ and ‘Mastermind’ see Carl Albert wasting his talents around some misplaced and mediocre riffs that go one ear in and one ear out and while these tunes show no signs of rock just yet, they’re pretty awful either way. ‘Children’ is a piss-poor attempt at a rocking ballad that might be social conscious from a lyrical point of view (again, bringing to mind what Metal Church were doing at this time), but musically speaking, it doesn’t do it for me. Devoid of an emotional backbone, it plods along with a chugging verse that goes on forever and you can forget about any superior chorus saving things from mediocrity. Again, Carl Albert sounds in top form here, but you need more than powerful vocals to make a ballad work! ‘Strange Behavior’ is another worthless song on the album and it’s easy to see why; with forgettable vocal lines, useless gang shouts and riffs that sound as huge as a midget’s pinkie, it’s one of the worst examples of a power metal band trying to rock out that I could think of. At last, I feel somewhat neutral about ‘When Love Comes Down’, which is a smooth ballad that at least has more of a sentimental effect to it than ‘Children’ has, even if I could have done with an actual infectious chorus to spice things up.
The highlights remain rather interesting, even if I had preferred them not being surrounded by a lot of garbage. ‘Abandoned’ kicks off the album with a serious gritty attitude. Carl Albert sounds surprisingly dirty and pissed off here; snarling his way around some choppy riffs that sound surprisingly heavy for this band. ‘You Only Live Twice’ opens up with some beautiful acoustics that promise something balladic, before turning up the heat with some rapid-fire guitar chops that lead into a blistering exposure of brilliant speed/power metal. ‘Dust to Dust’ is more of a pounder than a speed wagon, but retains its worth with some crunchy rhythm sections that aren’t completely stealing the show. It’s obvious that Carl Albert was meant to shine here and you can bet that he does; as he injects plenty of life in both the verses and the chorus to a point that you won’t forget about this tune anytime soon. ‘Raise Your Hands’ is another fast track, with some cutting riffs screaming out US power metal almost as much as Carl Albert does. Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing sophisticated about its riffs – nor the chorus, but since US power metal was never meant to be a university for PhD nerds, complaining about such would be foolish.
Otherwise, I have not much to say about this. Giving Welcome to the Ball a shot may work for you, but I’m fine with the band’s first three albums – so spend your time with those first if you haven’t just yet and proceed with caution. Interesting artwork, though – if only I could say the same about the music!
Score: 63 / 100 – Not vicious enough
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