Let’s count the number of Canadian bands, formed back in the 80s, who left a mark in heavy metal. Indeed, there aren’t a few of them. It seems that Canada has always been a place where the rebellious youth could find enough space for musical expression. I don’t know the exact cause of this (maybe there’s something in the Canadian water, maybe it’s the cold…), but it’s a fact anyway. Irrespective of the parameters that enabled the development of this tradition, the Canadian contribution to extreme metal is highly appreciated.
In this prolific environment, two teenagers from Ottawa, Ontario, vocalist and drummer Dan Beehler and bassist Allan Johnson, joined guitarist John Ricci’s band, Hell Razor, in 1979. A year later, they changed their name to Exciter (after the Judas Priest song) and became one of the first speed metal bands. Soon, they recorded a demo that enabled them to sign a contract with Shrapnel Records. In 1983 they released their debut, “Heavy Metal Maniac”, the most noteworthy chapter in their discography and one of the albums that defined speed metal in its earliest form.
What impresses the listener instantly in this record is the raw power it unleashes without restrictions, communicating genuinely the wild spirit of three young men who wanted to play fast and loud. Clearly influenced by British bands, Exciter took the sound of NWOBHM, and made it something else; heavier, dirtier and wilder. In “Heavy Metal Maniac” you can hear all these elements that made Exciter what they are. Ideas from Judas Priest mainly (as well as from Iron Maiden, Saxon, etc.) are easily discernible. Black Sabbath’s heaviness is responsible for the huge sonic wall that comes out of your speakers. Motörhead’s dirty sound and punkish attitude surrounds you in aggressive, up-tempo tracks. And, of course, ACDC’s cunningness and rock flame is vivid, enriching Exciter’s music with the Australians’ carelessness and rebellious spirit.
Mike Varney, the band’s producer and founder of Shrapnel Records, is responsible for the rough, unprocessed sound of the album. In his only work with the band, he easily perceived Exciter’s essence and knew how to preserve and bring it out, without unnecessary tampering. Actually, Varney didn’t do much; he didn’t even proceed to further re-recordings. Listen to “Heavy Metal Maniac” and feel its frankness; it’s like the producer threw three street punks in the studio, telling them “Get in there you filthy bastards and f*** them all!”. Eventually, that’s what Exciter did…
The album is full of hymns thar wrote their own story in metal. Killer riffs in dynamites like “Stand Up and Fight”, “Under Attack” and “Cry of the Banshee” raise addiction dangerously, reminding you why you started listening to heavy metal, while the homonymous track became classic and inextricable part of every Exciter’s concert. These straightforward, flawless, archaic-speed-metal songs overwhelm everyone with tremendous volume of energy and roughness. If you have a genuine 80s freak called Beehler behind the kit and the mic, performing with the full power of his age and collaborating with Johnsson’s catastrophic bass, you don’t need anything else; these two guys were the perfect recipe for one of the heaviest, most solid rhythm sections of that era.
Besides traditional, fast-paced songs, Exciter revealed their orientation to heavier stuff in the slower “Iron Dogs”, reminding analogous Motörhead’s compositions. You feel thunderous vibrations to the bone, until the inevitable outburst near the end, in a track that makes you crave for more. Similarly, the strategically positioned “Black Witch”, just before the final explosion of “Cry of the Banshee”, has the essence of a wicked, 80s ballad, proving that Exciter could compose successfully even when they chose to avoid slamming on the gas pedal. Ricci’s haunting, gripping work on guitar is unforgettable, sending the song to another level…
Exciter never surpassed the quality and status of “Heavy Metal Maniac”. The sophomore “Violence & Force” was very close to it stylistically, being a successful successor, while “Long Live the Loud” was an honest, more heavy metal-oriented attempt. As for the following albums… let’s not talk about them… Internal tensions and collaborations with many different labels were unfavorable parameters that alienated the band from their true character. Unfortunately, Exciter lost the opportunity to make something even bigger in the long term.
Today, forty years after its release, “Heavy Metal Maniac” still stands out as a cult classic and an underground cornerstone of the genre. In the following years, it influenced many speed and thrash bands, who eventually became more widely known than Exciter. Essentially, it’s a “best practice” that teaches us how a band’s authenticity and enthusiasm can be approached in the studio, and -most important of all- a declaration of the metal youth of another era; an exploding, restless youth that was changing the music we hear.
Did you know that:
- “Heavy Metal Maniac” was recorded in about a week in a soundman’s basement. As already mentioned, no re-recordings were made. Actually, the band had the impression that they were recording a demo!
- Varney parted ways with Exciter, when he realized that some of the band’s lyrics were rather evil.
- Beehler has said that, due to producers’ faults, Exciter have never been able to capture the sound of “Heavy Metal Maniac” again. Sadly, he was right!
- Decibel Magazine included the album in its Top 100 Old-School Metal Albums of All Time.
- The album was reissued by Megaforce Records in 2005, including two bonus tracks, “World War III” and “Evil Sinner”.