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Flash Metal Suicide: Spellbound

This week: macho, chugging Thin Lizzy riffs with pyrotechnic Van Halen flourishes? It can only be Spellbound's 1984 debut, Breaking the Spell.

“If you wanna know how to rock, I'm gonna teach you how to roll” - Rock the Nation

There’s what, nine million Swedes? And eight million of them are in rock bands. And half of those are in some Hellacopters offshoot project. It's all pretty exciting. But nobody even knew how many guitars were getting cranked up to eleven in the Arctic Circle before the garage rock explosion of the 2000's. Prior to that, most folks here in the US only knew about ABBA, and if you had a girlfriend in the mid-80s, maybe Europe, too. We had no idea that Swedish metal accounted for a good third of every headbanger’s collection back in the teen sleaze days — Overdrive, OZ, Heavy Load, Torch, Axe Witch, Burn, Mercy, Gotham City, Bathory, the list went on and on. It kinda makes sense, though. It's pretty cold and dark up there. Leather and endless inky black midnights are eventually gonna breed heavy metal.

Here’s the thing, tho. Swedish metalheads didn’t like to fuck around. They liked drinking and wearing spiked armbands and worshipping Satan and maybe smashing each other in the face with bottles — all this Sunset strip nonsense with the lipstick and the spandex and banging chicks in coffins or whatever was strictly squaresville to the hearty Swedes. Which is why Sweden rarely committed Flash Metal Suicide. I’m sure there was plenty examples of speed metal suicide or death metal suicide going on, but that’s another subject completely. Europe doesn't count, by the way, since only your grandmother would ever call those puffballs “metal”, and I’m still kinda on the fence about whether funky T Rex-y glitter metal band The Electric Boys ever really blew it or not. So, the prize goes to white fingerless glove abusers Spellbound. Lucky them. 

Spellbound formed in ’84, and had a track on the semi legendary Swedish Metal compilation that same year. I say semi-legendary because the other bands on deck were Shed, Universe, and Motherlode, and none of them were ever heard from again. Spellbound were the picks of the litter, and they were soon signed by Sonet, a Swedish metal label. Their debut, Breaking the Spell, was released a few months later. The band was temporarily big in England, thanks mostly to Kerrang!, who heaped an embarrassing amount of praise on ‘em. Their review of Breaking the Spell read, in part: “Spellbound are, without a doubt, the best metal band Scandinavia have EVER produced; and on an international scale, they're one of the best commercial metal bands I’ve heard.” Yikes. At any rate, they were flavour of the week in the UK for about 10 minutes or so, but by the time they released their ridiculous follow-up, England was busy with Bananarama and Voice of the Beehive or whatever, and like I said, rockers in their homeland were only interested in the kinda metal they could wear fur pelts and howl at the moon to. And the US had its own heavy metal problems, thanks. So, Spellbound were fucked. They broke up in ’87. The world did not split into pieces as a result. But Breaking the Spell is still pretty fun. 

The cover of the album is a remarkably inept cut n’ paste job, which trims out a pic of the band staring at the floor, slaps it onto a murky ‘gothic’ background, and then pastes a photo of a disinterested looking gypsy chick staring at the ceiling and holding her hand out like she’s waiting for a high-five on top of it all. Then, they painted in a crystal ball that’s supposedly falling out for her hands. And, presumably, breaking the spell. What spell? I dunno. Perhaps the 'We're dressed very inappropriately for Sweden' spell.

Funny thing is, tho, once you toss the goofy graphics aside and just play the record, Spellbound become a whole different beast. In fact, if Too Fast for Love didn’t already exist in ’84 (or, if you called Too Fast a punk record, which it really kinda was), then Breakin’ the Spell might’ve been the greatest flash metal album since Steeler’s debut in ’82. I know, I sound like the doofus from Kerrang!, but it's true. I mean all the elements are here — macho, chest thumping lyrics belted out by a leather-lunged ego star, chugging Thin Lizzy riffs with pyrotechnic Van Halen flourishes, a thundering rhythm section, and an overall ‘dumb sexy beast’ vibe. All the stuff the LA bands went for, really, only difference being that Spellbound could actually play their instruments. And if you’ve heard as much flash metal as I have, you’d know just how rare musical competence was back then. A couple tracks take wild stabs at crass commercialism – Take a Piece of My Heart has the evil, addictive hooks and powerpop guitars of a Rick Springfield song, and Passion Kills is the obligatory limp power ballad, but otherwise, Spellbound rock the rockin’ rocket here, ‘specially on the awesome ‘glory of rock’ epics Rock the Nation and Hooked on Metal (!). And ya gotta love the mercilessly ham-fisted lyrics. “They’re gonna commit suicide if they don’t hear their sounds!” and “I don’t believe in the Bible, but baby, I believe in love” being a couple of personal faves. I tell ya, if you dig big, dumb pop metal, it doesn’t get much bigger, dumber, poppier, or better than Breakin’ The Spell.

So, where’s the Flash Metal Suicide come in? Well, they went and did another record. 1985's Rockin' Restless really upped the ante on the pop metal bullshit. It's basically the first Steel Panther record twenty-five years too soon. And if your record is too goofy for 1985 – a spectacularly goofy year in every way – than your goose is most definitely cooked. 

No post-band tragedies to report with these cats. Lead singer Hans Froberg went on to howl for a million other bands, most notably the prog-rock supergroup Flower Kings. Guitarist JJ Marsh was with the Hughes/Turner Project for awhile, featuring the guy-from-Deep Purple and the guy-from-Rainbow. Dunno what happened to the back-line, but they’re probably proggin’ out somewhere too.  Spellbound still gets together occasionally for one-off reunion gigs for festivals and whatever, and also have plans to record again. But, you know, don’t we all? 

Next Week: Imitating Angels 

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