Leather – Shock Waves
Written by Kevin Tanza on May 6, 2022
Leather Leone is one of the undisputed greats when it comes to female Metal vocalists, and if we are fair to her, she is one of the finest Metal singers. Full stop. Her career over the years, especially with the band
Chastain, has produced a great amount of masterpieces in the genre that, sadly enough, never got the credit they deserved.
Her vocals are everything you want classic Heavy Metal to be: powerful, charismatic and with a wide range. She can scream like a banshee and then conjure some extremely magical vocal melodies. Much like her idol, the great and late Ronnie James Dio, Leather really defines all the great things about this music style.
And if we are talking about underrated Leather albums, her first solo album, 1989’s Shock Waves, definitely takes the cake as arguably one of the most unjustifiably ignored records in the genre as a whole.
After a great streak of albums with Chastain, Leather pursuing a solo career seemed like a logical move. Here you had a great singer with great looks, a charismatic voice and a hook for melodies. In the late 80s, where Metal was so commercially viable, a more accessible approach to the Chastain formula of heavy riffs, strong melodies and aggressive singing seemed like a sure thing in the market. And while it didn’t have the results they wanted, commercially speaking, it did create a wonderful album.
It’s interesting to compare this record to the Chastain albums with Leather, especially when you consider that the band’s main songwriter and guitarist, David T. Chastain, is working as the producer of Shock Waves. And while there are definitely similarities to, say, Ruler of the Wasteland or The Voice of the Cult, the reality is that this feels more like a traditional Heavy Metal album of the time and very much in line with the Dio influences that have been part of Leather’s entire career.
The rest of the band is made up of bassist David Harbour (who went to play in Chastain’s 1990 For Those Who Dare album, several of David T. Chastain’s solo albums, Leather’s solo band in recent years and King Diamond’s 2000 House of God record, among many other groups), John Luke Hebert (who also played with Chastain in that 1990 album and with Diamond in 1998’s Voodoo and House of God) and guitarist Michael Harris, who has enjoyed a very good solo career and a lot of productivity with the band Arch Rival.
So, a very strong lineup, all things considered, but the focus is definitely on Leather, like it happens in every solo album made by a vocalist, and I would say that she delivers one of her finest vocal performances. Her raspy, aggressive vocals have always been a trademark part of the Chastain sound, but Shock Waves allows her to show off her range a bit more, aiming for both more melodic passages and higher notes in a couple of cases.
If you are picking up this album because you’re a big fan of Leather’s original band, then All Your Neon shows you that things are bit different, but not in a bad way: a bit more melodic, a bit more commercial… but still pretty Metal. Leather sounds as fierce as ever and some of her vocals in the chorus highlight her range. On the other hand, Michael Harris is a massively underrated guitarist and his work here, both with the main riffs and the solos, is remarkable, carrying the weight of the song in some passages.
This opener is as straightforward as it gets and it gets the job done in amazing fashion, so I’m sure is going to convince even the most demanding of metalheads. And for those that like interesting facts, the music was written by Pat O’Brien of Cannibal Corpse fame.
The Battlefield of Life is one of the strongest pieces in the album, and quite likely one of my favorite moments of Leather’s career. This song has some reminiscences to Chastain’s Angel of Mercy in terms of structure: the slow buildup to then explode in a Metal fest, but I would argue that her vocals in this song are even more melodic and layered.
It’s also quite easy to compare Harris to Chastain as guitar players, but I’m personally a fan of the two of them and I think the former is a bit more simple in his way of playing while the latter is usually aiming for the epic and powerful, at least when working with Leather. It’s easy to make comparisons, but they are both amazing.
This song has a bit of Maiden with that galloping rhythm and certainly that epic feel that has become intrinsic to the Chastain formula, so you are definitely going to love this song if you are into that kind of music.
The title track has some Speed Metal influences, but it throws some interesting rhythm changes to make it more interesting. The chorus is certainly a bit unique in terms of how speeds up, which is a rarity. And as an interesting fact, it was written by vocalist Mark Shelton of Manilla Road fame.
Remember when I was talking about how there were some differences to Chastain and Leather as musical entities? Well, I think In a Dream is a very good example of those differences. One of the few power ballads in the singer’s career is also one of those songs where she manages to showcase the full spectrum of her vocal range, thus delivering an epic that deserves all the attention it can get.
Leather has mostly become known for her aggressive singing style and her capacity to soar in a way that is not very dissimilar to Ronnie James Dio, but, much like Ronnie, her capacity to sing beautiful vocal lines is often undervalued and In a Dream shows her at her absolute best as a melodic singer. She does it all here: melodic singing, her classic roars, high notes (listen to that shriek in the middle of the song) and soft parts.
Definitely one of the peak moments of her career.
It’s interesting when you listen to Something in this Life, another song where the music was written by Pat O’Brien, and consider that the rhythm base of this band went on to play with King Diamond because the instrumental part of this song could easily have been a part of the Abigail album. I’m not saying that as a bad thing because is an intense and effective song, but there’s definitely some notorious King Diamond influence thrown in there.
Diamonds are for Real reminds me to something that Chastain could have done during the Ruler of the Wasteland era and it definitely has that structure with the opening bass line, the slow build up and the riffs are something along those lines, but all done with gusto and definitely keeping that fresh feel that a good song should have.
I personally like that mix of acoustic guitars and odd structure that It’s Still in your Eye has. It starts off as a ballad of sorts, but you can tell from Leather’s abrasive vocals that things are not going to stay that way and it grows heavier and heavier while maintaining those acoustic guitars.
It’s a powerful song with a mix of epic and heartfelt moments that really stick with you. It’s also one of the tracks that took the longest for me to fully enjoy, but the moment that it hit me, it was phenomenal. It’s a shame that Leather never fully took off with this record because there is a lot of room for potential hits with songs like this or In a Dream. It’s a shame.
Catastrophic Heaven is another interesting case because you can sense here the direction that Chastain was going to take next year with For Those Who Dare. And it makes sense when you consider that three of the four members that would record that album are playing here and the fourth one is this work’s producer, so something was going to permeate in Leather’s main band.
It focuses a lot on the riffs and while I think Leather still performs well, it’s definitely her most “quiet” performance in the album. The guitar work is the star here.
I have mentioned in this review how much of an influence Dio was for Leather, and I don’t think any song highlights that more than No Place Called Home, which signals the end for this great record.
To me, this song is to this album what Shame on the Night is for Ronnie’s Holy Diver record: a doomy, dark and memorable piece that has a lot of emphasis on sludgy riffs and commanding vocal performances. Both songs have that tortured feel and both singers are giving their all in the throes of composition.
And this is what I love about Shock Waves: there’s a little bit of everything for everybody that loves good, old-fashioned Heavy Metal. You have some classic Chastain-style tunes, some more doomy stuff, some accessible Metal tracks, some epic and melodic songs… there is a lot of variety, but all within a certain stylistic map and Leather’s signature vocals unifying the whole thing.
A massively underrated album done by one of the most underrated vocalists of her generation. If you haven’t listened to it and you love Metal music, it definitely deserves your attention. And if you are the kind of person that still likes to purchase music, you can buy the album