1984 saw the birth of Canada's finest extreme metal outfits, a band whose ideals would not permit compromise, whose conviction would lead to eight releases, and an equal number of years fighting an uphill battle.
No mere bandwagoneers, this quartet were out to permanently fuse metal with insane aggression and violence, pummelling listeners with aural and mental fists.
This they have undoubtedly achieved, and continue to foster to this day.
The vision began with four young men from Guelph, Ontario: Dave Carlo on guitar; Stace "Sheepdog" McLaren on vocals; Mike Campagnolo on bass; and Mike "M-Bro" Embro on drums. All of them fans of the then-new resurgence of heavy metal, they became hungry to inject the genre with a bleaker view of the world and its inhabitants: in essence, a cold, calculated assault in both melody and lyrical imagery.
Their first outpouring of energy manifested itself as "Armed and Dangerous", a self-financed seven-song EP that would garner them underground acclaim via the 1200 copies pressed, and countless tape trading. This was all that was needed to secure a recording contract with Canada's Attic Records, with whom Razor would record their next three albums.
The first of the three Attic records, "Executioner's Song", came out shortly after signing, the material having mostly been written during the "Armed and Dangerous" period. It proved successful with fans of raw, aggressive music. These fans wouldn't have to wait long before the band released the first in a series of evolutionary steps it would make.
"Evil Invaders" (1985) barraged the listener with a more controlled, more focused attack, of particular mention Stace McLaren's soaring vocal delivery and Dave Carlo's increasingly engaging hooks and razor-sharp riffs.
The band toured heavily at this time with the likes of Slayer, Motorhead, and Venom, both in Canada and the United States, the only countries to have seen Razor to this day, despite the more favourable European and Japanese markets. A music video was produced for the album's title track, possibly the first speed metal video ever recorded. Its airplay on MTV (USA) and MuchMusic (Canada), along with support from college radio, resulted in greater exposure and name recognition.
A year later, "Malicious Intent" appeared on music store shelves with the intent of maintaining the momentum achieved by "Evil Invaders". While the songs were strong, the record suffered slightly from problems internal to the band that were starting to well up. This, and a lack of a domestic release in the United States on Attic's part led the band to request termination of the contract agreement, which Attic tendered graciously.
Razor would now be free to explore new directions, and that they did with "Custom Killing", a self-financed recording which included the most experimental material they'd written. In contrast to the short bursts of intensity for which they were best known, "Custom Killing" featured several long, drawn out epics, complex in nature, yet not entirely memorable. Ironically, despite its poor commercial success, it was the band's most profitable record yet due to their independent stature. Razor was seemingly losing the initial vision which it so proudly espoused and practiced both in actions and words.
Dave Carlo came to the realization that it was time once again to refocus and move on to the next level. His approach involved a sound so intense and ferocious, a galloping frenzy of speed so over-the-top, that it split the band into two camps, leaving Carlo and McLaren to persevere.
Carlo willingly undertook the brunt of the songwriting responsibilities as a new Razor emerged, leaner, hungrier, featuring unparalleled speed and unstoppable energy, coalescing into "Violent Restitution", an album which would prove far more popular than their previous. While Adam Carlo (Dave's brother) took over bass duties, it was Rob Mills' drum work that further helped shape the band's new direction. Mills' distinctive style and impeccable timing added a powerful element of clockwork accuracy in the sound as a whole, meshing perfectly with, and perhaps even inspiring, Carlo's dizzying display of chainsaw riffing. McLaren's vocals far surpassed his previous work, his spectacular Phoenix-like shriek leading off the album in a sign of rebirth for the renewed outfit. It would also be McLaren's last album.
A few hundred kilometers south of Guelph, in the town of London, Ontario, another group of musicians united to form Samhain. Seeing as Glenn Danzig had already appropriated the name for his post-Misfits crew, the London boys briefly contemplated renaming to SamFuckingHain, but settled on SFH for obvious reasons. Having given up a potentially successful career in hockey for the love of music, Bob Reid led SFH as a songwriter, performing lead duties on both guitar and vocals.
They had become well-known and well-liked in the region through the release of their "Cold Death" demo in 1987, and were occasionally known to play shows with Razor. Meanwhile, McLaren's waning interest in Razor was taking its toll, and Carlo took matters into his own hands, letting McLaren go, and convincing Bob Reid to put SFH on hiatus in order to assume vocal duties for Razor. The evolution continued.
Tweaking the "Violent Restitution" framework to better suit Reid's delivery, "Shotgun Justice" blasted away at top speed, spewing track after track of hatred, frustration, and anger, mostly directed against the watered down music of previously heavy bands. While not vastly different than its predecessor, it began to show signs of what was to come, introducing more complex chord structure and progressions, in contrast with the increased complexity of arrangements on "Custom Killing".
The band's second video was produced for the song "Shotgun Justice", but was almost immediately banned for its negative portrayal of violence, a blatant industry double standard, but nevertheless a stumbling block given the money that had been invested in the video in hopes of furthering interest in the lucrative North American market. Appropriately, "American Luck" was the subject of the third video, which was hastily put together on a limited budget in an attempt to salvage whatever commercial attention they could through conventional channels; it was later retracted by the band itself, citing poor quality. The touring continued, mostly headlining smaller shows, playing with other renowned Canadian talent such as Sacrifice and Disciples of Power.
Tragedy would strike next by way of an accident leaving Rob Mills incapable of recording the next opus. Dave Carlo, undeterred, proceeded to complete his creation by mimicking Mills' style using drum synthesizers. By this time, several years of experience had evoked in Carlo a growing sense of harmony which was inevitably filtering its way into the new material. "Open Hostility" became the new pinnacle of speed metal, a group of short, concise sonic explosions, better suited to Reid's vocal approach, and introducing a song entirely written and composed by Reid himself, "Cheers", later appearing on a subsequent SFH album. Seven years after conception, Razor had become immeasurably more intense, slinging a never-ending stream of precision rhythms rife with atonal harmony. North America would all but ignore the effort, preferring to concentrate on the growing grunge movement, turning their backs almost entirely on metal in general. A tour ensued nonetheless, playing for core groups of fans, leading up to the last gig on October 2, 1992. Razor had run its course. Or so it seemed.
After three years' hiatus, Bob Reid resumed his position in SFH along with Jon Armstrong on bass and Rich Oosterbosch on drums. They would record two full-length albums, "One of Those Days" (1992) and "All You Can Eat" (1994), with modest success.
Dave Carlo, on the other hand, badly needed relief from eight years of constant hard work and large doses of grief, removing himself entirely from music for a year, yet coming back to the guitar in time, albeit strictly for personal pleasure and satisfaction. As a musician, he still felt the need to create music, but believed that he'd done all he could within the context of Razor. A career retrospective was eventually released in the form of "Exhumed", a double-CD compilation spanning every studio album, providing fans with a taste of the older, more obscure material, while offering a good earful of the more contemporary songs. Carlo expressed himself openly on the state of heavy music in the liner notes, then finally alluded to the possibility of more music in the future, although not necessarily as Razor. Time went on, 1996 rolled around, and Bob Reid started bringing up the subject of resurrecting Razor. After much cajoling, Carlo ended up dropping finished music in Reid's lap for him to write lyrics, a task that Carlo himself had been doing almost exclusively in the past. The result of the two-man combined effort: "Decibels".
Meanwhile, Tom Treumuth (Hypnotic Records), better known for his work with such Canadian acts as Helix and Honeymoon Suite, had come to hear of Razor's current situation through Lips, of Anvil fame. The new material left Treumuth astounded, surpassing all his expectations, heightening his sense of excitement at the possible release of such damn fine heavy work. A continuation of the direction adopted on "Open Hostility", "Decibels" expands on the dense harmonies and finely interwoven minimalist melodies, creating a fuller sound still, while somewhat reducing the emphasis on speed, yet keeping the energy level consistently high, and inimitably Razor. Hypnotic Records were quick to sign them, anxious to make "Decibels" known to all and to garner them the widespread recognition and support they've long deserved. Now consisting of Dave Carlo and the members of SFH (Bob Reid resuming vocal duties, Jon Armstrong on bass, and Rich Oosterbosch on drums), today's Razor remains equally dedicated to the band's original artistic vision and hopes to dish some of it out as they tour in support of their finest recording to date.
Alain M. Gaudrault,
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