Kane Roberts Attacks!

The early eighties was a rough time for Alice Cooper.  After releasing a string of commercially unsuccessful albums that he to this day can’t recall making due to heavy substance abuse (Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and DaDa), the shock rockin’ son of a preacher opted to take a three year break from writing and recording music.

However, he returned triumphantly in 1986 with Constrictor, his first foray into the sleazy world of hair metal, which in turn lead to a successful tour punctuated by The Nightmare Returns, a live MTV special on Halloween night.  Cooper had already long since conquered hard rock, so it seemed only logical that he would turn his attention to metal, and at the time slickly produced, overtly catchy metal of the Sunset Strip bred variety was all the rage.

At the epicenter of Cooper’s comeback was Kane Roberts, a Boston born guitarist known as much for his shredded physique as for his six-string shredding.  There doesn’t seem to be much biographical information floating around about Roberts; according to Allmusic.com, he attended the New England Conservatory of Music and was playing in a band called Criminal Justice when he was tapped by Cooper to join his backing band.

But, this steroid-taking, machine-gun-guitar-toting beefcake was more than just a hired, uh, gun; Roberts co-wrote every song on Constrictor, from the minor classic “Teenage Frankenstein” to the insidiously infectious synth overkill of “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” a tune specifically written for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.

Listening to Constrictor now, the album hasn’t aged particularly well; the whole damn thing is coated in an artery-clogging layer of pop metal cheese and much of the drumming is obviously programmed, which takes away from the record’s sleazy swagger.  But, there is some catchier-than-herpes songwriting at work throughout that rivals anything hair farming titans such as Cinderella, Motley Crue and Poison were doing at the time and Roberts’ brawny guitar-work brings a level of musicianship to the table that few other bands in the scene could hope to compete with.

Constrictor peaked at 59 on the Billboard Top 200, which was a huge success when one considers that Cooper’s two previous albums didn’t chart at all.  The chemistry between Cooper and Roberts was not only the impetus behind the chameleonic madman’s hair metal makeover, it was the first step in his return to prominence.

Just over a year after unleashing Constrictor, Cooper and Roberts would combine their powers hair metal Wonder Twins style once again for Raise Your Fist and Yell, a heavier, darker record that sports one of the best worst album covers in the history of metal.  Although not as well-received as Constrictor (probably because of that ugly ass cover), it is by far the superior album of the two, featuring better songs, better riffs and better production.

The album starts out treading similar territory to Constrictor on Cooper/Roberts-penned tracks such as “Freedom” “Step on You” and “Not that Kind of Love,” but takes a turn towards the dark side with “Prince of Darkness,” a song written to coincide with Cooper’s appearance as a murderous vagrant in John Carpenter’s extremely underrated film of the same name.   Oddly enough, “Prince of Darkness” is the only song on which Roberts doesn’t share a credit; Cooper co-wrote this quintessential slab of pure ’80s metal evil with his bassist at the time, none other than the infamous Kip Winger.

However, Roberts would contribute heavily to what is arguably Raise Your Fist and Yell‘s most disturbing moment, the suite of three songs that closes out the album, “Chop, Chop, Chop” “Gail” and “Roses on White Lace,” which plunges listeners into the bloody depths of a slasher’s twisted obsession with murder and mayhem.

Modern metal fans will likely know “Roses on White Lace” from melodic death metal band Arsis’ A Diamond for Disease EP, which features an appropriately ripping cover version, but nothing can top the original, especially when listened to along with “Gail,” a short, sinister track that might be one of the downright creepiest things Cooper has ever penned, and “Chop, Chop, Chop,” which is positively unhinged by eighties pop metal standards in spite of being a bit silly in the lyrical department.

In spite of being a massive improvement over Constrictor in nearly every respect, Raise Your Fist and Yell was not an improvement for Cooper commercially, only making it to 73 on the Billboard Top 200.  Regardless, the one-two punch of these albums and the massive tours they spawned helped to reestablish Cooper as a musical force to be reckoned with, thanks to his well-timed collaboration with the most muscular musical genius that is Kane Roberts.  Cooper would reach even greater heights of pop metal glory with the likes of subsequent albums Trash and Hey Stoopid, but Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell laid the groundwork.

Roberts left Cooper’s band after Raise Your Fist and Yell and attempted to launch a solo career, releasing his first album that same year.  The well-chiseled guitarist failed to set the world on fire as a solitary act, but he did give the world at least one bonafide hair metal banger in the form of “Rock Doll.”

 

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