|Review: Lethal - Programmed|
Label: Metal Blade Records
Year released: 1990
Genre: Power Metal
Review online: March 26, 2004
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Now what you got here is your good old American Metal. Lethal were a never-heard-of-them band from Kentucky of all places who released this album right when Nirvana had a gun to the head of the metal scene and were just about to blow it off the map. They also had the misfortune to release a fine melodic metal album right when the style itself was on a down note. It was 1990: death metal was big, black metal was about to erupt from Norway, and most of the bands Lethal could call influences (Queensryche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory) were changing their style or about to vanish altogether.
Lethal get compared to Queensryche a lot, maybe more than any other band ever has been. And yes, they do sound a lot like "Warning"-era 'Ryche, but Lethal do (or did) have a style all their own. They played melodic heavy metal (before double-bass runs and keyboards were required) with a lot of crunch and some excellent, sharp riffs. The guitarwork on this CD is really good, and still holds up after all these years. Some absolutely marvelous twin-ax harmonic riffing going on here. Most of the songs here are pretty midpaced, with the faster cuts like "Programmed", "Obscure The Sky" and the volleying "Immune" standing out as the most enjoyable. There are no bad cuts here though, and all the tracks have great riffs and killer leads.
The high point of Lethal, however, was the unquestioned vocal prowess of Tom Mallicoat. Even these days a lot of metal singers get by just carrying a note, but Mallicoat was a first-rate wailer of the old school. He sounded a lot like a younger Geoff Tate, but he had his own tone and style that kept him from sounding like a copycat. The man sure could hit those high notes. He wasn't as good as, say, Daniel Heiman (who is?) but even Geoff in his prime would have had to work to keep up with this guy. The band had a great ear for vocal lines, and even when they weren't compelling, they were listenable.
This is definitely a lost classic. If "Programmed" had been released just a few years earlier, it could have been so much bigger, and the band could have gone a lot farther than they did. As it was, they released two more discs flavored with the then-inescapable grunge sound before breaking up. Lethal could have been a contender, for sure, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least they left us one excellent album to remind us of what might have been.
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