Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Armageddon - The Money Mask (Collector's Edition)
Musical Style: Classic Metal Produced By: Paul Krueger
Record Label: Retroactive Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2007 Artist Website:
Tracks: 24 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 105:13

Armageddon - The Money Mask

There are a couple of different ways we fall in love with retro eighties metal bands.  It could be musical direction that sets the hook for us, whether it is of the melodic-hair-pop metal variety or strays into the realm of traditional/classic metal, thrash and even power metal.  More often than not a specific album plays the defining role, with the gist a potential life altering event that leads you to not only purchase said bands back catalog of albums but those of its contemporaries as well.  Perhaps a review proves the deciding factor, the kind of which garners your full attention and compels you to say, “Man, I’ve got to check that band out!”

With Armageddon, a combination of the above led me to acquire its 1989 Talkingtown Records debut full length The Money Mask.  I initially learned of the group from a review in Heaven’s Metal (issue 24), which suggested ‘those of you who miss the sound of Saint (or Judas Priest) will embrace the straight ahead style of Armageddon’.  At that point I was sold, having already been turned onto the heavier sounds of NWOBHM - White Throne also reviewed The Money Mask (issue 7) and went so far as to state ‘it’s about time a band sounded so heavy!’ - from well received albums of the as noted Saint, Times End (1986) and Too Late For Living (1988).
When I suggest that Armageddon falls under the traditional meal heading, I use the term loosely in that there is a bit more to the group than meets the eye.  Yes, without a doubt Armageddon compares favorably to not just Saint and Judas Priest but also Metal Church, Armored Saint, Philadelphia and Vicious Rumors.  Playing no small role in this regard is the befitting mostly gruff and guttural mid-paced, but at times high-end vocal penchant of front man Mike Vance.  That said also consider how Armageddon is not afraid to imbue its sound with aspects of thrash, speed and even melodic metal, while also making occasional use of big backing vocals that almost hint of Queen. 

The Money Mask went out of print shortly following its release, and turned into a hard to find and highly sought after collector’s item.  That, however, was rectified in 2007 when it was re-mastered and re-issued by Retroactive Records with a bonus track in the form of “(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland”, which initially appeared on the East Coast Metal compilation (1988) under the group’s original moniker Second Chance.  Also included is a bonus disc entitled “The Second Chance Years” made up of rough mixes of six The Money Mask cuts, two rehearsal outtakes and six demo tracks (two of which did not appear on The Money Mask).  

The albums opening hit like a ton of bricks title track delivers the classic metal goods, with efficacious guitars, trouncing drums and palpitating bass setting the no-nonsense tone.  Vance wails away with his signature gritty to soulful delivery, while Robby Lee and Charlie Phillips provide the technical dual lead guitar proclivities.  Put “The Money Mask” on any album of its previously noted contemporaries and it would sound right at home.

“Mercenaries Of Injustice” maintains the boisterous leanings.  Starting to acapella vocals that bounce between the left and right channels, the song plows ahead with darker lower register vestiges (convulsing bass literally breathes in the mix) converging with those of an understated melodic quality (the groups refined vocal harmonies make their initial showing).  Lead guitar ranges from the smoothly flowing to razor edged.

“More Than Conquerors” does exactly that with its forceful demeanor.  The song picks up impetus to an up-tempo romp, elevating heaviness as the inherent Armageddon thrash elements stand alongside underpinning traces of groove and a galvanic disposition that has impetuous written all over it.  The ardent ‘we’re more than conquerors, alright!’ chorus ups energy levels exponentially.  Also of note is how “More Than Conquerors” is one of three songs to feature Raven drummer Joe Hasselvander, whom as one might imagine just plan kills it. 

The Money Mask leans towards melodic metal on “Looking Out For You”.  An offbeat amalgamation of guitar feedback, distortion and spacey sound effects that roll to a complete stop gets things going.  A drum solo and scream from Vance picks up initiative, with the intricately woven guitar harmonies and larger than life backing vocals that take over the remaining distance setting a surprisingly accessible tone.  Albums best stretch of melodic lead guitar tops things off.

Armageddon delivers a first class metal ballad in “The Ship Of Changes”.  Pouring rain and acoustic guitar, appropriately, begin the song, with the heartfelt ambience sustained over the first minute until thickset rhythm guitar maneuvers to a place of prominence.  The weighty disposition asserting itself carries over onto the affable refrain in which a complementary bluesy essence resonates.  The gritty lead guitar further plays up the blues aspects.

“(Liberation From) Blazing Wasteland” best embodies the Armageddon traditional metal to thrash propensities.  The song proves the heaviest of the heavies, not exuding the highest degree of melody, but not impressing as repetitive either; rather, overridingly powerful is the feel at hand.  Rhythm guitars, as one might imagine, glue themselves to the front of the mix, while Lee’s guitar leads sizzle between the left and right channels.  When placed side by side, I find The East Coast Metal bonus version to “(Liberation From) Blazing Wasteland” to feature slightly better production but otherwise does not significantly differ from The Money Mask rendering.

The über melodic “Nightlight” is not so much albums best track as it is potentially one of the finer compositions of its era.
The song revels in near mesmerizing catchiness, with the chorus, guitar riffs and even bass lines exuding the type of engaging qualities certain to pull you in with repeat listen.  An extended instrumental run to feature the triple guitar attack of Lee, Phillips and Phil Zeo helps extend “Nightlight” out to as near a perfect five and a half minutes as it gets.

The Money Mask gets somewhat thin as it moves towards its close in that I have never warmed up to “Giving It To You” and “The Judge”.  Former is a watered down mid-paced hard rocker that lacks much of the power and emotion of the albums better material, while latter takes the heightened approach but likewise comes across a bit forced in terms of its execution.  As we shall see on the bonus disc, a couple of the demo tracks might have made better options to record.

Album closes in fine fashion to speed metal romp “We’re Outa’ Here”.  The song starts to acapella vocals prior to taking off at breakneck speed, with the as noted Hasselvander getting quite the feverish workout timekeeping wise and Vance stretching and revealing the high register side to his delivery.  Lead guitar matches the tempo at hand.  If into song such as “Black Snake” (Bloodgood) and “Cultic Regimes” (Barren Cross) then “We’re Outa’ Here” will be right down your alley.

I always felt that The Money Mask production sounded fine for its era, keeping in mind how the group recorded it on an obvious limited budget.  I might describe things as raw but not muddy in that all the needed elements rise above the mix.  The re-mastering to the re-issue elevates volume levels with the gist a more pronounced low end and higher levels of polish overall.

Bonus Disc

There is a LOT of music to cover on the bonus disc so I am going to make this concise as possible.  The six ‘rough mixes’, as their namesake implies, are a bit ‘rough around the edges’ but otherwise stay true to their The Money Mask equivalents with the following exceptions:

“Looking Out For You” and “More Than Conquerors” lack backing vocals, a particular that took some getting used to in light of how I have been listening to The Money Mask version since the late eighties.  On “We’re Outa’ Here” and “More Than Conquerors” rhythm guitar as opposed to soloing carries the instrumental moments, and “Looking Out For You” has lost its offbeat opening.  “Ship Of Changes” receives the biggest facelift as guitars play the more prominent role for verses and chorus moves at the slower tempo.

Rehearsal outtakes to “More Than Conquerors” and “We’re Outa’ Here” are raw as it gets (they sound like garage boombox recordings) but still cool in taking an instrumental heading.

Demo versions are included of “Money Mask”, “Nightlight” and “Blazing Wasteland”, which similar to the ‘rough mixes’ are thin production wise and do not stray far from The Money Mask renderings- so there is no need to comment further.

Highlight to the demo material are the two tracks that did not appear on The Money Mask.  “Get In Line” is a bluesy hard rocker with a grooving bass line and catchy hook, and “In Your Face” an aptly entitled faster and heavier piece that hints somewhat of Alice Cooper.  Both are quite good and (in my opinion) would have made better choices to record than “Giving It To You” or “The Judge” (in my opinion).

Due to the length of the review, I am not going into a great deal of detail to lyrics (you will find them at Metal Archives).  In terms of specifics, albums title track deals with religious leaders out to make a buck at the expense of others and “Nightlight” being a light in the midst of darkness.  “More Than Conquerors” details victory in the life of a Christian, while “The Ship Of Changes” focuses on the trials and tribulations of life.  "(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland" provides a discourse on the source of salvation.

I rated The Money Mask 46 in an article I wrote several years ago outlining what (again, my opinion) are the top 50 Christian metal and hard rock albums released during the eighties.  In hindsight, it probably deserves to be rated higher (perhaps in the top 30?), but it also must be noted the album faced some VERY tough competition in the form of contemporaries Stryper, Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Bride, Deliverance, Sacred Warrior, Whitecross, etc.  All things said eight good songs out of ten (on The Money Mask) and a commendable bonus disc (not to mention quality re-mastering) adds up to a solid 80% score.  Bonus points for the Armageddon choice musicianship - noting the triple guitar attack and guest appearance of Joe Hasselvander - and Vance’s over the top vocals.  Classic metal fans rejoice!   

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing (Disc One): "The Money Mask" (3:20), "Mercenaries Of Injustice" (4:08), "More Than Conquerors" (3:58), "Looking Out For You" (5:42), "The Ship Of Changes" (5:23), "(Liberation From) The Blazing Wasteland" (3:45), "Nightlight" (5:44), "Giving It To You" (4:23), "The Judge" (4:50), "We’re Outa’ Here" (3:59)

Track Listing (Disc Two): "Looking Out For You" (4:55), "We’re Outa’ Here" (3:46), "More Than Conquerors" (3:50), “Nightlight” (5:07), “Money Mask” (3:28), “Ship Of Changes” (4:42), "More Than Conquerors" (3:46),  "We’re Outa’ Here" (4:16), “Money Mask” (3:14), “Nightlight” (5:18), “Get In Line” (5:02), “In Your Face” (4:40), “Blazing Wasteland” (3:43)

Mike Vance – Vocals
Robby Lee, Charlie Phillips & Phil Zeo – Guitars
Dan Wilkinson – Bass
Mark Miley & Joe Hasselvander - Drums
Janusz Smulski & Lamont Coward - Keyboards

Reference List
"Christian Music News." White Throne 10 (1991): 5.
"Metal News." White Throne 6 (1990): 2.
"Metal Tracks." Heaven's Metal 21 (1989): 7.
"White Metal News." White Throne 2 (1987): 2.
"White Metal News." White Throne 5 (1989): 3. 


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