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Friday, July 29, 2011

Album Review: Bitch - Be My Slave/Damnation Alley Reissue

Bitch - Be My Slave/Damnation Alley Reissue
2011 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Somewhere between Girlschool, Wendy O. Williams, Lee Aaron and The Great Kat, there was Betsy Bitch. While her whips and dom facade as frontwoman of the punk-metal hybrid Bitch was sheer farce in the beginning, Betsy Bitch became (and remains) a cult figurehead of the L.A. metal explosion. Truth be told, her name has only cropped up intermittently when most folks discuss the ladies of punk and metal, and that's a shame.

Grabbing bits of The Runaways, Girlschool, The Dictators and Hanoi Rocks as well as west coast proto power metal, Bitch the band was, initially, an underground force to be reckoned with, even if the whole thing was shtick. Already paving the way for a femme roast of cock rock with songs such as "Be My Slave," "In Heat," "Leather Bound" and "Live For the Whip," Betsy Bitch shared a rep of outrageousness with Wendy O. Williams, even if the Plasmatics are more revered than Bitch.

While The Great Kat has made her name as a virtuoso shredder, her jokey and riotous self-glorification took inspiration on the snarky stilletos of Betsy Bitch. Even though they're electro rock, Lords of Acid and the Genitorturers likewise owe a debt to Betsy Bitch for paying their dirty dues for them.

Not everybody was a fan of Bitch's odes to sodomy and sex slavery, which soon led Betsy Bitch to drop the "Bitch" from her name to simply Betsy. Her 1988 Betsy album watered the grime away and the bondage accoutrements hit the closet in a ply for a commercial acceptance that never came. When that strategy didn't work, Betsy re-emerged as Bitch the following year. The band raged through A Rose By Another Name and the self-titled Bitch album from 1991.

Most fans, however, remember Bitch's debut EP Damnation Alley and its eruptive succeeding LP, Be My Slave. Perhaps 1987's The Bitch is Back brought the band its most attention, yet there's no denying Be My Slave and Damnation Alley are this group's legacy.

At the very least, both albums hold up remarkably well considering their analog clunk and happy day, happy day, Metal Blade is bringing 'em back as a single package, much as they've appeared together on one unit since CDs were born. Like the Boomerang channel states, it's all coming back to you, and the return of Be My Slave/Damnation Alley is absolutely worth the pick-up if you don't yet own these trash classics.

Betsy Bitch is at her most ravenous on these two slabs, wailing, howling, growling, swooning and screeching like she'd studied the book of Johnny Rotten before ever laying down a vocal track. In her own way, Betsy Bitch possessed her own verve that differed her from Kim McCauliffe, Doro Pesch, Lita Ford and Wendy O. Williams. Betsy's scat-croons vary from monkeying around to reasonably serious. She belts out "Right From the Start," "Riding in Thunder," "Saturdays, Saturdays" and "In Heat" like she wants major props, even if she goes for broke at times and ends up breaking glass with some killer shrieks. Yet she's downright hot on the sultry (and eventually bombastic) "Save You From the World."

Sometimes she snogs throat rolls like Bjork later trademarked, but overall, Betsy Bitch presents herself as a punkette-headbanger who wants to give you an anal probe (likewise inviting you to return her stage persona the favor) on Be My Slave/Damnation Alley. "Leather Bound" is so coarse and ridiculous you have to laugh, much like Grace Jones' "Warm Leatherette," yet both songs get right into the brain on the merits of their hooks.

Guitarist David Carruth, bassist Ron Cordy and drummer Robby Settles provide the comic relief to Bitch's full-on gobbler raunch. Much as the musical components of Gwar have become a formidable band behind their gory antics, so too do Carruth, Cordy and Settles for Bitch. Their focused speed and aggression turns "Live For the Whip" into something as memorable for its near-thrash as Betsy Bitch's pretend whip-tip moaning. Likewise, "Heavy Metal Breakdown" chugs and thrums with an appreciable rev from the band, while "World War III" is a booming, beat-splashed nod to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with a railing gal on the mike instead of Biff Byford.

The tracks on Damnation Alley are (for the most part) less abrasive and nutty. In fact, most are downright streamlined. If not for the fast and loose "Live For the Whip," you start to wonder how Bitch transformed from near-straight rock to the sleazy beligerence of Be My Slave. "Never Come Home" is one of the more focused and melodic tracks Bitch recorded in their career and it offers insight to the short-lived Betsy era. The title track should've made it into some splatterpunk Troma film, even though it's a readily accessible tune compared to the Be My Slave tracks. Then you have the greasy blues licks of "He's Gone" that comes off like a well-intended rip on Aerosmith and Foghat. Again antithesis to the mayhem that would later follow this EP.

To say the story of Betsy Bitch is a strange one is better left unsaid. Instead, we should slip on the ass-kicking rowdiness of Be My Slave/Damnation Alley and relish the boundaries that were knocked to smithereens--assuming you were paying attention when it happened. "Right From the Start" stands up in hefty punk 'o rama fashion to anything the Minutemen or Black Market Baby did and yet Betsy Bitch's over-the-top vocal hydraulics and David Carruth's spastic guitars puts Bitch right in league with the Plasmatics.

Mentioned over the years only as an afternote, it's good and proper that Bitch gets its due in a metal and punk revival system that is recycling overlooked records in the interests of older and newer audiences. Those who missed these cuff 'n muff nuggets the first time, step up and savor the sicko nostalgia. Those who are just learning about Betsy Bitch, enjoy the lesson and take notes. There will be a quiz.

Rating: ****1/2


Metal Mark said...

Dear God, you mentioned the Great Kat twice. She was horrible. Betsy Bitch was a fine singer and she has been active in recent years too.
My 2008 interview with her.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

LOL, I brought up Kat by means of showing Betsy influenced her non-guitar and violin aspects. Cool deal you got to interview Betsy. I'm just very happy this is back. I remember hearing it back then a few times and kicked myself for never getting it.

Anonymous said...

( Not to mention JAGGER- NERSMIC!)