When I was a growing up as both a metalhead and a disappointment to my parents, one of the many taboos about being a fan of the then-burgeoning thrash scene was that potential proponents of the style would get called out for not listening to thrash 25 hours a day. Suddenly, the same people you’d spent hours with, hunched like crones over the early releases of bands like Ratt, Loudness, Dokken, W.A.S.P. and Accept were throwing epithets like “poser,” “hair metal wimp” and the like at you for not having Kill ‘Em All and Show No Mercy on perpetual repeat.
Luckily, these days, no one who isn’t a black metal supporter living in their mom’s basement gives a flying fuck about the range of anyone else’s listening habits and, for someone who lived through the age of bullied musical sub-genre compartmentalisation, the bands that gravitated along the continuum of cool are able to be enjoyed without censure. Unfortunately and on the other hand, we’re living in the age where people are more apt to get on your case about being even the slightest bit politically incorrect about openly expressing any amount of sex or sexuality that isn’t approved by whoever decides what expressions of such are acceptable for public consumption.
I mention all of the above because Philly’s On Top play the sort of hard rocking metal in the vein of the bands mentioned above; those bands that would have generated stinging rebukes from wispy-moustached thrasher dudes searching for an identity in the early ‘80s. Given that the sphere of what those bands, and bands like On Top that are influenced by them, is limited to a certain structural presentation, it comes down to how hard their hard rock is, how catchy they can make their choruses, how much shredding can their guitarist deliver and how hard can they put their metaphorical balls to the wall.
Despite Top Dollar being the band’s fifth release overall, you can hear the inexperience still being worked out, especially with regard to the bland production approach where a discouraging lack of density greets the listener despite full-bodied guitar work of Ric Haas, Danny Piselli’s relatively busy drumming style and bassist Jaron Gulino’s raspy howl. They have the sorts of riffs that Don Dokken and Akria Takasaki circa-1982 would have traded their high-heeled ankle boots for in the high octane “Lovin’ the Devil” and the ascending strut of “This Way” while making sure each of the songs has a chorus to hang ears and hats on. The musicianship is there, as is a decent amount of recklessness, but all that gets neutered by the fact that Top Dollar lacks the sonic oomph to take them to the next level. It sometimes it feels like you’re listening to an above average demo.
On the other hand – and I believe I mentioned something similar in reviewing a previous release for this site a year or so ago – this band has to be commended for standing hard against the sensitivity that many have when it comes to expressions of sexuality. Look at that EP cover! You just know scads of special interest whiners and complainers are going to take issue with perceived themes of prostitution, sex trafficking, female oppression and whatever else can be imagined (how come no one has pointed out what is obviously going on in this photo? That it's a depiction of the CFO of a Fortune 500 company running down to the street adjacent to the luxury condo she lives in with her wife and three kids in the middle of the night, having thrown the coat over her sleepwear to keep warm, in order to hand off a last-minute, emergency donation to a Doctors Without Borders worker on his way to catch a last minute flight so as to do outreach work in the backwoods of an oppressive, war torn, totalitarian regime. Why does everyone automatically think "oppressed whore!"?).
Realistically, however, I do feel the cover stands on the juvenile side of things, especially since I own and have owned far too many obscure ‘80s metal albums bands almost the exact same fucking photo. Still, I will stand behind On Top’s decision to continue with an aesthetic (check out their gallery of album and EP covers) that’s easy to poke at in this day of oversensitivity. Then again, I may very well have just been suckered in by a ploy to draw attention to their band. If that is indeed the case, well played gentlemen!
Top Dollar Track Listing:
01. Lovin’ the Devil
02. Walk the Walk
04. This Way
Run Time: 15:50
Release Date: August 18, 2017
Listen to the band's new single "Lovin' The Devil"