How Twisted Sister fought back with ‘Under the Blade’

Twisted sister had an interesting motto which spoke to their ethos: They “looked like women, spoke like men and played like shit.”

Under the Leaf arrived Sept. 18, 1982, as proof – even though they wouldn’t break out until the 1984s Stay hungry. Twisted Sister had already learned to use everything they learned as a bar band, creating a never-say-die attitude as they slugged it out in the clubs for years.

“We got rejected more times than a sheet and came back more times than Freddy Krueger,” guitarist Jay Jay French once told this writer. “You don’t like it, but respect the hard work that went into it.”

This debut became the Twisted Sisters’ thrashy, unvarnished mission statement to the world. While originally originating in New Jersey, the Long Island group sounded like they could be one NWOBHM import So it makes sense that their first taste of attention came from Secret Records, the British independent label that signed Twisted Sister to their first record deal.

They also showed plenty of their other influences, but gave a blues-rock tone to “Rocker’s Day,” that AC/DC-ish track that ends the album. The title song unfolds like a suspenseful monster movie with a front man Dee Snider describes the bloody story piece by piece, punctuates the opening stanza by spitting out “leaf” with particular emphasis and venom.

Listen to ‘What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)’ by Twisted Sister

He later emits a backbone of a mid-range scream that deserves its own special place in a heavy-metal hall of fame somewhere. Equally impressive is the guitar duo of French paired with Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda. They team up again and again on fast and frenetic runs up and down the fretboard, all bolstered by the rock-solid underpinnings of bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza and drummer AJ Pero.

One could argue that the album’s primitive sound is actually a huge asset, as it provides a note-perfect lens through which to appreciate Under the Leaf. The added snarl adds context to the gritty feel of songs like the album’s opener “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)” that wouldn’t feel the same if they had leaner production. (Unsurprisingly, the reaction was negative as Atlantic Records, the Twisted Sisters’ eventual US label, later remixed the record.)

Secret Records secured a barn in England for the band to use as their recording location and brought a mobile unit owned by famous British producer Mickie Most to the sessions, which were partially overseen by UFO guitarist Pete Way.

It led to some primitive, Spinal Tap-like conditions during recording: “We used hay bales – yes, hay bales – around AJ’s drums and Eddie and Jay Jay’s amps,” Mendoza explained during interviews for a 2011 reissue of this album.

As they carefully mapped out ideal locations, they encountered additional wrinkles. “Okay, we’ve got to break down the set,” Pero recalled. “‘Break the set down? Why?’ “Well, they’re having a barn dance tomorrow night. You can’t have this drum kit in the middle of a barn dance!’”

Listen to ‘Under the Blade’ by Twisted Sister

During the same interviews, French said they ended up loving what the quirky process brought to the sessions—and they weren’t the only ones. Engine head“Fast” Eddie Clarke appeared to guest on “Tear It Loose”, long before he became Way’s future bandmate in Fastway. He quickly got into the spirit and insisted on recording his guitar parts sitting inside what French describes as the “haystack column” of Marshall amps. The sound reached 180 decibels according to French, who argued that they should record their parts outside the barn with headphones due to the volume.

Even as they worked on their first album, Snider already had his eye on the next. There was plenty of time for him to do other things while the band members worked on adding their parts Under the Leaf. “I sat alone in the band wagon or in a spare room or in my hotel room, whatever was available to me [while] to develop these song ideas,” Snider wrote in his 2012 memories.

The song, which would later serve as the title track of their next record, You can’t stop rock ‘n’ roll, was actually recorded during the first album sessions, and then earmarked as the title track for their debut. Secret Records president Martin Hooker put the kibosh on the idea, as Snider revealed in his book: “For some reason songs and album titles with the words ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in them were out of fashion at the time. UK” Hooker claimed , that if they went with that as the title, the project would be dead in the water before fans heard a note.

In the end, the choice of title was probably irrelevant. Twisted Sister would have to wait a little longer for widespread fame. But Snider retains a lot of reverence for where they began and “anxiety” he felt at the time. “There are really crazy scars all over my back and my body,” he told UCR in 2016. “So I remember every bump and bruise and fall and trip and crawl and scrape and punch.”

Snider’s songwriting – and ultimately the band’s trajectory – also changed as a result of their shared experiences. “Songs like ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ ‘I Wanna Rock,’ ‘You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll’ were born out of that,” he said during the same interview. “They were born out of that refusal to die and the refusal to give up. That’s really what made the band the success it had.”

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