PICTURE Re-release Classic Traitor Album (Album Review)

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Picture Traitor

Dutch cult classic heavy metal band Picture is one of those pioneers that influenced a lot of other bands but did not rise to fame and fortune themselves. Like, for example, their German colleagues in Accept. Having pioneered the Dutch rock scene in the early 1980’s the original line up is still active today and will be playing festival dates the upcoming summer. As an appetizer, the classic Traitor album gets a remaster treatment and makes it’s debut on CD.

A Short Band Introduction: 

The band formed way back in 1979 when bass player Rinus Vreugdenhil and drummer Laurens Bakker (who had been jamming together for a couple of years) found guitarist Jan Bechtum and lead vocalist Ronald van Prooijen. Remember that this was a time when the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was in its infancy and bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden were taking their first baby steps. Picture got signed to the Warner Bros. Record label very early on but jumped ship when they felt the label wanted to influence the band’s songwriting into a pop-oriented genre. Instead, they signed with Backdoor Records which was a subsidiary of Phonogram Records.

The self-titled debut album came out in 1980 and had more than one thing in common with their British contemporaries. This was something completely new in the Dutch music industry. Here we had a band that played energetic, metallic and heavy rock music and it was a whole different bag than the disco and punk rock that was going on at the time. Picture gigged intensively in their native country and in nearby Germany building a strong local following. They did not rest when it came to recording either and the sophomore effort entitled Heavy Metal Ears came out in 1981. With continued gigging to support it came the first big blow to the band when lead vocalist Ronald van Prooijen left the band due to personal issues.

Picture found Israeli-born singer Shmoulik Avigail who handled the vocals on third output Diamond Dreamer. It represented a huge step forward soundwise with a more mature songwriting and production. Shmoulik represented a shift towards a more powerful vocal style. When the recording for Diamond Dreamer was done Picture added a second guitarist in Chriz Van Jaarsveld. Troubles were mounting in the band with Shmoulik not clicking with the band’s manager which led to him leaving the band and as if that wasn’t enough, original guitarist Jan Bechtum had enough. He did not gel too well with Chriz. So Jan left as well and was replaced by new guitarist Henry van Manen. The vocal duties were handled by English screamer Pete Lovell who moved from his home on Jersey in the Channel Islands to the Netherlands for this gig and would still remain there after more than 30 years. Lovell‘s vocals were not too far off the vocal style of Avigail and was a nice fit. This line-up recorded what is by most fans considered to be Picture‘s magnum opus Eternal Dark in 1984. This album contains many of the classics still in the live set today and with the twin guitar attack, the album sounded much heavier and more technically skilled than any previous Picture album.

Picture
The newly reformed original Picture. Photo courtesy of the band’s facebook page.

With another batch of heavy touring, the stresses were beginning to take it’s toll on original drummer Laurens Bakker who called it a day. With a family with two twins, there was just not room in his life for constant touring anymore. The only remaining original member was by this point bass player Rinus Vreugdenhil. In came new drummer Jacques van Oevelen who unfortunately passed away earlier this year (RIP). The sound was now starting to take a more commercial edge on 1985’s Traitor. This album is still a heavy metal rocking album compared to the next two albums that would follow as label influence was starting to rear it’s ugly head yet again.

After the release of Traitor vocalist Pete Lovell was feeling that the label pushed the band in a more melodic and commercial direction that he did not want to pursue so he called it a day. In came former Vandenberg vocalist Bert Heerink who handled the vocal duties on Every Story Needs Another Picture (1986) and Marathon (1988). These two albums represent a major shift away from the heavy metal sound of the previous album into an AOR and poppy commercial rock type of music. On Every Story Needs Another Picture there is a rumor that the whole album was recorded by studio musicians with minimal participation from the band. This is a clear case of label influence trying to get the next big hit song or the new ”Bon Jovi” band and it could completely destroy a great heavy metal band.

The original members tried a reunion in 1988 and the chemistry was still there. They only did one reunion gig because greedy managers were asking too much money for them to play. The band disintegrated and even Rinus got a ”real” job.

However, the story does not end there. In 2007 the classic line-up reunited for rehearsals and the three first singers all took part in the process. In the end, Pete Lovell was the one who would go on with the band and record two comeback albums; Old Dogs, New Tricks in 2009 which was a real heavy metal punch in the face a la classic Picture and Warhorse (2012). On the first Rob van Enkhuizen shared guitar duties with Jan Bechtum. Before the recording of Warhorse, both Bechtum and Van Enkhuizen were out of the band. On guitar, we now had Peter Bourbon and Mike Ferguson. In 2016 Pete Lovell left the band and started his own band called Lovell’s Blade and in came original vocalist Ronald van Prooijen again together with Jan Bechtum making the complete original band whole again. Fifth member and filling out on guitar would be Len Ruygrok.

Picture Traitor

The Pete Lovell fronted “Warhorse” version of Picture. Photo courtesy of the band’s facebook page.

The first four albums were released in the late 1990’s for the first time on CD by the Dutch label Pseudonym Records. With the renewed interest in the band that the reunion and the two new albums sparked, the US reissue label, Divebomb Records reissued the first four albums again on CD. That meant that the first four classic albums again was available on CD for the first time in 15 years. The reissues were a success and Divebomb now continues on with the fifth album Traitor.

Let’s start with saying that what Matt Rudzinski and Divebomb Records are doing should really be honored and saluted by all music lovers out there. There is a music treasure just waiting to be discovered and I really hope Divebomb Records will go on and make Every Story Needs Another Picture and Marathon available again for the first time in 30 years. So they deserve all our support in this mission. The album has been carefully remastered from the best available source with the addition of three bonus tracks not included on the original album. The packaging is really nice with the use of the original artwork. Divebomb Records is not always doing that which is sometimes a letdown in my mind. I am a big fan of using the original artwork to preserve the impression first brought upon the listener even in cases where it might be deemed as awful. There is an eight-page booklet containing a lengthy interview with lead vocalist Pete Lovell but unfortunately, no lyrics reprinted.

So what does the album actually sound like?  The production of the album is of course 80’s sounding with that ”snare” drum sound that everyone was looking for after Def Leppard released Pyromania.

The album kicks off with the title track ”Traitor” which is an uptempo rocker with a nice drumbeat driving the song forward. It is a classic heavy metal tune and sets the pace for the rest of the album. ”Why do you question the rules set by your king” Lovell shouts out loud. No commercial hints here at all. It is followed by maybe the strongest song on the album called ”Right Now”. This song is a mid-tempo heavy rocker with a great guitar riff, a heavy thumping bass groove, and a nice hook. Definitely one of my favorite cuts on the album and should be a staple at live shows. The gang vocals are all in there as well.

With the song ”Fantasies” you can for the first time hear those poppy choruses and a songwriter trying to write a hit song. It is also the first single off the album. It is a decent rock song with a commercial edge although a bit too much trying to be radio friendly maybe. It is especially on the main chorus you clearly can hear the new commercial edge to the music.

Picture courtesy of the band’s facebook page.

We are back on track with ”Dyin’ to Live” which is a fast-paced metal song with a contagious hook. Lovell‘s vocals on this song remind me a whole lot of his predecessor’s (Shmoulik Avigail). Not the strongest cut on the album with a chorus that is repeated too many times. We go on with ”Lost in the Night” and now we put the pedal to the metal and this is the fastest song on the album safely planted somewhere in classic Picture land. It’s built around a couple of great riffs with a nice solo part and some great vocals from Lovell. The next song ”State of Shock” kicks off with a heavy riff from Van Jaarsveld and Van Manen. This is a really nice heavy song with an infectious and memorable hook that tends to stay in your mind for a while. During the stick in the middle of the song with are treated with a real guitar duel.

”Loud n Proud” is up next and it starts with a nice riff from Van Jaarsveld/Van Manen before the drums kick in and set the mid-tempo pace of the song. Here we get another memorable chorus and a really nice little rocker all in all. ”Out of Control” starts in similar style with some heavy riffing. It is another mid-tempo rocker ”Picture style” with a screaming vocal chorus line from Lovell. It is another one of these feelgood rockers that Picture are so good at. The album closes with the fantastic semi-ballad ”We Don’t Need to Hide” which together with ”Right Now” and ”State of Shock” are my favorite cuts on Traitor. Lovell‘s vocals really shine on this song where he is forced to use another part of his vocal range.

As a bonus, we get the rare ”Fantasies” EP with three additional songs. The first two are of minor interest. These are ”Fantasies” (long version) and a new recording of the classic Picture track ”Bombers” which originally appeared on the debut album way back in 1980. The real gem in this package is song number 3. It’s a hooky riff monster called ”Rock on Tonight” which has not been released anywhere else. In hindsight, this should, of course, have been included on the album. This is a great song up there with ”Right Now” and goes into my favorite tracks.

Summary

I know some fans think this is the album when things started to go downhill but I really disagree on that. Traitor is a great album with plenty of heavy riffing, soaring guitars, double bass drumming and the screaming vocals of Pete Lovell. This is definitely a heavy metal album and a little variation on a couple of the songs only enhances the overall impression. Although not on par with the classic Eternal Dark album, this is still one of the stronger albums in the dire Picture discography. It is beyond my comprehension why this album has not until now been released on CD.

A big thanks go out to Matthew Rudzinski and his Divebomb label for making this album available again. Let’s hope we also get new editions of Every Story Needs Another Picture and Marathon while we wait for the next brand new Picture album. I know I will eagerly be waiting in front of the stage in June when Picture play the high-profile gig at Sweden Rock Festival. I’ll give the album 7.5 out of 10 geeks. It will also be interesting to see if the band would incorporate any of the Traitor songs into their live set now that this album has been re-released.

Mikael Svensson

BUY: Picture – Traitor here!

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