Hittman - Hittman

Hittman cover
Hittman’s eponymous debut which came out in 1988, a few years after a five track demo that made the rounds and generated quite an interest in this young band from NY and is quite a bold statement of intend by a band that in less than three years honed its skills to near perfection and unsealed nine tracks of metallic fury that perfectly combine the melodies of European bands and the sheer power of their American counterparts in one potent blend. Hittman were very lucky to feature Dirk Kennedy a native of NY, who answered an ad at a local paper to join them after leaving his previous band, – who went on to become Anthrax lol – a singer who had an already impressive range and a quite decent technique, which he honed even further later and a style that was highly adaptable and could go from a very convincing low register to piercing highs without sounding hollow.
But it not only he, who shines on this album, it’s the entire band that really puts in a quite stellar performance and it’s the really “well thought out songs” that actually show that countless hours went into writing and production, even if the latter could have been a bit better had it not been a DIY affair, for which it’s not bad by any means, it’s just not as highly polished as it could have been in the hands of a name producer. (but who knows – one such might have really stolen the album’s thunder too)
Both the late Mike Buccel (R.I.P.) on bass and Chuck Cory on drums do lay down some really impressive rhythmical patterns and the guitar duo of John Kristen & Jim Bachi just reign all over the album riffing and soloing away wildly… being memorable almost at every given moment. Just because I do have both an LP and CD of this... if you drop the needle on the vinyl anywhere on this, there isn’t a chance that you won’t hear a cool ass riff or a solo that will blow your mind or a cool drum fill. It’s all pretty amazing.
At this point I would like to also thank Dirk Kennedy (read also the interview here) himself for his invaluable insight on some of the songs themselves – I will be posting his comments in different color bellow for your information.
Metal Sport” is the riffy opener that gatecrashes the party and sets the pace for the first 4 minutes, of the album with its relentless beat down, shredding guitars and crazy vocal delivery!
Dirk: This is the first song I had ever hear the band play me. It was different in its original form. But what I think Jimmy and Mike were going for was their “Freewheel Burning”. It’s loosely based on the movie Rollerball, but with the game being metal and the players being the band. Its old school fantasy metal lyrics in the post-apocalyptic vein. It has become the track synonymous with Hittman. Over the years we started to hate it because we opened every show with it, eventually scraping it but now we really appreciate its value.
Dead on Arrival” is another highlight, that deviates little from the formula, just dropping the speed to mid-tempo but keeping the metal dosage to maximum level, with the band still “hot” and firing on all six. Both this and “Metal Sport” have amazingly catchy, choruses, obviously making them, instant, classics and fan favorites.
Dirk: Jimmy Bachi Man, riff king. He has a million, he was our Iommi and our Schenker. The guy just knows how to write like a muther fucker. One of my all-time faves. The riff is so good… when OZ Foxx (Stryper) heard it at a sound check of our very first show he unintentionally ripped it off for their next album “To Hell With the Devil”. It’s a song called “The Way”. When we played with him a year later he apologized saying it was stuck in his head. We believe him, they are awesome. Although he wasn’t a major writer for that band.
Will You Be There” drops the speed considerably and goes for a much more melodic approach, with a far more subtle hook and a bit of a power ballad, approach, but not in the traditional sense where you have a soft song with a powerful chorus... here we have a powerful song with a slightly more melodic chorus and that’s about it... so it’s more of a powerful ballad than a power ballad.
Dirk: Our first shot at writing a single. Jimmy and I wrote it. It was a multilayered vocal chorus and a very heavy riff. It actually topped all the rock radio charts the week it was released. If we had the label support it would have been a definite smash. But they didn’t do anything and it was sad. That song could have broken us wide open.
Breakout” is more of a bit of a concept-style of song, as it seems to have these backing “gang vocals” and softer moments that allow for introspection and reflection – when the protagonist sounds low, but quickly goes into piercing falsettos – it sounds a lot like something that could have easily been lifted or been in Queensryche’s “Rage for Order” just the same.
Dirk: What can I say? Covered by many aspiring metal bands live and a vocal showcase for me. It’s something we always played live and it was always a showstopper. I had pretty much gotten to the point where my range had finally found it potential and I think it might be one of the best A5’s out there cause it was really powerful and not head voice.
Backstreet Rebels” is cut pretty much from the same cloth, with the same quality of riffs and overall musicality and vocal performance directly antagonizing Queensryche at their peak. You could easily interchange this song with one of Ryche’s (if you’d improve the production a bit) and I doubt anyone would complain.
Dirk: Another Hittman anthem. Not one of my personal faves but I understand it’s a fan favorite. I do get into it though when played live, I feel its message and power.
Same holds true for “Caught in a Crossfire” only the thing is one, could not blame Hittman for being clones. Obviously they sound very close, that’s true, but I see them as true antagonists, not as clones, as a band that had a very similar musical background and came up with a very similar sounding resulting sound hybrid.
Dirk: Now were talking. Insane playing by Jimmy, John, Mike and Chuck. The lead breaks are almost impossible and so fucking tasty. One of my fave live songs so fast and furious. Metal in its truest form.
The band does light work of “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers, making this cover entirely their own and making the song fit entirely in the “atmosphere” of the album and seamlessly working without disrupting its flow. It somehow almost sounds like a metallized version of a James Bond theme song.
Dirk: Our only cover. Not the greatest moment and I think we fucked it up cutting out the last verse, but again, the fans loved it. I always skip it.
Behind the Lines” maintains a mysterious riff, not too dissimilar than that of the track directly previous to it, but is a lot slower and more involved and while the harmonies are somewhat Maidenesque, the vocals here made me think of early Ray Alder, Fates Warning for some reason... not at his completely over the top moments but still… that sort of distant but quite awesome urban “vibe”.
Dirk: Mike’s first album masterpiece. The rhythm is crazy and so interesting. I also love the vocals. Lyrically I have no idea what Mike’s talking about but I always assumed it was about a future city. Jiimmy’s golden solo moment. He should be in the history books for taste.
Finally “The Test of Time” is an amazing conclusion to this minor classic, pulling all stops to sound amazing and succeeding in doing so. It’s got a great sense of timing and has a lot of small climaxes and a flair for the dramatic that make it one of the better songs of the album and certainly it makes it leave a lasting impression on this anyhow quite flawless album.
Dirk: So they made a mistake on the mix and used a sample for the snare drum (that was done all the time in the 80s). It’s tuned an octave too high. I’d love to remix it as this song is another Hittman classic. I love the lyrics. It’s about succeeding before it all runs out. We stopped playing it after the first album shows, though. I don’t know why… I’d play it for sure today if we ever got around to that. I think the fans would go crazy.
There’s nothing to really flaw on an album that has a great singer, awesome guitar tone, a great rhythm section and cool songwriting. As aforementioned a slightly better production might have made this an absolute masterpiece, but this ain’t nothing a remaster, couldn’t “bring” up-to-date if the multitrack should still exist... (and maybe add the demo tracks as a bonus).
A real classic of the genre in every possible way. Highly recommended for fans of Judas Priest, Crimson Glory and Queensryche. (especially the latter two) You get the picture…