FORTRESS / ELIOT – On Loose… You Can Rock ’86-88 [Retrospect Records remaster]
Recorded between 1986 and 1988, “On Loose… You Can Rock” comprises all the 80s early recordings from FORTRESS / ELIOT, cleaned and remastered into a single CD. Only 500 of these were pressed.
This is old-school, timeless Eighties US melodic hard, driven by kickass vocals, heavy guitars, groovin’ bass, thundering drums, all mixed together into molten melodic rockin’ music.
Fortress started its life in the early 80s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The band was formed by guitar slingers Vince Magyar and Alan Breider, bass player Mike Lelo and drummer Kenny Goane. Fortress won the local “Battle of the Bands” contes in 1983 and later that year they were joined by lead vocalist Chris Eliot.
Fortress traveled and gigged the Midwest. They built a strong following and improved their skills as musicians as well as honed their songwriting on the road. In 1985, Fortress was picked for the top 4 “Best of the Midwest Chicago Choice Picks Contest”.
This contest was entered by thousands of bands and only the top 4 were selected to play the Chicago Metro which also was a showcase gig for major record labels and music industry press.
They entered the studio to record ‘On The Loose’ (only distributed locally) which is included on this CD.
In a bid for stardom, Fortress relocated to Los Angeles in 1987 and in the process changed their name to Eliot (christened after lead vocalist Chris Eliot). Filled with dreams of taking their career forward in Orange County and Hollywood they took off.
A further 9-song demo was recorded for that elusive record deal under the new moniker Eliot. In 1988 Eliot released a 4 song cassette called ‘You Can Rock’.
They played regularly in classic clubs like The Whiskey, The Roxy, Gazarri´s, The Country Club, The Troubadour and many others. The band even recorded a video for the song “Roll it Higher” (which sounds a lot like Danger Danger) that got regular play on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball.
However, a major record deal never materialized.
Fast forward to 2015 and reissue label Retrospect Records contacted the band and secured a deal to re-release not only the Eliot recordings but also the old Fortress demos together on one CD. What is great is that they added a lot of bonus tracks never before heard by the public taken from the tapes that had been sitting in the vaults for more than 25 years. The artwork has been done using the original bands logos.
The band reunited for a release party for this album in October of 2015.
I missed out on the band when they were active and released these tapes. They were issued in a very limited quantity and only sold locally. I bought a bootleg CD containing the Eliot demo a few years back and was struck by the sheer quality of the songs and the strong voice of Chris Eliot.
You get all the classic elements of your favourite ’80s hair metal band in this release, but on the Fortress material they sound more American hard rock circa 1983-84.
All songs are packed with anthemic hooks, chugging and heavy guitar riffs, thunderous drums and the clean vocals and personal voice of Chris Eliot.
The album starts with the band’s catchy track ”Amaretto” (Fortress version) which is a heavy rocker with a strong chorus and a melody that easily stays in your head. Chris Eliot pushes his vocal chords to the limit and pulls out a great vocal performance. This opening track that tells us all about what the band is about.
It is followed by ”You Can Rock” which is another mid-tempo rocker that starts out with a heavy riff. A simple lyric that ”you can rock me” and all the clicheés are in place. The dueling guitars from Magyar and Breider in the solo part throws the listener back to the mid-80’s.
A drumbeat kicks off ”Wild Nights”, which is an 80s hair metal track that sounds like it is taken right out of the Sunset Strip on a Saturday night and the lyrics seem to describe that lifestyle as well. It has a strong, hooky sort of chorus and it´s a strong effort indeed. Eliot cries out ”I live those wild nights, rocking into my life” – priceless!
Another hook-laden song is to follow in ”Take Me” and the rock n´roll influences show off in this rocker. A heavy thumping bass carries the song which is also driven forward by a bluesy guitar riff. It´s a song that reminds me of bands like Tesla or Tora Tora.
Now it´s time for a faster track in the title track from the first demo, ”On the Loose”, a song with a Thin Lizzy meets Kiss vibe. Up next we are treated with ”Powerdrive” which kicks off with a howl from Chris Eliot and a fast vibrato guitar solo. This is a straight ahead hard rock song.
A heavy drum beat kicks off ”It´s Alright” and soon the guitar joins in with a clever riff. It´s a heavy song with an interesting melody running through the verses and a huge gang vocal on the chorus.
”Thrown it All Away” starts off with a cool bass riff from Mike Lelo and soon turns into a heavy mid-tempo rocker in the same style as many of the other songs on the album.
It is time for ”Take Another Look” which starts real slow and you think you are in for a power ballad but you get a catchy rocker with a nice groove built around a cool guitar riff. It´s a song with commercial potential and a more radio-friendly approach.
We are up next for the balladesque ”I Can´t Wait”, a song that changes tempo and shape several times. A really strong vocal melody combined with a fantastic guitar virtuoso-like performance makes this definitely one of my top picks.
Time for the power ballad with ”Take Time” and it starts with a Freddy Mercury like vocal from Eliot where he gets to show his diversity as a vocalist. Still, a nice detour from the mid-tempo rock songs that dominate this album.
Back on the rocking track again with a drum and bass groove that takes ”Sin City´s on Fire” of the ground. A dirty, gritty, rock n’ roll like riff soon takes command and we are back in heavy blues rock land. Bands like Southgang, Junkyard, and even early Mötley Crüe run through my mind when looking for comparisons.
”Jackhammer” is the name of song #14 on this compilation and it is another heavy rocking track. There is a cool bass solo in the middle section of the song which evolves into a dual guitar harmony type of solo.
The album continues with the sleazy rocker ”Nothin’ to Lose”, a dirty and rough rock song about being on the wrong side of the law and having nothing to lose. ”Love Gone Cold” starts off with a bluesy harmonica. It evolves into a bluesy rock song with all typical attributes and this could have been recorded by Whitesnake for one of their early 1980s albums.
Next, we get the Eliot version of ”Amaretto” which has got an updated sound and improved production making it a bit better than the older Fortress version.
The last song on the album is ”Now and Forever” and it is listed in the booklet as a bonus track. It sounds like it is one of the later recordings. It is a nice power ballad, one of the stronger cuts on the album and a worthy inclusion into this compilation.
Fortress/Eliot is more rocking and diverse than your average 80s melodic hard rock / glam metal band. These guys know their craft and how to hone out a couple of great heavy rocking tracks as well.
It´s understandable that they got lost in the shuffle with thousands of bands trying to make it in the 1980s but they are clearly much better at it than many which secured a record deal. The competition was murderous at the time!
You get a young band here full of ambition set out to conquer the world and a bunch of guys that really know how to handle their instruments.
For the ’80s hair metal / hard rock connoisseur this release is a must.
01 – Amaretto
02 – You Can Rock
03 – Wild Nights
04 – Take Me
05 – On The Loose
06 – Powerdrive
07 – Its Alright
08 – Thrown It All Away
09 – Take Another Look
10 – Roll It Higher
11 – I Can’t Wait
12 – Take Time
13 – Sin City’s On Fire
14 – Jackhammer
15 – Nothin To Lose
16 – Love Gone Cold
17 – Amaretto (Eliot Version)
18 – Now And Forever (Bonus Track)
Chris Eliot – lead vocals
Vince Magyar – guitar, backing vocals
Alan Breider – guitar, backing vocals
Mike Lelo – bass, backing vocals
Jay Arena, Kenny Goane drums, percussion