Race with the Devil

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Vanadium's second album, 1983's A Race with the Devil, didn't introduce any radical new developments into the Italian group's guitar-and-keyboard-driven heavy metal formula, but it nevertheless showed a qualitative improvement over its rookie predecessor in every possible department: songwriting, production, performance, you name it. In fact, it is arguably the strongest effort of Vanadium's entire career (1984's Game Over and 1986's Born to Fight are the only possible challengers), and also marked the reinstatement of band founder, guitarist Steve Tessarin, who'd been excluded from the first album's sessions by a mandatory call to military service, and therefore returned seemingly twice as motivated to leave his mark this second time around. This he did by laying down a series of signature riffs and quite spectacular solos for chest-beating metal anthems like opener "Get Up, Shake Up," the virtual speed metal blast "Outside of Society," and the simply euphoric tour de force of a title track, which truly does "race" along like the demon spawn of Deep Purple's "Highway Star." Tessarin and keyboard player Ruggero Zanolini repeatedly go head to head with spirited solo jousts on all of these songs, as well as on the LP's closing instrumental showcase, "Russian Roulette." And, for his part, frontman Pino Scotto also raises his game on these recordings (his distinctively melodic rasps largely covering for the strong English accent he'd never shake), particularly on the group's first truly competent power ballad, "Don't Be Looking Back," and the heartfelt tribute to his hero, Bon Scott, called "Fire Trails," (which nicked a riff from Saxon's "Hungry Years"). Only a pair of mid-paced numbers -- "I Gotta Clash with You" and the misleading named "Running Wild" -- proved rather unexceptional, though neither one stunk up the joint by any measure, either. And certainly not in the eyes (and ears) of native Italian headbangers, who enthusiastically embraced A Race with the Devil and fell in lockstep behind Vanadium, as they helped elevate heavy metal to a new level of popularity across the boot nation.