Vanadium

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Milanese five-piece Vanadium were one of Italy's first successful heavy metal bands, releasing a string of very popular LPs during the early '80s, before being outpaced by a quickly evolving national…
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Milanese five-piece Vanadium were one of Italy's first successful heavy metal bands, releasing a string of very popular LPs during the early '80s, before being outpaced by a quickly evolving national scene as the decade wore on. In fact, the second half of their career saw a creatively weakened Vanadium rudely subjected to both ridicule and scorn by the next generation of more extreme Italian heavy metal bands -- most of whom failed to recognize their pioneering efforts in the face of unimaginable challenges.

Vanadium was founded in 1979 by guitarist Steve Tessarin, who, along with vocalist Pino Scotto, organist Ruggero Zanolini, bassist Fortu Sacca, and drummer Americo William Costantino, went on to develop a high-energy hard rock sound, greatly indebted to keyboard-infused '70s heavy metal bands like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Rainbow. True to form and history (see Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, etc.), the group chose a name inspired by a "heavy metal" found in the periodic table of elements; but the fact that vanadium is in fact a soft, ductile element (commonly used in the manufacturing of tools, hence the band's wrench emblem) was apparently lost on them, and later used by certain critics as evidence of their terminal haplessness. Back at the start of their career, though, Vanadium would have probably welcomed any critic, so long as attention was drawn to their lonely plight of gaining a foothold for heavy metal within the pop-centric Italian music scene. Their hard work in local clubs eventually paid off, however, when independent Durium Records took a chance on releasing a single entitled "We Want Live Rock & Roll" (b/w a song named simply "Heavy Metal") in 1981, and, based on the promise showed, subsequently offered them a multi-album deal. Unfortunately, Tessarin had since been drafted into military service, so Scotto and Zanolini were forced to call on replacement guitarist Claudio Acquini for the sessions that spawned Vanadium's rough-hewn, but really quite respectable 1982 debut album, Metal Rock, which also introduced the powerful new rhythm section of bassist Domenico "Mimmo" Prantera, and drummer Lio Mascheroni.

Once Tessarin completed his patriotic duty and returned to the fold later that year, there was simply no stopping Vanadium, as they grew from strength to strength over the course of two far more accomplished LPs in 1983's A Race with the Devil and 1984's Game Over. Both firmly established Vanadium as Italy's premiere heavy metal group of the era and the latter reportedly sold over 50,000 copies, was quite remarkable in a country where government-regulated conglomerates with no interest in promoting heavy metal still controlled the media, and a terribly disorganized club circuit (even by Italian standards!) offered few opportunities for live performance. Vanadium's 1985 "live" album, Live on Streets of Danger -- another "first-of-its-kind" for Italian heavy metal -- revealed as much; framing the band's most popular material thus far with hilariously studio-patched audience noises. And yet, it still received unwavering endorsement from the then-recently launched MTV equivalent cable channel, Video Music, and its colorful weekly heavy metal show, Heavy con Kleever, for which Vanadium were virtually the house band. But the mid-'80s, heavy metal had of course become a global phenomenon, so Vanadium seemed primed to reap even greater rewards from their pioneering efforts with the release of their fourth studio album, Born to Fight, in 1986, since it pretty much carried on in the same artistic vein as its worthy predecessors and in no way hinted at the steep decline that lay just around the corner.

This was precipitated by Vanadium's ill-advised next studio outing, 1987's Corruption of Innocence, which fatally depicted the group decked out in glam metal gear on its cover and drove disillusioned fans straight into the claws of younger, edgier Italian extreme metal groups like Bulldozer and Extrema -- even though the music itself actually showed only slightly more commercial inclinations. The bankruptcy of Durium Records soon after was another serious setback, and by the time Vanadium regrouped, recorded, and released their sixth album, Seventh Heaven in 1989, through independent Green Line Records, they had indeed sold out their fans by embracing a glossy pop-metal sound, bordering on AOR. Having struggled through an entire decade together, the musicians decided it was time to go their separate ways at last, and although they did re-form briefly for 1995's Nel Cuore del Caos ("In the Heart of Chaos" -- their only LP to feature lyrics in Italian), the album failed to recover that old metal magic' and sent them back into retirement without further ado. Pino Scotto managed to keep himself busy throughout the '90s, releasing five solo albums and acting as an occasional TV host, before founding a new group named Fire Trails in 2002 and recording a Vanadium Tribute album, followed by 2005's Third Moon, featuring original material. Vanadium's legacy, meanwhile, has steadily emerged from widespread forgetfulness to regain some well-deserved respect for the group's influential role in putting Italian heavy metal on the world map.