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Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: "Babylon A.D." (1989)
BABYLON A.D. (Arista Records, 1989)
I discovered Babylon A.D. quite by accident on a chilly night in Brooklyn, New York, in the Fall of 1989. My friends and I had gone to the borough's legendary rock club "L'amour" that evening to check out the New York City debut concert by the Sea Hags, a highly hyped sleaze-rock band from San Francisco who some folks were predicting would be "the next Guns N' Roses." We were skeptical that any band would be able to live up to that kind of hype, especially after an unknown quintet called Babylon A.D. - who weren't even listed on the bill when we arrived at the club - came onstage to start off the evening and quickly stole the show from the headliners. After a blistering, all too short set by these newcomers, the Sea Hags were ultimately quite disappointing -- we actually walked out only a few songs into their set!
While they were onstage, Babylon A.D.'s lead vocalist had advised the crowd that their debut album would be available "in just a couple of weeks," so my pals and I all kept an eye out for it at our local record store. When it finally appeared, we each snapped up copies and it quickly became a favorite album in our little circle of hard-rock nerds. Several months after the album's release, Babylon A.D. returned to L'amour as a headlining act and we all went back to see them a second time. Once again, the band packed a serious wallop on stage and we all went home expecting that we'd be hearing big things from them in the very near future. Unfortunately, despite a solid debut album and impressive live chops, it never quite worked out for Babylon A.D., who managed to garner a small cult following over the next several years but never broke through to rock's "big leagues."
So Who the Heck Was Babylon A.D., Anyway?
Babylon A.D.'s history dates back to 1986, when the band was originally formed in the San Francisco Bay Area as The Persuaders. After kicking around the local club scene for a couple of years and changing their name to "Babylon" (the "A.D." was added at the last minute due to another band laying claim to the "Babylon" moniker), they caught the ear of legendary music mogul Clive Davis, who signed them to his Arista Records label in 1988. Hard rock or "Hair Metal" was all the rage at the time and Babylon A.D. certainly had the goods to compete in that extremely crowded field. The guitar team of Dan De La Rosa and Ron Freschi knew their way around a catchy riff, while vocalist Derek Davis had male-model good looks and a powerful, soulful voice with a touch of grit that set him apart from many of his Aqua-Netted contemporaries. Babylon A.D.'s first disc (produced by Simon Hanhart, a veteran engineer who'd also worked on albums by Saxon, Asia, Bryan Adams and David Bowie's Tin Machine) was a catchy, potent mix of AC/DC and Aerosmith style bar room boogie. It may have been hampered slightly by the overly glossy, "slick" production sound that was characteristic of most hard rock albums of the time but the album had its share of catchy anthems (see: "Hammer Swings Down," "Shot O' Love," or "Sweet Temptation") tempered by a few tracks with enough "heavy metal" bite to appeal to the headbanger crowd. The best examples of this would be the pounding, sinister "Back in Babylon" (a great mood-setter which was their set-opener at both live shows I saw) and their best-known song, "The Kid Goes Wild," which eventually landed on the soundtrack to the 1990 film "RoboCop 2." A crunchy, vivid tale of an urban teenager on an all-night crime spree, "The Kid Goes Wild" even features a vocal cameo by foul-mouthed comedian Sam Kinison in the role of "Billy," who shouts his defiance at the police before he's cut down in a hail of bullets. On the other hand, the band was also adept at the type of get-out-your-lighters balladry that made the girls swoon, as evidenced by the sensitive, acoustic "Desperate" and the bluesy "Sally Danced." As a whole, the ten tracks on Babylon A.D. still sound pretty damn good today, which is certainly not something you can say about a lot of the albums that were released during the Great Hair Metal Glut of 1988-1990.
"Hammer Swings Down"
So What Went Wrong?
With an album this good, how come Babylon A.D. never hit the big time? It's hard to say for sure, but perhaps it all came down to simple bad timing. By the time Babylon A.D. was released in late 1989, the hard rock scene was already oversaturated by hundreds of second-and-third-division hair/glam/sleaze metal bands, all of whom were trying to cop some of the audience share enjoyed by platinum-selling giants like Poison, Ratt, Cinderella, and Guns N' Roses. I imagine that it would've been an impossible task for any new band to get traction amongst all the competition. It probably didn't help that at the time, their label (Arista) had little experience in the hard-rock arena, as they'd spent most of the '80s concentrating on easy-to-sell pop acts like Air Supply, Taylor Dayne, and Whitney Houston. By the time Arista tried to get in on the hair metal party by signing Babylon A.D., Every Mother's Nightmare and Enuff Z'nuff, the train had left the station and the "scene" had already chosen its winning acts.
In addition, Babylon A.D. took three years to produce a follow up album. By the time their sophomore effort, Nothing Sacred, was released in 1992, Grunge music had taken over and everyone had moved on, so they never had a chance to build on the foundation they'd set with the debut. Nothing Sacred also happens to be a fine listen, by the way, though it was a bit less heavy than the first album; on tracks like "Dream Train" and "Bad Blood," the band pushed the blues-based early Aerosmith-isms of their sound to the forefront. Sadly, their clueless label chose to push the sappy "So Savage the Heart" as the album's single; apparently they hadn't gotten the memo yet that power ballads were dead!
"The Kid Goes Wild" (from "RoboCop 2")
Babylon and on and on....
After Nothing Sacred sank without a trace in 1992, the band members took a break from the music business for several years before resurfacing in 1998 with a live album (Live In Your Face) on a small independent label, Apocalypse Records. The turn of the millennium brought a new studio album, 2000's American Blitzkrieg, which I've never heard, but I've been told that it was fairly forgettable due to the band attempting to "modernize" their sound. In 2006 Perris Records released In The Beginning...Persuaders Recordings 8688, an archive disc of mid '80s demos recorded while the band was still going by its original name. In 2007 Babylon A.D. guitarist Ron Freschi formed a new project called "Syrym," which he promised would return to the classic sound found on his former band's debut album, while Derek Davis pursued a solo career.
In early 2014 the band announced via Facebook that they were back together and working on new material. A 4 song from-the-vaults EP entitled Lost Sessions: Fresno, CA. '93 was released in mid-2014 and a new live disc, Live @XXV, followed in 2015. Further concert gigs are planned for the very near future. Let's hope that this signals a permanent return to action for this underrated band!!