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Plot: what happens on Savage Beach? LETHAL Ladies are on the case.

The LETHAL Ladies franchise closed the door on the exuberant eighties with Savage Beach, the least typical of the early era. Savage Beach not only spends inordinate amount of time on what amounts to a B-plot but also puts a greater emphasis on adventure than any of the prior installments. For the first time the LETHAL Ladies find themselves as passive spectators, and occasional participants, in a conflict between two warring factions. Savage Beach was the swansong for Hope Marie Carlton with the series and creator Andy Sidaris ensures that everybody gets a good gander at her considerable talents one last time. In what is now established Sidaris tradition Savage Beach delivers big explosions, ridiculous shoot-outs, and beautiful beach babes in candy-colored bikinis in spades.

First they received a Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and later they protected the valued Picasso Trigger (1988), now federal agents Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) are in the process of rounding up another round of drugdealers with help from trusted assets, or rather the assembled assets of,  Rocky (Lisa London) and Patticakes (Patty Duffek). With minutes to spare the girls catch some rays and hop into the hot tub before receiving a call from John Andreas (John Aprea). Andreas sends Donna and Taryn en route on a humanitarian mission to deliver medicine and supplies to Knox Island. After being informed that one Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane) will be assisting them, they both hysterically scream, “another Abilene?!” Crashlanding on the island they were supposed to deliver supplies to Donna and Taryn find themselves in the midst of a vicious tug of war between a band of mercenaries and a government para-military unit vying for the same gold treasure. Who is the mysterious katana-wielding figure (Michael Mikasa) guarding the gold cache? Will stuff blow up and will there be plenty of jiggling naked breasts for everyone?

Having produced the prior three LETHAL Ladies installments from his personal funds, director Andy Sidaris was offered a lucrative production deal to expand his beach babes action movie vision into a full-blown pentalogy. Of said 5-picture deal Savage Beach was the first and missing in action are Cynthia Brimhall, Roberta Vasquez, Kym Malin, and Liv Lindeland. Also unaccounted for is Patrick LaPore as the Professor and Harold Diamond as The Agency strongman Jade. Substituting for her fellow Playboy Playmates is Teri Weigel (April 1986), one year away from having bit parts in Predator 2 (1990) and the Steven Seagal actioner Marked For Death (1990) – and her subsequent descent into hardcore pornography. Weigel is first seen in company of Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane), another member of clan that included Cody, Rowdy, and Travis. To absolutely nobody’s surprise Anjelica is in cahoots with scheming Filipino representative Rodrigo Martinez (Rodrigo Obregón), in what looks like a subplot repurposed from the preceding Picasso Trigger (1988).

Thankfully Savage Beach keeps the LETHAL formula intact while excising all extraneous characters and most of Sidaris’ typical distractions. Savage Beach is all about efficiency. As there’s no Professor around there are no remote-controlled models, and no explosive-charged gadgets, neither are there any second-act amorous liaisons, and the main plot seems borne out of convenience. For the first time in the series do Donna and Taryn not actively engage with the main plot, at least not until their own little subplot ends up intersecting with it. Sidaris’ whimsical humour manifests itself when Donna and Taryn - who seem to wear tank tops and bootyshorts into perpuity when they are wearing clothes at all - crash on the island. Instead of foraging food and seeking shelter, the first thing the two do is check out the beach and go skinnydip. Weigel gets to spew political diatribes before, during, and after taking her clothes off. Continuity, either from one movie to the next or in them, was never Sidaris strong suit. Savage Beach has the case of the duo’s camouflage paint disappearing in between scenes.

Besides the usual amount of Playboy Playmates and stuntmen Andy Sidaris was in the habit of contracting well-known character actors in supporting roles. Savage Beach has Al Leong, famous for his bit parts in Lethal Weapon (1987), Die Hard (1988), and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). Lisa London had a bit part in the fourth Dirty Harry installment Sudden Impact (1983). John Aprea, Bruce Penhall, Roy Summersett, and Rodrigo Obregón were Sidaris stock talent, as were Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, and Patty Duffek. Michael J. Shane receives an “introducing” credit. After her acting tenure Hope Marie Carlton, who featured topless in an unaired pilot for the popular series Baywatch (1989), opened and ran the popular Sorrel River Ranch Resort in Moab, Utah. Hope Marie Carlton moved to Colorado once her marriage had ended in 2005.

Savage Beach is a monument to a bygone age. It was an episode of endings and continuations. Dona Speir transitioned into the 90s with the franchise, becoming the franchise mascot in the process, at which point Hope Marie Carlton bade the series farewell. Carlton was suitably replaced by the curvaceous Roberta Vasquez. Vasquez was absent in Savage Beach (1989), but returned as a completely new and benevolent character in Guns (1990), as did Liv Lindeland. Vasquez remained a series regular until Fit to Kill (1993) while Lindeland moved on after Guns. Speir exited the franchise after Fit to Kill (1993) at which point Penthouse Pets Julie Strain, Julie K. Smith and Shae Marks took over The Agency mantle for Day Of the Warrior (1996). Andy’s son Christian Drew Sidaris shot two of his own LETHAL productions in the interim between Fit to Kill and Day of the Warrior. The parallel sequels Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) retroactively serve to link the 1980s and 1990s Sidaris the elder periods. The concluding Andy Sidaris directed episode Return to Savage Beach (1998) saw the Julies, Strain and K. Smith, return to Savage Beach in what can only be construed as a loving homage to the original, which didn't stop Sidaris the elder from pilfering it for footage.

Andy Sidaris can hardly be accused of not giving his audience exactly what they want. However even by Sidaris standards Savage Beach is just a wee bit on the thin side, both in terms of plot as well as the heavily-slimmed cast. Speir and Carlton have grown comfortable in their roles as gun-toting, wisecracking, top-dropping action babes and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Perhaps it had been better if Speir and Carlton had been active participants in the main plot, rather than passive spectators – and some of the warrior’s stalking scene resemble a Hawaiian slasher. The World War II flashback scene was ambitious, but was kept low-scale enough for the limited budget Sidaris was working with. What can be counted upon is that there’ll be plenty of bouncing naked breasts, and if there’s any beautiful good character introduced, there’s a good chance of her shedding fabric in the following scenes. Sidaris never aimed for high art, and his movies are as pulpy and exploitative as they look. For what it’s worth, at least an Andy Sidaris romp always delivers what it promises. Sometimes bigger, sometimes lesser – but they are consistently entertaining.

Since forming in Attica, Greece in 2002 Cerebrum has proven to be one of the more resilient and interesting technical death metal bands to come from the Hellenic underground. That isn’t to say that things have been particularly easy for them. Their on-and-off collaboration with high-profile (session) drummer George Kollias has been as much of a boon as it has been a bane. Thus far they have released three albums, one and all stellar examples within their specific niche, on as many different label imprints. “Spectral Extravagance” was released through Czech Republic’s Lacerated Enemy Records in 2009 with “Cosmic Enigma” following in 2013 on Japanese imprint Amputated Vein Records. “Iridium”, their third and most recent offering, is distributed and marketed through Transcending Obscurity Records based out of Mumbai, India. In an ideal world “Iridium” (stylized as "IrIdIum") is Cerebrum’s overdue passage to the big leagues.

As the opposite of the more stereotypically American sounding Inveracity (whose bass guitarist now resides in his constellation) Cerebrum has by and far probably been the most interesting Greek death metal band this side of Sickening Horror. Jim Touras (vocals, guitars) and his men have always prided themselves on being of a progressive and forward-thinking disposition. Like the two records before it “Iridium” combines the typical rugged Greek death metal with technical workouts redolent of Atheist (“Piece Of Time” and “Unquestionable Presence”) and mid-to-late period Death (“Human” and “Individual Thought Patterns”) with the density and percussiveness of early Suffocation (“Effigy Of the Forgotten”, “Breeding the Spawn”). There has always been a slight undercurrent of thrash to many of the riffs and chord progressions that Cerebrum uses but it underscores that these men grew up on all the right records and thankfully keep their music free from any contemporary influences. Touras and Michalis Papadopoulos (guitar) remain from “Spectral Extravagance” and “Cosmic Enigma”. George Skalkos (bass guitar) debuted on “Cosmic Enigma” and “Iridium” inducts Defkalion Dimos (drums) into the fold.

Whereas a band as Sickening Horror has drifted towards a direction that is as much symfo as it is industrial while retaining their death metal essence; Cerebrum hasn’t shed its skin quite as drastically as the former has. In the years since “Cosmic Enigma” Cerebrum has forsaken the more conventional and rigid structures for something that is altogether more adventurous and wilder in terms of rhythms. “Iridium” is stylistically closer to “Nespithe” from Demilich and “Spheres” from Pestilence (minus the guitar-synths and studio effects) than it is to more brutish and pugilistic examples of the form as “The Hidden Lore” from Iniquity or ambitious cerebral exercises as “The Armageddon Theories” from Theory In Practice. No, the Chuck Schuldiner styled solos stay very much intact but “Iridium” has a far greater propensity towards a near-constant, sputtering start-stop sections and bouncing, almost elastic rhythms. In that sense it bears more of a resemblance to Fear Factory’s “Soul Of A New Machine” strictly in how it operates on a rhythmic level. Cerebrum's newfound penchant for the mechanical works wonderfully well.

That doesn’t mean that Cerebrum hasn’t retained at least a fraction of what made their previous two records what they were. The soloing is very much what it always has been and ‘A Face Unknown’ even throws in an acoustic Greek guitar solo which is something that just begs to explored further. The bass licks are uniformly funky and will very much appeal to Obscura and Monstrosity fans as such. The drumming is no longer as flashy and extravagant as it once was now that Kollias has bade his farewell. ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ is the prerequisite instrumental but it, thankfully, is better composed than the two barely developed brainfarts on “Cosmic Enigma”. Although brief as always it’s closer to ‘The Prologue of Completion’ from “Spectral Extravagance” than anything after. ‘Absorbed in Greed’ and ‘Escape to Bliss’ are by far our favorite tracks of the album as a whole. “Iridium” is by far the most cohesive effort these men have yet penned. The instrumentals still add no extra dimension in the way the band probably intended but at least now they are (once again) just a single diversion towards the end. ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ is little over a minute long and could just as easily been integrated into ‘Astral Oblivion’. Unlike “Spectral Extravagance” and “Cosmic Enigma” before it this is more of a slow burn with not much in the way of hooks. “Iridium” is a record meant to be experienced as a whole, and not as a few scattered tracks here and there.

Those hoping to see an Adam Burke, César Eidrian, George Prasinis, Piotr Szafraniec, or Dan Seagrave canvas on “Iridium” will have to settle for a rather standard-looking (and, frankly, uninteresting) Costin Chioreanu drawing. Since working with the likes of Demonical, Grave, Mayhem, Primordial, and Sigh and (in a later stage) with Arch Enemy, At the Gates, and Einherjer; Chioreanu has become the new go-to artist for bands either in the metal mainstream or ones attempting to break into it. A couple of years ago Costin Chioreanu was what Eliran Kantor has become in more recent times. The “Iridium” artwork is by no means disappointing but from Cerebrum one has come to expect something different, something innovative even. They commissioned artwork from Michał "Xaay" Loranc before the big fish took notice of him. The crunchy guitar tone from the previous two albums is sorely absent. In its stead is a thin, buzzy fuzz straight out of a mid-to-late ‘90s demo cassette. Not something you’d expect from a respected professional label with international distribution. Granted, it leaves plenty of place for the funky bass guitar licks and the frequent solos but far more damning is that it lacks the weight, heft and body it possessed on “Spectral Extravagance” and “Cosmic Enigma”. “Iridium” would’ve sounded far more threatening with a properly dialed-in or a more refined, full-bodied guitar tone. That the record was mastered by Colin Marston at his The Thousand Caves facility in Queens, New York will probably account for something to some people, but it’s not something we particularly care for. It doesn’t fix the fantastically impotent guitar tone, for one.

We like to sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that our old Nile review for that certain South Asian publication (hi, Kunal!) was at least a contributing factor in helping the men in Cerebrum score a recording contract with its current label home. However we’re realistic enough to realize that such acknowledgements will probably not be forthcoming and expecting them on our part is entirely futile, to put it mildly. For one thing it’s good to see that talented bands in the underground are still given opportunities to break to a wider audience. A band like Cerebrum is a welcome breath of fresh air in the neverending morass of mediocrity that the majors keep forcing upon the masses who still consume it without question. There’s a point to be made that the metal scene is responsible for the self-perpetuating stream of easily marketable dross that clogs up playlists and mailorders. Thankfully label imprints as Transcending Obscurity Records continue to support and develop talent in what must be a nearly extinct tradition. If there’s any justice in the world either Cerebrum further develops under the wings of Transcending Obscurity or use it as steppingstone into the upper echelon of the genre. Either way, despite a productional hiccup, “Iridium” is their most accomplished record so far.