This time, we’d like to present you an all female heavy metal band from Westchester, New York. Their career expanded a much longer time than most of you people would realize. This is mainly because they only released one album in the ten long years that they existed. But let’s not go too fast. It’s time again to step into our time machine and turn back the time to 1985.
This is the year that MEANSTREAK came together. Rena Sands on guitars and Marlene Apuzzo on guitars can be seen as the founder members of this band. The other three members they recruted were Bettina France on vocals, Martens Pace on bass and Diane Keyser on drums. Diane replaced a male drummer, who only played in the band for a very short period, before she was hired in. Bettina, who previously sang for commercials sometimes, also replaced another (female) singer, who was in the band for a couple of weeks. At first the band didn’t really know which direction they would go. They originally started out as a VIXEN-like band. But later on, they realized that this was not really what they had in mind. They slowly changed their style towards, what people would call, heavy metal back in those days. And with that in mind, they started to rehearse, make demos and play at clubs. The girls were good looking and they played some good heavy metal at their shows. And so they created a respectable following. Their most important statement was that they wanted to let the music do the talking. Meaning no sexy outfits or short skirts on stage. The band liked to go on stage in jeans and boots and play some kick ass metal. Reason enough for Mercenary Records to ask the band to send in a song for the “L’Amour Rocks” compilation LP. This was a compilation album, which was made to celebrate the sixth year anniversary of Brooklyn’s most famous rock club L’Amour. Bands like RATT, SLAYER, ACCEPT, WASP, YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN, QUEENSRYCHE, METALLICA and TWISTED ‘f*cking’ SISTER started their career in this club, too. The eight bands that were on this compilation were WRATCHILD, MATRIARCH, JETT BLACK, LETHAL AGGRESSION, ATTACKER, HALLOWEEN (USA), THE BOYS and the girls from MEANSTREAK. They were on this album with a short, but very powerful song, called “Lost Stranger”. Not long after that, the band signed a deal with Mercenary Records for their debut album. They started working on their material and in 1988, their first album “Roadkill” was a fact. Eight songs, thirty-two minutes of pure agression and power, recorded in nine whole days. Engineered and produced by Alex Periales and ex RAVEN drummer Rob ‘Wacko’ Hunter. The track “Lost Stranger” that they used for the “L’Amour Rocks” album is also on this debut album, but in a re-worked version. A song, which was often refered to as “Voodoo”, was retitled as “The Warning” on the LP or left out. Nobody really knows what happened to the song, as it’s mentioned in a few reviews that I‘ve read. Nonetheless, the message was clear. The world had to take notice of this band, because the magazines were praising the band for their great debut album. A debut album that almost wasn’t made. Fact is that some guitars were stolen from the band while being on the road. But luckily, this band was not about to give up that easily and they made the album.
Almost that same time the band saw the positive side of the failure of bigger bands. What happened was that KING DIAMOND was about to play a sold out gig at The Ritz in New York, with FLOTSAM AND JETSAM. Only a few days before this gig, the gig was cancelled by KING DIAMOND, because he had a throat infection. However, FLOTSAM AND JETSAM were not thinking about cancelling a sold out gig at the famous RITZ theatre. And so they decided to play this evening as the headliners of the event. The only thing they had to do is to find two local bands to share the bill with them. Finally they choose NAPALM and MEANSTREAK. The band had just released their debut album that same week and were very anxious to grab this chance of course. NAPALM had to open this evening and afterwards MEANSTREAK showed the audience that they were ready for the big work. Besides that, they had a great LP release party. What a way to start your career!
But very short after this gig the first difficulties began to show up on the horizon. Diane Keyser thought that the music had became a bit too loud. She wanted to play more mainstream rock or metal and the rest of the band wanted to sound a bit thrashier. Which already shows, when you have a good listen to the last song on the debut album, “The Congregation”. This was a sort of preview of what the style of the band would become after this album. So Diane left the band real shortly after the release of their debut album and she was replaced by Yael Devon, a drummer who knew how to handle the double bass drums. A very important thing for a pounding metal band. Before entering MEAN-STREAK, she played in a band called MADCAP. And the touring goes on.
The band shares the stage with bands like MOTÖRHEAD, MANOWAR, NUCLEAR ASSAULT, M.O.D, ANTHRAX and OVERKILL. The label however forgot to promote the whole album. And the European release, that was done by Music For Nations, wasn’t promoted properly either. The fans in Europe however loved the band and they asked time after time when they were about to hear the new album. But that was kinda difficult, because the band had said goodbye to both labels; Mercenary Records and Music For Nations. But when the touring was over, they were about to start writing new songs again. But what happened to this band after their debut album?
A lot didn’t happen, that’s for sure. They wrote new songs, and they were talking about this new record deal after they parted company with Mercenary Records. The songs were much heavier than the ones we know from their “Roadkill” album. Songs like “Giant Speaks” and “The Other Side” (which was also the working title of the upcoming new album!!) were even to be called thrash metal. And so they could very well have become the American sisters of the Swedish band ICE AGE, who had already surprised the fans with their great thrash demos. They got in touch with Debbie Abono, who was the manager of bands like VIOLENCE and FORBIDDEN. Once the whole album was written however, they still didn’t have a record deal and the contact with Debbie didn’t turn out to be what they actually wanted. And then things became very quiet around the band. They seemed to drown in the stream of new bands that kept coming and coming. People were forgetting about MEANSTREAK, but all of a sudden this changed in 1993. MEANSTREAK were back and they presented their new four track demo tape to the public. The line up had changed a little bit. Rena Sands was still playing guitar, Bettina France was still singing and Yael Devon still played the drums. But long time bass player Lisa Pace had left the band somewhere in that period of silence. Marlene Apuzzo, who first played the guitar, changed to bass on this four track tape. The fans were glad that the band was still alive and well and a lot of them bought the tape to hear what the band sounded like today. After all, they hadn’t heard from the band for a long time and I guess most of the people were curious to hear how hard, speedy and thrashy the band would sound now. But these people were in for a bad surprise. Not to say a shock treatment. What happened to the sound of the band? Well, in the first song, there hasn’t changed too much. “The Dark Gift” can be seen as a doomy metal track with groovy riffs and the powerful voice of Bettina upfront in the mix. But what must we think of a ballad like “Time Stands Still”? The song is sweeter than the sweetest HEART ballad and softer than the softest VIXEN tune. Is this the new MEANSTREAK? Yes, it is. Bettina was getting tired of all the screaming and yelling, so it was time for a more mature aproach. But the fans rather wanted that time would really stand still, ‘cause the change was so huge. It’s like METALLICA would bring out “Reload” after “Kill ‘ Em All”. Third song on this four track demo tape is a good version of the HEART classic “Barracuda”. Bettina wasn’t too happy with the choice of this song on this demo tape. But it’s better than the ballad for the average rock and metal fans. The tape ends with “Annie’s Back”, a solid rock song. But definately not more than that. But with this different style, the ladies wanted to get signed by a record label. The tape was produced by DREAM THEATER’s Mike Portnoy, by the way. And after that nobody heard anything at all from these ladies. Except for Mike Portnoy then. He is now married to Marlene Apuzzo and they have a daughter called Melody and a son named Max John. Almost certain is that Rena Sands remained friends with Marlene, because Rena plays her twin solos now with her husband John Petrucci, also from DREAM THEATER. They have three children, namely Reny, SamJo and Kiara. And last but not least, Lisa (Martens) Pace is married to John Myung and they still live in Long Island today.
For myself, I really would have liked to hear the songs that would have been on their second album “The Other Side”. Especially because they would have sounded like their best song on the “Roadkill” album, namely “The Congregation”. Maybe they will reform one day. It’s definitely the right time for reunions! Or maybe they’ll bring out this second album, once they’ll reissue “Roadkill”. A lot of re-releases with bonustracks and demo recordings are being put out these days. Anyhow, nobody can possibly tell what the future will bring us. We are trying to get in contact with the ladies, so we can hopefully give you an update in our news section soon. In the meantime, let’s have another listen to MEANSTREAK’s “Roadkill”.
written by: Toine van Poorten/copyright Metal Maidens)
ROADKILL ('88 Mercenary Records/MFN)