Area 81, the metal zone

Area 81, the metal zone

By Lisa Palmeno, Staff Writer

Metal maniacs and 2002 Best of Rockford Platinum Award winners Area 81 were back On The Waterfront, the gig that lead singer Chris Watson says is “always the funnest thing to play.”

Former Xanax members Jim Montana (guitar), bassist Rob Becker, Watson, and newcomer Joel Carmen (drums) cranked out a seriously solid set with originals from their 2002 CD release Silver (Hardknocks Records).

Area 81 headlined the Best of Rockford Stage in 1989, and this year the Platinum Award in the category of new rock earned them a trophy, more money on the gig, and an after-five-o’clock slot at the festival.

Silver is their third CD release, preceeded by Cycle of Life and Bullseye.

Watson began playing lead guitar at age 15 when he decided to form Xanax, a metal band named after a prescription sedative.

Now Watson fronts Area 81 on vocals and says he definitely prefers singing lead to playing guitar. And it shows. In the vein of pioneer metal vocalists Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio, Watson holds his own on heavy vocals, capturing the ominous feeling and sense of foreboding that comes when a truth is about to be revealed as in “So I Lied,” the first song on Silver.

“I Will Find You,” a short-lived story about someone who can’t pay a debt with money, so he has to pay with his life.

The title song “Silver” covers the struggle with drug addiction, and “I Get High” veers toward a more positive view with the lyrics “I get high on life.” “I Get High” has a nice reverb on the vocals, and Carmen’s timing on these songs effortlessly drives them to the abrupt endings typical of heavy metal.

On “I Guess It’s Alright,” Montana’s guitar hints at lingering influences from Van Halen, before the CD wraps up with a Kiss cover tune they also played at the Festival, “Deuce.”

Becker’s performance in concert and on the CD are solid, despite the lack of bass

spectaculars on these selections.

Recorded at The Noise Chamber and engineered, mixed and mastered by Joel Geist, Silver is an enjoyable listen for metal fans across the board who skip the gimmicks, synthesizers, and posing.

Watson’s mom was right back in 1986 when she said she thought the basement rehearsals might drive her crazy, but at least it kept them off the streets. Nice job, boys.

For more information on upcoming gigs and to purchase CDs, go to

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!