Since Impellitteri’s 1988 release ‘Stand In Line’ had seen the band taking a little more of a commercial turn and achieved some success – especially in Japan – it probably would have been a good move for Chris to strike while the iron was hot and record a similar follow up. Since Graham Bonnet was clearly a big part of the album’s appeal, a quick successor to ‘Stand In Line’, again featuring the ex-Rainbow vocalist, could’ve been great. However, it would take Impellitteri four years to return to the studio, by which time Graham had moved on, and could be found making a huge noise with the short-lived/ill-fated Blackthorn.
Chris called upon his old colleague Rob Rock to resume vocal duties. Rock had done a sterling job as vocalist on the ‘Impellitteri’ EP back in 1987, and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t be a great addition to the band once again. In fact, between his vocal confidence and a set of even more melodic songs, ‘Grin & Bear It’ would become the “must have” Impellitteri disc.
Its opening number ‘When The Well Runs Dry’ introduces fans to a great melodic metal sound that’s very similar to that of bands like Lynch Mob and Dokken, but with a slightly bigger crunch. With immediate effect, Chris’s guitar latches onto a really meaty sound as he chugs through several disjointed chords, and Rock hits upon a huge vocal to suit. With the arrival of a strong rhythm section, the verse works some very melodic metal, and the instrumental bridges allow Chris to drop in a couple of bluesier leads that are, perhaps, a little closer to Cinderella, but everything hinges on a great hook. Here, Rock and friends deliver a chorus that blends AOR and party rock, layering up the harmonies and making the very best of something with an eighties heart. As you might expect, the featured solo is a bit of a fretboard melter which, in some ways, doesn’t entirely fit the track, but obviously Chris needed to put his fans at ease – even this more commercial outing wouldn’t be skimping on the shred.
‘Ball & Chain’ is an even stronger melodic rocker, with a brilliant opening where muted chords could be introducing something by Mr. Big or Stevie Salas, before the previous Dokken-isms take over. Naturally, Rob takes the bombast in his stride, and Chris drops into a dirtier sounding groove, occasionally throwing out a grubby squeal or two. Moving through the stomping rhythm, ex-House of Lords bassist Chuck Wright adds a really meaty sound, and drummer Ken Mary (Chastain/Tamplin) shares a very natural groove to suit. An even bigger melodic rock hook rises from the metal, creating a perfect balance between grit and a commercial rock which, again, is almost impossible not to compare to the mighty Dokken, and a perfectly executed guitar solo shares various sweeps and arpeggios, but always stays on the good side of melodic. A couple of years earlier, and this is the kind of track that could have put Impellitteri on the map in the US. Timing is everything, as they say, and by 1992, unfortunately, this kind of sound was massively out of fashion. If you missed this track at the time – and it’s likely you did – it’s definitely worth (re)investigating, as its one of the finest within the entire Impellitteri canon.
With ‘Under The Gun’ injecting even bigger tones into its opening riff and contrasting that with a smoother vocal to a cleaner guitar on the verse, it shows the band stretching out a little further. Although Rock’s voice is still of an 80s persuasion, there’s plenty within Impellitteri’s tone when wielding a riff and Mary’s drumming that suggests they’d absorbed a little influence from the early 90s funk metal boom. This becomes even clearer at the beginning of the instrumental break when Chris actually explores a couple of cleaner chords pre-figuring the likes of Its Alive, and Wright actually opts for a brief moment of slap bass. It isn’t a complete shift, of course, and Chris brings everything back to familiar ground with a busy squealing solo, and Rock chews his way through a metal chorus straight from the previous decade. It mightn’t be as good as the pair of numbers used to open the album – beyond a huge wail, the chorus is a little flat – but it still shows Impellitteri taking a more melodic approach very seriously indeed.
Another round of solid melodic metal provides the core sound for ‘City’s On Fire’, a number that sometimes sounds like Warrant circa ‘Dog Eat Dog’ in much bigger boots. This influence is at its most obvious during a jagged verse when Rock’s voice drops into a gruff sneer, but the old metal of Impellitteri’s past isn’t so far away once the vocalist reaches for bigger notes on a simple chorus. There’s plenty within this chunky metal number that’ll appeal to fans, and even a shift into something much dirtier during a brilliant instrumental interlude which shows even Impellitteri hadn’t been immune to the then slightly grungier sound is impressive. There’s a lot here to like, but it’ll be a deftly played solo or two that most will cherish. Likewise, ‘Wake Up Sally’ is never shy in exploiting its love of a big and chunky sound where trad metal basics are infused by bigger groove laden riffs. In exploring something that sometimes sounds like an early Lynch Mob cast off, Chris makes the very best of a slightly grubby sounding tone, whilst Rock’s performance is squarely aimed at the more traditional metal fans of the era. Song wise, it’s one of the album’s weaker cuts; it doesn’t have any big lyrical hooks you’ll remember after the album has finished, but musically, it’s pretty smart, with the guitarist constantly weaving between melodic chops and arpeggio infused flashiness. As with the best bits of ‘Grin’, any flashiness isn’t at the expense of melody – and even without Bonnet’s input, that makes the album a cut above its predecessor.
With the title cut sharing a metal oriented stomp at the outset, Ken’s drums sound bigger than usual, but the usual love of a genuine groove takes over pretty quickly. The resultant blend of Dokken-ish riffs and a pre-chorus melody that occasionally sounds keen to slip into Ratt’s ‘Lay It Down’ results in one of the album’s best cuts without achieving anything too flashy. That’s not to say there isn’t the unexpected moment or two en route: the instrumental break delves into clean funk riffs that would feel out of fashion by the following year, whilst the guitar solo manages to shoehorn various lightning fast sweeps into an otherwise melodic backdrop, reminding listeners that the Chris Impellitteri who powered the self titled EP in 1987 isn’t always so far away. That old, shreddier Chris is also at the forefront of ‘Power of Love’, a very Euro influenced metal workout that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Mark Boals album, or on Yngwie Malmsteen’s ‘Eclipse’ from 1990. As such, it feels very out of place on ‘Grin & Bear It’ when viewed as a whole. Taken on its own merits, its full throttle sound and anthemic “never surrender” hook supplies a near perfect slab of bombast, with Rock sounding very much in a comfort zone. Had this been on the debut EP, it would’ve sounded a hundred times better.
Elsewhere, ‘Endless Nights’ serves up a pleasing combo of melody and grit when Impellitteri takes on the chunky sound of Dokken fused with a pinch of glam metal. This allows ample opportunity for a big chorus to shine when the band isn’t shy in wheeling out a full compliment of gang vocals to sell its rousing hook, whilst Chris drops into a few muted chords to introduce a strange, wailing solo that wavers between long notes and deftly played arpeggios in his usual style. It doesn’t offer this album anything by way of new or exciting twists, but in showing a knack for the direct, it works brilliantly. And the same can be said for this set’s closer ‘Dance’ that opens with a huge grinding noise, before descending into some fairly solid riffs that fuse hair metal melodicism with a glam-ish undertone, yet at the same time conveys a tough sound throughout. As with ‘Endless Nights’, gang vocals are pivotal in selling a great pre-chorus; Mary’s drumming is more than solid, and the general vibe is excellent – but definitely of its time. With so much great music in hand, its a shame that the actual chorus doesn’t fare so well – often failing to capitalise on those gang vocals in the manner you’d expect – but a strong melody and perfectly executed solo ensure it’s never a dud.
Upon release, ‘Grin & Bear It’ fared well in Japan, but got overlooked elsewhere. A lack of US and European releases really won’t have helped… A decent UK/US release could have really given Impellitteri’s career a much needed kick at the time; despite a lot of rock and metal fans being immersed in the grunge and alternative sounds of 1992, those with a more melodic ear were busy seeking out the underground AOR albums that were still coming through. In a big world, there was still room enough for Chris and his shredding antics, but by choosing to release ‘Grin & Bear It’ exclusively in Japan, he’d become even more of a cult figure than before.
It might not benefit from a Bonnet, or be as heavy as his much later ‘System X’ – which saw the return of Graham Bonnet after fourteen years – but ‘Grin & Bear It’ has more than its fair share of solid material, and is easily a match for most of those Dokken and Quiet Riot albums that have seen far more praise. If you’re a fan of old style melodic metal and this disc is missing from your collection, you owe it to yourself to put that right…and fairly quickly.
[Long overdue, ‘Grin & Bear It’ was eventually released in the US in 2022. It finally got its first UK release on CD in 2023 as part of the Impellitteri box set ‘The Complete Beast: 1987-2009’. Buy the box set via the link at the end of the Impellitteri EP review here.]