IMAGINE A PLACE where heavy metal's cliches are reproduced with mathematical precision, unsullied by not a jot of irony, electicism or humor. Welcome to Baltimore, home of Child's Play. This Charm City quartet opens its major-label debut, "Rat Race," by proclaiming that its members are good ol' boys" playing "Good Ol' Rock and Roll" and their idea of a teenage anthem is "My Bottle": "It's my bottle/It's my whiskey/If I wanna/I'll drink it all."

When might the Players approach their music with a glimmer of intelligance or originality? "Rat Race" offers only one clue: The final track is entitled "When Hell Freezes Over."

Company of Wolves is basically a metal band too, but the Wolves' sound is almost symphonic by comparison to the Players'. Most of their eponymous album is the familiar fake-blues with the expected acrobatic guitar solos, but at least Steve Conte varies his guitar textures -- the opening "Call of the Wild" flirts with folk- rock -- and he and his various songwriting partners demonstrate some melodic facility.

Indeed, one gets the impression that the guys who put together this craftily unambitious album (including ex-David Johansen drummer Frankie Larocka and former Kansas/Urban Verbs producer Jeff Glixman) know more than they thought it would be commercially viable to let on.