HEAVY METAL'S stock is down at the moment, no doubt in part because the market is saturated with new bands (including a surprising number reconstituted from old veterans) hoping to cash in on the multi-platinum success of such '88 and '89 chart-toppers as Def Leppard, Guns N' Roses, and Bon Jovi. The principal result of this stampede is a whole lot of sameness. Still, things are not entirely stagnant: The growing presence of women in metal has punctured some macho balloons, and the emulation of Aerosmith's rootsy swagger has led some formerly stiff bands to work out some of the kinks in their backbeat.
"Danzig II -- Lucifuge" (Def American). In the hands of former Misfit Glenn Danzig, this hell-and-damnation script might seem a little ridiculous, especially since it's delivered in a voice that seems to be emanating from Jim Morrison's grave. Yet the quartet, which appears Tuesday at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum, manages to punch some windows in metal's wall of sound. The opening "Long Way Back From Hell" unleashes the standard heavy-metal battering ram, but as the album progresses a stark, bare- bones sound comes to dominate; songs like "I'm the One" have an updated country-blues feel that's surprisingly effective. (The lyrics, of course, remain pretty silly.)
"Doro" (Mercury). Heavy-metal Rhinemaiden Doro Pesch has allowed herself to be groomed for mainstream American taste by Kiss's Gene Simmons, the album's "executive producer," and the results recall Joan Jett, Heart, or even Simmons's old girlfriend Cher. That's not all bad -- the inclusion of a left-field oldie like the Electric Prunes' "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" allows a beam of pop light to dapple all this Teutonic heaviness. Still, the principal effect of Simmons's makeover is to make Pesch predictable; such songs as "Rock On" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" are just as secondhand as their titles.
"Stiletto" (RCA). The ex-Runaways guitarist may be pulling up the hem of her black minidress on the back cover of this album, but she looks positively demure compared to her previous image as a leather-clad guitar goddess. The softer look is matched by Mike Chapman's slick, savvy production; this album is hard rock, but it's also clearly meant to break Ford through to the larger audience enjoyed by her former cohort, Joan Jett. With a remake of Alice Cooper's "Only Women Bleed" as the foot in the door, it could succeed, as long as Ford's sex-bomb sizzle -- the first line on the album is "My nylons are melting down my legs" -- doesn't singe the first-time listener. The album includes not only a pair of phallic odes (the title song and "Big Gun") but also a love song to "Lisa."
"Flesh and Blood" (Enigma/Capitol). These pretty-boy rockers have decided to downplay the mascara and hair spray this time out: The album cover features a close-up of a tattooed arm, and the music moves toward a bluesier, more Aerosmithian sound. The quartet can hardly avoid including a stilted pomp-rock ballad like "Life Goes On" -- the genre has been very, very good to them -- and should definitely forget social comment like "Something to Believe In" (yet another outspoken blast at fraudulent TV preachers), but generally the album is looser and less calculating (if no smarter) than might have been expected. Though hardly a triumph, this may be the band's least toxic release since it joined the Top Ten club.
"Frizzle Fry" (Caroline). Echoes of San Francisco's late and (in some quarters) lamented Dead Kennedys can be heard in this S.F. trio's cartoonish vocals and blasts at adult hypocrisy ("To Defy the Laws of Tradition") and mindless conformity ("Too Many Puppies"), but the sound is jazzy speed-metal, not punk. Indeed, jazz is a significant element in the mix, with bassist Les Claypool (who's also the band's singer and lyricist) taking a more prominent lead role than rock bassists usually do. The threesome, which will appear at the 9:30 club Wednesday, still squeals and slams in the manner of most speed-riffers, but its time changes and bass solos make for music that's more faceted, both rhythmically and atmospherically, than much metal.