Saxon – Solid Ball of Rock

Saxon - Solid Ball of Rock (1991)
Saxon – Solid Ball of Rock (1991)

The 90s were a challenging time for classic metal acts but, for Saxon, the decade got off to a promising start. The “10 Years of Denim & Leather” back-to-basics tour rejuvenated the band. Aiming to carry the momentum into the studio, the band signed with Virgin Records and headed to Germany to record their comeback album Solid Ball of Rock.

Released in 1991, Solid Ball of Rock finds Saxon returning to a heavier, err… ballsier style. It opens with its title-track and most enduring classic: the band taking Bram Tchaikovsky’s Jerry-Lee Lewis inspired rock n’ roller and giving it an AC/DC-grade kick up the arse (with a cool nod to The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in its Faith Healer-esque intro). It’s followed by the equally thrilling Altar of the Gods. Bolstered by the writing contribution* and forceful playing of new bassist Nibbs Carter, it’s a belter of a track with an aggressive, metallic approach that recalls the classic days of Power & the Glory while also pointing the way forward to the band’s future power metal leanings.

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It’s an encouraging opening but doubt sets in with Requiem (We Will Remember). The album’s only single, it maintains the feel-good vibe but its sentimentality, U2 jangle and “whoa-ohs” don’t sit well with me. But it proves to be the album’s only real wobble: the remaining tracks alternating between straightforward, open-chord rock n’ roll like I Just Can’t Get Enough and I’m On Fire and top-notch galloping Priest-y metal like Lights in the Sky and Baptism of Fire. The rock n’ roll tracks are a bit disposable by Saxon standards but have an enjoyably bouncy vitality while the metal tracks add crucial depth and grit with the epic, enigmatic Refugee adding class to the album’s late stages. It’s a strong combination of styles and a cohesive collection.

Back Cover - Demon reissue with bonus tracks
Back Cover – Demon reissue with bonus tracks

The overall sense with Solid Ball of Rock is of a band rediscovering their spark and spirit. Sticking to the basics but simultaneously mapping out new directions. The album did great business for the band and, although there were still challenging times ahead, Solid Ball of Rock is a pivotal Saxon album: a joyous, rocking reboot. The story of modern Saxon starts here.

*Nibbs’ remarkable dominance of the writing credits here turns out to be an exaggeration. With litigious former managers breathing down Saxon’s neck they protected their royalties by crediting most of the songs to Nibbs: the only member of the band with no links to their past contracts. Crafty buggers.

Mah copy
Mah copy

[Saxon – Altar of the Gods]

List: Five From the Boneyard

I’ve been dipping in and out of Julian Cope’s entertaining book Copendium and came across his concept of the “boneyard” position. Basically, the boneyard is the penultimate placing on an album. Cope reasons that, if a band is stuck with a filler track it has to use, it will be placed in the album’s boneyard where it’s more likely to be overlooked. It got me thinking. So, for a fun experiment, I’ve picked five albums at random to see if this concept holds up. I’m going to take a look at each one and decided if its penultimate track belongs in… THE BONEYARD!

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UFO – A Fool in Love (from the album No Heavy Petting)

Here’s some mid-70s UFO, by the short-lived line-up with Danny Peyronel on keys. It’s most notable for its opening tracks Natural Thing and I’m a Loser. The rest of the album, while good, doesn’t quite live up to the classic opening. But the album’s B-Side features a couple of great deep cuts in the moody On with the Action and the cosmic ballad Martian Landscape. Our penultimate track, A Fool in Love, is lost between those two. It isn’t awful but it’s a bit of a throwaway and I feel like it’s been buried between those two epics for a reason. Boneyard? YES

[UFO – A Fool in Love]

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AC/DC – Love Hungry Man (Highway to Hell)

Hmm… obviously a classic album but what about track nine, Love Hungry Man? Is this anyone’s idea of a classic AC/DC track? It does sport a great chorus but it’s a bit laid-back and lazy otherwise and the bass fills sound like a desperate attempt to liven up a dull tune. Far from a disaster but definitely not one of Acca Dacca’s shining moments either. How about we avoid offending the band’s adoring legions and call this the “least-good” song here? Boneyard? YES

[AC/DC – Love Hungry Man]

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Black Sabbath – I (Dehumanizer)

Dehumanizer was a lumbering, colossus of an album from the reformed Mob Rules lineup. It’s not held in the same esteem as that album or its predecessor Heaven and Hell but I’ve always thought it a rewarding album-for-life. So get it up ye. And its penultimate track I is one of the best songs Dio Sabbath ever put out. Pure invigorating metal bravado. Black Sabbath smashing faces in… but with a smile. Boneyard? NO

[Black Sabbath – I]

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Iron Maiden – 2 AM (The X Factor)

Maiden’s first album with Blaze Bayley has some under-rated gems but is also quite heavy-going and joyless. I had thought the penultimate track here was The Unbeliever, one of my favourites from the album, but it turns out it’s actually 2 AM: a track I had forgotten existed. Doesn’t bode well does it? It’s one of the least flabby tracks which is good but the lyrics are absolute shite: a brainless, artless mid-life crisis from a band that is supposed to be cleverer than this. Boneyard? YES

[Iron Maiden – 2 AM]

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Megadeth – How the Story Ends (Endgame)

This 2009 album is still the pinnacle of modern Megadeth and one of the greatest albums of the ’00s. How the Story Ends (odd title for a penultimate track?) is a sturdy anthemic chugger that, along with the raging Headcrusher, helps recover Endgame after a slight mid-album lull. The riffs are a bit stock by Mustaine standards but it’s a catchy, engaging tune that adds to the album. Boneyard? NO

[Megadeth – How the Story Ends]

So, the boneyards have it… but only just. It’s close enough that another random selection might have went the other way. Obviously, the concept relies on there being a filler track in the first place (and the artist being self-aware enough to know that a given track is sub-par). Also, for the sake of discussion, Cope applies the concept chiefly to vinyl but does the boneyard concept apply equally to albums designed for CD or Spotify?

Hope you enjoyed this. Let me know what you think about the boneyard position and my examples. Got any good examples of your own? Or exceptions? Chip in below.

Horoma Exordium – World’s Falling (Single Debut)

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An HMO Premiere! I’m proud to debut the new single, World’s Falling, from Horoma Exordium. They’re from Glasgow, feature Aghast (instruments, recording) and Bhaldraithe (vocals) and are signed to Ordo Nocturnal Records.

The single will be available on 19th September but you can stream it here now. It’s a promising, brutal debut. As well as the ferocious black metal there’s some rumbling death metal riffs creeping in too and the whole thing has a threatening and eerie atmosphere. It reminds me of recent Mayhem stuff with its relentless riffing and vocal maelstrom.

Based on this, I’ll be keen to hear what they come up with next. Fans of Mayhem, Emperor, Anaal Nathrakh and Gorgoroth should check it out. If you like what you hear too, you can hit the band up on social media:

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

New Releases – September 2016

We’re getting into that pre-Christmas zone now where the release schedules start clogging up. As a result, there’s a veritable shit-ton of stuff coming out in September. So I’m going to be ruthless: this is just the stuff that interests me here. If there’s anything coming out that you’re excited about, tell us all in the comments. First person to mention Opeth wins a biscuit!

Sarcófago – Rotting (CD/DVD – 2nd Sep 2016)

Greyhaze Records’ reissue of the Brazilian’s 1989 mini-album. Rotting is great stuff, Sarcófago starting to get into a thrashier, more complex style here. This reissue comes with fancy packaging and a tasty bonus DVD of their set supporting Morbid Angel in 1991. Not something I’ll be running out to buy but certainly one for the wishlist. I’d request it as a Christmas present but… fuck you Jesus! I hate you!

Faith No More – King For a Day… Fool For a Lifetime (2CD and 2LP – 9th Sep)

Faith No More – Album of the Year (2CD and 2LP – 9th Sep)

More deluxe editions from Faith No More. The other recent FNM reissues have all been excellent so these are a no-brainer. You’re going to buy these. Don’t say you’re not because you are.

Warfather – The Grey Eminence (CD – 16th Sep)

Another Greyhaze release. The second album from Steve Tucker’s  Warfather. Was chuffed to get a digital promo of this, they’ve built up a right head of steam on this one. It’s produced by Tucker’s old Morbid Angel buddy Erik Rutan and it’s state-of-the-art death metal ferocity with depth and atmosphere. Highly recommended. Steve is now back in Morbid Angel so anyone still freaking out about  Illud Divinum Insanus will find this immensely reassuring.

Led Zeppelin – Complete BBC Sessions (3CD and 5LP and Box Set – 16th Sep)

Didn’t expect this to be included as part of Zep’s reissue campaign but here it is. Now with an extra disc including unreleased BBC recordings including a “lost” session and rare track Sunshine Woman. No idea why it was a lost session. Did they forget to broadcast it? Was no-one listening? Did it sound too much like Spirit? Answers on a postcard please.

In the Woods – Pure (CD and 2LP – 16th Sep)

The highly-anticipated return of the Norwegian dark-metallers. I’ve been enjoying discovering their back-catalogue recently so this is welcome and timely. Recent years have seen lots of great comeback albums like Surgical Steel and, from what I’m hearing and reading, this could be in that class. It’s pure gettin’ bought.

Enslaved – Vikingligr Veldi (LP – 23rd Sep)

A very beautiful-looking vinyl reissue of Enslaved’s debut album, released to kick off the band’s 25th Anniversary celebrations. I’ll take all of this that they’ve got. I’d love albums like this and Eld on vinyl. Love love love.

David Bowie – Who Can I Be Now? [1974 – 1976] (CD and LP Box Sets – 23rd Sep)

I properly enjoyed the last Bowie box set Five Years [1969 – 1973] so been looking forward to this. Apart from Diamond Dogs I’m not really as familiar with this era of Bowie though so it’s quite intriguing if a little less tempting. Hard to see me shelling out £100 for this though when there’s so much other stuff coming out. But I’m sure I’ll pick it up at some point.

Coroner – Autopsy (3DVD/1CD and 3BR/1LP Box – 23rd Sep)

Holy crap. THIS. Documentary, interviews, live footage, compilation album. YES. This band are big favourites round these parts and this set looks magnificent. Neck-snapping prog thrash genius.

Charred Walls of the Damned – Creatures Watching Over the Dead (CD and LP – 23rd Sep)

I wasn’t expecting this one at all. It’s been five years since their last album Cold Winds on Timeless Days and I had assumed they’d packed it in. But maybe they were just taking ages to think up another title with a C.W.O.T.D. acronym? Genuine talent in this band (Ripper Owens, Richard Christy, Steve DiGiorgio and Jason Suecof) so I hope they won’t take so long to release another album. Just call it Crazy Wombats on the Dancefloor and get on with it guys.

Winterfylleth – The Dark Hereafter (CD and LP – 30 Sep)

Saved the most exciting for last. I denied Winterfylleth’s last album The Divination of Antiquity entry into my hallowed Top Albums of 2014… but then it went and grew on me didn’t it? Still gets regular plays and I still enjoy it more every bloody time. My bad. Feel like there’s greatness brewing with this one. Just a hunch. But it’s an HMO hunch and that’s a hunch you can trust.

And that’s the lot. Thanks for reading and… happy hunting!

The King is Blind – Our Father

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Am yer Da

The King is Blind’s superb debut album Our Father was released back in January and it’s still the album to beat if anyone out there wants to take the coveted HMO Album of the Year 2016 spot. It’s a smart concept album about Satan, Christ and the devil in mankind given an absolute drubbing by the band’s burly death metal hammering. The King is Blind cleverly avoid all the usual concept album excess though, bashing out their tale in ten songs that are all a riot in their own right. The variation in styles carry the narrative (death, thrashing hardcore, Monotheist-ic doom and black metal atmosphere) and the focus on excellent songwriting and riffs means the concept that can be enjoyed or ignored. If you want to curl up with the lyrics or just enjoy a cathartic extreme metal battering, Our Father works equally well. An impressive and notable debut. I can’t wait to see them live in October.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – The Impossible Dream

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A superb album cover too!

Alex Harvey was not only one of Scotland’s most legendary rockers, he was also steeped in showbiz. This album, his third with SAHB, came out in ’74 but Alex had been around in music and theatre since the late 50s. He formed his “Sensational” band, with members of prog rockers Tear Gas, in the early 70s and often referred to them in terms of movies and the stage: he was their director. And The Impossible Dream is their most theatrical and cinematic album, the culmination of Harvey’s decades of experience.  It’s comparable to Alice Cooper’s School’s Out: an adventurous extravaganza. From the tribal, comic book stomp of Vambo and Man in the Jar‘s gonzo noir to the dancehall Sergeant Fury, the skittery blues of Weights Made of Lead and the riffing pirate yarn Tomahawk Kid this album is a total romp. Yo ho ho! And as Anthem closes the album out, it’s extremely moving too. It’ll make ye greet.

[The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Tomahawk Kid]

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… unless you were in the US, in which case you got this shiter.

Grand Magus – Sword Songs

You failed your luck roll. The eagle fucks off with your sword.
You failed your luck roll. The eagle fucks off with your sword.

Much as I enjoyed it, I was frustrated by how polite Grand Magus’ last album Triumph and Power was. Their brand of strutting, Manowar-ish, mid-tempo trad metal was charming, hooky and personable but it was too nice. I wanted them to get more bloodthirsty. I’m pleased to report that their latest album Sword Songs is a definite improvement. The drumming is forceful, the riffs are more earth-shaking and the guitar solos are bolder. But the sense of urbanity remains: mainly due to the persistent mid-tempos and JB’s vocal delivery. He’s got a soulful voice full of grit and character but I really want to hear him bust his lungs for the cause. It’s more a frustration than a criticism. If they gave it up more this band would be godly. And I want that for them. Sword Songs is a decisive manoeuvre but it’s not the stuff of legend. You don’t get into Valhalla without cracking a few skulls.

… and Classic Rock too!