The news that Porcupine Tree are back together and lining up a new album for 2022 has me heading back to their old albums. Today I’ve been listening to the first album of theirs that I heard, 1999’s Stupid Dream. As always, A Smart Kid stands out as one of the superior tracks: a spaced-out, Floydian prog tune with a wonderful, lush sound and an enchanting mix of acoustic instruments and electronic textures. It has charming lyrics too, relating the travails of the last guy on Earth as he muses on the low cost of living and lack of crowds before attempting to hitch a ride on a visiting spaceship. I was never totally sold on the parent album as there are a few too many piano Brit-poppish tunes for my liking but Porcupine Tree excel here. Clever lads.
The HMO Vault starts here! If we’re going alphabetically from A to ZZ Top, the first album in my collection is the self-titled album by Abbath. And that means Abbath‘s opening track To War! is the first song. A perfect song title to kick things off! And, serendipitously, it has a particularly magnificent beginning: a repeated single-note riff of martial boldness that builds up tension and excitement for what’s to follow. The rest of the song is the kind of strong, charging black metal blizzard you’d expect from the ex-Immortal frontman even if it’s never quite as attention-grabbing as that amazing intro. Still, To War! is a great way to kick off an album. And a collection.
One of the coolest Scorpions tracks ever. We’ll Burn The Sky‘s lyrics were penned by Jimi Hendrix’s last girlfriend Monika Dannemann, who was dating the Scorpions’ guitarist Uli Jon Roth. But weirdly, it wasn’t the Hendrix acolyte Roth that co-wrote the song with her. Move over Roth… and let Rudy take over! The Scorps’ other guitarist Rudolf Schenker put the lyrics to great use as an icy, eerie metal ballad with nice dreamy bits but also lots of electric and angular metal chonk. Not to be outdone, Roth makes his presence felt with plenty of stellar shred. Classic, state-of-the-art stuff for 1977. But ‘scuse me while I… burn this guy? Did they learn nothing from Hendrix?!
“How much longer are you gonna pay, for yesterday”
Today I was listening to The Sab’s Dehumanizer for the first time in ages. Sins Of The Father stood out, which caught me by surprise cause it’s usually my least favourite track on the whole thing. It’s a bit meh of riff and the Beatlesque opening bit doesn’t do much for me. But as it picks up pace and intensity it creeps up on you and Dio sounds so committed: giving it full majestic welly on the awesome chorus and delivering the typically cryptic lyrics like they’re the most important words, ever. A dark horse track on an album that still improves with every listen.
Manowar once pledged “if you don’t strap your nuts to your leg, they’re going to get blown off.” On their latest release, 2019’s The Final Battle I, it seems like the straps are now optional. The EP is inspired by the “legions of loyal Manowarriors” and they, like me, will find it enjoyable enough. It sounds great, the orchestral intro is quite stirring, Blood And Steel is the heroic pumper and SwordOf The Highlands is the elegiac (if overly Hobbit-y) ballad. Closing track You Shall Die Before I Die even turns the clock back to the band’s doomier early days. But there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, better. I’ll tap my feet and hum along but where’s the guts? Where’s the glory? Why are my unstrapped nuts still safely intact? This is supposedly the first EP of a trilogy. But two years on, there hasn’t been a follow-up and I’d hate this to be the last thing the Kings Of Metal put out. Come on Manowar! Stop preaching to the converted. Defy the naysayers, kill all the unbelievers. Give us part two and, this time, fucking go down fighting and take all the false metal with you. Blood! BLOOOOD!!
“With a magic in their music as they eat raw liver”
I’m reliably informed that, while I was listening to Black Sabbath’s Zero The Hero in the office today, I gurned. Like Phil Anselmo feeling the money riff. Specifically about a minute in, when Ian Gillan’s vocals kick in for the first verse. It’s a sure fire sign a song is a winner. And Zero The Hero is a winner. Creepy crawly riff, spooky FX and pure attitude from Gillan as he vents his ire on some mediocre unfortunate. I usually prefer Sabbath songs to have a bit more of a riff journey going on. This song is more of a vibe. But what a vibe, capped off with a great atmospheric guitar solo from Tony Iommi. It’s popular nowadays to point out the riff similarity with GnR’s Paradise City but that song never makes me gurn like Zero The Hero does. I guess the Gunners just didn’t eat enough raw liver.
“Nobody give me trouble, cause they know I got it made”
HMO salutes Dusty Hill who has passed away aged 72. The first album I spun today to celebrate his life was my favourite ZZ Top album Degüello. And I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide is one of my very favourite ZZ Top tunes. It’s the kind of cruising, carefree rock they did so well. Stonesy chords, gutsy guitar and the coolest lyrics: “a bluesman in the back and a beautician at the wheel”. And best of all, Dusty powering the song to a close with a bottom end of monstrously filthy proportions. He was the baddest and waaay more than merely nationwide. A phenomenal bassist, singer and songwriter with a classic career of over 50 years and the owner of one of music’s most famous beards, Dusty was absolutely global.
Could Have Done Better is one of just two songs that Alien left behind after their brief visit to a NWOBHM scene in the north east of England that was teeming with hairy life. It was recorded as a demo and selected by Neat Records to open their 1982 compilation EP One Take No Dubs. It’s a bit too simplistic and punky for comfort. Even with the wild guitar sound the full and strummy chords sound dated compared to the next generation riffing that many of their contemporaries were putting out. But you can instantly hear why it was picked. It’s a strong tune that instantly implants itself in your mind and it has the electricity and energy of pub-hardened performers. Even if it’s not quite the real deal, it’s the kind of fun obscurity that makes trawling the depths of the NWOBHM so rewarding.
Turn it off: that was basically my opinion when I first heard it on the radio in 1992, but who knew Def Leppard’s cheesemongous Let’s Get Rocked would prove to be such a grower? It’s three chords’ worth of dumb with cringey lyrics, but after countless listens, live performances, steamin’ singalongs and noticing just how incredibly euphoric that guitar solo is, it would be churlish not to appreciate that this song makes me happy. And surely that was the goal. OK, it’s not Lep’s best song by a mile, it’s not even the best song on its parent album Adrenalize, but I’ve got a real soft spot for it. A rock is definitely not out of the question.
Back to 1989 for a song that puts the “power” into power metal. It’s German legends Helloween with a storming version of How Many Tears from their Live In The U.K. album. It’s a full-on assault of pounding vrrrs, grrrs and drrrs. The riffs are Scorpions-on-steroids, late drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg is on ferocious form and when the intro riff returns after a dreamy interlude it manages the impossible feat of being even more gigantic than before.
It’s also a thrill to hear Michael Kiske add his high-flying vocal stamp to a song originally sung by the grittier Kai Hansen (who just plays guitar here). And I believe this is the last recording to feature both Kiske and Hansen until they reunited with the band in 2017. Both are set to appear on the band’s new studio album Helloween, released 18th June. If the album is even half as good as this then I’ll be one happy pumpkin.