“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.
Bow to evil sorcery as Nazareth sell their soul to you-know-who. It’s a well-worn story: guy is desperate; thinks God and Jesus aren’t listening; sells his soul to the Devil. And it sounds like it wasn’t a great idea. No Manowar-style “Lucifer is king, praise Satan” triumphalism here. Nazareth sound more like they have a hellhound on their trail.
Sold My Soul isn’t all that exceptional lyrically or compositionally, but succeeds on the strength of its rootsy, swampy delivery and Dan McCafferty’s vocal torment as he repeatedly yelps “I sooold my souuull” in various degrees of anguish. Taken from the band’s 1973 breakthrough Razamanaz, it’s not the first song you’d pick for a playlist but it’s great deep cut that forms the dark heart of one of my favourite albums.
Anathema closed out their career with an album called The Optimist but back in their early days they were pessimistic purveyors of purest woe. Their 1993 debut album Serenades is growling, grinding doom: all funeral drapes, dead loved-ones and weeping willows. It puts a smile on my face though cause I love misery-guts metal and this is a great album to wallow in. The Cathedral-esque Sweet Tears is top drawer and Sleepless‘ goth melody makes it an early favourite of the band’s career. Even the more forgettable tracks like Under A Veil (Of Black Lace) have their share of cool riffs and moreishly sorrowful harmonies. Avant-garde interludes and French lady voices keep things interesting and varied. The 23 minutes of ambient wallpaper music at the end is a bit try-hard and the why/cry lyrics have a naiveté that would persist throughout the band’s career. But these minor quibbles are nothing to get sad about. Serenades is an impressive debut from a band with plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
While other 80s doom giants like Trouble and Candlemass performed metal of mythic, epic proportions, Saint Vitus kept it to the streets. Their brand of doom metal was as scuzzy as it was totally unique. Their punkier take on the genre found more of a home in the hardcore scene: touring with Black Flag and signing to their label SST, who released their debut album Saint Vitus in 1984. A big factor in their sound is the unmistakable bass-heavy guitar tone of Dave Chandler. It washes over the whole album like a drug haze and his loose solos and heavy wah use adds a Hawkwind-style spaciness. Vocalist Scott Reagers’ also excels with his emotive, bombed-out croon. And there’s plenty of punk ‘tude in the writing too: simple song structures, caveman riffs and evil trills. No Sabbath-style rifforamas here; the longer songs are simply longer because they’re slower. But for all the simplicity, Saint Vitus is full of character, atmospheric and addictive. Burial At Sea is a shade over-stretched but the upbeat title-track, the stomping White Magic/Black Magic and the hypnotic Psychopath are all absolute classics. And best of all is Zombie Hunger with its fantastic, distraught vocals from Reagers. “I’m a zombie – my insides have died”. There’s still nothing quite like Saint Vitus. Spaced-out, burnt-out, deadbeat doom. It’s music for losers, but if you have this album in your collection, you’re winning at life.