Listening: 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.

Listening: 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.

New Releases – August 2016

Here’s my selection of August’s upcoming new releases and reissues.

Atheist- Piece of Time (CD/DVD – 5th Aug)

Reissue of the classic progressive metal album. Unquestionable Presence and Elements have already had the deluxe CD/DVD treatment and this one seems to have been a bit delayed. Glad it’s finally here.

Gov’t Mule – Tel-Star Sessions (CD/Vinyl – 5th Aug)

This is a collection of early demos and recordings and features alternate versions of songs that would eventually appear on the band’s S/T debut and its follow-up Dose. This was the best era of The Mule for me so it’ll be good to hear more music from this point in the band’s career.

Hellhammer – Blood Insanity (7″ Single – 19th August)

Here’s a very collectable 7″ from one of extreme metal’s pioneering bands. This is a single that the pre-Celtic Frost band intended to release back in the 80s but it never saw the light of the day. Supposedly this recording is sourced from better masters than the versions that are already available the Demon Entrails set so this should be a treat for the ears as well as the eyes.

Faith No More – We Care a Lot Deluxe (CD/Vinyl – 19th August)

Faith No More’s debut album with Chuck Mosley on vocals, spruced up and featuring bonus tracks. I love FNM but I have to confess to complete ignorance of their pre-Patton releases. Time for me to get caught up. Doesn’t look as expanded as the last couple of FNM deluxes but it’s an exciting band-approved reissue nonetheless.

Tribulation – The Horror (Vinyl – 19th August)

If, like me, your introduction to this band was last years The Children of the Night you’ll welcome the opportunity to check out the band’s earlier releases. This is their debut album, a deathier/trashier affair than their current style. Looks like this is going to be a very snazzy vinyl edition so it’s pretty tempting.

Inquisition – Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith (Box Set/CD/Vinyl – 26th August)

Got to love Inquisition and their ridiculously long album titles. Try asking for this one in HMV! This album is coming hotly-tipped and that doesn’t surprise me a bit: their last album Obscure Verses for the Multiverse was top-notch cosmic black metal. Bloodshed Across the etc… should be one of the crucial releases of the year. Go for the box if you want the bonus track.

The Wounded Kings – Visions in Bone (CD – 26th August)

This band made my Top 10 Albums of 2014 list with Consolamentum and now, on their fifth album, they’re back together with their original vocalist. Heavy, slow, grinding occult doom done right. I’ve got high hopes for this one.

How We Live – Dry Land (CD – 26th August)

Reissue of one of Steve Hogarth’s pre-Marillion albums. The title track of this later ended up on Marillion’s Holidays in Eden album. It’s one of my favourite Marillion albums and Dry Land is a great track so I’m pretty intrigued to finally hear this. Has two bonus tracks too. 

KISS – KISS Rocks Vegas (DVD/BR/2CD Set – 26th August)

KISS live set with bonus acoustic disc. Can’t say I’m that fussed about this but anything could happen. It’s KISS… and for me that invariably means “please take all my money”.

That’s yer lot. As always, let me know if I’ve missed anything exciting and… happy shopping.

Listening: In the Woods… – HEart of the Ages

A Black MEtal CLassic!
A Black MEtal CLassic!

I wish I’d heard HEart of the Ages when it was released. Mixing extreme metal with prog and folk hardly seems all that audacious now but when In the Woods…’ debut album came out in 1995 this was a leap forward for black metal. There were similar attempts from Ulver and Primordial in the same year but, even compared to those great albums, HEart of the Ages sounds more forward-thinking and groundbreaking. 21 years later their style might not seem as startling but the music still has a fresh zing of originality and there’s plenty to love in its combination of Burzumic shrieking, melancholic doom, heathen folk and Floyd/Crimson soundscapes. Latecomers should buy the recent Heart of the Woods box set for a particularly plush version of the album. The Norwegians are also due to return later in 2016 with their reunion album Pure. If like me, you’ve missed out on In the Woods…, now is a great time to get involved.

[In the Woods… – HEart of the Ages]

Plush box set from Debemur Morti Productions
Plush box set from Debemur Morti Productions

Magnum – Wings of Heaven (Review)

Magnum - Wings of Heaven (1988)
Magnum – Wings of Heaven (1988)

Chase the Dragon and On a Storyteller’s Night are the sturdier, rockier picks of the Magnum back catalogue but they reached their peak of life-affirming, pop rock joy with Wings of Heaven: one of the most feelgood albums ever created. Tony Clarkin writing simple, catchy AOR rockers par excellence delivered with winning passion and panache by the ever-lovable Bob Cately. Boaby sings like he would take bullets for Magnum. “It’s a flame that keeps burning… everLASTing torrrchhhh!”, “Too old to die young, too big to cry… MAMA!” The guy’s a total hero. As soon as he chimes in on genius opener Days of No Trust (“Pray to the future…”) you are on your feet. The album continues with the vista of Wild Swan and the sublime power pop of Start Talking Love. Classics all. Different Worlds is a mid-album lull but Pray for the Day and the WWI epic Don’t Wake the Lion (Too Old to Die Young) end the album with weight and compassion: breathtaking, heartrending but still triumphant, mighty and melodic. It’s a colossal climax to an excellent album. File this in your collection alongside your Jovi, Lep and Whitesnake and it won’t be long before it steals your heart. A heavenly magnum opus.

[Magnum – Days of No Trust]

Saxon – Greatest Hits Live! (Review)

Saxon - Greatest Hits Live! (1990)
Saxon – Greatest Hits Live! (1990)

Greatest Hits Live! captures Saxon on the upswing following the doldrums of their disappointing Destiny album and tour. Frontman Biff Byford had taken over their management, securing a well-received support slot with Manowar that galvanised the group. Saxon then launched a European headlining tour in 1990 to celebrate 10 Years of Denim & Leather* and the UK leg was such a success that the band added another run of UK gigs later in the year. They played more than 40 shows in the UK alone, winning much-needed acclaim and credibility in their homeland. The Nottingham show was recorded and released as Saxon’s third live album.

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Unlike its two predecessors, The Eagle Has Landed and Rock N’ Roll Gypsies, Greatest Hits Live! offers a full** Saxon live set, living up to its title. It’s bulging with classics (Wheels of Steel, (747) Strangers in the Night, Princess of the Night, And the Bands Played On), hard-hitting metal bangers from the early days (Motorcycle Man, 20,000ft and Heavy Metal Thunder) and well-chosen newer material (a bouncy Rock N’ Roll Gypsy and a tougher take on Ride Like the Wind). There are some mid-set surprises too with a captivating Frozen Rainbow and an absolutely phenomenal version of See the Light Shining. And just to put the icing on the cake: the classic tracks Denim and Leather and Crusader finally make their live album debuts.

The Tracklist
The Tracklist

Greatest Hits Live! is an honest and energetic live album that drives home the quality of Saxon’s material and the celebratory vibe of the tour. On the evidence here, it’s no surprise that they won over audiences up and down the country. However, through all their ups-and-downs, Saxon’s live prowess was never in doubt. If they were going to have a future they’d have to produce new material that lived up to the glorious past celebrated here. Buoyed by the enthusiastic reception from their UK fans, Saxon rushed back into the studio. The comeback was on.

*Biff announces “we’ve been together for 10 years” but their debut album was released in 1979 so in 1990 they were a year out. Instead, the liner notes proclaim that the 10 years refer to the anniversary of their 1980 breakthrough with Wheels of Steel. But then they called it “10 Years of Denim & Leather” after an album that was nine years old.

**One song is missing. The show was also released on VHS and the set included Strong Arm of the Law. I’ll let them off though.

Mah copy
Mah copy

[Saxon – See the Light Shining]

New Releases – July 2016

The HMO Pick of the Month!
The HMO Pick of the Month!

Let’s have a look at the new releases July has in store for us. Not an exhaustive list – only the best stuff sets off the HMO Mission Control New Release Klaxon. This month is heavy on reissues but it’s all great stuff. (All release dates are for the UK)

Der Rote Milan – Aus Der Asche (CD/Download – Out 1st July 2016)

I got an advance copy of this and it’s fantastic. An incredibly accomplished debut album: punishing and vitriolic black metal with some gripping, beautiful passages. It’s only getting a limited run of 200 CDs but you will be able to buy the digital version on their Bandcamp page too. It’s one of the best releases of the year so far. Even likely to be a contender for my end-of-year list shenanigans.

Piledriver – Stay Ugly (CD – 8th July)

Here’s a reissue of Piledriver’s second, and final, album. This one is of great interest for Virgin Steele fans. It’s from the post-Noble Savage period in 1986 where Virgin Steele mainman David DeFeis busied himself, under aliases, with a bunch of side-projects in order to pay off Virgin Steele’s mounting debts. He produces and writes all the songs on this and Edward Pursino also writes and plays guitar. David doesn’t sing on this though, that task is taken up by Piledriver himself. Real name: Gordon.

Bulldozer – The Day of Wrath and The Final Separation (Vinyl – 8th July)

Vinyl reissue of the first two albums from the Venom/Motorhead-like Italian band. I’ve been after their stuff for a while but it’s usually out of print or expensive. These reissues will do nicely and the FOAD label always does wonderful bang-up jobs of their reissues.

Girl – Sheer Greed and Wasted Youth (CD – 15th July)

Piledriver! Bulldozer! … er… Girl! These UK rockers were glammy contrarians of the NWOBHM era and featured future Def Lep guitarist Phil Collen and future L.A. Guns singer Phil Lewis. Their first two albums get the Rock Candy reissue treatment. I’m tempted by these but I’ve maybe got all the Girl I need on the My Number compilation so I won’t be rushing out to get them.

Agalloch – Pale Folklore, The Mantle, and Ashes Against The Grain (CD/Vinyl – 15th July)

Plush reissues of the progressive black metal band’s first three albums. Wouldn’t be priorities for me but these are some well-regarded albums so they’ll be getting added to my increasingly unwieldy wish list.

Cradle of Filth – Dusk and Her Embrace… the Original Sin (CD/Vinyl – 15th July)

Totally unreleased Filth! This is the original version of their classic album Dusk and Her Embrace that has never been heard until now. It was abandoned due to a band split and a legal fracas but it’s finally here. Not every month you get to hear a mythical “lost” album, let alone one that’s an alternative version of a black metal staple. I’d say that makes this essential.

Twisted Sister – Rock N’ Roll Saviours: The Early Years (CD Box Set – 22nd July)

Here’s a potentially enticing box set covering live stuff from the band’s early daze. I say “potentially” cause if it’s going to be £40 for three discs they can bugger right off. “But it’s got a pop-up mirror.” Oooh… that makes all the difference. I do love looking at my own face.

Carcass – Choice Cuts Vinyl (22nd July)

Reissue of an old Carcass compilation. Always thought the title and the cover were a bit… shit. But if you don’t have any Carcass this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Album tracks, EP tracks and some Peel Sessions for good measure. Nothing I don’t have already though. Extra temptation comes in the form of coloured vinyl. Plus a nifty T-Shirt if you buy it direct from Earache too.

Dio – Decade of Dio 1983 – 1993 (CD/Vinyl Box Set – 22nd July)

Last, and certainly not least, the new Dio box set. I initally pooh-poohed this due to the lack of bonus tracks/rarities but then I remembered I’m missing Lock Up the Wolves and Strange Highways. So I might as well bloody get it then, eh? I feel like it’s what Ronnie would have wanted.

*****

And that’s the lot! Let me know what you think of the selection and whether there’s anything righteous that I’ve missed. Happy shopping!

… and Classic Rock too!

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