Category Archives: Albums

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (Review)

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (1984)

Finding their label Music For Nations wanting, presumably puny, Manowar used the budget they were given to record their third album, 1984’s Hail to England, but used it sparingly: covertly working up an additional batch of tracks which they then used to win a record deal with Virgin/Ten Records. Sneakiness aside, Manowar achieved a heroic feat. They had recorded two of the very greatest albums in the history of heavy metal… at the same time.

So here’s the second of those peerless works, Sign Of The Hammer. It’s pure heavy metal, but Manowar’s explosive and idiosyncratic idea of what that might be. Joey DeMaio leads from the front with his humungous bass riffs and leads but the whole band is on stellar form. Eric Adams sings with absolute authority and commitment, Ross The Boss’ wild, off-the-cuff guitar solos are impossibly exciting and Scott Columbus pounds out the drum equivalent of shouting “FRESH HORSES” at the top of your voice. The songwriting is also godly, with opening lines like “black clouds on the horizon” and “burning embers of the second death will come in the night” 100% guaranteed to give all but the false true metal stirrings.

The album is near flawless. All Men Play On Ten and Animals kick the album off like KISS-on-steroids. Thor (The Power Head) is as thunderous and warring as its title suggests. Mountains is elemental in its epic scope and the black wind conjured up in The Oath and the Sign Of The Hammer tips the album into sheer aural chaos. There’s only one chink in the armour here and that’s the bass noodling of Thunderpick. It’s extremely skippable but, as always with Manowar, there’s mad genius at work as the workout proves to be an effective overture to the sublime album closer Guyana (Cult Of The Damned). Eric Adams excels here, delivering an account of mass suicide with chilling and heartbreaking sincerity.

This album has hopped around the top spot of my favourite albums of all time for decades now, vying with that other work of genius Hail To England. There are times when I seriously wonder if I’ve wasted my time listening to other music when I could have been listening to this and, listening to it again now, I reckon I probably was.

HMO Rating: (All Men Play On) 10 out of 5

[Manowar – Thor (The Power Head)]

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New Releases – 23rd February 2018

It’s time for my intensely selective look at the day’s new releases. I’m all about the reissues today but, before we get to those…

Solstice – White Horse Hill (Download)

Not technically one of today’s “new releases” but it did only just appear on Bandcamp a couple of days ago. And, as this is an extremely exciting and long-awaited release, I thought I might just include it anyway! Anyone desperate for a shot of epic doom folklore (and that’s really everyone, right?) should definitely check this out. The UK band have put out some splendid releases in the past and it’s been twenty(!) years since their last full length*. CDs and vinyl will be released soon but I have no exact release date at the moment.

Kreator – Coma Of Souls (2CD), Renewal, Cause For Conflict and Outcast (2CD)

Noise Records continue their busy, and excellent, reissue program with this second batch of Kreator albums. I thoroughly enjoyed the last batch so I’m well up for these. There’s a good bunch of bonus tracks to be had here and a couple of albums I haven’t heard before too. Might not buy them all in one swoop but I’ll definitely buy them all eventually.

Venom Prison – Animus (Deluxe Edition)

This British death metal band made big waves with this debut album back in 2016. Now it gets an expanded reissue with bonus live tracks. I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy it first time round. Almost did a couple of times but, even when it was only £8 in HMV, I couldn’t quite commit. Dunno why. Glad I didn’t now.

And that’s the lot. Anything you’re interested in today? Let me know in the comments.

*I originally wrote 5 years but I forgot their last release was an EP, not an album.

New Releases – 9th February 2018

New release Friday! Today we’ve got a big release from Metal Blade and an exciting batch of reissued thrash. German thrash… the best kind.

‘Are these my hooves?’

Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath

While I’m a bit sceptical about the true metal resurgence, Visigoth’s debut album The Revenant King was definitely one of the better albums of the movement. I found it a bit long winded but there was evident promise and talent there. So I’m keen to check out the US band’s follow-up Conqueror’s Oath. A quick glance at running times bodes well and I’m hearing good things about this one. Not sure about that horse on the cover though…

Destruction – Reissues

The excellent High Roller Records are reissuing a batch of classic albums from the German thrash masters Destruction. The reissues come with original artwork, bonus photos, a mini-poster, slip cases and a quality remastering job. The run of albums and EPs here (Sentence Of Death, Infernal Overkill, Eternal Devastation, Mad Butcher, Release From Agony, Live Without Sense and Cracked Brain) is beyond essential. Some of my very favourite thrash albums right there. They’ve been out-of-print on CD for a while so, if you don’t have them, now’s your chance. I’ve got them already but I’ll buy them again! If CDs aren’t your bag the label also put out vinyl versions last year that look awesome too.

That’s the lot for me. Let me know what you’re after today in the comments.

Tribulation – Down Below (Review)

When Sweden’s Tribulation premiered their new single Lady Death in late 2017, it left me expecting a bland, streamlined follow-up album to 2015’s excellent The Children Of The Night. I shouldn’t have worried. Their follow-up Down Below is definitely streamlined but, far from being bland, it hones their horror metal to perfection: simplifying their music and making it more accessible without sacrificing depth. No mean feat.

There are a lot of comparisons to be drawn with other Swedish bands. The melodic horror and direct, memorable riffing is akin to Ghost but tracks like Nightbound and Cities From The Underworld use layers of sinister instrumentation and harmony to add a thick, nocturnal atmosphere of gothic horror. Johannes Andersson maintains his ghoulish, gargled vocals style too. A crucial move that stops things getting too slick, giving the album a gritty, filth that brings to mind In Solitude’s superb Sister. And on the centrepiece track Subterranea the band conjure the kind of evil magick that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Watain album.

The Ltd. Edition version features excellent bonus track Come, Become, To Be

I can’t blame anyone for trying to pick out a single but this is best experienced in its entirety. Tribulation juggles variety and consistency, accessibility and obscurity with accomplished ease. It’s a major statement from a band that has come a staggeringly long way in just four albums and Down Below will cast a long, haunting shadow over the metal scene of 2018.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

UFO – Phenomenon (Review)

UFO – Phenomenon (1974)

With two studio albums behind them, UFO took off in 1974 with the recruitment of the German mad axeman Michael Schenker and the release of their excellent third album Phenomenon.

The spacey tendencies of the band’s earlier work remain in the cosmic balladry of tracks like Space Child and Crystal Light and vocalist Phil Mogg shines on these mellower tracks. But Schenker shows what he can do on the album’s rockers: peppering opener Oh My with fluid leads,  chugging infectiously on Doctor Doctor and offering up a veritable guitar goldmine on Rock Bottom. Side two is less memorable but contains two highlights in the majestic Queen Of The Deep and Too Young To Know: a great example of the kind of ultra-catchy storytelling rock that would become the band’s speciality.

More accomplished albums would follow and cement UFO’s place as classic rock giants but Phenomenon more than lives up to the promise of its titular billing with its raw and innocent mix of riffy, trippy boogie. It’s a big favourite of mine and has a uniquely proto-metal place in the UFO discography. Essential listening if you enjoy the early outings of Priest, Scorpions and Budgie and want to hear the development of a style that would be heard later, louder and heavier, in the output of NWOBHM bands such as Maiden, Saxon and Diamond Head.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[UFO – Queen Of The Deep]

*note that older versions have ‘Oh My’ swap sides with ‘Too Young To Know’ (also occasionally mis-spelled as ‘Too Young To No’!)

It’s 2018 and the Priest is back!

Happy New Year everyone! What better way to get the 2018 HMO ball rolling than with some brand spanking new music? So here’s the new Judas Priest single Lightning Strike from their upcoming album Firepower.

You’ll no doubt have heard this already, so what do you think? I’ve listened to it a few times now and I’m pretty impressed. The co-production from Andy Sneap and the returning Tom Allom is a tremendous improvement over the previous album, the disappointing Redeemer Of Souls. Boaby Halford sounds totally rejuvenated too and signs with grit and power. It’s just got that classic Screaming For Vengeance era classic Priest vibe to it.

Whether the rest of the album lives up to the promise is another thing entirely but, based on the quality of this Lightning Strike, I’m way more excited about the release of Firepower than I expected to be.

Firepower is due out on 9th March 2018 and can be pre-ordered here.

The HMO Top Albums of 2017

Twelve whole months of your human time have passed. An entire year of metal releases that have all been building up to one thing: The HMO Top Albums of 2017!

And what a year it was. I reckon the overall standard in this year’s list is the highest since I started doing these, with albums in the lower reaches that would have ranked higher in a less competitive year. Consequently, there was also a bunch of very deserving albums that just missed the cut:

Formicarius – Black Mass Ritual, Contaminated – Final Man, Power Trip – Nightmare Logic, Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy, Vampire – With Primeval Force, Demon Head – Thunder In The Fields, Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

All of these were favourites of mine that would very likely have made the list any other year and I’d heartily recommend all of them. But there can be only ten…

NUMBER TEN: Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep

The black metal duo returned with this powerful and deceptively simple set of cold, bleak, groovy and progressive black metal hymns. Following frontman Satyr’s recovery from illness, the album was heralded as “day one of a new chapter”. But it’s no reinvention, just the sound of a band knuckling down with fresh dedication and commitment.

NUMBER NINE: The Obsessed – Sacred

Doom icon Wino returns with a new lineup of his old band The Obsessed and an album that lives up to their classics of old. Hefty biker doom riffs with ace songwriting, soulful maturity and vintage musicianship. Wino’s voice and guitar slinging are as badass as ever. He sings “I was born with my heart on my sleeve” and, 56 years later, he’s still wearing it well.

NUMBER EIGHT: Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

No AOTY list would be complete without some death metal in space and this year’s guttural cosmic travellers are Long Island’s Artificial Brain. Post-humanity, cyborgs ponder life and their predecessors and the wonderfully ambient blend of tech death, beautiful dissonance and filthy vocals suits the theme perfectly. Also… might be the only album in my collection that features the word “urinals”.

NUMBER SEVEN: The King Is Blind – We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer

The King Is Blind make the HMO Top Ten for the second year in a row. No mean feat. This sequel to their debut album Our Father, brings that album’s biblical tale into the modern day with harrowing results. The UK headbangers bash out an intelligent, raging and monolithic slab of metal that fuses a whole bunch of styles into a crushing, grooving whole that grows in stature with each listen.

NUMBER SIX: Immolation – Atonement

No big back-story, concept or narrative to talk about here. Just straight-up quality death metal from a veteran act that’s still hungry. As with other releases this year, it’s definitely got a whiff of the end-times about it. But instead of dishing out the political rage, Immolation deal out a restrained, ominous and dark indictment of our times. Crushing, twisted, authoritative and destructive from beginning to end.

NUMBER FIVE: Midnight – Sweet Death And Ecstasy

Hooded demon Athenar returns with his third full-length album of black thrash hooliganism. No zeitgeist-y vibes here: just Satan, shagging and Venom-worship. But there’s a lot of creativity crammed into this album’s short running time and its bookended by two epics that push the band’s stylistic (long)boat out: swashbuckling, scything mid-tempo metal that invokes the legends of old… the legends of Ye Olde Bathory and Manowar. It’s that good.

NUMBER FOUR: Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay

The loved-or-loathed British institution continues a late-career renaissance that finds them tipping the balance firmly in the loved direction. Themed around the Victorian obsession with death, Cryptoriana… is a darkly fabulous romp of hard-hitting gothic metal delivered with expertise and passion. It’s atmospheric, cinematic, galloptastic and just tons of fun with a vocal turn from Dani Filth that cements his place as the veritable metal legend that he is.

NUMBER THREE: Memoriam – For The Fallen

Featuring ex-members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, Memoriam were formed as a tribute to Bolt Thrower’s late drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns and what a tribute it is: crusty, primitive old-school death metal with a sense of tragedy and loss. But it’s not a total downer, there’s enough carnage here to please Bolt Thrower fans. Vocalist Karl Willetts performs with charisma and heart while the band unleashes the kind of filthy, strafing riffage that’s guaranteed to have you running for cover.

NUMBER TWO: Paradise Lost – Medusa

2015’s The Plague Within was a welcome return to growlier death/doom fare but I don’t think anyone could have expected Paradise Lost to dredge the depths of misery like they have with this near-flawless album of gothic gloom. Anthemic hooks, crusty riffing, mournful harmonies and a fearless vocal performance from Nick Holmes put Medusa right up there with the band’s best work. No small feat, considering the number of innovative and essential albums that make up this legendary band’s discography.

NUMBER ONE: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

The great comeback of 2017 was the return of these much-missed British Satanists with their most progressive, personal and accessible album to date. But the blackened malevolence of old remains and the fact that this album could well lure fans of more classic fare into a more extreme musical realm suggests these suave Londoners are still doing the devil’s work. The eclectic variety, complex structures and dreamy introspection make for a fascinating, rewarding listen and the intense, dynamic, neck-snapping skill of the band’s performance is the stuff of metal gods.

HMO TOP ALBUMS BY YEAR

2017: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

2016: Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

2015: My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

2014: Voices – London