Category Archives: Albums

Saxon – Destiny (Review)

Saxon - Destiny (1988) Even the logo was wrong!
Saxon – Destiny (1988) Even the logo was wrong!

Rock the Nations was an encouraging but not entirely convincing return to the classic Saxon sound. With EMI breathing down their necks, Saxon made a last-ditch bid for stardom with 1988`s Destiny. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Destiny was the first (and only) Saxon studio album to feature the new rhythm section of bassist Paul Johnson and drummer Nigel Durham. Saxon were at a low ebb in their confidence and creativity, papering over the cracks with all sorts of formulaic 80s pop rock moves and an over-egged pudding of a production. Uninspiring songs like I Can’t Wait Anymore, We Are Strong and Song For Emma rely on stock pop rock moves and limp anthemry. And more promising numbers like Calm Before the Storm and S.O.S. struggle under layers of keyboards and backing vocals.

Look at the nick of these guys.
Look at the nick of these guys.

However, the band recaptures some of their classic might with For Whom the Bell Tolls and Red Alert. More dynamic, riff-heavy and fully-realised, it’s telling that these tracks rely less on the production bells and whistles. The album’s one true classic and standout track is Ride Like the Wind, a driving and charismatic power ballad reinvention of the Christopher Cross tune. It’s a brilliant cover and a should-have-been hit. It’s the only Destiny-era tune to endure in the band’s career and live repertoire. But even then, it’s no Broken Heroes, Battle Cry or Crusader.

Overall, Destiny is likely to be too syrupy for many fans of traditional Saxon and, even judged on its own merits as an AOR album (against, say, Magnum’s Wings of Heaven), it’s unconvincing. In fact, it’s one of Saxon’s worst albums. As worst albums go, it’s not a total disaster. There’s good stuff here and in the right mood even some of the ropier tunes can connect. But the patchiness, dissipating credibility and perceived commercial desperation of Saxon’s EMI years came to a head here. Before long the band were dropped from EMI, had fired their management and were taking time out to rethink and recharge. It would take years for the one-time champions of NWOBHM to fully recover.

HMO Rating: 2.5 out of 5

[Saxon – Ride Like the Wind]

Mah copy
Mah copy

Hendrix Heresy

Cosmic
Heyyyy baby

Allow me to indulge in a bit of heresy. I’m all about the sacred album format. I don’t like tinkering with track-listings, running orders and I don’t shuffle. If I’m in a social situation I’ll pick out favourite tracks to play but that’s about it. But here we have Jimi Hendrix’ First Rays of the New Rising Sun. It’s one of many posthumous collections of Hendrix’s final recordings but it’s an important one. Assembled by Hendrix associate/producer/engineer Eddie Kramer, it purports to be as close to the double album Hendrix was planning as is possible, based on Eddie’s insider knowledge, Jimi’s notes and the like.

But it’s a frustrating album.

Heresy No. 1: there are quite a few songs on this that are guff. Sleepy workouts like Izabella and goofy twaddle like Astro Man. It was a fun album when I first picked it up in the late 90s but over time the gulf between the great tracks and the ropey ones has only grown and it’s hard for me to listen to this front to back. I usually end up giving up. Which means killer tracks from the album’s latter half (like In From the Storm) have not reached my ears for too many years.

Heresy No. 2: this album works much better with a bit of pruning. And on Friday I did just that. Kramer and Hendrix… move over and let HMO take over! My reimagined First Rays of the New Rising Sun now goes:

Freedom/Night Bird Flying/Angel/Room Full of Mirrors/Ezy Ryder/Drifting/Stepping Stone/Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)/In From the Storm

Nine tracks. Thirty-six minutes. Sounds like a full album to me. And… it’s divine. I loved every second of it and it made me feel like I was listening to Jimi for the first time. No mean feat considering I’ve felt some very real Hendrix-fatigue in recent years. As Little Richard would say, it made my big toe shoot up in my boot! And the best of it is, I just wanted to go right back to the start and play it all again.

Ultimately, this is a bunch of my very favourite Hendrix tunes, finally liberated from the shackles of dull and sleepy filler tracks.

It’s been an interesting, enjoyable departure from my usual worship of the album form. What do you think? Ever had any albums you’ve needed to prune like this or is the very idea unthinkable?

[Jimi Hendrix – In From the Storm]

The Dictators – The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!

Crazy
Crazy

Do you ever want to write about or review an album and just feel unequal to the task? I feel that way about The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! The New Yorkers’ 1975 debut album has got so much going on. It was a critical success and commercial failure and manages to be classic and overlooked at the same time.

I’m not really comfortable talking about its supposed punk influence either, given I’m not a big punk fan. This always just sounded like fun, back-to-basics rock n’ roll to me: Louie Louie riffs, The Who and The Beach Boys with teenage, street level attitude and a ton of pop culture references thrown in. It’s an album that I love but I’m reluctant to recommend. Especially if, like me, you came at this from a Manowar direction and want to hear where guitarist Ross the Boss started out. After hearing the lamentable cover of I Got You Babe and the silly Back to Africa you’re going to wonder what the hell is going on. (Anyone reading this for Manoreasons should probably check out The Dictators’ third album Bloodbrothers first. It’s quality muscle rock!)

But from the “let’s go” of the fourth track Master Race Rock on, this album is a veritable blast. Two Tub Man, (I Live For) Cars and Girls and Weekend all put such a joyous spring in your step that you wish every rock album was like this. It’s so quirky, arch and fresh. The occasional vocal interjections of “secret weapon” Handsome Dick Manitoba add to the fun too. The album’s second side is so perfect it makes you forget the first one ever happened.

And… Ross the Boss. Fingers and steel, baby! The man is a legend.

So, like I said. I’m not equal to the task of covering this great and weird album. But never mind… with my financial holdings I could be basking in the sun in Florida. This music-writing lark is just a hobby for me! Nothing, ya hear? A HOBBY!

[The Dictators – Two Tub Man]

Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Marching Out (Review)

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Check this shit!

Guitar magazines would have you believe that Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force was THE ONE, which is fair enough given its classic feats of guitar mastery like Black Star and Icarus Dream Suite Op. 4. Those are rightfully legendary instrumentals and justify the album’s status as a guitar classic. But Yngwie’s debut fell down a bit on the actual song front and the band’s stiff delivery of the vocal numbers. If you’re actually just wanting a fuck-off classic METAL record, follow-up Marching Out is the music of the Gods.

Guitar fanatics needn’t worry, there’s still plenty of heroic guitar acrobatics from Yngwie but the whole band ups their game here. Fleet-fingered keyboardist Jens Johansson gives God’s guitar teacher a right run for his money on the widdle front and the whole band is more driving, less ploddy than on the debut. But the star here is Jeff Scott Soto. He totally finds his voice on this. His passionate delivery on tracks like Soldier Without Faith and I Am a Viking is absolutely infectious. Try not to join in, tankard raised, with the chorus to Anguish and Fear. You can’t. Not if you’ve got blood in your veins. I am a Viking, I’ll walk all over you. Triumphant, warfaring power metal. That’s what I’m talking about!

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Anguish and Fear]

Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

Have at you. I'm invincible!
Have at you. I’m invincible!

I’ve been getting into this album way more now than I did when it came out. There were loads of great albums out in 2013 and this one just got lost in the stampede. I’d have rated a good 5 or 6 albums above this back then but I’ve not gone back to any of that year’s albums as much as this one. I attribute its staying power to its classic none-more-metal power. I did think some of Fenriz’s tracks were a bit cartoonish when I first got it but really he’s just going for broke in a way too few metal acts do anymore. Endearing enthusiasm and naivety. His three songs here are just an absolute hoot. And on the remaining three, Nocturno Culto delivers the type of frosty misanthropy that he is still the master of. Genius, biting riffs and his incredible decayed growl. Darkthrone totally understand the execution and the spirit of 80s metal. NWOBHM, speed, 1st wave black… the kind of stuff that never gets old. And if it’s not totally perfect? Who needs perfect when you can have awesome?

[Darkthrone – The Ones You Left Behind]

Here’s the best, and most fun, song on The Underground Resistance. Totally boisterous, simple and… check out that bridge riff.

 

Manowar – Hell on Wheels (Review)

“Ladies and Gentlemen. From the United States of America… all hail… Manowar.”

Being a Manowar fan brings with it both agony and ecstasy. Ever since their debut Battle Hymns in 1982, the New Yorkers have pounded out albums where epic, awe-inspiring classics have been accompanied by unwelcome bass solos and monologues. So the question that always has to be asked of any new Manowar release is: does the filler outweigh the killer?

Arguably, the band’s golden-era ended with 1992’s Triumph of Steel so the release of their first live record Hell on Wheels in 1997 seemed a bit belated but also had a tantalising wealth of material to draw from.

The album kicks off in thrilling style. Orson Welles heralding the band’s arrival on stage for their signature tune, Manowar. The album does a fine job of capturing Manowar’s punishingly loud live sound, vocalist Eric Adams fighting to be heard amongst the din. Unfortunately, the momentum created by the strong opening is damaged by the ill-conceived grouping of a guitar solo, piano interlude and the ballad, Courage, which creates the feel of a last dance too early in the album’s running time. Blood of my Enemies and Hail and Kill close off the first disc and should be the album’s centrepieces but their effect is neutered by the poor pacing.

Thankfully the second CD is slightly more even. Once again it opens well and although Joey DeMaio’s bass solo Black Arrows is well played and varied, it’s too long and Fighting the World struggles to restore the excitement levels. The back end of the album is over-weighted with newer material from 1996’s disappointing Louder Than Hell but the songs are more convincing live than in the studio and the final stages of Hell on Wheels are great fun, culminating in the moving Battle Hymn.

Ultimately, what should have been the definitive statement of Manowar at their absolute best is hobbled by the inconsistencies that often dog their studio output. You can press “skip” or stick the kettle on and this is a great live album, but victory is barely snatched from the jaws of defeat and I expect more from the Kings of Metal. Thankfully, Manowar had now developed a taste for the live album. There would be more… and they would be better.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Dissection – Live Rebirth (Review)

Swedish Black Metal legends Dissection had only released two studio albums before they embarked on the “Rebirth of Dissection” tour that kicked off with this show in Stockholm (listed on the LP jacket as September 2004 but it other sources suggest that the show was actually in October!).

The band had disbanded in 1997 following the imprisonment of guitarist/vocalist Jon Nödtveidt as an accessory to the murder of an Algerian man in Sweden. Upon his release in 2004, Nödtveidt quickly assembled a new line-up of Dissection for the tour captured on Live Rebirth.

For a band with only two albums of material to draw from, this is an exceptionally strong set of well-written and passionately performed tracks. The atmosphere and excitement at the show is well captured. The taped intro of instrumental track At the Fathomless Depths combines with the enthusiastic crowd cheering to build the excitement level for the first track proper Nights Blood so the feeling of being at the gig is palpable from the offset. In fact, the opening song is exciting and epic enough to be worth the price of admission alone.

Dissection’s take on extreme Metal is grounded with a strong grasp of songwriting and pacing. There are stunning, memorable riffs in abundance here and, although the hoarser vocals and dark atmosphere may be off-putting for some, there is much to love here for fans of the NWOBHM era and other older acts like Mercyful Fate.

Highlights for me include Where Dead Angels Lie and Maha Kali (the only new track here). These are absolutely thrilling and timeless, both delivered with an enigmatic folky lilt. Maha Kali also builds to a fantastic climax with its exotic feel bolstered by female Hindi vocals. The Somberlain evokes Iron Maiden with its melodic guitar harmony lines and there is also an excellent cover of Tormentor’s Elisabeth Bathory. Another band for me to check out!

Overall, this is an incredible Metal live album and is right up there with the best of them. It’s dripping with atmosphere, epic in scope and there is not a single track on here that is anything less than incredible. For such a short-lived band to have created a set like this is pretty remarkable. Jon Nödtveidt would commit suicide in 2006.

Buying Note: This full gig is available on DVD as Rebirth of Dissection and also available as Live in Stockholm 2004 on CD and LP but that version has some tracks removed and some are shortened. This edition, released in 2010, by the excellent High Roller Records has the full set intact.

HMO Rating: 5 out of 5