Sad news today with the passing of Rush’s Neil Peart. On Facebook and Twitter I posted the track Afterimage as a tribute. It sprung to mind due to its themes of grief and loss… and because 80s Rush rules! But let’s have a song from another era here.
Ghost Rider is one of my favourite tunes of the band’s later work. Written as Rush were returning to action following Peart’s hiatus due to deaths in his family, it’s one of their most moving and emotive songs. The Canadians take to the open road with a breezy, motoring groove and a shifting landscape of layered guitars. Peart’s lyrics are searching and evocative and vocalist Geddy Lee responds with taste and feeling. But, as always, the engine driving the whole thing is Peart’s classy and dynamic drum performance. R.I.P Neil.
Blitzkrieg only managed to release one official 7″ single before splitting up in late 1981. Otherwise, they had some demos in circulation and a song Inferno on the Lead Weight compilation. Luckily for Blitzkrieg, their solitary release was impressive enough that Metallica ended up covering its eponymous B-side. This bestowed infamy and cult credibility to the defunct band and ensured their return in 1985.
But luck didn’t really have much to do with it cause Blitzkrieg is superb. The unforgettable opening riff might have been purloined from the Focus classic Hocus Pocus but it doesn’t matter because Blitzkrieg conjure up their own metal magic here. The mega-chunk guitars, deadly hooks (“let us have peace, let us have life”) and a dynamic rifferama climax make this mandatory listening. And the less-famous A-side Buried Alive isn’t too shabby either. Stark, driving metal with a piercingly catchy chorus. Just ignore the Bolanesque nonsense lyrics “the Leather Prince, turned to mince”… I can see why Metallica steered clear of that one.
“My soul has vanished, with the bird that flies so free”
They’re not a metal band by any stretch of the imagination, but Sister Seagull is definitely one of Be-Bop Deluxe’s more metal-friendly tunes. It’s one of those watery psychedelic ballads that hard rock and metal bands used to do in the 70s and early 80s. Judas Priest, Scorpions, UFO, Angel Witch, Iron Maiden… they’ve all done them! But this is one of the best. Sister Seagull has a simple D5-E5 riff that is very metal and because metal fans are suckers for a guitar god, check out Bill Nelson’s fluid and cascading pentatonic soloing. Loads of bands might have recorded songs like this, but few did it with the sheer class and expressive emotion of Sister Seagull.
HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5
[Be-Bop Deluxe – Sister Seagull]
Or, as an added bonus, check out this magnificently-trousered performance from the Old Grey Whistle Test.
I was first introduced to Queensrÿche’sProphecy via the live version on the Building Empires VHS, before acquiring the studio version as the bonus track on the CD reissue of the band’s 1983 debut EP. Nowadays you’ll find it as a bonus track on the reissue of 1984’s The Warning because it was written during that era but I’ve since discovered it wasn’t actually recorded until the sessions for their 1986 album Rage For Order! Bloody hell. But it doesn’t really matter because this song holds it own anywhere. It’s got the classy Rage For Order production sheen but its traditional melodic metal style fits in nicely on The Warning and the EP. Some extremely bouncy riffing, catchy hooks, nice vocal harmonies and some nifty and memorable guitar soloing from Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton make Prophecy a standout favourite… wherever you hear it.
Basking in the incredible success of their 1996 reunion tour, the four original members of KISS headed back into the studio to pick up where they left off: completely unable to work together. In fact, the entire band only appear together twice on 1998’s so-called reunion album Psycho Circus. The whole band performs Ace Frehley’s Into The Void (which, surprise surprise, is the only track here that sounds anything like classic KISS) and they all sing together on the fairly average You Wanted The Best. In truth, however, this is the Paul n’ Gene show. Which would be fine if the album was actually any good, but it’s a muddled, mediocre effort. Stanley exerts a bit of quality control with the anthemic, stomping title track and Gene offers up the suprisingly good closer Journey Of 1,000 Years but both performers have seen better days. Within is terrible alterna-metal, Finally Found My Way is a limp and dated ballad and the album is loaded with empty and charmless statements of unity. Doing a greatest hits nostalgia trek is one thing, moving forward as a creative unit is another entirely. KISS would have been better settling for the nostalgia because Psycho Circus left the inimitable rock legends looking like nothing but a bunch of clowns.
There’s a killer on the loose in this highlight from Witch Cross’ 1984 debut album Fit For Fight. And a clown-faced one at that. The worst kind. Although this Danish band were geographically excluded from the movement, this track definitely has some raw New Wave Of British Heavy Metal magic to it. Funereal keyboards set the creepy tone before the predatory riffing kicks in. Brilliant Rhoads-esque guitar work here and the appropriately-named vocalist Alex Savage delivers the song’s deadly hooks with soaring ease. Highly recommended for fans of early Maiden, Riot and Witch Cross’ fellow countrymen Mercyful Fate. It’s jester killer.
The joyous glory of the middle eight. Is there anything better? I’m talking about the section, usually 8-bars in length and two thirds of the way into the song, that introduces a new element and adds a new layer of feeling and meaning. One famous example would be the “looks like nothing’s gonna change” vocal part in (Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay.
Metal artists will often use guitar solos, rifferamas and mosh-friendly breakdowns to get that variety and shifting intensity into their songs and we all know our favourite examples of those. But what about the classic vocal middle eights in metal? Here’s a great one: Gamma Ray’s Lust For Life. Taken from their debut album Heading For Tomorrow, it’s a definitive power metal track with all the happy hallmarks of the genre. It’s already intense stuff but, following a superb and sprawling guitar solo, vocalist Ralf Scheepers whooooaas into a middle eight that takes the track into a transcendent area of giant awesomeness. It’s the best part of the song and it just wouldn’t be the same without it. Maybe it’s that uplifting or transcendent feeling that isn’t always a great fit for metal songs, especially as you get into the more extreme echelons. But on a track called Lust For Life it’s just what the doctor ordered.
I’m instantly thinking of other great ones (like the “take my hand” section in Maiden’s Heaven Can Wait) but what are your favourites? Let me know in the comments.