He was the lurking, shadowy menace on the cover of Iron Maiden’s first single Running Free and now wwoooaarghh… here’s Eddie! The band’s undying, murderous mascot was finally revealed in his full glory on the front of their self-titled debut album. His ghoulish presence amidst London’s grubby bins, doorways and streetlights perfectly evoking the rough, dangerous music on this NWOBHM classic. Iron Maiden sounds like it wants to jump you in an alleyway and cut your face. Gritty and aggressive tunes like Prowler, Transylvania and Iron Maiden taking the metal pioneered by Priest and Rainbow to a new level of raw intensity. And guided by bassist/songwriter/Genesis fan Steve Harris, there’s also plenty of ambition and excitement in the extended structures of tracks like the lucozade-powered Phantom Of The Opera. These days I gravitate to the Hendrix-y mellowness of Remember Tomorrow and Strange World but all the songs on this album have been a favourite at one point or another. The whole band impress but Paul Di’Anno’s raucous vocals and Harris’ forceful basslines deserve special mentions. The band members still whinge about the gnarly production but nobody else gives a flying fuck. Iron Maiden wants you for dead and if this album doesn’t get your blood flowing, you might as well be.
The legendary Lemmy/Philthy/Fast Eddie lineup of Motörhead roars into life on their 1977 self-titled debut, sounding every bit the skint, pissed off, ne’er-do-wells they were. Over 40 years later Motörhead is still an impressively belligerent noise. It captures the band at the point where they were dubbed “the worst band in the world” (and couldn’t have cared less). The title track is a thunderous biker anthem and Iron Horse/Born To Lose, White Line Fever and Keep Us On The Road are low-down and mean rackets. The band’s everything-louder-than-everything-else chemistry is already thrillingly volatile but the hurried recording sessions didn’t allow much time for writing. So there’s a reliance on old songs from Lemmy’s stint in Hawkwind and songs from a formative and short-lived earlier lineup of the band. Which means Motörhead ends up more trippy, dated and ponderous than later albums where the band would truly gel: mixing their wide range of influences into a seamless Motörmusic. But it’s a great and important debut: an obnoxious, warts-and-all album that set a new standard in loud, dirty, fuck off rock n’ roll.
Saxon concluded their 90s catalogue in robust fashion with the aptly-titled Metalhead. It continued the dark, heavy vein of 1997’s Unleash The Beast but with a vigour and confidence bolstered by a traditional metal renaissance in Europe.
The crushing metal chugs and ominous tones of tracks like Metalhead and Are We Travellers In Time have a contemporary edge but also a technicality to the riffage that bulldozers away the boozier, spritlier charm of the band’s early days. But Saxon’s spirit and songcraft remains. Even at its heaviest, the album sports durable melodies and there’s a welcome lighter touch and variety on songs like the bouncy Prisoner, grooving What Goes Around and the proggy Sea Of Life. It’s not all gleaming and modern: the Saxon traditions of headbanging and tales of olde are upheld in the thrilling All Guns Blazing and the rousing Conquistador.
Some inevitable clunkers (Piss Off and the forgettable Watching You) and a sense of solid proficiency prevent it ranking alongside inspired classics like Power & The Glory. But with Metalhead Saxon made their stongest, timeliest statement of the decade and this is where the modern lineup* really clicks, finding a new reason to be. I’ll bang my head to that.
HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5
*Worth pointing out that Nigel Glockler had left (again) due to injury, replaced by Fritz Randow. But you won’t notice the difference.
Samson’s 1979 debut was one of the first albums to come from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. But the hasty Londoners weren’t quite studio ready yet and Survivors was a half-decent effort at best. Bassist Chris Aylmer and vocalist Bruce Bruce are pictured on the cover but weren’t actually in the band when Survivors was recorded so guitarist Paul Samson handled vocals and Gillan’s John McCoy added some heavy help: playing bass as well as co-writing and producing. And the album is at its strongest when it picks up some of that gonzo Gillan-esque edge. It’s Not As Easy As It Seems, Big Brother, Koz and Six Foot Under are all boisterous highlights. But the rest of the album is dated and forgettable and Samson and McCoy both fall short in their vocal and production roles. Still, for all its faults, it has an ordinary Joe charm that captures the spirit of the emerging movement. Later, with Aylmer and Bruce onboard, Samson would power up and hit the NWOBHM head on. With biceps of steel.
HMO Rating: 3 Out Of 5
(Buyer note: Most reissues add alternative versions with improved sound and Bruce Bruce on vocals. Essential!)
Backed by a band of skilful Swedes (including Mic Michaeli and John Leven of Europe fame) the rehab-ed and rejuvenated “Voice Of Rock” delivered an engaging set of hard and groovy AOR with 1994’s From Now On… The album wasted no time getting Purple fans onboard with the rousing, Hammond-led opener Pickin’ Up The Pieces and the superb blues metal of Lay Your Body Down. But it also pointed the way forward with the moody funk of Walking On The Water, soulful rocker The Liar and the trippy Into The Void. It gets too middle-of-the-road for comfort at points and there’s some dated bloat in the album’s later stages but the closing title-track and a couple of ace Purple covers are worth holding out for. Stronger and more confident from here on in, Glenn would get more adventurous and exciting with subsequent releases. But this album was a strong building block for his comeback and also a great place for new fans to discover his talents.
The modern idea of “heavy metal” starts here. Judas Priest’s seminal sophomore album Sad Wings Of Destiny laid down the template for countless others to follow with its evil, slashing riffs, demonic guitar duels and the screaming, theatrical vocals of the one-and-only Rob Halford. This 1976 album contains four peerless classics in the humungous Victim Of Changes, the thrashing Genocide, Tyrant and the malevolent The Ripper. And, while less innovative, the deep cuts like the orchestral Prelude, psychedelic Dreamer Deceiver and the funereal Epitaph give the album a mournful, gothic construction that makes this the Priest to hear if you’re a crucifix-necklaced, flare-wearing, doom metal type. Supposedly the album’s A and B sides were accidentally reversed on initial release so we’ve all been listening to it in the wrong order. But it doesn’t matter. Listen to this any way you like: forwards, backwards, up, down, shuffle. Either way it’s a masterpiece. Actually… maybe avoid listening to it backwards. Just in case.
Yngwie M. F. Malmsteen goes for the commercial jugular on his fifth studio album, 1990’s Eclipse. Aided by his first all-Swedish lineup, the borking-mad maestro dishes out a superlative set of melodic Euro metal that expands on the AOR leanings of his previous record Odyssey. The album opens with its three singles. Making Love is smouldering of verse and colossal of riff; Bedroom Eyes is fun Europop with loose jamming guitar; and the smoochy ballad Save Your Love is a skippable bore. Luckily the next track Motherless Child is an exciting metal rager. It’s a stunner, charged with emotion, and from there on the album barely puts a foot wrong. From the explosive pomp of Devil In Disguise and Judas to the flawlessly layered Faultline this album is a blast. Might prove too cheesy for fans weaned on Marching Out but if you fancy a bit of pop and pomp with your power, the stars align on Eclipse.