Not that I need a reason, but with the 30th anniversary and an imminent remixed, remastered reissue, it seems like a good time to give Cynic’s incredible 1993 debut Focus a spin. Here’s The Eagle Nature, one of my favourite tracks from the album. Knotty thrash riffing and growling vocals keep this in familiar brutal territory but King Crimson-esque interlocking guitars, weirdo vocoder effects, moody synthscapes and a general sense of wellbeing make this a bit of a space oddity in the death metal realm. Back in 1993 (just six years on from barbaric early death metal classics like Scream Bloody Gore) Focus must have sounded like it was from another planet. And 30 years later, tracks like The Eagle Nature still sound like they’re at the cosmic cutting edge.
Tribulation’s third album The Children Of The Night was a breath of fresh air when it was released in 2015, injecting some much-needed excitement into a fairly dull year for metal. Every song on the album is absolutely killer but Winds was an immediate favourite of mine. Like the rest of the album, it’s a veritable “Best of Sweden” with the anthemic horror of Ghost, Dissection’s cold kvltness, In Solitude’s gothic darkness and Watain’s blackened, gurgly vocal attack. But the main thing I want to single is out the song’s chorus riff. It’s one of those brilliant “why wasn’t this written before?” moments. It’s an absolute show-stopper and the main reason that Winds instantly blew me away.
The lengthy, linear songs, relentless changes and a lack of repetition make Opeth’s debut album Orchid a tough nut to crack but it’s well worth the effort. Here’s one of the album’s best and most accessible tracks, The Twilight Is My Robe. It’s brilliant questing stuff that gallops across rolling Maidenesque hills, ventures through bleak forests of gothic doom and rests its weary head in a dingly dell of acoustic enchantment. It’s astonishing to think this band hadn’t been in a proper studio before they recorded this. It’s audacious, ambitious stuff from an adventurous band that was clearly going places.
With pesky January out of the way, it seems like a good time to have a wee catch-up on all things HMO.
2023 got off to a galloping good start with Tyrant and their righteous NWOBHM single Hold Back The Lightning. On the softer rock side, I’ve been talking about Marillion and Journey. Marillion’s Holidays In Eden got me wondering about albums with shite title tracks… can you think of any? And the comment scuttlebutt seems to be that Wheel In The Sky is the best Journey song. It’s official!
Jeff Beck – the legendary and innovative guitarist, who has died aged 78.
Dan McCafferty – the leather-lunged Nazareth vocalist, who has died aged 76. And so soon after the death of Manny Charlton too!
Bob Nalbandian has died aged just 58. He was a crucial figure in the US metal scene but has a special place in my heart due to his old podcast ‘The Shockwaves Skullsessions’. As I was writing this, it was announced that a special tribute run of ‘The Shockwave Skullsessions’ is in the works along with uploads of the original episodes! Great news because I had them all on a hard drive but can’t seem to find them anymore. Follow their FB Page for info/updates. His podcast was a big inspiration to me in the early days of starting this blog so a big thank you to Bob for being such an absolute legend.
Following the usual Christmas spendathon, it’s quietened down a bit in January. The big purchase has been the excellent new Thin Lizzy Live And Dangerous box set. And I’ve also picked up the reissue of UFO’s overlooked No Heavy Petting album, a cool Deicide reissue and the purchase of Smear Campaign and Inside The Torn Apart completes my collection of Napalm Death studio releases! I bet you’re well jell.
What I Was Listening To While I Wrote This Post
Svart Records have done superb work with Slice Of Doom, the recent box set of Reverend Bizarre’s early demos and recordings. I was listening to the first disc and it’s brilliant: the Finnish doom upstarts at the top of their game. How can you not love a band that started their career with a cover of the Dr. Who theme tune and have a song called Fucking Wizard?
I’ve got posts about top tunes from the likes of Opeth, Iron Maiden and Whitesnake on the way. As far as new releases: I’m looking forward to IX, the new album from Paradise Lost side-project Host; Circle Of Snakes is one of the few Danzig albums I don’t have so I’m pleased to see that getting reissued; and I already have two versions of Darkthrone’s Goatlord but… OK, let’s make it three!
And that’s about enough for now. I think the plan will be to do this at the start of every month from now on so… see you in March!
A song about the dehumanisation and exploitation of workers should probably sound a bit angry so the topic is in safe hands with Brummie grind gods Napalm Death. In recent years they’ve been making some of their best ever music and Smash A Single Digit from 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat is a masterclass in furious extremity. It’s dissonant and explosive with a superbly thrashy climax and an intense, vital performance from vocalist Barney Greenway. Napalm Death have been making excoriating noise for decades now and show no signs of taking a break.
As Xmas and New Year approach I’ve managed to drag myself away from my usual festive fare (KISS, Magnum, Steeleye Span) and revisit some of my favourite albums of the 2022. Artificial Brain’s self-titled album has been the most-played of the bunch in December and is definitely a front-runner for the year’s top spot. Here’s one of its best tracks, Celestial Cyst. It’s turbulent and rumbling death metal with relentless blastbeats and subterranean vocals but topped with spacey layers of guitars and keyboards that give it a tranquil, melancholic mood more associated with black metal. It’s a brutal and enthralling combo. Artificial Brain is the third album in the band’s stellar career (and the last in a dystopian sci-fi trilogy) and they are at their absolute peak. Metal fans in search of strange new worlds should get onboard.
Bolt Thrower scored a good deal of buzz and a record deal from their 1988 Peel Session. When you listen to the radio session’s opening track Forgotten Existence, you can hear why. This is thrashier than the lumbering tank-tread riffing the Brummies would become known for but it’s crusty and hefty stuff and, like a lot of the BBC recordings, sounds incredible. The riffs are very Slayer-inspired, which is a very good thing, and original vocalist Alan West has a punkier voice that reminds me of the early Kreator stuff that Ventor sang. This is also a very good thing. Throw in the band’s perennial “tragedy of war” theme and you’ve got one hugely promising banger. Forgotten Existence is a great start to one of extreme metal’s most memorable careers.
Given that their frontman Sam Loynes also keeps busy with Akercocke, The Antichrist Imperium, and Voices I can’t blame Shrines for taking six years to follow up their 2015 debut album with a four-song EP. But it helps that the EP, 2021’s Ghost Notes, is good: angular, dissonant progressive metal with pristine guitar tones, killer riffs and Loynes’ unique, melancholic voice and harmonies. While I miss the eclectic creativity and plaintive atmosphere of the debut, its good to have Shrines back and they sound like they have found a strong direction and purpose with Ghost Notes. Hopefully they won’t take so long to make their next move this time. Of all the bands in Loynes’ impressive CV this is the one I’d most like to hear more of.
May was a very black metal month here at HMO, with strong new releases from Watain and Devil Master. I also listened to the Abbath album… a lot. And three of my four reviews on the blog were of that nefarious ilk.
In the comments, Kingcrimsonprog brought up the fun topic of mis-spellings on album sleeves. Any favourites typos out there? It wasn’t on a sleeve but my fave is in the Paul Stanley ad above. Can you spot it? It’s a belter.
Soulful rock goodness from the perennial HMO man crush.
Alan White, Yes drummer, who has passed away aged 72. Wonderful drummer from the ultimate prog band.
Vangelis, Greek musician/composer, who has died aged 79. Best known round these parts for The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’s Child. Top. Tune.
Record Store Day 2022
I wasn’t able to participate on the day on account of a shitey cold. But I still managed to grab what I wanted later in the week.
What I Was Listening To While I Wrote This Post
The Boston S/T. I might be in the minority in preferring the second album Don’t Look Back but the debut is awesome too. Brad Delp is one of the best singers that ever sang and I should be sick of More Than A Feeling by now. But I’m not.
The Month Ahead
I’m looking forward to the new Artificial Brain and Kreator albums and finally getting my hands on the much-delayed Mayhem De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas box set. There’s also the latest in the KISS Off The Soundboard series, a recording of their Donington ’96 show. I was there but now I can finally find out… were they genuinely boring or was I just too sunburned to appreciate them properly? Find out next time!
This is one winter wonderland you won’t be walking in. Autopsy’s In The Grip Of Winter is one of my absolute favourite death metal tracks. It’s a tale of arctic demise, perfectly expressed with (impending) doom metal swagger, panic-stricken death metal hammering and blizzardy guitar solos. It’s brilliant stuff and one of the tracks I always spin the minute I feel a chill in the air. There’s an even frostier version of this on the Mental Funeral album but this earlier version (from 1991’s Retribution For The Dead EP) emphasises the doom with its humongous, fat sound. But, no matter which version you hear, In The Grip Of Winter is a stone cold classic.