Category Archives: Hard Rock

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (2017)

Avatarium were originally devised as a combination of crushing doom and 70s prog. But on their third album Hurricanes and Halos there’s very little doom left at all; the focus is now firmly on retro rock stylings of swirling Hammond organ and sultry psychedelia.

Into The Fire/Into The Storm is a bold opener that makes full use of Jennie-Ann Smith’s forceful, dramatic lung power and The Starless Sleep is a wonderful mix of dark fable and summery 60s pop. But there’s a sense of diminishing returns on album number three. Although it’s one of the doomier tracks, Medusa Child is overlong with cheesy child vocals. And the breezy, bluesy When Breath Turns To Air and the closing instrumental parp of the title track barely register. The album’s uneven second half is saved by the stomping Uriah Heep worship of The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea and the ominous beauty of A Kiss (From The End Of The World), one of the band’s best tunes to date.

It’s another strong effort from the Swedes but it finds them veering away from my own taste. As the band dial down the doom I find myself less engaged. But the band’s charismatic and summery take on classic 70s rock will win them more fans and appreciation than they lose. And those listeners may well find this the band’s most accessible and enjoyable album so far.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Venom Inc. – Avé

While the actual Venom continue under the leadership of infamous bassist/vocalist Conrad ‘Cronos’ Lant, the return of the band’s classic guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn and drummer Tony ‘Abaddon’ Bray as Venom Inc. has caused quite a stir. Surely two thirds of the band’s massively influential and legendary formation is better than one? And to cap it all off, the band has been rounded out appropriately and authentically with Prime Evil-era bassist/vocalist Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan. It’s an exciting unit and the band has been going down a storm touring a classic Venom set. But playing live oldies is a no-brainer. Now the real test comes as the band offer up their first new material with their debut album Avé.

Venom Inc. perform like heroic metal veterans throughout. Mantas in particularly impressive form, peeling out genuinely thrilling guitar solos like it’s a piece of piss. They’re too seasoned to play with the filthy, bulldozer energy of old but as gutsy, trad metal goes much of this is hard to beat. It’s also hard to stick with. Songs like Avé Satanas and Preacher Man are average songs stretched way beyond their breaking point and, while it works better as an album track than as a single, Dein Fleisch causes a hefty lull at a crucial point.

With those three totally removed Avé could have been easily and massively improved, while coming in at the golden running time of 40min too. Ace biker metal tracks like Forged In Hell and The Evil Dead would get old heads banging again and raging thrashers like Metal We Bleed and Time To Die would give young Venom-worshipping upstarts like Midnight a run for their money too. But, as a complete listening experience, Avé is overlong, uneven and frustrating: the two thirds of Venom Inc. proving that it is possible to ‘ave too much of a good thing.

HMO Rating: 3 out of 5

Scorpions – In Trance

Original cover image – with boob!

In Trance was the Scorpions’ third album, their first of many with producer Dieter Dierks and their first proper hard rocker. But we’re still back in the Uli Roth years here so there’s a strange mix of styles and moods. There are real driving, hard-hitters like Dark Lady and Top Of The Bill but there are also many songs like Life’s Like A River and Living And Dying that are mystical, almost-psychedelic and loaded with melancholy. Two different kinds of heavy, basically. Scorpions’ circa 1975 show off a complex mix of styles and influences: Uli Roth’s post-Hendrix, pre-Malmsteen guitar mastery; the mellow wistfulness of UFO’s Phenomenon; the epic scope, bludgeon and layered vocal harmonies of Uriah Heep and Queen and a distinctly European/power metal vibe. The combination of Rudolf Schenker’s granite riffs and Uli Roth’s scorching leads create real sparks and edge that never appeared in other incarnations of the band. There’s so just so much to love here and tracks like the bombastic pomp-rocker In Trance and the bonkers cyber-metaller Robot Man just never get old. The Scorpions would score big later with a simpler, streamlined metal style so this strange and formative early effort isn’t in the hallmark Scorps style but it is one of their best and the album, and era, I return to the most. By a long way. And that’s why it’s the first of the Germans’ albums to make it into the HMO Hall Of Fame.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Scorpions – Robot Man]

My copy – paired with the also-incredible Virgin Killer

 

Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed Part II

Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed Part 2 (1996)

With original member Graham Oliver ousted from the band, Saxon had to quickly recruit a new guitarist in time for their tour to support the excellent Dogs Of War album. In stepped Doug Scarratt, ex-David Hasselhoff guitarist(!) and a friend of Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler. Coincidentally, Glockler had made his Saxon album debut on the 1982 live release The Eagle Has Landed and now his pal Doug made his on the sequel The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2. The use of the title evoked the band’s NWOBHM glory days, presumably in an attempt to signify to lapsed fans that the band had returned to metal. But it also bravely invited comparison between the 1996 lineup and the classic Saxon of yore.

But The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2 ducks the comparison by weighing heavily towards the band’s more recent material. In fact, with the exception of five songs, all of the material here is drawn from the band’s early-90s output. It sounds great and the band performs well. Doug Scarratt fits in seamlessly (showing off his chops on a tastefully shredded solo spot) and Biff Byford puts in a powerful, committed vocal performance despite sounding like he’s got a frog in his throat. In fact, he makes it work for him. The sound of him straining and pushing to hit the notes adds a real edge of excitement to tracks like Forever Free.

Although the new lineup acquits itself well, the focus on new tracks drags the album down, especially in the middle section. Ain’t Gonna Take It, Crash Dive and Can’t Stop Rockin’ are decent enough on their respective studio albums but they don’t cut it in a Saxon live set. But the second disc recovers well with Solid Ball Of Rock and Great White Buffalo proving effective live before some oldies-but-goodies see the album out on a high. The only blip in the older tracks is a version of Denim & Leather that’s marred by an overbearing guest spot from Yngwie J. Malmsteen who solos over everything that can possibly be soloed over.

Diehard fans/collectors will find the rare performances and historical value of The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2 make for a worthwhile release. But collectability aside, most listeners will find it a bit uninspiring and, while it certainly has its moments, it’s the least exciting of the Saxon live albums to this point: a solid but unspectacular start to the band’s post-Oliver career. The new lineup would have to impress mightily when they unleashed their next album.

HMO Rating: 2.5 out of 5

[Saxon – Solid Ball Of Rock]

Rainbow – Live at Glasgow Hydro 2017

I finally made the sacred pilgrimage to see The World’s Greatest Guitarist®. My expectations had been lowered after seeing the enjoyable but sluggish Memories In Rock footage and then hearing the banal single released a few weeks back but… Ritchie F. Blackmore! It was incredibly exciting to know I was finally going to, not just see him play live, but see him play rock.

The band’s recent recording of Land Of Hope And Glory played over the PA before the “we must be over the rainbow” sample heralded the band’s arrival on stage. Opening with HMO fave Spotlight Kid rather than Highway Star was a good move. Blackmore played tentatively and awkwardly but come the closing outro of the next song I Surrender he was warming up. He was taking some shortcuts in his lead and rhythm playing throughout the night but given his age (and arthritis?) it’s unfair to expect the intensity of his youth. He still played well and had that mercurial, unique quality. It was great to hear his instantly recognisable guitar voice in person.

Sorry, didn’t take any photos but this YouTube still from the O2 show is similar to the view I had.

The band was good too. A definite improvement on the 2016 footage/recordings with a much more convincing performance from the rhythm section in particular. Ronnie Romero was in superb voice and an entertaining, personable frontman. He suits some songs more than others but he was impressive all night. He’s a huge talent and a great find.

My only quibbles were an interminably long keyboard solo and some overly shrill shrieking in Child In Time, a song I can’t be arsed with at the best of times anyway. And, although it’s good to hear Blackmore playing them, I wasn’t too fussed about hearing other Purple stuff like Black Night and Smoke On The Water either. That said, some of the sets best moments came from the Purple albums: a stunning version of Burn and a very moving Soldier Of Fortune. The Rainbow selections were similar to previous shows with the welcome addition of I Surrender, All Night Long and a hugely unexpected and wonderful Temple Of The King. But the mighty Stargazer remains the absolute standout track of the set: epic metal bliss delivered with deadly conviction by Romero. Goosebumps.

Ultimately, I went to see a guitarist whose music and playing I have obsessed over for years. And I was not disappointed. In fact, I was often thrilled and excited. That’s pretty good going. Age and arthritis be damned, Blackmore is still the man.

Luckily, my friend Jo is better at taking photos than I am

Samhain – Initium

Samhain – Initium (1984)

Stylistically caught between the fun-filled horror punk of The Misfits and the seductive darkness of Danzig, Glenn Danzig’s second band Samhain are easy to overlook. While I regularly find myself in the mood for the more-renowned acts on either side, I often have to remind myself to forego their obvious joys and spend some time with his “other” band. So this week I’ve been listening to Samhain’s debut Initium.

It’s an album that I’ve liked in the past but not loved. I appreciated the Misfits-style catchiness in tracks like All Murder, All Guts, All Fun and He-Who-Can-Not-Be-Named but didn’t regard the tracks as top-tier classics. And I found the rest of the album to be leaden, lo-fi and lacking in cohesion. But recently, I’ve warmed to the occult darkness of tracks like Initium/Samhain and Macabre and I’m finding hitherto overlooked gems here. The “cause I want it, and I need it” chorus of Black Dream is a classic Danzig hook, Archangel closes the album with some catchy 50s swoon and the raging and bloodthirsty The Howl has become a new Danzig favourite.

There’s no doubt that this is a transitional album but its underground horror, dank atmosphere and murderous intent has a charm and (for me) a growing fascination of its own. In the future, I won’t need to remind myself to listen to Initium. Cause now I want it, and I need it.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

[Samhain – The Howl]

 

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Land Of Hope And Glory/I Surrender

Ritchie Blackmore’s return to rock action was one of the most welcome surprises of recent years. I’ve got tickets to see him in June. I’m massively excited about it and nothing’s going to change that. Which is probably just as well because Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow have now released their first new studio recordings in 20 years and the results are far from thrilling.

Land Of Hope And Glory is a band version of the classical piece that they’ve been using as the intro tape to their shows. It’s got a nice pastoral, laid-back Hank Marvin vibe going on and some tasteful playing from Ritchie. It’s… nice?

Next up is a new version of I Surrender with Ronnie Romero at the mic. The Joe Lynn Turner-era classic was notable by its absence in the Memories Of Rock: Live In Germany set so it’s interesting to finally hear what Romero does with it. The whole band delivers the song capably enough to imagine it going down well live but it’s not particularly exciting as a listening experience. And Romero is not at his best with the sexier end of Blackmore’s output. His performance here has little of JLT’s seductive bombast.

It’s tentative and disposable stuff from The World’s Greatest Guitarist®. I’m still looking forward to finally seeing The Man In Black live but if Ritchie and Rainbow are planning to put out more new music, it’ll need to be more exciting than this.

HMO Rating: 2 out of 5