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.
Ten years after their last album, The Wildhearts are back! On new album Renaissance Men (so called because they have came back) the band promises to rock you like a boomerang (a thing that comes back). And, like renaissance men, The Wildhearts are a sophisticated bunch so you get clever puns about comebacks and a wide range of lyrical concerns: online bullying, mental health, wankers, celebrity drug deaths, and coming back. It’s all extremely in-your-face but also a lot of fun too. Everything’s direct and punky so you don’t get the exciting, sprawling riff adventures of older material like Everlone and Rooting For The Bad Guy. But the songs themselves are eclectic and sharp. Dislocated veers from metal blitzkrieg to touchingly vulnerable, Let Em’ Go is a guaranteed drunken singalong and My Side Of The Bed mixes atonal noise with blissful power pop. And the heads-down pace of the album means the by-the-numbers moments like Little Flower and Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon) are short enough to forgive. Especially when mingling with belters like the powerful closer Pilo Erection (stop tittering and google it) and the wonderful, celebratory title track. Feels like a band that’s came back at the right time and for the right reasons and this is an album that’ll keep you coming back for more. Like a boomerang.
Dio in his spectacular 80s live prime: explosions, lasers, crystal balls, knights, heraldry and a big fucking dragon! None of that on the CD version though… but have no fear! The music is just as spectacular. The band, including new guitarist Craig Goldy, breathe fire into the new material from the under-rated Sacred Heart album: King Of Rock N’ Roll is an explosive opener; Sacred Heart and Like The Beat Of A Heart are stately magnificence; and Hungry For Heaven and Rock N’ Roll Children are fun melodic anthems. The powerful band does a great job on the older Dio tracks like We Rock, Stand Up And Shout and Rainbow In The Dark too. In particular, the version of Don’t Talk To Strangers here is goosebump city: the best version of the track I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, some of the other Dio, Rainbow and Sabbath classics get shoehorned into medleys, which are enjoyable enough but a bit frustrating. Especially when drum, keyboard and guitar solos are allowed to drag…on(!) for 18 minutes of valuable running time. So there’s both heaven and hell here for Dio fans. If you can find the sacred skip button, you’ll discover golden renditions of your favourites and fresh excitement from some lesser-heard treasures. Buy the live DVD too… it’s got a big fucking dragon in it!
“Everything went wrong, I’m sorry boys I’ve got to let you go”
Abandon, Deep Purple’s second album with guitarist Steve Morse, didn’t quite reach the high standard set by its joyous and adventurous predecessor Purpendicular. But it did feature a batch of great, underrated tracks and Fingers To The Bone is a standout that ranks among my favourites of the Morse era. It’s the sound of a veteran band ageing gracefully: Purple depicting the harsh blow of job losses with thoughtful lyrics, beautiful guitar parts and a folky, proggy muso confidence that reminds me of 80s Tull albums like The Broadsword And The Beast. A rich and rewarding deep cut that proved Purple were far from redundant.
Saxon’s Krakatoa is an explosive B-Side from their 1985 single Rock N’ Roll Gypsy. It’s a lively old-school banger very much along the lines of their classic Power And The Glory. Probably a bit too much like it… which might explain why it never made it on to an album. But even if it is Saxon-by-numbers, it’s got more fire and grit than a lot of the stuff that made it on that year’s Innocence Is No Excuse. And if you’re one of those fans that found that album a bit too Def Lep for your liking, this track will be right up your alley.
The meanest and heaviest album of KISS’ classic era. When their self-titled debut LP wasted no time in sliding out of the charts, KISS headed back into the studio to rush out a replacement, 1974’s Hotter Than Hell. This time ramping up the layers and distortion in an attempt to replicate the power of their live sound. The sludgy, messy end result is oft-criticised but I think the album has a dark, underground edge and the more metallic material here works really well. Songs like the genius riff-fest Parasite and the predatory Watchin’ You sound gritty and nasty. My main gripe is the stupidly slow tempos. Top tunes like Got To Choose, the title-track and Let Me Go Rock N’ Roll just sound like they need a good kick up the arse. But they’re still enjoyable versions if you just get into that blockier, doomier mindset and, best of all, there are no real clunkers here. They won’t show up on greatest hits sets but tracks like Comin’ Home, Goin’ Blind and Strange Ways are all choice deep cuts for the KISS connoisseur. Especially Strange Ways for its phenomenal whacked-out Ace Frehley guitar solo. Total attitude. Not their hottest album then but definitely one of their coolest, a rewarding evocation of KISS’ hungry years.
The release of Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album,1990’s Tattooed Millionaire,didn’t represent the fulfillment of some pent-up creative ambition. Instead, an offer to record a track for Nightmare On Elm Street 5 turned into an opportunity for the Iron Maiden frontman to have some simple fun recording an album with his drinking pal, jobless ex-Gillan guitarist Janick Gers. Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of a throwaway effort. The title track is upbeat and infectious but pub rockers like Lickin’ The Gun and Zulu Lulu prove every bit as unremarkable as their titles and album nadir Dive! Dive! Dive! is just too silly (“no muff too tuff”). But the album gets evocative and personal on the excellent Born In ’58, the dusty Bad Company-esque opener Son Of A Gun is one of my favourite Bruce tracks and there’s a sense of fun and warmth in the band’s unpretentious approach. So, while far from a classic, time has been kind to Tattooed Millionaire, especially its stronger first half. I return to this album any time I want a bit of nostalgic summery fun.