Category Archives: Hard Rock

Saxon – Metalhead (Review)

Saxon – Metalhead (1999)

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.

[Saxon – Conquistador]

 

Samson – Survivors (Review)

Samson – Survivors (1979)

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!)

My copy – 2001 reissue on Sanctuary Records

Glenn Hughes – From Now On… (Review)

Glenn Hughes – From Now On… (2015 Reissue)

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.

HMO Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

[Glenn Hughes – The Liar]

Judas Priest – Sad Wings Of Destiny (Review)

Judas Priest – Sad Wings Of Destiny (1976)

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.

HMO Rating: 5 Out 5

[Judas Priest – Genocide]

Yngwie Malmsteen – Eclipse (Review)

Yngwie Malmsteen – Eclipse (1990)

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.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

[Yngwie Malmsteen – Motherless Child]

Demon Head – Hellfire Ocean Void (Review)

Demon Head – Hellfire Ocean Void (Released 22nd Feb 2019)

Remember when bands used to “get it together in the country”? Demon Head do. In the winter of 2017-18 they headed out to a remote recording studio in the Danish countryside to record their third album. But this is no bucolic, hippy, communing with nature type affair. More a “getting lost in the woods, people with strange animal masks, ‘it’s time for your appointment with The Wicker Danzig’” situation. The creepy rural seclusion approach has worked: Demon Head have definitely got it together on Hellfire Ocean Void.

The Night Is Yours and In The Hour Of The Wolf are the standout tracks: occult, old-fashioned metal that will appeal to fans of Tribulation and In Solitude. There are also lots of rustic interludes and mystical ambience which, combined with the band’s Pentagram-style proto-doom, gives the album a folk horror allure. The guitar work is much improved, some exciting NWOBHM-esque workouts and solos here, and Ferriera Larsen is finding his own voice: shaking off the Bobby Leibling/Fonzig comparisons of old.

As with previous albums, there’s a tendency to meander which means it takes a few listens to grab you. But it’s their most thoughtful, consistent and well-crafted effort yet with depth and atmosphere in abundance. It builds on the promise of their earlier work and suggests exciting ways forward. Fan of pagan, old-school metal? It’s time for your appointment with Demon Head.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Rainbow – Down To Earth (Review)

Rainbow – Down To Earth (1979)

If you’re a fan of Ritchie Blackmore you get used to band members coming and going. But for fans of Rainbow, the departure of Ronnie James Dio in 1978 was a tough pill to swallow. The mighty castle metal of the Dio years was replaced with the AOR hit Since You’ve Been Gone and the proto-Miami Vice vision of new vocalist Graham Bonnet.

But don’t pull your drawbridge up just yet. 1979’s Down To Earth is one of Rainbow’s best albums. Since You’ve Been Gone might be too slick for some, but it’s a classic rock track: deceptively sophisticated and impeccably delivered with a Blackmore guitar solo made out of sheer joy. And if the new frontman was more James Dean than James Dio, his powerful and versatile lungs allow the band to get raunchier and bluesier, bringing to mind revered Deep Purple albums like Machine Head and Burn. The driving All Night Long has brilliant Smoke On The Water style riffs and Love’s No Friend is a superbly moody sequel to Mistreated. Better still, the grandiose proto-power metal of the previous Rainbow remains in the thumping Eyes Of The World and the medieval tinges of Makin’ Love. The closest the album comes to filler is the generic No Time To Lose but even that adds some welcome up-tempo energy, as does the lively closing track Lost In Hollywood.

Inevitably, the coming and going continued with the departure of both Bonnet and drummer Cozy Powell. Which means Down To Earth becomes a transitional album in the Rainbow catalogue: steering the band from Ye Olde Rainbow to the slicker Joe Lynn Turner era. But with shades of both styles and a timeless hue of Deep Purple too, it’s a stone-cold classic in its own right. Could I be wrong? No.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

[Rainbow – Eyes Of The World]