Category Archives: Hard Rock

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (Review)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)

They would go on to enjoy insane, enormo-success and an inflated reputation as the One Band To Rule Them All but Led Zeppelin’s first flight was a rickety, low budget affair. Their S/T 1969 debut album was knocked out in just 36 hours for less than two grand, which is not bad going considering it became a seminal work in the early history of “heavy”. Before Black Sabbath and before In Rock, Led Zep dished out dark, powerful riff-based rock on tracks like the bewitching Dazed And Confused. But there are both good times and bad times to be had on Led Zeppelin. Communication Breakdown is a superb proto-Paranoid metal chug but Good Times, Bad Times‘ powerful rhythm section and Your Time Is Gonna Come‘s dreamy mix of acoustic guitar and organ can’t disguise the band’s dated, hippy songcraft. Elsewhere, the famously sticky-fingered Brits resort to mining other artists’ material. This approach works well on tracks like How Many More Times, where Zep supercharge the blues with swingingly heavy results. But it also results in stodgy workouts like I Can’t Quit You Baby and Black Mountain Side, a folk arrangement that shows good taste but lacks imagination. The album’s thudding rock power makes Led Zeppelin a notably heavy debut but it’s also heavy in mood: a monochrome moroseness that, mixed with some weak and old-fashioned material, makes repeat listens an increasingly dreary experience. Better would come when Zep’s creativity and vision caught up with the power of their delivery.

HMO Rating: 3 Out Of 5

 

Deep Purple – Throw My Bones (Song Review)

“You do your thing, you do your best”

Deep Purple have been a huge part of my musical life. For years I would have said they were my favourite band. But I’ve not been a big fan of their current MkVIII lineup and I’ve been fairly certain that I wasn’t going to even bother with their upcoming album Whoosh! But now I’ve heard their new song Throw My Bones and… just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. On one hand it’s still MkVIII doing what they do: mild funky rock, smug vamping and Steve Morse’s interchangeable guitar solos. But on the other hand, its joyful, playful feel and catchy chorus has got me wanting to hear more. I’ve been listening to their last album inFinite again and whoosh! I’m looking forward to the new Deep Purple album.

HMO Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

(Throw My Bones is available on the free CD that comes with the latest issue of Classic Rock Magazine along with two live bonus tracks from 2017)

Fleetwood Mac – The Green Manalishi: Live 1970 (Song Review)

“Come sneaking around, trying to drive me mad”

HMO salutes Peter Green, who has died aged 73. There are many superb tunes I could pick as a tribute to the gifted guitarist, vocalist and founder of Fleetwood Mac. I toyed with Sandy Mary, Oh Well, Jumping At Shadows, Man Of The World and I Loved Another Woman: all personal faves. But given this is a metal site I’m going to go with The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown). Even if you’re not familiar with Fleetwood Mac, I’m sure you all know this song from Judas Priest’s cover versions on Hell Bent For Leather and Unleashed In The East. They turned it into a great souped-up rocker and their interpretation is very enjoyable. But I don’t think this song was really intended to be enjoyable. It was written during a period of LSD-induced mental health struggles and was inspired by a particularly vivid nightmare which Green interpreted as being about the evil of money and success. The Mac version is as dark, ominous and anguished as its subject matter. Doubly so on this extended live take recorded in Boston in 1970. It’s a musical dark night of the soul. Enjoy!

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Bruce Dickinson – The Breeding House (Song Review)

“His spawn lay in the freezer, the killers that bore his name”

The Breeding House is one of a number of recorded and abandoned tracks that Bruce Dickinson worked on in the years preceding his 1994 album Balls To Picasso: his first solo album since leaving Iron Maiden. The pressure of making his first post-Maiden statement resulted in a number of rethinks and reshuffles and a right mixed bag of music. Ranging from tried-and-trusted Tattooed Millionaire style rock to totally daft experimentation.

The Breeding House was one of the earliest of these unused tracks to get a release when it appeared as a B-Side on the Tears Of The Dragon single. Of his output at the time, this was the closest in style to his previous band: with chord progressions and harmony guitars straight out of the Maiden playbook. Jagged Edge/Skin guitarist Myke Gray zips around the fretboard in style and the Air Raid Siren soars throughout, especially in the thrilling bridge, and contributes a layer of intrigue with some dark and cryptic lyrics.

I had lost interest in Maiden and Bruce in the early 90s but The Breeding House had a sense of freshness and commitment that got me excited to hear what Dickinson had to offer as a solo artist.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Venom – Bloodlust (Song Review)

“Sparing no one, the meek and the mild”

I was thumbing through the booklet that came with Venom’s MMV box set today and a quote from their frontman Cronos jumped out. “In Venom we wanted to be the devil, we wanted to be the vampires!” Well, it doesn’t get more vampiric than their essential non-album single Bloodlust. In fact, the singer refers to himself in the song as “Count Cronos, vampire supreme”. Guitarist Mantas gets a shout out too (this time simply as “Mantas”). That leaves poor drummer Abaddon as the only Venom bloodsucker to not get a mention which is probably why he tries to get everyone’s attention by playing as many of his drums as he possibly can. As often as he can. It’s a chaotic, slightly-out-of-tune mess but it is glorious! Pure punk metal battery, deranged and in your face. Come on, turn it up!

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

(And because one Venom box set simply isn’t enough here’s the Bloodlust picture disc that came with their 2019 box set In Nomine Satanas)

Legend – Frontline (Review)

Legend – Frontline (1982)

Try as they might, Jersey’s Legend just couldn’t rise above the myriads of NWOBHM bands all competing for attention during the early 80s. It didn’t help that they were stuck out in the Channel Islands, removed from the scene’s industry hotspots and gigging circuit. But their proggy brand of metal was also intropspective, dark and dour. Great stuff for fans of gloomier fare; not the kind of music that was going to stand out alongside anthems like Angel Witch, Let It Loose, and Blitzkrieg.

Legend eventually gave up the ghost but on their final release, 1982’s Frontline EP, they went out in style: taking a more direct and melodic approach. The title track and Open Up The Skies are on the slight side in terms of song structure but are packed with catchy melodies and Peter Howarth’s masterful guitar work. The latter song in particular features the kind of axe heroics that would have gone down a storm if the band had been based in LA rather than Jersey. The ballad Sabra & Chatila gets back to the darkness of their previous work but its dreamy quality and lush Bill Nelson-esque textures make it a highlight.

But best of all is the awesome Stormers Of Heaven. It’s the kind of anthemic, hook-laden rock song that would have graced any compilation of the genre. If it had appeared on any. But sadly, it remains criminally overlooked. Legend might just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time all along.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

 

Glenn Hughes – Burning Japan Live (Review)

Glenn Hughes – Burning Japan Live (2018 Reissue)

Having made a promising studio comeback with 1994’s From Now On… the newly-sober Glenn Hughes then set out to prove his reliability and viability as a live performer. Burning Japan Live, recorded in 1994 over two nights in Kawasaki, captures Hughes and his band (now including three members of Europe) in spectacular form. The album kicks off with a red-hot version of the Deep Purple classic Burn and continues with a revelatory run of non-Purple tracks. There’s a swaggering take on the Hughes/Thrall classic Muscle And Blood and the new solo tracks like From Now On… and The Liar sound magnificent. A cluster of mellow tunes causes a mid-set lull but the versions of Coast To Coast and This Time Around are classy examples of Hughes’ versatility. The chilled interlude also provides a nice breather before the show switches gears for a hard rocking climax that’s loaded with Purple anthems from Glenn’s MkIII and IV days. Burning Japan Live proved Hughes was back at the peak of his powers and also celebrated his long and storied career. It’s a vibrant, dynamic and sophisticated live album that cemented his reputation as the “Voice Of Rock”.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

UFO – Rock Bottom: BBC Live ‘In Concert’ 1974 (Song Review)

HMO salutes Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman who recently passed away aged 66. The Welsh guitarist had played with the Irish Skid Row, Lone Star, Waysted and others but he was most famous as the guitarist that replaced Michael Schenker in UFO. An unforgivable task that Tonka proved more than equal to: recording albums like The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent that remain fan favourites.

I was tempted to pick one of that album’s songs as a tribute but I decided to go for an older, and geekier, recording. After Schenker debuted with UFO on 1974’s Phenomenon the band decided to draft in a second guitarist for live duties and, for a brief period that year, the band featured both Schenker and Tonka on lead guitar! This fascinating and short-lived lineup can be heard on this BBC live recording from London. Rock Bottom was always a live centrepiece due to its extended soloing and here you get to hear both Schenker and Tonka trading wonderful solos. Chapman kicks his off at the 4:25min mark. It’s a cool, wah-tinged solo that makes jazzy use of the passage’s Dorian tonality and there’s a real chemistry between the two guitarists. Chapman was nicknamed ‘Tonka’ because, like the steel toys, he was thought to be indestructible, and he certainly sounded it here.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

KISS – Nowhere To Run (Song Review)

“I was there with a shoulder to lean on”

HMO salutes Bob Kulick who recently passed away, aged 70. He was a veteran session musician who played with tons of great artists and was also known as a producer of star-studded tribute albums. But my main knowledge of him comes from his stint in the short-lived Blackthorne (with vocalist Graham Bonnet) and his involvement with KISS.

Bob was almost recruited to be the original KISS guitarist in 1973 before a certain Ace Frehley staggered in and snatched the job from him. But due to Ace’s rock n’ roll unreliability and wavering levels of commitment to the band, KISS occasionally invited Bob into the studio to replace Ace. Kulick was talented enough to not just mimic Frehley’s playing but also make it sound like Ace was at the top of his game!

Nowhere To Run is my favourite KISS song Bob appeared on. And one of my favourite KISS songs full stop. One of four new songs recorded for the 1982 compilation album Killers, it’s a classic example of Paul Stanley at his rocking and romantic best. The main riff and chorus is totally anthemic, the verses are heroic and impassioned and Stanley sings at the top of his range, giving his voice a cracked sound and vibrato that is just one of my favourite sounds ever. And Bob Kulick helps put the song right over the edge into absolute bliss with his lead playing. By now he was being given more freedom to play his own way but he still attacks this song like Ace would: with tasty, cool, exciting and unforgettable guitar playing.

KISS always said “you wanted the best, and you got the best”. Well, Bob was one of the best.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

ZZ Top – ZZ Top’s First Album (Review)

ZZ Top – ZZ Top’s First Album (1971)

In the new documentary ‘ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas’, the band’s engineer Robin Brian states that ZZ Top “never sang the blues, they turn the blues into party music”. But on ZZ Top’s First Album the party had yet to get started. This is more of a hangover album with plenty of certified blues running through it. Billy Gibbons’ guitar playing and vocals bring Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green to mind and his deft playing is supported by a tight and ballsy rhythm section. However, the band hadn’t really gelled as songwriters yet. Songs like Squank, Back Door Love Affair and Bedroom Thang have a satisfying boogie vibe but are ultimately forgettable and the album often drags. There are some hints of the band’s future greatness though. Brown Sugar‘s lonesome Hendrix-meets-Mac blues boosts into a gutsy, grooving rocker, the down-and-dirty Goin’ Down to Mexico shows off Dusty Hill’s rollicking vocals and Neighbour has a formative stab at the kind of heavy riff you’ll hear later (and better) in songs like Precious And Grace and Cheap Sunglasses. With its bluesy mood, ballsy sound and confident musicianship, ZZ Top’s First Album is a good album to go with a beer or two. Just don’t expect it to inspire any hellraising.

HMO Rating: 3 Out Of 5