Category Archives: Hard Rock

KISS – Lick it Up (Review)

A KISS Klassik on CD and Vinyl
A KISS Klassik on CD and Vinyl

I discovered KISS in the late 80s. Up until Crazy Nights, they had never made much of a splash in the UK, so without much info on the band or their history I generally just ordered the cassettes that had the coolest titles and, subsequently, Lick it Up was an early acquisition. I didn’t know or care that it was their first album sans make-up so let’s not get into that too much. Suffice to say KISS had been floundering around for a few years, not quite sure what they wanted to do or who they wanted to do it with. A thrilling moment of discovery came with the stunning Creatures of the Night album. KISS were a full-blooded Metal band. Unfortunately, the sales were less than stunning so KISS played their trump card, removing the make-up for publicity and also signifying their new found musical confidence.

Lick it Up is the sound of that confidence. Not quite as dynamic and anthemic as Creatures… but the solid sound of a band that means business. And business was good! Lick it Up became their first album to go Gold in 3 years.

There’s a real sense of danger and threat in these songs. Tracks like Exciter and Million to One cut and thrust with emotively strained and dynamic vocals from HMO man-crush, Paul Stanley. Gene Simmons’ songs mostly rumble and lurch menacingly with little of the Blues/Rock N’ Roll licks he would rely on for the rest of the decade. Gimmie More and Fits Like a Glove are filthy raunch and All Hell’s Breaking Loose and the title track (it’s basically sex music) provide the anthemic relief. Drummer Eric Carr hits hard and reins in the tempo which adds to the muscular vibe but the whole album is tied together by its star player, lead guitarist and songwriter on 8 of the 10 tracks: Vinnie Vincent. Curbing (or forced to curb) his widdlier tendencies, his classy riffs, licks and solos are the most remarkable and creative contributions to the album.

Unfortunately, Vinnie would soon be gone and, although KISS would continue to release superb albums for the rest of the decade, they were never quite this good or this assured again. Lick it Up is not only a strong contender for the greatest KISS album of all-time but a strong contender for my favourite album of all-time. Don’t agree? Well, listen bitch! I’ve got news…

HMO Rating: 10 out of 5

[KISS – Exciter]

CD Rear Cover
CD Rear Cover

Blue Öyster Cult – Imaginos (Review)

Imaginos LP Cover
Imaginos LP Cover

[Unused Stephen King intro to the album]

BÖC ended their tenure on Columbia with the ambitious concept album, Imaginos. It’s easily one of BÖC’s heaviest efforts in all senses but there were still enough keyboards, reverbed drums and glassy clean guitars to ensure it fit in with the musical trends of the mid-80s. In typical BÖC fashion, however, they added their own eerie and psychedelic quality to the mix. If you ever have a nightmare about the 80s it could easily sound like this!

The album had a long gestation and is really a combination of two projects. It started out in 1981 as the solo project of fired original member, Albert Bouchard. This project was rejected and later reworked as a Blue Öyster Cult project. Even though some of the original BÖC members were no longer in the band, the convoluted saga of the album’s making meant that all original members appear on it, giving the album the illusion of being a reunion effort. There are also many guest musicians and vocalists as a result of its long gestation.

Imaginos CD Cover
Imaginos CD Cover

It’s perhaps surprising, then, that the album sounds so focussed. Del Rio’s Song has hooks to die for and serves as light relief amidst all the mystery and darkness. The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria is explosively dramatic with superb guest vocalist Joey Cerisano channeling Chris Cornell. The album’s concept comes from poems written in the 60s by the band’s mentor and manager Sandy Pearlman. These ideas have featured in many songs throughout BÖC albums and some of this older material appears here in reworked form (including an upbeat, galloping take on the classic Astronomy).

Although the production does seem over-produced compared to the sparser sound of their classic albums, the lavish sound does suit the theatrical concept and feels like an updated version of the band’s dark, arcane style to me. The use of lyrics and music from previous eras also creates the sense of this album as the definitive statement of BÖC’s career and mythology. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the band’s worst seller for the label and would be their swansong as a Columbia act. They wouldn’t release another studio album for 10 years. It’s a real shame because this album is creative, bold and uncompromising: a secret treat for anyone wanting to check out overlooked gems from the 80s.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Blue Öyster Cult – The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria]

Gillan – The Glory Years DVD (Review)

Gillan’s The Glory Years is, I believe, the only officially released DVD from the early 80s incarnation of the band. The main attraction here is the live set from Oxford Polytechnic in 1981. This was originally filmed for a UK TV show called Rock Goes to College and it’s a blistering set. This band was a powerful live unit and, for me, this is Ian Gillan’s peak as a performer and vocalist.

The band comes across as an exceptionally talented bunch of bizarre misfits. The frontline of Bernie Tormé with his Sci-Fi Pirate look, John McCoy with his demented half-hairdo and the urbane Colin Towns are balanced out by Ian, in straightforward, archetypal Rocker mode with his mane, denim and red jeans. This live show is essential stuff for Gillan fans. The bonus footage is mainly mimed performances from Top of the Pops and other similar shows. Ian seems to have a bit of a hoot doing these but I doubt I’d return to them much.

The two volumes of live recordings that formed RPM’s The BBC Tapes (Volume 1: Dead of Night and Volume 2: Unchain Your Brain) are some of my absolute favourite live recordings, and while this doesn’t quite reach those giddy heights it’s great to actually see the band in action. I’ve picked On the Rocks here as it seems to move the most air! It also has some hilariously intense McCoy headbanging and sums up the whole vibe of the concert nicely. Enjoy!

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Manowar – Hell on Wheels (Review)

“Ladies and Gentlemen. From the United States of America… all hail… Manowar.”

Being a Manowar fan brings with it both agony and ecstasy. Ever since their debut Battle Hymns in 1982, the New Yorkers have pounded out albums where epic, awe-inspiring classics have been accompanied by unwelcome bass solos and monologues. So the question that always has to be asked of any new Manowar release is: does the filler outweigh the killer?

Arguably, the band’s golden-era ended with 1992’s Triumph of Steel so the release of their first live record Hell on Wheels in 1997 seemed a bit belated but also had a tantalising wealth of material to draw from.

The album kicks off in thrilling style. Orson Welles heralding the band’s arrival on stage for their signature tune, Manowar. The album does a fine job of capturing Manowar’s punishingly loud live sound, vocalist Eric Adams fighting to be heard amongst the din. Unfortunately, the momentum created by the strong opening is damaged by the ill-conceived grouping of a guitar solo, piano interlude and the ballad, Courage, which creates the feel of a last dance too early in the album’s running time. Blood of my Enemies and Hail and Kill close off the first disc and should be the album’s centrepieces but their effect is neutered by the poor pacing.

Thankfully the second CD is slightly more even. Once again it opens well and although Joey DeMaio’s bass solo Black Arrows is well played and varied, it’s too long and Fighting the World struggles to restore the excitement levels. The back end of the album is over-weighted with newer material from 1996’s disappointing Louder Than Hell but the songs are more convincing live than in the studio and the final stages of Hell on Wheels are great fun, culminating in the moving Battle Hymn.

Ultimately, what should have been the definitive statement of Manowar at their absolute best is hobbled by the inconsistencies that often dog their studio output. You can press “skip” or stick the kettle on and this is a great live album, but victory is barely snatched from the jaws of defeat and I expect more from the Kings of Metal. Thankfully, Manowar had now developed a taste for the live album. There would be more… and they would be better.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Sammy and the Wabos – Live Hallelujah (Review)

I’m not the biggest Sammy Hagar fan in the world but I particularly enjoyed the period that followed his (initial) acrimonious split from Van Halen in the mid-90s. Having put together a great backing band called the Waboritas he proceeded to bring out a trio of  joyous Rock albums – Red Voodoo, Ten 13  and Not 4 Sale. With the Waboritas, Sammy had also become a formidable feel-good live act too and following a very competitive jaunt with Dave Lee Roth (the Sam and Dave tour) it was decided to capture the fun on CD.

The first thing that has to be said about Live Hallelujah is that it is LOUD. I actually can’t think of a live album that sounds more like being in the front rows of a concert than this one. Sammy’s older tracks are bristling with the kind of unhinged guitar assault that would make Ted Nugent proud and the Van Halen-era tracks are feel-good bliss (some featuring a speaker-rattling Michael Anthony and When It’s Love features Gary Cherone). Although Sammy and Vic Johnson are fine players they sensibly chose some of the least flashy Van Halen tracks which means they sit more comfortably alongside the non-VH songs. The newer tracks like Shaka Doobie, Deeper Kind of Love and Little White Lie are also strong, fitting in perfectly with the old favourites like Three Lock Box and Heavy Metal. In fact, one of the great features of the album is how it assimilates material from a long and varied career into a really cohesive set.

This has obviously never become a classic of any description but I really enjoy this and it actually served as a gateway for me to get more into Sammy’s and Van Hagar’s albums. Overall, if your ears can take the remorseless pounding of the production, this is just great fun and one of the best examples I can think of where a live album manages to evoke the excitement and vibe of a being at a really entertaining Rock show. If I’m looking for an album to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step this would be a strong contender and there can’t be a higher recommendation than that.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

W.A.S.P. – Live… in the Raw (Review)

 

Live… in the Raw 1997 Reissue

Many of the great live albums functioned as “end of an era” releases. They documented a period of a band’s career and placed a full-stop on it before evolving into something new.

Ever since the release of their debut single (Animal) Fuck Like a Beast, controversy had dogged W.A.S.P. and they soon became a prime target for the PMRC, while also experiencing death threats and even assassination attempts. The stress had tired the band, causing tensions in the ranks but also galvanising band leader Blackie Lawless who felt that the focus on the band’s image and antics had meant their musical merits were under-estimated.

Live… in the Raw was recorded over three dates on their successful world tour promoting their third album, Inside The Electric Circus. Opener Inside The Electric Circus is thrilling and has some great sawing guitar riffs. The band proceeds to tear through a taut, muscular set that mixes classics and new tracks alike. In fact there are three tracks on here that would have previously been unavailable: two excellent live tracks Harder Faster and The Manimal and one studio track Scream Until You Like It recorded to promote the Horror sequel Ghoulies II.

2011 reissue of Inside the Electric Circus relegates Live… in the Raw to mere bonus disc.

Like many of the best live albums, some of the songs here enjoy their definitive performances on this album. Inside The Electric Circus, L.O.V.E Machine, Wild Child and 9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y. are all superb. The only thing that stops Live… in the Raw being all the W.A.S.P. you’ll ever need is the notable omission of (Animal) Fuck Like a Beast (although they would atone for this with the release, in 1988, of the Live Animal EP).

Live… in the Raw would prove pivotal to the band’s career. It boosted the profile and legitimacy of their catalogue and functioned as a historically important “end of an era” release. The album would provide a full-stop on the sex, parties and gore period of their career. From now on, W.A.S.P. were going to get serious!

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5