Category Archives: Heavy Metal

Manowar – Defender: 1983 Version (Song Review)

“Father I look up to you”

They were an unknown band at the time but that didn’t stop Manowar from securing the services of screen legend Orson Welles who (clearly recognising that he was in the midst of fellow geniuses) agreed to record narration for their debut album: 1982’s Battle Hymns. His narration was used on that album’s Dark Avenger but in the same session Welles also recorded two more pieces: a cool stage intro (that the band has used ever since) and narration for a strange and glorious second song, Defender.

Mostly spoken word set to music, it’s the kind of thing other bands would have used to flesh out an album. But Manowar are not “other bands” so Defender was released as a non-album single in 1983. Not the kind of stuff to tear up the charts but a great introduction to Manowar’s barbarian muscle metal. Windswept Conan tones in the mellow intro, Welles’ baritone gravitas, that killer “ride like the wind” chorus and goosebumps galore when vocalist Eric Adams finally chips in.

I slightly prefer the more direct, streamlined Fighting The World version from 1987 (which used the same narration but re-recorded and rearranged the rest of the song) but the original has its own appeal. It almost sounds like a metallized take on classic Kansas with Adams’ soaring vocals and Ross The Boss’ bluesier guitar solo. And best of all it has a longer, more epic atmosphere with the “Tree Of Woe” vibe that characterized the band’s early work. It’s a must-hear and a must-have rarity for any Manowar fan. This is the music God has sent.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

Blue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties (Review)

Blue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties (1974)

Secret Treaties is the last and best of the so-called “black-and-white” trilogy of albums that kicked off Blue Öyster Cult’s career: a trio of mysterious, monochrome-covered rock albums that peaked with this 1974 release. It’s dark, esoteric and also a bit of a hoot. It’s an album of parodic garage-rock horror reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s Killer, full of psychedelic monster mashes like Career Of Evil, the oddly cute Cagey Cretins and the seismic, psychotic Harvester Of Eyes. And those aren’t even the best tracks. Overdriven boogie rocker ME262 puts you in the pilot’s seat of a Junkers Jumo 004 (“Hitler’s on the phone from Berlin, he’s gonna make you a star”) and Dominance And Submission has a superb, swinging groove, an unforgettable climax (“radios appear”) and some creepy interjections from Charles The Grinning Boy… “it will be time”. But the album truly peaks with its closing tracks, Flaming Telepaths and Astronomy. Both are grand, magnificent masterpieces with affecting muscianship and beautifully cryptic imagery. Astronomy in particular is a complete head-scratcher. I’d love to know what “the nexus of the crisis, the origin of storms” really means but then… I feel like not knowing is kind of the point. And the reason Secret Treaties remains so eternally fascinating and alluring.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Enslaved – Return To Yggdrasill (Song Review)

“A new sound heard throughout the land”

Like Yggdrasill, the world tree at the centre of Norse mythology, black metal has branched out in all sorts of directions. Enslaved have always been a fine example of the genre’s progressive possibilities. Throughout their career the Norwegians have consistently pushed their creative longboat out into new waters. On this classic track from 2004’s Isa there are long passages of dreamy prog that bring to mind Rush, Porcupine Tree and the like. But these cosmic adventurers remain black at heart with frosty, pagan lyrics and a recurring, but captivatingly brief, riff of violent, tempestuous power.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Rush – Ghost Rider (Song Review)

“Sunset on the road ahead”

Sad news today with the passing of Rush’s Neil Peart. On Facebook and Twitter I posted the track Afterimage as a tribute. It sprung to mind due to its themes of grief and loss… and because 80s Rush rules! But let’s have a song from another era here.

Ghost Rider is one of my favourite tunes of the band’s later work. Written as Rush were returning to action following Peart’s hiatus due to deaths in his family, it’s one of their most moving and emotive songs. The Canadians take to the open road with a breezy, motoring groove and a shifting landscape of layered guitars. Peart’s lyrics are searching and evocative and vocalist Geddy Lee responds with taste and feeling. But, as always, the engine driving the whole thing is Peart’s classy and dynamic drum performance. R.I.P Neil.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

[Rush – Ghost Rider]

Blitzkrieg – Buried Alive [Review]

Blitzkrieg – Buried Alive [CD Reissue from Skol Records]

Blitzkrieg only managed to release one official 7″ single before splitting up in late 1981. Otherwise, they had some demos in circulation and a song Inferno on the Lead Weight compilation. Luckily for Blitzkrieg, their solitary release was impressive enough that Metallica ended up covering its eponymous B-side. This bestowed infamy and cult credibility to the defunct band and ensured their return in 1985.

But luck didn’t really have much to do with it cause Blitzkrieg is superb. The unforgettable opening riff might have been purloined from the Focus classic Hocus Pocus but it doesn’t matter because Blitzkrieg conjure up their own metal magic here. The mega-chunk guitars, deadly hooks (“let us have peace, let us have life”) and a dynamic rifferama climax make this mandatory listening. And the less-famous A-side Buried Alive isn’t too shabby either. Stark, driving metal with a piercingly catchy chorus. Just ignore the Bolanesque nonsense lyrics “the Leather Prince, turned to mince”… I can see why Metallica steered clear of that one.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

Queensrÿche – Prophecy (Song Review)

“Begotten are the fools who’ll never know”

I was first introduced to Queensrÿche’s Prophecy via the live version on the Building Empires VHS, before acquiring the studio version as the bonus track on the CD reissue of the band’s 1983 debut EP. Nowadays you’ll find it as a bonus track on the reissue of 1984’s The Warning because it was written during that era but I’ve since discovered it wasn’t actually recorded until the sessions for their 1986 album Rage For Order! Bloody hell. But it doesn’t really matter because this song holds it own anywhere. It’s got the classy Rage For Order production sheen but its traditional melodic metal style fits in nicely on The Warning and the EP. Some extremely bouncy riffing, catchy hooks, nice vocal harmonies and some nifty and memorable guitar soloing from Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton make Prophecy a standout favourite… wherever you hear it.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

KISS – Psycho Circus (Review)

KISS – Psycho Circus (1998)

Basking in the incredible success of their 1996 reunion tour, the four original members of KISS headed back into the studio to pick up where they left off: completely unable to work together. In fact, the entire band only appear together twice on 1998’s so-called reunion album Psycho Circus. The whole band performs Ace Frehley’s Into The Void (which, surprise surprise, is the only track here that sounds anything like classic KISS) and they all sing together on the fairly average You Wanted The Best. In truth, however, this is the Paul n’ Gene show. Which would be fine if the album was actually any good, but it’s a muddled, mediocre effort. Stanley exerts a bit of quality control with the anthemic, stomping title track and Gene offers up the suprisingly good closer Journey Of 1,000 Years but both performers have seen better days. Within is terrible alterna-metal, Finally Found My Way is a limp and dated ballad and the album is loaded with empty and charmless statements of unity. Doing a greatest hits nostalgia trek is one thing, moving forward as a creative unit is another entirely. KISS would have been better settling for the nostalgia because Psycho Circus left the inimitable rock legends looking like nothing but a bunch of clowns.

HMO Rating: 2 Out Of 5

Another attempt at photographing the pesky 3D cover