I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “careful” used this forcefully in a song before. Repeatedly. Here’s Tankard: generally renowned for songs about drinking beer and being a thrash metal ne’er-do-well. But on Mercenary (taken from 1986’s Zombie Attack) the Germans take on the subject of soldiers for hire in their endearing “English as a second language” way. It’s just great fun: a punky, speed metal mosh. And the chorus gang shout of “Mercenary! Be careful! Mercenary! Careful! Carefully, carefully! The mercenary, the mercenary” is unforgettably demented. You might enjoy it a little too much so… careful!
If there was a Venn diagram of classical music, progressive rock and metal, you’d find Emerson, Lake And Palmer’s Knife-Edge bang in the centre. Taken from the band’s 1970 debut this is dark, heavy stuff with a huge, ominous riff. The formidable British trio rearrange pieces from Janáček and Bach into a stonking Hammond organ bludgeon that is surely what the composers had in mind all along. As a young metal fan this was one of the key gateway tracks that introduced me to the rich, crazy world of prog and it’s still one of my favourite songs of the genre.
If I was going to do an “all KISS songs ranked” type post, I reckon I’d have Bang Bang You higher on the list than most. There are a few reasons for this… One: It’s an endearingly dumb rock song about shagging. Two: I’m a sucker for 80s KISS (Paul Stanley’s voice is great and Bruce Kulick’s guitar work is always tasty). Three: It’s a song I love more since learning how to play it. I have a real thing about rock songs that use capos and Paul Stanley is a regular capo user. He uses one here, on the 2nd fret, and I love playing it. Four: it’s become my go-to song for testing out music gear down at the guitar shop. If I don’t enjoy playing Bang Bang You on a guitar or amp it doesn’t get bought. Simple as that. That’s the main reasons anyway, but I could probably reel off another… I dunno… five, six, seven, eight.
On 1994’s Master Of The Rings, Helloween got their power metal mojo back big time. With two new members on board, drummer Uli Kutsch and vocalist Andi Deris, the German band sounded fresh and vital. And it’s these new guys that particularly shine on Why? Kutsch excites with his hard-hitting, gear-shifting groove and, not only are his vocals breathtaking (especially on the soaring, emotional chorus) but Deris displayed considerable songwriting chops here too. The lyrics challenge a non-interventional God but Why? is so good I can’t help feeling like the big man had Helloween’s back.
This is the furthest I have ventured into the realm of proper rainbow unicorn power metal. So far, anyway. I was provoked into buying Stratovarius’ Infinite after a short live clip of them playing Hunting High And Low on the Metal Evolution series planted the song’s chorus in my head forever. The band pump out a fairly typical Euro-metal backdrop that refrains from showboating enough to let the insanely catchy tune and Timo Kotipelto’s soaring voice take centre stage. It all evokes warm feelings of old Europe and Goran Edman era Yngwie. The kind of song that gives you a high, even when you’re feeling low.
I closed out the previous digest with a question: were KISS genuinely boring when they played Donington in 1996 or was I just too sunburned to enjoy them properly? Well, I’ve listened to the Off The Soundboard recording of the show now. It’s a bit sluggish and takes a few songs to get going but, in the comfort of my own darkened living room, it’s way more fun than I remember! I’m getting the classic KISS vibes. Verdict: too sunburned.
One of the best songs of the ’10s but sadly Hell haven’t released anything since. Last I saw of them was supporting Saxon at what can only be described as a very farty Glasgow gig. At least I got some fresh air at Donington.
I never got a press release for this so I’m not sure what the pitch is. A wee music theory joke for you there.
Original Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton has died aged 80. Brilliant musician, songwriter and producer on some of my favourite albums. Listen here for a great interview with the man himself, where he discusses his classic Nazareth albums and his involvement with Guns N’ Roses. Warning: Fife accent.
Artist Ken Kelly, the creator of some of my favourite album covers, has passed away aged 76. A framed poster of Love Gun graced my living room wall for many years. And where would Manowar be without his muscular and boobular artwork?
My long-running campaign to “BRING BACK ALEC” has come to a sad end with the death of ex-Bon Jovi bassist Alec John Such, aged 70. The campaign did at least achieve some closure when he reunited with the band at their 2018 Hall Of Fame induction.
My most exciting purchases from the last month were the new Kreator album Hate Über Alles which is really good (definitely better than advance reviews led me to believe) and Porcupine Tree’s Closure/Continuation (album of the year so far). On the reissue front, I got the Thin Lizzy package that pairs up the expanded Sydney show with the doc Songs For While I’m Away,which is essential viewing for Lynott fans. And I finally got the anniversary box set of Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas which I’ve been looking forward to since pre-ordering it back in November 2021. It was worth the wait.
What I Was Listening To While I Wrote This Post
Enuff Z’Nuff’s 1985. It’s a strange one… a 1994 release that was technically their fourth album but is actually their 1985 demo recordings. I don’t really know the full story here. It’s sounds way too good to be a demo and sounds incredible for 1985 even. Re-recorded or touched up old material? Whatever it is, it’s brill and infectious glam rock.
I’m looking forward to the reissue of UFO’s High Stakes & Dangerous Men paired with Lights Out In Tokyo. Supposedly not the best era for the band but I’ve not heard either album before so I’ll judge for myself. Also Whiplash’s The Roadrunner Years set is an exciting prospect, I’ve wanted that stuff for ages but it’s always been too pricey.
On the review side I’ve got quite a mix coming up soon on the blog: thrash, power metal, black metal and classic prog. Stay tuned and expect no mercy!
Given that their frontman Sam Loynes also keeps busy with Akercocke, The Antichrist Imperium, and Voices I can’t blame Shrines for taking six years to follow up their 2015 debut album with a four-song EP. But it helps that the EP, 2021’s Ghost Notes, is good: angular, dissonant progressive metal with pristine guitar tones, killer riffs and Loynes’ unique, melancholic voice and harmonies. While I miss the eclectic creativity and plaintive atmosphere of the debut, its good to have Shrines back and they sound like they have found a strong direction and purpose with Ghost Notes. Hopefully they won’t take so long to make their next move this time. Of all the bands in Loynes’ impressive CV this is the one I’d most like to hear more of.
Neat Records’ 1981 release Lead Weight was one of the best NWOBHM compilations, featuring a whole bunch of songs you couldn’t hear anywhere else. My favourite of the bunch is Fist’s Throwing In The Towel. It tells the tale of an ageing boxer lured into the ring for a comeback bout… only to realise his thunder-crapping days are behind him. It’s got a wonderfully downtrodden chorus and there’s real tension in the verses as the staccato vocals punch and jab. It’s brilliant, inventive stuff that holds its own amongst the compilation’s heavy-hitters like Raven and Venom. Unfortunately, Throwing In The Towel was the last song this lineup of Fist released which is a shame… they could have been contenders.
I can’t think of many metal instrumentals I would pick out as album highlights but here’s one: Final Gates, from Running Wild’s 1988 pirate metal classic Port Royal. Written by, and showcasing, Running Wild’s new bassist Jens Becker, Final Gates is a cut above: avoiding the usual pitfalls of skippable atmospheric scene-setting or virtuoso showboating. Instead, it’s a track that stands on its own: creative and restrained with wonderful guitar solos and Becker going all Geddy Lee on some infuriatingly catchy bass lines. It’s a wonderful, funky odd-man-out amidst a bounty of power metal swashbuckling.
“Read the rites, cast the spell, call the chaos lords of Hell”
I loved Hell’s 2013 album Curse & Chapter but Darkhangel cast a particularly strong spell over me. It reminds me of two of my favourite British bands, combining Sabbat’s medieval thrash with Cradle Of Filth’s theatrical horror. And it shifts from goosebumps catchy (“from thy kingdom will come”) to esoteric tongue-twisting (“whose might unmarred the maker’s mind unmade”) with intense flair. Best of all, when vocalist David Bower performed Darkhangel live he did it dressed as a 12ft-tall horned Pan on stilts while twirling a firework-spouting trident like a catherine wheel. He knew that a song this good deserves mad props.