While the actual Venom continue under the leadership of infamous bassist/vocalist Conrad ‘Cronos’ Lant, the return of the band’s classic guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn and drummer Tony ‘Abaddon’ Bray as Venom Inc. has caused quite a stir. Surely two thirds of the band’s massively influential and legendary formation is better than one? And to cap it all off, the band has been rounded out appropriately and authentically with Prime Evil-era bassist/vocalist Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan. It’s an exciting unit and the band has been going down a storm touring a classic Venom set. But playing live oldies is a no-brainer. Now the real test comes as the band offer up their first new material with their debut album Avé.
Venom Inc. perform like heroic metal veterans throughout. Mantas in particularly impressive form, peeling out genuinely thrilling guitar solos like it’s a piece of piss. They’re too seasoned to play with the filthy, bulldozer energy of old but as gutsy, trad metal goes much of this is hard to beat. It’s also hard to stick with. Songs like Avé Satanas and Preacher Man are average songs stretched way beyond their breaking point and, while it works better as an album track than as a single, Dein Fleisch causes a hefty lull at a crucial point.
With those three totally removed Avé could have been easily and massively improved, while coming in at the golden running time of 40min too. Ace biker metal tracks like Forged In Hell and The Evil Dead would get old heads banging again and raging thrashers like Metal We Bleed and Time To Die would give young Venom-worshipping upstarts like Midnight a run for their money too. But, as a complete listening experience, Avé is overlong, uneven and frustrating: the two thirds of Venom Inc. proving that it is possible to ‘ave too much of a good thing.
With original member Graham Oliver ousted from the band, Saxon had to quickly recruit a new guitarist in time for their tour to support the excellent Dogs Of War album. In stepped Doug Scarratt, ex-David Hasselhoff guitarist(!) and a friend of Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler. Coincidentally, Glockler had made his Saxon album debut on the 1982 live release The Eagle Has Landed and now his pal Doug made his on the sequel The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2. The use of the title evoked the band’s NWOBHM glory days, presumably in an attempt to signify to lapsed fans that the band had returned to metal. But it also bravely invited comparison between the 1996 lineup and the classic Saxon of yore.
But The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2 ducks the comparison by weighing heavily towards the band’s more recent material. In fact, with the exception of five songs, all of the material here is drawn from the band’s early-90s output. It sounds great and the band performs well. Doug Scarratt fits in seamlessly (showing off his chops on a tastefully shredded solo spot) and Biff Byford puts in a powerful, committed vocal performance despite sounding like he’s got a frog in his throat. In fact, he makes it work for him. The sound of him straining and pushing to hit the notes adds a real edge of excitement to tracks like Forever Free.
Although the new lineup acquits itself well, the focus on new tracks drags the album down, especially in the middle section. Ain’t Gonna Take It, Crash Dive and Can’t Stop Rockin’ are decent enough on their respective studio albums but they don’t cut it in a Saxon live set. But the second disc recovers well with Solid Ball Of Rock and Great White Buffalo proving effective live before some oldies-but-goodies see the album out on a high. The only blip in the older tracks is a version of Denim & Leather that’s marred by an overbearing guest spot from Yngwie J. Malmsteen who solos over everything that can possibly be soloed over.
Diehard fans/collectors will find the rare performances and historical value of The Eagle Has Landed – Part 2 make for a worthwhile release. But collectability aside, most listeners will find it a bit uninspiring and, while it certainly has its moments, it’s the least exciting of the Saxon live albums to this point: a solid but unspectacular start to the band’s post-Oliver career. The new lineup would have to impress mightily when they unleashed their next album.
Venom Inc. have announced that they will release their debut album Avé on August 11th 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records. In case you need a catch-up, Venom Inc. features two original members of Venom (guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn and drummer Anthony ‘Abaddon’ Bray) along with vocalist/bassist Tony ‘Demolition Man’ Dolan. The trio released three albums together as Venom in the late 80s/early 90s, most notably the fantastic and overlooked Prime Evil.
Although original bassist/vocalist Cronos currently performs and records under the Venom name, these three ex-members have been touring a classic Venom set under the name Venom Inc. since 2015. Now they have announced this album of new material and released a NSFW video for their new song Dein Fleisch.
It’s not the kind of old-school metal I was hoping for from them. Its down-tuned chugging and theatrical vocals are more Rammstein than Motörhead. It’s also a bit too slick and tight for my liking. I prefer my Venom out-of-control and filthy! If the rest of the album is more reminiscent of classic Venom then this might make for an interesting odd-one-out song. But if the rest of the album is like this then I’ll probably ‘ave to pass. What do you reckon?
Friday was a big new release day with a few new albums I’ve been looking forward to… so I had a bit of a buying extravaganza!
First up was the new Danzig album Black Laden Crown. I’ve been reading quite a lot of people talking about how “surprisingly good” this one is. Well, given that Deth Red Sabaoth was excellent, I’m one of the few people that thought Skeletons was good fun and… it’s GLENN F. DANZIG(!) I can’t say I’m all that surprised that this is good. The only thing that was causing me any doubt was the rather shite artwork. And even then, I’ve grown mysteriously fond of the fiery John Travolta on the back. Anyway, this is dark, moody and doomy with some killer grooves and riffs. Surprisingly good!
Next up, the new Avatarium album Hurricanes And Halos. This band has become a modern favourite of mine and, although it’s not fully sunk in yet, this album sounds like an interesting progression of their style. They’ve now dropped pretty much all of the Dehumanizer heft of the debut and gone full Uriah Heep, with tons of driving Hammond, heavy psychedelia and eeeasy livin’. Loads of stellar playing topped off with Jennie-Ann Smith’s wonderful voice.
I headed back from the record store happy and then remembered that the new Sólstafir album Berdreyminn was out too. So, I immediately rushed back out to Fopp to pick that up! It’s a lovely box set with umm… trinkets… and (more importantly) bonus tracks. It sounds like it’s going to be another winner from them, although it’ll take a few listens to fully reveal itself. Seems a bit more rocking than Ótta but still sweeping and lush. Not totally grabbing me yet though, more listens required.
While we’re on the subject of new arrivals I had a couple of cool releases delivered just a couple of days ago too. Hear No Evil have put out this new expanded remaster of the last (for now anyway) Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow album Stranger In Us All. This has always been a big gap in the collection so it’s great to finally have a copy.
And I also got this very exciting new Tygers Of Pan Tang box set The MCA Years which features the band’s NWOBHM-era albums (two of which star Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake axe legend John Sykes) and a bonus disc/booklet too. I’ve got a few albums on vinyl already but it’s nice to get the rest of the bands old albums. And there’s plenty of extra tracks and BBC stuff here to sweeten the deal. Caroline and Cherry Red both seem to have had the same idea to box up old NWOBHM albums lately. I heartily approve. Here are all the ones I’ve bought so far (I think this is all of them so far but let me know if I’ve missed any. They seem to be coming thick and fast!)
Well, that’s the lot. This was a great week of buying for me with three albums here that could all realistically appear on my AOTY list. I’m off to do some listening!
Saxon tried to learn their lesson from the rushed and patchy Forever Free album. They took a bit more time over the follow-up and headed back to Germany’s Karo Studio and the production team that proved so successful with Solid Ball Of Rock back in 1991. That album was a return to hard rocking form for the band but still found them moving forward, albeit in a fan-friendly fashion. While Solid Ball Of Rock was mostly full of good time AC/DC-style stompers, 1995’s Dogs Of War was an edgier affair and much more redolent of the band’s older style. But, for one member of the band, this album would be the last.
Fans of Saxon’s warrior epics like Power And The Glory and Battle Cry will delight in the opening title-track. It’s a total belter with a chunky, ballsy sound and an explosively thrilling chorus. It’s the albums best track and the only enduring classic here but the rest of the album is far from disappointing. If you know anything about Saxon you’ll know that when they start singing about vehicles it’s game on! And Burning Wheels and Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home) are loud and dirty transport rockers that take you right back to classic albums like Wheels Of Steel. And as well as recalling the classic days, Saxon also keep things fresh with some tastefully incorporated contemporary elements too: The Great White Buffalo is a moody, swampy epic and Don’t Worry has a rootsy, almost-grungy feel but climaxes with mesmerising guitar work that is pure, classic Saxon.
It’s impressive stuff but the album isn’t without its wobbles. Walking Through Tokyo is a blundering low point and a couple of enjoyable but essentially forgettable closing tracks find the album running out of steam. But it’s a minor quibble when there are so many great tracks here. Even Hold On, a potential mis-step with it’s Jovi-esque feel and Tommy & Gina lyrics, ends up being feelgood fun with a killer arena-ready chorus.
In a challenging era when British metal bands were generally falling by the wayside or falling apart, Saxon had rediscovered their fighting form, releasing their strongest, grittiest, most traditionally metal album since their glory days. But, as well as taking on the world, they were also squabbling among themselves. The relationship between frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Graham Oliver was faltering and some of the guitarist’s work on Dogs Of War had reportedly been re-recorded by a session guitarist. And when an unauthorised release of the band’s first Donington set was traced back to the guitarist, he was dismissed from the band. The loss of this talented musician and charismatic performer in such acrimonious circumstances was a blow to fans but they could take heart in the fact that – with this excellent, overlooked metal banger – Saxon were finally sounding like their old selves again.
It’s immediately evident from the Chuck Berry double-stops that kick off Holocaust’s 1981 debut album that this isn’t going to be as totally dark and metallic as the spooky cover and jagged band logo suggests. Only four songs on The Nightcomers fully live up to the nefarious promise of the front sleeve. Second track Death Or Glory has a chunky, stomping riff of evil, gurning magnificence. The title-track and Mavrock are excellent sludgy, doomy affairs with creepy, reverb-laden vocals and guitar lines. And the fourth is the album’s standout track, the metal-worshipping anthem Heavy Metal Mania. If you like metal at all then this song is simply impossible to resist.
Excluding those songs and the lively Nuge/UFO-style heavy boogie of opener Smokin’ Valves, what you’re left with isn’t quite as good… but it doesn’t matter. The riffs and solos are excellent throughout and the Edinburgh band has a knack with a catchy chorus so potentially uneventful tracks like Cryin’ Shame and Push It Around just manage to avoid being total filler (even if they are strangely feel-good next to the album’s heavier tracks). Even the often wobbly vocals of Gary Lettice have a naive charm and intriguingly pre-Hetfield tone and phrasing.
If you’re new to these guys you’re in luck as Metal Nation have just reissued the album on CD with the songs from three 12″ singles as bonus tracks. It’s a great package and superb example of the promising talent, youthful energy and total lack of contrivance that keeps people going back to the NWOBHM bands. Even if it’s not quite a top-tier entry from the genre, it’s not far off. An enjoyable and memorable hard rocker with a batch of tracks that are nothing less than stone-cold metal classics.
I’d like to calm the jets on the spending after my Record Store Day extravaganza but let’s take a look at today’s new releases and see if that’s likely to happen. The answer is: probably not.
Voivod – Rrröööaaarrr, Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross (Reissues)
Wouldn’t normally kick off with reissues but I’m pretty excited about these. And no need to worry about splashing the cash here because I’ve paid for them already via the Pledge campaign (now closed). Don’t worry if you missed out though, because these are now on general sale. Vinyl versions or hugely-expanded deluxe 2CD/DVD sets with bonus tracks and live footage aplenty. Prices look very reasonable for the deluxe versions and all of these have been out-of-print for donkeys so reissues are overdue and welcome.
(And Noise Records have just announced another pledge campaign too. This time for Kreator with reissues of their first four albums Endless Pain, Pleasure To Kill, Extreme Aggression and Terrible Certainty. They aren’t as extras-laden as the Voivod reissues and none of the albums are especially hard to find either but Extreme Aggression and Terrible Certainty come with bonus discs and there’s the obligatory liner notes, vinyl editions and signed copies etc…)
Skyclad – Forward Into The Past
These innovative folk metallers have been a huge, essential part of my musical upbringing but since the split with frontman Martin Walkyier I’ve not really paid much attention to their movements. I did check out their last album In The… All Together and found it was a bit mixed so I’m not hugely excited about this. But they’re still enough of a name for me to at least check it out online. And the return of classic-era guitarist Dave Pugh is appealing too.
Witchfynde – Divine Victims (Box Set)
The reissues keep on coming… There’s been a lot of welcome NWOBHM reissues lately (Samson, Holocaust, Savage all spring to mind) and here’s another. This time Witchfynde get the same box set treatment that Samson enjoyed from Hear No Evil Recordings. I don’t think any of these albums are as difficult to find as the Samson ones were but it’s still a great value set: three albums with bonus tracks and a booklet from NWOBHM expert John Tucker. I’ll be buying this at some point.
Cirith Ungol – King of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)
The guys at Metal Blade follow up last year’s tasty reissue of Paradise Lost with another Cirith Ungol deluxe. This time it’s the band’s second album King Of The Dead, here expanded with live tracks and a live DVD or you can get a vinyl edition if you prefer (although it was reissued on vinyl a while back already). The CD/DVD edition looks like a very cool set though. I approve.
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian Live
Prog-metallers Fates Warning release this weeks obligatory live set. Their performances celebrating the 30th anniversary of the classic album getting a release in various formats. The jewel in the crown being the 4CD/DVD/BR set that has their two festival appearances included.
Elsewhere, the River Runs Red line-up of Life Of Agony return with A Place Where There’s No More Pain. Sounds like decent, heavy alternative rock for people that like that kind of thing. There’s more NWOBHM from Cloven Hoof with Who Mourns For The Morning Star. They’re a band I don’t know anything about but the new songs I heard sounded fun! And last, but not least, we have American hardcore terrors Terror with their intriguing new EP The Walls Will Fall.
And that’s about the lot for me. This week is more about the reissues for me but there’s definitely some intrigue among the new albums too. Nothing I’d run out and buy but definitely stuff that I’ll check out online. Let me know what you think about this week’s offerings. Anything you’re excited about that isn’t here? Any startling omissions? Let me know and, until next time… happy hunting.