Category Archives: NWOBHM

Samson – Survivors (Review)

Samson – Survivors (1979)

Samson’s 1979 debut was one of the first albums to come from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. But the hasty Londoners weren’t quite studio ready yet and Survivors was a half-decent effort at best. Bassist Chris Aylmer and vocalist Bruce Bruce are pictured on the cover but weren’t actually in the band when Survivors was recorded so guitarist Paul Samson handled vocals and Gillan’s John McCoy added some heavy help: playing bass as well as co-writing and producing. And the album is at its strongest when it picks up some of that gonzo Gillan-esque edge. It’s Not As Easy As It Seems, Big Brother, Koz and Six Foot Under are all boisterous highlights. But the rest of the album is dated and forgettable and Samson and McCoy both fall short in their vocal and production roles. Still, for all its faults, it has an ordinary Joe charm that captures the spirit of the emerging movement. Later, with Aylmer and Bruce onboard, Samson would power up and hit the NWOBHM head on. With biceps of steel.

(Buyer note: Most reissues add alternative versions with improved sound and Bruce Bruce on vocals. Essential!)

My copy – 2001 reissue on Sanctuary Records

Def Leppard – The Def Leppard EP (Review)

Record Store Day Edition

Def Leppard roared onto the UK metal scene with this self-titled EP. Hard to imagine now, but the squillion-selling stars of Hysteria fame had to release this on their own label Bludgeon Riffola after paying for the recording with borrowed money and recording it with borrowed drummer, Frank Noon. It was the kind of DIY move that became a big factor in the growing New Wave of British Heavy Metal and The Def Leppard EP put the Sheffield band right at the forefront of the movement. Before the term NWOBHM had even been coined!

Released in January 1979 the EP features early versions of Ride Into The Sun, Getcha Rocks Off and The Overture: all songs that would be re-recorded later, with varying results. A later Hysteria-era remake of Ride Into The Sun improved on the original’s clunky vocals but that bouncy riff is still killer here and it’s fun to hear Lep in such naïve form. Getcha Rocks Off and The Overture would appear again on the band’s debut album On Through The Night but these are the definitive takes with their lively hot-of-the-press feel. The Overture in particular is a highlight, top epic-metal cobblers that puts the album version in the shade.

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None of this is going to blow you away but it’s a fun, interesting listen and must-have for Lep fans. It’s been released in various vinyl editions that might set you back now but it has just been made available digitally for the first time EVER so there has never been a better time to getcha rocks off with this excellent piece of metal history.

Venom Inc. – Avé (Review)

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.

Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed Part II (Review)

Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed Part 2 (1996)

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.

[Saxon – Solid Ball Of Rock]

Saxon – Dogs Of War (Review)

Saxon – Dogs Of War (1995)

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 enjoyable, overlooked metal banger – Saxon were finally sounding like their old selves again.

Holocaust – The Nightcomers (Review)

Holocaust – The Nightcomers + 9 Reissue (Metal Nation)

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.

Savage – Let it Loose (Song Review)

“We’re not here to read your rights”

Savage’s relatively late debut album (1983’s Loose N’ Lethal) might make them seem like one of the few New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands that couldn’t lay a claim to being an influence on the mighty Metallica. But, far from being Johnny-Come-Latelies, Savage had already been around for a while. By 1981 they had already released a demo, a single and made two appearances on a compilation album Scene of the Crime. One of those compilation tracks was the classic Let it Loose and it soon made its way into the hands of, you guessed it, Lars Ulrich. Only appearing in early Metallica live sets and on a demo tape, it’s not one of the more famous or celebrated Metallica NWOBHM covers but there’s a strong whiff of the thrash giants’ early style here. And although ‘tallica didn’t exactly pass it off as one of their own they weren’t in a hurry to draw attention to the fact that it was a cover either. And, if any listeners thought it was one of their own original songs, that was fine by them too. Have a listen to the 1981 Scene of the Crime version of the track here to hear why.

[Savage – Let it Loose]

Omen – Be My Wench (Song Review)

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“Bearing the gifts of sex and wine”

Tired of crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and all that? Why not let off some steam with Omen’s Be My Wench? This is top metal cobblers, it’s got a chorus that you’ll never get out of your head and it’s also got the kind of raunchy lyrics that most po-faced modern bands wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. But if you’re going to do Conan metal there needs to be some shagging in there. It’s the barbarian way.

Saxon – Forever Free (Review)

Saxon - Forever Free (1992)
Saxon – Forever Free (1992)

Saxon had enjoyed a return-to-form with 1991’s Solid Ball of Rock and moved fast to keep the momentum going, releasing the follow-up Forever Free just over one year later. As well as hurrying, the band also skimped on costs, recording in Vienna with unknown, cut-price producer Urwin Hersig. It probably comes as no surprise, then, that Forever Free sounded rushed and cheap.

For the most part, Forever Free comes across like a collection of leftovers from Solid Ball of Rock. It continues that album’s mix of Euro-metal and AC/DC raunch but many of the tracks stray too far into forgettable territory. Songs like Cloud Nine, Get Down and Dirty, Grind and the cyber-metal cover of I Just Want to Make Love to You sound like the band are jamming out ideas: working versions rather than the finished product. This isn’t helped by the sound: much of Forever Free sounds like a demo, a decent demo but a demo all the same.

The alternative UK Games Workshop cover... released on Warhammer Records!
The alternative UK Games Workshop cover… released on Warhammer Records!

On the positive side, these weaknesses give the album a sense of charm. The under-cooked tracks have a playfulness about them and the loose, jamming approach throws up some truly inspired playing from the Quinn/Oliver guitar duo (check out the hot solo on Night Hunter). And, while the bungled production wasn’t going to cut it for casual listeners and airplay, it results in the rawest, most metallic album the band had put out in years.

There are only a couple of real keepers though. The title track is the album’s enduring classic, a “wind in your hair” biker anthem that turns the clock right back to the band’s classic NWOBHM days. Iron Wheels is an enchanting folky strum and, if the lyrics sound familiar, it’s because you already heard them on Destiny’s Calm Before the Storm. The blue-collar imagery works much better here in this rustic setting and makes for one of the albums more affecting and creative tracks. The albums best, and most overlooked, deep cut is the stunning Hole in the Sky, with its spellbinding chorus and Ozzy-ish riffing.

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Back cover of 2013 reissue

Forever Free is a mixed bag that only committed Saxon fans will enjoy. It’s not a disaster and, unlike previous Saxon missteps, at least it sticks to the band’s core style. But it is still a misstep and did real damage to the band’s regeneration. Coming off the back of its well-received predecessor, Forever Free sold well but this rough and patchy effort ensured that many of those customers wouldn’t be back for more. Saxon had lost a crucial battle in the war to re-establish themselves but, as their next album would prove, these old dogs weren’t about to surrender any time soon.

Saxon – Solid Ball of Rock (Review)

Saxon - Solid Ball of Rock (1991)
Saxon – Solid Ball of Rock (1991)

The 90s were a challenging time for classic metal acts but, for Saxon, the decade got off to a promising start. The “10 Years of Denim & Leather” back-to-basics tour rejuvenated the band. Aiming to carry the momentum into the studio, the band signed with Virgin Records and headed to Germany to record their comeback album Solid Ball of Rock.

Released in 1991, Solid Ball of Rock finds Saxon returning to a heavier, err… ballsier style. It opens with its title-track and most enduring classic: the band taking Bram Tchaikovsky’s Jerry-Lee Lewis inspired rock n’ roller and giving it an AC/DC-grade kick up the arse (with a cool nod to The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in its Faith Healer-esque intro). It’s followed by the equally thrilling Altar of the Gods. Bolstered by the writing contribution* and forceful playing of new bassist Nibbs Carter, it’s a belter of a track with an aggressive, metallic approach that recalls the classic days of Power & the Glory while also pointing the way forward to the band’s future power metal leanings.

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It’s an encouraging opening but doubt sets in with Requiem (We Will Remember). The album’s only single, it maintains the feel-good vibe but its sentimentality, U2 jangle and “whoa-ohs” don’t sit well with me. But it proves to be the album’s only real wobble: the remaining tracks alternating between straightforward, open-chord rock n’ roll like I Just Can’t Get Enough and I’m On Fire and top-notch galloping Priest-y metal like Lights in the Sky and Baptism of Fire. The rock n’ roll tracks are a bit disposable by Saxon standards but have an enjoyably bouncy vitality while the metal tracks add crucial depth and grit with the epic, enigmatic Refugee adding class to the album’s late stages. It’s a strong combination of styles and a cohesive collection.

Back Cover - Demon reissue with bonus tracks
Back Cover – Demon reissue with bonus tracks

The overall sense with Solid Ball of Rock is of a band rediscovering their spark and spirit. Sticking to the basics but simultaneously mapping out new directions. The album did great business for the band and, although there were still challenging times ahead, Solid Ball of Rock is a pivotal Saxon album: a joyous, rocking reboot.

*Nibbs’ remarkable dominance of the writing credits here turns out to be an exaggeration. With litigious former managers breathing down Saxon’s neck they protected their royalties by crediting most of the songs to Nibbs: the only member of the band with no links to their past contracts. Crafty buggers.

Mah copy
Mah copy