Category Archives: Genre

Ian Gillan – Toolbox (Review)

Ian Gillan - Toolbox (1991)
Ian Gillan – Toolbox (1991)

‘Everywhere I go there’s bad news on the radio’.

In 1989 the bad news was that Ian Gillan* had been given the heave-ho from the (formerly) reunited Deep Purple. He wasted no time getting his career back on track, releasing the smooth AOR-styled Naked Thunder in 1990 just before Deep Purple returned with their own Slaves and Masters (with Joe Lynn Turner in place of the ousted Ian). Perhaps their return brought out Gillan’s competitive spirit because with his next release, 1991’s Toolbox, he got hard and dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty…

A Man Shaped Woman
A Dancing Nylon Shirt

The lush keyboards of Naked Thunder were gone. Gillan’s new band was a guitar-driven power trio with a sturdy American rhythm section of Brett Bloomfield on bass and Y&T’s Leonard Haze on the drums. Producer Chris Tsangarides did an excellent job with the crisp and warm reverb-heavy sound. Only guitarist Steve Morris remained from Naked Thunder but in a more starring role with his Van Halen riffs and colourful solos all over the new album. While the musical backing is generic it’s also vibrant and lively, inspiring a fantastic Gillan vocal performance full of personality, echoing octave-defying screams, lusty exhortations and witty, playful lyrics. Mostly about shagging. Deep Purple never got this party-hearty but there is still some familiar Purple-esque heft in the bluesy Hang Me Out to Dry and Dirty Dog. The two-part Dancing Nylon Shirt saga is more oddball with its groovy, churning riff although the second part edges a bit on the silly side. And although Toolbox is a light-hearted album overall, there are serious moments like the up-tempo Candy Horizon and Pictures of Hell which are topped with catchy Maiden-esque guitar melodies and maniacal singing. Even the ballad Don’t Hold Me Back has a sense of macho defiance, an album highlight with its lush, surf mood and building chorus. But the album is absolutely priceless when it’s just straight up rock n’ rolling fun: the title-track, Bed of Nails and Everything I Need invoke giddy, breathless joy, blasting your worries away.

When it was released, Rock journalist Chris Welch said that if Toolbox wasn’t ‘a huge hit then maybe Rock really is dead’. Alas, Toolbox wasn’t a hit and Gillan was soon back in Purple, the battle raging on. Despite Welch’s dire prognostications Rock managed to live on and so did Toolbox. I always had it down as competent but entertaining but, over the years, I’ve enjoyed it more and more. It’s aged well. It’s the sound of a band that are loving what they do, and one of Rock’s greatest singers on brilliant form. It’s become one of my reset buttons any time my music listening feels uninspired, the kind of life-affirming fun that never dies.

*Worth pointing out that, although the ‘Gillan’ band logo is used on the cover, this release is considered and billed as an Ian Gillan solo album.

Death SS – Zombie/Terror (7″ Single – Review)

It's fun to slay at the YMCA
It’s fun to slay at the Y.M.C.A.

Considering the huge impact Italy has had on the world of horror movies since the 60s, it’s hardly surprising that the first Italian Heavy Metal band was steeped in the sepulchral atmosphere of the graveyard. Death SS were formed in 1977 by guitarist Paul Chain (the “Death”) and vocalist Steve Sylvester (The “Vampire” whose initials also provided the “SS” of the band name). The band was rounded out by guitarist Claud Galley (The “Zombie”), bassist Danny Hughes (the “Mummy”) and the superbly-monikered Thomas Hand Chaste (the “Werewolf”) on drums. If the Village People ever went Hammer Horror they would probably end up looking something like Death SS.

Although they toiled in obscurity, Death SS still managed to release demos and some privately pressed singles. The Zombie/Terror 7” is the earliest of those singles, an extremely rare release that has now been exhumed and reissued by Svart Records. A-Side Zombie is a 1979 demo version recorded at a rehearsal and B-Side Terror is a rough live take from 1980. Both are horrible, crudely performed and even more crudely recorded. But an inspired and creative magick cuts through the sonic fog. Naively simple but ominous riffs are topped with chiming, ethereally spooky guitar melodies and the vocal hooks in both songs are immediate and melodic enough to endure Sylvester’s cheese-grater vocals. The ugly rawness of the production and singing also strengthens the dark, occult atmosphere: a method that many Black Metal bands would make a virtue of years later.

You could draw style connections via the Italians from Killer-era Alice Cooper through to the Black Metal genre but Death SS don’t really sound like anyone else. Their otherworldly eeriness, melodic nous and the murky, macabre shroud of sound makes for a darkly seductive listen that I’d strongly recommend to fans of occult/horror-themed Metal. Superior versions of both these songs can be found on the essential The Story of Death SS 1977 – 1984 compilation so newcomers should start there. But for existing fans this single is a great opportunity to own more of this obscure band’s rare and early work and to hear their first lumbering steps from beyond the grave.

Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed (Review)

Saxon - The Eagle Has Landed (1982)
Saxon – The Eagle Has Landed (1982)

The “classic trilogy” of Saxon albums that culminated with Denim and Leather had been a commercial and critical success. The band was poised for the big-time and a live album was proposed as just the thing to launch them to the level of the stupidly successful. But in order to do a live album, you need a tour and with only two days to go before the opening show of their Denim and Leather trek of the UK and Europe (with no less than Ozzy’s Blizzard supporting), their drummer Pete Gill was out of the band due to a hand injury. It was a disaster on the eve of such a critical and massive tour.

Enter Nigel Glockler: a friend of the band’s manager David Poxon. Nigel was drumming for Toyah at that point but was a hard-hitter with prog chops and a love of metal. Remarkably, in less than two days he was able to learn and perform Saxon’s entire 19-song set and kept the show on the road until Gill recovered, even performing at a show he had originally bought a ticket to see!* By the time Gill was able to return, Saxon had decided to hold on to Glockler as their full-time tub-thumper. So, as if learning 19 songs in two days wasn’t enough, Nigel would be appearing on the band’s hotly-anticipated first live album. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end.

The Saxon live show - brought to you by Tea
(L to R) Graham Oliver, Steve Dawson, Biff Byford, Nigel Glockler and Paul Quinn

19,320 teabags later the Denim and Leather tour was over and The Eagle Has Landed live album hit the shelves in May 1982. It captures the sweaty, beery atmosphere of a NWOBHM-era gig. Saxon sound enthusiastic, tireless and tight. Each member is at the top of their game. Biff sings with charismatic energy and throws in some choice banter (“I wanna see people dying from exhaustion”) and the chemistry of the Oliver/Quinn guitar duo is palpable with the choppy, jousting guitars panned to each side. The rhythm section steals the show though: Glockler’s expressive, precision drumming charges the music with a fresh dynamism and, with his forceful, driving bass playing, Steve Dawson proves to be the pumping heart and soul of the band, especially on the faster numbers like Heavy Metal Thunder.

Saxon’s surfeit of brilliant material easily justified a lavish double-LP set but, unfortunately, Saxon’s label Carrere skimped and whittled it down to a miserly single album. Classic songs like And the Bands Played On, Denim and Leather, Frozen Rainbow and Dallas 1pm are inexplicably missing.** It’s a missed opportunity but the tracks we do get are hardly filler. The first side is absolutely top-drawer, opening with three of Saxon’s transport tunes: Motorcycle Man, 747(Strangers in the Night) and the definitive version of Princess of the Night. Side 2 falters slightly with some weaker song choices in 20,000ft and Never Surrender but Wheels of Steel is a victorious joy with a chummy singalong led by the charming Byford and the album closes explosively as Fire In the Sky and Machine Gun fly by in a furious blur culminating in wild guitar pyro and double-bass drumming.

The Eagle Has Landed manages to be essential and frustrating all at once. The performances are stellar, many of them definitive and it’s a great introduction to the band (I can personally vouch for that). It continued Saxon’s commendable run of hits in Europe but the omission of vital tracks stopped it being the career-boosting milestone or the all-time classic it should have been. But, nevertheless, it’s a street-level, no-holds barred barrage of an album that atmospherically and honestly captures a gritty and exciting time in metal history. And that’s worth the price of entry alone. It also marks the end of an era for Saxon: by the time The Eagle Has Landed hit the shelves a fellow British metal band had stolen their thunder, taking the NWOBHM to a massively successful and chart-topping conclusion. Saxon were no longer the scene leaders: their number was up. The number was six hundred and sixty six.

*Nigel has never received a refund for his ticket.

**This wasted opportunity has been satisfyingly rectified with the 2006 CD Reissue which adds six recordings from the era as bonus tracks. Still no Denim and Leather though.

Saxon – Denim and Leather (Review)

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Saxon – Denim and Leather (1981)

They might have released two stone-cold classics in 1980 but Saxon weren’t about to put their feet up. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was now in full flow and Saxon were clearly unwilling to relinquish their position as the commercial hot property of the movement. Released in 1981, hot off the back of their considerable success the year before, Saxon’s fourth album Denim and Leather was a celebration. Not just of the band’s success but of their fans and the resurgent metal scene as a whole.

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Produced by Nigel Thomas, Denim and Leather is less abrasive than the previous albums but still sonic meat and potatoes. It’s topped and tailed with two of the greatest songs Saxon would ever produce. Continuing their penchant for offbeat lyrical subjects and songs about forms of transport, opening track Princess of the Night tells the tale of a steam train delivering mail through ice and snow. (You’ll have to suspend your disbelief at a British train actually running during such inclement weather). It’s a darting, precision rocker with a riff you can’t believe no-one thought of before and a joyously bluesy guitar solo from Paul Quinn. Closing track Denim and Leather is a genuine and charming tribute to the metal fans that put Saxon on the map, highlighting the band’s down-to-earth attitude. It’s a stomping anthem with a huge and irresistible chorus and one of the most memorable opening lines in metal history: “Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst?”

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After the superb opening the first side is a mixed-bag. Never Surrender is vintage Saxon and follows Princess of the Night in bruising style but the quality starts to trail off. Rough and Ready is a stodgily unconvincing hard-man boast and Play it Loud is a flat stab at a party anthem. Side 2 immediately gets the album back on track with And the Bands Played On, another of the album’s outstanding victories. Despite its musical similarity to 747 (Strangers in the Night) it has its own unique identity and appeal: a feel-good ode to the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington. As with the title track, Saxon’s everyman charm works wonders: rather than singing about how amazing their own performance was, they celebrate the festival itself, the attending horde and name-check other bands on the bill. It’s got simple, memorable guitar riffs and Biff Byford’s breathless delivery is a joy “Will it rain, will it snow, will it shine? We don’t know” and it’s one of those classics you never tire of hearing. Midnight Rider continues the musical lap of honour, recounting the band’s early tours of the States with the rolling tempo and gear-changing chords perfectly capturing the excitement of the road trip. The album’s most ripping number, the apocalyptic Fire in the Sky, and the triumphant title-track finish the album on a high.

Along with Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather is often thought of as the third in Saxon’s “classic trilogy”. As is often the case with trilogies, the final part is the weakest of the three but it’s still a must-hear with some of the band’s most accomplished songwriting and the guitar duo of Graham Oliver/Paul Quinn at a lively peak. The highlights are magnificent metal classics and far outweighs any filler to elevate the album to star status. It was their second highest charting album in the UK so Saxon’s position at the head of the NWOBHM pack remained secure and just two years on from their debut release they already had a discography and a following worthy of celebration. The dam was well and truly burst.

The HMO Top 10 Reissues & Compilations of 2014

2014

I’ve already agonised over my favourite new music of the past year but regular readers will know I’m a big fan of reissues and archive releases. And, as usual (or increasingly?) 2014 found plenty of old music being repackaged and resold with the usual bells, whistles and (hopefully) some unheard or rare tracks added.

So I would like to present my Top 10 archive/reissue/compilation releases of 2014. Naturally my personal listening moods and enjoyment played a huge part in my choices but I’ve also weighed up some other crucial factors in deciding these:

  • Bonus tracks – A big factor, especially if I’m re-purchasing albums I’ve bought in the past, so reasonably worthwhile reissues like Hear No Evil’s reissues of Motorhead’s 1916 and Deep Purple’s Slaves and Masters didn’t quite make the cut.
  • Curation and selection – I can forgive a lack of bonus material if the reissued material is relatively rare or interesting in the first place. So, despite me absolutely adoring it, Mayhem’s Grand Declaration of War reissue missed the cut as it was already readily available and not in particular need of a reissue.
  • Sound quality – This is always arguable and I’m no hi-fi purist but extra points are awarded if I feel reissues are sonic improvements on previous versions. Although they narrowly failed the cut its worth mentioning Earache’s “Full Dynamic Range” releases here. They sound excellent and I hope other labels will follow their example.
  • Value for money and packaging – Generally I tend to shy away from expensive “super-deluxe” affairs but I do appreciate it when a particularly plush or expansive release manages to avoid breaking the bank. Bon Jovi’s New Jersey box and the Super Duper Alice Cooper set are good examples of expansive and luxurious, but still affordable, sets that didn’t quite make the cut.

So now that I’ve got all that off my chest…

THE HMO TOP REISSUES AND COMPILATIONS OF 2014

71Gkks5PFPL._SL1181_NUMBER TEN: KISS – Love Gun (Deluxe Edition)

Classic album bolstered with nice packaging, liner notes and an extra disc of bonus tracks. I’ve always banged on about how KISS should be doing more archive releases so I had to include this solid reissue here. If they had pushed the bonus track boat out a bit more it might have placed higher but I still hope there’s more where this came from and if their other albums get this treatment I’ll be a happy bunny.

HT RLOLLAIHNUMBER NINE: Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance – Ooh La La: an Island Harvest

Quality 2CD anthology from the ex-Small Faces/The Faces legend. Many of his solo albums are hard to come by now so this was a welcome release for me. And the inclusion of a BBC session makes it a worthwhile buy for fans of longer standing. This was my first exposure to his post-Faces output and it is charming and heart-warming stuff.

2014-04-06 14.58.15-1NUMBER EIGHT: Pantera – Far Beyond Driven (20th Anniversary Edition)

I’ve been enjoying the previous Pantera reissues and looked forward to this immensely. It’s missing B-Sides from the album’s era which is a shame but it’s still a great sounding reissue with a fantastic live show as a bonus disc. This caught me in the right mood and got heavy rotation.

2014-05-11 14.06.50-1NUMBER SEVEN: Coroner – Death Cult

I’m very excited that this Swiss band’s incredible demo has been given an official band-approved release by the No Remorse label. A couple of bonus tracks sweeten the deal but it’s fantastic to have such a great sounding copy of this that plays at the right speed! Not enough people know how incredible Coroner are and on this demo they are also fronted by no less than Hellhammer/Celtic Frost/Triptykon legend Tom G. Warrior himself.

A1SiG3X7H8L._SL1500_NUMBER SIX: The Allman Brothers Band – The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings (6CD Box Set)

I wavered about this but I’m glad I bought it. It’s absolutely fascinating to hear the many shows and alternate takes that were whittled down to the perfect At Fillmore East album. I wouldn’t replace the original but this is well worth hearing if you’re a fan of it. It’s a very thorough and plush package for the agreeable price. A great follow-up to 2013’s excellent Brothers and Sisters reissue.

2014-05-11 13.55.16-1NUMBER FIVE: Various Artists – Wayfaring Strangers: The Darkscorch Canticles (2LP Set)

This superbly curated labour of love from The Numero Group is the only vinyl release to make my list. It’s a charming and fun set of underground US Zep and Sabbath worship from the 70s. It’s very rare stuff and a must-have for fans of Stoner Rock and proto-Metal. The appeal of the music is further enhanced by the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired greatness of the packaging which you can see and read more about it here… with added Lego!

51P6CB1WE7LNUMBER FOUR: Demilich – 20th Adversary of Emptiness (2CD Deluxe)

Demilich’s only studio album Nespithe is a stunning Death Metal masterpiece and receives a well-deserved reissue here. It comes with a brilliantly designed and entertaining booklet and absolutely tons of bonus tracks. It’s a truly thorough and well-researched release but special mention has to made of the stunning sound quality too. Congratulations to Svart Records for this: it should be the benchmark for all future Metal reissues.

Christ noooo!
Christ noooo!

NUMBER THREE: Various Artists – One and All, Together for Home (2CD Deluxe)

A fascinating compilation with an interesting theme: Metal bands playing their native country’s Folk music. A lot of thought and attention went into this one and it’s a mix of old and new. Some new offerings from the likes of Winterfylleth and Primordial made this a must-buy but it also introduced me to some great bands like Ava Inferi and Haive that I may not have discovered otherwise.

712mqCedbLL._SL1500_NUMBER TWO: Queen – Live at the Rainbow ’74 (2CD Deluxe)

Not one, but two powerful live recordings from Queen’s early years. I love Queen so any live release of theirs is going to be up my street but it’s especially inspiring to hear them at this early stage playing the heavy, epic tracks like Father to Son and Ogre Battle. I love it when the classic bands I love release archive live material and this release enjoyed repeated listens and kicked off a period of full-on Queen worship.

71-rKQCjI3L._SL1500_NUMBER ONE: Ulver – Trolsk Sortmetall 1993-97 (5CD Box Set)

Ulver’s first three studios are classics of provocative and adventurous Black Metal and they have been done full justice with this stunning box set by Century Media. The three albums alone are must-haves and personal favourites but there are also some tantalising rarities here too and it’s all wrapped up in a stunning box set with a fantastic hardback book with essays, photos and translated lyrics. One of my more expensive standalone purchases of the year but still great value for five superb discs and a seriously luxurious package. It’s a release that effortlessly satisfies all my criteria for a top-drawer reissue. Buy it while you can.

The HMO Top Albums of 2014

2014

Welcome to the inaugural HMO best albums of 2014 list! At the beginning of the year I read a great article by Keith Kahn-Harris on the challenges of musical abundance in the world of Metal. It proved prophetic as 2014 seemed to be absolutely overflowing with highly-rated Metal releases. Even with my attempts to limit my music-buying I found it difficult to whittle my favourites down to a Top 10. There were many albums I enjoyed that narrowly failed to make the cut (particular apologies to Dead Congregation, Winterfylleth, Vallenfyre, Judas Priest and Space Ace).

I concede that it was a good and plentiful year for music but I did feel that in comparison to the stellar 2013, much of what I was hearing was a little disappointing. But, as with 2013, I found the latter stages of the year produced the best releases and I’m now feeling much more positive about the year and its musical output. And, despite the tough decisions, I had a brilliant time figuring out my list: it was a really enjoyable way to review and re-evaluate my purchases. I found myself enjoying albums I’d written off and also finding I now had no time for some that I previously enjoyed. But, in either case, the process made it feel like none of my musical purchases had been a waste.

So without further ado, let the run-down commence! And, as always, please chime in with your thoughts in the comments section.

THE HMO TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2014

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NUMBER TEN: Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral

Teaser photos of a red telephone box and a beard signified the unexpected return of Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes – sorry, Old Nick – to guttural Death Metal vocals when he joined Bloodbath this year. It’s deeply satisfying to hear him pulling off this type of vocal performance after all these years and Bloodbath responded with a celebratory blast of an album. Following this and PL’s Gregor MacKintosh’s excellent DM forays with Vallenfyre, it’ll be very interesting to see where Paradise Lost go from here.

[Bloodbath – Church of Vastitas]

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NUMBER NINE: The Scintilla Project – The Hybrid

A sci-fi concept album and collaborative project involving Saxon’s Biff Byford, Hell’s Andy Sneap and some guys from Balance of Power (who, I have to admit, I’ve never heard). It has a Progressive Metal vibe but based around catchy, melodic songs and riffs. This is a great set of moody Heavy Rock with spacey sounds and lively lead guitar. It’s especially great to hear Biff singing over a different musical approach to Saxon and I have even more respect for him after hearing his charismatic and dynamic performance here.

[The Scintilla Project – Beware the Children]

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NUMBER EIGHT: Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

Even as a relative newcomer to the band’s post-Mysteriis career I have learned to expect the unexpected with these guys. And on their fifth full-length release the last thing I was expecting was a lesson in straight-up Extreme Metal. While this approach could have proved disappointing I found it refreshing and the strength of Esoteric Warfare is in the delivery, an abhorrent maelstrom topped with Atilla Csihar’s remarkable vocal weirdness. But basically I love any album where the word “conquer” is pronounced “conkwer.”

[Mayhem – Psywar]

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NUMBER SEVEN: The Wounded Kings – Consolamentum

Another big year for Doom Metal, especially if it’s retro, occult-themed and female fronted. Kudos to Devonshire’s retro, occult-themed and female-fronted doomsters The Wounded Kings for coming out ahead of the pack with this confident and impressive release. Cathedral-grade heaviness, adventurous song-structures, expert pacing and Sharie Neyland’s moreish wailing make this my Doom pick of the year and a band to watch.

[The Wounded Kings – Lost Bride]

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NUMBER SIX: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

Tom G. Warrior returns with yet another “fierce boulder of abhorrence” improving and sharpening the style already established with their excellent debut Eparistera Daimones. Melana Chasmata proves that Tom is still a unique musical personality at the top of his monumentally heavy game. Sadly, the renowned artist H.R. Giger passed away not long after its release. Triptykon’s dark, musical art and the stylish use of Giger’s “Mordor VII” as the album’s artwork is a fitting tribute.

[Triptykon – Tree of Suffocating Souls]

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NUMBER FIVE: Sólstafir – Ótta

These Icelandic rockers were one of my most exciting discoveries this year. This dense, lush album hit the spots that Anathema’s disappointing Distant Satellites failed to. It’s all in Icelandic but I’m told that it’s a concept album about the different parts of the day which puts it in the same wheelhouse as the awesome Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues. As elegant, stormy and elemental as the excellent album cover suggests.

[Sólstafir – Lágnætti]

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NUMBER FOUR: Grand Magus – Triumph and Power

An album that crept up in my appreciation as the year progressed! I was initially a bit underwhelmed by its mild-mannered delivery but as the year wore on it proved remarkably resilient: charming warrior Metal that proved to be right up my Manowar-loving street. Strong songwriting, JB’s confident and personable vocals and the earnest sword and sorcery vibe make this the best traditional Heavy Metal album of the year. But if they want to raid the ultimate top prize in future they’re going to have to get a bit more bloodthirsty.

[Grand Magus – Steel Versus Steel]

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NUMBER THREE: Behemoth – The Satanist

Despite being one of the first major Metal releases of the year Behemoth’s The Satanist is still enjoying a high profile and appearing on many end-of-year lists. And its reception has been well-deserved: it’s a startling statement of intent by a band coming back strong from life-threatening illness and enough controversy to scare off Blackie Lawless. A deeply personal and fully realized vision, performed with heart and conviction and enhanced with fantastic production and artwork, The Satanist is an unholy monument to blasphemy and defiance.

[Behemoth – Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel]

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NUMBER TWO: Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen

With their eighth album I wondered if Ireland’s Primordial might begin to sink into a comfortable groove of diminishing returns. But full credit to the band for still having the will to excel, Where Greater Men Have Fallen is a stunning release. In addition to the rolling and beefy Pagan riffs there is a welcome Freezing Moon-style Black Metal atmosphere in Babel’s Tower and the band unleash some primitive savagery on The Seed of Tyrants. A. A. Nemtheanga also continues to be one of Metal’s most compelling and intelligent vocalists and lyricists, expressing a wide range of emotions and enigmatic material bound up in the weight and struggles of history.

[Primordial – Babel’s Tower]

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NUMBER ONE: Voices – London

The only band on my list to have also released an album last year (the excellently-titled From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain) Voices return with their even-better sophomore album London. A rich and harrowing concept album set in the titular city it chronicles a character’s descent into madness, jealousy and sexual obsession. Whereas much Black Metal seems to aim for the ancient and/or the rural, the music here is an entirely urban modern hell: claustrophobic and crowded. Pulverising, mechanistic assaults jolt into tranquil, proggy sections and intriguing narrative passages. It’s a genuinely unhinged masterpiece and a magical, cinematic album that has enthralled me with each listen.

[Voices – The Fuck Trance]

The podium!
The podium!

Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law (Review)

Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law (1980)
Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law (1980)

Heavy metal was a big deal in 1980 and so were Saxon. Keen to capitalise on the success of Wheels Of Steel and its accompanying singles, the band were strong-armed into the studio to write and record the follow-up. It could have been a rush-job disaster but the haste gave Saxon a no-frills, street-level edge. It was just four months from the release of Wheels Of Steel and Saxon already had another all-time classic album on the shelves with 1980’s Strong Arm Of The Law.

This album does not hang about as Saxon motör through one banger after another. Heavy Metal Thunder is a blazing ode to everyone’s favourite music, To Hell And Back Again alternates melodic verses with a charging chorus and the high-flying 20,000ft is a relentless live mainstay. The excellent Hungry Years adds a bit of variety with its heavy blues shuffle, the bouncy Sixth Form Girls is a working-class vignette with more intelligent lyrics than the title would suggest and the title-track is pure classic rock with a cool sliding riff and swaggering vocals. But the album’s most classic track is saved for last as Dallas 1pm tells the tale of the JFK assassination with its tense Faith Healer-esque intro, ringing AC/DC chords and a haunting closing section that climaxes with a scorching Graham Oliver guitar solo. It’s a breath-taking conclusion to a blast of an album.

Releasing two albums this wonderful in the space of a year was an incredible feat and its hard to separate them. Wheels Of Steel has the slight edge in strength of tuneage but Strong Arm Of The Law is more pedal-to-the-metal. The label opted to name the album after its lead single but its intended title was originally “Heavy Metal Thunder”. They should have stuck with that cause that’s exactly what you get on this superb album. Fill your heads.

Saxon – Wheels of Steel (Review)

Saxon - Wheels of Steel (1980)
Saxon – Wheels of Steel (1980)

Despite being arguably the first album of the NWOBHM, Saxon’s 1979 debut album sounded more old-fashioned than new wave. But by the following year, revved up by a support slot on Motörhead’s Bomber tour, the band were back with Wheels Of Steel: a biker metal classic that broke the band and became one of the most iconic NWOBHM releases. Much of the album follows the direction set by the debut’s excellent Stallions Of The Highway: up-tempo, racing tunes like Motorcycle Man, Machine Gun and Freeway Mad combine wild Motör-riffing with hollering vocals, ringing chords and hot soloing. It’s headbanging heaven. Elsewhere, the album is less hectic but still brilliant: See The Light Shining has a clever shift in mood half-way through and Suzie Hold On has a yearning, streetwise quality that brings to mind UFO. But the album’s undoubted highlights are the greasy rocker Wheels Of Steel with its raunchy riff and bobbing bass and the wonderful 747 (Strangers in the Night), which tells the perilous tale of Flight 101 with unforgettable guitar hooks and Biff Byford’s enigmatic vocals. The album’s mix of pumping rock, gritty aggression and inspired songwriting shot Saxon to the pole position of the NWOBHM: scoring them hit singles, TV appearances and a spot on the first Monsters of Rock festival bill at Castle Donington. 1980 was a competitive year loaded with timeless metal classics but Wheels Of Steel proved that Saxon had what it took to stand up and be counted. Now their foot was on the throttle, there was no looking back.

Carnivore – Carnivore (Review)

Carnivore - Carnivore (1985)
Carnivore – Carnivore (1985)

Greetings and felicitations, children of technology. Welcome to the post-apocalyptic world of Carnivore. Few bands are hardy enough to survive thermonuclear destruction but, led by the imposing Petrus T. Steele, this trio of New Yorkers had what it takes to survive World War III (and IV.)

They're meat eaters, they'd like to meet ya
They’re meat eaters, they’d like to meet ya

Along with Keith Alexander on guitar and Louis Beateaux on drums, Petrus and Carnivore unleashed their S/T debut album in 1985. It’s a raunchy and primitive mix of Punk and Metal with a hefty dose of Doom and Steele’s beefy vocals. Although the style is crude the performance is tight with live energy and just enough production effects to sound suitably futuristic. Predator kicks the proceedings off and sets the scene of life beneath the rrrrruined city. Male Supremacy has a dirty Crüe-style opening riff and unforgettable chorus. Armageddon has rampaging Crossover Thrash velocity and another golden chorus hook. There are also playful, musical detours: God is Dead’s chorus is mellow bongo-driven weirdness and Male Supremacy culminates in romantic balladry as Petrus returns home to his woman after a hard day’s war.

Metal Mind/Roadrunner Ltd Edition
Metal Mind/Roadrunner Ltd Edition

The second side dips a little compared to the stronger first half but is saved by the more remarkable Doom sections (the “Crush Kill Destroy” section of Thermonuclear Warrior for example) and the rollicking, propulsive World Wars III and IV which ends the album on a high. Lyrically, Carnivore stick to what they know: the life and philosophy of post-apocalyptic, cannibal barbarians hunting for unsuspecting victims to chow down on. It’s something we can all relate to. The whole album is right up my Venom-loving street: filthy and rowdy with the hyper-masculinity of Manowar and a pre-GWAR sense of fun and mythology that wisely stops short of out-and-out comedy.

Petrus T. Steele would later change his name to Peter Steele and go on to great success in his next band Type O Negative. There is very little of Type O’s seductive, swooning October Rust style here but there are plenty of other similarities: the Hardcore elements of Type O’s debut Slow, Deep and Hard and later tracks like Kill All the White People. The shock-tactic humour, bass-heavy Doom riffs and songwriting chops are also heavily indicative of Steele’s future musical direction. Despite their talent for post-nuclear survival Carnivore only lasted for one more album before calling it a day but their music has proved more resilient. Carnivore is full of choice, prime cuts. Bon Appetit.

Saxon – Saxon (Review)

2014-10-09 18.38.02
Sword-waving maniac (pictured)

It would cool to be able to say Saxon’s 1979 debut album rages like the sword-waving maniac that adorns Saxon’s album sleeve, but I’d be exaggerating. Even on their first album, the Yorkshire rockers already sounded like old guys. There’s a long-in-the-tooth quality to many of Saxon’s songs which is both a good and bad thing. The album is bookended by the excellent prog-flavoured epics Frozen Rainbow and Militia Guard but is also padded out with stodgy brickie boogie like Big Teaser. But there are three tracks where the band sounds more like the marauder on the sleeve. Judgement Day and Backs To The Wall have a mix of muscle, melody and raging vocals from Biff Byford that sounds more like the real Saxon we all know and love. And biker classic Stallions Of The Highway is phenomenal: the revved-up guitars and a driving rhythm section laying down the template for the band’s future direction and the raw metal attack that would typify the soon-to-be-named New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Saxon would deliver on the promise of this mighty tune and their next albums would have a huge impact. By comparison, the debut is more old-fashioned than New Wave but it’s still a varied and exciting listen that captures a talented band at the point the dam began to burst.