Category Archives: Genre

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.

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)

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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.

Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls (Review)

Here comes the Robojester, run for your lives
Here comes the Robojester, run for your lives

It’s 2014 and the Priest is back! Normally a phrase that would generate considerable excitement at HMO Mission Control but following the disappointing Nostradamus, the departure of the legendary KK Downing and a few uninspiring advance tracks I couldn’t help but feel sceptical about their return. But I was kidding myself. On the day of release I headed straight to Fopp to get my hands on it.

Despite my renewed enthusiasm for their return, on my initial spin I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that I shouldn’t have bothered. Dragonaut and the title track kick off Redeemer of Souls in a fairly routine manner. Both are enjoyable enough but a touch flat. It’s not until Halford screams his way into Halls of Valhalla that the album hits its stride. From here on it’s a long set of varied and solid Metal with the boat pushed out just enough to keep things moving forward without losing the trademark Priest identity. Sword of Damocles introduces a Maidenesque rhythm and its slashing climax is one of the album’s highlights. Cold Blooded is tightly coiled, moody and intricate and Crossfire’s bluesy riff works as a nice change of pace even if it’s a bit unimaginative. The Metal God delivers the goods on every song: he’s unable to shatter the windows like he used to but he always had more strings to his bow than that and any singer of any age would be proud to sing like Rob does in his sixties.2014-07-27 14.41.15-1

The main album climaxes with Battle Cry, a charging riff-fest with rousing, soaring vocals before it finally cools down with Beginning of the End, an atmospheric and sombre ballad. And, barring the very last song Never Forget (an uncomfortably twee last-dance number), the bonus disc is impressively strong too. I can understand why the bonus tunes didn’t fit stylistically on the main album but they are great songs: tough, dynamic and catchy and pleasingly redolent of the bands early-80s output.

It’s a lot to take in and it’s not without its faults. New guitarist Richie Faulkner plays well but I don’t feel either his or Glenn Tipton’s solos push the excitement levels like they should. The length and muddy sound also make it a tough album to absorb. Many songs like March of the Damned and the title-track have stock riffs and lyrics and are too reined in for their own good, creating a worry that the album might prove to be a little disposable. But after repeated listens and dividing the album into manageable chunks I find it growing on me listen by listen.

Ultimately, Priest have delivered a strong album for this era and held their own in a competitive climate of strong releases. And, more importantly, it sounds like they have enough gas in their tank to suggest there could be more and better yet to come.

Cheap Trick – On Top of the World: 1978 Live Broadcast (Review)

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I’m going to call this Cheap Trick live album “unofficial” rather than a “bootleg”. Bootlegs tend not to be stocked in Amazon, HMV etc… whereas this one is. There have been quite a lot of these radio broadcast releases lately and, while the recordings will have been floating around as bootlegs for years, they seem to have found a legal route to the shops. I’m guessing there is some loophole regarding the ownership rights to broadcast recordings and these labels are tellingly keeping themselves on the right side of the law by not using the copyrighted band logos. Bootleggers aren’t that shy about stuff like that are they? So… “unofficial” it is.

Recorded in December 1978, the band really were on top of the world: riding high between the release of their successful Heaven Tonight album and the domestic US release of the classic At Budokan. There’s a good deal of crossover between this and the Budokan release but the Passaic audience sounds way rowdier than the Japanese crowd. There are no high-pitched squeals of “Robin!” here. As a result the band performance feels more raucous and less mannered. This is Cheap Trick going for the throat and it puts a fresh, biting spin on the familiar Budokan tracks as well as offering up a couple of lesser-heard tunes too.

What a bill! WHAT. A . BILL.
What a bill! WHAT. A . BILL.

The highlights of the set-list prove to be these less familiar tracks. Stiff Competition is absolutely savage with a shredding Robin Zander vocal. I’m also especially blown away by the rendition of Heaven Tonight. It’s not a track I was ever particularly excited about but here it is thrillingly menacing. Another highlight is Big Eyes, opened with an immensely entertaining guitar solo from Rick Nielsen during which he proclaims himself “100,000 times better than Fred Nugent will ever be!” to huge roars of approval. The scamp.

In general, the sound quality is very good: rough and raw but more evocative of the live atmosphere and excitement than many official live albums. Only Tom Peterson’s bass struggles to be heard on most tracks but makes up for it during Need Your Love, the intro of which sounds like it might have caused structural damage to the venue.

All in all, a great use of £8 and a great live album to add to the collection. I find it thoroughly inspiring hearing such classic acts in the raw and in the case of this and last year’s KISS release, The Ritz on Fire, it feels like I’m discovering the bands for the first time. Again!

As Henry Rollins would say, hearing a band live is the only way to know for sure, and on this evidence you can be very sure of Cheap Trick.

[Cheap Trick – Stiff Competition]

Super Duper Alice Cooper – Deluxe Edition (Review)

Super Duper Alice Cooper Deluxe Box Set
Super Duper Alice Cooper Deluxe Box Set

Super Duper Alice Cooper (2DVD/BR/CD – £37 Love Music Glasgow)

I do love a good music documentary, which is probably just as well as they seem to be coming down the pipeline at an impressive rate these days. I blame Anvil. But few musicians warrant a film biog more than Alice Cooper. And when the film, Super Duper Alice Cooper, comes courtesy of Banger Productions (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, VH1’s Metal Evolution and Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage) then the prospects are very promising indeed. Hot on the heels of a limited cinema run comes the release on DVD and Blu Ray. I hadn’t expected this to come out until later in 2014 so it’s a nice surprise to have a copy so soon but does it live up to its promise?

The Eyes of Alice Cooper
The Eyes of Alice Cooper

THE DOCUMENTARY

Unexpectedly, the film takes the form of an extended montage. There is no footage of the interviewees as they are now, Alice and co-stars providing only voice-overs to the stream of archive footage and images. The 87min  running time is a bit miserly for such a huge and important story so the film focuses squarely on Alice the man and performer with little discussion of the music or discography. And even then it all feels a bit breathless. The movie hurtles from anecdote to anecdote faster than you can say “Michael Bruce”. Which no-one here does. Not even once. The pace and the effect of only hearing the protagonists’ voices renders the whole thing strangely flat. And as the film progresses it is rarely as exciting or as moving as it should be.

He's no well
He’s no’ well

On the plus side, the film is a veritable treasure trove of visual material and, by cutting out the modern-day talking heads, a lot of this good stuff is crammed into the brief running time. I can understand the impulse to prioritise the historical footage but the filmmakers haven’t employed it with the dramatic and powerful effect of a film like Julien Temple’s The Filth and the Fury which took a similar approach. For long-time fans there are interesting and fresh insights into Alice’s life. Without spoiling too much, Dennis Dunaway’s recollections as the original band drift apart are sad and surprising and there is fascinating new light shed on Cooper’s addictions. The portrayal of the singer’s descent is harrowing enough to set-up a satisfying feel-good ending, as a healthier, happier Alice bounces back into action in the 80s with support from guitar-gunslinger (literally!) Kane “Rambo” Roberts. Nothing is said of his later career which seems strange as I felt that the reunion of the remaining original members with producer Bob Ezrin for Welcome 2 My Nightmare would have been a satisfying way to bring the story up to date and also full circle.

THE BOX SET

The individual DVD and Blu-Ray editions come with some extra archive footage, deleted scenes and extra interviews that were filmed for the Metal Evolution series. This deluxe version has even more extras that may prove very tempting for Coop fans. The LP-sized hardcover book has some great photos and some interesting insights from the film-makers which explain why they decided, rightly or wrongly, what approach to take with the documentary. And in addition to the DVD and Blu-Ray of the movie there is two bonus discs. The first is a DVD of footage shot from the 1972 Killer tour in Montreal. Any classic Alice Cooper concert footage is like gold-dust and I can imagine many fans buying this set for this disc alone. Sadly, the footage is very incomplete and the existing visual and audio components cut and pasted together to make as much out of it as possible. As a result the sound is often out of sync with the action and portions of the songs are missing. It’s a touch disappointing that the show is so incomplete but it is still a rare treat to the see the band in action at this point in their career. A fourth disc contains an energetic live performance from 2009’s Along Came a Spider tour at Montreaux which features some great classic material and great sound. It’s only slightly marred by some audible mic problems towards the end. I think all of the tracks here have been performed on other live releases so it’s fairly inessential in that respect but it’s a lean and rocking set and a nice bonus for any completists out there.

Taken individually the disappointing movie and patchy concert footage leave you wanting slightly more. But viewed together with the book and CD for bonus reading and listening, there’s an enjoyable evening of Cooper fun to be had here. And more archive Alice than you can shake a snake at! I still feel like the ultimate Cooper visual retrospective is still out there, waiting to be made, but this is still a welcome addition to the collection alongside Prime Cuts, Good to See You Again Alice Cooper and the many other Coop DVDs out there.

Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (Review)

The 1986 debut record of Sweden’s Candlemass casts the kind of pure Heavy Metal spell you’d expect to find scrawled in some dusty old grimoire found in a subterranean chamber. As well as giving the Doom Metal genre its name, the album’s title also describes its contents perfectly. Six ancient tales of myth, legend and tragedy told through Metal of portentous and quaking heaviness.

On Epicus… bassist and songwriter, Leif Edling, offers up a treasure-trove of timeless riffs, all heftily delivered by rhythm guitarist Mats “Mappe” Bjorkman, from the snaky, neoclassical riffs in Demons Gate and Crystal Ball, to the windswept bludgeon that opens Black Stone Wielder and the Am I Evil-esque riff that fires up Under the Oak. In addition to the lumbering guitars, the album’s acoustic passages and doleful harmonies add a bleak, gothic atmosphere.

Vocalist Johan Längqvist’s baritone is sincerely and chillingly emotive: anguished in funereal opener Solitude and channelling some arcane evil in Crystal Ball. He tells all of Epicus’ tales with theatrical flair and melodrama. Lead guitarist Klas Bergwall provides chinks of light and a very European flavour with his lyrical, neo-classical leads and drummer Matz Ekström proves to be the album’s secret weapon, filling the gaps between snail-paced chords with massive fills that sound like the raging elements.

It’s surprising, considering the musical chemistry and cohesiveness, that Candlemass wasn’t really a band at this point. They had been signed to France’s Black Dragon label on the strength of Edling, Bjorkman and Ekström’s demos. Längqvist and Bergwall were hurriedly drafted in for the album’s recording sessions but were uninterested in joining the band on a more permanent basis and after the recording finished, Ekström left the band too. Despite a positive critical reception, Epicus… sold poorly but the next line-up of Candlemass would record another masterpiece that helped boost the reputation of the band, sending many back to the debut.

The legend of Epicus… would grow in stature over time, becoming a mainstay of best-album polls and increasingly cited as an important influence by other bands. While forever associated with its titular sub-genre, it’s a timeless, magical classic for Metal fans of all stripes and still casts a powerful spell to this day.