My favourite Faith No More albums, Angel Dust and King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime, took time to grow on me. Big chunks of the albums would go over my head but there were always enough instantly accessible songs to keep me coming back for more. And with each listen their darker, more challenging material would start to work on me until I was completely won over. Continuing this tradition, their reunion album Sol Invictus has taken repeat listens to reveal itself too… but in a slightly different way. The news that the reunited Faith No More would be releasing their first new music since 1997’s Album of the Year was hugely exciting but the early singles Motherfucker and Superhero seemed disappointing. And on initial spins it seemed like Faith No More were playing it too safe. The material and delivery seemed lazy and half-baked. But, strangely, the album was more instantly satisfying in its darker, denser moments. Songs like Separation Anxiety, Matador and the fantastic Cone of Shame all reminders of the band at their very best and it was these tense and claustrophobic tracks that brought me back for repeat listens. And on those repeat listens songs like Sunny Side Up and Rise of the Fall began to exert a magnetic, hooky pull. Turns out that there’s a lot going on in the album’s short running time. I found hidden depths, enigmatic lyrics and moments of joy in songs I’d previously deemed throwaway. Even the singles started to grow on me, working better within the context of the album.
The things that struck me as weaknesses in early listens (the safe approach, restrained guitars, empty catchiness) are all objectively still there but now they just don’t seem to matter. Mike Patton’s remarkable vocals and Roddy Bottum’s keyboards prove to be the star turns here but mostly the band foregoes grandstanding in favour of serving the music’s expression and theatricality. Fans of the band’s more Caffeine-ated explosiveness might be disappointed but that was only ever one part of their style. This is still recognisably a Faith No More album, reminiscent of their past work but also a step forward and a new start. It’s a hugely rewarding listen and it’s also very much a grower. In other words, classic Faith No More. Welcome back.
In 1982 it was time for a rethink in the Saxon camp. They had been turning their attention to America and while they slogged in support slots and club gigs Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were enjoying impressive Stateside commercial breakthroughs. Saxon’s management and label set their sights squarely on American success and the Yorkshiremen were packed off to Atlanta to record their next album, 1983’s Power & The Glory, with hopes of finessing their sound and upping their game.
While the UK fans and critics might have suspected the band would soften their edges, Power & The Glory turned out to be Saxon’s most Metallic release yet: former Kansas producer Jeff Glixman helped them achieve their best sound to date with layers of massive guitars and a charged rhythm section put straight in your face. A combination of hot-rodded British steel and radio-friendly sheen in a similar vein to Judas Priest’s hit Screaming for Vengeance album. The steelier moments are the most impressive: as Power and the Glory’s tense album-opening riff breaks into the verse it’s like you’ve been launched into battle. Biff Byford gives a rousing vocal and the lyrics are an alluring combo of proud valour and anti-war sentiment. It’s another classic jewel in Saxon’s crown. Redline’s pneumatic shuffle breaks into a classy open-road chorus and Warrior is a scything speed-metaller. The Quinn/Oliver guitar duo are in peak form throughout the album but Warrior’s berserk, slurry guitar solo from Paul Quinn is one of the band’s best.
The album is less sure-footed when it aims for airplay. Watching the Sky is enjoyable but stock and Nightmare is not quite the star single it wants to be (despite its coruscating guitar solo and cool harmony vocals). But even at Power & The Glory’s weakest the band thunders with conviction, enlivened by the hurricane energy of new drummer Nigel Glockler. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Side 2 opener This Town Rocks which, although it works better live, is a veritable showcase for Glockler’s combustible drumming. The icing on the album’s cake though, is the return of the debut’s prog rock elements to the band’s style. Midas Touch overcomes its daft lyrics by combining a weighty Sabbath-grade riff with Frozen Rainbow-style mellow verses for satisfying light and shade and The Eagle Has Landed closes the album with another Saxon classic: an interstellar journey with lush, spacey guitars and a hefty riff so dramatic you can almost overlook its similarity to Priest’s Victim of Changes. But despite the familiar riff it’s still one of Saxon’s more creative tracks and a great album closer.
My copy (straight from the HMO Vault)
Power & The Glory was Saxon’s purest heavy metal release to date: there’s little of the older Saxon’s blues and boogie here. While fans might miss the knockabout, rowdy style of albums like Wheels of Steel the progression is understandable following the slight diminishing returns of previous album Denim and Leather. It’s a more fully-realised and consistent album with less Rough and Ready-style throwaway filler but it doesn’t quite rack up the same quota of classics as previous records. Sadly, as far as their invasion of the US went: Saxon came, Saxon saw, but Saxon failed to conquer. Even in the UK they found their commercial grip loosening. But metal fans whose taste runs to the epic and the martial (and don’t mind a bit of drivetime pomp) will find that this album is an absolute blast. The title-track alone makes it worth the price of entry and no metal collection can be complete without it. While often overlooked in favour of the preceding “classic trilogy” it truthfully forms the last in a quadrilogy. This is a lively and exciting record that fulfils the promise of its title. You can feel the power and, even though Saxon probably weren’t getting as much of it as they’d like, you can definitely feel the glory. What more do you want from a metal album?
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
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.
NUMBER 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.
NUMBER 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.
NUMBER 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.
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.
NUMBER 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!
NUMBER 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.
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.
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.
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.
For many years I knew Trapeze as a historical footnote and not much else. Usually prefixed with “ex-” as former members Glenn Hughes (bassist and “Voice of Rock”), the late Mel Galley (guitar/vocals) and Dave Holland (drums) all moved on to higher profile gigs with other bands. Hughes joined Deep Purple, Galley appeared in Whitesnake and Holland served time in Judas Priest before… well… serving time.
In the early ’00s, a run of brilliant Glenn Hughes solo albums finally inspired me to investigate his old band. Medusa was Trapeze’s second album but the first to feature its most famous power trio line-up of Hughes/Galley/Holland. It was released in late 1970 and, as was often the case with the era’s Hard Rockers, it’s an album of light and shade. This means Led Zep often come up as a comparison but I hear more of a Free influence, especially in groovy Rockers like Black Cloud and Touch My Life. Although the funky, stop-start rhythms of Your Love is Alright get a little bit frustrating the band sound tight and confident, leaving plenty of space for everyone’s contributions to be heard. And with the tasteful exception of Mel Galley’s guitar jamming on Makes You Wanna Cry, there is very little instrumental showboating on Medusa which leaves the focus squarely on Glenn’s superb voice.
It’s fascinating to hear him at this early stage, with a rawer tone and delivery that brings to mind Paul Rodgers and Steve Marriott. And his voice is even more remarkable in the album’s longer tracks. Jury, Seafull and the title-track have a more progressive feel. Pastoral acoustic passages build up to intense, heavy climaxes that would appeal to fans of Uriah Heep or early Judas Priest. When Glenn employs his full vocal range at the climax of Jury the results are spine-chilling.
Medusa is an album of real maturity and depth from a group with tangible chemistry. Before going their separate ways, Trapeze would record one more excellent studio album and enjoy some live success in the US but it’s a shame their recorded output didn’t achieve more success or recognition. While it’s unsurprising that the musicians involved went on to bigger things, together they deserved way more than footnote status.
BÖC ended their tenure on Columbia with the ambitious concept album, Imaginos. It’s easily one of BÖC’s heaviest efforts in all senses but there were still enough keyboards, reverbed drums and glassy clean guitars to ensure it fit in with the musical trends of the mid-80s. In typical BÖC fashion, however, they added their own eerie and psychedelic quality to the mix. If you ever have a nightmare about the 80s it could easily sound like this!
The album had a long gestation and is really a combination of two projects. It started out in 1981 as the solo project of fired original member, Albert Bouchard. This project was rejected and later reworked as a Blue Öyster Cult project. Even though some of the original BÖC members were no longer in the band, the convoluted saga of the album’s making meant that all original members appear on it, giving the album the illusion of being a reunion effort. There are also many guest musicians and vocalists as a result of its long gestation.
It’s perhaps surprising, then, that the album sounds so focussed. Del Rio’s Song has hooks to die for and serves as light relief amidst all the mystery and darkness. The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria is explosively dramatic with superb guest vocalist Joey Cerisano channeling Chris Cornell. The album’s concept comes from poems written in the 60s by the band’s mentor and manager Sandy Pearlman. These ideas have featured in many songs throughout BÖC albums and some of this older material appears here in reworked form (including an upbeat, galloping take on the classic Astronomy).
Although the production does seem over-produced compared to the sparser sound of their classic albums, the lavish sound does suit the theatrical concept andfeels like an updated version of the band’s dark, arcane style to me. The use of lyrics and music from previous eras also creates the sense of this album as the definitive statement of BÖC’s career and mythology. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the band’s worst seller for the label and would be their swansong as a Columbia act. They wouldn’t release another studio album for 10 years. It’s a real shame because this album is creative, bold and uncompromising: a secret treat for anyone wanting to check out overlooked gems from the 80s.
Imaginos LP Inner – The “Explanation”
Imaginos – The “Explanation”
HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5
[Blue Öyster Cult – The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria]