Category Archives: Thrash Metal

The HMO Top Albums of 2015

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As the Earth and the world of metal complete yet another revolution of the sun… it’s time for HMO’s Top Albums of the Year! This is the second end-of-year list to feature at HMO and, like the proverbial second album, it has proven most difficult. 2014 had some very clear outliers but in 2015 there was very little to separate the albums on my list. Placing them in order was a challenge and whittling it down to ten was tough. As a result, there were some especially painful omissions: Europe’s War of Kings; Australasia’s Notturno; Un’s The Tomb of All Things; Possession’s 1585-1646 and Macabre Omen’s Gods of War – At War. In a weaker year any of these albums might have made the cut but, much as it pains me, I couldn’t include them here.

So, without further ado… the list! Drum roll please.

THE HMO TOP ALBUMS OF 2015

Artwork

NUMBER TEN: Obscene Entity – Lamentia

Obscene Entity don’t reinvent any wheels on their debut album but they do kick the absolute fuck out of them. Tight, accomplished, well-written and intensely performed death metal. It’s impossible to tear your ears away from this.

[Obscene Entity – Euphoric Vanity]

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NUMBER NINE: The Antichrist Imperium – The Antichrist Imperium

David Gray and Matt Wilcock continue the work of their former band Akercocke with their new project The Antichrist Imperium. And it’s the devil’s work! The dual vocals of Sam Bean and Sam Loynes add a sexy eclecticism to proceedings but Wilcock’s guitar performance is the star here. He riffs and solos like a man… umm… possessed.

[The Antichrist Imperium – Elegy]

'Album Cover of the Year' Winner
‘Album Cover of the Year’ Winner

NUMBER EIGHT: Paradise Lost – The Plague Within

Paradise Lost go deathier and doomier: reintroducing some long-abandoned extreme elements from their early days. The added fire and brimstone of the band’s delivery mixes with the band’s more established melodic goth metal to ensure this is less a throwback and more a new beginning. Few bands of their vintage sound this vital.

[Paradise Lost – Beneath Broken Earth]

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NUMBER SEVEN: Mgła – Exercises in Futility

As soon as you hear the opening, ringing chords you know this album is going to be the real deal. It’s black metal in the most classic sense: frosty and nihilistic. The music expresses a bleak sense of hopelessness but it’s also strangely inspiring. So never mind your broken dreams or the shitey sky hanging over you, just enjoy this new chapter in the handbook of classic black metal.

[Mgła – Exercises in Futility IV]

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NUMBER SIX: Shrines – Shrines

Matt Adnett (Obscene Entity) and Sam Loynes (The Antichrist Imperium) make the list twice by teaming up for Shrines’ impressive and moreish debut album. A couple of right list-hogs! Myriad styles and influences weave and thread throughout the album and Loynes’ idiosyncratic vocals make Shrines one of the most hypnotic and magnetic listens of the year. A very promising debut indeed.

[Shrines – Ariadne’s Thread]

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NUMBER FIVE: Saxon – Battering Ram

It might be tempting to call this “business as usual” for the still-prolific metal legends but there’s magic at work on album No. 21. Thanks to Hell’s Andy Sneap, this is the best-sounding album they’ve put out in aeons and the tracks are all well-crafted and fully-realised: the veteran band finding the perfect intersection between their Hard and Fast metal pounding and their uncanny knack for melody. And the best of it is, you know Saxon will be back with more of this in a year or two. All hail the old school!

[Saxon – Battering Ram]

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NUMBER FOUR: Avatarium – The Girl with the Raven Mask

Avatarium’s 2013 debut was a big act to follow but they pull it off by expanding their sound into a glorious technicolour of classic rock. The whole band sound like they’ve been allowed more input here: there’s Heeps of Hammond, a vibe right out of Purple’s Soldier of Fortune, awesome Blackmore-esque leads and it’s all topped off with Jennie-Ann Smith’s magnificent and sumptious vocals. But the whole thing rests, as always, on Leif Edling’s songwriting wizardry and bottomless well of quality riffs.

[Avatarium – Hypnotized]

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NUMBER THREE: Tribulation – The Children of the Night

Sweden has produced more than its fair share of quality metal bands over the years and Tribulation thrillingly combine elements from a whole bunch of them: the classic rock and occultism of Ghost; the snarling danger of Watain; and the crusty, dug-up goth and swagger of In Solitude’s Sister. I knew I had to get this the moment I heard the opening track but, as well as being immediate, The Children of the Night has a lot of depth. It rewards repeat listens and I keep finding new things to like.

[Tribulation – Strange Gateways Beckon]

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NUMBER TWO: Faith No More – Sol Invictus

Earlier in the year I would not have predicted a top spot on the podium going to Faith No More. I was not a fan of the initial “singles” from the album but even the best Faith No More albums took many listens to reveal themselves and Sol Invictus follows that tradition. The album just oozes confidence, wit and theatricality. It’s a more modern and mature sound and even the tracks I thought were crap at first now sound like old favourites. Classic Faith No More then! Reunions don’t count for anything unless they’re backed up with new music and Faith No More have made their reunion count with Sol Invictus.

[Faith No More – Sunny Side Up]

But there can be only one! And the HMO Top Album of 2015 award goes to…

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NUMBER ONE: My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

My Dying Bride’s recent albums have been more solid than remarkable but they’ve pulled off an incredible return to form with Feel the Misery. It’s their first in 15 years to feature original guitarist Calvin Robertshaw and his return seems to have brought new life to the band. The album heaves with colossal riffs, profound lyrics and a rich atmosphere that transports you right back to the glory days of the “Peaceville Three”. Of that unholy trinity, I’ve always preferred Paradise Lost and Anathema but My Dying Bride have surpassed both with this masterpiece. And delivered the best metal album of 2015 while they’re at it.

[My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery]

HMO TOP ALBUMS BY YEAR

2015: My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

2014: Voices – London

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Obscene Entity – Lamentia (Review)

Obscene Entity - Lamentia (2015)
Obscene Entity – Lamentia (2015)

As Obscene Entity power into the climatic riff of the track Insanity Binds, someone shouts the word “fuck”. Now, normally that kind of posturing would have me rolling my eyes, thinking of Lars Ulrich. But the particular moment at which it is exclaimed, after the band have just powered through a veritable maelstrom of death metal riffs before returning successfully to the song’s main riff, it comes across as totally genuine. Even triumphant. You find yourself totally behind them. Fuck!

I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the joy of Obscene Entity’s debut album Lamentia.

Loosely based around the theme of mental fragility, this intense and heartfelt album pulls you down a rabbit hole of tortured death metal. The album starts off with the Gojira-fronted-by-Jeff Walker assault of Planetary Devastation. It’s a good, solid opener but the album kicks into another gear as Hymns of the Faithless veers from a dizzy, swirling riff midway through the track into a groovy, stop-start breakdown. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you gurn like Phil Anselmo. Listen to this on the bus at your peril.

Obscene Entity - now a four piece!
Obscene Entity – upgraded to a four-piece since Lamentia was completed

And from there on the album just seems to intensify, the band continually adding new elements and styles. The title track has a whirling dervish riff and ringing chords that bring to mind Emperor and Euphoric Vanity employs some guitar progginess in a wonderful Chuck Schuldiner vein. The twin vocals of guitarist Matt Adnett (also of Shrines) and bassist Calum Gibb keep things varied throughout: ranging from brute Behemoth growls to hoarse blackened snarls. But the top honours go to drummer Luke Braddick. For an album this vehement, it’s remarkably hooky and those hooks are powered and enhanced by Luke’s dynamic and tasteful playing. Throughout, the band plays a modern style but has a classic sensibility and chemistry: constantly reining themselves in, allowing space for all the parts to have maximum effect. This quality, aided by the powerfully clear production from Dan Abela, only adds to the album’s power and intensity.

There are a lot of approaches and influences on Lamentia and my only concern is that the band haven’t quite found their unique voice yet. But it’s never derivative and the prospect of the band developing and finding that voice on future releases is tantalising. But until then, there’s plenty to enjoy and gurn at in Lamentia. It’s unreconstructed death metal performed with remarkable skill, piss and vinegar. Expect to see this in my end-of-year Top Ten, it’s a fantastic debut. Fuck!

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

Obscene Entity on Bandcamp:  http://obsceneentity.bandcamp.com/

Obscene Entity on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ObsceneEntity/

The HMO Top 10 Reissues & Compilations of 2014

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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.

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.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Review: Murder in the Front Row – Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew (Review)

I was initially disappointed when this hardback turned up in the post. I wasn’t convinced a book crammed with photos of young, sweaty guys gurning and flipping their middle fingers was something I’d want to look at very often. But I was missing the point. Bazillion Points are doing a great service to Metal with books like this. Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew were part of the Bay Area Thrash scene from the very beginning and Murder in the Front Row is a beautifully put together documentation of the movement as seen through their lenses.

Oimoen and Lew contribute written recollections of their involvement with the genre, along with contributions from Ron Quintana, Gary Holt, Alex Skolnick and Robb Flynn, but the main attraction is the atmospheric photography. Many historic moments and formative band line-ups are captured here. Metallica feature heavily. There are great shots of the Mustaine/McGovney line-up as well as the very first photos of the band with legendary bassist Cliff Burton. While Exodus’ importance in the scene is often overlooked, they are given the profile they deserve here and, mainly due the larger-than-life presence of frontman Paul Baloff, they embody the wild and chaotic vibe of the movement. They also provide the book’s title via the lyrics of their classic Bonded by Blood.

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Being an LA band, Slayer’s earliest eye-liner days aren’t included but by the time they hit the Bay Area they were already a darker and more visually striking prospect. The images of their first Bay Area shows seem to leap out of the book and Oimoen was on hand to capture Kerry King’s short-lived stint as guitarist in Megadeth. His spike-wristed appearances in early ‘Deth shows provide some of most fascinating sights in the book. The early Megadeth shows also illustrate the changed attitude of Dave Mustaine: his determined, sneering demeanour speaking volumes about his intent following his dismissal from Metallica.

Alongside the obvious main players, the grassroots moments of many other crucial bands are also included along with plenty of backstage meetings, drunken antics and – a crucial element often overlooked by professional Rock photographers – fans like Toby Rage who illustrate (often in mid-air) the audience mayhem these bands became notorious for.

So, although on first glance this is a book of photos of young sweaty guys, the authors’ dedication to the genre and their candid amateur photography turns it into something more: a brilliant evocation of the blood, sweat and beers of a unique and vibrant scene. Murder in the Front Row is essential for fans of the genre: it tells the story of Bay Area Thrash Metal more effectively and honestly than a bazillion words ever could and is the next best thing to having actually been there.

[Exodus – Bonded By Blood]

Venom – Welcome to Hell (Review)

Venom - Welcome to Hell
Venom – Welcome to Hell

Extreme Metal pioneers Venom waged war from the very depths of Hell, raging against the early-80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands they considered tame and the heroes that they felt had pulled their punches.

They combined the filth and fury of Punk and Motörhead with the larger-than-life images of KISS and Priest and the kind of Devilish allegiance that would have Sabbath crying “Please God help me!” Conrad, Tony and Jeff became the far more demonic-sounding Cronos, Abaddon and Mantas and their classic album cover set out their allegiance to Beelzebub in black and gold. And they had the sound to match their demonic image.

Another trip to the beach ruined
Another trip to the beach ruined

The band used demo sessions for the final album, signalling their primitive purity and honesty. Welcome to Hell sounded under-produced and unholy. The Motörhead influences are obvious, especially in the opening tracks Sons of Satan and Welcome to Hell, but the brio with which they mangle these rockers is thrillingly rudimentary. Cronos’ appropriately named “Bulldozer” bass piles over everything, Mantas peels off some fun wild solos and Abaddon’s caveman drumming tries to keep up. The sense of limits being pushed gives the performance a chaotic edge, especially during the lurching changes of pace. The debauchery of tracks like Poison and Red Light Fever is often criticized but really it all just adds to the shock factor and what’s the point of being one of the Great Horned One’s Legion if you can’t indulge in a bit of hellraising hedonism?

On Side 2 the band enter more original and scarier territory. Witching Hour is seminal proto-Thrash, Angel Dust is face-ripping and In League with Satan is addictively catchy while still sounding ominous and threatening. The band tightens their Metal grip as the album progresses and the most influential musical moments come from the record’s second half. Welcome to Hell has many elements of the Heavy music that preceded it and its fast pace, growled vocals and evil vibe can be heard in so much Metal that came after. But it remains unique and divisive. In fact, it’s a hellish maelstrom of just about everything I love about Heavy Metal while also embodying everything the genre is criticised for.

Venom’s raw, no-holds barred approach would prove to be massively influential on Thrash, Death and particularly Black Metal. Although Venom hadn’t gotten around to christening it yet, many key components of BM began here: particularly the occult, evil atmosphere and rotten production values but also the iconography, aliases and instrument descriptions (Bulldozer Bass, Chainsaw Guitars and Nuclear Warheads!)

But most importantly, Venom’s greatest legacy was their harder/faster/scarier mind-set which became the ethos of much of the Metal that followed. With Welcome to Hell Metal became Extreme and for that we should all praise Satan.

HMO Rating: 10 out of 5

2013-09-21 18.32.34 2013-09-21 18.29.37

Metallica – Creeping Death (12″ Single – Review)

Oh look! There's a wee skull in it. Metal.
Oh look! There’s a wee skull in it. Metal.

(Single taken from The Good, the Bad & the Live: (6½ Year Anniversary EP Collection) that I bought back in January 2013)

Metallica’s second European single was released after its parent album Ride the Lightning to promote the band’s European tour. The A-Side song Creeping Death is a stone-cold Metalliclassic, a nuclear biblical epic. The B-Side Garage Days Revisited consists of two faithful covers of NWOBHM tracks (Diamond Head’s Am I Evil? and Blitzkreig’s Blitzkreig). Everyone would have already been familiar with the title-track when this was released but, especially outside the UK, fewer listeners would have known the B-Sides.

It seems that the classic Metal bands of the 70s weren’t doing many covers and the few exceptions were songs lifted from outside the genre and given “heavy” treatment. But in the 80s bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden seemed keen to indulge in a bit of “Record Collection Rock”: recording many covers and, crucially, covers of other heavy and hard rocking bands. Both Maiden and Metallica proved vital in my musical education, pointing me towards other great artists (as well as some great films, books and TV shows).

I miss the orange demon dude.
I miss the orange demon dude.

Were Metallica simply self-serving in making these powerful, but largely unheard, songs their own? Or were they benevolently offering a helping hand (and some welcome royalties) to some great bands that hadn’t found an audience, for the greater good of Metal? I’d say there were elements of both but I would also credit Metallica for having the confidence to put an astounding song like Am I Evil? alongside their own, especially when Metallica’s sound and style was so clearly indebted to Diamond Head. But Metallica’s own compositions had more than enough firepower of their own and enough credit was given to their beloved NWOBHM heroes in interviews and on their T-Shirts to avoid accusations of exploitation.

A Metal Classic
A Metal Classic

While Metallica’s cover versions of Am I Evil? and Blitzkrieg might not quite have the charm or impact of the originals, Metallica admirably put their own crunchy, barky stamp on both tunes. The realisation that there were older bands capable of penning tunes that could hold their own against a classic Thrasher like Creeping Death had many a fan, myself included, scurrying off to their nearest record store. The Metal genre, and my music collection, are much better off thanks to Metallica, one of the greatest gateway bands of all-time.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Further reading:

Metallica – Jump In The Fire (12″ Single)

The Box Set from whence this came!
The Box Set from whence this came!

Metallica – Jump in the Fire (12” Single – Review)

The Orange Demon Dude!
The Orange Demon Dude!

(Single taken from The Good, the Bad & the Live: (6½ Year Anniversary EP Collection) that I bought back in January 2013)

Can I be honest here and admit one of my main reasons for wanting this was the incredible cover? I love the orange demon dude. He looks so pleased with himself. And so he should! He is adorning the first (if you’re British, anyway) Metallica single!

Jump in the Fire is taken from Metallica’s seminal debut, Kill ‘Em All. It’s one of the more old-school Metal tracks on the debut with its mid-tempo rhythm, bluesy soloing and a sing-along chorus (which always reminds me of Deep Purple’s Space Truckin’). It’s a fun track but not one of the debut’s more promising efforts. Hammett’s soloing and Hetfield’s hoarse vocals sell the song and, thankfully, the band replaced the shagging lyrics from the No Life ‘til Leather demo version with something more orange demon dude friendly. Besides, no-one should have to imagine James Hetfield moving his hips in a circular way. Ever.

The Back Cover with the Studio and "Live" Sides
The Back Cover with the Studio and “Live” Sides

Apart from the orange demon dude, the main attraction of this single is its live B-Sides. Unfortunately, these “live” versions of Seek and Destroy and Phantom Lord were actually recorded in a studio. Reverb was added (most audibly on Hetfield’s voice) to replicate the acoustics of a larger venue and crowd noises were added on. I’m sure I can remember reading that the crowd noise was taken from a classic live album but I’m not sure if that’s true or not (answers on a postcard please) but the crowd noise does give the impression that the band had amassed a pretty large following at this early stage in their career!

Like, Hetfield's hips, this record moves in a circular way
Like Hetfield’s hips, this record moves in a circular way

If you can get over the naïve fakery involved, these lively alternate versions are still well worth hearing. Both of the B-Side tracks are more representative of the band’s early, influential Thrash style than the A-Side. While these versions are missing the breakneck intensity of Metallica’s actual live performances, Cliff Burton’s fabulous bass playing is clear as a bell, Kirk’s soloing is free of bum notes and the performance as a whole is pretty tight. Pleasingly, Hetfield’s voice is starting to sound more like it would on future albums but his exhortations to the imaginary crowd (“let’s go, c’mon”) during Seek and Destroy are embarrassing.

Sans the fakery these are still excellent performances. If they had been radio sessions instead they would have been more appreciated and it’s probably preferable to think of them along those lines. For future releases, Metallica would lose the naiveté… and the orange demon dude.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

The Box Set from whence this came!
The Box Set from whence this came!

Sabbat – History of a Time to Come (Review)

Sabbat - History of a Time to Come CD Reissue
Sabbat – History of a Time to Come CD Reissue

If you were in a successful Thrash Metal band in the 1980s, you were probably American or German. While the UK was a massive influence on the genre via bands such Venom and Motorhead, the UK Thrash Metal scene is generally a footnote in any history of the genre. However, in England’s green and pleasant land there was one band that was more than a match for any of the more successful Thrash exponents from overseas.

They were Nottingham’s Sabbat and their debut album History of a Time to Come had the pace, aggression and technicality of Slayer and Megadeth and the filthy Black Metal tinge of Germany’s Destruction and Kreator. But, in addition to being able to thrash with the best of them, Sabbat had a pagan and medieval quality to their music which sounded uniquely British.

The whole album is expertly paced. For the most part the band thrashes like maniacs but the album is interspersed with enough memorable horn-raising riffs to appeal to fans of Maiden and Priest. There are also occasional clean passages, river sounds and tweeting birds offering pastoral respite from the musical sword-waving elsewhere.

Songs like Hosanna in Excelsis and Behind the Crooked Cross are satisfyingly direct and savage with Andy Sneap’s deft guitar riffs and snaky legato fills. Vocalist Martin Walkyier impresses too: his crazed screeches, growls and exaggerated pronunciation (“The poison-ah! infil-ah! trates-ah!”) coming across like a possessed Dark Ages preacher or prophet. His startling vocal performance here would prove influential in the Black Metal genre both in the UK and abroad.

Walkyier’s wild delivery is especially useful in songs like A Cautionary Tale and I For An Eye where the songs take the form of Dante-inspired short plays. His varied vocal delivery is great for carrying the multitude of dramatic parts and his voice is often harmonised and doubled over to create a mysterious, occult atmosphere. One of the finest examples of this comes in A Cautionary Tale where Walkyier’s voice is weaved together with a backwards vocal for spellbinding effect (“Bell, book and candle. Candle, book, bell. Forwards and backwards to damn me to hell. Jehovah, I beg thee. Have mercy on my soul”).

Narratives are also expressed musically by the skilful changes in pace and mood. The greatest example occurs in the shift to a classic mid-tempo riff during I For An Eye to illustrate Lucifer’s malevolent intent. An uplifting, cleaner version of the same riff is introduced later beneath the melodic solo which closes the song (“I burn”). This is one of the album’s most awe-inspiring moments and a great example of the Andy Sneap’s skill as a composer, arranger and player.

The lyrics on History of a Time to Come deserve praise too. Many of the era’s bands were moving away from horror-themed lyrics and towards the real world horror of politics and nuclear destruction. Sabbat managed to use elements of both, filtered through the lens of a distinctively pagan and spiritual worldview. Horned is the Hunter (the album’s centrepiece) is suitably apocalyptic but the story of man’s downfall (the “history of a time to come” referred to in the album’s title) is told through the eyes of our forgotten Gods of nature. The topic of Nazism is cloaked by a focus on their occult obsessions in Behind the Crooked Cross and the greed of TV evangelists (always a popular target for 80s metallers) is turned into a medieval carnival in The Church Bizarre.

Sabbat History of a Time to Come CD Rear CoverSabbat would only release one more album, Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays), before the classic line-up split. Walkyier would go on to form Skyclad (one of the greatest bands of the 90s) and Andy Sneap would build a very successful production career. He would later use this success to help reactivate Hell, an obscure UK Metal band that was a massive influence on Sabbat.

This edition of History of a Time to Come has been superbly remastered by Andy Sneap himself and also includes 5 gruff live tracks from East Berlin (taken from the End of the Beginning VHS) with the standout track being a blistering version of For Those Who Died. There isn’t a weak track on this CD. It’s a superb record, superb reissue and a must-have for fans of Thrash and Black Metal. Charge!

HMO Rating: 10 out of 5

[Sabbat – I For An Eye]