Category Archives: Reviews

Saxon – Dogs Of War

Saxon – Dogs Of War (1995)

Saxon tried to learn their lesson from the rushed and patchy Forever Free album. They took a bit more time over the follow-up and headed back to Germany’s Karo Studio and the production team that proved so successful with Solid Ball Of Rock back in 1991. That album was a return to hard rocking form for the band but still found them moving forward, albeit in a fan-friendly fashion. While Solid Ball Of Rock was mostly full of good time AC/DC-style stompers, 1995’s Dogs Of War was an edgier affair and much more redolent of the band’s older style. But, for one member of the band, this album would be the last.

Fans of Saxon’s warrior epics like Power And The Glory and Battle Cry will delight in the opening title-track. It’s a total belter with a chunky, ballsy sound and an explosively thrilling chorus. It’s the albums best track and the only enduring classic here but the rest of the album is far from disappointing. If you know anything about Saxon you’ll know that when they start singing about vehicles it’s game on! And Burning Wheels and Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home) are loud and dirty transport rockers that take you right back to classic albums like Wheels Of Steel. And as well as recalling the classic days, Saxon also keep things fresh with some tastefully incorporated contemporary elements too: The Great White Buffalo is a moody, swampy epic and Don’t Worry has a rootsy, almost-grungy feel but climaxes with mesmerising guitar work that is pure, classic Saxon.

It’s impressive stuff but the album isn’t without its wobbles. Walking Through Tokyo is a blundering low point and a couple of enjoyable but essentially forgettable closing tracks find the album running out of steam. But it’s a minor quibble when there are so many great tracks here. Even Hold On, a potential mis-step with it’s Jovi-esque feel and Tommy & Gina lyrics, ends up being feelgood fun with a killer arena-ready chorus.

In a challenging era when British metal bands were generally falling by the wayside or falling apart, Saxon had rediscovered their fighting form, releasing their strongest, grittiest, most traditionally metal album since their glory days. But, as well as taking on the world, they were also squabbling among themselves. The relationship between frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Graham Oliver was faltering and some of the guitarist’s work on Dogs Of War had reportedly been re-recorded by a session guitarist. And when an unauthorised release of the band’s first Donington set was traced back to the guitarist, he was dismissed from the band. The loss of this talented musician and charismatic performer in such acrimonious circumstances was a blow to fans but they could take heart in the fact that – with this excellent, overlooked metal banger – Saxon were finally sounding like their old selves again.

[Saxon – Dogs Of War]

Craven Idol – The Shackles Of Mammon

With its stunning artwork and a concept covering themes of power, avarice and corruption, Craven Idol’s The Shackles Of Mammon promises to be a scathing, angry and cohesive statement. And for the first four tracks Craven Idol certainly sound spitting mad. Pyromancer and A Ripping Strike are absolutely raging black thrash of the old Kreator/Destruction variety, Black Flame Divination is awesome Venom-style hooliganism and The Trudge is epic Bathory-worship. But cohesion proves to be a problem as the rumbling Dashed To Death and Mammon Est prove largely forgettable and, although they are decent enough tracks, Hunger and the doomy album-closer Tottering Cities Of Men struggle to regain the listeners attention. Fans of crusty venomous metal will find lots to like here but the album frustratingly fails to capitalise on the in-your-face intensity of its first half. Overall, The Shackles Of Mammon scrapes above average but there’s a shitload of promise here if the band can deliver with more consistency.

Holocaust – The Nightcomers

Holocaust – The Nightcomers + 9 Reissue (Metal Nation)

It’s immediately evident from the Chuck Berry double-stops that kick off Holocaust’s 1981 debut album that this isn’t going to be as totally dark and metallic as the spooky cover and jagged band logo suggests. Only four songs on The Nightcomers fully live up to the nefarious promise of the front sleeve. Second track Death Or Glory has a chunky, stomping riff of evil, gurning magnificence. The title-track and Mavrock are excellent sludgy, doomy affairs with creepy, reverb-laden vocals and guitar lines. And the fourth is the album’s standout track, the metal-worshipping anthem Heavy Metal Mania. If you like metal at all then this song is simply impossible to resist.

Excluding those songs and the lively Nuge/UFO-style heavy boogie of opener Smokin’ Valves, what you’re left with isn’t quite as good… but it doesn’t matter. The riffs and solos are excellent throughout and the Edinburgh band has a knack with a catchy chorus so potentially uneventful tracks like Cryin’ Shame and Push It Around just manage to avoid being total filler (even if they are strangely feel-good next to the album’s heavier tracks). Even the often wobbly vocals of Gary Lettice have a naive charm and intriguingly pre-Hetfield tone and phrasing.

If you’re new to these guys you’re in luck as Metal Nation have just reissued the album on CD with the songs from three 12″ singles as bonus tracks. It’s a great package and superb example of the promising talent, youthful energy and total lack of contrivance that keeps people going back to the NWOBHM bands. Even if it’s not quite a top-tier entry from the genre, it’s not far off. An enjoyable and memorable hard rocker with a batch of tracks that are nothing less than stone-cold metal classics.

[Holocaust – Heavy Metal Mania]

The Doomsday Kingdom – Never Machine Demo EP

Never Machine Demo EP – Original Cover

Candlemass bassist/songwriter Leif Edling has dubbed his latest project “music from the catacombs” as it was a visit to Paris’ bone-ridden underworld that inspired its creation. It’s an apt description. With The Doomsday Kingdom’s debut EP Never Machine, Leif’s music goes deeper and darker than it has for some time. The opening title-track and The Sceptre stick fairly close to Candlemass’ modern style but Niklas Stalvind’s grave and gravelly vocals and Marcus Jidell’s excellent, vintage soloing give the songs a fresh, grittier edge. But it might just have been a decent, unremarkable release if it wasn’t for the more interesting and engaging second-half. Zodiac City is a coiled and creepy serial killer yarn with a great chorus hook and the EP ends on a high with Edling taking the mic for The Whispering, a haunting and ghostly string-laden ballad. Never Machine doesn’t quite reach the inspired heights of Leif’s classic output but it’s a real grower and a definite improvement on last year’s half-(Candlem)assed EP Death Thy Lover. Candlemass might have fallen out of favour but these demos show promising signs that Edling still has what it takes to reign again as a king of doom.

(Here’s my copy. It’s the new edition released by Nuclear Blast. With new artwork, lyric sheet and red vinyl)

Saxon – Forever Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back cover of 2013 reissue

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

[Saxon – Forever Free]

Dead Congregation – Sombre Doom EP

Dead Congregation - Sombre Doom (2016)
Dead Congregation – Sombre Doom (2016)

Fans of 2014’s excellent Promulgation of the Fall would have been hoping for more than just two tracks from these Greek death metallers this year but their new EP Sombre Doom satisfies with quality over quantity. Opening with a howling dead wind of feedback, the first track Redemptive Immolation is grave and doom-laden with a thick, dark atmosphere. After the oppressive opener, the up-tempo battering of Wind’s Bane comes as a relief but is still rich in ghostly gloom and haunting guitar. The songs and riffs aren’t the most original but Sombre Doom is all about the vibe and the execution: this reeks of rain, death, evil and graveyards. Proper death metal if you ask me, and one of the best EPs of the year.

2016-12-28-14-59-16

Blaze – Silicon Messiah

Blaze - Silicon Messiah (2000)
Blaze – Silicon Messiah (2000)

I loved Blaze Bayley in Wolfsbane but because I didn’t enjoy his stint in Maiden I never really thought of him as a “metal” guy. To me, he was at this best when he was painting the town red and lighting up the night with a little kiss. That was the Blaze I liked. So when his first post-Maiden outing Silicon Messiah proved to be a dark, very-metal affair I just passed on it. Not his forte.

I was wrong. Sixteen years later, spurred on by reading positive reviews and the return of Wolfsbane, I have added Silicon Messiah to my collection. It’s remarkably good. A proper underdog album if ever there was one. It’s downbeat, dystopian drop-D riffing is definitely of its time (think Brutal Planet, Magica etc…) and the opening tracks raise a worry that it’s all going to be a bit samey. But the album soon lightens up. Born as a Stranger, the galloping The Brave and Man on the Edge-esque The Launch are all extremely enjoyable, anthemic power metal tracks. The album just gets better and better as it rolls on and culminates wonderfully in Stare at the Sun: a gripping, goosebump-inducing epic. And, although tracks like The Hunger are chuggier and samier, their slower pace gives Blaze room to emote. He’s massively likeable throughout, delivering a vocal performance full of character and commitment.

So double dumb-ass on me for writing the man off. Turns out he is very-metal after all. He even manages to show Iron Maiden a thing or two with this anthemic and addictive album. It’s thoughtful and well-executed, topped off with a great vocal performance of considerable charm and charisma. That’s the Blaze I like.

[Blaze – Born as a Stranger]

15th Ann. Edition (w/ 3 bonus tracks) from blazebayley.net
15th Anniversary Edition (w/ 3 bonus tracks) from Blaze’s site