Category Archives: Reviews

Virgin Steele – Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation (Review)

Virgin Steele – Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation (2015)

I’m not a big fan of the most recent Virgin Steele album Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation but I still occasionally hanker for it. The opener Lucifer’s Hammer is classic chest-beating metal and Persephone is a grand retelling of the Greek myth that ranks up with the band’s best material. And do any of you remember the mysteriously anonymous 80s speed metal band Exorcist? Well, it turns out they were Virgin Steele all along and on this album they finally own up to it, reworking two Exorcist songs Queen Of The Dead and Black Mass in power metal fashion. It’s great stuff and a lot more rifftastic than the preceding VS album The Black Light Bacchanalia. But that album had a romantic, overblown grandiosity that proved fascinating and rewarding and Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation has none of that richness or consistency. The shifts from the Exorcist tracks to piano balladry like Hymns To Damnation to bizarre raunch metal like Demolition Queen and Glamour make for a disjointed listen and the overlong arrangements and dark, moody atmosphere means promising tracks like Delirium and Devilhead come across as dreary. If you’re a Virgin Steele acolyte like me there are just enough bright spots here to make it worth your time but everyone else will find Nocturnes a long, colourless night that will most likely send them to sleep.

HMO Rating: 2 out of 5

[Virgin Steele – Devilhead]

Deluxe Edition with bonus CD
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Blue Öyster Cult – Mirrors (Review)

Blue Öyster Cult – Mirrors (1979)

Blue Öyster Cult had hit it big with 1976’s Agents Of Fortune but they were starting to sound like they were going through the motions by the time of 1979’s Mirrors. The slick Tom Werman production and generic songwriting displays little of the band’s usual esoteric adventurousness. The pastiche Moon Crazy should never have seen the light of day and the title-track has some woeful lyrics: “Pretty girls have a love affair/with their eyes and their shining hair”. The AOR approach mostly results in decent but forgettable tracks like Lonely Teardrops but does at least manage to offer up one Cult classic in the wistfully pretty single In Thee. The album is on stronger footing when the band finally starts to sound like the BÖC of old on The Vigil and I Am The Storm, a great cosmic pairing that livens up the second half. Definitely a lesser effort compared to its predecessors but Mirrors has just enough going for it to be worth a look.

HMO Rating: 3 Out Of 5

[Blue Öyster Cult – The Vigil]

Pretty boys have a love affair, with their eyes and their shining… hands?

Mercyful Fate – Mercyful Fate EP (Review)

Released in 1982, Mercyful Fate’s self-titled debut is often referred to as the “Nuns Have No Fun” EP but I reckon even Mother Theresa would be hard-pressed to not get a kick out of this. The Danish band battered out a high-energy update on the pace-shifting, riff-laden approach of bands like Diamond Head and Priest but earned recognition as one of the “first wave” black metal bands by virtue of being extremely, extremely evil. While their style is fairly traditional, Hank Shermann’s riffs and solos are pure malevolence and the unique range of corpse-painted vocalist King Diamond is alternately threatening and ghostly, hitting high notes only Rob Halford can hear on Devil Eyes. A Corpse Without Soul and Doomed By The Living Dead are thrashing, twisting workouts with wonderful vocal hooks. Try not singing along with “I’m a corpse, I’m a corpse, I’m a corpse without soul”. The band’s seminal albums would be more cerebral and progressive occult offerings, but the four songs here have a more boisterous and naïve sense of blasphemy. The graveyard scares, pentagram pants, “fucking angels” and a C-word laden ode to religious sisters make Mercyful Fate a uniquely diabolical, gleeful and headbanging entry in their impressive career. None more fun.

HMO Rating: 5 out of 5

[Mercyful Fate – A Corpse Without Soul]

*Buying Note: This EP is also available in its entirety as part of the compilation The Beginning, which is a must-buy too.

Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum (Review)

Pestilence are now known as death metal masters but on their 1988 debut album the Dutchmen were still in the process of pushing the Kreator-style thrash of their demos to increasingly aggressive extremes. The crunchy riffs, violent tempos, moshing breakdowns and vocal phrasing are pure thrash but the sickening bludgeon of the delivery and the Schuldiner-esque bark of Martin Van Drunen put the band on a collision course with the emergent death metal of the era. The lyrics aren’t much of a read but obsessions with science, atrocity and surgery also push things deathward (“bifurcation of the tumour”) and provide great vocal hooks for Van Drunen’s authoritative vocals in tracks like Parricide and Chemotherapy. Although they had yet to mature stylistically, Pestilence’s formidable songwriting and precision brutality makes this a must for fans of death and thrash. It’s named after the infamous “Hammer Of The Witches” treatise, yet Malleus Maleficarum is so magical from front to back that you could well suspect this band of sorcery.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

[Pestilence – Chemotherapy]

Riot V – Armor Of Light (Review)

Riot V – Armor Of Light (2018)

Riot’s history as a band is the stuff of metal legend, thanks to decades of perseverance through bad breaks and tragedy. But musically I’ve been largely unfamiliar with the band’s career beyond the early Guy Speranza-fronted albums of the late 70s/early 80s. With the passing of founding guitarist Mark Reale in 2012 there is now no-one left from those early days. But the US band, respectfully renamed Riot V due to Reale’s passing, have vowed to carry on his good work.

And on their latest album Armor Of Light they do a pretty good job of it. Like a more polished version of 1988’s Thundersteel, it’s upbeat melodic power metal akin to Gamma Ray or Dragonforce. Todd Michael Hall’s soaring Kiske-esque vocals deliver some instantly memorable choruses with high-flying aplomb. Songs like Victory, End Of The World, Heart Of A Lion and Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign sound like the sort of warring, singalong stuff that will go over a storm at festivals. The guitar soloing is superb too: jousting, harmonized Helloween-type stuff.

But there isn’t quite enough killer riffing here, and it all starts to go through the motions in the second half. The band is too content to chug along with the double-kicks, and many potentially interesting parts are drowned out by the relentless drums. But there’s good pure metal fun to be had here. The first side is a blast, I guarantee you a good two or three songs that will instantly embed in your brain and warrant further listens. A solid effort rather than a great one; but if the goal is to uphold the legacy of Reale and Riot then it achieves its aim. I definitely want to catch up and hear more.

HMO Rating: 3 Out Of 5

Ghost – Prequelle (Review)

Ghost – Prequelle Ltd. Edition with bonus tracks and 3D cover thing

Hard to believe it’s already eight years since Ghost’s debut album Opus Eponymous. Time flies when you’re having satanic fun. And on the plague, death and apocalypse themed Prequelle, Ghost are still all about fun. Like on its excellent predecessor 2015’s Meliora, Ghost’s fourth album is full of blissfully catchy theatrical rock that laces its spiritually uplifting hooks with diabolical twists. But it doesn’t do much that Meliora didn’t already do better. Two flat instrumentals pad out the running time, Pro Memoria is beyond Muppety and the fiendish lyrical slants aren’t as keen or effective (replacing “be with” with “bewitch” isn’t enough to add depth to the ABBA-tastic Danse Macabre). But all gripes are rendered churlish when faced with the excellence of tracks like the glam metal Rats, the passionately defiant See The Light and majestically melodic Witch Image. Prequelle might be a weak facsimile of its predecessor but there’s still enough devilish fun in its diminishing returns to make it worthy of devotion.

HMO Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

Saxon – Unleash The Beast (Review)

Saxon – Unleash The Beast (1997)

Unleash The Beast, Saxon’s thirteenth studio album and the first to feature the band’s current line-up, finds the band dialling up the kind of heaviness previously hinted at on older tracks like Altar Of The Gods, Battle Cry and Dogs Of War.

As usual for Saxon, this 1997 album’s big classic is the title-track: a brilliant thrasher with a chorus hewn from pure gold. But the harder edge comes at the expense of the band’s usual chemistry and charisma. The serious mood fits songs like the dark, grooving Cut Out The Disease and the moody, slow-burner The Preacher. But songs like Ministry Of Fools and The Thin Red Line fall strangely flat when they should be uplifting. The driving Terminal Velocity, uncannily catchy Circle Of Light and vigorously rowdy All Hell’s Breaking Loose inject much-needed sparks of excitement but can’t quite lift the album into the classic zone.

Its po-faced proficiency makes it one to appreciate rather than love but Saxon’s consistency and focus impresses and this was a crucial album for them. As well as unleashing the beast, they ushered in a new era, finding a style and purpose that would restore their credibility and serve them well for years to come. The story of modern Saxon starts here.

HMO Rating: 3 Out Of 5

[Saxon – Unleash The Beast]