Abbath’s third outing Dread Reaver is the most uniquely frustrating album I have heard in many, many moons. Not because it’s completely absymal. I’d take a disaster like Morbid Angel’s Illud Divinum Insanus over this any day. That was a hoot! The problem with Dread Reaver is that it’s stuck at this infuriating point of being solid but never exciting me or blowing me away. A noisy, thrashy, black metal album from one of the genre’s greats that takes in all sorts of brilliant influences (Manowar, Motörhead, Mayhem, lots of Bathory) should make me feel something. Either Abbath’s considerable craft and experience has taken over in lieu of genuine inspiration or passion or he’s overworked the thing to the point where any human factor has been ground out. Whatever’s happened, it leaves me cold. And not in a cool, “grim permafrost” way.
The narrator of I Am The Black Wizards has been a ruler for eternities and is so mighty that the souls and spirits of numerous obedient wizards now belong to him. Or something like that. Whatever is going on, it’s metal as fuck. And it’s black metal 101 too, an essential track from a mandatory band. Taken from their debut 1993 EP Emperor, this is absolutely caustic stuff with an unforgettable guitar melody snaking through the furnace of noise. I Am The Black Wizards was recorded again for Emperor’s debut album In The Nightside Eclipse and that version is even better than this. But this version came first so it has a special importance and its cavernous cacophony has an appeal of its own.
You’d think devil worship and debauchery went hand in hand but Satanic metallers rarely sing about shagging. Midnight are one of those rare bands that dare to put their log in the fiery place. Taken from their essential 2011 debut album Satanic Royalty, Midnight’s Lust, Filth And Sleaze is a prime NWOBHM-inspired rager with a savage speed metal attack and venomously delivered single-entendre lyrics. Total satisfaction guaranteed.
“The unrelenting blow that’s cast from down below”
Mott The Hoople’s second album Mad Shadows starts with a wallop. Both penned and sung by future Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs, Thunderbuck Ram has an quiet, haunting intro but then proceeds to thud with a vengeance as Ralphs dishes out some brash and blocky riffing. Songwise it’s a bit slight with just two verses and Ralphs’ vocals are on the histrionic side but the way the band just bludgeons through the whole thing is fantastic. In their early days, Mott often struggled to sound as convincing in the studio as they did live but they don’t have any problems here as they enthusiastically bash Thunderbuck Ram to a barely-controlled climatic wig-out.
Written and recorded specially for Paradise Lost’s 1994 EP Seals The Sense, Sweetness has become a much-loved gem in the band’s discography. Over time its status has been enhanced by its position as a B-Side underdog, to the extent that the band amused themselves by calling it “the greatest song ever written” in a recent interview. Northern piss-taking aside, it is an excellent track that hits the sweet spot between the heavy doom of Icon and the goth of Draconian Times. The combo of lead guitar and grinding riff in the chorus section is especially killer. Apart from Sweetness, the EP isn’t much to write home about, but the inclusion of “the greatest song ever written” makes it essential.
This is one winter wonderland you won’t be walking in. Autopsy’s In The Grip Of Winter is one of my absolute favourite death metal tracks. It’s a tale of arctic demise, perfectly expressed with (impending) doom metal swagger, panic-stricken death metal hammering and blizzardy guitar solos. It’s brilliant stuff and one of the tracks I always spin the minute I feel a chill in the air. There’s an even frostier version of this on the Mental Funeral album but this earlier version (from 1991’s Retribution For The Dead EP) emphasises the doom with its humongous, fat sound. But, no matter which version you hear, In The Grip Of Winter is a stone cold classic.
Despite being dubbed “athletic rock”, Newcastle’s Raven were slow off the starting blocks. Their 1980 single Don’t Need Your Money was well-received but there was a big wait for their debut album to finally appear in October 1981. Not sure what took so long because Rock Until You Drop sounds like the power trio just rocked up to the studio and banged out their live set in one go. This is just one corker after another, crackling with raw energy and infectious enthusiasm (just check out John Gallagher’s crazed yelp at the end of Hell Patrol). And it’s loaded with classics too: from gonzo hard rockers Hard Ride, Over The Top and Don’t Need Your Money to superb Priest slashers like For The Future. I could do without the pair of Sweet covers though. They’re fun and add to the live gig vibe but I’d rather have had another Raven original or two. But it’s a minor gripe as Raven then proceed to wreck the place with the proto-thrash Lambs To The Slaughter and the mighty epic Tyrant Of The Airways. Raven might not need your money but you should fling some their way because you need this over-the-top NWOBHM madness in your life.
The news that Porcupine Tree are back together and lining up a new album for 2022 has me heading back to their old albums. Today I’ve been listening to the first album of theirs that I heard, 1999’s Stupid Dream. As always, A Smart Kid stands out as one of the superior tracks: a spaced-out, Floydian prog tune with a wonderful, lush sound and an enchanting mix of acoustic instruments and electronic textures. It has charming lyrics too, relating the travails of the last guy on Earth as he muses on the low cost of living and lack of crowds before attempting to hitch a ride on a visiting spaceship. I was never totally sold on the parent album as there are a few too many piano Brit-poppish tunes for my liking but Porcupine Tree excel here. Clever lads.
The HMO Vault starts here! If we’re going alphabetically from A to ZZ Top, the first album in my collection is the self-titled album by Abbath. And that means Abbath‘s opening track To War! is the first song. A perfect song title to kick things off! And, serendipitously, it has a particularly magnificent beginning: a repeated single-note riff of martial boldness that builds up tension and excitement for what’s to follow. The rest of the song is the kind of strong, charging black metal blizzard you’d expect from the ex-Immortal frontman even if it’s never quite as attention-grabbing as that amazing intro. Still, To War! is a great way to kick off an album. And a collection.
One of the coolest Scorpions tracks ever. We’ll Burn The Sky‘s lyrics were penned by Jimi Hendrix’s last girlfriend Monika Dannemann, who was dating the Scorpions’ guitarist Uli Jon Roth. But weirdly, it wasn’t the Hendrix acolyte Roth that co-wrote the song with her. Move over Roth… and let Rudy take over! The Scorps’ other guitarist Rudolf Schenker put the lyrics to great use as an icy, eerie metal ballad with nice dreamy bits but also lots of electric and angular metal chonk. Not to be outdone, Roth makes his presence felt with plenty of stellar shred. Classic, state-of-the-art stuff for 1977. But ‘scuse me while I… burn this guy? Did they learn nothing from Hendrix?!