Try as they might, Jersey’s Legend just couldn’t rise above the myriads of NWOBHM bands all competing for attention during the early 80s. It didn’t help that they were stuck out in the Channel Islands, removed from the scene’s industry hotspots and gigging circuit. But their proggy brand of metal was also intropspective, dark and dour. Great stuff for fans of gloomier fare; not the kind of music that was going to stand out alongside anthems like Angel Witch, Let It Loose, and Blitzkrieg.
Legend eventually gave up the ghost but on their final release, 1982’s Frontline EP, they went out in style: taking a more direct and melodic approach. The title track and Open Up The Skies are on the slight side in terms of song structure but are packed with catchy melodies and Peter Howarth’s masterful guitar work. The latter song in particular features the kind of axe heroics that would have gone down a storm if the band had been based in LA rather than Jersey. The ballad Sabra & Chatila gets back to the darkness of their previous work but its dreamy quality and lush Bill Nelson-esque textures make it a highlight.
But best of all is the awesome Stormers Of Heaven. It’s the kind of anthemic, hook-laden rock song that would have graced any compilation of the genre. If it had appeared on any. But sadly, it remains criminally overlooked. Legend might just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time all along.
Having made a promising studio comeback with 1994’s From Now On… the newly-sober Glenn Hughes then set out to prove his reliability and viability as a live performer. Burning Japan Live, recorded in 1994 over two nights in Kawasaki, captures Hughes and his band (now including three members of Europe) in spectacular form. The album kicks off with a red-hot version of the Deep Purple classic Burn and continues with a revelatory run of non-Purple tracks. There’s a swaggering take on the Hughes/Thrall classic Muscle And Blood and the new solo tracks like From Now On… and The Liar sound magnificent. A cluster of mellow tunes causes a mid-set lull but the versions of Coast To Coast and This Time Around are classy examples of Hughes’ versatility. The chilled interlude also provides a nice breather before the show switches gears for a hard rocking climax that’s loaded with Purple anthems from Glenn’s MkIII and IV days. Burning Japan Live proved Hughes was back at the peak of his powers and also celebrated his long and storied career. It’s a vibrant, dynamic and sophisticated live album that cemented his reputation as the “Voice Of Rock”.
HMO salutes Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman who recently passed away aged 66. The Welsh guitarist had played with the Irish Skid Row, Lone Star, Waysted and others but he was most famous as the guitarist that replaced Michael Schenker in UFO. An unforgivable task that Tonka proved more than equal to: recording albums like The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent that remain fan favourites.
I was tempted to pick one of that album’s songs as a tribute but I decided to go for an older, and geekier, recording. After Schenker debuted with UFO on 1974’s Phenomenon the band decided to draft in a second guitarist for live duties and, for a brief period that year, the band featured both Schenker and Tonka on lead guitar! This fascinating and short-lived lineup can be heard on this BBC live recording from London. Rock Bottom was always a live centrepiece due to its extended soloing and here you get to hear both Schenker and Tonka trading wonderful solos. Chapman kicks his off at the 4:25min mark. It’s a cool, wah-tinged solo that makes jazzy use of the passage’s Dorian tonality and there’s a real chemistry between the two guitarists. Chapman was nicknamed ‘Tonka’ because, like the steel toys, he was thought to be indestructible, and he certainly sounded it here.
Congratulations to My Dying Bride as they celebrate 30 years of innovative, influential and thoroughly miserable metal. It’s an especially pleasing achievement given that the last five years have been particularly trying for the British band. When vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s young daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, he was forced to take leave from the band. And when a further two band members decided to quit during this hiatus, the band’s future looked extremely doubtful.
Thankfully Aaron’s daughter was given the all clear and the band not only survives, but thrives. On their latest album The Ghost Of Orion they sound as vital, relevant and glum as ever. With its glacial pace, less obvious song structure and Andrew Craighan’s mournful riffs, The Long Black Land is definitely one of the album’s less instant and accessible tracks. But its also one of its most powerful: a black void right at the heart of the record. Like all the best doom, it’s laden with feeling and at the 6:25min mark, when a mellow breather bursts into a lumbering, seismic riff, it’s exquisitely powerful.
You wouldn’t know it from the music but, three decades in and at the top of their game, My Dying Bride and their fans have many reasons to be cheerful.
HMO salutes Bob Kulick who recently passed away, aged 70. He was a veteran session musician who played with tons of great artists and was also known as a producer of star-studded tribute albums. But my main knowledge of him comes from his stint in the short-lived Blackthorne (with vocalist Graham Bonnet) and his involvement with KISS.
Bob was almost recruited to be the original KISS guitarist in 1973 before a certain Ace Frehley staggered in and snatched the job from him. But due to Ace’s rock n’ roll unreliability and wavering levels of commitment to the band, KISS occasionally invited Bob into the studio to replace Ace. Kulick was talented enough to not just mimic Frehley’s playing but also make it sound like Ace was at the top of his game!
Nowhere To Run is my favourite KISS song Bob appeared on. And one of my favourite KISS songs full stop. One of four new songs recorded for the 1982 compilation album Killers, it’s a classic example of Paul Stanley at his rocking and romantic best. The main riff and chorus is totally anthemic, the verses are heroic and impassioned and Stanley sings at the top of his range, giving his voice a cracked sound and vibrato that is just one of my favourite sounds ever. And Bob Kulick helps put the song right over the edge into absolute bliss with his lead playing. By now he was being given more freedom to play his own way but he still attacks this song like Ace would: with tasty, cool, exciting and unforgettable guitar playing.
KISS always said “you wanted the best, and you got the best”. Well, Bob was one of the best.
Taken from the 1984 compilation album Scandinavian Metal Attack, Sacrifice is the first recorded release from one of metal’s most revered and influential acts: Bathory.
It’s the first of two songs the Swedish band (led by mythic mastermind Quorthon) recorded for the compilation. And compared to the enjoyable trad metal performed by the other four Swedish and Finnish acts on the album, Sacrifice sounds like the next level in extremity. It’s a ballsy and chaotic rager in the style of Motorhead, Venom etc… with cavernous, noisy vocals and a catchy, evil ascending chorus riff. The label were inundated with letters demanding more from Bathory. And rightly so. This is great stuff for fans of the more punky, violent end of the NWOBHM and fans of early, primitive thrash.
But the song would go on to have a second, and even more important moment in history. The early version sounds positively conventional compared to the version that appeared later that same year when Sacrifice was re-recorded for Bathory’s seminal self-titled debut album. By that point the band were delivering all their music with grim, frostbitten harshness that was like nothing before it. The black metal sound was born.
It’s almost unrecognisable as the band that became a major force in metal years later but the early Sepultura stuff is still pretty remarkable. Brazil wasn’t a corner of the globe where anyone was expecting a metal scene to pop up and when the band recorded their 1985 debut EP Bestial Devastation (a split release with fellow countrymen Overdose) it was just emerging from decades as a military dictatorship. Musically it’s not the most amazing stuff you’ll hear from the era but the band were pretty impressive considering they were all still in their mid-teens. And they got in early enough and extreme enough that their raw, filthy undergound thrash was also a primordial stew of nascent black and death metal.
My favourite track from the EP is Necromancer, with its naive evil lyrics, grinding Celtic Frost riffs, blasts of Discharge-like speed and a wild “all notes matter” guitar solo right out of Slayer. Fun stuff. Unfortunately, my favourite part of the song is a bit that I always mishear and misremember. One of the great metal mondegreens. After the chaotic solo the song returns to a slow sludge as vocalist Max “Possessed” Cavalera sings “necromancer, dead’s invoker”. But in my world this line has always been “necromancer, dirty fucker”. And it always will be! And until they ‘fess up and admit that’s what the lyrics really were all along, I’m deducting a point.
HMO salutes the pioneer and architect of rock n’ roll Little Richard. I found it almost impossible to decide which song to select for a tribute, since to pick one is to imply that it’s the greatest. But in the mid-to-late 50s Speciality Records era, he released so many classic songs it’s ridiculous. Even narrowing down the selection to songs from his debut album Here’s Little Richard, I’d still have to choose between Ready Teddy, Rip It Up, Slippin’ And Slidin’, Long Tall Sally, Jenny Jenny, and She’s Got It.
What if I narrowed it down to songs with a link with hard rock and metal? There’s the lyrics from Rip It Up and Good Golly Miss Molly winding up in Deep Purple’s seminal Speed King; the drum intro from Keep A Knockin’ that kicks off Led Zep’s Rock N’ Roll; and the cover of Get Down And Get With It that launched Slade’s run of UK hits. “Little Richard,” Lemmy said in a 1994 interview. “That was the first guy I saw where I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
So let’s just start at the beginning of everything: Tutti Frutti. As AC/DC’s Brian Johnson said “there was nothing, and then there was this”. The big bang of rock n’ roll. Souped-up twelve bar boogie woogie, energy, hollering, sex, excitement, outrageousness. It’s timeless. But I could say that about any of the other songs I’ve mentioned in this post.
In the new documentary ‘ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas’, the band’s engineer Robin Brian states that ZZ Top “never sang the blues, they turn the blues into party music”. But on ZZ Top’s First Album the party had yet to get started. This is more of a hangover album with plenty of certified blues running through it. Billy Gibbons’ guitar playing and vocals bring Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green to mind and his deft playing is supported by a tight and ballsy rhythm section. However, the band hadn’t really gelled as songwriters yet. Songs like Squank, Back Door Love Affair and Bedroom Thang have a satisfying boogie vibe but are ultimately forgettable and the album often drags. There are some hints of the band’s future greatness though. Brown Sugar‘s lonesome Hendrix-meets-Mac blues boosts into a gutsy, grooving rocker, the down-and-dirty Goin’ Down to Mexico shows off Dusty Hill’s rollicking vocals and Neighbour has a formative stab at the kind of heavy riff you’ll hear later (and better) in songs like Precious And Grace and Cheap Sunglasses. With its bluesy mood, ballsy sound and confident musicianship, ZZ Top’s First Album is a good album to go with a beer or two. Just don’t expect it to inspire any hellraising.
Nazareth made their name with thumping hard rock but were too creative and versatile to stick to a heavy formula for any length of time. The ballsy attack and monster-mascot covers of 1977’s Expect No Mercy and 1979’s No Mean City primed them for the early 80s heavy metal boom. But while Motorhead, Saxon and the like were hammering out their leathery biker anthems, Dunfermline’s finest went soft. They teamed up with producer (and famed Steely Dan/session muso) Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter for the sun-kissed adult rock of 1980’s Malice In Wonderland. Flirting with reggae on Big Boy? Getting disco fever on Talkin’ Bout Love? You might question the band’s decision-making, but the end result was one of Nazareth’s most enjoyable albums.
Holiday and Showdown At The Border are tasty Lizzy/UFO-ish rockers with sublime hooks. Heart’s Grown Cold is a beautiful, affecting gospel-tinged ballad and Ship Of Dreams has a West Coast hippy vibe right out of Love’s Forever Changes. Baxter’s production tones down the band’s guitar heft and reduces Fast Cars to a boring plinky-plonk but the album sounds lush and the focus on song allows vocalist Dan McCafferty to shine. And guitar-lovers will enjoy the strong contribution from Zal Cleminson whose playing and writing give the album a witty, eclectic edge that is reminiscent of his work with Alex Harvey. So… no monster mascots here, but this is still killer stuff. An overlooked gem for rock fans that like it classic and classy.