Sammy Hagar has always been a divisive figure, not least for being the interloper who dared replace Dave Lee Roth in Van Halen. But when Hagar supporters find themselves unable to convince anyone of Van Hagar’s merits or the quality of his various other outings, they can always rely on one thing: the 1973 debut album from Montrose. It’s an unassailable classic of 70s man rock and one of the earliest examples of party-hearty American metal. Other 70s hard rockers would enjoy more fame and rewards but Montrose‘s cult influence would be heard everywhere from the clubs of the LA glam scene to the garages of the NWOBHM.
So kudos to Sammy for his charismatic vocals and songwriting contribution (“I gave love a chance and it shit back in my face”). But the real star of the show is the band’s guitarist and founder Ronnie Montrose. His superior playing and hot rod riffing is timeless and, in tandem with producer Ted Templeman, he colours the band’s meat and potatoes simplicity with a deceptively rich range of tones. From the spacey, hard-charging Zep chug of Space Station #5 and the revved up intro to Bad Motor Scooter to the monster-plod bludgeon of Rock Candy, Montrose is a treasure-trove of stealable guitar parts and sounds. The old-timey Good Rocking Tonight and One Thing On My Mind lean towards filler but both are served up with charm and stop the album from getting too po-faced.
Unfortunately, Montrose couldn’t make it last. One more (underrated) album later, Sammy would be fired. And he wouldn’t be involved with anything quite this good again. But it can be 1973 forever. Just take your top off, stick on Montrose and rock the nation.
“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”
If I was making a playlist of my favourite songs from the previous decade Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion would definitely by on it. Taken from their 2016 album The Whole Of The Law, it’s absolutely berserk. Excoriating, industrial-grade grind mixes with hammering electronic passages. But for all their nightmarish noise, Anaal Nathrakh sure have a way with a hook and cram plenty of them in here. And in Dave Hunt, they have a vocalist versatile enough to deliver them. So when he’s not creating a white-noise shitstorm out of his face, he’s delivering an insanely catchy chorus with crazed metal god vocals and driving the song to a operatic climax. Oblivion has never been this much fun. This is what you wanted, this is what you need.
The Dark Are The Veils Of Death 7″ was released in 2017 to celebrate 30 years of Peaceville Records and features two rare working versions of tracks from Candlemass’ classic 1988 album Nightfall. But although Dark Are The Veils Of Death would become one of the band’s greatest tunes, they hadn’t quite nailed it down here. Messiah Marcolin sounds great but seems to be making the lyrics up and throws the song title in at a different spot than it appears in the final version. Also, short-lived guitarist Mike Wead appears, which is historically interesting, but you can also hear why his noodly playing didn’t quite fit the bill in comparison to Lars Johansson’s molten soloing on the album. The B-Side features the funereal instrumental Codex Gigax: decent enough music but pointless as a standalone side of vinyl.
Recorded on a ghetto blaster, it’s lo-fi stuff but it has a blustery power. It’s just odd material for a single as you will rarely listen to this, if at all. And if you’re into Candlemass enough to buy this then you will have bought the later 3CD reissue of Nightfall that included these recordings (and much more). So this single was worth owning for about seven months. Dark are the travails of the music collector.
Backs blown out by shotgun blasts, skulls ripped out, eyes plucked from heads, hellhound dogs and warrior wasps. Welcome to Earth A.D. Released in 1983, this was the second and last album of The Misfits’ original run with Glenn Danzig at the helm. And they went out with a bang: ripping through eight songs in just under 15 minutes. The album is attacked with such ferocity that it’s often seen as inferior to their catchier debut album Walk Among Us. The 50’s horror and sci-fi fun of the debut had become dark, brutal and unhinged. And the hardcore speed, massive thrash metal guitar tones and shouted vocals all served to bludgeon the debut’s melody to a bloody pulp. But, while Earth A.D. doesn’t quite have any top-tier singalongs like Skulls or Astro Zombies, it still has plenty of hooks. You won’t be able to forget the bouncy chorus of Death Comes Ripping, the ominous croon of Bloodfeast or the gang vocals of the title track. And there’s a real glee in the album’s demented, vehement delivery. From Green Hell‘s muscular metal chugging to Devilock‘s slashing riff, this record gets the blood pumping like no other. In more ways than one. Earth A.D. is the musical equivalent of a killing spree. And if you think that sounds hellish… well, you’re really gonna like it here.
They would go on to enjoy insane, enormo-success and an inflated reputation as the One Band To Rule Them All but Led Zeppelin’s first flight was a rickety, low budget affair. Their S/T 1969 debut album was knocked out in just 36 hours for less than two grand, which is not bad going considering it became a seminal work in the early history of “heavy”. Before Black Sabbath and before In Rock, Led Zep dished out dark, powerful riff-based rock on tracks like the bewitching Dazed And Confused. But there are both good times and bad times to be had on Led Zeppelin. Communication Breakdown is a superb proto-Paranoid metal chug but Good Times, Bad Times‘ powerful rhythm section and Your Time Is Gonna Come‘s dreamy mix of acoustic guitar and organ can’t disguise the band’s dated, hippy songcraft. Elsewhere, the famously sticky-fingered Brits resort to mining other artists’ material. This approach works well on tracks like How Many More Times, where Zep supercharge the blues with swingingly heavy results. But it also results in stodgy workouts like I Can’t Quit You Baby and Black Mountain Side, a folk arrangement that shows good taste but lacks imagination. The album’s thudding rock power makes Led Zeppelin a notably heavy debut but it’s also heavy in mood: a monochrome moroseness that, mixed with some weak and old-fashioned material, makes repeat listens an increasingly dreary experience. Better would come when Zep’s creativity and vision caught up with the power of their delivery.
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”.
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.
Following their 2014 masterpiece London was bound to be a daunting prospect but, despite what the title might suggest, with 2018’s Frightened Voices responded fearlessly. The UK devils cannily rising to the challenge by simultaneously taking their music in a brave new direction while retaining their core character. The viciousness of their debut and the neurotic extremity of London toned down to a dark and gothic mix of post-metal, prog and pop. Songs like Unknown,IWSYA and the wonderful closing track Footsteps have a dreamy Anathema-like quality and their music breathes like never before with a diverse range of tones and instruments. But the band’s patented blasting urbanity remains. The primal Dead Feelings and marauding Manipulator have all the nightmarish obsession, paranioa and eroticism of previous releases. The album’s experimentation brings some inevitable mis-steps: there are some hollow lyrics, occasional forays into shouty metalcore and the off-kilter Rabbit’s Curse places a hurdle in the album’s early stages. But the restless hustle and bustle of the band’s arrangements mean even the tracks that misfire have moments of wonder. Take Funeral Day‘s shift from grimy groove to shimmering mellotron beauty. Frightened is a bold and captivating new chapter in the band’s story but also feels like it’s leading somewhere… Voices investigating new and dark back-alleys that will very likely lead to another masterpiece.