Category Archives: Reviews

Saxon – Forever Free (Review)

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.

HMO Rating: 2 out of 5

Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen: Live (Song Review)

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“And all you did was count the dead”

Here’s a rousing track from Primordial’s new live album Gods to the Godless (Live at Bang Your Head Festival Germany 2015). I always feel like live shows are defined by the inclusion of new tracks. My memories of live performances usually revolve around the new songs that were played. For better or worse, bands seem to put extra welly into the new stuff: meaning that brilliant new songs make for an unforgettable show but weak ones will likely mar my recollections, no matter how classics-laden the show might have been. The former is definitely the case with Primordial. Four of the eleven songs here are taken from their last album Where Greater Men Have Fallen and here’s an amazing version of the title track: a burly and martial take that surpasses the studio version. Alan Nemtheanga proves himself, once again, the consummate metal frontman, and the band’s chemistry and the skill of their arrangements are even more evident in the live setting: every instrument occupying a unique space to create a massive wall of sound. Primordial, over twenty years into their career, sound like they’re determined to remain impassioned and vital until the bitter end.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

[To hear the Song of the Week, click track three on the YouTube screen below. And then listen to the whole thing, you won’t regret it]

 

I – Warriors (Song Review)

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“Head to the battlefields”

You’d expect a black metal supergroup featuring members of Immortal, Enslaved and Gorgoroth to be an all-out blaster. But, instead, their 2006 album Between Two Worlds was a more traditional affair: the band using the new project to celebrate their pre-2nd Wave influences and indulge in a bit of hero worship. Pre-2nd Wave heroes don’t get much bigger than Bathory and their mastermind Quorthon had died just two years earlier so many of the tracks here have a Bathory influence all over them. Of those, this is my favourite. It’s an epic lament which finds the world-weary Vikings riding their tired horses out “from the mountainous regions” to “where great warriors sleep”. Pillaging can be such a grind. But Warriors’ mix of bold defiance (“It’s a great day for fire”) and raging sadness is always stirring.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

Iron Maiden – Heaven Can Wait: Live (Song Review)

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“I’ll go when I’m good and ready”

It’s been a dark and frosty week here in Glasgow. Perfect conditions for enjoying some black metal but I decided I needed some sunshine in my listening. Time for some synth-era 80s Maiden then! I opted for the excellent live album Maiden England ’88 and this song always stands out for me. The real magic happens 3mins in though, as the “take my hand…” bridge ratchets up the tension and the song’s tone shifts from jaunty to totally epic. Then the song cruises into the famous, roadie-enhanced “woah-oh-oh”s. This singalong section always seemed like it was devised for live performance so it’s no surprise that it works so much better here than on the Somewhere in Time studio version. The building urgency, shimmery guitar fills and Bruce’s added exhortations to the audience make it breathlessly exciting. It’s brilliant stuff that turns one of the potentially weaker songs of the set into an outright showstopper.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

Virgin Steele – Lion in Winter (Song Review)

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Virgin Steele – Age of Consent (1988)

“Never set the sun on me”

Welcome to a new feature: The HMO Song of the Week! Each Sunday I’ll be posting up the song that’s been lighting up my life the most in the past week: could be a new song or an old classic.

So let’s get this series off to the best possible start with one of the best possible songs: Virgin Steele’s Lion in Winter from their terrific album Age of Consent. It’s a fine example of their patented and thrilling barbaric romanticism. The Manowarring and galloping guitars provide the barbarism while the instrumental flourishes, melodic pomp and David DeFies’ impassioned vocals provide the romanticism. Here’s a man that can sing a line like “And I’ll rage against this wind” and sound like he really means it. Wonderful.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

[Virgin Steele – Lion in Winter]

Dead Congregation – Sombre Doom EP (Review)

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.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

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Blaze – Silicon Messiah (Review)

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.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

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