Category Archives: Reviews

Metallica – Jump in the Fire (12” Single – Review)

The Orange Demon Dude!
The Orange Demon Dude!

(Single taken from The Good, the Bad & the Live: (6½ Year Anniversary EP Collection) that I bought back in January 2013)

Can I be honest here and admit one of my main reasons for wanting this was the incredible cover? I love the orange demon dude. He looks so pleased with himself. And so he should! He is adorning the first (if you’re British, anyway) Metallica single!

Jump in the Fire is taken from Metallica’s seminal debut, Kill ‘Em All. It’s one of the more old-school Metal tracks on the debut with its mid-tempo rhythm, bluesy soloing and a sing-along chorus (which always reminds me of Deep Purple’s Space Truckin’). It’s a fun track but not one of the debut’s more promising efforts. Hammett’s soloing and Hetfield’s hoarse vocals sell the song and, thankfully, the band replaced the shagging lyrics from the No Life ‘til Leather demo version with something more orange demon dude friendly. Besides, no-one should have to imagine James Hetfield moving his hips in a circular way. Ever.

The Back Cover with the Studio and "Live" Sides
The Back Cover with the Studio and “Live” Sides

Apart from the orange demon dude, the main attraction of this single is its live B-Sides. Unfortunately, these “live” versions of Seek and Destroy and Phantom Lord were actually recorded in a studio. Reverb was added (most audibly on Hetfield’s voice) to replicate the acoustics of a larger venue and crowd noises were added on. I’m sure I can remember reading that the crowd noise was taken from a classic live album but I’m not sure if that’s true or not (answers on a postcard please) but the crowd noise does give the impression that the band had amassed a pretty large following at this early stage in their career!

Like, Hetfield's hips, this record moves in a circular way
Like Hetfield’s hips, this record moves in a circular way

If you can get over the naïve fakery involved, these lively alternate versions are still well worth hearing. Both of the B-Side tracks are more representative of the band’s early, influential Thrash style than the A-Side. While these versions are missing the breakneck intensity of Metallica’s actual live performances, Cliff Burton’s fabulous bass playing is clear as a bell, Kirk’s soloing is free of bum notes and the performance as a whole is pretty tight. Pleasingly, Hetfield’s voice is starting to sound more like it would on future albums but his exhortations to the imaginary crowd (“let’s go, c’mon”) during Seek and Destroy are embarrassing.

Sans the fakery these are still excellent performances. If they had been radio sessions instead they would have been more appreciated and it’s probably preferable to think of them along those lines. For future releases, Metallica would lose the naiveté… and the orange demon dude.

The Box Set from whence this came!
The Box Set from whence this came!

Blue Öyster Cult – Imaginos (Review)

Imaginos LP Cover
Imaginos LP Cover

[Unused Stephen King intro to the album]

BÖC ended their tenure on Columbia with the ambitious concept album, Imaginos. It’s easily one of BÖC’s heaviest efforts in all senses but there were still enough keyboards, reverbed drums and glassy clean guitars to ensure it fit in with the musical trends of the mid-80s. In typical BÖC fashion, however, they added their own eerie and psychedelic quality to the mix. If you ever have a nightmare about the 80s it could easily sound like this!

The album had a long gestation and is really a combination of two projects. It started out in 1981 as the solo project of fired original member, Albert Bouchard. This project was rejected and later reworked as a Blue Öyster Cult project. Even though some of the original BÖC members were no longer in the band, the convoluted saga of the album’s making meant that all original members appear on it, giving the album the illusion of being a reunion effort. There are also many guest musicians and vocalists as a result of its long gestation.

Imaginos CD Cover
Imaginos CD Cover

It’s perhaps surprising, then, that the album sounds so focussed. Del Rio’s Song has hooks to die for and serves as light relief amidst all the mystery and darkness. The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria is explosively dramatic with superb guest vocalist Joey Cerisano channeling Chris Cornell. The album’s concept comes from poems written in the 60s by the band’s mentor and manager Sandy Pearlman. These ideas have featured in many songs throughout BÖC albums and some of this older material appears here in reworked form (including an upbeat, galloping take on the classic Astronomy).

Although the production does seem over-produced compared to the sparser sound of their classic albums, the lavish sound does suit the theatrical concept and feels like an updated version of the band’s dark, arcane style to me. The use of lyrics and music from previous eras also creates the sense of this album as the definitive statement of BÖC’s career and mythology. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the band’s worst seller for the label and would be their swansong as a Columbia act. They wouldn’t release another studio album for 10 years. It’s a real shame because this album is creative, bold and uncompromising: a secret treat for anyone wanting to check out overlooked gems from the 80s.

 

[Blue Öyster Cult – The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria]

Sabbat – History of a Time to Come (Review)

Sabbat - History of a Time to Come CD Reissue
Sabbat – History of a Time to Come CD Reissue

If you were in a successful Thrash Metal band in the 1980s, you were probably American or German. While the UK was a massive influence on the genre via bands such Venom and Motorhead, the UK Thrash Metal scene is generally a footnote in any history of the genre. However, in England’s green and pleasant land there was one band that was more than a match for any of the more successful Thrash exponents from overseas.

They were Nottingham’s Sabbat and their debut album History of a Time to Come had the pace, aggression and technicality of Slayer and Megadeth and the filthy Black Metal tinge of Germany’s Destruction and Kreator. But, in addition to being able to thrash with the best of them, Sabbat had a pagan and medieval quality to their music which sounded uniquely British.

The whole album is expertly paced. For the most part the band thrashes like maniacs but the album is interspersed with enough memorable horn-raising riffs to appeal to fans of Maiden and Priest. There are also occasional clean passages, river sounds and tweeting birds offering pastoral respite from the musical sword-waving elsewhere.

Songs like Hosanna in Excelsis and Behind the Crooked Cross are satisfyingly direct and savage with Andy Sneap’s deft guitar riffs and snaky legato fills. Vocalist Martin Walkyier impresses too: his crazed screeches, growls and exaggerated pronunciation (“The poison-ah! infil-ah! trates-ah!”) coming across like a possessed Dark Ages preacher or prophet. His startling vocal performance here would prove influential in the Black Metal genre both in the UK and abroad.

Walkyier’s wild delivery is especially useful in songs like A Cautionary Tale and I For An Eye where the songs take the form of Dante-inspired short plays. His varied vocal delivery is great for carrying the multitude of dramatic parts and his voice is often harmonised and doubled over to create a mysterious, occult atmosphere. One of the finest examples of this comes in A Cautionary Tale where Walkyier’s voice is weaved together with a backwards vocal for spellbinding effect (“Bell, book and candle. Candle, book, bell. Forwards and backwards to damn me to hell. Jehovah, I beg thee. Have mercy on my soul”).

Narratives are also expressed musically by the skilful changes in pace and mood. The greatest example occurs in the shift to a classic mid-tempo riff during I For An Eye to illustrate Lucifer’s malevolent intent. An uplifting, cleaner version of the same riff is introduced later beneath the melodic solo which closes the song (“I burn”). This is one of the album’s most awe-inspiring moments and a great example of the Andy Sneap’s skill as a composer, arranger and player.

The lyrics on History of a Time to Come deserve praise too. Many of the era’s bands were moving away from horror-themed lyrics and towards the real world horror of politics and nuclear destruction. Sabbat managed to use elements of both, filtered through the lens of a distinctively pagan and spiritual worldview. Horned is the Hunter (the album’s centrepiece) is suitably apocalyptic but the story of man’s downfall (the “history of a time to come” referred to in the album’s title) is told through the eyes of our forgotten Gods of nature. The topic of Nazism is cloaked by a focus on their occult obsessions in Behind the Crooked Cross and the greed of TV evangelists (always a popular target for 80s metallers) is turned into a medieval carnival in The Church Bizarre.

Sabbat History of a Time to Come CD Rear CoverSabbat would only release one more album, Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays), before the classic line-up split. Walkyier would go on to form Skyclad (one of the greatest bands of the 90s) and Andy Sneap would build a very successful production career. He would later use this success to help reactivate Hell, an obscure UK Metal band that was a massive influence on Sabbat.

This edition of History of a Time to Come has been superbly remastered by Andy Sneap himself and also includes 5 gruff live tracks from East Berlin (taken from the End of the Beginning VHS) with the standout track being a blistering version of For Those Who Died. There isn’t a weak track on this CD. It’s a superb record, superb reissue and a must-have for fans of Thrash and Black Metal. Charge!

[Sabbat – I For An Eye]

Manowar – Hell on Wheels (Review)

“Ladies and Gentlemen. From the United States of America… all hail… Manowar.”

Being a Manowar fan brings with it both agony and ecstasy. Ever since their debut Battle Hymns in 1982, the New Yorkers have pounded out albums where epic, awe-inspiring classics have been accompanied by unwelcome bass solos and monologues. So the question that always has to be asked of any new Manowar release is: does the filler outweigh the killer?

Arguably, the band’s golden-era ended with 1992’s Triumph of Steel so the release of their first live record Hell on Wheels in 1997 seemed a bit belated but also had a tantalising wealth of material to draw from.

The album kicks off in thrilling style. Orson Welles heralding the band’s arrival on stage for their signature tune, Manowar. The album does a fine job of capturing Manowar’s punishingly loud live sound, vocalist Eric Adams fighting to be heard amongst the din. Unfortunately, the momentum created by the strong opening is damaged by the ill-conceived grouping of a guitar solo, piano interlude and the ballad, Courage, which creates the feel of a last dance too early in the album’s running time. Blood of my Enemies and Hail and Kill close off the first disc and should be the album’s centrepieces but their effect is neutered by the poor pacing.

Thankfully the second CD is slightly more even. Once again it opens well and although Joey DeMaio’s bass solo Black Arrows is well played and varied, it’s too long and Fighting the World struggles to restore the excitement levels. The back end of the album is over-weighted with newer material from 1996’s disappointing Louder Than Hell but the songs are more convincing live than in the studio and the final stages of Hell on Wheels are great fun, culminating in the moving Battle Hymn.

Ultimately, what should have been the definitive statement of Manowar at their absolute best is hobbled by the inconsistencies that often dog their studio output. You can press “skip” or stick the kettle on and this is a great live album, but victory is barely snatched from the jaws of defeat and I expect more from the Kings of Metal. Thankfully, Manowar had now developed a taste for the live album. There would be more… and they would be better.

Sammy and the Wabos – Live Hallelujah (Review)

Let us offer praise for this thoroughly entertaining live album from Sammy Hagar and his nifty backing band The Waboritas. 2003’s Live Hallelujah captures Hagar and friends in buoyant form after a run of enjoyable solo albums and, as the title suggests, it has a celebratory feel to it. It is also incredibly loud: ear fatigue guaranteed but it does capture that feeling of being front row in front of some massive fuck off speakers. The older tracks are bristling with the kind of wild 70s style guitar attack that would make The Nuge proud and the Van Hagar-era selections are feelgood bliss with special guest appearances from Gary Cherone and a speaker-rattling Michael Anthony. They’re no slouches on the axe, but Hagar and Vic Johnson pick less flashy Van Hagar tracks that sit comfortably alongside the non-VH tunes. Throw in some sterling newer tunes like Shaka Doobie and Deeper Kind Of Love and you’ve got a party of a set that assimilates a long career cohesively. If your ears can take the remorseless pounding this is great fun and totally evokes the excitement and vibe of a loud, entertaining rock show. Just expect a bit of tinnitus on the way home.

W.A.S.P. – Live… in the Raw (Review)

Live… in the Raw 1997 Reissue

Live albums weren’t as much of a slam-dunk in the 80s as they were in the 70s for bands like KISS but W.A.S.P. had the right idea putting out Live… In The Raw. Their sex-and-gore antics had made their live show notorious but they were also looking to put an end to their shock rock image and get “serious” with more topical and conceptual ideas. 1987’s Live… In The Raw performed the double duty of marking the end of an era and also buying the band some valuable time to craft their new direction. It’s a veritable greatest-hits set too, rounding up the best songs from the band’s increasingly patchy studio output. Live… In The Raw doesn’t sound particularly live or raw but it’s energetic and captures the excitement of a live show, delivering definitive versions of great songs like Inside The Electric Circus, L.O.V.E Machine, Wild Child and 9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y. And as an added bonus there are three new tracks too: two superb “live” tunes (Harder Faster and The Manimal) and one studio recording Scream Until You Like It that bolster the outrageousness of the whole thing. The omission of the controversial (Animal) Fuck Like A Beast feels like pulled punch but there’s too much fun to be had here for it to matter much. W.A.S.P. put out some great stuff once they got all clever but my favourite W.A.S.P. is still dumb W.A.S.P. And Live… In The Raw is dumb W.A.S.P. in their prime. It’s seriously good.

2011 reissue of Inside the Electric Circus relegates Live… in the Raw to mere bonus disc.