“Before a mighty Emperor thereupon came”
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.
“I’m gonna bust when you’re down on your knees”
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.
“Hatred coming on from greater heights”
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.
“Put your legs in the flames”
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.
“There was a war but I must’ve won”
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.
“Hear the roar of battle-horn”
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.
“Through you I was so inspired”
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?!
“How much longer are you gonna pay, for yesterday”
Today I was listening to The Sab’s Dehumanizer for the first time in ages. Sins Of The Father stood out, which caught me by surprise cause it’s usually my least favourite track on the whole thing. It’s a bit meh of riff and the Beatlesque opening bit doesn’t do much for me. But as it picks up pace and intensity it creeps up on you and Dio sounds so committed: giving it full majestic welly on the awesome chorus and delivering the typically cryptic lyrics like they’re the most important words, ever. A dark horse track on an album that still improves with every listen.
“With a magic in their music as they eat raw liver”
I’m reliably informed that, while I was listening to Black Sabbath’s Zero The Hero in the office today, I gurned. Like Phil Anselmo feeling the money riff. Specifically about a minute in, when Ian Gillan’s vocals kick in for the first verse. It’s a sure fire sign a song is a winner. And Zero The Hero is a winner. Creepy crawly riff, spooky FX and pure attitude from Gillan as he vents his ire on some mediocre unfortunate. I usually prefer Sabbath songs to have a bit more of a riff journey going on. This song is more of a vibe. But what a vibe, capped off with a great atmospheric guitar solo from Tony Iommi. It’s popular nowadays to point out the riff similarity with GnR’s Paradise City but that song never makes me gurn like Zero The Hero does. I guess the Gunners just didn’t eat enough raw liver.