In the early 90s, it seemed like everyone and their dog was recording covers of classic KISS. And death metal pioneers Death were no exception, taking a break from the complex technicality of their 1991 Human album to throw down a cover of God Of Thunder. Originally used as a Japanese bonus track, the cover was presumably intended more as a bit of fun than an important artistic statement as the band don’t do anything radical with the track. Outside of Chuck Schuldiner’s tortured vocals, the relentless double-bass drums and a flashier guitar solo, it’s all pretty faithful to the version on KISS’ Destroyer album. What I find interesting is that, despite the extreme metal growls and drumming, the KISS version remains darker, heavier and cooler. So, although it’s a fun listen in its own right, it also does a good job of reminding you just how powerful KISS were. I guess all those bands were covering their stuff for a reason.
In 1989 the BBC documentary series Arena ran an hour-long episode called Heavy Metal. It was a huge deal for metal fans. Videotaped, rewatched repeatedly and quoted endlessly… “whooaa dugga dugga dugga!” There is a fantastic scene filmed in Nottingham’s Rock City nightclub where a circle of guys throw some unforgettable shapes to an amazingly hypnotic riff. Uncredited in the documentary, the source of this riff remained a mystery until years later when I heard the song Brain Death by Nuclear Assault.
Brain Death would be a pretty standard speed metal bash if it wasn’t for that riff kicking in at the 3.30min mark. There’s a quiet opening that builds up some nice dread and the chorus is instantly memorable but this song is all about the Nottingham Rock City mosh. A lot of bands might just play that kind of slower breakdown briefly before picking up the pace or launching into a guitar solo but Nuclear Assault ride it out for nearly 3 minutes, giving it that hypnotic intensity. And it gives you plenty of time to do some serious air guitar damage too. I love it and by the looks of the Nottingham Rock City footage, I’m not the only one. Whoaa dugga dugga dugga!
They were an unknown band at the time but that didn’t stop Manowar from securing the services of screen legend Orson Welles who (clearly recognising that he was in the midst of fellow geniuses) agreed to record narration for their debut album: 1982’s Battle Hymns. His narration was used on that album’s Dark Avenger but in the same session Welles also recorded two more pieces: a cool stage intro (that the band has used ever since) and narration for a strange and glorious second song, Defender.
Mostly spoken word set to music, it’s the kind of thing other bands would have used to flesh out an album. But Manowar are not “other bands” so Defender was released as a non-album single in 1983. Not the kind of stuff to tear up the charts but a great introduction to Manowar’s barbarian muscle metal. Windswept Conan tones in the mellow intro, Welles’ baritone gravitas, that killer “ride like the wind” chorus and goosebumps galore when vocalist Eric Adams finally chips in.
I slightly prefer the more direct, streamlined Fighting The World version from 1987 (which used the same narration but re-recorded and rearranged the rest of the song) but the original has its own appeal. It almost sounds like a metallized take on classic Kansas with Adams’ soaring vocals and Ross The Boss’ bluesier guitar solo. And best of all it has a longer, more epic atmosphere with the “Tree Of Woe” vibe that characterized the band’s early work. It’s a must-hear and a must-have rarity for any Manowar fan. This is the music God has sent.
Sad news today with the passing of Rush’s Neil Peart. On Facebook and Twitter I posted the track Afterimage as a tribute. It sprung to mind due to its themes of grief and loss… and because 80s Rush rules! But let’s have a song from another era here.
Ghost Rider is one of my favourite tunes of the band’s later work. Written as Rush were returning to action following Peart’s hiatus due to deaths in his family, it’s one of their most moving and emotive songs. The Canadians take to the open road with a breezy, motoring groove and a shifting landscape of layered guitars. Peart’s lyrics are searching and evocative and vocalist Geddy Lee responds with taste and feeling. But, as always, the engine driving the whole thing is Peart’s classy and dynamic drum performance. R.I.P Neil.
“My soul has vanished, with the bird that flies so free”
They’re not a metal band by any stretch of the imagination, but Sister Seagull is definitely one of Be-Bop Deluxe’s more metal-friendly tunes. It’s one of those watery psychedelic ballads that hard rock and metal bands used to do in the 70s and early 80s. Judas Priest, Scorpions, UFO, Angel Witch, Iron Maiden… they’ve all done them! But this is one of the best. Sister Seagull has a simple D5-E5 riff that is very metal and because metal fans are suckers for a guitar god, check out Bill Nelson’s fluid and cascading pentatonic soloing. Loads of bands might have recorded songs like this, but few did it with the sheer class and expressive emotion of Sister Seagull.
HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5
Or, as an added bonus, check out this magnificently-trousered performance from the Old Grey Whistle Test.
I was first introduced to Queensrÿche’sProphecy via the live version on the Building Empires VHS, before acquiring the studio version as the bonus track on the CD reissue of the band’s 1983 debut EP. Nowadays you’ll find it as a bonus track on the reissue of 1984’s The Warning because it was written during that era but I’ve since discovered it wasn’t actually recorded until the sessions for their 1986 album Rage For Order! Bloody hell. But it doesn’t really matter because this song holds it own anywhere. It’s got the classy Rage For Order production sheen but its traditional melodic metal style fits in nicely on The Warning and the EP. Some extremely bouncy riffing, catchy hooks, nice vocal harmonies and some nifty and memorable guitar soloing from Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton make Prophecy a standout favourite… wherever you hear it.
There’s a killer on the loose in this highlight from Witch Cross’ 1984 debut album Fit For Fight. And a clown-faced one at that. The worst kind. Although this Danish band were geographically excluded from the movement, this track definitely has some raw New Wave Of British Heavy Metal magic to it. Funereal keyboards set the creepy tone before the predatory riffing kicks in. Brilliant Rhoads-esque guitar work here and the appropriately-named vocalist Alex Savage delivers the song’s deadly hooks with soaring ease. Highly recommended for fans of early Maiden, Riot and Witch Cross’ fellow countrymen Mercyful Fate. It’s jester killer.