In the mid-80s Canada’s Cobra Records reckoned that, as long as you put a wild cover on it, any old metal shite could sell 20,000 copies easily. So they set out to create a bunch of pretend metal acts and whack out some albums. One of these was Piledriver.
Although Piledriver boasted various fictional members (including “Knuckles” Akimbo on guitar and “Former” Lee on drums!) all the backing tracks were written, performed and produced by Leslie Howe with vocals handled by Piledriver himself (real name: Gordon). But by second album Stay Ugly, Leslie was gone and Piledriver was assisted by none other than Virgin Steele’s David DeFeis (writing and producing as “The Lion”) and Edward Pursino (writing and playing guitar as umm… “Bruizer” Bernette).
The Fire God is one of the album’s standout tracks. Leathery speed metal with a blasphemous flavour of Venom. It’s crude enough that it sounds a bit bashed out but it’s not just any old metal shite either. It’s got heart, hooks, harmonies and ripping guitar. It was good enough that Virgin Steele did their own version years later and it’s proof that good music can come out of the the most crass and contrived circumstances.
God=Dog asks the burning question that’s been on all our lips for so long: “is a god to live in a dog?” But in addition to settling that issue once and for all, it’s also a pretty good metal song. It’s definitely one of the most memorable tracks from 2018s I Loved You At Your Darkest. Solid evil blasting paced out with dramatic and melodic black metal riffs. And don’t let the daft title put you off. There is thoughtful and arcane imagery in the lyrics and it’s the sort of layered, cryptic stuff that obsessives can er… obsess over endlessly. The use of children’s voices is a bit too cheesy for my liking and I think the songs finale would have been climatic enough without them. Probably more so. But overall, an enjoyable and catchy burst of blasphemy from Nergal and crew. Oh yeah, and the answer is “no”.
If you’re going to trudge through a slow doomfest you need quality riffs and lyrics, depth of feeling and strong atmosphere and Black Sabbath’s God Is Dead? falls flat on all fronts. It goes on way too long, the brickwalled production has zero atmosphere, the vocals are flat and the lyrics are either boring or clumsy light/night, doom/tomb stuff. The chorus is pretty good, especially the second time round where it is extended out in a moment of rousing emotion. But the band don’t capitalise on this flash of brilliance and the song continues with a series of unremarkable riffs and an unusually uninspired solo from Tony Iommi. Not sure if God has snuffed it or not but this song is disappointingly bereft of life.
Alice In Chains’ 1992 album Dirt is widely associated with heroin addiction and features many great songs ridden with anguish, turmoil and death. But there are actually only three songs on it that specifically reference drug use. And you’re not getting any points for guessing that God Smack is one of them. It’s got the woozy, sick Layne Staley vocals and an upbeat wah-drenched chorus but musically it’s one of the album’s least remarkable tracks. However, the title and its unflinching portrayal of someone for whom heroin has become everything, gives it a thematic and lyrical importance that makes it a key deep cut on the album even if it’s no great shakes when listened to in isolation.
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.
Like Yggdrasill, the world tree at the centre of Norse mythology, black metal has branched out in all sorts of directions. Enslaved have always been a fine example of the genre’s progressive possibilities. Throughout their career the Norwegians have consistently pushed their creative longboat out into new waters. On this classic track from 2004’s Isa there are long passages of dreamy prog that bring to mind Rush, Porcupine Tree and the like. But these cosmic adventurers remain black at heart with frosty, pagan lyrics and a recurring, but captivatingly brief, riff of violent, tempestuous power.
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.