“Can’t scare you if you can’t be scared”
Abbath’s Dread Reaver failed to make my day with its frustrating lack of oomph. But on the album’s bonus track, a cover of Motörhead’s Make My Day, the band give it some extra welly and conjure up the kind of excitement that’s missing on the main album. The chorus is anthemic enough to poke through the band’s wallop of noise and Abbath does a good karaoke Lemmy. Normally, he sounds like the kinda guy that does battle with mountain lions but here he sounds more like he makes love to them. If he can start capturing some of this swagger in his own material then he might be on to something.
“The banjo player took a hike”
Purple frontman Ian Gillan was always fond of calling guitarists “banjo players”. So anyone hearing the above lyric in Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic would have understood it was a sly poke at the band’s ex-guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Ted The Mechanic opened 1996’s Purpendicular, Deep Purple’s first album since Blackmore’s departure, and it introduced fans to their new guitarist Steve Morse. It’s instantly clear from the opening riff that this lineup of Purple means business. There’s a palpable musical chemistry with Morse and Gillan is in classic dirty form on a playful rocker that will have you wiggling in your chair. And best of all, the tricky opening riff where Morse makes electric use of a picking technique called… the banjo roll. See what he did there? Top man.
“Fleeing. Fleeing fastly”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “careful” used this forcefully in a song before. Repeatedly. Here’s Tankard: generally renowned for songs about drinking beer and being a thrash metal ne’er-do-well. But on Mercenary (taken from 1986’s Zombie Attack) the Germans take on the subject of soldiers for hire in their endearing “English as a second language” way. It’s just great fun: a punky, speed metal mosh. And the chorus gang shout of “Mercenary! Be careful! Mercenary! Careful! Carefully, carefully! The mercenary, the mercenary” is unforgettably demented. You might enjoy it a little too much so… careful!
“Before they bring the curtain down”
I’ve listened to Badge a gazillion times now and it’s never lost an ounce of its power. It’s the track that got me into Cream, or to be more precise, its the bridge that got me into Cream. The main song is wonderfully summery but when it reaches the bridge and Eric Clapton’s Leslie-speaker guitar arpeggios chime in, it’s one of the most emotionally moreish sounds in rock history. It was co-written by Clapton and his Beatle pal George Harrison for Cream’s farewell album Goodbye and although the relationships in Cream had turned sour by that point, the band put in a great performance. Especially Jack Bruce, who excels with his bouncy, melodic bass line. Shame they couldn’t have held the band together as this is brilliant stuff and I find their catalogue, short though it is, increasingly revealing and rewarding over the years. But Badge still ranks as the cream of the crop.
“Loaded down with your talents”
If there was a Venn diagram of classical music, progressive rock and metal, you’d find Emerson, Lake And Palmer’s Knife-Edge bang in the centre. Taken from the band’s 1970 debut this is dark, heavy stuff with a huge, ominous riff. The formidable British trio rearrange pieces from Janáček and Bach into a stonking Hammond organ bludgeon that is surely what the composers had in mind all along. As a young metal fan this was one of the key gateway tracks that introduced me to the rich, crazy world of prog and it’s still one of my favourite songs of the genre.
“You know the rules and you’re gonna play”
If I was going to do an “all KISS songs ranked” type post, I reckon I’d have Bang Bang You higher on the list than most. There are a few reasons for this… One: It’s an endearingly dumb rock song about shagging. Two: I’m a sucker for 80s KISS (Paul Stanley’s voice is great and Bruce Kulick’s guitar work is always tasty). Three: It’s a song I love more since learning how to play it. I have a real thing about rock songs that use capos and Paul Stanley is a regular capo user. He uses one here, on the 2nd fret, and I love playing it. Four: it’s become my go-to song for testing out music gear down at the guitar shop. If I don’t enjoy playing Bang Bang You on a guitar or amp it doesn’t get bought. Simple as that. That’s the main reasons anyway, but I could probably reel off another… I dunno… five, six, seven, eight.
“In these lonely days I need your answer”
On 1994’s Master Of The Rings, Helloween got their power metal mojo back big time. With two new members on board, drummer Uli Kutsch and vocalist Andi Deris, the German band sounded fresh and vital. And it’s these new guys that particularly shine on Why? Kutsch excites with his hard-hitting, gear-shifting groove and, not only are his vocals breathtaking (especially on the soaring, emotional chorus) but Deris displayed considerable songwriting chops here too. The lyrics challenge a non-interventional God but Why? is so good I can’t help feeling like the big man had Helloween’s back.
“Through the clouds shines a ray of the Sun”
This is the furthest I have ventured into the realm of proper rainbow unicorn power metal. So far, anyway. I was provoked into buying Stratovarius’ Infinite after a short live clip of them playing Hunting High And Low on the Metal Evolution series planted the song’s chorus in my head forever. The band pump out a fairly typical Euro-metal backdrop that refrains from showboating enough to let the insanely catchy tune and Timo Kotipelto’s soaring voice take centre stage. It all evokes warm feelings of old Europe and Goran Edman era Yngwie. The kind of song that gives you a high, even when you’re feeling low.
“Speed gone, reflex missing”
Neat Records’ 1981 release Lead Weight was one of the best NWOBHM compilations, featuring a whole bunch of songs you couldn’t hear anywhere else. My favourite of the bunch is Fist’s Throwing In The Towel. It tells the tale of an ageing boxer lured into the ring for a comeback bout… only to realise his thunder-crapping days are behind him. It’s got a wonderfully downtrodden chorus and there’s real tension in the verses as the staccato vocals punch and jab. It’s brilliant, inventive stuff that holds its own amongst the compilation’s heavy-hitters like Raven and Venom. Unfortunately, Throwing In The Towel was the last song this lineup of Fist released which is a shame… they could have been contenders.
I can’t think of many metal instrumentals I would pick out as album highlights but here’s one: Final Gates, from Running Wild’s 1988 pirate metal classic Port Royal. Written by, and showcasing, Running Wild’s new bassist Jens Becker, Final Gates is a cut above: avoiding the usual pitfalls of skippable atmospheric scene-setting or virtuoso showboating. Instead, it’s a track that stands on its own: creative and restrained with wonderful guitar solos and Becker going all Geddy Lee on some infuriatingly catchy bass lines. It’s a wonderful, funky odd-man-out amidst a bounty of power metal swashbuckling.