In Blue Öyster Cult’s Monsters, one woman and three men form a crew to steal a spaceship and head out into the cosmos in order to escape a laughter-free Earth. Unfortunately they don’t reckon on the monsters of their minds and the trip ends in sex, jealousy and murder. On BÖC’s 1980 album Cultösaurus Erectus, the band were keen to focus on their enigmatic, heavier side and Monsters‘ dark sci-fi yarn definitely delivers on that front. It’s also a ton of fun: a demented mix of sex and sax where huge stadium rock mixes with schizoid King Crimson riffs and swinging jazz interludes. And while the story ends badly for the crew, Monsters takes off in a climax that is Blue Öyster Cult at their euphoric best.
They think she’s insane but Love/Hate, experts in all different types of ladies (from the cuddly wuddly wuddly ones to the nymphomaniacs… in black), know better: She’s An Angel. Taken from the band’s thumping and debauched 1990 debut album Blackout In The Red Room, She’s An Angel stands out as a refreshingly romantic, windswept change of pace from the rest of the album’s party-hearty race to the bottom. But there’s still plenty of that going on in She’s An Angel too, with its drug-taking protaganist, relentless yeah yeah yeah yeah yeahs, and its breathless, driving intensity. I always get a total charge from this exhilarating sleaze metal gem. It’s a guaranteed good time, even during the bad times.
The lengthy, linear songs, relentless changes and a lack of repetition make Opeth’s debut album Orchid a tough nut to crack but it’s well worth the effort. Here’s one of the album’s best and most accessible tracks, The Twilight Is My Robe. It’s brilliant questing stuff that gallops across rolling Maidenesque hills, ventures through bleak forests of gothic doom and rests its weary head in a dingly dell of acoustic enchantment. It’s astonishing to think this band hadn’t been in a proper studio before they recorded this. It’s audacious, ambitious stuff from an adventurous band that was clearly going places.
Evil feelings in the air? Then it’s time for some thrash. Taken from the first (and my favourite) Testament album The Legacy, Burnt Offerings is timeless, definitive moshing right down to its half-note riffs, shifting pace and Chuck Billy’s ballsy vocals. I love the black magic vibe of a lot of these early Testament tracks and Burnt Offerings has got that in spades. It’s like a moshed-up Mercyful Fate song with its seances, tarot cards, spooky intro and creepy-crawly verses. It’s an infernal thrash classic that… won’t die!
I don’t know what the UK Christmas Number One was last year but mine was Avatarium’s Death, Where Is Your Sting. Taken from the album of the same name, Death, Where Is Your Sting is one of the Swedish band’s most affecting and memorable songs: dark, sumptuous pop with a doomy bottom end and a stirring vocal performance from Jennie-Ann Smith. I treated myself to the album in December and listened to it tons over the holidays. Mostly because it’s tremendous but also because its lush Scandi-mood made it the perfect soundtrack for 2022’s other festive obsession: playing the Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries boardgame! Crisps, dips, Appletiser, losing because I forgot to finish my train line to Lieksa, and Avatarium. Now that’s what I call Christmas!
You never know what the new day will bring. I’ve been listening pretty solidly to death metal this week (Akercocke, Bloodbath, Gorguts) then I woke up this morning and my brain was playing Wheel In The Sky by Journey. Bit of a change of pace, but a fine suggestion, brain! Taken from my favourite Journey album Infinity, Wheel In The Sky is a standout song from the album and from the band’s whole career. It’s in D-minor, the saddest of all keys, but its bouncy rhythm, suvvern twang and Steve Perry’s blissful singing give it a strident, hopeful quality. Throw in an iconic guitar intro and a rich, warm production and you’ve got an absolute rock classic that never fails to put a spring in my step. Now let’s see what my brain’s got lined up for tomorrow… back to the good old zombie infernos I’ll bet.
A song about the dehumanisation and exploitation of workers should probably sound a bit angry so the topic is in safe hands with Brummie grind gods Napalm Death. In recent years they’ve been making some of their best ever music and Smash A Single Digit from 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat is a masterclass in furious extremity. It’s dissonant and explosive with a superbly thrashy climax and an intense, vital performance from vocalist Barney Greenway. Napalm Death have been making excoriating noise for decades now and show no signs of taking a break.
Holidays In Eden is a rare instance where an album’s title track is also its weakest. But in this case, it’s not that the namesake track is terrible. It’s just that, where the rest of the album veers between lovely pop and moody storytelling, Holidays In Eden is just polite, straightforward rock that doesn’t play to the band’s strengths. The verses have a nice carefree feel and the bridge adds a bit of edge but, in particular, the chorus always struck me as a bit weak. And, if the interviews on the recent reissue box set are anything to go by, Marillion never seemed to be particularly enamoured with it either. A song they say themselves should have been “wilder” and “better than it was”. Can’t argue with that.
Tyrant were like lightning: they only struck once. Like so many other New Wave Of British Heavy Metal hopefuls, the Gloucestershire band only released a solitary 7″ single in 1983 before riding off into obscurity. It’s a shame the band never did more because the A-Side track Hold Back The Lightning is totally righteous: galloping power metal with anthemic, folky vocals that are a larynx-shredding mix of High ‘N’ Dry Joe Elliott and Trouble’s Eric Wagner. This was the first song I listened to in 2023 because I wanted to start my year off in suitably heroic and chest-beating fashion. Mission accomplished.
As Xmas and New Year approach I’ve managed to drag myself away from my usual festive fare (KISS, Magnum, Steeleye Span) and revisit some of my favourite albums of the 2022. Artificial Brain’s self-titled album has been the most-played of the bunch in December and is definitely a front-runner for the year’s top spot. Here’s one of its best tracks, Celestial Cyst. It’s turbulent and rumbling death metal with relentless blastbeats and subterranean vocals but topped with spacey layers of guitars and keyboards that give it a tranquil, melancholic mood more associated with black metal. It’s a brutal and enthralling combo. Artificial Brain is the third album in the band’s stellar career (and the last in a dystopian sci-fi trilogy) and they are at their absolute peak. Metal fans in search of strange new worlds should get onboard.