KISS – Hotter Than Hell (Review)

KISS – Hotter Than Hell (1974 – with German logo variant!)

The meanest and heaviest album of KISS’ classic era. When their self-titled debut LP wasted no time in sliding out of the charts, KISS headed back into the studio to rush out a replacement, 1974’s Hotter Than Hell. This time ramping up the layers and distortion in an attempt to replicate the power of their live sound. The sludgy, messy end result is oft-criticised but I think the album has a dark, underground edge and the more metallic material here works really well. Songs like the genius riff-fest Parasite and the predatory Watchin’ You sound gritty and nasty. My main gripe is the stupidly slow tempos. Top tunes like Got To Choose, the title-track and Let Me Go Rock N’ Roll just sound like they need a good kick up the arse. But they’re still enjoyable versions if you just get into that blockier, doomier mindset and, best of all, there are no real clunkers here. They won’t show up on greatest hits sets but tracks like Comin’ Home, Goin’ Blind and Strange Ways are all choice deep cuts for the KISS connoisseur. Especially Strange Ways for its phenomenal whacked-out Ace Frehley guitar solo. Total attitude. Not their hottest album then but definitely one of their coolest, a rewarding evocation of KISS’ hungry years.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Bruce Dickinson – Tattooed Millionaire (Review)

Bruce Dickinson – Tattooed Millionaire (1990)

The release of Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album,1990’s Tattooed Millionaire, didn’t represent the fulfillment of some pent-up creative ambition. Instead, an offer to record a track for Nightmare On Elm Street 5 turned into an opportunity for the Iron Maiden frontman to have some simple fun recording an album with his drinking pal, jobless ex-Gillan guitarist Janick Gers. Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of a throwaway effort. The title track is upbeat and infectious but pub rockers like Lickin’ The Gun and Zulu Lulu prove every bit as unremarkable as their titles and album nadir Dive! Dive! Dive! is just too silly (“no muff too tuff”). But the album gets evocative and personal on the excellent Born In ’58, the dusty Bad Company-esque opener Son Of A Gun is one of my favourite Bruce tracks and there’s a sense of fun and warmth in the band’s unpretentious approach. So, while far from a classic, time has been kind to Tattooed Millionaire, especially its stronger first half. I return to this album any time I want a bit of nostalgic summery fun.

HMO Rating : 3 Out Of 5

My copy – Reissue CD with bonus disc

Mayhem – Deathcrush (Review)

Released back in 1987, before lineup changes led to a chain of events that would make them infamous, Mayhem’s debut EP Deathcrush achieved notoriety on the strength of its music alone. It’s 18 minutes of metal that’s as primal and abrasive as it gets. With neither black or death metal codified as separate musical styles yet, Deathcrush is a mercurial mix of both. The rumbling riffs and crude lyrics (“her guts were boiling out of her butt”) lean towards the fledgling death genre. But the necro production, bulldozer guitar tones and punk mentality follow in the footsteps of early Bathory, Hellhammer, Sodom et al: a course that would eventually to lead to the birth of black metal in the band’s native Norway. The howling, stubbed-toe vocals of Maniac, the harsh Quorthon-like vocals of Messiah and the spooky unease created by the avant-garde instrumentals Silvester Anfang and Weird (Manheim) all add to the palpable sense of darkness and evil that make Deathcrush a crucial evolutionary step in the black metal story. Pure Fucking Armageddon from start to finish. And the band was just getting started…

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

[Mayhem – Chainsaw Gutsfuck]

Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (Review)

Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden (1980)

He was the lurking, shadowy menace on the cover of Iron Maiden’s first single Running Free and now wwoooaarghh… here’s Eddie! The band’s undying, murderous mascot was finally revealed in his full glory on the front of their self-titled debut album. His ghoulish presence amidst London’s grubby bins, doorways and streetlights perfectly evoking the rough, dangerous music on this NWOBHM classic. Iron Maiden sounds like it wants to jump you in an alleyway and cut your face. Gritty and aggressive tunes like Prowler, Transylvania and Iron Maiden taking the metal pioneered by Priest and Rainbow to a new level of raw intensity. And guided by bassist/songwriter/Genesis fan Steve Harris, there’s also plenty of ambition and excitement in the extended structures of tracks like the lucozade-powered Phantom Of The Opera. These days I gravitate to the Hendrix-y mellowness of Remember Tomorrow and Strange World but all the songs on this album have been a favourite at one point or another. The whole band impress but Paul Di’Anno’s raucous vocals and Harris’ forceful basslines deserve special mentions. The band members still whinge about the gnarly production but nobody else gives a flying fuck. Iron Maiden wants you for dead and if this album doesn’t get your blood flowing, you might as well be.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Motörhead – Motörhead (Review)

Motörhead – Motörhead (1977)

The legendary Lemmy/Philthy/Fast Eddie lineup of Motörhead roars into life on their 1977 self-titled debut, sounding every bit the skint, pissed off, ne’er-do-wells they were. Over 40 years later Motörhead is still an impressively belligerent noise. It captures the band at the point where they were dubbed “the worst band in the world” (and couldn’t have cared less). The title track is a thunderous biker anthem and Iron Horse/Born To Lose, White Line Fever and Keep Us On The Road are low-down and mean rackets. The band’s everything-louder-than-everything-else chemistry is already thrillingly volatile but the hurried recording sessions didn’t allow much time for writing. So there’s a reliance on old songs from Lemmy’s stint in Hawkwind and songs from a formative and short-lived earlier lineup of the band. Which means Motörhead ends up more trippy, dated and ponderous than later albums where the band would truly gel: mixing their wide range of influences into a seamless Motörmusic. But it’s a great and important debut: an obnoxious, warts-and-all album that set a new standard in loud, dirty, fuck off rock n’ roll.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

[Motörhead – Keep Us On The Road]

My copy – 40th Anniversary Edition CD…
…loads of bonus tracks and great liner notes

Saxon – Metalhead (Review)

Saxon – Metalhead (1999)

Saxon concluded their 90s catalogue in robust fashion with the aptly-titled Metalhead. It continued the dark, heavy vein of 1997’s Unleash The Beast but with a vigour and confidence bolstered by a traditional metal renaissance in Europe.

The crushing metal chugs and ominous tones of tracks like Metalhead and Are We Travellers In Time have a contemporary edge but also a technicality to the riffage that bulldozers away the boozier, spritlier charm of the band’s early days. But Saxon’s spirit and songcraft remains. Even at its heaviest, the album sports durable melodies and there’s a welcome lighter touch and variety on songs like the bouncy Prisoner, grooving What Goes Around and the proggy Sea Of Life. It’s not all gleaming and modern: the Saxon traditions of headbanging and tales of olde are upheld in the thrilling All Guns Blazing and the rousing Conquistador.

Some inevitable clunkers (Piss Off and the forgettable Watching You) and a sense of solid proficiency prevent it ranking alongside inspired classics like Power & The Glory. But with Metalhead Saxon made their stongest, timeliest statement of the decade and this is where the modern lineup* really clicks, finding a new reason to be. I’ll bang my head to that.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

*Worth pointing out that Nigel Glockler had left (again) due to injury, replaced by Fritz Randow. But you won’t notice the difference.

[Saxon – Conquistador]

 

Aura Noir – Aura Noire (Review)

Aura Noir – Aura Noire (2018)

More reliably excellent stuff from the Norwegian black thrash icons. Aura Noir cast back to the early days of black metal’s “first wave”: the gnarly thrash of old Venom, Celtic Frost, Sodom and the like delivered with the cold intensity of “second wave” bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem. And on 2018’s Aura Noire the band grinds their sound down to the bare power-trio minerals. It feels significantly less face-flaying than their older stuff but the band’s supply of killer, twisted riffs and mischevious lyrics (“truly fictitious!”) is inexhaustible and the stripped-down sound allows their music to breathe with a natural, live energy. Aura Noire doesn’t strive to impress, so it’s tempting to write it off as merely solid. That would be a mistake. Dark Lungs Of The Storm, Grave Dweller and Mordant Wind are all charnel delights and the album’s old-school brio and confidence mark it out as a future favourite.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

… and classic rock too!