Think about the 1970s. Just about every great band you can think of during that period brought out a career-defining live album. Sometimes the album might have been the star attraction of a recording career like, say, Frampton Comes Alive or Rockin’ The Filmore or maybe it was one of a band’s many successful releases. Sometimes the live album represented a full stop in a band’s career before they would change tack (hi, Rush!), but always these great albums captured a high-point of success or peak performance.
So what happened to the live album?
I was reading an excellent post that sings the praises of Iron Maiden’s superb Live After Death the other day. And I started to wonder if, maybe, Live After Death (released in the mid-80s) was the last truly classic live album of all-time. I mean classic as in essential! Classic as in one of the albums you think about or recommend when you’re talking about that band.
I wonder why this might have happened. Maybe one factor is the concert film – why just listen to the concert when you can watch the show too? I can certainly think of a good few great concert DVDs. Also, a few 70s bands struggled to capture their sound on studio albums, possibly due to the available recording technology. So perhaps bands are just happy with their studio albums now and don’t feel the need to impress us all with their live sound, being that it’s probably pretty close to their studio sound. And is there a fear that a live album would just come across like a Greatest Hits with crowd noise over the top? Have we just written the live album off as an artistic statement? Hmmmm…
Pre-Live After Death I’d struggle to think of any bands that hadn’t brought out a brilliant live album. After it, I’m struggling to think of many bands that have. I can think of some… but are they classic? No, but maybe they should be. I’m going to see if I can come up with some contenders! And, if you have any suggestions, please get in touch.
Another wee update of what I’ve been listening to before moving on to more pressing thoughts…
Sammy Hagar – Essential Red Collection Pretty cool compilation of the Red Rocker’s solo career. Accompanied my reading of his Autobiography which was… ok. Some quality bitching about Eddie Van Halen and Ronnie Montrose! The always raging Van Halen vs. Van Hagar debate is one thing but who’s the better author? Sammy or Dave? It’s Dave. Sorry Sammy.
The Darkness – Permission to Land A great debut. If you’ve never heard this on vinyl though, remedy that immediately! I love that they keep their albums short too, quality not quantity. And, if you’ve heard any of the B-Sides of the period, you’ll know they had great songs to spare. Check out Planning Permission, How Dare You Call This Love and the excellently named Curse of the Tollund Man if you’ve never heard them. It’s exciting to see them back and their upcoming Hot Cakes is one of my most anticipated releases of the year.
Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick (1997) This is a brilliant Cheap Trick record and marks a new beginning for the band. Unfortunately, their label went bust so it probably hasn’t been given the shake of the stick that it deserves. The album has a great live sound and the band tap into the more eclectic, alternative feel that the 80s beat out of them. It would take a long time for them to follow this up but the rebirth continued and new Cheap Trick albums have stayed exciting ever since.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream Not a huge fan of this band but this is a good album and the Cheap Trick CD put me in the mood for this (Cheap Trick being a big influence on Billy Corgan). There are some brilliant tracks like Cherub Rock and Disarm is a stunning song. Think they could learn a thing or two about running lengths from CT and The Darkness though!
Paradise Lost – Tragic Idol A real favourite band of mine and I’m still not sure whether this is just average or if I’m just not in the mood. I’m going to reserve judgement because I love them so much. A bit of a let-down because their previous album was stellar.
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed I have so much love for this album. Proto-Progressive Rock with a charmingly naive concept, pioneering mellotron and breathtaking orchestral accompaniment. It’s so lovely and innocent it makes you glad to be alive. The Classic Albums series should get in on this because it has a great back-story too and the multi-tracks are bound to be a revelation!
Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation Another band on the verge of a studio album comeback (although I can’t say their new song is doing much for me). Managed to pick this up on vinyl and it sounds great. I always though this album was a bit patchy but I enjoyed it hugely the whole way through. A surprisingly enjoyable re-discovery!
Burzum – Filosofem A Black Metal classic and a great place to start if your interested in the genre and can separate the musician from the music. Say what you like about him, Varg Vikernes is a talented guy and this is a very innovative album. Atmospheric, lo-fi and ambient but still extreme and ominous. A game of two-halves, though, as the last two tracks are lengthy electronic affairs. One of the few BM albums I can put on without annoying my girlfriend.
Urchin – High Roller Adrian Smith before he was poached for stardom by Iron Maiden. I always thought he was their secret-weapon, an extremely talented songwriter and exquisitely melodic guitar player. Great to hear him early in his career and this is more in a UFO, Thin Lizzy classy Rock vein. Adrian has a great soulful voice and there is an interesting track here (Life In The City) that would go on to become the jokey Sheriff of Huddersfield in the hands of Maiden. Got this through the excellent German label High Roller who bring out some spectacular NWOBHM vinyl resissues. Although, if you fancy this and are near Glasgow, there’s a great shop there called Monorail Music that has these in stock!
Manowar – Triumph of Steel One of my picks of the 90s and it should be pretty clear how much I love this band by now so I’ll leave it at that! So, until my next post – Hail and Kill!
So far I’ve been reviewing my purchases in full but, to be honest, there have been a few sneaky purchases here and there that I haven’t mentioned so, in the interests of full disclosure, they are:
Pink Floyd – Animals (HMV – £10) I’ve been picking up a few of recent Pink Floyd remasters and enjoying them a lot. Was never much of a fan of them growing up but, after a good 10 years of getting into a lot of Progressive Rock stuff, thought I ought to give them another chance. There was a good Classic Rock magazine piece on this album recently too and it’s great to have that cover in the collection too!
Volbeat – Above Heaven/Below Hell CD/DVD (Fopp – £3) Good find in the bargain bin of Fopp. Heard a few mentions of them and thought they might be worth checking out. Not that fussed with it to be honest. Win some lose some.
Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic 2CD (HMV – £15) More like it. Already had this album but thought my old copy needed updated. I always thought this was one of his more overrated efforts but after revisiting it I couldn’t be more wrong. This is fantastic stuff. I even enjoyed Ships! Must be getting sentimental in my old age.
Heart – With Love From Heart 3LP Box Set (Discogs – £15) I wanted to get Bad Animals and their S/T from the 80s on vinyl. Found this 2nd hand box set online which included both, two letters from Ann and Nancy and a fantastic time-warp 80s calendar which I hope to be able to use at some point in the future. Bonus – the seller threw in Brigade on LP too! RESULT!
The Stranglers – La Folie (HMV – £8) Somehow Strange Little Girl found its way into my head and needed exorcising. I’m not a fan of compilations but this track was only released as a single. Luckily the album of the period has it on as a bonus track. Didn’t expect to like this that much but gave it a spin this morning and was pretty impressed! I expect this to be a bit of a grower. Might even pick up some more of their stuff too.
Ginger – 555% (Pledge Music – £10 for download) 3 CDs worth of new Ginger material. Haven’t heard much of the Wildhearts’ main-man’s solo stuff but I’m really enjoying the 1st disc of this. Enjoying it so much, in fact, I haven’t moved on to the other 2 discs yet. So, at this rate, I could probably review this in 2014.
Mantas – Death By Metal 1CD (purchased in Monorail Music on 25th June)
Amount spent on purchase: £11
Amount spent in total so far: £99
Imagine your next door neighbour’s kids were really into NWOBHM, Venom and Slayer and decided to start their own band. You can hear the racket seeping through the walls. They are punishingly loud, thrashing and enthusiastic. The kid singing is barking guttural noises so you can’t make out the words. If your reaction to this clamour would be “Hey, those guys are pretty good” then this is the album for you.
Chuck Schuldiner (along with Rick Rozz and Kam Lee) formed Mantas in school. Their early recordings, collected here, would be hugely influential and important in the genesis of Death Metal. However, their own influences are a bit too apparent here for this to qualify as the genre’s starting point and Schuldiner would have a stronger claim to the invention of Death Metal with his next venture, Death.
There are snatches of Venom (whose guitarist, Mantas, provided the band with their moniker), Metallica, Diamond Head (opener Legion of Doom has a riff mightily reminiscent of Am I Evil) and Slayer. But there is also enough of the guttural brutality that would define Death Metal for this to be historically interesting and original.
The tracks were mostly recorded live onto a Ghetto Blaster so the recordings are pretty “necro”. That said the effect of the rough recording is pretty exciting. It sounds like speakers being overdriven or like an overloud concert sound. All pretty conducive to an exciting Metal experience surely? Also, when I was a kid, I was in bands that would record this way and we never sounded this good.
There is a 2CD version of this available from Relapse in the US but it was a bit too pricey for me to buy as an import so I picked up the single disc version from my excellent local store, Monorail Music in Glasgow. The 2CD version is available as an iTunes download too so I can always treat myself to that later if need be.
Deep Purple – Purpendicular Had a bit of a Jon Lord tribute by myself! One of the best later Purple albums. Still don’t feel the Morse-era lineup has managed to better this. Anyone who wrote the band off when Blackmore threw in the towel would be well advised to check this out.
Whitesnake – Slide It In (UK Version) Continuing my Jon Lord remembrance! A real favourite of mine. Killer Classic Rock with some great Lord atmosphere on tracks like The Gambler and Love Ain’t No Stranger (which is a real Desert Island track of mine and frustratingly short!). And remember, David Coverdale never said he was Billy Shakespeare.
King Crimson – In the Wake of Poseidon Some neighbours were having an enthusiastic party with some awful Auto-Tuned msuic as the soundtrack. I decided to protect my ears with some classic Progressive Rock! This is the gorgeous 200g vinyl edition that came out last year. Sexy.
Yes – Fragile Continuing my Progathon.. One of the most accessible Yes albums.Even though there aren’t many actual songs on this, the songs that are are absolute giants! Heart of the Sunrise is an beast of a track. How can the wind with so many around me? I have no idea.
Skid Row – Slave to the GrindThe album of the 1990 as discussed here. Big mainstay of my listening throughout the 90s along with many late night viewings of the excellent Roadkill VHS! A recent Metalsucks reviewer thought the opening 3D promo for Psycho Love on Roadkill was the only memorable moment from it. I guess seeing the band performing Delivering the Goods with Rob Halford and Cold Gin with Pantera and Ace Frehley live is pretty forgettable stuff when you can watch them lip-syncing alongside some 3D swirly bits.
Nile – At the Gate of Sethu Great music to endure the eternal molestation of flame to. This sounds great but on a 1st listen I can’t say much about it I’m afraid. Don’t feel very literate when it comes to Death Metal although I’m enjoying it more and more. I’ll review this after a few more goes.
Anathema – Alternative 4 A brilliant album from one of Northern Englands Unholy Trinity (along with Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride). Anathema have been getting progressively more blissful and exciting throughout their career although a few of their most wonderful moments are crammed into the 1st half of this. Opener Shroud of False/Fragile Dreams is just stunning.
Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini Bought this when it came out a couple of years ago on double vinyl. Enjoyed Side 1 of 4 so much I keep listening to that over and over. Thought I’d better catch up on the rest before their new release comes out later this year. A good band to start on if you fancy getting into some Black Metal.
Ihsahn – Eremita Ltd. Ed (purchased in HMV on 9th July)
Amount spent on purchase: £13
Amount spent in total so far: £88
I resisted buying this for a surprisingly long time. Eremita has been picking up some great reviews since its release and has been compared very favourably with its 2010 predecessor, After, which I enjoyed very much. Despite all this, every time I picked it up in the shops I just couldn’t be arsed. Weird.
Eventually I just had to force myself to buy it and I’m glad I did because this has the edge on its predecessor and is one of the most enjoyable releases of the year so far.
Opener Arrival gets things off to an exciting start with a Dream-Theater style rampaging riff. It’s also immediately noticeable that the vocal performance is more nuanced than on After and there are some pleasingly soulful Kings X style harmonies which are a nice touch (Arrival guest vocalist Einar Solberg certainly brings to mind Kings X vocalist Doug Pinnick). The guitars are also allowed some free reign from Ihsahn’s usual orchestrated approach and the result is some great shredding solos, in particular from Jeff Loomis on The Eagle and the Snake (one of the album’s centrepieces).
Emperor fans will be in more familiar territory with the track Something Out There which hits you in the face like an icy gale. Although the album’s overall feel is quite Avant-Garde (check out The Eagle and the Snake’s Jazz Café opening and orchestral interlude Grief) there is still enough evidence of Ihsahn’s Black Metal roots for this album to appeal to Emperor fans.
For an album that’s title translates as “Hermit” Eremita is surprisingly collaborative and impressively cohesive. It maybe doesn’t have the same peaks as After but it is more consistent and more fully-formed. I hadn’t been in the mood for this but it won me over and that’s an accomplishment in itself.
The 1990s were a tough time for a young Metal fan and these are the Top 10 albums of the era that helped me get through it! If I knew then what I know now things would maybe be different but these are all still amazing albums from that decade.
1: Skid Row – Slave to the Grind (1991)
Skid Row made mincemeat of the “difficult 2nd album” challenge with their masterpiece, Slave to the Grind. Released at the turn of the decade this album was essential listening throughout the 90s and still is.
The early 90s were a difficult time for the so-called Hair Metal bands that fared so well in the 80s. If Metallica’s stark real-life horror and Guns N’ Roses’ alluring and dangerous depiction of Hollywood “glamour” hadn’t been game-changing enough, alternative music was taking over and Grunge was rearing its ugly head. Skid Row’s answer to this was to come out fighting, channeling new levels of fury and power into their already accomplished Glam Metal.
I was a fan of the self-titled album but when this was released I was taken aback. What happened to this band? It still sounded like Skid Row but I was not expecting this band to come up with the massive palm-muted chug of the title-track. This was all very intense and, to be honest, I was a little bit intimidated!
There is a startling array of musical influence in here. Chunky down-tuned riffs cut into clean Hendrix Funk on Creepshow. The more familiar Glam territory of Psycho Love is interrupted by some evocative, mellow psychedelia. Fast paced Ramones style chargers jostle with wistful and heartfelt balladry. The guitar duo of Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill are also more assured and tasteful, confident enough to reign in the 80s flash which would not have fitted here. The album is extremely well paced and the songs are skilfully written and arranged.
The real X-factor in Slave to the Grind is vocalist Sebastian Bach. He is on winning form throughout this record, displaying a range and sense of dynamics that ensures the album crackles with energy. On The Threat the phrase “wrecking ball” is initially sung with a melodic, whoah-oh delivery while, before the 2nd chorus, the same phrase is given an exciting full roar. His wild performance, ad-libs, wobbly vibrato and unhinged crescendos come across as raw, natural and naively enthusiastic.
This was one of those albums that is so consistently good that every track is vying for your attention. Each song has, at some point, been my favourite from the album and there aren’t many albums I can say that about. Slave to the Grind is easily the best record of the 90s and one of my Top 10 all-time favourites.