Noise-some Notes – A Week in Listening 1st July 2012

Sorry had to miss out a week of this due to laptop problems. Thankfully, by the good will of Odin, I have a new one so I’m back in action. Last week’s listening was almost entirely the new Manowar and Rush albums anyway!

Manowar – The Lord of Steel Already covered this one here but, suffice to say, it’s good.

Magnum – Vigilante One of the Magnum albums I’m less familiar with, apart from the invincible title track. Dug this out on vinyl and enjoyed it a lot. Way poppier and more keyboardy than customary and you can definitely hear producer and Queen drummer Roger Taylor warbling away in the backing vocals. But, as always with Magnum, rock solid songwriting and Bob Catley’s wonderful voice selling everything.

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth Not the car-crash that I expected, in fact it’s extremely thrilling. Dave Lee Roth’s vocals are great despite the criticisms, he has a front-porch bluesy feel that I really love and his usual playful lyrics. Re-working 70s leftovers seems to have helped here too, so good for them. Yet another Album of the Year contender in a strong year for new releases.

Ginger – 555% (1st Disc) Right, got all 3 discs of this to listen to but I’ve decided to listen to each a few times before moving on to the next. Don’t want to get overwhelmed! 1st disc is full of the super-catchy, anthemic pop-rock we’ve come to expect from Ginger. Less guitar heavy than The Wildhearts material but there are hooks here that are instant and some interesting soundscapes too, in the mellower moments. This has definitely been the most listened Album of the week.

Gojira – The Way of All Flesh Still grappling with this slow burner! It is really living with me now so their new album L’Enfant Sauvage and the previous From Mars To Sirius are already in the post! I’m sure I’ll have a whale of a time when they drop through the letterbox.

Mantas – Death By Metal Bought this now so I’m going to have to cover it more fully but it’s pretty much what you’d expect from the pre-Death pioneers of Death Metal. Having read Ian Christe’s liner notes, I have to say I’m not sure if this is the sped-up Chicago version or the slowed down Denmark version. Probably neither.

Whitesnake – Ready and Willing “The bitch is in heat. So you better run.” David Coverdale once admitted he wasn’t “Billy Shakespeare”. Thanks for clarifying that, David.

Warrior Soul – Last Decade, Dead Century Fantastic dirty, urban, punky Hard Rock from the post Appetite For Destruction re-think. More people should know about this album. Annoyingly hobbled by boring spoken word piece “Five More Years” which is enjoyable exactly once. If it’s not music, at least make it short!

Skyclad – The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea One of my 90s Top 10 and one of the best bands of the decade.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s (Positions 2-4)

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.

4: Skyclad – The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea (1995)

The mighty forefathers of Folk Metal! There were quite a few albums from this band, fronted by ex-Sabbat vocalist Martin Walkyier, that could have made the list here. Skyclad were ahead of their time in the 90s. Metal was unfashionable enough during this period without throwing in fiddles and (often pun-tastic) ecological lyrics.

This was their 5th full length album and they had moved away from the more traditional metal style to something more unique and sophisticated. Their earlier albums felt quite medieval whereas with this and Prince of the Poverty Line they were becoming Dickensian!  How many Metal bands can you say that about? Also, every Saturday I would watch an episode  of Sharpe with my Dad and then listen to this. The two were curiously complimentary and this a large part of why it is imprinted on my DNA to this day.

3: Pride & Glory – Pride & Glory (1994)

After Ozzy’s “retirement” Zakk Wylde followed up No More Tears with this brillant Southern Metal gem. Being out of the slick confines of the Ozzy band allowed Zakk to stretch out with a much looser and more improvised performance. It also allowed him to indulge his Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Creedence and Elton John fantasies. Heavy takes on retro 70s classic rock influences were in vogue amongst the Grunge performers of the era so Wylde’s influences resulted in a fashionable album without any of the stigma of “going Grunge” (a sad fate that awaited many of the 80s acts that survived into this period).

Pride & Glory became my guitar bible. Tracks such as Horse Called War, Shine On and Toe ‘N The Line have fantastic extended guitar jams with only bass and drums for company. There are also a lot of great ballads on here and an evocative swampy feel throughout. Zakk gives a surprisingly good debut performance vocally, although still a bit in thrall to his heroes like Gregg Allman. The other happy result was that my interest in this album also led to a lifelong love of the Allmans, Skynyrd, Blackfoot and the like. This was a rich area of musical exploration for me throughout the 90s and beyond.

Zakk’s sartorial choices during this time were also an introduction to the wide world of flared jeans..

2: Black Sabbath – Tyr (1990)

Through the 80s Black Sabbath were a shadow of their former selves, commercially, and had eroded much of their respect with a series of embarrassing line-up debacles and music that, while often excellent, didn’t seem appropriate for the band name and identity. By the start of the 90s, Sabbath had achieved a tentative line-up stability and clawed back a bit of respect with the Headless Cross album. They would follow that up with the superb Tyr, one of my favourite albums of all time!

I have a bit of a penchant for fantasy, vikings and medieval atmosphere in my Metal. Later in the 90s, Norse Mythology would become a common theme in some of the Black Metal 2nd wave but when Sabbath released Tyr it seemed terribly unusual and creative to me (not having heard of Bathory). Tony Iommi’s reliable thick riffing is thickly layered over with keyboards and atmospheric effects. Dynamic and catchy tunes like Jerusalem and Heaven in Black nestle alongside sweeping epics like Anno Mundi and the Valhalla trilogy that opens Side B. The album’s power-ballad Feels Good To Me succeeds by way of its excellent production and mood. Tony Martin is in confident form vocally and lyrically and if this had been released under a different banner I think we’d be talking about it like the proto-Power Metal classic it is, rather than an under-heard record from a great band’s wilderness years.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Introduction

The 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 8 to 10

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 5 to 7

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Number 1!

Rush – Clockwork Angels

Time elapsed since last music purchase: 12 days

Amount spent on purchase: £15

Amount spent in total so far: £58

Any new Rush album is a big event and lots of folk have been very excited about this one. As a Rush fan I was inevitably going to buy this as the band is always capable of great things and always has the potential to come up with sonething new and exciting. But in truth, my expectations weren’t running too high for this one after the disappointing Snakes and Arrows.

I’m happy to report that after a few listens this has defied my expectations quite dramatically. And I’m also quite sure the full joys of the album have not yet revealed themselves so this is already a strong contender for Album of the Year. They channel a lot of the excitement and energy of Vapor Trails here but with a much warmer sound and looser feel. The band performance is more reminiscent of their earlier days and there are some throwbacks to earlier material like the Bastille Day referencing Headlong Flight. At times they seem to be channeling The Who and even have some riffs that would sound at home on latter-day Cheap Trick records!  There are also some dynamic choruses and tasteful orchestration. It’s a great sounding record and a really electrifying band performance.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the record are the lyrics. I found Neil Peart’s writing on Snakes and Arrows to be a bit too mild mannered and lacking in edge. In some tracks like The Larger Bowl the lyrics actually hampered the effect of the tracks. So it’s really pleasing to report that the man is in fine form here. The use of a story-concept for the album’s lyrics has helped add mystique and, conversely, some of the lyrics here seem more personal and biting than before. The opening tracks refrain of “I can’t stop thinking big” could be Neil’s life story and other tracks deal with religion and the cruel passage of time in a really intriguing way.

So, in short, Rush are back and I’m delighted to say they are defying the ravages of time coming up with one of their finest albums yet.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s (Positions 5-7)

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.

7: Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears (1991)

This was a really confident release from the Prince of Darkness who was teetering on the edge of sobriety and surrounding himself with some mighty musicians. Core lineup Zakk Wylde, Mike Inez and Randy Castillo were a force to be reckoned with. Bob Daisley did his usual sterling work helping out with the bass and songwriting. Lemmy also cowrote a large number of the tracks here and I see this album as a companion piece to Motorhead’s 1916 in many ways. I was all about this for years but it hasn’t aged as well as many of the other albums here and I rarely return to it now. Happily my interest in fledgling guitar legend Zakk Wylde would result in another important release later in the decade.

6: Queensryche – Empire (1990)

The majority of this list are all early 90s albums. Luckily they were all good enough to keep me going through the lean years and I was still young enough that there was a whole history of hard music to be discovered during this time. Although this was released early in the 90s I didn’t pick up on it until the mid-90s and the release of Promised Land. That was a compelling, dark and under-rated record and sent me back to check out their previous releases. I quickly hoovered up their back-catalogue and this is the best of their 90s records. Much warmer and more song-focused than previous albums with the futuristic Orwellian dystopias replaced with present day issues, relationships and.. er.. Astral Projection. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo seems to have been the main creative force behind this move and I read an interview at the time where he described wanting to give the album the sounds and atmosphere of Seattle, the bands home city. The prospect of that was intriguing at the time and still is although other bands in the 90s would have a different idea about what Seattle was supposed to sound like!

5: Manowar – Triumph of Steel (1992)

Some bands react to changing fashions by experimenting or trend hopping. Some bands just circle the wagons and prepare to fight and in the early 90s the Kings of True Metal were doing just that. Beset with worrying lineup changes and mounting label disinterest Manowar’s first album of the 90s found them doing what they do best, harder and longer than ever before. The lack of compromise resulted in a 28 minute long opening track based on Homers Iliad. Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts is not one of the bands best songs being weighed down with bass and drum solos but the intent, bravery and the relentless thrash-attack of the rhythm section were comforting to anyone worrying about where the band might be headed. The rest of the album capitalised further with classic tune after classic tune. Ride the Dragon, Metal Warriors, Power of Thy Sword and Master of the Wind are all fantastic top notch Heavy Metal. The album has fallen through the cracks a little due to the short-lived lineup but it’s a huge True Metal statement in a decade that needed it and I love them for it.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Introduction

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 8 to 10

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 2 to 4

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Number 1!

Noise-some Notes – A Week in Listening 17th June 2012

Here’s what’s been assaulting my ears this week.

Black Sabbath – Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die The final two albums of the original Ozzy-led era of Sabbath. Neither of these albums are as bad as people say they are but they aren’t in the same league as the previous 6 albums. Oddly, Technical Ecstasy isn’t as good as I remember and Never Say Die is a bit better. Both were worth revisiting.

Coverdale/Page – S/T Might as well put my cards on the table here. I’ve had a man-crush on David Coverdale since 1987 and the Whitesnake album from that year is in my all-time Top 5. So I wasn’t very outraged at the prospect of him pairing up with Led Zep’s Jimmy Page. I rarely go back to this but when I do I always get really, really into it. And this time was no exception and might have been the most enjoyable listen of the week!

Rush – Clockwork Angels One of these magazine/album/crap freebie fan-packs that many bands are releasing these days. Once the Manowar one arrives that’ll be two this month (3 if you’re into Slash). Had one listen, enjoyed the first half immensely and the second half went over my head. But, as any Rush fan knows, their albums take time and many listens to reveal their charms so… another one I’ll have to cover in more detail as a Too Tempting to Resist post later.

Skyclad – Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol Awesome unsung slab of prime British Folk Metal! This band were well ahead of their time and featured legendary vocalist Martin Walkyier, a great hero of mine. Great ecological lyrics and a medieval, fantasy feel that was perfect for a teenager into RPGs and Lord of the Rings!

Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic Been listening to this a lot lately. Already touched on it in last weeks Noise-some Notes but I will point out that it strikes me how individual all the tracks are. Each one has its own thing going which makes for a great listening experience. You can’t put the thing off.

Rush – Snakes and Arrows (Side A) A preparatory listen to Rush’s previous album before the new one dropped. Listened to while walking home from work so only got half way through. Do all albums have to be so long now?

Cheap Trick – In Color Summery slice of power-pop genius. A lesson in album length and space between instruments. Listen to the fantastic bass sound on this!

Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse Classic Black Metal album. Epic and sweeping, I always imagine this album sounds like it’s being carried on the wind. I envision hearing it like a clarion call from afar, before saddling my horse and riding off to see what all the racket was about. Anyway, a close look at the album cover suggests I wasn’t the only person in the 90s playing RPGs!

Heart – Bad Animals and S/T From a gorgeous 2nd-hand vinyl box set I just purchased so I’ll be covering these in a Too Tempting To Resist post at some time soon I’m afraid. Not a huge fan of this stuff but something about them keeps drawing me back since falling dreamily in love with both Ann and Nancy Wilson at the formative age of 10! Really catchy songs and Ann’s phenomenal voice are the other attractions I guess. And, as an added bonus, they counteracted the man-crush doubt cause by David Coverdale!

Manilla Road – Crystal Logic

Time elapsed since last music purchase: 10 days

Amount spent on purchase: £17

Amount spent in total so far: £43

Manilla Road are a band that seem to be held in very high regard but I had never heard of them until a couple of years ago. I read about them in a Terrorizer Magazine review of the last decade before noticing recently that a proportionately high percentage of the Metal Vinyl section in Monorail (an excellent record store in Glasgow) was taken up by this band. My curiosity was piqued!

After a bit of Interweb research and a really shit week at work I decided to treat myself to their Crystal Logic album which, by all accounts, seemed like a good place to start. Another deciding factor was that the vinyl was released on the excellent High Roller label. A German label with a great line in NWOBHM reissues. Before deciding to give up buying music *cough* I picked up a Holocaust reissue and two Urchin resissues which are just indescribably excellent. I’m getting excited just thinking about them and you should immediately pop over to the label’s website and check them out.

I’ve been listening to Crystal Logic a lot since picking it up and I’m really enjoying it. They are from Wichita, Kansas and play in a NWOBHM style (Manilla Road describe themselves as Epic Metal) that reminds me of another great obscure band, Legend.

What strikes me immediately is the odd nasal voice of the singer, Mark Shelton, and the strength of the songwriting. Songs like Necropolis, Crystal Logic and Flaming Metal System have hooks to die for and immediately burrow into your brain. The Riddle Master also has the kind of incredible but simple riff that makes you wonder why no-one wrote it before them.

The production here is pretty raw but that’s no great problem. The no frills feel of the band in a rehearsal room adds to the charm. However, Flaming Metal System (recorded separately for a local compilation but later added to the album) has a better production that highlights the rest of the albums sonic weaknesses. The song starts off with a Manowaresque solo which, with it’s strange octaved sound, has you checking the turntable speed. The vocals are also noticeably more confident and more forceful than the other tracks and the band sound charged up.

Closing epic Dreams of Eschata/Epilogue is another highlight with gruff, echoey vocals in the chorus that sound like something latter-day Darkthrone would have been proud to come up with.

I’m going to be listening to this a lot (while gazing in wonder at the spectacularly bad but hypnotic album cover) and the only drawback here is that I’m going to want to hear more of their catalogue. Ulp.

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s (Positions 8-10)

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.

10: Def Leppard – Retroactive (1993)

I really wanted to leave this out but just couldn’t! It’s really a mix of new and old spruced-up recordings, many of which feature the guitar playing of Steve Clark (who had died a few years before this hit the shelves). Not as glossy as the preceding Adrenalize and has much more of their rougher Metal roots on display in tracks like Desert Song and Ride Into the Sun. There are also some interesting diversions like the excellent Action (a cover of The Sweet’s classic) and the folky From the Inside. A few too many ballads for my liking but, overall, this is a great chunk of classic Def Leppard.

Their next effort, Slang, would prove controversial but was also a release I enjoyed later in the 90s. Retroactive pips it though for connecting more with their traditional style. This would have been placed higher but I appreciate that the old material makes it a bit of a cop-out!

9: Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (1994)

Tough call here as Bruce’s solo years resulted in many great and challenging albums through the 90s. I was tired of Maiden with Bruce as they began sounding really tired on No Prayer for the Dying and Fear of the Dark. But when I first heard the lead-off single Tears of the Dragon I was hugely surprised at how good it was. Passionate, sweeping and epic with a great guitar solo too. While it didn’t sound much like Maiden, I felt the same excitement hearing this that I got from hearing Maiden for the first time. The awesome B-Side tracks The Breeding House and No Way Out.. To Be Continued only added to my excitement and anticipation.

The album, when released, was a shade disappointing with it’s terrible cover, Latin feel and, ulp, rapping (!) but it proved a real grower and a fantastic live show at the Garage in Glasgow encouraged further listens. It has become a real summer favourite and there are some great tracks on here like the aforementioned Tears.., 1000 Points of Light, Gods of War and Sacred Cowboys (which even rapping couldn’t ruin). The album featured the very talented Roy Z who went on to become an in-demand producer and frequent collaborator with Bruce.

I had a new level of respect for Bruce for going out on a limb during this period and I really appreciate curveballs like this. There was also the fringe benefit of being able to see such a legend playing small intimate venues throughout the 90s (and sometimes with Adrian Smith in tow too!).

Bruce would go on to better things like Accident of Birth but that feels more to me like a millenium album whereas this kept me entertained throughout the 90s.

8: Motorhead – 1916 (1991)

My brother learned to drive early in the 90s and many, many hours were spent hairing around in his Ford Fiesta cranking out music. This album had a great production and sounded absolutely huge in the car, becoming a mainstay for years.

Everyone knows about Motorhead so I don’t need to say much about them. This is the best stuff from their twin-guitar era of Wurzel and Phil Campbell and there is some mighty playing and riffs on here. I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care) has a great title and superb heavy blues riffing. It still still features heavily in the bands sets along with the Chuck Berry-ish Going to Brazil. There are many other great tracks here like Make My Day, The One to Sing the Blues, R.A.M.O.N.E.S. and Love Me Forever (a rare stab at a ballad). If I’m being honest, we tended to stop the album before the last track, 1916, spoiled the mood with it’s blood and mud and guts war misery but that’s the only weak moment here.

Like Star Trek films Motorhead often alternate good releases with ropey ones and the follow-up to this, March or Die, maintained that pattern. But you can’t keep a legendary band down and Motorhead still rock out with their cocks out. Hooray!

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Introduction

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 5 to 7

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Positions 2 to 4

Top 10 Albums That Helped Me Through The 90s – Number 1!

… and classic rock too!