There’s a killer on the loose in this highlight from Witch Cross’ 1984 debut album Fit For Fight. And a clown-faced one at that. The worst kind. Although this Danish band were geographically excluded from the movement, this track definitely has some raw New Wave Of British Heavy Metal magic to it. Funereal keyboards set the creepy tone before the predatory riffing kicks in. Brilliant Rhoads-esque guitar work here and the appropriately-named vocalist Alex Savage delivers the song’s deadly hooks with soaring ease. Highly recommended for fans of early Maiden, Riot and Witch Cross’ fellow countrymen Mercyful Fate. It’s jester killer.
This classic rager from Anthrax’s 1984 debut album Fistful Of Metal is still one of their best songs. As well as featuring an early use of the “thrash” term, it’s just a great gear-shifting metal tune: the stomping opening riff breaking out into the speed metal of the verse before hitting the power chord open road of its unforgettable chorus. Best of all, Metal Thrashing Madhas survived all the incarnations of the band with subsequent singers Joey Belladonna and John Bush both recording their own brilliant takes on the tune. But I’ve opted for the original Neil Turbin version here cause his vocals send it pleasingly Manowar-d and I recently bought an awesome vinyl edition of the album.
Finding their label Music For Nations wanting, presumably puny, Manowar used the budget they were given to record their third album, 1984’s Hail to England, but used it sparingly: covertly working up an additional batch of tracks which they then used to win a record deal with Virgin/Ten Records. Sneakiness aside, Manowar achieved a heroic feat. They had recorded two of the very greatest albums in the history of heavy metal… at the same time.
So here’s the second of those peerless works, Sign Of The Hammer. It’s pure heavy metal, but Manowar’s explosive and idiosyncratic idea of what that might be. Joey DeMaio leads from the front with his humungous bass riffs and leads but the whole band is on stellar form. Eric Adams sings with absolute authority and commitment, Ross The Boss’ wild, off-the-cuff guitar solos are impossibly exciting and Scott Columbus pounds out the drum equivalent of shouting “FRESH HORSES” at the top of your voice. The songwriting is also godly, with opening lines like “black clouds on the horizon” and “burning embers of the second death will come in the night” 100% guaranteed to give all but the false true metal stirrings.
The album is near flawless. All Men Play On Ten and Animals kick the album off like KISS-on-steroids. Thor (The Power Head) is as thunderous and warring as its title suggests. Mountains is elemental in its epic scope and the black wind conjured up in The Oath and the Sign Of The Hammer tips the album into sheer aural chaos. There’s only one chink in the armour here and that’s the bass noodling of Thunderpick. It’s extremely skippable but, as always with Manowar, there’s mad genius at work as the workout proves to be an effective overture to the sublime album closer Guyana (Cult Of The Damned). Eric Adams excels here, delivering an account of mass suicide with chilling and heartbreaking sincerity.
This album has hopped around the top spot of my favourite albums of all time for decades now, vying with that other work of genius Hail To England. There are times when I seriously wonder if I’ve wasted my time listening to other music when I could have been listening to this and, listening to it again now, I reckon I probably was.
Been on a proper Dokken kick lately so here’s the ace moody rokker When Heaven Comes Down, taken from their classic second album Tooth And Nail. Don’t really need to say much about this one do I? It’s all there: epic Kashmir-esque drama, big riffs, classy and tasteful vocals from Don Dokken and a guitar solo from George Lynch that is equally classy and tasteful too (with a smidgen of widdly thrown in for good measure). Shokkenly good.
Tired of crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and all that? Why not let off some steam with Omen’s Be My Wench? This is top metal cobblers, it’s got a chorus that you’ll never get out of your head and it’s also got the kind of raunchy lyrics that most po-faced modern bands wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. But if you’re going to do Conan metal there needs to be some shagging in there. It’s the barbarian way.
I know most metal fans prefer the Dio-fronted Rainbow but round these parts Joe Lynn Turner rules. So here’s a superb version of the classic Rainbow track I Surrender. It’s taken from the Live in Japan 1984 double live album that was made available recently as bonus discs with the Ritchie Blackmore Story box set. It’s a bonus extra that outstrips the main feature easily. Listening to Ritchie Blackmore reminiscing about his career is one thing: listening to him play is another entirely. And if you’ve never listened to The Man in Black’s live playing, you’ve never really heard him at all. No criticism of his studio output – it’s adorned with legendary guitar work – but this is a man that likens studio recording to “being at the dentists”. Unshackled from the studio, his playing reaches a transcendent level of inspiration and excitement. The whole band is on great form here, especially Joe Lynn Turner who sings with passion and commitment. But Blackmore grabs this great AOR track by the balls, lifting it to another level with one of his ingeniously messy, improvisational and thrilling solos. There’s a tag I use on this site: The World’s Greatest Guitarist. It’s reserved for The Man in Black and performances like this are why.