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.
The punishingly bleak death metal on Paradise Lost’s 1990 debut Lost Paradise makes it the odd-one-out in a discography more renowned for gothic melody. But the five teenagers had only been together about a year before being faced with the challenge of recording their first record and, despite not having found their voice yet, they make a pretty decent fist of it. A lack of songcraft means it all kind of mushes together but they already have their doleful mix of riff and lead guitar down, there’s the occasional decent hook (“where is your God now?”), and the whole thing has a entrancingly subterranean atmosphere. And Lost Paradise has proven pretty influential in its own right as one of the earliest albums to slow death metal down to a miserable crawl. The Yorkshiremen would do much better with subsequent releases but fans of meat and potatoes death/doom could do a lot worse than check this out.
Yngwie M. F. Malmsteen goes for the commercial jugular on his fifth studio album, 1990’s Eclipse. Aided by his first all-Swedish lineup, the borking-mad maestro dishes out a superlative set of melodic Euro metal that expands on the AOR leanings of his previous record Odyssey. The album opens with its three singles. Making Love is smouldering of verse and colossal of riff; Bedroom Eyes is fun Europop with loose jamming guitar; and the smoochy ballad Save Your Love is a skippable bore. Luckily the next track Motherless Child is an exciting metal rager. It’s a stunner, charged with emotion, and from there on the album barely puts a foot wrong. From the explosive pomp of Devil In Disguise and Judas to the flawlessly layered Faultline this album is a blast. Might prove too cheesy for fans weaned on Marching Out but if you fancy a bit of pop and pomp with your power, the stars align on Eclipse.
As my Top 10 Albums of the Year proved, “death metal in space” was a big thing in 2016. So let’s travel back in time to 1990 and the album that started it all: Nocturnus’ The Key and this excellent blast of sci-fi horror. Some sort of evil cyborg has invented a time machine and set a course for the date 0 B.C. He has only one goal: kill the baby Jesus!
“Blasting away Father, Mother, and Child/laughing hysterically all of the while” the cyborg proves to be devastatingly successful in his mission. And Destroying the Manger proves devastatingly successful too: a wild shred-fest of riffs and solos that gets down to serious moshing business at 4:10. And check out the prominent keyboards too… Nocturnus going where no death metal band had gone before.
Greatest Hits Live! captures Saxon on the upswing following the doldrums of their disappointing Destiny album and tour. Frontman Biff Byford had taken over their management, securing a well-received support slot with Manowar that galvanised the group. Saxon then launched a European headlining tour in 1990 to celebrate 10 Years of Denim & Leather* and the UK leg was such a success that the band added another run of UK gigs later in the year. They played more than 40 shows in the UK alone, winning much-needed acclaim and credibility in their homeland. The Nottingham show was recorded and released as Saxon’s third live album.
Unlike its two predecessors, The Eagle Has Landed and Rock N’ Roll Gypsies, Greatest Hits Live! offers a full** Saxon live set, living up to its title. It’s bulging with classics (Wheels of Steel, (747) Strangers in the Night, Princess of the Night, And the Bands Played On), hard-hitting metal bangers from the early days (Motorcycle Man, 20,000ft and Heavy Metal Thunder) and well-chosen newer material (a bouncy Rock N’ Roll Gypsy and a tougher take on Ride Like the Wind). There are some mid-set surprises too with a captivating Frozen Rainbow and an absolutely phenomenal version of See the Light Shining. And just to put the icing on the cake: the classic tracks Denim and Leather and Crusader finally make their live album debuts.
Greatest Hits Live! is an honest and energetic live album that drives home the quality of Saxon’s material and the celebratory vibe of the tour. On the evidence here, it’s no surprise that they won over audiences up and down the country. However, through all their ups-and-downs, Saxon’s live prowess was never in doubt. If they were going to have a future they’d have to produce new material that lived up to the glorious past celebrated here. Buoyed by the enthusiastic reception from their UK fans, Saxon rushed back into the studio. The comeback was on.
*Biff announces “we’ve been together for 10 years” but their debut album was released in 1979 so in 1990 they were a year out. Instead, the liner notes proclaim that the 10 years refer to the anniversary of their 1980 breakthrough with Wheels of Steel. But then they called it “10 Years of Denim & Leather” after an album that was nine years old.
**One song is missing. The show was also released on VHS and the set included Strong Arm of the Law. I’ll let them off though.