The lengthy, linear songs, relentless changes and a lack of repetition make Opeth’s debut album Orchid a tough nut to crack but it’s well worth the effort. Here’s one of the album’s best and most accessible tracks, The Twilight Is My Robe. It’s brilliant questing stuff that gallops across rolling Maidenesque hills, ventures through bleak forests of gothic doom and rests its weary head in a dingly dell of acoustic enchantment. It’s astonishing to think this band hadn’t been in a proper studio before they recorded this. It’s audacious, ambitious stuff from an adventurous band that was clearly going places.
Saxon tried to learn their lesson from the rushed and patchy Forever Free album. They took a bit more time over the follow-up and headed back to Germany’s Karo Studio and the production team that proved so successful with Solid Ball Of Rock back in 1991. That album was a return to hard rocking form for the band but still found them moving forward, albeit in a fan-friendly fashion. While Solid Ball Of Rock was mostly full of good time AC/DC-style stompers, 1995’s Dogs Of War was an edgier affair and much more redolent of the band’s older style. But, for one member of the band, this album would be the last.
Fans of Saxon’s warrior epics like Power And The Glory and Battle Cry will delight in the opening title-track. It’s a total belter with a chunky, ballsy sound and an explosively thrilling chorus. It’s the albums best track and the only enduring classic here but the rest of the album is far from disappointing. If you know anything about Saxon you’ll know that when they start singing about vehicles it’s game on! And Burning Wheels and Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home) are loud and dirty transport rockers that take you right back to classic albums like Wheels Of Steel. And as well as recalling the classic days, Saxon also keep things fresh with some tastefully incorporated contemporary elements too: The Great White Buffalo is a moody, swampy epic and Don’t Worry has a rootsy, almost-grungy feel but climaxes with mesmerising guitar work that is pure, classic Saxon.
It’s impressive stuff but the album isn’t without its wobbles. Walking Through Tokyo is a blundering low point and a couple of enjoyable but essentially forgettable closing tracks find the album running out of steam. But it’s a minor quibble when there are so many great tracks here. Even Hold On, a potential mis-step with it’s Jovi-esque feel and Tommy & Gina lyrics, ends up being feelgood fun with a killer arena-ready chorus.
In a challenging era when British metal bands were generally falling by the wayside or falling apart, Saxon had rediscovered their fighting form, releasing their strongest, grittiest, most traditionally metal album since their glory days. But, as well as taking on the world, they were also squabbling among themselves. The relationship between frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Graham Oliver was faltering and some of the guitarist’s work on Dogs Of War had reportedly been re-recorded by a session guitarist. And when an unauthorised release of the band’s first Donington set was traced back to the guitarist, he was dismissed from the band. The loss of this talented musician and charismatic performer in such acrimonious circumstances was a blow to fans but they could take heart in the fact that – with this enjoyable, overlooked metal banger – Saxon were finally sounding like their old selves again.
Bergtatt, the title of Ulver’s 1995 debut, doesn’t seem to have an exact translation to English. In the album’s liner notes it’s translated as both “Spellbound” and “Mountain-taken” which is the literal translation*. It’s a Norwegian term for people (usually maidens I imagine) that have been lured into the hills by particularly alluring trolls and other assorted faerie folk, never to return! The music is appropriately seductive, alluring and magical: the album is laden with dreamy acoustic guitars, flutes and soothing Gregorian chant singing. There’s excellent, raw black metal throughout as well but, even then, the orchestrated layers of guitar don’t shatter the dreamy allure: Ulver aiming for a panoramic, classical vibe rather than the usual evil aggression. It’s a debut so fully realised that the band immediately moved on from the style but Bergtatt has proven to be inescapably influential. In 1995 this was a unique album but so many bands have followed in its dreamy, progressive footsteps since that, if it was released today, it would be more relevant than ever. It’s ageless rock n troll.
*In English the full album title is Mountain-taken: A Fairy Tale in 5 Chapters