Tag Archives: Classic Albums

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (Review)

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (1984)

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.

HMO Rating: (All Men Play On) 10 out of 5

[Manowar – Thor (The Power Head)]


UFO – Phenomenon (Review)

UFO – Phenomenon (1974)

With two studio albums behind them, UFO took off in 1974 with the recruitment of the German mad axeman Michael Schenker and the release of their excellent third album Phenomenon.

The spacey tendencies of the band’s earlier work remain in the cosmic balladry of tracks like Space Child and Crystal Light and vocalist Phil Mogg shines on these mellower tracks. But Schenker shows what he can do on the album’s rockers: peppering opener Oh My with fluid leads,  chugging infectiously on Doctor Doctor and offering up a veritable guitar goldmine on Rock Bottom. Side two is less memorable but contains two highlights in the majestic Queen Of The Deep and Too Young To Know: a great example of the kind of ultra-catchy storytelling rock that would become the band’s speciality.

More accomplished albums would follow and cement UFO’s place as classic rock giants but Phenomenon more than lives up to the promise of its titular billing with its raw and innocent mix of riffy, trippy boogie. It’s a big favourite of mine and has a uniquely proto-metal place in the UFO discography. Essential listening if you enjoy the early outings of Priest, Scorpions and Budgie and want to hear the development of a style that would be heard later, louder and heavier, in the output of NWOBHM bands such as Maiden, Saxon and Diamond Head.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[UFO – Queen Of The Deep]

*note that older versions have ‘Oh My’ swap sides with ‘Too Young To Know’ (also occasionally mis-spelled as ‘Too Young To No’!)

Dokken – Tooth And Nail (Review)

Dokken – Tooth And Nail (1984)

When their debut album Breaking The Chains stiffed in the US, Dokken’s record deal with Elektra was on thin ice. Backs against the wall, the band would have to fight Tooth And Nail (see what they did there?) to keep their rokken roll dream alive. But when they should have been forming a united front, the band members were fighting among themselves. Producer Tom Werman decided early on that he’d had enough and the band had to complete the record the only way they could. Separately. Guitars, drums and bass were finished up with Roy Thomas Baker during the day, while frontman Don Dokken recorded alone with Michael Wagener during the night.

Fortunately the struggling, warring band had some top notch material to draw from. Superb L.A. glam meets Ozzy/Scorpions-style Euro metal. A lush and ominous guitar intro leads into the superb thrashabout title track. Just Got Lucky and Into The Fire have humungous raunchy hooks. Alone Again is classy manfeels and When Heaven Comes Down is a heavy, stately centrepiece.

Back Cover – Rock Candy Reissue

And, amazingly, considering the fractious nature of the album’s creation, it’s the raw, live vibe and delivery that is the real magic on Tooth And Nail. There’s a moment in Heartless Heart where a drum and vocal bridge suddenly explodes into harmonised arena rock heaven. It sounds like a band playing the gig of their lives, having their moment of world-beating peak performance flow. George Lynch firing off godly guitar licks left, right and centre and Don, aloof and weedy on the debut album, now generating massive sparks of excitement with committed and charismatic ease. Tearing it up in the daytime, burning it down at night, straight to the top… Tooth And Nail is the sound of a band fighting for their lives and winning heroically.

HMO RATING: 5 out of 5

[Dokken – Heartless Heart]

Humble Pie – Smokin’ (Review)

Humble Pie was one of those 70s bands that struggled to capture their magic in the studio before scoring big with a live album. But following the success of the essential Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore they were then faced with the challenge of coming up with a satisfactory studio follow up. An even more daunting prospect given that the supergroup was now rendered considerably less “super” following the departure of founding member Peter Frampton.

Frampton felt that the audience had decided the heavy blues rock direction that The Pie had to go in and that meant the pastoral acoustic diversity that he contributed to previous albums was no longer required. The accepted narrative is that the band’s first post-Frampton outing, 1972’s Smokin’, is a harder rocking affair but that’s only partly true. The whole album is more consistently rooted in soulful, bluesy rock but there’s still plenty of mellow diversity. So for every hard-riffing track like Fixer you get an Exile On Main Street-style rootsy outing like Old Time Feelin’.

But the standout moments of Smokin’ are undoubtedly the louder tracks. The smouldering boogie of Hot N’ Nasty, a fat riffing cover of C’Mon Everybody and the superbly greasy rocker 30 Days In The Hole are all brilliant showcases for the peerless vocal power of Steve Marriott and the guitar chemistry he forged with new recruit Clem Clempson. The mellow tracks aren’t as exciting or memorable but tracks like the Zep-blues of I Wonder impress and add crucial depth and variety.

Smokin’ lives up to its name. It’s a rockin’, feel-good time with a loose and natural production and delivery that successfully captures the band’s live prowess. A gradual, coke-fuelled decline in quality on subsequent albums makes this Humble Pie’s studio peak and ensured that the band would remain overlooked and under-rated, especially in their native UK. But fans of rootsy rockers like The Stones, The Faces and Cream (as well as more modern acolytes like The Black Crowes) should definitely check out The Pie and Smokin’ is the perfect place to start: a great band and legendary frontman at the top of their game, proving that they could rock in the studio just as well as they could in the Fillmore.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Humble Pie – 30 Days In The Hole]

The Obsessed Announce New Reissue of S/T Debut

Some exciting reissue news courtesy of Relapse Records. The self-titled debut album from doom legends The Obsessed is set for a remastered re-release on November 17th 2017. It was originally released in 1990 and, despite occasional reissues here and there, has been out-of-print for years.

It’s a big gap in my collection and one of those albums that I periodically consider shelling out for online. So this reissue is hugely welcome and a must-buy for me. And, as if the album reissue wasn’t good enough on its own, it will also come with previously unreleased bonus tracks, including a live set as well as the highly sought-after Concrete Cancer demo. It will also feature expanded artwork, never-before-seen photos, and extended liner notes from frontman Scott “Wino” Weinrich.

The classic band recently returned with their fantastic new album Sacred and this reissue just seals the deal on an excellent year for fans of Wino and doom metal.

The Obsessed will be available on 2CD, LP, 2LP, and digital formats via Relapse Records. Physical bundles and digital pre-orders are available via Relapse Records here and streaming services at this location.

Scorpions – In Trance (Review)

Original cover image – with boob!

In Trance was the Scorpions’ third album, their first of many with producer Dieter Dierks and their first proper hard rocker. But we’re still back in the Uli Roth years here so there’s a strange mix of styles and moods. There are real driving, hard-hitters like Dark Lady and Top Of The Bill but there are also many songs like Life’s Like A River and Living And Dying that are mystical, almost-psychedelic and loaded with melancholy. Two different kinds of heavy, basically. Scorpions’ circa 1975 show off a complex mix of styles and influences: Uli Roth’s post-Hendrix, pre-Malmsteen guitar mastery; the mellow wistfulness of UFO’s Phenomenon; the epic scope, bludgeon and layered vocal harmonies of Uriah Heep and Queen and a distinctly European/power metal vibe. The combination of Rudolf Schenker’s granite riffs and Uli Roth’s scorching leads create real sparks and edge that never appeared in other incarnations of the band. There’s so just so much to love here and tracks like the bombastic pomp-rocker In Trance and the bonkers cyber-metaller Robot Man just never get old. The Scorpions would score big later with a simpler, streamlined metal style so this strange and formative early effort isn’t in the hallmark Scorps style but it is one of their best and the album, and era, I return to the most. By a long way. And that’s why it’s the first of the Germans’ albums to make it into the HMO Hall Of Fame.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Scorpions – Robot Man]

My copy – paired with the also-incredible Virgin Killer

Paradise Lost – New Releases For 2017

There has been lots of exciting news coming out of the Paradise Lost camp lately with not just one new release on the horizon but two! So I thought I’d be super-efficient and just deal with both in one handy post.

First up is the main event, the band’s new album Medusa. It’ll be out on September 1st and promises to continue the band’s increasingly heavy direction. The cover has a very cool folk-horror vibe and the vinyl single Blood And Chaos (coming out on August 3rd) has great artwork too. Their last album made my yearly Top 10 and I’ll be surprised if Medusa doesn’t end up in this year’s list. It’s an exciting release from a veteran band that’s still in vital form.

And if all that wasn’t awesome enough Music For Nations have lined up a 20th Anniversary reissue of their 1997 album One Second. It was the album that followed the massively successful Draconian Times and, in the words of frontman Nick Holmes, marked “for better or worse the beginning of a very experimental stage for the band.” It’s maybe not what some people think of as classic PL but it was an interesting progression from the band at a point where they could easily have stagnated: a great album with some classic songs.

The new edition will come with the live audio of the 1998 Shepherd’s Bush gig that has previously only been available on the DVD Evolve. This means there are a few B-Sides from the era that are not represented here but the live disc is a value-for-money bonus that makes it worth another punt (not to mention the usual liner notes and all that stuff). You can finally just listen to it without the band’s haircuts putting you off.

It’s all good news for Paradise Lost fans. These two releases, not to mention the blistering Vallenfyre album Fear Those Who Fear Him, should keep all you miserable buggers happy for a while.