Tag Archives: Classic Albums

KISS – Lick it Up (Review)

A KISS Klassik on CD and Vinyl
A KISS Klassik on CD and Vinyl

I discovered KISS in the late 80s. Up until Crazy Nights, they had never made much of a splash in the UK, so without much info on the band or their history I generally just ordered the cassettes that had the coolest titles and, subsequently, Lick it Up was an early acquisition. I didn’t know or care that it was their first album sans make-up so let’s not get into that too much. Suffice to say KISS had been floundering around for a few years, not quite sure what they wanted to do or who they wanted to do it with. A thrilling moment of discovery came with the stunning Creatures of the Night album. KISS were a full-blooded Metal band. Unfortunately, the sales were less than stunning so KISS played their trump card, removing the make-up for publicity and also signifying their new found musical confidence.

Lick it Up is the sound of that confidence. Not quite as dynamic and anthemic as Creatures… but the solid sound of a band that means business. And business was good! Lick it Up became their first album to go Gold in 3 years.

There’s a real sense of danger and threat in these songs. Tracks like Exciter and Million to One cut and thrust with emotively strained and dynamic vocals from HMO man-crush, Paul Stanley. Gene Simmons’ songs mostly rumble and lurch menacingly with little of the Blues/Rock N’ Roll licks he would rely on for the rest of the decade. Gimmie More and Fits Like a Glove are filthy raunch and All Hell’s Breaking Loose and the title track (it’s basically sex music) provide the anthemic relief. Drummer Eric Carr hits hard and reins in the tempo which adds to the muscular vibe but the whole album is tied together by its star player, lead guitarist and songwriter on 8 of the 10 tracks: Vinnie Vincent. Curbing (or forced to curb) his widdlier tendencies, his classy riffs, licks and solos are the most remarkable and creative contributions to the album.

Unfortunately, Vinnie would soon be gone and, although KISS would continue to release superb albums for the rest of the decade, they were never quite this good or this assured again. Lick it Up is not only a strong contender for the greatest KISS album of all-time but a strong contender for my favourite album of all-time. Don’t agree? Well, listen bitch! I’ve got news…

HMO Rating: 10 out of 5

[KISS – Exciter]

CD Rear Cover
CD Rear Cover

Blue Öyster Cult – Imaginos (Review)

Imaginos LP Cover
Imaginos LP Cover

[Unused Stephen King intro to the album]

BÖC ended their tenure on Columbia with the ambitious concept album, Imaginos. It’s easily one of BÖC’s heaviest efforts in all senses but there were still enough keyboards, reverbed drums and glassy clean guitars to ensure it fit in with the musical trends of the mid-80s. In typical BÖC fashion, however, they added their own eerie and psychedelic quality to the mix. If you ever have a nightmare about the 80s it could easily sound like this!

The album had a long gestation and is really a combination of two projects. It started out in 1981 as the solo project of fired original member, Albert Bouchard. This project was rejected and later reworked as a Blue Öyster Cult project. Even though some of the original BÖC members were no longer in the band, the convoluted saga of the album’s making meant that all original members appear on it, giving the album the illusion of being a reunion effort. There are also many guest musicians and vocalists as a result of its long gestation.

Imaginos CD Cover
Imaginos CD Cover

It’s perhaps surprising, then, that the album sounds so focussed. Del Rio’s Song has hooks to die for and serves as light relief amidst all the mystery and darkness. The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria is explosively dramatic with superb guest vocalist Joey Cerisano channeling Chris Cornell. The album’s concept comes from poems written in the 60s by the band’s mentor and manager Sandy Pearlman. These ideas have featured in many songs throughout BÖC albums and some of this older material appears here in reworked form (including an upbeat, galloping take on the classic Astronomy).

Although the production does seem over-produced compared to the sparser sound of their classic albums, the lavish sound does suit the theatrical concept and feels like an updated version of the band’s dark, arcane style to me. The use of lyrics and music from previous eras also creates the sense of this album as the definitive statement of BÖC’s career and mythology. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the band’s worst seller for the label and would be their swansong as a Columbia act. They wouldn’t release another studio album for 10 years. It’s a real shame because this album is creative, bold and uncompromising: a secret treat for anyone wanting to check out overlooked gems from the 80s.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Blue Öyster Cult – The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein’s Castle at Wisseria]

Sabbat – History of a Time to Come (Review)

Sabbat - History of a Time to Come CD Reissue
Sabbat – History of a Time to Come CD Reissue

If you were in a successful Thrash Metal band in the 1980s, you were probably American or German. While the UK was a massive influence on the genre via bands such Venom and Motorhead, the UK Thrash Metal scene is generally a footnote in any history of the genre. However, in England’s green and pleasant land there was one band that was more than a match for any of the more successful Thrash exponents from overseas.

They were Nottingham’s Sabbat and their debut album History of a Time to Come had the pace, aggression and technicality of Slayer and Megadeth and the filthy Black Metal tinge of Germany’s Destruction and Kreator. But, in addition to being able to thrash with the best of them, Sabbat had a pagan and medieval quality to their music which sounded uniquely British.

The whole album is expertly paced. For the most part the band thrashes like maniacs but the album is interspersed with enough memorable horn-raising riffs to appeal to fans of Maiden and Priest. There are also occasional clean passages, river sounds and tweeting birds offering pastoral respite from the musical sword-waving elsewhere.

Songs like Hosanna in Excelsis and Behind the Crooked Cross are satisfyingly direct and savage with Andy Sneap’s deft guitar riffs and snaky legato fills. Vocalist Martin Walkyier impresses too: his crazed screeches, growls and exaggerated pronunciation (“The poison-ah! infil-ah! trates-ah!”) coming across like a possessed Dark Ages preacher or prophet. His startling vocal performance here would prove influential in the Black Metal genre both in the UK and abroad.

Walkyier’s wild delivery is especially useful in songs like A Cautionary Tale and I For An Eye where the songs take the form of Dante-inspired short plays. His varied vocal delivery is great for carrying the multitude of dramatic parts and his voice is often harmonised and doubled over to create a mysterious, occult atmosphere. One of the finest examples of this comes in A Cautionary Tale where Walkyier’s voice is weaved together with a backwards vocal for spellbinding effect (“Bell, book and candle. Candle, book, bell. Forwards and backwards to damn me to hell. Jehovah, I beg thee. Have mercy on my soul”).

Narratives are also expressed musically by the skilful changes in pace and mood. The greatest example occurs in the shift to a classic mid-tempo riff during I For An Eye to illustrate Lucifer’s malevolent intent. An uplifting, cleaner version of the same riff is introduced later beneath the melodic solo which closes the song (“I burn”). This is one of the album’s most awe-inspiring moments and a great example of the Andy Sneap’s skill as a composer, arranger and player.

The lyrics on History of a Time to Come deserve praise too. Many of the era’s bands were moving away from horror-themed lyrics and towards the real world horror of politics and nuclear destruction. Sabbat managed to use elements of both, filtered through the lens of a distinctively pagan and spiritual worldview. Horned is the Hunter (the album’s centrepiece) is suitably apocalyptic but the story of man’s downfall (the “history of a time to come” referred to in the album’s title) is told through the eyes of our forgotten Gods of nature. The topic of Nazism is cloaked by a focus on their occult obsessions in Behind the Crooked Cross and the greed of TV evangelists (always a popular target for 80s metallers) is turned into a medieval carnival in The Church Bizarre.

Sabbat History of a Time to Come CD Rear CoverSabbat would only release one more album, Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays), before the classic line-up split. Walkyier would go on to form Skyclad (one of the greatest bands of the 90s) and Andy Sneap would build a very successful production career. He would later use this success to help reactivate Hell, an obscure UK Metal band that was a massive influence on Sabbat.

This edition of History of a Time to Come has been superbly remastered by Andy Sneap himself and also includes 5 gruff live tracks from East Berlin (taken from the End of the Beginning VHS) with the standout track being a blistering version of For Those Who Died. There isn’t a weak track on this CD. It’s a superb record, superb reissue and a must-have for fans of Thrash and Black Metal. Charge!

HMO Rating: 10 out of 5

[Sabbat – I For An Eye]

W.A.S.P. – Live… in the Raw (Review)

 

Live… in the Raw 1997 Reissue

Many of the great live albums functioned as “end of an era” releases. They documented a period of a band’s career and placed a full-stop on it before evolving into something new.

Ever since the release of their debut single (Animal) Fuck Like a Beast, controversy had dogged W.A.S.P. and they soon became a prime target for the PMRC, while also experiencing death threats and even assassination attempts. The stress had tired the band, causing tensions in the ranks but also galvanising band leader Blackie Lawless who felt that the focus on the band’s image and antics had meant their musical merits were under-estimated.

Live… in the Raw was recorded over three dates on their successful world tour promoting their third album, Inside The Electric Circus. Opener Inside The Electric Circus is thrilling and has some great sawing guitar riffs. The band proceeds to tear through a taut, muscular set that mixes classics and new tracks alike. In fact there are three tracks on here that would have previously been unavailable: two excellent live tracks Harder Faster and The Manimal and one studio track Scream Until You Like It recorded to promote the Horror sequel Ghoulies II.

2011 reissue of Inside the Electric Circus relegates Live… in the Raw to mere bonus disc.

Like many of the best live albums, some of the songs here enjoy their definitive performances on this album. Inside The Electric Circus, L.O.V.E Machine, Wild Child and 9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y. are all superb. The only thing that stops Live… in the Raw being all the W.A.S.P. you’ll ever need is the notable omission of (Animal) Fuck Like a Beast (although they would atone for this with the release, in 1988, of the Live Animal EP).

Live… in the Raw would prove pivotal to the band’s career. It boosted the profile and legitimacy of their catalogue and functioned as a historically important “end of an era” release. The album would provide a full-stop on the sex, parties and gore period of their career. From now on, W.A.S.P. were going to get serious!

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5