Abbath’s Dread Reaver failed to make my day with its frustrating lack of oomph. But on the album’s bonus track, a cover of Motörhead’s Make My Day, the band give it some extra welly and conjure up the kind of excitement that’s missing on the main album. The chorus is anthemic enough to poke through the band’s wallop of noise and Abbath does a good karaoke Lemmy. Normally, he sounds like the kinda guy that does battle with mountain lions but here he sounds more like he makes love to them. If he can start capturing some of this swagger in his own material then he might be on to something.
In the early 90s, it seemed like everyone and their dog was recording covers of classic KISS. And death metal pioneers Death were no exception, taking a break from the complex technicality of their 1991 Human album to throw down a cover of God Of Thunder. Originally used as a Japanese bonus track, the cover was presumably intended more as a bit of fun than an important artistic statement as the band don’t do anything radical with the track. Outside of Chuck Schuldiner’s tortured vocals, the relentless double-bass drums and a flashier guitar solo, it’s all pretty faithful to the version on KISS’ Destroyer album. What I find interesting is that, despite the extreme metal growls and drumming, the KISS version remains darker, heavier and cooler. So, although it’s a fun listen in its own right, it also does a good job of reminding you just how powerful KISS were. I guess all those bands were covering their stuff for a reason.
I don’t normally get all that excited about covers EPs (Danzig excepted) but Thus Defiled’s A Return To The Shadows is a total riot. The release marks the UK black metallers’ 25th year in action and sadly, also their last. The quality-over-quantity band hasn’t exactly been prolific during that quarter century so the chance to hear some new recordings is hugely welcome.
The main attraction is the new track Armagedda In Rapture and it’s a scorcher. The impressive production is simultaneously clinical and savage. It’s pure riff destruction with fantastic demonic vocals and it’s easily the best black metal track I’ve heard this year so far. The kind of song that’s so awesome it just makes you laugh the first time you hear it.
The rest of A Return To The Shadows is taken up by cover versions and, interestingly, the band opted to only cover non-black metal material. It turns out to be a great call as the band are able to put their own spin on a batch of songs that less daring souls would consider unfuckwithable.
They scythe and scream their way through Death’s Evil Dead and Metallica’s Creeping Death. Impossible to top such classic tracks but they inject so much energy and spark into them that the effect is like hearing the songs for the first time. You can’t ask for more than that.
Next up is a bewitching version of Morbid Angel’s Demon Seed and as an extra bonus they’ve got Morbid Angel/Nocturnus legend Mike Browning adding superb ominous and cultish vocals to another belter of a track. The cover of W.A.S.P’s Hellion that closes is the weakest here, a shade lost under the windy howls of vocalist Paul C, but with repeat listens it starts to make more and more sense. The riffs are undeniable and a black metal band that covers W.A.S.P. deserves instant HMO bonus points.
It’s a brilliant EP. Tons of fun and if it wasn’t digital I’d have probably worn it out by now. Fans of extreme metal should not miss out on this download-only release (available here). All the band ask is that you donate anything you can spare to the Chuck Schuldiner-approved musician’s charity Sweet Relief. It’s a great gesture and, with the band deciding to call it day and slink off into the shadows, a great way for them to close out an impressive career of evil.
Savage’s relatively late debut album (1983’s Loose N’ Lethal) might make them seem like one of the few New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands that couldn’t lay a claim to being an influence on the mighty Metallica. But, far from being Johnny-Come-Latelies, Savage had already been around for a while. By 1981 they had already released a demo, a single and made two appearances on a compilation album Scene of the Crime. One of those compilation tracks was the classic Let it Loose and it soon made its way into the hands of, you guessed it, Lars Ulrich. Only appearing in early Metallica live sets and on a demo tape, it’s not one of the more famous or celebrated Metallica NWOBHM covers but there’s a strong whiff of the thrash giants’ early style here. And although ‘tallica didn’t exactly pass it off as one of their own they weren’t in a hurry to draw attention to the fact that it was a cover either. And, if any listeners thought it was one of their own original songs, that was fine by them too. Have a listen to the 1981 Scene of the Crime version of the track here to hear why.
What makes a great cover version? There’s only one question you have to ask: does the band covering the song make it their own? Skyclad’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s Emerald is excellent. It’s faithful to the original song but the more metallic, aggressive and threatening delivery along with the clever use of violin to handle the chorus riff and bridge ensures the song fits perfectly in Skyclad’s folk metal oeuvre. Extra points awarded for guest guitar from Lizzy’s ‘Robbo’ Robertson and the fact that this version is responsible for me getting into Thin Lizzy in the first place! Even if I (and probably you) ultimately prefer the original there is no denying this is an inspired and enjoyable cover version.
Emerald opens their 1992 EP Tracks From the Wilderness and is followed by two studio cuts that sadly don’t keep up the standard it sets. A Room Next Door is a decent ballad with beautiful, rustic acoustic guitars but When All Else Fails is forgettable thrash. Neither are in the same league as the Lizzy cover or up to the quality of the tracks on the band’s previous two albums. The lack of Fritha Jenkins’ violin on these suggests they were probably off-cuts from the band’s debut album. The EP closes out with three energetic and endearing live tracks from the Dynamo festival. The band are tight and Martin Walkyier delivers each song with zeal. These excellent performances round out a worthwhile stop-gap release but there’s no denying this is mainly worth buying for Emerald. For fans only.