They’d go on to be one of the most definitive, life-affirming rock acts of the 70s but on their 1971 debut, Thin Lizzy seemed more nostalgic for the 60s. Lizzy mainstays Phil Lynott and Brian Downey together with original guitarist Eric Bell formed a power trio in the mould of Hendrix, Cream and The Jeff Beck Group and played an eclectic mix of folky, funky and soulful hippy rock. Honesty Is No Excuse is a sophisticated string-laden ballad, Look What The Wind Blew In has a carefree chorus and wonderful stuttering riff, Eire is a beautiful Celtic ode and Return Of The Farmer’s Son has hints of future glories in its jousting guitar and rolling drums. But many of the songs here, like the endless Diddy Levine, prove forgettable and even the album’s rockiest moments have a maudlin, nostalgic mood. All this makes Thin Lizzy a decent choice for hungover Sunday afternoons. But you know what Lizzy albums you were listening to on the Saturday and this wasn’t one of them.
The narrator of I Am The Black Wizards has been a ruler for eternities and is so mighty that the souls and spirits of numerous obedient wizards now belong to him. Or something like that. Whatever is going on, it’s metal as fuck. And it’s black metal 101 too, an essential track from a mandatory band. Taken from their debut 1993 EP Emperor, this is absolutely caustic stuff with an unforgettable guitar melody snaking through the furnace of noise. I Am The Black Wizards was recorded again for Emperor’s debut album In The Nightside Eclipse and that version is even better than this. But this version came first so it has a special importance and its cavernous cacophony has an appeal of its own.
Despite being dubbed “athletic rock”, Newcastle’s Raven were slow off the starting blocks. Their 1980 single Don’t Need Your Money was well-received but there was a big wait for their debut album to finally appear in October 1981. Not sure what took so long because Rock Until You Drop sounds like the power trio just rocked up to the studio and banged out their live set in one go. This is just one corker after another, crackling with raw energy and infectious enthusiasm (just check out John Gallagher’s crazed yelp at the end of Hell Patrol). And it’s loaded with classics too: from gonzo hard rockers Hard Ride, Over The Top and Don’t Need Your Money to superb Priest slashers like For The Future. I could do without the pair of Sweet covers though. They’re fun and add to the live gig vibe but I’d rather have had another Raven original or two. But it’s a minor gripe as Raven then proceed to wreck the place with the proto-thrash Lambs To The Slaughter and the mighty epic Tyrant Of The Airways. Raven might not need your money but you should fling some their way because you need this over-the-top NWOBHM madness in your life.
The HMO Vault starts here! If we’re going alphabetically from A to ZZ Top, the first album in my collection is the self-titled album by Abbath. And that means Abbath‘s opening track To War! is the first song. A perfect song title to kick things off! And, serendipitously, it has a particularly magnificent beginning: a repeated single-note riff of martial boldness that builds up tension and excitement for what’s to follow. The rest of the song is the kind of strong, charging black metal blizzard you’d expect from the ex-Immortal frontman even if it’s never quite as attention-grabbing as that amazing intro. Still, To War! is a great way to kick off an album. And a collection.
Sammy Hagar has always been a divisive figure, not least for being the interloper who dared replace Dave Lee Roth in Van Halen. But when Hagar supporters find themselves unable to convince anyone of Van Hagar’s merits or the quality of his various other outings, they can always rely on one thing: the 1973 debut album from Montrose. It’s an unassailable classic of 70s man rock and one of the earliest examples of party-hearty American metal. Other 70s hard rockers would enjoy more fame and rewards but Montrose‘s cult influence would be heard everywhere from the clubs of the LA glam scene to the garages of the NWOBHM.
So kudos to Sammy for his charismatic vocals and songwriting contribution (“I gave love a chance and it shit back in my face”). But the real star of the show is the band’s guitarist and founder Ronnie Montrose. His superior playing and hot rod riffing is timeless and, in tandem with producer Ted Templeman, he colours the band’s meat and potatoes simplicity with a deceptively rich range of tones. From the spacey, hard-charging Zep chug of Space Station #5 and the revved up intro to Bad Motor Scooter to the monster-plod bludgeon of Rock Candy, Montrose is a treasure-trove of stealable guitar parts and sounds. The old-timey Good Rocking Tonight and One Thing On My Mind lean towards filler but both are served up with charm and stop the album from getting too po-faced.
Unfortunately, Montrose couldn’t make it last. One more (underrated) album later, Sammy would be fired. And he wouldn’t be involved with anything quite this good again. But it can be 1973 forever. Just take your top off, stick on Montrose and rock the nation.
They would go on to enjoy insane, enormo-success and an inflated reputation as the One Band To Rule Them All but Led Zeppelin’s first flight was a rickety, low budget affair. Their S/T 1969 debut album was knocked out in just 36 hours for less than two grand, which is not bad going considering it became a seminal work in the early history of “heavy”. Before Black Sabbath and before In Rock, Led Zep dished out dark, powerful riff-based rock on tracks like the bewitching Dazed And Confused. But there are both good times and bad times to be had on Led Zeppelin. Communication Breakdown is a superb proto-Paranoid metal chug but Good Times, Bad Times‘ powerful rhythm section and Your Time Is Gonna Come‘s dreamy mix of acoustic guitar and organ can’t disguise the band’s dated, hippy songcraft. Elsewhere, the famously sticky-fingered Brits resort to mining other artists’ material. This approach works well on tracks like How Many More Times, where Zep supercharge the blues with swingingly heavy results. But it also results in stodgy workouts like I Can’t Quit You Baby and Black Mountain Side, a folk arrangement that shows good taste but lacks imagination. The album’s thudding rock power makes Led Zeppelin a notably heavy debut but it’s also heavy in mood: a monochrome moroseness that, mixed with some weak and old-fashioned material, makes repeat listens an increasingly dreary experience. Better would come when Zep’s creativity and vision caught up with the power of their delivery.
Following short-lived but inspired stints with both the volatile Ritchie Blackmore and the mad axeman Michael Schenker, vocalist Graham Bonnet decided to form his own band, Alcatrazz, with hot, upcoming guitarist… Yngwie M. F. Malmsteen. Talk about “out of the frying pan and into the fire”. Unsurprisingly this pairing proved just as short-lived, ending in a blaze of egos and fisticuffs, but it also proved equally inspired with both musicians delivering at their peak on Alcatrazz’s superb debut album, 1983’s No Parole From Rock N’ Roll.
Alcatrazz was conceived as a Rainbow-style outfit. And with songs like the parpy AOR opener Island In The Sun and the Spotlight Kid rerun Jet To Jet, their debut definitely fits the bill. But there’s something more sophisticated at work here. Yngwie’s neo-classical riffing adds an intricate, frosty edge and his soloing on tracks like Kree Nakoorie is impossibly exciting. And Bonnet responds with a forceful and acrobatic vocal performance that thrills on tracks like General Hospital as well as contributing to the album’s cerebral edge with intelligent, quirky lyrics on tracks like the phenomenal Hiroshima Mon Amour (“the fireball that shamed the sun”). The languid Big Foot drags a bit and the bluesy Suffer Me is a little anti-climatic but there is no escaping the fact that No Parole From Rock N’ Roll is a dazzling, state-of-the-art, riot in the dungeon.
In 1989 the BBC documentary series Arena ran an hour-long episode called Heavy Metal. It was a huge deal for metal fans. Videotaped, rewatched repeatedly and quoted endlessly… “whooaa dugga dugga dugga!” There is a fantastic scene filmed in Nottingham’s Rock City nightclub where a circle of guys throw some unforgettable shapes to an amazingly hypnotic riff. Uncredited in the documentary, the source of this riff remained a mystery until years later when I heard the song Brain Death by Nuclear Assault.
Brain Death would be a pretty standard speed metal bash if it wasn’t for that riff kicking in at the 3.30min mark. There’s a quiet opening that builds up some nice dread and the chorus is instantly memorable but this song is all about the Nottingham Rock City mosh. A lot of bands might just play that kind of slower breakdown briefly before picking up the pace or launching into a guitar solo but Nuclear Assault ride it out for nearly 3 minutes, giving it that hypnotic intensity. And it gives you plenty of time to do some serious air guitar damage too. I love it and by the looks of the Nottingham Rock City footage, I’m not the only one. Whoaa dugga dugga dugga!
“Welcome all you fuckers/seeking evil excitements/yeah! You want to be cool” Of course you do! Then why not impress all your friends by listening to Bulldozer’s excellent debut album The Day Of Wrath. The Italian band was often written off as Venom clones but they were a more musically capable outfit (check out the maniacal guitar soloing throughout Mad Man) and edged very close to the crude Teutonic thrash of bands like Destruction and Kreator. And even if it didn’t exactly break new ground, Bulldozer’s debut endures on the strength of its songs and its attitude. The album is laden with killer riffs and hooks: from the sacreligious darkness of Welcome Death, the marauding Cut-Throat, the seductive Great Deciever and the unforgettable party-banger Whisky Time (“It’s fucking whisky time!”). Falls short of full points due to skippable intro/outro shenanigans but make no mistake! If you’re an uncool fucker, seeking evil excitement… it’s fucking Bulldozer time!
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.