HMO heroes Virgin Steele have announced they will celebrate their 35th Anniversary(!) by releasing a brand new box set called Seven Devils Moonshine. It will be released through SPV/Steamhammer on November 23rd 2018 and will include 5 CDs (a total of 88 songs) as well as a sticker and a 24 page booklet with new lyrics and photos by frontman David DeFeis.
The band have been doing extended album reissues for quite a few years now and were planning to reissue the two albums Hymns To Victory and The Book Of Burning together as a deluxe set with extra material. But they started recording some new stuff to put on a bonus disc and in typically overblown Virgin Steele style they ended up with three albums worth of new material! So as well as the two reissued albums the set will include 3CDs worth of new songs, orchestral versions, cover versions… you name it. Looks like a great value package and a must-buy for fans. As I wrote recently, their last studio album wasn’t the best but I love this band and I’ll take as much of this stuff as they’ve got.
I’m not a big fan of the most recent Virgin Steele album Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation but I still occasionally hanker for it. The opener Lucifer’s Hammer is classic chest-beating metal and Persephone is a grand retelling of the Greek myth that ranks up with the band’s best material. And do any of you remember the mysteriously anonymous 80s speed metal band Exorcist? Well, it turns out they were Virgin Steele all along and on this album they finally own up to it, reworking two Exorcist songs Queen Of The Dead and Black Mass in power metal fashion. It’s great stuff and a lot more rifftastic than the preceding VS album The Black Light Bacchanalia. But that album had a romantic, overblown grandiosity that proved fascinating and rewarding and Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation has none of that richness or consistency. The shifts from the Exorcist tracks to piano balladry like Hymns To Damnation to bizarre raunch metal like Demolition Queen and Glamour make for a disjointed listen and the overlong arrangements and dark, moody atmosphere means promising tracks like Delirium and Devilhead come across as dreary. If you’re a Virgin Steele acolyte like me there are just enough bright spots here to make it worth your time but everyone else will find Nocturnes a long, colourless night that will most likely send them to sleep.
Riot’s history as a band is the stuff of metal legend, thanks to decades of perseverance through bad breaks and tragedy. But musically I’ve been largely unfamiliar with the band’s career beyond the early Guy Speranza-fronted albums of the late 70s/early 80s. With the passing of founding guitarist Mark Reale in 2012 there is now no-one left from those early days. But the US band, respectfully renamed Riot V due to Reale’s passing, have vowed to carry on his good work.
And on their latest album Armor Of Light they do a pretty good job of it. Like a more polished version of 1988’s Thundersteel, it’s upbeat melodic power metal akin to Gamma Ray or Dragonforce. Todd Michael Hall’s soaring Kiske-esque vocals deliver some instantly memorable choruses with high-flying aplomb. Songs like Victory, End Of The World, Heart Of A Lion and Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign sound like the sort of warring, singalong stuff that will go over a storm at festivals. The guitar soloing is superb too: jousting, harmonized Helloween-type stuff.
But there isn’t quite enough killer riffing here, and it all starts to go through the motions in the second half. The band is too content to chug along with the double-kicks, and many potentially interesting parts are drowned out by the relentless drums. But there’s good pure metal fun to be had here. The first side is a blast, I guarantee you a good two or three songs that will instantly embed in your brain and warrant further listens. A solid effort rather than a great one; but if the goal is to uphold the legacy of Reale and Riot then it achieves its aim. I definitely want to catch up and hear more.
Unleash The Beast, Saxon’s thirteenth studio album and the first to feature the band’s current line-up, finds the band dialling up the kind of heaviness previously hinted at on older tracks like Altar Of The Gods, Battle Cry and Dogs Of War.
As usual for Saxon, this 1997 album’s big classic is the title-track: a brilliant thrasher with a chorus hewn from pure gold. But the harder edge comes at the expense of the band’s usual chemistry and charisma. The serious mood fits songs like the dark, grooving Cut Out The Disease and the moody, slow-burner The Preacher. But songs like Ministry Of Fools and The Thin Red Line fall strangely flat when they should be uplifting. The driving Terminal Velocity, uncannily catchy Circle Of Light and vigorously rowdy All Hell’s Breaking Loose inject much-needed sparks of excitement but can’t quite lift the album into the classic zone.
Its po-faced proficiency makes it one to appreciate rather than love but Saxon’s consistency and focus impresses and this was a crucial album for them. As well as unleashing the beast, they ushered in a new era, finding a style and purpose that would restore their credibility and serve them well for years to come. The story of modern Saxon starts here.
With vocalist Ralf Scheepers out the band, hell bent on joining Judas Priest, Gamma Ray guitarist (and former Helloween guitarist/lead vocalist) Kai Hansen decided to make a surprise, and welcome, return to the mic. The re-jigged German band found a renewed sense of vitality and their fourth album, 1995’s Land Of The Free, proved to be their best yet. It’s a definitive power metal classic: humungous, anthemic heavy metal goods properly delivered by a band on a mission.
The opening track Rebellion In Dreamland is metal at its gloriously epic best and tracks like Man On A Mission and All Of The Damned feature precision hooks. The band’s earlier albums often stumbled into silliness but this is a more serious and consistent effort. The only overly jolly moment comes when, yet another former Helloween vocalist, Michael Kiske joins the band for Time To Break Free. But it’s a very minor grumble and, for the most part, this has all the stately riffage, wild soloing, singalong choruses, fairy feller interludes and last-ale balladry you could possibly want. Gamma Ray achieve hero status for persevering with bombastic trad metal at a time when it was totally out of fashion and their musical bravado found the perfect home in Land Of The Free.
Not a lot going on this week but the release schedule is not totally devoid of intrigue. There is a new album The Banished Heart from gothic doom types Oceans Of Slumber and the new album Resurrection from Michael Schenker Fest. Neither are must-buy slam dunks for me but definitely worth checking out.
And, not a new release as such, but HMO-faves Voices have unveiled a new track entitled Dead Feelings. During the week the band FINALLY announced the details of the follow-up to their colossal 2014 album London. It’ll be out on April 27th and will be called Frightened. You will be.
That’s all the excitements for this week, let me know in the comments if there’s anything you’re all hyped about today. Some big releases next week. See you then.
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.