Saxon’s Krakatoa is an explosive B-Side from their 1985 single Rock N’ Roll Gypsy. It’s a lively old-school banger very much along the lines of their classic Power And The Glory. Probably a bit too much like it… which might explain why it never made it on to an album. But even if it is Saxon-by-numbers, it’s got more fire and grit than a lot of the stuff that made it on that year’s Innocence Is No Excuse. And if you’re one of those fans that found that album a bit too Def Lep for your liking, this track will be right up your alley.
Fans of 2014’s excellent Promulgation of the Fall would have been hoping for more than just two tracks from these Greek death metallers this year but their new EP Sombre Doom satisfies with quality over quantity. Opening with a howling dead wind of feedback, the first track Redemptive Immolation is grave and doom-laden with a thick, dark atmosphere. After the oppressive opener, the up-tempo battering of Wind’s Bane comes as a relief but is still rich in ghostly gloom and haunting guitar. The songs and riffs aren’t the most original but Sombre Doom is all about the vibe and the execution: this reeks of rain, death, evil and graveyards. Proper death metal if you ask me, and one of the best EPs of the year.
Their self-titled album Avatarium was one of 2013’s surprise delights and one of the strongest debuts of recent years. What I really want is a proper follow-up album but, in the meantime, All I Want will do nicely. With just two new songs and three live recordings, it’s essentially a stop-gap until the next full album. But this 2014 EP is well worth hearing in its own right, offering evidence of their evolving and gelling sound as the band hit a new richness of depth following their first live shows.
Formed by Candlemass’ Leif Edling, Avatarium hadn’t performed any live shows when they recorded their debut album so it’s interesting to hear how they deliver live. Taken from their spot at the Roadburn Festival, the three live tracks are all excellent. It’s especially impressive to hear Jennie-Ann Smith’s vocals in the live setting. She’s an incredible discovery: delicately soulful, ominously powerful and one of the best singers around today. The band ably replicates the studio versions, the crushing Dehumanizer-grade weight of Marcus Jidell’s riffs are just as potent live but the psychedelic side of the music is more apparent as Carl Westholm’s keyboard textures are allowed more room to breathe. And Jidell’s lead guitar is looser, more confident. His outstanding Blackmore-esque solo on Pandora’s Egg draws appreciative cheers and he takes the Tides of Telepathy solo into a Hendrix-inspired section that lifts the song to new classic heights.
But the main event is the two new songs. They continue in the same vein as the debut but the more expansive chemisty, evinced by the live tracks, feeds into both: they sound richer and more colourful than the tracks on Avatarium. All I Want is a groovy rocker, graced with Edling’s seemingly infinite supply of golden hooks and drenched with Hammond organ and a percussive passage right out of Zeppelin. Fittingly, Deep Well is a deeper, darker experience. The swampy vamp and soulful vocals lifts into a chilling chorus. The dread of the thick, heaving chords graced with the subtle, rising power of Wilson’s vocals is monumental in the way only the best Doom can be and one of Avatarium’s greatest triumphs to date.
So, while it is a stop-gap release, All I Want is a satisfying and enlightening listen in its own right. Existing fans will welcome the new songs and new flavour the live tracks add to the older material. And given that the new songs rank among the very best the band has yet recorded it serves as a potent introduction for newcomers. The EP deserves to draw new fans into Avatarium’s increasingly deep, dark well.
(Single taken from The Good, the Bad & the Live: (6½ Year Anniversary EP Collection) that I bought back in January 2013)
Can I be honest here and admit one of my main reasons for wanting this was the incredible cover? I love the orange demon dude. He looks so pleased with himself. And so he should! He is adorning the first (if you’re British, anyway) Metallica single!
Jump in the Fire is taken from Metallica’s seminal debut, Kill ‘Em All. It’s one of the more old-school Metal tracks on the debut with its mid-tempo rhythm, bluesy soloing and a sing-along chorus (which always reminds me of Deep Purple’s Space Truckin’). It’s a fun track but not one of the debut’s more promising efforts. Hammett’s soloing and Hetfield’s hoarse vocals sell the song and, thankfully, the band replaced the shagging lyrics from the No Life ‘til Leather demo version with something more orange demon dude friendly. Besides, no-one should have to imagine James Hetfield moving his hips in a circular way. Ever.
Apart from the orange demon dude, the main attraction of this single is its live B-Sides. Unfortunately, these “live” versions of Seek and Destroy and Phantom Lord were actually recorded in a studio. Reverb was added (most audibly on Hetfield’s voice) to replicate the acoustics of a larger venue and crowd noises were added on. I’m sure I can remember reading that the crowd noise was taken from a classic live album but I’m not sure if that’s true or not (answers on a postcard please) but the crowd noise does give the impression that the band had amassed a pretty large following at this early stage in their career!
If you can get over the naïve fakery involved, these lively alternate versions are still well worth hearing. Both of the B-Side tracks are more representative of the band’s early, influential Thrash style than the A-Side. While these versions are missing the breakneck intensity of Metallica’s actual live performances, Cliff Burton’s fabulous bass playing is clear as a bell, Kirk’s soloing is free of bum notes and the performance as a whole is pretty tight. Pleasingly, Hetfield’s voice is starting to sound more like it would on future albums but his exhortations to the imaginary crowd (“let’s go, c’mon”) during Seek and Destroy are embarrassing.
Sans the fakery these are still excellent performances. If they had been radio sessions instead they would have been more appreciated and it’s probably preferable to think of them along those lines. For future releases, Metallica would lose the naiveté… and the orange demon dude.