Having made a promising studio comeback with 1994’s From Now On… the newly-sober Glenn Hughes then set out to prove his reliability and viability as a live performer. Burning Japan Live, recorded in 1994 over two nights in Kawasaki, captures Hughes and his band (now including three members of Europe) in spectacular form. The album kicks off with a red-hot version of the Deep Purple classic Burn and continues with a revelatory run of non-Purple tracks. There’s a swaggering take on the Hughes/Thrall classic Muscle And Blood and the new solo tracks like From Now On… and The Liar sound magnificent. A cluster of mellow tunes causes a mid-set lull but the versions of Coast To Coast and This Time Around are classy examples of Hughes’ versatility. The chilled interlude also provides a nice breather before the show switches gears for a hard rocking climax that’s loaded with Purple anthems from Glenn’s MkIII and IV days. Burning Japan Live proved Hughes was back at the peak of his powers and also celebrated his long and storied career. It’s a vibrant, dynamic and sophisticated live album that cemented his reputation as the “Voice Of Rock”.
After the U.S. the most important country in the story of thrash metal has to be Germany. And in Germany it all started with the debut EP from Sodom. Where German thrash initially differentiated itself from its American counterpart was in crude, primitive blackness. And it doesn’t get much cruder, blacker or more primitive than 1985’s In The Sign Of Evil. It’s all very Venom-inspired with similar levels of punkish ineptitude. Most songs alternate between two caveman riffs and the performance, even on stupidly basic riffs like those in Sepulchral Voice, often unravels. But it was all chaotically evil enough to ensure that Sodom played a crucial role in the “first wave” of black metal and countless black metal bands still draw from this well. Outbreak Of Evil and Witching Metal are catchy-as-hell bruisers, Burst Command ‘Til War predates war metal with its howling pack of dogs chaos and Blasphemer ramps up the evil with Vincent Price laughs and entertainingly crap satanic lyrics… “masturbate to kill myself”. It’s the kind of entry-level simplicity that means new bands still fancy their chances at emulating it. But few have. In The Sign Of Evil is still a cut above with songs that live in the memory and in the band’s set-list to this day.
Saxon concluded their 90s catalogue in robust fashion with the aptly-titled Metalhead. It continued the dark, heavy vein of 1997’s Unleash The Beast but with a vigour and confidence bolstered by a traditional metal renaissance in Europe.
The crushing metal chugs and ominous tones of tracks like Metalhead and Are We Travellers In Time have a contemporary edge but also a technicality to the riffage that bulldozers away the boozier, sprightlier charm of the band’s early days. But Saxon’s spirit and songcraft remains. Even at its heaviest, the album sports durable melodies and there’s a welcome lighter touch and variety on songs like the bouncy Prisoner, grooving What Goes Around and the proggy Sea Of Life. It’s not all gleaming and modern: the Saxon traditions of headbanging and tales of olde are upheld in the thrilling All Guns Blazing and the rousing Conquistador.
Some inevitable clunkers (Piss Off and the forgettable Watching You) and a sense of solid proficiency prevent it ranking alongside inspired classics like Power & The Glory. But with Metalhead Saxon made their strongest, timeliest statement of the decade. I’ll bang my head to that.
*Worth pointing out that Nigel Glockler had left (again) due to injury, replaced by Fritz Randow. But you won’t notice the difference.