Tag Archives: Stirrings

Manowar – Defender: 1983 Version (Song Review)

“Father I look up to you”

They were an unknown band at the time but that didn’t stop Manowar from securing the services of screen legend Orson Welles who (clearly recognising that he was in the midst of fellow geniuses) agreed to record narration for their debut album: 1982’s Battle Hymns. His narration was used on that album’s Dark Avenger but in the same session Welles also recorded two more pieces: a cool stage intro (that the band has used ever since) and narration for a strange and glorious second song, Defender.

Mostly spoken word set to music, it’s the kind of thing other bands would have used to flesh out an album. But Manowar are not “other bands” so Defender was released as a non-album single in 1983. Not the kind of stuff to tear up the charts but a great introduction to Manowar’s barbarian muscle metal. Windswept Conan tones in the mellow intro, Welles’ baritone gravitas, that killer “ride like the wind” chorus and goosebumps galore when vocalist Eric Adams finally chips in.

I slightly prefer the more direct, streamlined Fighting The World version from 1987 (which used the same narration but re-recorded and rearranged the rest of the song) but the original has its own appeal. It almost sounds like a metallized take on classic Kansas with Adams’ soaring vocals and Ross The Boss’ bluesier guitar solo. And best of all it has a longer, more epic atmosphere with the “Tree Of Woe” vibe that characterized the band’s early work. It’s a must-hear and a must-have rarity for any Manowar fan. This is the music God has sent.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

Enslaved – Return To Yggdrasill (Song Review)

“A new sound heard throughout the land”

Like Yggdrasill, the world tree at the centre of Norse mythology, black metal has branched out in all sorts of directions. Enslaved have always been a fine example of the genre’s progressive possibilities. Throughout their career the Norwegians have consistently pushed their creative longboat out into new waters. On this classic track from 2004’s Isa there are long passages of dreamy prog that bring to mind Rush, Porcupine Tree and the like. But these cosmic adventurers remain black at heart with frosty, pagan lyrics and a recurring, but captivatingly brief, riff of violent, tempestuous power.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Solstice – White Horse Hill (Review)

Solstice – White Horse Hill (2018)

Unless your veins run with the blood of a coward you would do well to check out White Horse Hill, the 2018 comeback album from the UK’s Solstice. And fans of early Manowar and Candlemass should consider it essential. It’s confident, bracing stuff with riffs that power like mighty oars, harmonies that sound like they’re heading out on a quest and declamatory vocals that get the pecs swelling with pride. The folky strum of For All Days & For None is a mid-album lull and a penchant for rustic interludes hampers the pacing a touch but To Sol A Thane, Under The Waves Lie Our Dead and the title-track are glorious, bearing the weight of the album like mighty pillars.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Extra points for a beautiful digipak!

Thor – Unchained (Review)

Unchained (EP – 1983, Reissue – 2015)

I want to get HMO circa 2019 off to a mighty start and it doesn’t get much mightier than everyone’s favourite brick-breaking, steel-bending and hot water bottle-exploding Canuck Jon Mikl Thor!

The former bodybuilding champ (and naked waiter) plugged away with various bands like Body Rock and Thor And The Imps before finally settling on Thor, releasing their debut album Keep The Dogs Away in the late 70s. The debut’s ropey (but infuriatingly catchy) glam made for a bit of a false start and it wasn’t until 1983’s Unchained EP that Thor finally hit his musical stride, with a nifty new band and a hard metal backing that was much better suited to his voice, persona and Herculean physique.

That physique and viking imagery often gets Thor lumped in with HMO-heroes Manowar but the music on Unchained is much more along the lines of the party-hearty block riffing of Twisted Sister. Traces of the debut’s glam approach remain, especially in the EP’s weakest track Lazer Eyes. But Unchained is even catchier than the debut and tracks like Anger, Lightning Strikes Again and When Gods Collide are instant favourites and mandatory listening for any true metal party!

Better still, the recent reissue from Cleopatra bolsters the already mighty EP with tons of quality bonus tracks like War Hammer and Rebirth Of The Hero as well as the ultra-rare Lightning Strikes Again EP from 1982 which features raw earlier versions of the Unchained tracks. When you’re fucking and fighting in Valhalla, Unchained will be playing in the background. Essential listening for anyone that needs some devastation with their musculation.

HMO Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (Review)

Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (1984)

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.

HMO Rating: (All Men Play On) 10 out of 5

The HMO Top Albums of 2017

Twelve whole months of your human time have passed. An entire year of metal releases that have all been building up to one thing: The HMO Top Albums of 2017!

And what a year it was. I reckon the overall standard in this year’s list is the highest since I started doing these, with albums in the lower reaches that would have ranked higher in a less competitive year. Consequently, there was also a bunch of very deserving albums that just missed the cut:

Formicarius – Black Mass Ritual, Contaminated – Final Man, Power Trip – Nightmare Logic, Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy, Vampire – With Primeval Force, Demon Head – Thunder In The Fields, Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

All of these were favourites of mine that would very likely have made the list any other year and I’d heartily recommend all of them. But there can be only ten…

NUMBER TEN: Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep

The black metal duo returned with this powerful and deceptively simple set of cold, bleak, groovy and progressive black metal hymns. Following frontman Satyr’s recovery from illness, the album was heralded as “day one of a new chapter”. But it’s no reinvention, just the sound of a band knuckling down with fresh dedication and commitment.

NUMBER NINE: The Obsessed – Sacred

Doom icon Wino returns with a new lineup of his old band The Obsessed and an album that lives up to their classics of old. Hefty biker doom riffs with ace songwriting, soulful maturity and vintage musicianship. Wino’s voice and guitar slinging are as badass as ever. He sings “I was born with my heart on my sleeve” and, 56 years later, he’s still wearing it well.

NUMBER EIGHT: Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

No AOTY list would be complete without some death metal in space and this year’s guttural cosmic travellers are Long Island’s Artificial Brain. Post-humanity, cyborgs ponder life and their predecessors and the wonderfully ambient blend of tech death, beautiful dissonance and filthy vocals suits the theme perfectly. Also… might be the only album in my collection that features the word “urinals”.

NUMBER SEVEN: The King Is Blind – We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer

The King Is Blind make the HMO Top Ten for the second year in a row. No mean feat. This sequel to their debut album Our Father, brings that album’s biblical tale into the modern day with harrowing results. The UK headbangers bash out an intelligent, raging and monolithic slab of metal that fuses a whole bunch of styles into a crushing, grooving whole that grows in stature with each listen.

NUMBER SIX: Immolation – Atonement

No big back-story, concept or narrative to talk about here. Just straight-up quality death metal from a veteran act that’s still hungry. As with other releases this year, it’s definitely got a whiff of the end-times about it. But instead of dishing out the political rage, Immolation deal out a restrained, ominous and dark indictment of our times. Crushing, twisted, authoritative and destructive from beginning to end.

NUMBER FIVE: Midnight – Sweet Death And Ecstasy

Hooded demon Athenar returns with his third full-length album of black thrash hooliganism. No zeitgeist-y vibes here: just Satan, shagging and Venom-worship. But there’s a lot of creativity crammed into this album’s short running time and its bookended by two epics that push the band’s stylistic (long)boat out: swashbuckling, scything mid-tempo metal that invokes the legends of old… the legends of Ye Olde Bathory and Manowar. It’s that good.

NUMBER FOUR: Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay

The loved-or-loathed British institution continues a late-career renaissance that finds them tipping the balance firmly in the loved direction. Themed around the Victorian obsession with death, Cryptoriana… is a darkly fabulous romp of hard-hitting gothic metal delivered with expertise and passion. It’s atmospheric, cinematic, galloptastic and just tons of fun with a vocal turn from Dani Filth that cements his place as the veritable metal legend that he is.

NUMBER THREE: Memoriam – For The Fallen

Featuring ex-members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, Memoriam were formed as a tribute to Bolt Thrower’s late drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns and what a tribute it is: crusty, primitive old-school death metal with a sense of tragedy and loss. But it’s not a total downer, there’s enough carnage here to please Bolt Thrower fans. Vocalist Karl Willetts performs with charisma and heart while the band unleashes the kind of filthy, strafing riffage that’s guaranteed to have you running for cover.

NUMBER TWO: Paradise Lost – Medusa

2015’s The Plague Within was a welcome return to growlier death/doom fare but I don’t think anyone could have expected Paradise Lost to dredge the depths of misery like they have with this near-flawless album of gothic gloom. Anthemic hooks, crusty riffing, mournful harmonies and a fearless vocal performance from Nick Holmes put Medusa right up there with the band’s best work. No small feat, considering the number of innovative and essential albums that make up this legendary band’s discography.

NUMBER ONE: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

The great comeback of 2017 was the return of these much-missed British Satanists with their most progressive, personal and accessible album to date. But the blackened malevolence of old remains and the fact that this album could well lure fans of more classic fare into a more extreme musical realm suggests these suave Londoners are still doing the devil’s work. The eclectic variety, complex structures and dreamy introspection make for a fascinating, rewarding listen and the intense, dynamic, neck-snapping skill of the band’s performance is the stuff of metal gods.

HMO TOP ALBUMS BY YEAR

2017: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

2016: Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

2015: My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

2014: Voices – London

Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay (Review)

Cradle Of Filth are a British institution, one of the most recognisable and successful extreme acts to come from these shores. But, while they are loved and loathed by many, they’ve never made a huge impression on me either way. I’ve bought and enjoyed a fair few albums of theirs over the years but I’ve never had that phase where I’ve obsessed over them, where they were my band. Until now.

Although I was late getting to it, I was thoroughly impressed with 2015’s Hammer Of The Witches, and the band’s latest album continues in that vein. Themed around the Victorian obsession with death, Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay is a darkly fabulous romp of hard-hitting gothic metal, delivered with expertise and passion. The overall approach is still the band’s patented blackened Hammer Horror style but there’s a whole wealth of approaches employed. Heartbreak And Seance’s romantic melodrama, thrash fury on Wester Vespertine, You Will Know The Lion By Its Claw’s pitch-black savagery and there are wonderful trad metal gallops and harmonies throughout (most thrillingly in The Seductiveness Of Decay). Best of all, vocalist Dani Filth puts each song over and then some: a spirited and veteran performance of considerable taste, breadth and character.

Hammer Of The Witches reached some peaks of excitement that aren’t quite reached here but its a nano-gripe about a near-flawless album. And, on the flip-side, the latest album has none of the excess that detracted from its predecessor. For all its expansive grandeur, Cryptoriana… is tight and direct. The pedal is to the metal at all times and the band’s cinematic flourishes are weaved and layered skilfully throughout the songs with no boring intros or interludes to be found. The style is familiar but the album is fresh and stakes its own unique place in their canon. An utterly wonderful release from a veteran band at the top of their game. My band.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5