In Trance was the Scorpions’ third album, their first of many with producer Dieter Dierks and their first proper hard rocker. But we’re still back in the Uli Roth years here so there’s a strange mix of styles and moods. There are real driving, hard-hitters like Dark Lady and Top Of The Bill but there are also many songs like Life’s Like A River and Living And Dying that are mystical, almost-psychedelic and loaded with melancholy. Two different kinds of heavy, basically. Scorpions’ circa 1975 show off a complex mix of styles and influences: Uli Roth’s post-Hendrix, pre-Malmsteen guitar mastery; the mellow wistfulness of UFO’s Phenomenon; the epic scope, bludgeon and layered vocal harmonies of Uriah Heep and Queen and a distinctly European/power metal vibe. The combination of Rudolf Schenker’s granite riffs and Uli Roth’s scorching leads create real sparks and edge that never appeared in other incarnations of the band. There’s so just so much to love here and tracks like the bombastic pomp-rocker In Trance and the bonkers cyber-metaller Robot Man just never get old. The Scorpions would score big later with a simpler, streamlined metal style so this strange and formative early effort isn’t in the hallmark Scorps style but it is one of their best and the album, and era, I return to the most. By a long way. And that’s why it’s my top pick from this band’s impressive discography.
I finally made the sacred pilgrimage to see The World’s Greatest Guitarist®. My expectations had been lowered after seeing the enjoyable but sluggish Memories In Rock footage and then hearing the banal single released a few weeks back but… Ritchie F. Blackmore! It was incredibly exciting to know I was finally going to, not just see him play live, but see him play rock.
The band’s recent recording of Land Of Hope And Glory played over the PA before the “we must be over the rainbow” sample heralded the band’s arrival on stage. Opening with HMO fave Spotlight Kid rather than Highway Star was a good move. Blackmore played tentatively and awkwardly but come the closing outro of the next song I Surrender he was warming up. He was taking some shortcuts in his lead and rhythm playing throughout the night but given his age (and arthritis?) it’s unfair to expect the intensity of his youth. He still played well and had that mercurial, unique quality. It was great to hear his instantly recognisable guitar voice in person.
The band was good too. A definite improvement on the 2016 footage/recordings with a much more convincing performance from the rhythm section in particular. Ronnie Romero was in superb voice and an entertaining, personable frontman. He suits some songs more than others but he was impressive all night. He’s a huge talent and a great find.
My only quibbles were an interminably long keyboard solo and some overly shrill shrieking in Child In Time, a song I can’t be arsed with at the best of times anyway. And, although it’s good to hear Blackmore playing them, I wasn’t too fussed about hearing other Purple stuff like Black Night and Smoke On The Water either. That said, some of the sets best moments came from the Purple albums: a stunning version of Burn and a very moving Soldier Of Fortune. The Rainbow selections were similar to previous shows with the welcome addition of I Surrender,All Night Long and a hugely unexpected and wonderful Temple Of The King. But the mighty Stargazer remains the absolute standout track of the set: epic metal bliss delivered with deadly conviction by Romero. Goosebumps.
Ultimately, I went to see a guitarist whose music and playing I have obsessed over for years. And I was not disappointed. In fact, I was often thrilled and excited. That’s pretty good going. Age and arthritis be damned, Blackmore is still the man.
The return of eccentric extremists Akercocke in 2016 had me praising Satan like nobody’s business. Their new song Inner Sanctum was wonderful and I had a great time finally catching them live in Manchester.
Now they’ve announced the details of their upcoming new album Renaissance In Extremis and revealed the song Disappear that will open the highly-anticipated comebAK album.
It’s great stuff. Not as immediate as Inner Sanctum but it’s a tantalising taster for the album and proves that the band still has the knack for twisty-turny progressive death metal madness. Better yet, the pre-orders are up at Peaceville Records and the album will be available in a 3CD deluxe 60-page hardback with two bonus discs of rare recordings, demos, live tracks, cover versions and more!
Exciting news. The album is out on 25th August and promises to be a musical highlight of 2017. Hail Lucifer!
I don’t normally get all that excited about covers EPs (Danzig excepted) but Thus Defiled’s A Return To The Shadows is a total riot. The release marks the UK black metallers’ 25th year in action and sadly, also their last. The quality-over-quantity band hasn’t exactly been prolific during that quarter century so the chance to hear some new recordings is hugely welcome.
The main attraction is the new track Armagedda In Rapture and it’s a scorcher. The impressive production is simultaneously clinical and savage. It’s pure riff destruction with fantastic demonic vocals and it’s easily the best black metal track I’ve heard this year so far. The kind of song that’s so awesome it just makes you laugh the first time you hear it.
The rest of A Return To The Shadows is taken up by cover versions and, interestingly, the band opted to only cover non-black metal material. It turns out to be a great call as the band are able to put their own spin on a batch of songs that less daring souls would consider unfuckwithable.
They scythe and scream their way through Death’s Evil Dead and Metallica’s Creeping Death. Impossible to top such classic tracks but they inject so much energy and spark into them that the effect is like hearing the songs for the first time. You can’t ask for more than that.
Next up is a bewitching version of Morbid Angel’s Demon Seed and as an extra bonus they’ve got Morbid Angel/Nocturnus legend Mike Browning adding superb ominous and cultish vocals to another belter of a track. The cover of W.A.S.P’s Hellion that closes is the weakest here, a shade lost under the windy howls of vocalist Paul C, but with repeat listens it starts to make more and more sense. The riffs are undeniable and a black metal band that covers W.A.S.P. deserves instant HMO bonus points.
It’s a brilliant EP. Tons of fun and if it wasn’t digital I’d have probably worn it out by now. Fans of extreme metal should not miss out on this download-only release (available here). All the band ask is that you donate anything you can spare to the Chuck Schuldiner-approved musician’s charity Sweet Relief. It’s a great gesture and, with the band deciding to call it day and slink off into the shadows, a great way for them to close out an impressive career of evil.
I’m very sad to hear the news tonight about the passing of Gregg Allman. The Allman Brothers Band have been a huge part of my musical life since I discovered them in the 90s. I got into them through my love of Pride & Glory-era Zakk Wylde and a keen interest to find out more about all that southern rock stuff that he was banging on about. And, with all due respect to Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band were the greatest southern rock act: the titans of the genre. My initial love was mainly based around the fabulous guitar jamming on albums like At Fillmore Eastand Brothers & Sisters but it didn’t take long to cotton on to the joys of the soulful vocals of Gregg and to develop a late night obsession with his sublime solo album Laid Back and an absolutely timeless catalogue of incredible songwriting. Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Please Call Home, Midnight Rider, Melissa, Dreams, Wasted Words, End Of The Line… and countless more. Time goes by like hurricanes but the circle will stay unbroken. People will be listening to his beautiful songs and voice forever. Thanks, Gregg.
[The Allman Brothers Band – Aint’ Wastin’ Time No More]
Saxon tried to learn their lesson from the rushed and patchy Forever Free album. They took a bit more time over the follow-up and headed back to Germany’s Karo Studio and the production team that proved so successful with Solid Ball Of Rock back in 1991. That album was a return to hard rocking form for the band but still found them moving forward, albeit in a fan-friendly fashion. While Solid Ball Of Rock was mostly full of good time AC/DC-style stompers, 1995’s Dogs Of War was an edgier affair and much more redolent of the band’s older style. But, for one member of the band, this album would be the last.
Fans of Saxon’s warrior epics like Power And The Glory and Battle Cry will delight in the opening title-track. It’s a total belter with a chunky, ballsy sound and an explosively thrilling chorus. It’s the albums best track and the only enduring classic here but the rest of the album is far from disappointing. If you know anything about Saxon you’ll know that when they start singing about vehicles it’s game on! And Burning Wheels and Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home) are loud and dirty transport rockers that take you right back to classic albums like Wheels Of Steel. And as well as recalling the classic days, Saxon also keep things fresh with some tastefully incorporated contemporary elements too: The Great White Buffalo is a moody, swampy epic and Don’t Worry has a rootsy, almost-grungy feel but climaxes with mesmerising guitar work that is pure, classic Saxon.
It’s impressive stuff but the album isn’t without its wobbles. Walking Through Tokyo is a blundering low point and a couple of enjoyable but essentially forgettable closing tracks find the album running out of steam. But it’s a minor quibble when there are so many great tracks here. Even Hold On, a potential mis-step with it’s Jovi-esque feel and Tommy & Gina lyrics, ends up being feelgood fun with a killer arena-ready chorus.
In a challenging era when British metal bands were generally falling by the wayside or falling apart, Saxon had rediscovered their fighting form, releasing their strongest, grittiest, most traditionally metal album since their glory days. But, as well as taking on the world, they were also squabbling among themselves. The relationship between frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Graham Oliver was faltering and some of the guitarist’s work on Dogs Of War had reportedly been re-recorded by a session guitarist. And when an unauthorised release of the band’s first Donington set was traced back to the guitarist, he was dismissed from the band. The loss of this talented musician and charismatic performer in such acrimonious circumstances was a blow to fans but they could take heart in the fact that – with this enjoyable, overlooked metal banger – Saxon were finally sounding like their old selves again.
I’m usually more of a vulture when it comes to Record Store Day, waiting until the fuss dies down and then swooping in for whatever is left. I get to avoid queuing and the shop still gets the cash (not that the record shops in Glasgow have any complaints about me on that front.) But if there’s a release I’m particularly excited about then I can be tempted to join the queue and that was definitely the case today. And the weather was pretty splendid too so that didn’t hurt.
I had a lovely morning bus ride into town listening to the new “barbaric” remix of Virgin Steele’s Visions Of Eden album. It’s excellent. The previous album had a very dense sound but the new version lets the music and the songs breathe and the album is much better for it. That, and a suprisingly agreeable 70p coffee, set me up for the 1.5 hour queue that was to follow.
As I stated in Friday’s New Release post, the must-buy for me was the Def Leppard EP. The cover looks very cool and there’s a neat lyric insert that I wasn’t expecting either. Very nice edition and much better than my old plain-sleeved 7inch reissue.
Thanks to a heads-up from John at 2Loud2oldmusic I decided I also wanted the David Bowie Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74) live set. I had a feeling it might be one of the first to go but I was lucky enough to pick up a copy. Haven’t listened to it yet but the packaging is stunning and I’ve finally got some Luther Vandross in my collection. Bonus!
And that was my lot. Unfortunately, Monorail wasn’t able to get any copies of the Enslaved Roadburn Live and the Cheap Trick Epic Archive 2LP sold out before I reached the counter. Possibly just as well as they were charging a ridiculous £37 for it and it’s out next week on CD anyway. There were other items (Marc Bolan Live, Arthur Brown, Small Faces at the BBC) that I could have easily bought but I’m happy just to have a couple of mementos and not go overboard. I might do the vulture thing tomorrow though and see if any other shops have the Enslaved album!
And that’s us for another year. If you were out today, I hope you got what you were after. Let me know how you got on in the comments. And remember… RSD is just one day a year but Virgin Steele are for LIFE.