quinta-feira, 22 de julho de 2021

IRON MAIDEN (UK) - Iron Maiden (LP, EMI, 1980)

RATING: *****

This is the first Maiden album I bought, you know.

No, I wasn't around when it first came out in April 1980 - actually, I was still having quite a good time inside my mother's womb, and wouldn't be doing the rounds in this quite strange world (pun intented) until August that year. I would add it to my collection quite a few years later actually, maybe in 1996 or thereabouts - as an official cassette tape, which I still own to this day. I kind of knew what to expect from it, mind you: I'm an Iron Maiden fan since I was a kid, and some albums were already a part of my daily routine, borrowed from friends and neighbours and duly recorded on tape. I was short on money back then, and buying albums would be quite a luxury - I didn't even had a CD Player at home back then, if I'm not mistaken. But my mom gave me enough money to buy a new walkman, as a Christmas  gift, and the change from the cash she gave me was enough to buy two cassette tapes.

I wanted Iron Maiden, you see. Wanted it real bad. And, believe me or not, the eponymous 1980 release was the only Maiden available at the store, apart from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son - a record I had already taped from a friend. There was no choice, and no choice was needed: Iron Maiden 1980, here we go (the other cassette I picked was Metallica's "...And Justice For All", I believe).

It's a silly personal story without much of a meaning, you see, but I enjoy remembering this, because buying that record was something of a revolution for me, as it was for the whole metal world when boys and girls first bought it in 1980. And the reaction was pretty much the same, too: I'd thought I knew what to expect, from my previous knowledge of the band and all that, but I was wrong.

I was blown away. In a sense, it still feels the same, nearly 25 years later for me, over 40 years later for the world.

Now, I don't want this review to become a treatise on how Iron Maiden changed my life and all that, so I'll skip any further visits to Memory Lane for the remainder of it. But I do have a theory: THIS is the quintessential Iron Maiden record. I'm not saying it is the best thing they ever did (it sure isn't), nor that it is their most impressive batch of songs (Powerslave gets the nod IMO), but I would be inclined to affirm that, oh yes, this is the most IMPORTANT album they ever recorded. If there's an Iron Maiden LP that changed the world around it, a release that came to show everyone what should be done and how to do it, a signal that defines heavy metal 'before Maiden' and 'after Maiden', this is the one. Their first statement, and everything that matters is already there, as powerful and impressive as it could possibly be. In a sense, the world was already conquered by Iron Maiden the day this album came out: from that point onwards, it was mostly a matter of fulfilling a destiny.

It was the right record at the right time, really. The whole NWOBHM thing was ready to explode, with many promising acts being monitored by the strongest labels of the period and a fervent fanbase growing exponentially. That new metal thing in the UK needed a band to lead the way, and many combos were trying to head the pack - some (like Diamond Head and Saxon) got quite close, others (Def Leppard) decided to take a different road, in their own terms. Iron Maiden are the ones who made it. And (no matter how many times Steve Harris will try to deny it) it has a lot to do with the perceivable punk influence in Maiden's early sound. Many long-haired metalheads among us will never admit it, but that's a fact nonetheless: the punk rock phenomenon did influence the NWOBHM in no uncertain terms, adding a sense of urgency in songwriting you won't easily find in the forerunners of early 1970's metal scene. Iron Maiden epitomise it rather effectively: their formative songs got faster and faster as the years progressed, and the semi-theatrical elements of their early sets (ex-vocalist Dennis Wilcock spitting blood and all that) would eventually give way to a more concise, straight-to-the-point (and exhilarating) stage performance.

It obviously has a lot to do with Paul Di'Anno. He's a punk singing metal, so to say: though able to reach some pretty effective high notes when required (something that would be far more perceivable on follow-up "Killers", but let's not rush things), what makes his delivery truly unique is the ability to use all the rough edges of his voice in favor of his singing. He's not always perfectly in key (listen carefully to "Charlotte the Harlot", for instance), his range is nothing out of this world, and I'm damn sure he didn't have much in the way of singing lessons when he was a kid - but his raspy, ferocious delivery is all the more highlighted by this lack of refinement, giving to memorable songs such as "Prowler" and "Running Free" a sense of urgency and grit that is no less than spellbinding. He's not bulshitting you, you know: he really is a tough guy that learned to live on the streets, and every single word he sings is filled with youthful swagger, bite and honesty. It's truly great, and I will never get tired of it.

Not that Di'Anno shines on his own, of course. Steve Harris is such a legend that any compliments are bound to be redundant, but I must make my personal exercise in futility here: his basslines are remarkable from an early stage, and he's the glue that keeps it all together really, as this particular line-up was quite short lived and would hardly have been functional if not for his confident playing and sheer sense of purpose. Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton were quite a functional guitar duo to be fair, and it's nice to point out that Stratton's delivery is not that dissimilar to what Adrian Smith would bring to the table in the near future (his solos on "Phantom of the Opera" and "Transylvania", for instance, are very memorable). And drummer Clive Burr (that had joined the group for less than two months when recording sessions commenced) is a beast in his own right, nailing all those complex arrangements and fast tempos with a finesse that makes it look and sound easy, rather than the truly impressive feat it actually is.

This album is a monster. Very few recordings encapsulate the spirit of the scene it stems from as well as Iron Maiden's debut LP: it's as revved-up and irresponsibly gritty as a world still shook by punk rock would demand it to be, and then some, but it's also filled to the brim with a creative ambition that would surely make Harris' heroes like Jethro Tull immensely proud. You can bang your head to it almost to no end, and still a part of your mind will be in awe with all those intricate instrumental passages and unexpected changes in mood and tempo. "Phantom of the Opera", of course, is the song that more perfectly solves this apparent contradiction, and it's no wonder this is one of the greatest classics in the history of metal, no less - but other moments like "Remember Tomorrow", "Transylvania" and even the slightly out-of-place ballad "Strange World" also showcase this magical bridge between punk and prog, made possible only by the musical miracle of early 1980's heavy metal. 

Yeah, the production kinda sucks, but it's also part of the charm: the whole record gains something of an urgent, street-level vibe because of that, and it further distances early Maiden from the inaccessible metal deities of the day, while bringing the band closer to the real people, the fans that were there in the pubs and record stores when the dam began to burst. It wouldn't be such a brilliant album if it was more professionally produced, believe me. From the opening guitar riff of the archetypal classic "Prowler" to the final throes of the equally unforgettable "Iron Maiden", this is a game changer if there ever was one, and if you don't know it, then you don't know nothing. Diamond Head got real close with "Lightning to the Nations", and many bands of the era released amazing records they all should be very proud of, but make no mistake: this is the crowning achievement of the entire NWOBHM, the landmark release of early '80s British metal, and also one of the most classic debut albums ever issued, regardless of musical genres. There was still a lot to learn, that's for sure, and Iron Maiden would bring us tons of marvellous heavy music in later years - but it all begins here, and every self-respecting metal fan should drink from this fountain of youth from time to time.

Thanks a million to Discogs for picture sleeve scans and cassette photo!

Paul Di'Anno (V), Dave Murray (G), Dennis Stratton (G), Steve Harris (B), Clive Burr (D).

01. Prowler (Harris)
02. Remember Tomorrow (Harris/Di'Anno)
03. Running Free (Harris/Di'Anno)
04. Phantom of the Opera (Harris)
05. Transylvania (Harris)
06. Strange World (Harris)
07. Charlotte the Harlot (Murray)
08. Iron Maiden (Harris)

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

domingo, 4 de julho de 2021

MORGEN (USA) - Morgen (LP, Probe, 1969)

RATING: ****

For a humble explorer like myself, it's kinda exciting to know there are still so many great Psych Rock bands waiting to be discovered - talented and hopeful musicians that only managed to release one or two slices of vinyl before plunging into near-total oblivion for the decades to come. A common story of course, and it will be the fate of countless rock 'n' roll hopefuls until the world reach its very end. But you don't need to be known to be good, you see, and Morgen were yet another one of those groups who had genuine talent on display but never got anywhere, which was a particular shame in their case if you ask me. Oh well, at least there's a very pleasant LP to forever remind us of their existence, and, even though I'm hardly going to make them more well known by simply writing about them, let's drop a few lines about their pretty good music for posterity's sake. And oh yeah, the use of the revered painting by Edvard Munch on the front cover doesn't go unnoticed: a bit cliché perhaps, but quite an eye-catching choice, right?

Led by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Steve Morgen and completed by Barry Stock (G), Rennie Genossa (B) and Bob Maiman (D), this 4-piece from Long Island, NY (USA) seems to have been a promising young act by the time Probe (a recently stablished sub-label for ABC Records devoted to psych/prog records) offered them a record deal in early 1969. I really don't know much about them, mind you, and I don't feel like making an extensive research right now (though I would definitely want to hear from you if you happen to know more), but it's safe to say they did deliver a great album full of urgency and dynamics, going from the contemplative to the lascivious with admirable confidence and enthusiasm. The production values are quite fuzzy and raw, with many perceivable rough edges and a mix that puts Steve Morgen's voice way up front in places, sometimes close to the point of distortion. Not the most professional job you'll ever hear, but it actually helps the album's cause rather than hinder it, giving the proceedings a garage feel that surely adds an extra charm to the listening experience.

Opening number "Welcome to the Void" is a fantastic, slightly gloomy and near-hypnotic acid rock tune with a distinct hard rock feel throughout. No flower-power here: Morgen (the band) were surely more about rock and roll excitement than most of its contemporaries, something that makes it particularly appealing for today's listeners. "Of Dreams" is also great, a somewhat atmospheric tune that sounds like The Zombies on acid (weren't they anyway?) and really makes your imagination fly. Steve Morgen's vocals are specially brilliant on this one: some may criticise him for being a bit too over-the-top in places, but I think it's always reassuring to hear someone moving from whispers to near-screaming, from almost spoken parts to explicit sighs and moans, all with no holds barred and genuine amounts of passion. "Purple" is another winner, a rock tune with an excellent drum performance and fuzzy guitars to die for, while "She's the Nitetime" immediately reminds me of Jimi Hendrix, for the best reasons you can think of.

Sometimes the whole thing sounds a bit too thrown-away for comfort, that's for sure: "Beggin' Your Pardon", for instance, drags along way longer than it should, while the otherwise excellent "Eternity in Between" (a strong rocker hugely influenced by The Who) presents a long drum solo for no fathomable reason (and drum solos in a studio record are hardly winners, you know). I think it has something to do with the improvisation-friendly, near-live approach of the whole recording, but I wouldn't be at all surprise if, despite being truly talented, the lads simply didn't have enough songs for a full LP just yet and had to resort to a few tricks in orded to deliver a full-length perfomance. Whatever the case, the carefree spirit of instrumentation works admirably well in the closing number "Love", a superb 11-minute journey through countless textures and swift changes in direction that more than justifies the belated adulation devoted to Morgen by many collectors and music enthusiasts.

It's a shame they didn't last the distance after their very promising debut - a sad state of affairs that supposedly has a lot to do with the fact that the short-lived Probe imprint closed doors in 1970, leaving Morgen with not much to lean on. None of the musicians seem to have move much further in the business; I believe mainman Steve Morgen got involved with some solo experimentation in the early 1970's, but none of it seem to have ever come to fruition, and no subsequent releases ever came out, at least to my knowledge. Maybe it was supposed to be their lifespan anyway: one good album, ignored by their peers but lauded by future generations, and nothing more. Life fast, die young - not a good piece of advice for individuals, but perhaps the right way to do it for many rock bands. Philosopical questions about the meaning of life (and art) aside, anyone with an interest in the development of heavy music throughout the decades should give this album a chance - something made easier by enterprising individuals such as Sunbeam Records, that released the band's sole album on CD for the benefit of eager collectors like myself. 





Thanks a million to Discogs for picture sleeve and label scans!

Steve Morgen (V/G), Barry Stock (G), Rennie Genossa (B), Bob Maiman (D). All songs by S. Morgen.

01. Welcome to the Void 4:42
02. Of Dreams 5:32
03. Beggin' Your Pardon (Miss Joan) 4:47
04. Eternity in Between 4:30
05. Purple 4:00
06. She's the Nitetime 3:28
07. Love 10:50

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

terça-feira, 29 de junho de 2021

HELLOWEEN (GER) - Walls of Jericho (LP, Noise, 1985)

RATING: ****

(It's been a while since I wrote the first instalment of this particular series. Still, I just read that review and think it still reflects my feelings about the record, so there's no need to rewrite it at all - let's just keep things going, so hopefully I can make all the way through Helloween's large discography in the coming months. Oh yeah, their new album is out and it's quite a kickass record, but this blog was never about contemporary reviews as you can see, and I'm pretty sure no one else reads it regularly but myself, so I'm not in a rush. Let's just enjoy the ride while it lasts!)

After an impressive (but slightly uneven) debut with a self-titled mini-LP, the German entity known as Helloween wasted little time (no pun intented) before putting together a set of songs to comprise their first full record. Given the encouraging response to their earlier efforts (that including the two songs on the "Death Metal" split album), it's fair to say that the pumpkin was taking off in a strong fashion, and expectations around the group were understandably quite high. And Helloween did the trick, you can bet your ass they did. Produced by Harris Johns and recorded at the now near-legendary Music Lab in Berlin, "Walls of Jericho" is easily one of the groundbreaking albums to come out from Germany in the 1980's, with a mixture of melody, heaviness and fast delivery that was very close to revolutionary - a record that pretty much spawned the entire European speed metal scene, and still a milestone thousands of bands are forever indebted to.

After a unimpressive (but also perfectly tolerable) self-titled intro, "Ride the Sky" comes exploding out of your speakers - and this is perhaps the song that better represents Helloween's huge (and often overlooked) contribution to speed metal. It's all obviously very fast, but you won't mistake it for thrash metal, for instance: fast picking is a fundamental feature for both subgenres, but early Helloween's impact isn't that much based around the riffs, but rather comes from the drive, dexterity and astute use of melody and harmonies all along. The core elements of power metal are all there, and this is perhaps what differs Helloween (and like-minded followers like Blind Guardian and Paradox) from bands like Agent Steel or Razor: they never lose their grip on emotion, and there's always a feeling that something grandiose (and not simply fast or aggressive) is going on. This is perhaps more tangible in the near arrogant solo section, a showcase of Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath's prowess that takes you to every possible place  while also creating a majestic, almost otherworldly atmosphere. This song is a monster, one of the strongest cuts ever penned by this band, and it's enough to make you sure, from first listen, that Helloween were destined to greater things. 

Next comes "Reptile", and it's a song that, despite not being half as impressive as "Ride the Sky" (it's my third less favorite here, actually), gets much closer to what we would hear from the "Keepers" onwards. Things are not insanely fast, the lyrics are laughable (in a good way) and the song as a whole seems to say "crank it up and crack a beer, let's have fun" rather than "yeah, we kick major ass, listen to what we can do". It's a song written by Weikath, and I have a theory about him and Helloween that I will keep under wraps until the right time comes ("Keeper 2", coming soon) - but it's another of his contributions, "Guardians", the one that (to my ears, at least) more strongly hints to what would be Helloween's signature sound, the template that would turn them into a truly innovative and even revolutionary band for the metal universe. I mean, it's perhaps the first song that completes the route towards what would later be known as melodic power metal. It's not that different from "Ride the Sky", mind you, but it's a more friendly, uplifting approach to the same basic formula, and it really takes the melodic side of things up to the next level. This is the blueprint that bands like Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and Angra would follow in later years, a truly tremendous track that still ranks among the all-time classics from an entire genre.   

Let's take a minute to laud the abilities of the five musicians involved with this record, shall we?The twin guitar work is no less than amazing: Weikath is a technical player with a keen ear for melody, while Hansen is a more ferocious, roaring beast whose contributions add something of an instinctive heaviness to the proceedings. A bit like Glenn Tipton and KK Downing used to do in Judas Priest, if you really need a comparison. I truly enjoy Kai's voice BTW: I know it's a truly divisive subject (some love it to death, others hate it with a passion), but his raspy, nasal, kinda malevolent delivery fits quite well into the sheer intensity of this particular repertoire. Ingo Schwichtenberg is a force of nature really: his pace is robust and relentless, with truly impressive levels of stamina (seriously, just listen to what he does during the opening of "Heavy Metal (is the Law)"), and some of his fills are no less than superb, even moreso when you consider he's playing at machine-gun speed most of the time. And Markus Grosskopf should be a way more lauded bass player if you ask me: his basslines are simply something else. To me, he is easily one of the greatest bassists in metal, and it has a lot to do with his ability to fill every possible (and some seemingly impossible) spaces with well-crafted, sometimes quite complex, but always smooth and ear-catching arrangements. In Helloween, the bass isn't exactly a backbone (as in, say, '80s Judas Priest), neither a showcase of impressive, but rather tiring technical prowess (yeah, most prog metal bands, I'm talking to you): he just knows exactly what the song needs, every single time. It needs fast, he goes fast; it needs groove, well, there it is; it needs some quirky melody, and lo and behold, he just nails it once again. I can only think of Steve Harris when it comes to this incredible understanding of what a bass is supposed to do in a metal song, and "Walls of Jericho" makes Markus' merits clear in amazing, nearly exhilarating fashion. I'm a lifelong fan, and you'll read me wax lyrical about his work many times through the forthcoming reviews, but let me tell you this: the guy is a master of his craft, and this album kicks even more serious ass because of him.

This could have been a near flawless LP when it comes to songwriting, but I feel that "Phantoms of Death" and "Gorgar" didn't age that well and are of a minor calibre when compared to the rest of the package. Despite having an opening riff disturbingly similar to Iron Maiden's "2 Minutes to Midnight", "Phantoms of Death" simply lacks the hook to make it really interesting - the guitar work, albeit quite busy, is mostly a variation around the same few notes, and the instrumental section tries to achieve the same levels of awesomeness of "Ride the Sky" (or "Victim of Fate" before it), but only manages to sound aimless and kinda bloated. And "Gorgar" tries to be a heavy-but-funny song about a guy addicted to videogames, but it just never takes off really, with rather unimaginative instrumentation that plod along with the silly lyrics and chorus. These particular tunes are the ones where the rough edges in songwriting are more evident, and, though not really bad by any stretch, are enough to prevent "Walls of Jericho" from getting an even higher rating.

But fear not, my friends. Even when they're being cheesy as hell (as in the double death-to-false-metal anthems "Metal Invaders" and "Heavy Metal (Is the Law)") they still bring it home in major fashion, and many bands out there would sell their mothers to have an album closer as strong as "How Many Tears": masterful, inspiring, lightning fast in places, but still immensely melodic and able to conjure a spellbinding atmosphere of commitment and power. Granted, the production may be a bit muddy in places, and the artwork is not exactly my cup of tea, but seriously, who cares? It begins with a classic, it ends with a classic, it has a third classic in the shape of "Guardians" and a lot of tasty donuts along the way: what else could any of us want? "Walls of Jericho" is a landmark release for European speed metal, a forerunner of melodic power metal in places and oh yeah, an undisputed classic from the 1980's, full to the brim with replay value to this day. And it's just their debut full-length LP, you know. If you don't have it, stop making questions and go get it straight away.

Kai Hansen (V/G), Michael Weikath (G), Markus Grosskopf (B), Ingo Schwichtenberg (D).

01. Walls of Jericho (Weikath, Hansen)
02. Ride the Sky (Hansen)
03. Reptile (Weikath)
04. Guardians (Weikath)
05. Phantoms of Death (Hansen)
06. Metal Invaders (Hansen, Weikath)
07. Gorgar (Hansen, Weikath)
08. Heavy Metal (Is the Law) (Hansen, Weikath)
09. How Many Tears (Weikath)

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

quinta-feira, 24 de junho de 2021

FUZZY DUCK (UK) - Fuzzy Duck (LP, MAM, 1971)

RATING: ****

Some things seem to be destined to remain as mysteries, I guess. It's a truly difficult challenge for me, for instance, to understand just how could Fuzzy Duck be so cruelly overlooked in the early 1970s. It's not only that they were good, you know - they were actually damn awesome, more than capable to hold their own against the strongest competition in the heavy rock scene of the time, something which is an achievent in itself. Unfortunately, their undeniable collective talents could only take them so far, and their sole LP became an ultra-collectable as decades went on - a status that pretty much remains to this day, though some licensed reissues (including my personal copy, a remastered CD issued in 2012 by Esoteric Recordings) are also out there, for the benefit of those who can't spend a full month's salary to buy an original pressing.

Fuzzy Duck emerged right at the heart of then-very-successful MAM label, as something of a super band in the shape of Mick Hawksworth (B/V, ex-Andromeda and Five Week Straw People), Grahame White (G/V), Paul Francis (D, who performed with ex-Searchers' Tony Jackson and also handled the sticks for Tucky Buzzard) and Roy Sharland (K, ex-Spice and seemingly also involved with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown). Seen as a quite promising prospect at the time, they were almost immediately taken to a studio to record their debut album - which curiously just came out after the original quartet was no more, with Grahame White being replaced by Garth Watt-Roy, who also took all vocal duties for himself. The band's sole LP was released as it was recorded, though - and it was a good thing in fact, as the chemistry between the original four-piece is quite remarkable and it would have been such a shame if these tapes were shelved, languishing for decades on end in some dusty archive. 

Surely influenced by then-rising bands such as Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, Fuzzy Duck were still keen to add generous pinches of personality and experimentation to their cauldron, creating an inventive, energetic, somewhat jazzy, very individualistic variant on prog/psych music. All the musicians involved kick major asses in their respective instruments too, something that add extra levels of aural pleasure due to the top notch musicianship. In a close-knit bunch of musicians, Roy Sharland and Mick Harnsworth somehow manage to shine a bit more than the rest: the keyboards, though very prominent, are always tasty and engaging (reminding me of the very best moments of bands such as Caravan), and some of the basslines (as in "Mrs. Prout" and "More Than I am") are a joy of their own, highlighted by a generous mix that gives it a lot of space to shine.

The opening salvo with "Time Will Be Your Doctor" and "Mrs. Prout" is no less than outstanding, most of all due to the second track, an immensely inspired piece of songwriting that manages to be both quirky and catchy without losing any impact along the way. Similarly, tracks such as "Afternoon Out", "Just Look Around You" (with a twin-guitar work to make Wishbone Ash jealous) and the truly outstanding "In Our Time" are sure to make happy all those who enjoy the 1970s approach to heavy music. Some may not enjoy the comic value of album closer "A Word from Big D" (a semi-instrumental tune with 'vocals' by someone impersonating a duck, no less) but, apart from this slightly questionable move, there's hardly a stinker in sight, and the replay value of this self-titled LP is extraordinarily high.

The CD reissue I'm working with includes four bonus tracks taken from singles, all from the the Watt-Roy period - and, although far from disappointing ("One More Hour", for instance, is quite a good song), they somehow lack the high-spirited enthusiasm of the LP cuts. It's not very surprising to learn that the band didn't manage to last for long after the original line-up went their sepparate ways, Fuzzy Duck's lifespan amounting to little more than a year in total. The main factor seems to have been the poor sales of their sole LP (most probably due to poor distribution, as MAM didn't put much effort in a record they seemingly deemed unrepresentative), a situation not helped by the lukewarm reception to their later singles. Whatever the case, Fuzzy Duck's legacy is quite a respectable one when you take only the music in consideration - and it's the music that matters, right? Don't be afraid to spend some money on it, most of all if you enjoy some 1970's prog/psych rock in your spare time.




Fortunately, most of those involved found good employment elsewhere, with Graeme White joining the ranks of Capability Brown and Krazy Kat, while drummer Paul Francis later teamed up with Tranquility and also handled the drumsticks to Mick Ronson (he's still active to this day, as a live and studio player in the British jazz scene). As for latecomer Garth Watt-Roy (a common feature in the studio super group The Greatest Show on Earth, incidentally), he recorded vocals for Steamhammer towards the end of their career, and also worked with acts such as Limey, The Q-Tips and East of Eden in later years. Mick Hawksworth would join Alvin Lee's Ten Years Later in the latter half of the 1970's, subsequently being enrolled by the Mick Clarke Band as well. More recently, the gifted bassist recorded a handful of obscure (but pretty cool) CDs with an outfit called The Flying Pigs. When it comes to Roy Sharland, I honestly just don't know - but don't be shy to drop us a line or two if you do, as I love his contributions here and would be delighted to know more.

Grahame White (V/G), Mick Hawksworth (V/B), Roy Sharland (K), Paul Francis (D). 

01. Time Will Be Your Doctor (Francis, D. Brown, N. Graham) 5:06
02. Mrs. Prout (Francis, Sharland) 6:45
03. Just Look Around You (Hawksworth) 4:20
04. Afternoon Out (Francis, Sharland) 5:20
05. More Than I Am (Hawksworth) 5:30
06. Country Boy (White, Francis, Sharland) 6:00
07. In Our Time (Hawksworth) 6:49
08. A Word from Big D (White, Hawksworth) 1:51

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

quarta-feira, 23 de junho de 2021

T34 (UK) - Computer Dating (7'', Divage, 1981) plus Rock On (7'', Galaxy, 1982)

RATING: ***

Sometimes, writing about a given band's music can be a truly challenging (not to say very confusing) mission. The entity that once roamed the Earth (well, London and its thereabouts, actually) under the name T34 is a very illustrative example in this regard. Though often credited as a NWOBHM outfit (including the authoritative NWOBHM Encyclopedia by Malc McMillan), it has but a passing resemblance to the genre if we're to be honest here, and the fact that so many people consider it to belong on the same shelf where you would put, let's say, a Satan or Sweet Savage record is somewhat puzzling, to say the least. Yeah, I know NWOBHM is something of an arbitrary definition right from the start, and many of the bands labeled as such are no stranger to some crossover potential, being equally appealing to punk, power pop, new wave, prog and pub rock audiences, to name a few. Still, I consider T34's case particularly intriguing: it's not that they didn't deserve to be mentioned at all (let's face it, if a 7'' like Brands Hatch's "Teacher Teacher" can be regarded as a NWOBHM collectable, then nearly everyone else can), but it is surprisingly difficult to decide whether to attach the NWOBHM tag to them or not. I'm still on the fence myself as I write this piece, you know.

Some may still not be fully aware of this, but T34 (a name that has something to do with war tanks, I guess) is an offshoot band from none other than Smiler - yeah, that Smiler, the London-based blues rock group that became something of a legend due to its connection with Iron Maiden. It's common knowledge that guitarist Mick Clee was a direct descendent from Smiler, but vocalist Steve Williams (nothing to do with Budgie) also lent his talents for the old combo in the early 1980's, including a brief period when they assumed a more punk-rockish outlook under the name Vic Rubb and the Vapours (not to be confused with British power pop band The Vapors, whose single "Turning Japanese" entered the charts in 1980). When the other half of the Clee brothers (guitarist Tony Clee, that is) decided to take a break from music in early 1981, Mick and Steve kept working together towards creating a different entity, way more attuned to contemporary trends than Smiler seems to have ever been.

After a series of well-received gigs in and around London, the band got into the famed Spaceward Studios in Cambridge and recorded two tracks for the purposes of a debut 7'' single, released by their own Divage label. "Computer Dating" (a somewhat intriguing concept really, as networking technologies like the Internet weren't really a thing back then) is a somewhat bizarre number, with half-spoken vocals and sedated arrangements interspersed with some unexpectedly heavy guitar chords and solos. It's surely the closer we get to NWOBHM territory around here, but the chorus has more of a new wave / punk rock vibe to my ears, so I'm not entirely convinced they had anything more metallic in mind while writing and recording this one. A perfectly good rock song all the same, though, and the same goes to flipside "Mind Your Own Business", a melodic rocker with a truly catchy chorus that somehow reminds me of a collision between Girl and The Police (yeah, me neither). Maybe those aware of how bands as Jeddah, Midas ("Can't Stop Loving You Now") and Masterstroke ("Prisoner of Love") sound like will get a better picture of what is going on around here. The guitar work is very creative throughout, and I also like the way Steve Williams sings this one, with something of a controlled raspiness (whatever that is supposed to mean) that really adds some extra charm to the proceedings. All in all, a very nice listening experience, and a slice of vinyl you'll do well to add to your collection, even if it's nowhere near a full-blown NWOBHM assault. It's also not regarded as an ultra-collectable, which means it can be located rather easily and usually offered for a fair price. Most copies come out without a picture sleeve, but it's not exactly the most eye-catching artwork ever printed, so I reckon you shouldn't mind that much if your best option is to buy this 7'' in a generic sleeve.

Though this limited, privately-pressed slice of vinyl didn't exactly turned T34 into national superstars overnight, it did serve its original purpose, securing a few appearances in magazines such as Kerrang and selling reasonably well at gigs. A further 7'' would come out towards the end of 1982, but I won't delve too deep into its contents, as it's a far more commercial product and will hardly appeal to anyone but the most dedicated (obsessive?) NWOBHM completists. Their version of "Rock On" (yeah, the David Essex song) is barely passable if you ask me, but "Looking After Me (Looking After You)" is a well-crafted synth-pop number with considerable replay value for those who enjoy such musical avenues. No longer our cup of tea, that's for sure, but it seems to have been an honest attempt to write more chart-friendly music, and this 7'' single (issued by Galaxy Records, most probably another self-financed affair despite the deceptive GAL007 catalogue number, and with a pretty artsy cover sleeve) could have opened the way to greater things if only T34 could find the right management and/or financial backing. This was not to be, though, and (despite some radio airplay for "Rock On" and a string of well-attended live appearances) the group would fold unspectacularly in late 1983, apparently unable to get back on their feet after Mick Clee decided to make an extended break from the scene.

Most of those involved with T34 seemingly kept a low profile in later years, pursuing activies outside of music for the most part. I know for a fact that drummer John Baker used to play electric jazz with a band called The Anthologists, but they disbanded in early 2015, and I couldn't find any connections involving him ever since (it was hinted that the same John Baker played drums for early 90's indie rockers Ship of Fools, but I don't have any solid ground to confirm it just yet). Never heard anything from the other guys, though, and I'd surely love to know more - so, if you happen to have any information to share, I would be more than happy to hear from you. 

Steve Williams (V), Mick Clee (G), Colin Stuart (B), John Baker (D).

01. Computer Dating
02. Mind Your Own Business

Steve Williams (V), Mick Clee (G), Colin Stuart (B), Wayne Baker (K), John Baker (D).

01. Rock On
02. Looking After Me (Looking After You)

Special thanks to Discogs for picture sleeve scans!

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

sexta-feira, 12 de fevereiro de 2021

UFO (UK) - Ain't Misbehavin' (Mini-LP, FM Records, 1988)

RATING: **

To be point-blank honest, UFO were already flogging a dead horse when "Misdemeanor" hit the shops in 1985, but they somehow managed to keep things going until 1989, maintaining a mostly very busy touring schedule and surviving through a carousel of personnel changes. The seven tracks that comprise this "Ain't Misbehavin'" mini-LP were actually recorded way back in 1986, soon after keyboardist / guitarist Paul Raymond decided that he had too much and left UFO behind for another number of years. Still, the recordings were temporarily shelved for some reason (have I heard someone whisper "label disinterest"?), while Phil Mogg and his cohorts kept the show on the road in order to make a living. Keyboardist David Jacobson is known to have joined the band soon after the recordings, but both him and bass player Paul Gray were no longer in the picture when the mini album actually came out in 1988: in fact, it transpires that Pete Way was back on duty by the time "Ain't Misbehavin'" hit the shelves, having been present in a handful of live performances a little time previously. Axeman Atomik Tommy M had also flown the coop by this juncture, and Myke Gray was handling the guitar in a few jaunts towards the end of 1987, though it seems he was no longer a member early next year too, having already left in order to form Jagged Edge. 

Yeah, I know, it's all quite confusing, and this strange sequence of events even puts the wisdom of releasing "Ain't Misbehavin'" into question - let's face it, even if it was a kick-ass record, it would still be hardly a good picture of the current state of affairs within the group. Recorded without a dedicated keyboardist, this one turns out to be a considerably more basic and intense affair than the sugar-coated "Misdemeanor", with some pretty healthy doses of heavy riffing here and there. In fact, more charitable listeners may even consider this mini-LP to be something of a return to form after their 1985 flop, as the lads are definitely rocking harder and showing a lot more conviction this time around. If you're partial with the 1980's aesthetics in general, this one may strike the right chord with you, so it's not like we're dealing with a worthless pile of garbage or anyhing like that.

Still, it leaves a lot to be desired in the songwriting side of things, as most songs are so formulaic that you can play Nostradamus and easily predict what is coming next. Despite some healthy doses of energy, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" has such a clichéd chorus that you probably already know how to sing it, even if you never heard it before - there's even the seemingly obligatory let's-pause-the-rest-of-the-band-and-leave-just-the-drums-doing-the-beat part towards the end. Tunes like "At War with the World" and "Rock Boyz, Rock" are way worse though, with terrible choruses, overwhelming backing vocals and a pop metal vibe that screams 'dated' with every single note. CD bonus "Lonely Cities (of the Heart)", on the other hand, is simply too nondescript to leave any lasting impression, a song that comes and goes without causing any perceivable emotion at all.

Personally speaking, the only song that really got me on this one is "Another Saturday Night", an intense semi-ballad with decent lyrics and some very imaginative melodies. Apart from this strong highlight, I guess "Hunger in the Night" and "Easy Money" (despite opening with a cringeworthy 'let's go, while we're young!' screaming that sounds as convincing as a flying saucer photo from Billy Meier) are acceptable, though a few lightyears away from any 'undiscovered classic' scenario, if you know what I mean. Nothing to write home abouth though, and just too little to make "Ain't Misbehavin'" a worthy addition to anyone but the most enthusiastic UFO fans.

Phil Mogg always mentioned the mini-LP in lighthearted terms on interviews, regarding it as little more than a collection of demos that he felt worthy of release - a version of events that seems a bit at odds with the busy production job in some songs, but never mind. There's no denying the singer and his partners in crime were trying their best to get a good thing going when this batch of song was recorded, but it was also clear for all to hear that they just didn't have enough in them as a unit to make it happen, unfortunately. If "Misdemeanor" was already a hopeless cause from the start, there was precisely zero chance of setting the world on fire the second time around.

There was an active line-up of UFO in mid 1988, with the duo of Mogg and Way being assisted by Fabio Del Rio (D) and a certain Rik Sanford on guitar. The 4-piece were supposed to record an album, but this particular project didn't last the distance, and there's strong indication that the material they were writing may have never even got to the demo stage. Guitarists Tony Glidewell and Erik Gamans also seem to have been there for a little while, but their contributions were probably very fleeting if that was really the case, and I wouldn't be surprise if that was just a case of musicians being auditioned rather than a more serious commitment. Whatever the case, this can't even be described as a transitional period for UFO, as the group weren't really going anywhere for the concept of a transition to make sense. In the summer of 1989, UFO was pretty much dormant, and it stayed mostly that way until 1991, when ex-Stampede and Grand Slam stalwart Laurence Archer assumed the difficult guitar position, pointing to a minor (but very worthwhile) resurgence in the band's career.

Phil Mogg (V), Tommy 'Atomik Tommy M' McClendon (G), Paul Gray (B), Jim Simpson (D).

01. Between a Rock and a Hard Place (McClendon, Mogg) 3:37
02. Another Saturday Night (Gray, Mogg) 4:39
03. At War with the World (McClendon, Mogg) 3:03
04. Hunger in the Night (McClendon, Gray, Mogg) 4:10
05. Easy Money (McClendon, Mogg) 3:37
06. Rock Boyz, Rock (McClendon, Gray, Simpson, Mogg) 3:19
07. Lonely Cities (of the Heart) (McClendon, Mogg) 4:16

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

domingo, 7 de fevereiro de 2021

UFO (UK) - Misdemeanor (LP, Chrysalis, 1985)

RATING: **

As UFO themselves would put it (in the lyrics of their minor 80s hit "Let it Rain"), some kinds of love can only last so long. There was always a certain level of friction going on among the band members during most of the 70s, culminating in the acrimonious break-up with axeman Michael Schenker in 1978 - and a similar scenario was going on roughly by the time "Making Contact" hit the shops in 1983, with many stories about bandmembers reaching for each other's necks on a weekly basis. After a disastrous performance in Greece (when, according to then stand-in bassist Billy Sheehan, Phil Mogg was inebriated to the point he could barely sing, and Sheehan himself sustained injuries when the audience started throwing stuff towards the stage), it was clear for all involved that the off-the-rails lifestyle often associated with the band had just gone too far, degenerating into something ugly, embarassing and plain unprofessional. After fulfilling their touring obligations in the UK, all members went their sepparate ways, and this long-serving flying saucer was laid to rest for a while.

But not for long, though. Perhaps unconvinced that disbanding UFO was the right move (or else simply bored with doing nothing special after relocating to Los Angeles), Phil Mogg would soon start recruiting a new set of accomplices in late 1984, allegedly to create an all-new musical entity. After listening to a few songs written for a band called Sing Sing, Mogg felt that Paul Gray (who performed bass duties during the very last shows  of the "Making Contact" tour) could be a good songwriting partner after all, and swiftly recruited him for the new project. After enjoying stints with the Michael Schenker Group and Waysted, old time keyboardist / guitarist Paul Raymond was more than happy to join Mogg in the fun, and a nearly unknown (but clearly very talented) axeman named Tommy McClendon seemed the perfect choice for the lead guitar. Following a brief period of experimentation with Diamond Head's Robbie France, the drumstool would be occupied by Jim Simpson (ex-Magnum) to complete the line-up. The 5-piece toyed with The Great Outdoors moniker for a while (a hopeless choice, to be honest), but a few conversations with influential people in the business convinced Phil Mogg that it would be better to bring the well-known UFO name and logo back for good - a wise move indeed, as soon Chrysalis would offer the lads a much welcome one-album deal.

If "Misdemeanor" would have been more adequately presented under another guise is something that is open to debate. Personally speaking, I guess it wouldn't have made that much of a difference after all: on one hand, the material herein doesn't sound that different from what UFO were doing in the early 1980s, and it's also not strong enough to propel any newly-christened acts to immediate superstardom, if you know what I mean. Now embracing 1980s commercial rock music in no uncertain terms, UFO recorded an album filled with the very same pop-tinged hard rock attempted by so many bands (mostly to no avail) roughly at the same time. Listening to "Misdemeanor" while comparing it to earlier UFO releases may be a frustrating experience, but it's also educational in a way, as it shows how much hard/heavy music as a whole abandoned most of its psychedelic and bluesy roots from the mid-1970s onwards, in order to embrace a more "modern" and straightforward outlook and sound -  a crossroads that ultimately led either to extreme music (as death/thrash metal and many variants would happily testify) or else to unashamed commercialism, UFO being one of many examples in that regard. 

I really don't feel like talking in depth about the musical merits of "Misdemeanor", to be honest - not because I think it is a despicable record (I honestly don't), but mostly due to the fact that it is hopelessly dated and lacks any relevance for the general metal scene whatsoever. Granted, it does have its moments: "Night Run" is charming, a song that wouldn't be out of place in any UFO album from the early 80s, and tunes like "Heaven's Gate" and "This Time" are perfectly listenable too. Most of the package is totally innofensive though, with riffs that are little more than sequences of chords and puerile lyrics about love and heartbreak that Mogg probably came up with in a few hours at most (believe me, he can do so much better than this). The production stylizes the whole thing to a great extent, with overwhelming keyboards, a near-robotic drum sound and featherweight guitars that never threaten to get intense, let alone heavy. McClendon (here assuming the nickname Atomik Tommy M for some reason), despite being undeniably a gifted guitarist, sums it all perfectly BTW: his shredding was probably very impressive in 1985, but I seriously doubt it could raise any eyebrows today, and it's significantly dwarfed when compared to what Michael Schenker and even Paul Chapman did before him.

I know I have used the word 'hopeless' before, but allow me to repeat myself, as I think it's the perfect way to say it: "Misdemeanor" is a hopeless album. Not an unashamed cash grab, or a half-hearted effort from musicians that could not care less - just an LP that screams 'middle of the road' from start to finish, a product that tries so hard to be acceptable for its time that it turns out to be completely devoid of any distinctive and/or memorable features. In fact, it's hard to fathom what plan (if any) those involved with this project had in mind for it, as I seriously doubt radio stations were falling over themselves to give it airplay, and I'm sure MTV wasn't really impressed either. It gets a two-star rating because the musicianship is very competent and the results are professional as a whole, but you don't need it in your collection unless you are a UFO completist, believe me. Some bands from the 70s did way worse, that's for sure, but that is not to say that UFO should be proud of this record.

Phil Mogg (V), Tommy "Atomik Tommy M" McClendon (G), Paul Raymond (K/G), Paul Gray (B), Jim Simpson (D).

01. This Time (Gray, Mogg) 4:36
02. One Heart (Gray, McClendon, Mogg) 4:09
03. Night Run (Gray, McClendon, Mogg) 4:32
04. The Only Ones (Gray, Mogg) 5:16
05. Meanstreets (McClendon, Mogg) 4:17
06. Name of Love (McClendon, Mogg) 4:37
07. Blue (Gray, Mogg) 5:18
08. Dream the Dream (Raymond, Mogg) 4:32
09. Heaven's Gate (McClendon, Mogg) 4:15
10. Wreckless (McClendon, Mogg) 4:59

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!