sábado, 29 de setembro de 2012

HAMMER (UK) - Contract with Hell (LP, Ebony, 1985)

RATING: ****

After releasing the adequate-but-not-memorable "Early Warning" LP in 1984, english band Holland found themselves in the verge of a potential legal battle, as a Canadian band using the same monicker threatened to sue them in the grounds of copyright infringement. Instead of launching into a fight to keep their original guise, and knowing that Ebony would release their second album no matter what, the musicians involved decided to simply adopt a new name, Hammer - a change that led to a more forceful imagery, a more metal-looking logo and a few (and welcome) musical changes as well.

In fact, "Contract With Hell" was first meant to be Holland's second album, but it actually came to achieve an undeniable spell of personality. The musicians were all the same (although vocalist Marty Wilkinson, a.k.a. "The Dog" or "Doggy", assumed keyboard duties as well) and it's not like they became a different band altogether - but they were seemingly aware that this enforced name change was also a chance to take their music to a new direction, more akin to the true-Metal feel of near all releases from Ebony. And they sound a hell of a lot more confident (and a whole lot better) than before, believe me.

The opening song, "Caution to the Wind", sums this all up perfectly. Carried along in a very forceful manner (it even reminds me a few Melodic Power Metal bands from Germany), this song has it all: nice keyboard intro, heavy guitars, captivating song structure, uplifting lyrics, impressive vocal performance and a simple-yet-memorable chorus. Awesome.

Nearly all the songs are very good, although it's clear that they were wrote in different periods of time, resulting in a not-really-cohesive (yet very pleasant) mixture. "Hard Hitting Woman", for instance, is a older cut demoed by Holland in 1982, and I wouldn't really be surprised to know that "Try It" and "Hey You" were earlier efforts too, since they sound (as well pointed out by Malc MacMillan in his NWOBHM Encyclopedia) very similar to what these musicians did on "Early Warning" and the keyboards are less apparent here, doing little more than humble embellishments. That said, there's nothing essentially wrong with these compositions, all of them being good enough to please the headbangers.

"Satellite" is not that far from Holland too - but the keyboards are much more proeminent, taking a major part in the instrumentation. I love this song, personally speaking - but I guess that, apart from aforementioned "Caution to the Wind", the finest moments of this LP would be the memorable title track, the intense and poignant "Prayer of A Soldier" and the epic, atmospheric ending with "Across the Line" - all outstanding pieces of impressive songwriting and musicianship. More than enough quality to raise "Contract With Hell" to a very high level in my personal Metalomether - one of my personal favorites when it comes to British Metal releases after 1984, I must add.

It's a shame that Hammer wouldn't last the distance. Guitarist Kenny Nicholson and vocalist/keyboardist Marty Wilkinson had inconciliable differences on what Hammer music should be on later recordings - the axeman wanted it to be considerably heavier, as the singer though that it would be a wiser move to take a much more melodic, lightweight direction. In the end, Nicholson decided to leave Hammer behind, forming a new venture called Fast Kutz.

The remaining musicians recruited Arthur Fixter and demoed severe new compositions in an increasingly softer vein - something that Ebony seemed not to receive very well. They wanted Hammer to release a new album (and they wouldn't allow a change to yet another guise, something that was tentatively hinted at some point), but they wanted the band to sound as heavy as before, something that the musicians were not even considering anymore.

This indefinition led to the final demise of Hammer, - which was really unfortunate, but maybe it was all for the best, as I'm afraid they didn't have their earlier spirit anymore. Perhaps if Kenny and Doggy could find an agreement and stayed together for a little longer we would have more Hammer albuns to talk about. Incidentally, both joined forces many years after in a covers band called Outrageous Wallpaper - though neither of them are doing the rounds there anymore. Guitarist Bob Henman also went to the pub circuit, playing with small-crowd-pleasing cover bands, though I have no news on him for quite a while now.

Marty "The Dog" Wilkinson (V/K), Kenny Nicholson (G), Bob Henman (G), Graeme Hutchinson (B), Marty Day (D).

01. Caution to the Wind 4:27
02. Try It 3:52
03. Hey You 3:54
04. Contract with Hell 4:15
05. Hard Hitting Woman 3:36
06. Satellite 3:17
07. Prayer of A Soldier 3:19
08. Across the Line 8:00

Very special thanks to Strappado Metal Blog and user Mik for label scans!

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

sábado, 22 de setembro de 2012

CRYS (UK, Wales) - Tymor Yr Heliwr (Sain, LP, 1982)

RATING: ****

After releasing "Rhyfelwr" in 1981, Welsh-language Crys became minor celebrities in their native country. Their debut LP may not have been the most impressive of releases, but it surely had a great impact on Welsh-singing market. Crys even received a Best Album of the Year award in Sgrech, a music industry event for Welsh-language artists. It was not a huge scene, for sure, but Crys was the name on everyone's lips, and the expectations for a follow-up release were understandably high. And they delivered the goods in great fashion, no doubt about that.

"Tymor Yr Heliwr" (translates as "Hunting Season", if I'm not mistaken) is Crys' best album, and (in my book, at least) the finest LP ever to be issued by a Welsh-language hard rocking band. Maybe it would be different if Y Diawled had issued a full lenght album, but it never came to be, unfortunately. Actually, I can't really remember any other Heavy Metal band singing in Welsh in the 80s and getting as far as to record an album... But oh well, even with this near absolute lack of competition, Crys managed to record a very good album with plenty of good songs on display, so let's not be too sardonic on them.

The evolution from "Rhyfelwr" is unmistakeable. If Crys' debut was a mostly-average record with some nice songs in it, "Tymor Yr Heliwr" is the exact opposite: most of the numbers are actually pretty good. The band plays better, the vocals are more effective, the production is very adequate and the whole effort transpires a more mature and professional approach. Compared to its predecessor, this album sounds more upbeat and full of confidence.

The A side is nearly faultless; apart from "Yfed Y Nos" (which is a good-enough song, but predictable and not really impressive), all the other cuts are actually very enjoyable. It opens with a energetic rocker called "Pendoncwyr", a very popular song that became something of a denomination for the die-hard fans of the band (and don't be so cynical, there were a few back in the day, believe me). "Barod Am Roc" was also a minor hit, even receiving pride of place on a Sain compilation, which was named after the song. It's one of my personal favorites: simple-but-catchy chorus, nice guitar leads, all pretty basic but delivered with great enthusiasm. Good stuff to put a smile on your face, believe me. There's also "Rociwch Ymlaen", the "we-are-a-Welsh-singing-band-and-very-proud-of-it" song that went far enough to receive a videoclip (and you can watch it at the end of this review). But the best song, in my opinion, would be "Cwrdd a Gofid", a heavier, more serious number with an extremely competent guitar work throughout. Good, good stuff, lads.

The flipside is notably different. Actually, the predictable and slightly monotone "Merched Gwyllt a Gwin" is at odds with the other songs on the B side, where Crys appears in a more thoughtful, even a bit adventurous frame of mind. "Mae Fy Nghalon Yn Rhydd" is a melancholic ballad that start not a million miles away from Bleak House's "Rainbow Warrior", with subtle piano interventions and interesting guitar interludes, and later evolves into a heavy, intense ending. Impressive. There's also "Y Fedwen" (a brief, acoustic interlude) and the well-crafted "Gwlith Y Bore", which starts with an atmospheric, half-spoken intro and delves into a heavy rocker with nice guitar leads and a undeniable - and welcome - 70s feeling throughout. A fitting closing to a very accomplished album, more than worthy of attention from dedicated NWOBHM enthusiasts.

It comes as no surprise to know that "Tymor Yr Heliwr" was also awarded as album of the year in the Sgrech event, and Crys even appeared at Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio One, an honor no other Welsh language rock band ever achieved. On this ocasion, Crys performed two songs in Welsh ("Pendoncwyr" and "Merched Gwyllt a Gwin"), and english versions to two of their songs: "Rociwch Ymlaen" (metamorphosed into "Rockin' Along") and "It's About Time" (supposedly an earlier version of "Amser Yn Nawr", that later appeared on "Roc Cafe" album, although I'm not entirely sure of it). Maybe they thought that this appearance was the chance to reach a broader audience, and hence chose to sing a few numbers in english - but it seems to have been an ill-fated move, as the band didn't made any impact outside Wales and spent over a decade in near-complete oblivion. It's easy to say it now that history took its course, but the fact is that an english-singing Crys would have to face huge competition, something that they were not ready (or maybe not even willing) to endure. When guitarist Alun Morgan (now deceased, unfortunately) decided to move to Canada, Crys went on a hiatus - and I'm sure it took a lot more than originally expected to get out of it.

Liam Forde (V/RG), Alun Morgan (LG), Scott Forde (B), Nicky Samuel (D).

01. Pendoncwyr 3:22
02. Yfed Y Nos (Drinking in the Night) 2:48
03. Barod Am Roc (Ready to Rock) 3:31
04. Cwrdd A Gofid (Welcome the Distress) 4:13
05. Rociwch Ymlaen (Rocking Along) 4:28
06. Mae Fy Nghalon Yn Rhydd (My Heart is Free) 6:03
07. Y Fedwen (The Birch) 1:43
08. Merched Gwyllt a Gwin (Wild Women and Wine) 4:19
09. Gwlith Y Bore (Morning Dew) 5:56

CRYS - Rociwch Ymlaen (video): http://youtu.be/fPxh6pLuUoA (embed disabled by user request)

CRYS - Pendoncwyr (live BBC Radio One, 1983)

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

quinta-feira, 20 de setembro de 2012

JEDDAH (UK) - Eleanor Rigby (7", Death Records, 1983)

RATING: ****

The wonderful world of NWOBHM is very fertile in surprises. Some, admitedly, are not exactly exciting - as some groups labelled to be undiscovered masterpieces turn out to be, at least to my humble ears, nothing of the sort. Sometimes, on the other hand, the lack of expectations are rewarded with genuinely outstanding pieces of nearly-unknown music. Jeddah's 7" single from 1983 is a prime example. Released on the private Death Records, this little slice of vinyl presents "Eleanor Rigby" (yes, from The Beatles) and "Ghosts" - both extremely enjoyable pieces of heavy music.

Jeddah was born from the efforts of Dave Cooke (G) and Ron Emms (B), both members of Strategy, a seemingly studio-only venture that released two instrumental songs as a single in 1982. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems to me that Jeddah was a direct offshot from Strategy - possibly assembled together basically to record the two tracks of this single, as a way to test the water and see how their innovative approach to Metal would be received. The 7" was issued without a picture sleeve, but with a insert folder full of supposedly funny and not-very-realistic remarks about the band. It says, for instance, that the band have two drummers, selected from no less than 500 candidates, and both are "too shy" to be photographed, thus not appearing on the insert. The real story seems to be different: Paul Cooke (not sure if he's related to Dave Cooke or even the man himself under a soubriquet) played drums on a number and Ron Emms (or El Sid, the way he was credited as bass player) did it on the other, the band later creating this tale of absurdity to justify the absence of a dedicated sticksman.

Of course, covering The Beatles is not the most original move to be made by any band. There's a lot of reworked Beatles songs on the NWOBHM metaphorical jukebox - Ethel the Frog, for example, recorded this same "Eleanor Rigby" on its eponymous debut album. But I dare to say Jeddah not only did a very fine job, but also one of the best Beatles reworkings I ever heard from a Heavy Metal band. Don't expect anything near the melancholy of the original version; what we have here is a song pulsing with pure energy, carried along by intense riffing, showcasing confident tempo changes and a memorable vocal performance. More than just playing a well-known song with loud guitars, Jeddah completely reinvented it, with impressive results. Really, really god job, lads.

The flipside is just as good, actually - and very imaginative too. "Ghosts (Never Leave You Behind)" sounds to me like an usual mixing of metal and pop rock music - the basslines, yet simple, are very catchy and near danceable, not a million miles away from Bee Gees (honestly), and the guitars serve mostly to add harmonies and textures rather than anything more metallic, apart from the heavy chords at the chorus. The vocals of Dean Salonga are victorious once again, delivered with great skill and enthusiasm. And the "never leave you behind, never leave you" chorus seriously sticks into your mind, believe me. On untalented hands, we would have a disaster scenario going on here - instead, "Ghosts" are a immensely enjoyable piece of music which more than deserves a listen (many, actually).

Unfortunately, this great 7" was the sole claim to stardom from Jeddah, and the band seems to have been a very brief proposition, with no other known recordings at any stage. Guitarist Dave Cooke was the one who kept more busy after Jeddah was history, playing with two equally-innovative acts (namely New England / N.E.U.K. and Adrenaline Kick) in the 90s. Drummer Paul Cooke (or at least someone with the same name) was involved with Vandamne for a while, and Ron Emms went to join forces with ex-Persian Risk/Wrathchild guitaris Phil Vokins in a venture called English Rogues. Gifted singer Dean Salonga seemingly vanished from metal scene, which is unfortunate as I really liked his efforts here. Good to know most of these guys kept themselves busy, though, as their talents are more than apparent on Jeddah's single - a record you would do very well in adding to your collection, if you ever have the chance to do it at a reasonable expense.

Dean Salonga (V), Dave Cooke (G), Quirk (G), El Sid (aka Ron Emms) (B/D), Paul Cooke (D).

01. Eleanor Rigby 4:16
02. Ghosts (Never Leave You Behind) 3:03

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

sábado, 15 de setembro de 2012

MWG (UK, Wales) - Pesda '86 (7", Sain, 1986)


After listening  to this 7" from Welsh-singing band Mwg for the first (and possibly only) time, I can't help but wonder why in hell some hopelessly deluded (or delusional) individuals labelled it as a NWOBHM collectable. I remember first seeing it on Rockdetector (now MusicMight), in a entry filled with a minimal ammount of information - the front cover of this "Pesda '86" single, the year of release (1986, of course) and the tag NWOBHM. Other sources seem to have taken this vague description as legitimate, considering this 7" to be a NWOBHMish-enough record and even incluiding it in some want lists out there. Such an effort, my friends, and it was all in vain - as it isn't even "heavy", let alone a NWOBHM collectable at any sense.

Oh well, we kinda could see it coming, to be honest. Look at the front cover: no archetypal headbangers there, right? To be honest, I never really thought Mwg (translates as "Smoke", by the way) would give me Heavy Metal when I finally had the chance to listen to their single, but I would never expect it to be THAT soft. Actually, both "Pesda '86" (which seems to be a re-recording, considering its title) and "Darn O'r Haul" are inconsistent ballads, covered in such a huge wall of keyboards and harmonised vocals that the whole listening experience was near-torture to my ears. OK, maybe the disappointment made me overreact, but I must be honest and say that (sorry, guys) I didn't like it at all. To be fair, you can listen to a few guitar chords on "Pesda '86", although they are as heavy as cambric paper, the song as a whole being utterly disposable for the average Heavy Metal fan. "Darn O'r Haul" is slighty better than its predecessor - the chorus is OK, I suppose, considering you like ultra-pop, keyboard-oriented ballads from the 80s. It seems to have been a minor hit in Welsh-language charts, incidentally, as it appears on a few best-of compilations from Sain.

It's difficult to determine the musicians who took part on this (to my ears) little waste of vinyl. There's not much info on this group, apart from being from the city of Bethesda and for supposedly have featured at some stage the talents of Huw Smith, the same musician from Maffia Mr. Huws and Llwybr Cyhoeddus, among others. I came to learn in recent years that also drummer Graham Land (who lent a stick to other Welsh-language obscurities such as Omega, Rhiannon Tomos A'r Band and Rohan) took a part in Mwg in the dim and distant past. Still, I have no idea if these guys actually played on this single, and any answers on this subject will have to wait for further clarification. Maybe someone out there actually have a copy of this 7", assuming its picture sleeve actually presents some enlightening info about the band?

As a final piece in the (still very incomplete) puzzle named Mwg, there's a video on YouTube showing the lads in a live performance of a song called "Dreifio". It's not Heavy Metal in the strict sense of the word, but it's indeed a heavy rocker which would justify the (still misleading) NWOBHM tag I found on Rockdetector so many years ago. Too bad their vinyl legacy is so boring - and, considering this final number, entirely unrepresentative.

Musicians unknown

01. Pesda '86 3:58
02. Darn O'r Haul 3:48

MWG - Dreifio (live): http://youtu.be/2XSSylRbZQM (embed disabled by user's request)

Special thanks to Strappado Metal Blog for MP3 files

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

quarta-feira, 12 de setembro de 2012

TRYDAN (UK, Wales) - Mods a Rocers (7", Sain, 1980)


Not much (well, nearly nothing) is known about this Welsh-singing band, whose sole vinyl offering to the world seems to have been this 3-track single from 1980. One of the most obscure bands from the Sain catalogue, Trydan was a kind of uncommon formation, featuring three singers and six members in total, three of then being gentlemen and three ladies. Four of the musicians share the same surnames, possibly being members of the same - and kinda large - family. After some research, I couldn't find these musicians involved with any later (or earlier) bands, so it's reasonable to believe that Trydan (which translates as "Electricity", by the way) was their one and only collective claim to fame - well, musically at least.

For the most dedicated Heavy Metal fans, "Mods a Rocers" will undoubtly be the main (in fact, only) focus of attention, this being easily the most hard-rocking number on display. Seemingly portraying a Quadrophenia-like gang fight, this song opens with a typical police siren wail and soon evolves into a pretty straightforward semi-NWOBHM tune, with basic riffing and a fairly catchy (yet very basic) chorus. Not a memorable song, really, but it does considerably better than “Di-waith, Di-‘fynedd” and “Mr. Urdd”, which comprises the B-side of this vinyl obscurity. The first one is a mellower number with a extremely simple (almost ramshackle, to be honest) song structure and kinda messy vocal arrangements. I understand that the singing ladies were meant to harmonise and enhance the lead singing from mr. Meic Jones, but I guess it just didn't work out as planned, sorry. The bass lines are not bad at all, though. On the other hand, "Mr. Urdd" is a bit of a throwaway track - it has a pleasant piano line, i'll concede, but nearly nothing else. It takes one-and-a-half minutes to disappear in complete oblivion, never to be heard again.

It seems to me that Trydan were little more than a bunch of really young fellas, who decided to join forces and have a bit of fun playing some hastily assembled songs for the sheer joy of it. As Welsh-language music (and mostly heavy music) was always in a shortage of new bands, Sain were kind enough to give them a chance - something that, to be point-blank honest, they simply didn't deserve just yet. Maybe with a few (or many) more months to put their minds into writing and polishing some good songs, they could have done way better. The way it actually came to be, though, Trydan's sole single are little more than a borderline-heavy curiosity, that would be condemned to forever rest in bargain bins if not for a few NWOBHM completists, who shown interest in buying this nonspetacular single. I believe to my soul that every piece of vinyl deserves a place to call home - so, if you ever see this 7" (housed in a pretty basic cover, the generic art that Sain used for its less spetacular single releases) at a cheap price, give it a chance, would you? You won't listen to it much often, but oh well, it's a pretty rare one anyway.

As a trivia, another Trydan appeared from the same area in recent times, with a musical style near to modern bands such as Creed and The Darkness. Still, the today's Trydan presents musicians around the 15-year mark, so don't make any confusion with their (long gone) NWOBHM namesakes.

Meic Jones (V,G), Linda Williams (V), Sharon Jones (V), Carol Jones (G), Dafydd Elis (B), Garym Jones (D). Guest musician: Edwin (Piano).

01. Mods a Rocers 2:59
02. Di-waith, Di-‘fynedd 2:59
03. Mr. Urdd 1:30

Special thanks to Strappado Metal Blog for MP3 files

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

segunda-feira, 10 de setembro de 2012

CRYS (UK, Wales) - Rhyfelwr (LP, Sain, 1981)

 RATING: ***

The success achieved by Crys in the welsh-language rock scene after the release of "Lan Yn Y Gogledd" single may have not been exactly predictable, but it was no huge surprise either, as there was not that much competition to beat in the first place. Embraced by a very larger label this time (namely Sain, surely the largest welsh-language music record company ever), they surely had the necessary support to fulfill their early promises and deliver the goods in a full album. Well, 1981's "Rhyfelwr" may not be the pinnacle of Crys' career (the follow-up "Tymor Yr Helwyr" is markedly better, in my humble opinion) but it still represents a good stab at hard / heavy music, being surely a groundbreaking release for the whole welsh-singing scene.

To understand the impact and the relevance of Crys, is important to keep in mind that Welsh-language music has not only a small potential market (less than 700.000 people speak it in the first place) but also a sort of social relevance, as it is a useful resource to keep alive a enduring culture surrounded by english-speaking omnipresence. Not many kids are that excited to learn Welsh as a second language in school, for instance, and many adults may not be bothered to hand the tradition on to their kids. So, Rock N Roll in Welsh (much fresher than the "old" folk music) is a way to keep the young guys and girls interested, and even proud of their inheritance - something that seminal bands as Edward H Dafis understood very well, and a banner that Crys was more than happy to held high along the way.

"Roc A Rol" is the opening number on this album, and it pretty much gives away the kind of music you will listen here. A mid-paced rocker with a very simple main riff and a catchy (but very basic) chorus, it has some interesting features (as the good solo section) but fails to leave a lasting impression, being perfectly forgettable as soon as it's over. Not bad at all; just not that good. A description that could be applied to several other songs on the album (such as "Nos Sadwrn" and "Dyma'r Band Cymraeg", the latter bearing a not-really-subtle 'resemblance' to Grand Funk Railroad's "We're An American Band") without any dramatic changes. "Cân Lis" is slightly different (and better), as it has a more upbeat riffing throughout, but the vocal lines are pretty much more of the same, unfortunately.

Now to the good stuff. "Mwg" is one of my personal favorites: very nice guitar work here, with some multilayered effects giving the song a very distinct atmosphere. The instrumental "Cnau" is also very enjoyable - not many tempo changes or impressive displays of individual musicianship, but still a confident and inventive piece of music. The best of "Rhyfelwr", though, is the final number: a two-song epic, beggining with the somber ballad "Noson Dawel Lawr" and finishing with the weighty title-track, easily the heaviest song on the whole album. Welsh music is very akin to melancholy, and "Noson Dawel Lawr" captures this kind of feeling to great effect. "Rhyfelwr" comes next, with a bombastic opening and a good mixing of heavy riffing and mellower moments. All in all, a suprisingly well-crafted and adventurous piece of music - which reprises "Noson Dawel Lawr" towards the end, closing proceedings quite nicely.

All things considered, "Rhyfelwr" is a respectable album - not a NWOBHM monster, but a mostly enjoyable listening experience nonetheless. The production is basic, even a bit rough sometimes, but it doesn't really ruin the album in any sense. It's not easy to locate a copy these days, and any CD reissues are highly unlikely - but if you ever see this gothic logo and metal-looking warrior for sale at a reasonable price, give it a try. I guess it more than deserves a chance with any serious NWOBHM collector.

Liam Forde (V/RG), Alun Morgan (LG), Scott Forde (B), Nicky Samuel (D).

01. Roc a Rol (Rock 'n' Roll) 4:13
02. Mwg (Smoke) 4:42
03. Cnau (Nuts) 4:09
04. Cân Lis (Song for Lis) 4:15
05. Dyma'r Band Cymraeg (This is a Welsh Band) 3:46
06. Nos Sadwrn (Saturday Night) 3:45
07. Noson Dawel Lawn (Noise in a Silent Night) 4:42
08. Rhyfelwr (Warrior) 7:45

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