terça-feira, 26 de fevereiro de 2013

RITUAL (UK) - Widow (CD, Shadow Kingdom, 2008)


This album was almost like a riddle for many many years. A full LP that appeared pretty much out of nowhere, with a front cover picturing a naked lady dressed by the stars, a cross and a prominent "Widow" written in a gothic font. No one had the slightest knowledge of a band called Widow in the UK at the time, and the almost impossible obscurity of the band, combined with the scarse info on the album and the sheer rarity of the LP itself, turned this record from 1983 into some sort of underground legend. For more than once it was mentioned as a pioneering release for Black Metal and Doom Metal genres, something that understandably raised the Widow name into even more mythical standards. And it wasn't even the band's moniker after all...

It took quite a while, but the truth emerged: the band responsible for the extremely rare LP was actually called Ritual, operating since the first half of the 70s in the small club circuit of London and thereabouts. The album was in fact their second proper release, after a 7'' single centered around "Burning", and it was supposed to be called "Widow", the logo of the front cover serving to name the LP rather than the band. For reasons that were never really clear (even after band leader Re Beth made his best to explain it in a few interviews), most of the copies were printed without the Ritual logo in it, thus rendered useless for sale - and the whole album came to be pretty much shelved, as no one would put money to distribute such a small run of usable records. They sold a small handful of copies in gigs, but the band (although never formally disbanded) faded into oblivion towards the second half of the 80s - and some shady individual somehow took hold of the unsold copies of the LP and started selling it in auctions, marketing it as the sole LP from an utterly unknown band called Widow... The rest, as they say, is history.

Yeah, I know - the whole thing sounds implausible, right? But it's probably all (well, most) true, as Ritual somehow managed to survive nearly 40 years in the underground and "Widow" is finally issued in CD format, courtesy of the good guys from Shadow Kingdom Records. The artwork was completely redone, and the seven tracks of the original LP were augmented with four extra cuts, three of them never-before released.  And the ultra-obscure contents of the elusive and esoteric LP are now available for a wider audience - well, maybe not that wide, but you know what I mean. And we can, at last, know what all the fuss was about.

Personally speaking, I must say that the "classic" tag is a bit too much for the music here featured - but we're also far away from any disaster scenario here, as some cynic reviewers labelled it to be in times gone by. It's all very somber and hazy in the world of Ritual, and treat this bunch as trailblazers for obscure Metal music wouldn't be at all absurd. "Never for Evil", "Into the Night" (one of my personal favorites) and "House of Secrets" are more well fitted into traditional Metal territory, and the ones more likely to bring Ritual closer to the NWOBHM archetype. Most of the time, though, they are much more into the 70s sounding, bringing to my mind comparision with bands such as Black Widow, Pentagram, Necromandus and even Sir Lord Baltimore. It's not that Ritual sound like these bands (which were actually quite different from each other too): it's more of a common feeling, a shared penchant for somber themes and eerie atmospheres.

Many songs here are not "heavy" in the sense we're accostumed to, being carried along by the drive rather than by riffing, if you know what I mean. The basslines are more than often the backbone of the songs and the lyrics are extremely simple, in such a way that sometimes it even seems like they were just putting some lines together to enhance the overall atmosphere. Let's face it: some stuff they sing just doesn't make any sense at all. But this is not necessarily a problem, you know, as Ritual is all about creating atmospheres most of the time. And it works - in a sometimes rather simplistic, maybe even loosely put together kind of way, but it does. You can lay down some criticism on Ritual for a number of reasons if you like, but you can't deny that their music has a very personal and somewhat unique feeling throughout.

And this is something I would like to state: I don't think you will really get this record if you don't listen to it from head to tail, in the exact running order, as a single listening experience. Because it's not about the songs, you know - it's more like the songs are pieces of the same musical entity, as everything was planned from the start to become an unit when assembled in a LP. I don't think it was meant all along, you know - the insistent use of thunderstorm sound effects, for instance, doesn't fit well in some cases and gets a little annoying towards the end, while some songs (such as "Rebecca" and "Journey") seem to be put together at very short notice, almost like they were only half-finished before Ritual entered the studio. Still (and don't ask me how, cause I really don't have a clue), it does sound like an unit, it does sound like it was meant from the start. It's an album to be listened without interruptions and without caring too much to know when one track ends and the next begins. That's how you will get the best from it, believe me.

Perhaps the wider audience will lessen the legend that "Widow" evoked through the years - the more people listen to it, the more its atmosphere will slowly die away, I guess. Personally, I think that it can lose on cult status, but it doesn't lose on charm. It's still got some spell in it, you know. Close the curtains, turn the lights down, crank the volume up and enjoy it. I don't think it will become one of your favorites, but I bet you will have an interesting ride.

Re Beth (V, G), Phil Mason (B), Rex Duval (D).

01. Widow 8:13
02. Come to the Ritual 3:58
03. Rebecca 7:08
04. Never for Evil 5:08
05. Morning Star 4:46
06. Journey 3:46
07. Burning 4:17
08. Temptation (bonus) 4:23
09. Forever (bonus) 4:15
10. House of Secrets (bonus) 3:21
11. Into the Night (bonus) 3:32

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!

domingo, 17 de fevereiro de 2013

CRYS (UK) - Roc Cafe (CD, Fflach, 1995)


After reaching remarkable success in the Welsh-language music market (a scene that really should be more well-documented, if you ask me) in the first half of the 80s with their "Rhyfelwr" and "Tymor Yr Heliwr" albums, Crys - easily the most achieving Heavy Metal band ever singing in Welsh - tried their luck with the challenging English-language Metal scene, even making a proud live appearance on Tommy Vance's "Friday Rock Show" in 1983. Unfortunately, as they would soon find out, the competition was way harder that their collective efforts could take (something that doesn't have that much to do with music quality in most cases, as you all should be aware), and the good lads from Crys chose to disband sometime in the mid-80s, much to the grief of their small, but undeniably loyal fan base.

It took almost a full decade until the original members decide to take Crys off the ground and record a new album - something that was surely encouraged by the small but persevering Fflach label, that have been releasing Welsh-language music since the early 80s at least. It was impracticable to fully reunite their "classic" line-up, as guitarist Alun Morgan had relocated to Canada in the interim, so original members Liam Forde (V/RG), Scott Forde (B) and Nicky Samuel (D) would be joined by Mark Thomas (G) to record this "Crys Roc Cafe" CD. The album title and front cover, while being quite obvious puns to the mainstream Hard Rock Cafe franchise, are also some sort of giveaway on the frame of mind of the boys when writing and recording this album: much less Heavy Metal, much much more into pure good old Rock 'n' Roll.

OK, I know Crys was never really engaged in a full-on Metal assault, but they were very much a Heavy Metal band in the past - specially on "Tymor Yr Heliwr", which is also the higher musical point in their career IMO. It's not like they abandoned this notion completely on "Roc Cafe", but they are more than happy to deliver a set comprised almost entirely of mid-tempo rockers, most of it being pretty interchangeable, to be honest. Nothing particularly wrong with such option, of course, and it's nowhere close to any real wimp-out - I'm just pointing out that listeners will be much more likely to remember Rolling Stones rather than Saxon while giving this album a spin, if you know what I mean. Perhaps much of this impression must be credited to the production, that really softened the whole thing, specially on the guitar department: even when they try to sound like a proper Heavy Metal band, as in the two-part semi-epic "Breuddwyd Mawr", the riffs and solos absolutely lack the necessary heaviness to really put your neck in motion.

In the composition front, "Crys Roc Cafe" is a mediocre album, but not in a what-an-utterly-pathetic-pile-of-unlistenable-crap vein of mediocrity. I refer much more to the classic sense of the word: a collection of songs that mostly fail to impress, but without any major flaws as well. It's an album you can listen to with considerable joy, even some genuine appreciation in a few moments - but you're most likely to forget most (if not all) of it as soon as the listening experience is over. The aforementioned "Breuddwyd Mawr" is one of the most interesting songs on display, tenuously reminding some of Crys most adventurous songs of the 80s, and tracks like "Cefnogwyr y Byd" (one of the heaviest here), "Amser Yn Nawr", "Mor Unig" and ballad "Edrych Am Nerth" are reasonably good too. The execution is very passable as a whole, and the sum of all parts makes "Roc Cafe" to be a good enough album; I can't think of anyone giving it pride of place as one of his personal favorites, but it have what it takes to secure a warm and safe place in the collection of many NWOBHM completists. It won't be cheap at all (this CD is long out of print), but you won't be buying torture to your ears, that's for sure.

After releasing "Roc Cafe", Crys went for another long hiatus before reuniting in early 2000s for a few low-key gigs and radio and TV appearances in Wales. The nucleus of the Forde brothers plus Nicky Samuel were assisted in most of these outings by guitarist Grant Roberts, although Alun Morgan himself took part in a prestiged appearance in Faenol Festival, the lads taking one of his visits to Wales as a chance to make a short (but very spirited, I suppose) reunion gig. Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Alun Morgan passed away in early 2012, an unfortunate event that makes any further reunions completely impossible. Despite this loss, Crys is pretty much active to this day, although they prefer to keep a low profile when it comes to studio recordings and live outings. Their latest release is the CD compilation "Sgrech" from 2006, which also presents the only new song they recorded since 1995, which is also the title-track of the album. Long may Crys live on, and let's hope for a proper new album in a not-too-distant future, huh?

 Liam Forde (V/RG), Mark Thomas (G), Scott Forde (B), Nicky Samuel (D).

01. Nol i Roc a Rol (Back to Rock 'n' Roll) 4:56
02. Gadael Fi Lawr (Letting me Down) 6:13
03. Amser Yn Nawr (The Time is Now) 4:01
04. Galw Mas (Calling Out) 5:15
05. Cefnogwyr Y Byd (Defenders of the World) 3:59
06. Edrych Am Nerth (Trying to be Strong) 4:58
07. Mor Unig (How Lonely) 4:58
08. Gyd i Chi (All for You) 6:14
09. Sych (Dry) 6:25
10. Breuddwyd Mawr (Rhan 1, Rhan 2) (A Long Dream, parts 1 and 2) 8:23
11. Diolch i Chi (Thank You) 1:22

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!

domingo, 10 de fevereiro de 2013

ARIA - Megalomania(Мания Величия) (LP, Moroz, 1985)


There's quite a lot of nice things to be stated about Ария (or Aria, the transliterated form I will be using from now on), and that's why I decided, after a long and difficult period of soul-searching (about 5 minutes or so, to be honest), to write a dedicated review for each of their albums, rather than putting everything in a single full-discography post as once planned. In fact, they are way way beyond the facile "Russian Iron Maiden" tag sluggishly applied to them when they happen to be a subject in the Western Metal media. They were (and still are) a huge Metal phenomenom in Eastern Europe - a Metal band born in the middle of the Soviet Union, under the pressure of a still strong Communist government, achieving massive success (they sold millions of copies of their album releases, in case you don't know) while always keeping their native Russian language, and still being regarded as a relevant proposition after nearly 30 years on the road. And the most important of all: playing very good, very impressive Heavy Metal.

Many people say that their choice to sing in Russian was (and still is) something to deprive them from world domination, a notion from which I wholeheartedly beg to differ. Actually, Aria reached the best of two worlds, being very much a mainstream band in their homeland even today, while keeping a cult status and a dedicated following in Western Europe and beyond. They just don't need to sing in English at all - I mean, of course it would be nice if I could understand their (mostly very good) lyrics in an easier way, but their uncompromising nature is very well served without giving up on their native tongue. They are already victorious in their own right, and it's something that every Metal fan should aknowledge and respect. And no less than two of their albums will get a five-star review around here - meaning that yes, I consider Aria to be a mandatory listen to anyone who wants to go beyond the surface when it comes to Heavy Metal. Come join me, then - let me tell you of the days of high adventure! :)

Aria came to be in late 1984, although being at first not much more than a brainchild of Vladimir Holstinin (G) and Alik Granowski (B). Holstinin already had a Heavy Metal background of his own, playing with Волшебные Сумерки (Magic Twilight) in the early 80s alongside singer Arthur Berkut (that would join Aria at a very later stage, but let's not rush too much into things right now). After that, he formed the short-lived Alpha, where Alik Granowski would be featured for a brief period as a bassist. Holstinin and Granowski would rejoin as support musicians for ВИА Поющие Сердца (translates as "Singing Hearts", or so they say), a considerably successful pop-rock project commanded by sound engineer and producer Victor Vekshtein that is still active today. Understandably, though, both were not really at home with the featherweight nature of the music they were performing, and the idea to form a Heavy Metal oriented side-project would develop in due course.

The original idea was to record a full album and, if the response to it was good enough, to consolidate a stable line-up. Victor Vekshtein allowed the album to be recorded in his studio and became Aria's first manager. Valery Kipelov, recently ranked to join Singing Hearts after a spell with folk ensemble Шестеро Молодых (Six Young Men), was recruited as a singer. At this time, Aria was pretty much a Heavy Metal offshot to Singing Hearts, with only Alexandrer Lvov (D) and Kirill Pokrovski (K) with no strings attached to the Russian Pop venture of Mr. Vekshtein. Russian poets Alexander Yelin and Margarita Pushkina were invited to write the lyrics, and in october 1985 Aria's debut album was complete.

Мания Величия ("Megalomania", or "Mania Velichia" if you wish to just transliterate it) never received a proper vinyl pressing - Russia's then only record label Melodiya wouldn't have it, so it just came out in cassette format until 1994, when Moroz pressed it in CD. Still, it was a very successful release in Russia and the Communist Europe in general. And it's easy to undestand why: they NEEDED it. In a reality where the Iron Curtain was growing senseless by the hour and the Berlin Wall was giving the first signs of crumbling, Eastern Europe was in search of new heroes, musicians attuned with what was happening on the other side of the Cold War world - a band they could be proud of, in resume. Their own Iron Maiden - and that is a context where the comparision surely makes sense. In "Megalomania", Aria is not quite there yet, but they shown to everyone who could listen that they were the ones who could make it.

"Megalomania" is a good album, although the production leaves quite a bit to be desired (specially in the guitar department) and the band was clearly trying to find their feet at the time. Of course there's a lot of Iron Maiden, but I can also listen to lots of Judas Priest, Accept and (in places) Rainbow in here. Some songs (like "This is Fate" and "Life for Free") are adequate attempts at Heavy music, but lack personality and ultimately fail to impress, whereas "Dreams" is a sloppy ballad that may have made Mr. Manager Victor Vekshtein very happy, but scores very poor on my Metalomether. "America is Behind" is not exactly a Fuck-the-USA-all-hail-to-Soviet-Union song you would expect from the title, being much more about flying all over the world in an aeroplane (?), although the pun in the song title is evident - the composition itself being an interesting, but not memorable, effort to write a singalong stage favorite.

There's very good stuff in here too, though. "Torero" is a little monster in its own right: conducted by a commanding bass, it constantly and cleverly switch tempos to create an unique atmosphere, eerie but still forceful at the same time - and it's also one of the first songs to show just what a capable singer Valery Kipelov was. An excellent piece of music indeed. "Volunteer" builds in the same foundations and it's also a very good song, while "Tusks of Black Cliffs" is a more direct number (hugely influenced by Maiden, that's for sure) with tons of energy. The instrumental title track, although not much more than an interlude here, is also worth mention, as it is a very impressive interlude, with typical Russian choirs added to create a grandiose feeling - the easy comparision for those unfamiliar with Russian music being Black Sabbath's "Supertzar". Nice stuff. And everything is very well performed in here, full of technical skills and good ideas, being the whole recording very pleasant as a whole.

All things considered, "Megalomania" is far from being the pinnacle of Aria's career (they managed to do way better in later releases, believe me), but it's a historical release and the album to set the trails for a complete Heavy Metal revolution that would take Eastern Europe in years to come. Many bands were doing it before them, that's for sure - but I guess none were doing it better and with such confidence and dexterity.  They deserve respect for that. And the best was yet to come, for sure - which is not to say that "Megalomania" is not good, mind you. Quite the reverse - it's a pretty respectable starting line for the band they would become in later years.

Valery Kipelov (V), Vladimir Holstinin (G), Alik Granowski (B), Alexander Lvov (D), Kirill Pokrovski (K).

01) Это рок (This is Fate) (Holstinin, Granowski, Yelin) 5:54
02) Тореро (Torero) (Granowski, Pushkina) 5:29
03) Волонтёр (Volunteer) (Holstinin, Granowski, Yelin) 8:24
04) Бивни черных скал (Tusks of Black Clffs) (Granowski, Yelin) 4:51
05) Мания Величия (Megalomania) (Pokrovski) 1:49
06) Жизнь задаром (Life for Free)  (Holstinin, Granowski, Yelin) 4:19
07) Мечты (Dreams) (Kipelov, Yelin) 5:16
08) Позади Америка (America is Behind)  (Holstinin, Granowski, Pokrovski, Yelin) 5:14

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!

domingo, 3 de fevereiro de 2013

TURBO (UK) - 3 Track EP (EP, Cargo, 1980) plus Charged for Glory (7'', private, 1982)

RATING: ****

Formed sometime in the late 70s, this english Turbo (the only one from the Great Britain that I know to have reached the vinyl stage) became, decades after its demise, something of an obligatory step for those who want to delve into the fascinating realms of obscure NWOBHM. I mean, it's not a well-known band by anyone's standards, but it's not that obscure either - it's a band that you can add to your collection with relative ease and without spending obscene ammounts of money, and buying one of their vinyl releases will surely galvanize you to search for more and more obscure stuff, until you just can't stop anymore. Been there, done that. And, the most important aspect of all: Turbo was a good band, and if you buy one or both of their rare 7'' releases you are more than likely to enjoy it quite a lot.

Turbo's first individual release came out in 1980, the musicians involved being singer Des Horsfall, guitarists Pete Mayhew and Ian Blackburn, bassist Rick Payne and sticksman Chris Day. The three-track EP starts with "Stallion", an intense rocker with heroic lyrics that shows in no uncertain terms their very direct and uncompromising approach to heavy music. I guess the nicest thing about Turbo's songs is that they are almost impossible to dislike - they are so full of youthful enthusiasm and they sound so unpretentious (even a bit naive, to be honest) that it takes a lot of cynicism to criticise them with any great vigour. "Running" is perhaps their most well-known song (not REALLY well-known, you know, but it was also included on now classic LP compilation "New Electric Warriors" later in 1980) and its ultra-simple and ultra-nonsense lyrics ("Running / Running away / Running / I find no place to stay / Don't you hear what I say? / I got-to-got-to-got-to-got-to get away / I'M ON THE RUN!") are actually so damn catchy that you very well may find yourself unconsciously singing it from time to time. What a nice and funny A-side, believe me. Actually, the B-side is not exactly funny, as "Take My Life" is a heavy ballad with allegedly dreary (but actually  a bit immature) lyrics about some sort of personal tragedy. Still, it's a nice song with very effective arrangements (even the diffident piano right at the start works well enough) and closes quite well the proceedings for an extremely pleasant 7''.

Although the relative success of their first vinyl appearances (they received a fair bit of rock radio airplay, played at London's classic Marquee Club and even captured one of their shows in video), many things would chance in Turbo after their first release, with a near-complete line-up reshuffle in the coming months. Singer Des Horsfall accepted an offer to join Raw Deal (later singing in "Lonewolf" 7'' single, released on Neat Records in 1981), and all the other guys involved in Turbo's early recordings made their leaves too, with only guitarist Pete Mayhew deciding to soldier on.  When their "Charged For Glory" single came out in mid 1982, Mayhew was assisted by a whole different set of accomplices - namely Steve McCann (V), Chris Bartlett (B), Paul Hartley (G/K) and Peter Emmonds (D). And it's remarkable that, after such changes, they managed to release a very good follow-up to their already enjoyable EP, and with virtually no audible changes in their musical identity.

"Charged for Glory" is my favorite song from Turbo: a mid-paced, intense rocker with nice riffing, uplifting lyrics and a memorable, catchy chorus. The youthful energy of this track is remarkable, and only those with a very strong willpower (and/or an ice-cold heart) will avoid some healthy headbanging and horn-raising to this extremely likeable piece of music. Sterling stuff, one of those songs who truly epitomise the music and the spirit of NWOBHM. Understandably, the flipside of this 7'' will not mantain the same levels of pure Metal entertainment - still, "Race for the Dawn (Midnight Mover)" is another interesting effort of classic British Metal, although it takes a few listen to get used to its slightly confusing (not really complex, just not straight-forward) song structure. All things considered, and taking into account that it's far easier to locate (and less expensive) than Turbo's first EP, this 7'' is a must-buy piece of vinyl, pretty much one of the best investments for a novice trying to form a proper NWOBHM collection.

It's clear for all to hear that Turbo had genuine potencial, and they sure could have delivered a promising full-lenght LP if given the chance. Unfortunately, it never came to be, as this line-up would also disintegrate in rapid fashion and, after a year or so of trying to assemble a new set of musicians, now-mainman Pete Mayhew thrown in his towel, laying the good name of Turbo to rest sometime in 1984. Mr. Mayhew would try again with Silhouette (who recorded two singles in the mid-to-late 80s) before relocating to Germany and forming an AOR band called Turbo Red (somewhat surprising, huh?), that released a well-regarded eponymous album in 1991. Paul Hartley seemingly went to play jazz and folk music in later years, whereas Turbo's first singer Des Horsfall is pretty much active today with a semi-acoustic rock proposition called Kuschty Rye.

Des Horsfall (V), Pete Mayhew (G), Ian Blackburn (G), Rick Payne (B), Chris Day (D)

01. Stallion 2:28
02. Running 2:35
03. Take My Life 4:17

Steve McCann (V), Pete Mayhew (G), Paul Hartley (G/K), Chris Bartlett (B), Peter Emmonds (D)

01. Charged For Glory 4:02
02. Race for the Dawn (Midnight Mover) 4:32

Extra thanks to Strappado Metal Blog for picture 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!