domingo, 31 de março de 2013

HELL (UK) - Human Remains (CD, Nuclear Blast, 2011)

RATING: *****

I can't really think of many reunions that would be half as relevant and worthwhile than the resurrection of Hell - one of the most individualistic bands of the entire NWOBHM era, one of those (not that common, if true be told) cases of a group that actually were cruelly overlooked, that actually deserved way more attention than they managed to get the first time around. I guess most of you know a thing or two about Hell: a theatrical act formed by former Paralex and Race Against Time members that wrote a lot of heavy, complex compositions with macabre lyrical contents, recorded many demos (most of it in rehearsals) and released a solitary single in 1983, but never really fulfilled their promise in any albums of their own, as they surely should have. Hell broke loose from 1982 to 1986 and, after an unsucessful contract with Mausoleum and with several members losing heart towards the end of the band's existence, came to a tragic ending in early 1987, when guitarist and singer Dave Halliday (one of the main songwriters and very much the personification of the band's stage act) took his own life, a tragic event whose motivations are still slightly unclear to this day.

Hell was no more, but its malevolent legacy was never really forgotten. Their humble (even a bit ramshackle, to be honest) demos were highly regarded in the tape-trading community, and even a few bootlegs came out in vinyl format (or so they say, as I never actually saw one for sale), something to prove just how much of a legend Hell became on the underground Metal scene. It took over two decades until Andy Sneap (once a huge Hell fan, later a guitarist for Sabbat and a hugely successful Metal producer these days) got in touch again with Hell's guitarist / Keyboardist Kev Bower and convinced him to embark on a labour of love, recording and releasing the Hell album that the band's living legacy surely deserved.

The three remaining members of the original line-up - Kev Bower himself (G/K), Tony Speakman (B) and Tim Bowler (D) - were all recruited for this venture, whereas Andy Sneap assumed the second guitar and, after long search for a suitable substitute to Dave Halliday's unique vocals (even Sabbat/Skyclad's Martin Walkyer had his chance to no avail), Kev's brother David Bower (a gentleman already with a stable acting career and originally recruited only for a voiceover in "Plague and Fyre") would surprise everyone with his approach to Hell's music and became the dedicated singer of the revamped outfit. They recorded and released "Human Remains" in 2011 and, oh man, what a joy it was to add the 2-CD set (the bonus disc is filled with old demo recordings of all songs from the "proper" album) to my humble collection. And what a greater joy it was to give the record a few (that would duly become a lot of) spins.

Because "Human Remains" goes way beyond simple NWOBHM nostalgia, my friends - it actually kicks major ass. It's way more than a nice souvenir for old tape traders and loyal fans from the underground: it's a strong, intense record with excellent music from start to finish, one of the best debut albums I can think of for quite a while. And it's not only a nice album to bang your head to: it's easily one of the best CDs released from 2011 onwards from any band, in any branch of Heavy Metal. For those unfamiliar with Hell, the easiest comparision would undoubtedly be Mercyful Fate, although Hell's music is a tiny bit more atmospheric and experimental, with unpredictable song structures and (forgive me, I'm a Mercyful Fate fan too, but I have to be honest here) considerably better lyrics.

Listening to the old tapes from Hell was something of an exercise in imagination: I would constantly wonder what those songs would sound like if recorded with a more adequate budget, in a proper studio and with a careful production. Now I don't need to wonder anymore - I just put "Human Remains" on and it shows to everyone who would listen how compositions such as "On Earth As it is In Hell", "Blasphemy and the Master", "Macbeth" and "No Martyr's Cage" were actually a lot better than they already seemed to be. No album filler here, my friends. Believe me.

I'm sure that many people felt uncomfortable with the idea of anyone other than Dave Halliday singing all those old classic tunes of malignancy, but I sincerely think that no one else could do the trick better than David Bower did. His own theatrical talent is used to great effect, and though he may not be the most gifted singer in the world (something that Halliday himself wasn't too, and you know I'm right on that) he doesn't let anyone down in that department - being a vocalist in Hell was always more a case of performing rather than singing, if you know what I mean. The spoken interludes, the gruff choruses, the verses filled with pure scorn and evilness - everything is here, and everything works to great effect. The instrumental side of things is also faultless, and the whole listening experience is an intense, absorbing ride full of energy and atmosphere. No nostalgia here, I repeat: this is Heavy Metal of the highest standard, being as relevant today as it would have been back in the day. I suppose many of you already bought a copy of "Human Remains" by now, but if you didn't, be well advised to do so. If you are a Heavy Metal fan, I guess it's extremely unlikely that you won't enjoy the ride.

Every new show added to Hell's website is happy news for me: I'm sincerely happy to see these guys, after enduring such difficulties and having their collective talents completely ignored by record labels in the 80s, receiving a fair share of the success and adulation they surely deserve. For 2013, Hell is planning the release of a new album, that are probably being recorded at this very moment somewhere in England. There are still a few old songs left to be exhumed (I instantly remember "Dephts of Despair" and "The Disposer Supreme"), and I suppose some of these old pieces of music will be joined by a few new compositions to form another strong and memorable album. There will be a bonus DVD too, or so they say, and I really can't wait to have this one here, alongside "Human Remains" at a very noble place on my humble record collection.

(the demo recordings with Dave Halliday will be the subject of a later post - hope to be writing it in the near future!)

David Bower (V), Kev Bower (G/K/V), Andy Sneap (G), Tony Speakman (B), Tim Bowler (D)

01. Overture (Bower)
02. On Earth As it is In Hell (Bower, Speakman, Halliday)
03. Plague and Fyre (Halliday, Bower)
04. The Oppressors (Halliday, Short)
05. Blasphemy and the Master (Bower, Halliday)
06. Let Battle Commence (Bower, Halliday)
07. The Devil's Deadly Weapon (Bower, Bower)
08. The Quest (Halliday, Bower, Speakman, Bowler)
09. Macbeth (Halliday, Bower)
10. Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us (Halliday)
11. No Martyr's Cage (Bower, Halliday)

HELL - On Earth As it is In Hell (official video)

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

domingo, 17 de março de 2013

RICOCHET (UK) - Double B Side (7'', Heavy Rock, 1980)

RATING: *****

I'm personally fascinated by NWOBHM and I would never try to deny it, but I try to be reasonable and understand that not all heavy rocking records made in the UK around the first half of the 80s are undiscovered masterpieces or demonstrations of enviable potential that never came to fruition. Many, many stuff tagged as NWOBHM actually suck - and of course, there's a huge number of records that may be appealing for collectors or aficionados but would not do much in favour of less charitable listeners. Therefore, I'm always a bit suspicious when a recording is described as an "undiscovered classic" of heavy music, as in many cases it's more a case of personal appreciation than anything more realistic. But of course, there are some extremely good stuff hidden out there, bands and recordings that are confined to the very dephts of NWOBHM underground scene but seriously should be heard by a wider audience - and the immensely capable Ricochet and their memorable "Double B Side" from 1980 can surely fit into this category.

Evolving, as Malc MacMillan explains in his must-read NWOBHM Encyclopedia, from an earlier act called Thorazine, Ricochet (good name, that) were doing the rounds in the West Midlands since the later half of the 70s, playing an unashamedly heavy style of music that would fit like a glove to the upcoming NWOBHM boom. Unfortunately, they never really managed to cause an impact outside their geographical area and didn't really last the distance at first, being pretty much disbanded as soon as 1982. Still, they went as far as to release a sole 7'' in their own Heavy Rock label, a single that looks good enough (nice logo, interesting drawing of the band members and all) and that sounds even better, believe me.

And oh man, were this guys GOOD or what. "Midas Light" is a song that have been deservedly praised by NWOBHM aficionados worldwide, but sometimes I just feel it doesn't have been praised enough - actually, it's not only a kick-ass song, but there's a lot of creativity and adventurous spirit in it too, and sometimes people just fail to acknowledge that. There's many unpredictable details in it: the guitar, for instance, is always adding some different layers, distortions, unexpected fills and leads - and it's always so damn HEAVY that you can't stop throwing shapes, no matter how much in awe you are. The singing is rude and intense, even with a pinch of debauch in it, carrying the lyrics along with such a conviction that you completely overlook the fact that the words actually don't make that much sense at all. They recorded quite a few versions of this seminal track, but I still think the one from the single is the best one: there's such a drive in it that defies description, a sort of urgency perhaps, like they needed to take the world by storm and they had to do it NOW. I guess it's perfectly possible to live a meaningful and healthy life without ever listening to this song, but I don't know how could that be and I would never want to find out - all things considered, "Midas Light" is a mandatory listen for everyone with some level of interest in NWOBHM, a really intense showcase of sheer Heavy Metal energy and genius. How can a band record such a track and still disappear into near-oblivion in later years is beyond me.

"Off the Rails" is obviously not as good as the previous "B-side" (let's face it, there's not that much competition in the whole Heavy Metal world for a track such as "Midas Light"), but it still rips in major fashion. The production tries to emulate the feeling of some sort of heavy party, with people talking and singing and screaming woo-hoo all over the song - and the musical contents are more than adequate for such a background, as the track itself is a very intense rocker with a straight-to-the-point structure and a rhythm that grabs you by the neck and makes you headbang along in a near-spinal-injury intensity. Another kick-ass song, no doubt, and you can consider yourself well advised to get hold of a copy of this 7'' if you ever have the chance. I know, a 5-star rating for an independent single may be a bit shocking perhaps, but I guess you good people will just have to deal with it. And if you happen to have one and feels like selling it, get in touch, as I would CERTAINLY be interested in buying it! :)

As I said above, Ricochet's sheer potential and enthusiasm were not enough to raise them to the nationwide success they damn surely deserved, and soon the group was no more. Bass player The Finn kept himself busy, relocating to Germany and assembling the Damien project, that went as far as to record a Mini-LP called "Words" in 1984 before the bassist return to UK and join The Handsome Beasts for a while. Talented guitarist Dave Gough, on the other hand, went to join a number of local outfits on very different musical styles, but also served time in Demolition towards the end of the group's existence. It comes as a huge (and pleasant) surprise to know that Ricochet actually reunited in the late 90s, recording a Mini-CD that reworks both tracks from the single and add a few previously-unreleased songs for great effect. Oh well, perhaps we better comment this release on a later post, right?

Geoff Sewell (V), Dave Gough (G), The Finn (B), Mick Collett (D).

01. Midas Light 3:55
02. Off the Rails 2:36

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

sexta-feira, 15 de março de 2013

SCARAB (II) (UK) - Rock Night (7'', Inferno, 1981)


Everyone with a true interest in obscure heavy music will be confronted with some inextricably obscure situations from time to time: bands that are so esoteric that it's almost like they never existed at all, their extremely rare releases being fruits of someone's imagination that somehow managed to materialise. Sometimes luck is on your side, and the wonderful history behind the music comes out after long research - I've been particularly lucky lately and a few exclusive biographies are in the making at this very moment, so I would kindly suggest you to watch this space for updates.  Other cases, unfortunately, are seemingly hopeless - and this particular Scarab from Wednesbury UK (not to be confused with the more well-known bunch responsible for the "Poltergeist" single, for instance) fits like a glove to this scenario. All you can state about this band is their city of origin, the surnames of the songwriters (Stevens, Garner and Millard, whoever they were) and that they released a 7'' single by the utterly minuscule Inferno label sometime in 1981.

"Rock Night" and "Wicked Women" are energectic Hard / Heavy tunes with a very direct approach, almost 'punkish' when it comes to song structures: an adequate riff, an extremely simple half-chorus repeating the name of the track, some brief individual instrumentations and lo and behold, the song is over. Actually, "Rock Night" is such a let's-get-straight-to-the-point type of song that it barely reaches the 2-minute mark: it comes, screams ROCK NAEEEEEEEEEEEEE a few times in your face and it's gone without a trace. Oh well, there's a few solos here and some extremely simple lyrics there too, but you get the idea - it's so simple that it borders deconstructivism, which I very much doubt was the idea, but it's almost fascinating in a sense.

On the flipside, "Wicked Women" sounds almost like prog rock in comparision - it actually presents more than one riff (seriously, listen to it carefully and you will find the other one), at least. But there's nothing to resemble any sort of real complexity here, that's for sure - even the solos are pretty much the repeating of a few basic patterns, something that would most probably be penned by a beginner rather than a remotely experienced musician. And that's how Scarab sounds in the end of the day: like a bunch of reasonably talented, but very unexperienced young men trying to deliver some Heavy Metal with genuine enthusiasm, but not much else. Still, they show some promise as musicians (the singer stands out as the owner of a considerably powerful voice) and there's nothing potentially wrong in here, so I would advise you to spend a few bucks in it if you ever see this 7'' offered for sale at an reasonable price.

It's slightly frustrating to have such a pitiful ammount of info on Scarab - no one seems to really know who they were or where they came from, and there's very few tangible signs of live activity from this particular Scarab. Paul Britton, from the other Scarab (the one whose "Rolling Like Thunder" double-CD compilation was already reviewed in here), recollects their namesakes as opening for Jameson Raid sometime in 1980, but that's pretty much it. Will we ever know more about this mysterious version of Scarab? I sincerely hope so - if you happen to know ANYTHING else about this band, please kindly get in touch, will you?  

Musicians unknown

01. Rock Night 2:08
02. Wicked Women 3:12

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