sexta-feira, 31 de maio de 2013

MASTERSTROKE (UK) - Prisoner of Love (7'', DTS Records, 1982)

RATING: ****

Another one of those immensely obscure releases that became a bit less mysterious in later years, Masterstroke's sole 7'' is actually quite a good record, with two very enjoyable tunes in true NWOBHM fashion. The humble begginings of this elusive entity can be traced back to 1981 in Kent (UK), when the creative nucleus of guitarist Jimmy McFarnell, keyboardist Keith Tomlinson and singer Andy McMurray joined forces to create a Heavy Rock proposition to call their own. In the recording session that would be used for their sole vinyl release, they were assisted by Jim Wheatley (D), Simon Mills (G) and Neil Basford (B), a formation that seems to have been the most stable during the band's existence. The single came out sometime in 1982, released by the tiny DTS Records, and seems to have received a small pressing in the first place, as copies are seldom seen nowadays.

Both songs of the single are very enjoyable, although they're considerably different one from another. "Prisoner of Love" is a melodic tune who would not be out of place in your local rock radio station - if those responsible for the programming had any clue Masterstroke ever existed, that is. It has a easy-going structure and very catchy, sing-along vocal lines - the chorus, in special, is likely to stick into your mind for quite a while - carried along with great finesse by singer Andy McMurray. It's not the most skull-crushingly heavy assault you'll ever listen to in your live, OK, but it sure delivers its promise and can put a smile on the face of most NWOBHM enthusiasts. "Burning Heart", on the other hand, is a more groovy, mid-tempo heavy rocker with prominent guitars and a huge dose of energy that will surely set some feet and neck in motion. Very nice songs indeed, and a band that truly deserved better things. If you good reader EVER happen to have a copy you'd want to sell (or donate, who knows?), don't be shy and please let me know! :)

In spite of the many talents Masterstroke shown to possess in this promising 7'', the band didn't really last the distance. They tried to keep things going with some different musicians (drummer Albert Ulvmoen, for instance, joined the band towards the end of their collective existence), but unfortunately things didn't work out that well and Masterstroke was pretty much disbanded at the tail end of 1984. Of those involved, it seems that singer Andy McMurray was the one to keep himself more busy, assuming the mike stand in a number of bands - namely Shade, Catch 22, Tickled Pink, Soldier Blue and Spice"o"Life - through the years. Recently, he was (and probably still is) doing the rounds in User Friendly, a blues/boogie/rock concern, and it's nice to learn that he is seemingly still active - and that his voice still sound as strong as ever. He was helped in User Friendly by ex-Masterstroke member Neil Basford for a while, and it's great to know that Jimmy McFarnell is also plugging his guitar with User Friendly at the time of writing. Drummer Jim Wheatley was nice enough to get in touch via e-mail (thanks, my friend) and he's also back to music after a long hiatus,  playing a covers set with a blues rock band called The Flood. It's heartwarming to know that a good percentage of Masterstroke's stalwarts are still involved with music, and I wish them the best for now on. I'll surely drink to that!

Last update: July 04th, 2013

Andy McMurray (V), Jimmy McFarnell (G), Simon Mills (G), Neil Basford (B), Keith Tomlinson (K), Jim Wheatley (D).

01. Prisoner of Love 3:48
02. Burning Heart 5:00

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, 12 de maio de 2013

RACE AGAINST TIME (UK) - Race Against Time (Demo, private, 1980)


It's common knowledge today that Race Against Time was the first known band of Mr. Dave Halliday, later to find fame (well, some) and fortune (none, unfortunately) with Hell, a band that truly embodied the "underground legend" status in years gone by and now, thanks to a kick-ass CD called "Human Remains" (2011), achieved a whole different level of success and adulation. Tragically, Dave Halliday took his own life in 1987, many years before the ground-breaking music he wrote with Hell could reach the album destiny it always truly deserved. All things considered, it's perfectly understandable that Halliday's earlier efforts with Race Against Time are also having something of a mini-revival in later years - not only their sole vinyl legacy, the track "Bedtime" for Logo's "New Electric Warriors" compilation (already reviewed somewhere around here), but also the scarce demo recordings known to exist today.

Race Against Time was a reasonably popular live atraction in the East Midlands (UK), being part of a bands cooperative with fellow groups such as Paralex and Radium, who would arrange gigs together, share gear and rotate headliners to keep things fair. As mentioned above, they made it into "New Electric Warriors", their "Bedtime" effort being one of the heaviest tracks on display, but failed to capitalise on this useful exposure, being pretty much disbanded at the tail end of 1981. Apart from "Bedtime", the only studio legacy of the band is a three-track demo recorded at Cargo Studios, released sometime in 1980 and presenting Mr. Halliday (V/G) with Al Short (B) and Geoff Green (D) as accomplices.

To be fair, Race Against Time's music wasn't a million miles away from what Hell would later become, although it's undeniably a much more run-of-the-mill, straight-forward Metal proposition. Of the songs here featured, I won't hesitate to indicate "The Harbinger of Death" as the most capable of all - unsurprisingly, it's also the song with the closest similarities to Hell. It's an intense number with many brief tempo changes, semi-demonic lyrics and a great chorus, all pieces clicking together for great effect. Dave Halliday's vocal histrionics are also shown in embryonic form here, making a clear point that the theatrical side of Hell was always something he had in mind. All in all, an extremely enjoyable number, no doubt about that.

The demo version of "Bedtime" is nearly identical to the one released on the LP compilation - there's a few subtle differences in singing, but not much else to distinguish one take from the other. It's a very direct song, with a heavy drive and lyrics filled with a debauching view on not-remotely-romantic sex ("I don't want to look inside your head / I want to take you to bed!"). As I once told, I happen to like it a hell of a lot (no pun intended), but I can surely understand that many HM devotees consider it to be a minor song, as there's surely no Metal Revolution going on here. The final song "Bleed You Dry" is a kinda odd one: I assume it is something of a banter on the then-collapsing Punk Rock scene, with scornful lyrics and even a football-anthem section to make sure the irony won't go unnoticed. It's not a song for all tastes, that's for sure - but it's surely a Heavy Metal number, and those of you already familiar with Dave Halliday's particular sense of humour (remember, for instance, Hell's now legendary "Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us") are most likely to enjoy it to the full.

I wouldn't say that Race Against Time's early demise was exactly a misfortune or musical injustice - not only because it was a crucial move to allow Hell to be spawned on earth (pun intended, sorry), but also because I'm not sure they could have gone any further in its original form. For my ears, they sound like a transitional project all along: although I'm sure it wasn't the original plan, they kinda make a bridge from the knockabout roots of NWOBHM to the more ellaborate, theatrical and complex contribution that Hell (and kindred-spirited bands such as Sabbat and - why not? - British Doom metallers such as My Dying Bride and Anathema) would develop in later years. Apart from Dave Halliday (who, as we all know, gave his blood and soul to Hell before commiting suicide in 1987), the only other member of Race Against Time to have a future role on Heavy music was bassist Al Short, who took part in Witchfynde soon after the recording of "Lords of Sin" in 1984, but didn't really had a chance to influence the fortunes of the collapsing outfit, making his personal leave of the music scene soon after the group was disbanded.

Dave Halliday (V,G), Al Short (B), Geoff Green (D).

01. The Harbinger of Death 5:08
02. Bedtime  2:50
03. Bleed You Dry 4:03

Huge 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 and let me know!