quinta-feira, 22 de maio de 2014

Is The War Over? (Compilation, LP, Z Block Records, 1979)


Although it never got anywhere near becoming a target for obsessive NWOBHM completist (and rightfully so), the "Is the War Over?" compilation released by Z Block Records in 1979 was always well-regarded amongst indie rock collectors, as it's the very first appearance of Young Marble Giants - a name that means little to nothing for most rock fans, but that rings a lot of bells for post-punk enthusiasts. This LP showcases eight bands from Cardiff (Wales), most of them operating in a New Wave style - you know, Joy Division was quite a great influence for new bands at the time I guess. Z Block was actually one of the very first independent rock labels in Wales, being arranged pretty much by the musicians themselves, all very commendable if you ask me. There's not much to make long-haired metalheads smile around here, but the musical contents are far from atrocious most of the time, so I think it's fair to drop a few lines about this generous 16-track LP, all bands allowed to use whatever recordings they wanted in a limit of 8 minutes each.

Addiction is a very basic punk rock band with juvenile vocals, opening the LP with pure youthful energy but pretty much nothing else. "Seek & Search" is perhaps the slightly better of the three (very brief) contributions here featured, with a tad more forceful guitar work and a let's-repeat-the-name-of-the-song chorus to match - and it's an almost ridiculously short tune (92 seconds and that's it), so it just don't have the time to become really annoying, which is somewhat fortunate if you ask me. "Stampede", on the other hand, sounds a bit more like typical Rock and Roll in a Rolling Stones vein, but it's a song that comes and goes without even getting close to cause a real impression, and "Violence" is such a predictable song that you can almost sing along to it at the very first listen, as there's absolute zero surprises going on (the basslines are mildly interesting though).

Mad Dog is the closer to Heavy Metal we'll get this time around, although they sure needed some time to hone their technical and songwriting skills. Both "Killer and "Someone Here Must Like Me" are pretty average boogie/rock numbers with a slightly more upbeat delivery than usual - a style that won favour with a fair ammount of bands those days, admitedly, but usually with more accomplished results. The opening riff of "Killer" is perhaps close enough to the usual NWOBHM ethos to justify a mention, but I think "Someone Here Must Like Me" is the most interesting song of the pair - the overall effect is maybe a bit too punky for its own good, but the chorus is better and the song seems more cohesive as a whole. Still, everything is very basic, with loads of enthusiasm but few original ideas going on, so the long pause in Mad Dog's career (they wouldn't release new vinyl material until 1985) was fortunate, as it gave the youngster the necessary time to mature.

I'm not sure that I can actually call Test to Destruction's "Passive" a song at all, as it sounds more like a complete beginner making his very first attempts to extract sounds from a synthetizer, while another individual mouths a few senseless phrases over it. Maybe they were trying to create an avant-garde industrial nightmare or something (and I'm sure some fans of Einstürzende Neubauten or Clock DVA would have this song in high regard as some sort of pioneer), but for me it's just plain nonsense, sorry about that. Following this yawn-inducing piece of ill-advised experimentation, Riotous Brothers closes Side One of this LP with a Punk/New Wave delivery pairing "Airey Neave" with the remarkably brief "No Justice" (82 seconds this time), both reminding me a bit of The Clash in their "Give 'Em Enough Rope" days (not quite as talented as the real thing, of course). The sound production is not good at all (the guitar seems like it was plugged straight into a home soundbox) but the compositions are decent, specially "Airey Neave" - a song that perhaps could appeal to some Rancid fans out there, if they would actually bother to search for such an obscure track in the first place.

Opening Side Two of this LP we have Reptile Ranch, with a single contribution called "Waterhole". After a very confuse intro with a lot of audio effects, some feedback and a few violins (or something), we are confronted with a somewhat meditative post-punk tune without any drums (at least I can't hear any signs of percussion anywhere), carried along by noisy guitars and some Atari-videogame-style keyboards (yes, seriously). I'm not really sure what to think of this track to be honest: it sounds more like a pre-demo later to be augmented with proper instrumentation rather than a finished product, but the composition itself is passable as a whole. Next comes The New Form with no less than three songs in a very New Wave/Punk Rock vein once again. Of the three, I guess "Blockhead" is the most interesting, with a very direct approach and wacky lyrics that are actually good fun. Many modern-day punk rock bands would surely have a good time recording a cover version of this song, I suppose. "Boy" is a bit too simple for its own good if you ask me, but "On the Edge" (the closer to real New Wave territory here) has a slightly disturbing feel that deserves a mention, despite being a pretty basic composition with not a single drop of Heavy Metal trickled in.

I'm not sure what makes a bunch of musicians decide to adopt Beaver as a band name (perhaps pure youthful lack of criteria, who knows), but let's try to overlook this really hopeless choice and set our focus on the two songs they perform here. This is pure pub rock with not much in the sense of individuality or will to experiment, although both "Mack the Knife" (not that one, of course) and "Kleptomania" are perfectly listenable. I'm sure thay never really got a chance to make it big with such a predictable brand of music, but it's all very upbeat and enthusiastic, so let's not be too harsh on the lads, OK? If you're looking for comparisions, it reminds me a little of Speed Limit (as Malc MacMillan also says in his NWOBHM Encyclopedia) - a style of choice that probably worked to great effect at small clubs in Cardiff, but not enough to qualify them as real NWOBHM contenders at all. To close proceedings, the Young Marble Giants - a band that would actually make quite a name for themselves in the post-punk scene. This is the very first studio offering from the group, and the two tracks here featured ("Ode to Booker T." and "Searching for Mr. Right") are very individualistic indeed, with the sweet and plaintive voice of Alison Statton giving some nice nuances to a very basic, drum-machine oriented background. I'm not a huge fan, but I acknowledge their efforts to create a musical personality of their own and I suppose the cult status of Young Marble Giants is more than deserved. I wouldn't reccomend it to diehard metalheads, though.

Although most band included on "Is the War Over?" would unspectacularly plungle into oblivion soon after the LP was out, there's a fair percentage of (slightly) successful stories to be told this time around. The aforementioned Young Marble Giants are now indie heroes, their "Colossal Youth" LP being regarded as a post-punk classic, and Mad Dog would find a career for themselves during the later stages of the NWOBHM phenomenom, releasing an eponymous album as late as 1986 (soon to be reviewed around here, I hope). Addiction never achieved greater things, but there's an interesting biography to be read here, and Reptile Ranch released a couple of singles of their own before vanishing from the scene - guitarist Spike would later work with Alison Statton in two post-Young Marble Giants projects, namely Weekend and Spike (a band rather than a solo project, it seems). You can also learn about these projects in a website dedicated to Z Block Records' legacy. All things considered, I think it's fair to say that, compared to other compilations of the period, "Is The War Over?" was a reasonable success when it comes to give some hopefuls a chance to shine. Not one to give NWOBHM addicts some sleepless nights, but a fairly interesting compilation all the same.

01. ADDICTION - Violence
02. ADDICTION - Stampede
03. ADDICTION - Seek & Search
04. MAD DOG - Killer
05. MAD DOG - Someone Here Must Like Me
07. RIOTOUS BROTHERS - Airey Neave
09. REPTILE RANCH - Waterhole
10. THE NEW FORM - On the Edge
11. THE NEW FORM - Boy
12. THE NEW FORM - Blockhead
13. BEAVER - Mack the Knife
14. BEAVER - Kleptomania
15. YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS - Ode to Booker T
16. YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS - Searching for Mr. Right

Extra thanks to Discogs 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!

domingo, 18 de maio de 2014

Offering of Isca (Compilation, LP, Micro Records, 1985)


This extremely rare compilation with an extremely unassuming cover did not really raise any eyebrows among the NWOBHM collector scene until relatively recent times, when someone actually came to know there were some Heavy music to be found there. But it was always a sought-after artefact for obsessive collectors involved with Krautrock, Synthpop, Minimal Synth and similar subdivisions of electronic music - something that, coupled with the undeniable scarcity of the LP, rendered it a very expensive purchase with outlandish prices being asked every time it cropped up for sale. Produced and compiled by Circuit 7 member Martyn Good (also one of the partners in Micro Records, or so it seems), "Offering of Isca" is a fair-balanced compilation when it comes to the most prominent musical genres at the time - there's at least two bands sure to appeal to the NWOBHM enthusiasts (maybe three, if you're a more broad-minded collector), so it's more than justified that I drop a few lines about it.

Renegade Angel's "Hell's Let Loose" is a good enough tune indeed - a mid-tempo track with a driving rhythm and distorted guitars reminiscent of none other than Venom (I kid you not). But don't think we're talking of some Black Metal wannabes around here: it's much more of a Hard Rock-Heavy Metal collision (it even reminds me of Silverwing's "Rock and Roll are Four Letter Words", for instance) that sounds quite amateurish most of the time, although I tend to think it adds charm to the track rather than ruining it. "Classic Offender" is slower and heavier, sounding a bit like Shock Treatment's "Nuclear Warfare" (more dedicated NWOBHM addicts will know what I mean) but still keeping the not-really-professional vibe of the previous number. The final section of the song is more forceful though, trying to give a dynamic feel to the composition, with acceptable results. Not bad really, and Renegade Angel is surely a welcome inclusion into the realms of British 80s Metal.

Prowler is quite an overused name when it comes to NWOBHM, but this is yet another one, being unrelated to all the other ones a NWOBHM addict could number. "Sanctuary" is perhaps the best song of the entire compilation when it comes to Heavy Metal: a reasonably forceful song with simple-but-good riffing and some more sedated parts, specially at the chorus. It reminds me of bands like Sparta and Sabre, being a pleasant composition as a whole - it could have been included in some of Ebony's compilations without being out of place, for instance. I would completely agree with the guys from Corroseum on "Murder & Revenge" though: this one is a very basic hard rocker that actually seems closer to Stooges and New York Dolls than anything more Metal-related. Markedly inferior to the other song they deliver here, but still worthy of a spin or two, I suppose.

Of the other bands featured, The Outfit's "Reckless" is the closer we'll get to Metal territory around here. The guitar work is OK, and the composition reminds me in places of more poppy moments from undoubtedly NWOBHM bands - a bit like Midas' "Can't Stop Loving You Now", just to give you an example. More charitable Metal addicts may even enjoy it (I indeed enjoy it a little, to be honest), but there's a sax making a solo where a guitar should be, so don't get too over-excited about it if you are a purist. "Stealing with the Boys", on the other hand, is a strange Reggae-Metal type of tune (I tell you no lies) where a surprisingly strong chorus appears coupled with yawn-inducing Peter Tosh-like instrumentation in places. It's difficult to make a strong opinion on this song, but I guess most long-haired metalheads would discard it straight away. Personally speaking, I actually kinda like it, so The Outfit gets out with a not-really-convinced but still sincere thumbs-up, just to acknowledge their good guitar work and their will to experiment.

Circuit 7 is a synthpop outfit with more than a passing resemblance to Kraftwerk - needless to say, not exactly a winning formula if you want to capture the heart of a Heavy Metal fan. That said, "India" is slightly interesting, as it seems to have some influences of progressive rock in its structure - although the faceless (and tuneless) vocals leave a lot to be desired. You're unlikely to listen to it more than once though, and "Beat Tonight" is actually pretty risible even for electronic music standards, I guess. The least interesting band here by a long stretch, at least in my honest (but perhaps unfair) opinion.

Finally, we can succintly describe V.o.K. as a surprise package. You can easily live without ever listening to "Lonely Boys, Lonely Girls" unless you are a dedicated Minimal Synthpop collector, but "Nukes of Terra" is a major improvement - even being miles away from a Metal song, it's actually one of the most enjoyable compositions of the entire LP! Its post-punk, near apocalyptical atmosphere works very well and the chorus sticks to your mind in no uncertain terms. It's not a surprise to know that most electronic music collectors want "Offering of Isca" because of this single track, as it's easily the most unique and accomplished composition of the LP, and a remarkably strong offering (sorry about the pun) from such an unknown outfit. It really makes you wonder what these guys could have become if this song was the A-side of a proper single from a more high-profile label... A surprisingly good composition indeed, even more when you compare it to the other (very weak) contribution of V.o.K. here featured.

Needless to say, the bands who took part of "Offering of Isca" disappeared out of sight pretty soon after the LP was issued, with most musicians involved giving up on being rock stars and having (hopefully) very happy and wealthy lives away from the music scene. Circuit 7 was the most stablished band at the time, with two singles released in 1984, but they seem to have become history not long after that - though an LP of archive material called "Video Boys" was released as late as 2009. All the other bands plunged into oblivion after "Offering of Isca", with no individual releases or further compilation appearances before or ever since. Quite surprisingly, Renegade Angel decided to return from the wilderness at some point: they made a comeback gig in 2010 and created a Facebook page to keep those interested informed of further developments. Sadly, there's no updates since 2012, which tends to suggest they decided to lay the band down to rest once again - but let's hope for some further movement from the lads in the not-too-distant future.

See picture scans and labels for further details

01. CIRCUIT 7 - India
02. RENEGADE ANGEL - Hell's Let Loose
03. THE OUTFIT - Reckless
04. V.o.K. - Lonely Boys, Lonely Girls
05. PROWLER - Murder & Revenge
06. RENEGADE ANGEL - Classic Offender
07. PROWLER - Sanctuary
08. CIRCUIT 7 - Beat Tonight
09. THE OUTFIT - Stealing with the Boys
10. V.o.K. - Nukes of Terra

Extra thanks to Renegade Angel 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!

sexta-feira, 16 de maio de 2014

WENFFLAM (UK-Wales) - Deigryn Du (7'', Tryfan, 1986)


I was looking forward to listen to Wenfflam (another band from Wales that have chosen to sing on their native Welsh language) for quite a long time, and most of my curiosity was surely indebted to the simple, but surely eye-catching picture sleeve to their sole "Deigryn Du" single from 1986. The Metal-looking logo is enough to spark the imagination of any Heavy Metal fan, and the sheer scarcity of this 7'' (issued by Tryfan, a minuscule subsidiary of Sain Records) sure gave some collectors a few sleepless nights. Furtive glances and surreptitious whispering used to regard Wenfflam ("Flames", in a free translation) as some sort of late-NWOBHM forgotten miracle, and the fact that no one seemed to have heard their music until a few years ago only fostered the cult status around it. On the other hand, experience taught me that Welsh-singing rock bands use to be quite fond of recording watered-down ballads at any available opportunity. That is something that truly intrigues me BTW: why are Welsh-speaking musicians so obsessed with balladry? Maybe there's something to do with the geography of Wales, the montainous landscapes and sparsely-populated coastal cities being propitious for a more contemplative mood... Oh well, I don't know. Wherever the explanation lies, I had my spirit prepared for all kinds of unpleasant surprises when I finally managed to obtain mp3 files taken from this extremely elusive slice of vinyl.

"Deigryn Du" (the songtitle means "Black Teardrop", believe it or not) is a very mellow ballad (no surprises here, right?) that could actually be passed as a more radio-oriented song from a Heavy Metal band if we had any grounds to say that Wenfflam was a Metal outfit in the first place. The lads were apparently very young, but their individual performances are all acceptable as a whole; that's actually too bad that their efforts were focused in such a faceless composition though. The guitar solo is somewhat more punchy, that's for sure, but the song as a whole is unlikely to set any pulses racing. Flipside "Mynadd Byw" is a more upbeat number, admitedly, but don't expect any skull-crushing Metal assault to be launched here: it's a very basic rock number that sounds like a more restrained version of Stray Cats. Nothing too disgraceful at all, but I seriously think that NWOBHM collectors have far more fitting options in which to invest their hard-earned cash.

Apart from the two songs from this 7'', there are three more studio recordings of Wenfflam known to exist. "Lisa" is another rock 'n' roll tune with more than an influence of rockabilly-oriented acts from the early 80s - another indication that the nice logo was pretty much anything that Wenfflam had to do with Heavy Metal at the time. "Creithiau Ddoe" is something of a positive surprise, as it's a slighty more forceful semi-ballad with good guitar work in places - there's even an almost-metallic instrumental section here! It seems to have been the most successful song from the band, as it was even aired a few times in Welsh TV, and it's not bad at all - not a world-beater by anyone's standards, but way better than "Deigryn Du" for instance. Still, the closer we'll ever get to Metal territory when it comes to Wenfflam will probably be "Cyn Ddaw Y Bore" - a very upbeat rocker that could even pass as a bona fide Hard Rock tune if given a proper production. They seem to have been quite interested in guitar interplay, and the solos are pretty good once again. I suppose these two compositions are from a later period in the band's career, with some line-up changes and a revised repertoire. Whatever the story, it's a shame that they never released a second single, as I have a strong feeling that it would be more appealing to our tastes than "Deigryn Du" turned out to be. Watch the video below and judge for yourselves.

The Welsh-language rock scene was a very small one at the time (and it still is today), so it's perfectly understandable that Wenfflam's lifespam was a short one, the lads deciding to disband long before the end of the 80s. Most of the musicians involved seem to never have taken any role in music afterwards, but there are still some clues to be checked. It seems for instance that Declan "Paddy" Parry - a well-travelled bass player for local bands like This Thing, Hitchcock and Army of Crows, now with none other than Marshall Law - is the bass player wearing a Metallica t-shirt on the video below, although the full extent of his spell with Wenfflam is still to be determined. Huw Owen, credited as bass player in "Deigryn Du", is also supposed to have taken part in other bands from Wales, but it's a very common name over there so it's difficult to tell without asking him first. Finally, I was told long ago that original guitarist and songwriter Edward Huws gave up any plans of local rock stardom and decided to pursuit a career in classic music, but this info can also be completely wrong. If any of you good people can help me to fill the gaps, please kindly get in touch, as there's no reliable info on Wenfflam anywhere and I think that it would be fair to give them the dignity of a proper bio.

Glyn Parrington (V), Edward Huws (G), Daffyd Baines (G), Huw Owen (B), Euron Williams (D). Also performed: Kevan Critchley (G), Declan "Paddy" Parry (B).

WENFFLAM - Cyn Ddaw Y Bore

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, 14 de maio de 2014

WIKKYD VIKKER (UK) - Black of the Night (7'', Boogie Records, 1983)


I must admit that intentionally-misspelled band names always give me the chills, and I'm usually not really symphatetic towards groups that choose to adopt such "funny" and "confrontative" epithets. But Leichestershire's (UK) Wikkyd Vikker somehow manages to survive their ill-conceived moniker and became a target of deserved praise from NWOBHM collectors, an adulation that their scarce vinyl legacy is more than enough to justify. Formed in 1981, the group was originally a four-piece with Dick Boorman (V), Gary Butler (G), Andy Harrison (B) and Adrian Bates (D), and it took less than a year before now-legendary Ebony Records offered the youngsters some much-needed studio time.

The first chance to listen to these hopefuls was "Super Rocker", a song included in a 1982 compilation called "Metallic Storm" (soon to be reviewed around here). Unfortunately, it didn't really show what the band was capable of, as it's a somewhat predictable heavy rocker like hundreds of contemporary groups could write without much effort. It was a wasted opportunity perhaps (and there was no contract talks with Ebony at any stage), but Wikkyd Vikker didn't spend much time dwelling on this mistake, expanding their act to a quintet by recruiting second guitarist Mark Evans - formely with Valhalla and one of those responsible for the "Lightning in the Sky" single from 1981. The newcomer pretty much took the songwriting duties all for himself, and it's fair to say that it was a considerable improvement, as their sole individual release (the "Black of the Night" 7'' from 1983) demonstrates quite well.

Both "Black of the Night" and "Release" are strongly connected to the NWOBHM sound and vision, being quite easy to ignore the glam-evoking monicker of the band and imagine the lads rocking hard at a small pub, all wearing their denim and leather outfits and banging their long-haired heads all over the place. I don't know about you, but it's sure a nice mental image for me! "Black of the Night" is the strongest of the pair, carried along by an ultra-NWOBHM riff that bands like Saxon and Dealer would sure enjoy calling their own and an astute song structure, coupling a simple-but-catchy chorus with a mellower mid-section soon to delve into a climatic (albeit very simple) instrumental part. Really good stuff to make any NWOBHM enthusiasts, well, even more enthusiastic than usual. "Release", on the other hand, is a considerably more restrained tune - the main riff screams NWOBHM in your face once again, but the song as a whole seems less intense and I really think Dick Boormann could (and should) have sung with a little more passion here. The backing vocals are a bit radio-friendly (not that such a small-run single would gain any airplay, you know), but the composition drags on for quite a while - something that does little to help matters, if you ask me. But don't get me wrong: "Release" is a good song as a whole. The sound production is fairly competent, the individual performances are all within the usual standards and this humble 7'' show Wikkyd Vikker in a very positive light most of the time.

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), Wikkyd Vikker (that chose to adopt the equally-hopeless name Pretty Wicked and a more glam-oriented outlook at the later stages of their existence) would not be around for much longer, being probably disbanded by the mid-80s. It is mentioned in some quarters that a second pressing of "Black of the Night" appeared sometime in 1984, under the Pretty Wicked guise and even with a picture sleeve - I sure wouldn't dismiss such a possibility, though I never saw such an item myself. None of the musicians involved seem to have kept plugging in after the band was over, any signs of further musical activity from them being impossible to locate - but efforts are being made to contact some of the long-time members of Wikkyd Vikker, so maybe we'll have some nice things to share in the near future.

Dick Boorman (V), Gary Butler (G), Mark Evans (G), Andy Harrison (B), Adrian Bates (D).

01. Black of the Night
02. Release

Many thanks to Mega Watt Fanzine for the label picture!

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!