sexta-feira, 25 de dezembro de 2015

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Master of Reality (LP, Vertigo, 1971)

RATING: *****

You can only create a musical genre once, you know. Black Sabbath hinted at it with their debut album, gave it shape and a spirit with "Paranoid", and the twisted son they conjured - heavy metal, that is - is still thriving to this day and with a pretty promising future ahead, as we all know. But let's get back to 1971, around half a year after "Paranoid" took the world by storm, when the four geniuses who spawned it were trying to make their minds on what to do next. Consider you just discovered a completely new and unexplored avenue of musical heaviness waiting to someone to hit it: what would you do? See where such road can take you, of course. That's what "Master of Reality" is all about: doing everything that was right about "Paranoid" all over again, but with more riffs, more energy and with a thicker, gloomier atmosphere. And it works, you can bet your ass it does.

It's far from surprising that many tend to think "Master of Reality" is the best album from Black Sabbath, as it is indeed a sort of culmination for the band. Once everyone knew heavy metal was possible, there was a whole different battle going on among heavy rock bands - and Sabbath wanted to make everyone sure, from point one, that the king's crown belonged to them and no one else. The record starts heavy and catchy with "Sweet Leaf", it closes in the eeriest of fashions with "Into the Void", and it never leaves room for a doubt on its way. It takes little more than half an hour to make your ears ring and leave you begging for more. Even more subtle numbers like "Orchid" and "Solitude" are not exactly there to bring relief, as its more unusual nuances only add to the album's ominous, crushing personality. "Solitude" isn't an average ballad, for instance: it sounds hopeless and disenchanted without ever getting too soft for its own good, therefore teaching all the beginners just what kind of sensation a metal ballad should cause. It was the first time anyone would knowingly go to a record store to buy a heavy metal album, so I guess Black Sabbath wanted to make sure anyone would get what they deserved.

It's a slower album than its predecessors, perhaps even the slower album Sabbath ever recorded. Only "Children of the Grave" and some parts of "After Forever" speed things up a little, though never getting close to "Paranoid" (the song) in terms of pace. It's a conscious option, mind you, as the plodding riffage creates a baleful, almost tangible atmosphere of mystery and drama, which I guess is exactly what they had in mind. Something in no small part enhanced by the straight-on approach to instrumentation and singing. As on previous albums, Black Sabbath wisely chooses to use some few tools to perfection rather than wasting energy on learning new tricks - and though some may find the lack of technical prowess quite uncomfortable, raising such a criticism while listening to "Master of Reality" simply makes no sense whatsoever. Who gives a damn if Tony Iommi's playing is simple and unpolished, when he's playing one amazing riff after another? Who the hell cares if Geezer Butler is mostly playing along with the guitar, when it gives the songs a monolithic force almost unheard of? Who will remember to point out that Ozzy Osbourne's singing is blunt and ofter off key, when his voice perfectly and impressively conjures all the nasty things he's singing about?  It was never about virtuosity or being polished, it's about intensity and heaviness, and Black Sabbath was at the top of their game when recording this album. The production works beautifully on that BTW, enhancing the band's cohesive element through and through.

Though lacking the sheer historical impact of "Paranoid" (like pretty much every album released from 1970 onwards, as you can only invent the wheel once), "Master of Reality" is still an essential record for anyone who cares about heavy metal. It's even a final statement in a sense, as the classic Iommi/Butler/Ward/Osbourne line-up would sail increasingly non-metallic waters in future releases, with varying degrees of success. If you want to understand what Black Sabbath was all about, this is surely an LP to listen to, as the sheer impact of their music overbrims every single groove, with no distractions and without ever losing steam.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Sweet Leaf
02. After Forever
03. Embryo
04. Children of the Grave
05. Orchid
06. Lord of This World
07. Solitude
08. Into the Void

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segunda-feira, 14 de dezembro de 2015

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Paranoid (LP, Vertigo, 1970)

RATING: *****

All the promises were made in unequivocal terms on Black Sabbath's debut LP, but they were still to take the final step from Cream-obsessed, hard-rocking tunes to something completely new and exhilarating - and Satan knows that Osbourne, Iommi, Butler and Ward were the ones who could do it, more than anyone else in the whole damn world. It's truly remarkable that it took them little more than half a year to make it real. "Paranoid" is so immense a triumph that it defies proper description, one of the very few albums that will be heard through the centuries, a record so huge that you can hardly imagine modern music without it - it's not only heavy metal, it actually changed everything.

Before this LP hit the shops, there was no heavy metal as such; with its arrival, heavy metal was destined to be perennial. In a sense, everything after "Paranoid" is a long and mostly pleasant exercise in futility: it is the most important heavy metal album of all time, eternally unbeatable and never to be matched. You can only do it once, you know. I mean, is there any way an opening number can beat "War Pigs" in terms of bombastic, near-hypnotic wickedness and bite? Can any other song ever scare the shit out of you like Tony Iommi's inhuman riffs and Ozzy Osbourne's ominous singing about a war to kill us all did? And does anyone have any hopes of replicating that final guitar harmony, perhaps the most perfect heavy metal sequence ever commited to tape (and I mean it)? It was done by Black Sabbath, it all happened through "War Pigs", and now we can only try our best to live our lives.

The aforementioned track is perhaps the pinnacle of this LP (and the best heavy metal song ever written, as a consequence), but "Paranoid" still have plenty of genius to offer after its supreme masterpiece is over. "Paranoid" (the song) is another killer of a track, with a main riff that single-handedly created headbanging, while "Electric Funeral" was doom metal more than a decade before anyone would come out with such a concept. "Iron Man", not to mention the unparalleled main riff, is perhaps the earliest example of what I would call 'heavy metal storytelling': morbid and/or dramatic lyrics with intense imagery and a narrative you can follow from start to finish, often far from subtle and usually far removed from the typical rock and roll poetry. The subject matter of the entire album deserves a mention BTW, with a tendency towards the dark side of things (war, mental illness, substance abuse and all sorts of disasters) which was virtually unheard of. Even less unmistakeably metallic songs like "Hand of Doom" or "Fairies Wear Boots" are miles away from what anyone did before, its multi-section arrangements and minor-key chord progressions taking things to a whole new level of intensity and musical menace.

The album has an eerie, cathartic atmosphere of its own, and quite curiously it owes much to the band's individual shortcomings: Ozzy Osbourne lacks vocal technique, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward are more than often playing disparate things, Tony Iommi is anything but the typical guitar hero. But together they gelled like nearly no band did before or ever since, and these imperfections actually give "Paranoid" a sense of urgency, like this monster of a statement couldn't wait for them to be more skillful or musically refined. It's no surprise it took a while for critics to acknowledge the album's merits, while people were falling over themselves to get a copy. Naysayers are forever bound to lose here: "Paranoid" will kick their asses time and time again, until the world reach its very end. And all this waits for you behind a pretty pathetic front cover!

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. War Pigs
02. Paranoid
03. Planet Caravan
04. Iron Man
05. Electric Funeral
06. Hand of Doom
07. Rat Salad
08. Fairies Wear Boots

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BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Black Sabbath (LP, Vertigo, 1970)

RATING: ****

Draw the family tree of heavy metal will never be a straightforward endeavour, you know, but most attempts out there take the quintessential 1970's debut LP from Black Sabbath as a root and pretty much expand from there. I don't want to play the smartass and say it's a completely wrong approach (most of all because, quite obviously, it's not), but I'm afraid "Black Sabbath" (the album, I mean) is not that much the birth of heavy metal as people use to think, not only for heavy metal as a genre, but for Black Sabbath themselves. And PLEASE believe me when I tell you I don't mean it as criticism: it's just that Black Sabbath was not quite there yet in early 1970.

Lester Bangs, who reviewed this album for Rolling Stone back in the day, received a lot of later criticism for calling it "just like Cream, but worse" - and though I'm sure he got it all wrong when it comes to Sabbath's songwriting relevance, his choice for comparision is spot on. At least half the tunes around here are pretty much following Cream's footsteps, employing the same blues rock backbone to create very similar jams with Clapton-ish guitar histrionics - though Tony Iommi, for good (mostly) and bad, is nowhere near the virtuoso Eric Clapton used to be. The results are mostly good enough, but there's no way an inquisitive reviewer can listen to a song like the mammoth "Warning" and honestly treat it as a trailblazer: it's an efficient attempt to emulate Cream (and I love it for what it is), but it's far from being the most original thing released in 1970, if you know what I mean.

Even ultra-classic tunes like "The Wizard" and "Behind the Wall of Sleep" are more like transitional songs than anything else, with some definite metal features (the lyrics, the dialogue between guitars and bass, the slightly intimidating atmosphere) still trying to find a way out of the late-60s blues-rock psychedelia they are sunken in. That all said, it's remarkable how Ozzy, Tony, Bill and Geezer indeed sound like a heavy metal band here, even if the tunes they are playing are not strictly heavy metal - there's no doubt Black Sabbath was the very first act to cause such an impact, and it would be foolish, even childish to underrate them.

And there are two little tunes here that indeed made all the difference for the heavy metal universe, compositions that paved the huge metal avenues that million bands cross even today: "Black Sabbath" and "N.I.B". The title track is surely one of the most bombastic songs ever written by a metal band, still able to scare people over 45 years into the future with a riff that no band will ever be able to match - and "N.I.B" is perhaps the first song to completely transcend the psychedelic and bluesy roots of heavy rock music and become something unique, unmistakably heavy metal through and through. These are the two songs that definitely forged the spirit of heavy metal, and though Black Sabbath would perfect their formula in subsequent releases, the elements to create a huge, fascinating and ever-expanding heavy metal scene were all already there. I will never be able to thank them enough for that.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D)

01. Black Sabbath
02. The Wizard
03. Behind the Wall of Sleep
04. N.I.B.
05. Evil Woman
06. Sleeping Village
07. Warning

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OZ (FIN) - Roll the Dice (CD, Black Mark, 1991)


Though not really a huge disaster, "Decibel Storm" was in many aspects the end of the line for Oz, as dwindling album sales were followed by significant line-up changes. The most dramatic departure was of bassist/songwriter Jay C. Blade, who was lured away by an offer to join a promising band based in USA called Princess Pang. Guitarists Speedy Foxx and Spooky Wolff would soon walk out the door too, and who would bet a dime on a tired horse like Oz at this point? Well, it seems that Ape De Martini (now adopting yet another soubriquet, Tapani Anselm) and Mark Ruffneck weren't really willing to accept defeat, and after a long while a stable lineup with Michael Lundholm (G), Fredrik Thörnblom (B) and Jörgen Schelander (K) was secured. The sole surviving product from this collaboration, "Roll the Dice" was a hopeless effort almost from inception, but it does have enough interesting features to deserve a mention, so let's give it at least the courtesy of a proper review.

Not that it is a load of garbage, mind you. The new faces are undeniably competent and the overall musicianship cannot be faulted, so it's not like you're heading for torture when you push the 'play' button. Things start perfectly well with the title track BTW: despite a very dull and unnecessary keyboard intro, the song itself is reasonably strong and presents a charming and catchy chorus. But proceedings get quite monotonous soon after that, with a bunch of songs that does not have much to show and present no truly memorable moments whatsoever. Not to mention the perceivable shift towards accessible waters, a choice that immediately contradicts almost all the good predicates we're used to associate with Oz.

Jay C. Blade may not have been a true genius of innovation, but he sure knew his trade as a songwriter, and "Roll the Dice" suffers from a perceivable lack of creative ideas due to this absence. You soon realize that the riffs are mostly bland and predictable, Tapani Anselm's voice is too soft for its own good (though he sure tried to liven things up with some high-pitched singing in places), the chorus are far from impressive and the keyboards serve no purpose but to tenderize songs that are not that heavy in the first place. Studio production doesn't help matters either, as everything sounds pale and bereft of energy. There's nothing blatantly wrong with tunes like "Lost Generation", "Rock On", "Night Crime" and "Thousand Miles" - but still you won't remember a thing about them after they're gone, as they show no genuine appeal or any signs of real metal substance. Some tunes, such as "Out of Touch" and the aforementioned "Roll the Dice", fare slightly better, but still far from enough to change the feeling of overall dissatisfaction.

After perilously flirting with self-parody, Oz metamorphoses into a decadent form of watered-down heavy metal with no true bite and nothing interesting to say - hardly the most efficient way to resurrect a career, I'm afraid. If few would pay a dime to listen to the former, who would want to have anything to do with the latter? I will give the lads credit for trying their best, but I'm sorry to say they got it all wrong, as I seriously doubt anyone but the most diehard fans of Oz will have this album in high regard. It will therefore cause no surprise to learn that "Roll the Dice" failed to sell in substantial quantities at the time of its release, and soon Oz would realize the writing was on the wall for them. Disbanding was most probably the only choice left after their latest CD flopped into oblivion, and no noise would be heard from Oz for no less than 20 years. A much needed time to regain their metallic strenght, I would add, as their latest activities are more than enough to demonstrate.

Tapani Anselm (V), Michael Lundholm (G), Fredrik Thörnblom (B), Mark Ruffneck (D), Jörgen Schelander (K).

01. Roll the Dice 4:29
02. Lost Generation 3:45
03. Rock On 4:24
04. Midnight Lady 3:56
05. Runaways 3:55
06. Out of Touch 2:55
07. Thousand Miles 3:32
08. Alive 3:24
09. Not Enough 3:56
10. Night Crime 4:39

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sexta-feira, 4 de dezembro de 2015

OZ (FIN) - Decibel Storm (LP, RCA, 1986)


After standing out in the crowd with the brilliant "Fire in the Brain" and cementing their reputation with the mostly interesting "III Warning" (and now under the wing of RCA, a record company more than capable to give the lads a much needed financial backing), it's only natural to assume Oz wouldn't want to rock the boat that much, giving pretty much what their fanbase wanted to hear and not much else. Indeed, if we wish to describe "Decibel Storm" with only a phrase or two, we won't have to go any further than that: Oz playing safe, not-very-complex European 80s metal to make their fans happy. Still, as this LP is widely regarded as the beginning of the end for the Finnish metal merchants, I'm obliged to say that it didn't exactly strike the right chord with the metal scene at the time of its release - and it doesn't sound any better in retrospect either, as it's hardly the most exciting slice of vinyl you will ever hear. Oz done what they were used to do, and still it didn't work out as planned: what went wrong?

Opening song "Eyes of the Stranger" bring some good indications on what's to come. It's reasonably pacey and intense, but does little more than recycling ideas already put to better use in the past (am I the only one or the "Eyes of the stranger, oh woo woo" bit is the exact same formula of "Turn the Cross Upside Down"?). It's like watching a magician pulling the rabbit out of the topper for the umpteenth time: it may still be a good trick, but it simply doesn't work that well anymore. "Starrider" (with one of the most predictable let's-repeat-the-name-of-the-song choruses ever penned) and "Sound of Speed" are as metal-by-the-numbers as they could possibly be, its supposedly intense and fast-paced delivery failing to stand beyond mediocrity. "Black Tattoo" is way worse, a pitifully poor cock-rock bullshit that should never have been committed to vinyl.

But the aforementioned tunes aren't even the real problem, you know. The most detrimental aspect of "Decibel Storm" perpasses the whole album, and it lies in its absolute inability to sound convincing. Maybe "Disaster Dreamer" is the track that best resumes the album's shortcomings: after an immensely dull and unnecessary intro, we have a very average mid-pace heavy rocker with another title-track-turned-into-chorus and without a single hook to grab the listener's attention. And it drags on for nearly 7 minutes! C'mon guys, you used to need no more than 13 minutes to fill the A-side of a kickass LP! One should never move too far away from what one do best, and Oz used to be at its strongest when grabbing you by the neck and saying "bang your head, you bastard". A band like Oz just can't lay off the gas pedal and play safe: it's sounds like cheating, plain and simple. And who would be enthusiastic about a record that never fulfills its promises?

"Teenage Rampage" (originally recorded by The Sweet) is hardly the most typical Oz tune you'll ever hear, but I must admit I have a strange kind of sympathy for it - I don't know, perhaps because it's pretty much the only genuine surprise in stock? "Firestarter" and "Exterminator" are also OK I guess, perhaps in the same league of "III Warning" LP, and "The Show Must Go On" turns out to be quite funny actually, its let's-fake-a-live-show vibe working to good effect and rendering it the most pleasant tune here by far. But it's too little, and a little too late, so no one should be astonished to learn that "Decibel Storm" was the swansong for the most recognizable line-up of the group, their thunder being irremediably stolen by much more forceful and dynamic acts all over Europe and USA. Though not exactly a huge flop, "Decibel Storm" shows a band perceivably running out of steam, and it took a while until they were really ready for another round.

Ape De Martini (V), Speedy Foxx (G), Spooky Wolff (G), Jay C. Blade (B), Mark Ruffneck (D).

01. Eyes of the Stranger 5:58
02. Starrider 4:50
03. Teenage Rampage 3:35
04. Disaster Dreamer 6:40
05. Firestarter 4:30
06. Exterminator 5:35
07. Black Tattoo 4:18
08. Sound of Speed 4:00
09. The Show Must Go On 5:30

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segunda-feira, 16 de novembro de 2015

OZ (FIN) - III Warning (LP, Combat, 1984)


I'm not really sure whether Oz seen this release as a most challenging endeavour after the sheer irresponsible metal genius of "Fire in the Brain" or as, you know, just another album. We tend to romanticize events and create convoluted narratives about things that were quite simple when originally taking place, and perhaps seeing "III Warning" as a difficult follow-up for a seminal release only makes sense now that we already know the full chain of events. Though seen now as a heavy metal underground classic, "Fire in the Brain" did not exactly sell like cold water in the desert at the time of its release, so perhaps the musicians were seeing their third LP as a chance to climb up a few more stairs rather than staying at the top of their staircase, if this clumsy metaphor makes any sense. Actually, I think this standpoint makes a lot more sense when listening to "III Warning" with an inquisitive mind, as it would appear as a somewhat pointless step backwards if simply put under the shadow of what was made first.

"Fire in the Brain" was impressively intense, with a tongue-in-cheek, as-metal-as-it-gets approach that was (if we're to be honest) constantly bordering very cheesy waters, though they sure managed to survive all risks and create a kickass LP to die for. "III Warning" keeps much of the vibe of its predecessor, but also add some slightly more varied elements to the table - a choice that sure makes sense when you're trying to reach a wider audience, which is what they were probably aiming at while writing this album. The opening title-track is perhaps the most accomplished song from the entire record, and it sure shows a band trying to progress without losing identity in the process. It's sure less frantic than they used to be, but Oz expertly uses all the songwriting tricks they had learned in the previous years to achieve a very specific result - that is, to make everybody headbang like mad. This song is just as classic as nearly everything on "Fire in the Brain", but it is so much more by design than by chance, which is just fine I guess. Ape De Martini's singing is very impressive too, something that only enhances the very nice impact of this killer tune.

The problem with "III Warning" (and a shortcoming that would become more evident in following releases) is that this attempt to write more varied stuff perceivably weakens the cohesive element that was much of what gave "Fire in the Brain" its near-irresponsible charm. If energy is your forté, you must hit the nail right on the head every single time so you don't lose pace, and I must say that "III Warning" glaringly stumbles on a few occasions. "Rock 'n' Roll Widow" is a throwaway semi-metal tune that wouldn't be out of place in the band's debut "Heavy Metal Heroes" (and I don't mean it as a compliment), while final song "Total Metal" tries to be anthemic but only turns out to be very cheesy - far from a surprise with a songtitle like that, you know. On the other hand, "Born Out of Time" and "Runner" are not exactly bad, but they just keep things too safe for their own good, being considerably derivative and uninspiring as a result. And when you made something of a name for yourself out of being insanely enthusiastic, playing metal by the numbers is not quite the right way to go next.

Fortunately, the rest of the album is pretty cool. "Crucified", "Samurai" and "Too Bad to Be True" are slightly more complex tunes than the band's previous output, but every bit as strong and exciting as Oz used to be, being more than convincing excuses for some good-humoured, healthy headbanging. Although "III Warning" didn't manage to propel Oz towards premier-league status, it's also nowhere near a real disappointment: it's a pretty decent record with some very strong compositions, that could perhaps have been a true winner with a bit more of quality control. Unfortunately, it was pretty much a downward spiral from that point onwards, but it's still a safe purchase for anyone who enjoys a good dose of 1980's European metal.

Ape De Martini (V), Speedy Foxx (G), Spooky Wolff (G), Jay C. Blade (B), Mark Ruffneck (D).

All music and lyrics by Jay C. Blade

01. Third Warning 05:18
02. Crucified 04:25
03. Runner 04:11
04. Rock 'n' Roll Widow 04:34
05. Samurai 04:03
06. Born Out of Time 05:04
07. Too Bad to Be True 03:41
08. Total Metal 02:48

Thanks a lot to tshirtslayer for picture sleeve photos!

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!

quarta-feira, 26 de agosto de 2015

AHAB (GER) - The Boats of the Glen Carrig (CD, Napalm, 2015)

RATING: ****

Every time I listen to a new album from Ahab, the same idea occurs to me: they're coming closer to the shore they want to reach. They have been proud flagbearers of the funeral doom genre for over a decade, as you all know, and their music consistently progresses with every album - a tendency that "The Boats of the Glen Carrig" happily (well, gloomingly) confirms. Taking their inspiration from a novel written by William Hope Hodgson about a few survivors from a shipwreck who happen to meet with some definitely strange creatures, Ahab's 4th full-lenght album ultimately fails to conjure that indefinable feel of a band's crowning achievement - but it's far from being a problem, as a single listen will prove beyond doubt that they are sailing towards it and there's no stoping them at all.

The contemplative element of 2012's "The Giant" is obviously present here too, sometimes playing a decisive role in the proceedings. You simply won't be able to listen to the almost post-rock parts in "The Thing That Made Search" and take it as a simple moodsetter for the heavier segment, for instance: the intentions of the track are actually equally strong at the both ends of the spectrum. In fact, you have to search into this very gray area created by the contrast between (relatively) clear and (immensely) dark elements to understand what Ahab is trying to achieve. It gets particularly obvious when you take Daniel Droste's vocal delivery into consideration: he still owns a guttural voice that can make your windows shake, but his cleaner register is slowly but inexorably taking over. And it's not a bad thing, you know, as it enhances the atmosphere rather than softening it and brings some truly grandiose elements to the table. They are still to perfect the formula, that's for sure, as songs like "To Mourn Job" are a little bit too predictable for their own good - you will sure have figured out the album's formula by this point, and the explosions of doom rifferama of this particular track lack impact because of that.

But those among you who enjoy doom metal as funeral as it gets have nothing to fear, really. The overwhelming heaviness that is almost synonymous with Ahab is all over this new record, though many riffs are a bit more swift (perhaps "less crushingly slow" would describe it better) this time around. "Like Read Foam (The Storm)" deserves a mention, as it's easily the more upbeat song ever recorded by the group. On the other hand, "The Weedmen" is an immense triumph for Daniel Droste and Chris Hector, with no less than 15 minutes of swirling riffs that seem to have no beginning and no end, and I mean it in a good way of course. An effect that is enhanced by an excellent production job, that always highlight the right details to create an atmosphere that is consistently dense, sometimes even disturbing, but always quite impressive.

Maybe less tolerating doom metallers will miss the more typical (and less sophisticated) approach from the days of "The Call of the Wretched Sea" (2006), which is understandable to a certain degree. But even those who truly love the Ahab of old will probably agree that, despite being truly tremendous, the early recordings of the band are far more effective than original, playing relatively safe within the boundaries of their subgenre of choice. As time progressed, Ahab sailed beyond the mapped area of funeral doom's sea, and this journey finds in "The Boats of the Glen Carrig" its strongest chapter thus far. The Ahab of today is a stronger, more relevant entity that sounds like no one else and bear a flag all of their own. I'm sure they can do even better, and the shores of their magnum opus are still to be reached - but may the spirits of the ocean have mercy on us when they finally fulfill their doom-laden destiny.

Daniel Droste (V/G/K), Chris Hector (G), Stephan Wandernoth (B), Cornelius Althammer (D).

01. The Isle
02. The Thing That Made Search
03. Like Read Foam (The Storm)
04. The Weedmen
05. To Mourn Job
06. The Light in the Weed (Mary Madison)

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!

terça-feira, 18 de agosto de 2015

OZ (FIN) - Turn the Cross Upside Down (EP, Wave, 1984)


I suppose everyone will agree that "Fire in the Brain" was a huge achievement for Oz, taking this Finnish metallers several steps further in the European metal scene. Not that they became world beaters overnight, but the hopeless days of "Heavy Metal Heroes" were put far behind them and Oz looked and sounded like serious contenders from that point onwards. And what would you do after scoring such a magnificent goal, turning a seemingly hopeless scoreline around when no one was expecting it? You play safe, of course.

"Turn the Cross Upside Down" (the EP, that is) is basically an attempt to keep momentum going, not only by recycling two of the finest songs from their previous opus ("Search Lights" and "Gambler"), but also by giving pride of place to a new song that honoured their recent output while giving credible hints of what was to come. "Turn the Cross Upside Down" (the song) starts with pretty epic twin-guitar harmonies before launching into a fast-paced attack that is very likely to put your neck in almost instant motion. Still, it's fair to say they are a bit less frenzied this time around, keeping a fair dose of drive while taking a tad more conservative approach when it comes to speed. The lyrics are not a showcase of poetic subtlety, that's for sure, dealing with satanic imagery in an ultra-clichéd fashion, but the chorus is so damn catchy that you should not be surprised if it stick to your mind for days after listening to it - not that the singalong section towards the end would leave any room for doubt! The songwriting is pretty ingenious, and Ape DeMartini's voice is in great shape, so I must conclude this song turns out victorious in its bloody battle against the lordian guards, or whatever.

The huge impact of "Fire in the Brain" would not be fully replicated by any future releases from Oz - though this humble EP got its share of belated media attention at the early 90s, with some people hinting it was something of a soundtrack for Norway's Inner Circle while burning a few churches... Yeah, a pretty bizarre assumption indeed, but nevermind. In fact, they would slow but consistently slide off the track in future releases, ultimately failing to ever recapture the sheer energy of their strongest record. In retrospect, "Turn the Cross Upside Down" (the EP, and the song as well in a sense) is as short and sweet as "Fire in the Brain" managed to be, serving as a sort of final chapter for a very exciting period in the band's career - one that lasted little more than 30 minutes in total! A fitting way for a band like Oz to reach their pinnacle, if you ask me.

Ape DeMartini (V), Speedy Foxx (G), Spooky Wolff (G), Jay C. Blade (B/V), Mark Ruffneck (D).

01. Turn the Cross Upside Down 4:26
02. Search Lights 3:17
03. Gambler 3:14

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, 9 de agosto de 2015

OZ (FIN) - Fire in the Brain (LP, Tyfon Grammofon, 1983)

RATING: *****

Some bands fail to impress, some bands improve, and some manage to overshadow their earlier efforts in a way that is even difficult to properly describe. No one who lend an ear for 1982's "Heavy Metal Heroes" - a lackluster semi-metal affair with redundant songwriting and a worryingly lack of musical enthusiasm throughout - could have the slightest idea on what was coming next for Oz. After some serious personnel changes, remaining members Eero Hamalainen (V) and Pekka Mark (D) reinvented themselves as Ape DeMartini and Mark Ruffneck, respectively, and infused new life to this Finnish outfit with the twin-guitar attack of Speedy Foxx and Spooky Woff (very mature nicknames, I know). But perhaps the most important change was the presence of Jukka Homi, who assumed all bass duties and the stage name of Jay C. Blade - and who also took to himself the responsibilities for songwriting, something that surely made a hell of a difference.

"Fire in the Brain" is not only a huge improvement on the hopeless mediocrity of their debut album: it's also one of the most intense and exciting records of the entire 80s metal scene, and I mean it. I don't know, maybe a good dose of self-criticism made them realize how uninspiring their previous effort was, and they decided to take the exact opposite road to the bitter end. Comparisons are few and far between: it sure has more than a flavour of NWOBHM to it, with Raven and perhaps Sweet Savage being the more obvious references, but it still has a maniacal element to their music which is all their own and precious few bands managed to achieve ever since. "Athletic metal", perhaps? It hits you hard, and then harder, and then even harder - almost like they mean it personally, almost like they're saying: "You wanted heavy metal, uh? Well, there you have it!"

Maybe "Fortune" is the closest reference to the early days of Oz, being much more hard rock than all-out metal - but it's still way more forceful and enjoyable than anything you can find on "Heavy Metal Heroes", so we're really dealing with a whole different entity around here. "Black Candles" is also a less hard-hitting number, being far more eerie and morbid than the rest of the songs. It showcases a somewhat ritualistic vibe, evoking images of a black mass with almost disturbing efficiency. This is also one of the finest performances of singer Ape DeMartini, so it's not like this song's less-frenzied approach is disappointing or anything: actually, it's one of the finest moments of the entire album.

But we're all here for the fast tunes, right? And oh man, there's a strong enough dose of those to really set your head on fire. The second half of "Fire in the Brain" is a particularly relentless assault, with virtually no time to breathe between tracks - not that I'm complaining about that, of course. Naming highlights is almost an exercise in futility, as the standard is pretty high throughout, but I just love the way "Gambler" (an instant classic, you listen to it once and you'll never forget it, believe me) metamorphoses into "Stop Believing", with perhaps the best rifferama of the entire album (the score the guitars play during the chorus is particularly impressive). Not that you should skip "Search Lights", "Fire in the Brain", "Free Me, Leave Me" or any other song - and not that you will ever want to (I'm positive you won't). No fillers, no prisoners taken, just unapologetic heavy metal to die for.

Don't bother that much with individual songs anyway: the most important asset of "Fire in the Brain" is its exhilarating drive, a true flood of sheer energy that grabs you by the neck and just won't let go. These guys are not interested in conjuring a wide range of emotions: they want you to headbang from start to finish, until you cause some serious neck trauma to yourself - perhaps it's the way they found to fucking kill you, who knows? These guys are insane, I tell you. And that's why this LP is so short, running for a little more than 27 minutes in total: you just wouldn't survive if it was longer. "I'm the fastest, loudest, I'm the greatest - I am the best!", screams Mr. DeMartini at the very end of "Megalomaniac", and I don't think they leave much room for doubt here. Any self-respecting headbanger should add a copy of this one to his or her collection - if you still don't have it, ask no questions and go get it straight away.

Ape DeMartini (V), Spooky Woff (G), Speedy Foxx (G), Jay C. Blade (B/BV), Mark Ruffneck (D).

All songs written by Jay C. Blade, except 2 and 5 by Jay C. Blade / Spooky Wolff.

01. Search Lights
02. Fortune
03. Megalomaniac
04. Black Candles
05. Gambler
06. Search Lights
07. Free Me, Leave Me
08. Fire in the Brain

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! 

sábado, 8 de agosto de 2015

OZ (FIN) - Heavy Metal Heroes (LP, Tyfon Grammofon, 1982)


Some bands take a while to fulfill their promises, as I'm sure you all know. I mean, you don't have to go further than Judas Priest or Deep Purple to find some conclusive evidence that the first album may not always be as groundbreaking as we would like it to be. Sometimes things need time to mature. The Finnish underground legend Oz took their first collective steps to stardom (well, sort of) in rather unauspicious terms with "Heavy Metal Heroes" - an LP that sounds even more pale and unsusbstantial compared with the sheer energy of its sucessor, the immensely enjoyable "Fire in the Brain".

They were a pretty different band of course. Kari Elo (G) and Tauno Vajavaara (B) are competent enough, but both seem to be far away from home in a heavy metal essemble, if you know what I mean. Come on, just take a look at the original front cover and you'll see some seriously non-metallic looks there. They never sound heavy, their contributions never bring any real dynamics to the table, and their lack of enthusiasm is contagious for all the wrong reasons. Pekka Mark (D) keep the beat and not much else, and Eero Hamalainen (or The Oz, his slightly ridiculous stage persona at the time) makes no perceivable effort to liven up such cheerless instrumentation, singing like he's in a boring job and it's only Wednesday afternoon. It was probably a career-saving decision that the latter two became Mark Ruffneck and Ape DiMartini and decided to start things over almost from scratch, as I seriously doubt Oz would ever raise any eyebrows without reinventing themselves as they did.

As for the songs, I think opening track "Hey You" gives a credible warning on what's to come. It's not exactly bad, but how are you supposed to feel electrified when the riffs are played with no heaviness, the singer just mutter the lyrics with zero passion, and the supposedly sing-along chorus is as exhilarating as spending 45 minutes stuck in a traffic jam? It's a particularly frustrating state of affairs, because it's clear for all to hear that the song could fare way better if played with just a little more enthusiasm. You can easily identify NWOBHM as an influence for early Oz, but it's nothing like Raven or Iron Maiden, being way more akin to the hard rocking side of that spectrum - and not a very rapturous one on emulating that, readers take note. A similar verdict can be applied to tunes such as "Capricorn Man", "Second Hand Lady", "Rather Knight", "In the Chains" and so on. There's not a single track that would stick out as particularly bad, but there's no redeeming songs around here either: all we have is a 33-minute ride through tepid, uninteresting semi-metal mediocrity.

That all said, please don't choose this record as an introduction to Oz, as you'll probably dismiss it straight away and risk missing out on at least one excellent album ("Fire in the Brain") and another pretty decent one ("III Warning") by doing so. You wouldn't reccommend anyone to get familiar with Judas Priest by listening to "Rocka Rolla", right? "Heavy Metal Heroes" is one for completists, for those who already love these Finnish maniacs for what they did best and are curious to learn more.

Eero "The Oz" Hamalainen (V), Kari Elo (G), Tauno Vajavaara (B), Pekka Mark (D).

01. Hey You
02. Call from Your Eyes
03. Runnin' the Line
04. Rather Knight
05. Saturday Night
06. Second Hand Lady
07. In the Chains
08. Capricorn Man

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! 

sábado, 4 de abril de 2015

HELLOWEEN (GER) - Helloween (EP, Noise, 1985)


The march of the German pumpkin towards world domination had a somewhat underwhelming start, if we're to be really strict around here. Helloween's input to "Death Metal" compilation in 1984 reached almost legendary status as the years passed by, but the two contributions from the band are far from spectacular: "Oersnt of Life" is full of energy, but suffers from a not-very-solid song structure, while "Metal Invaders" sounds way less impressive than it would be two years later in the "Walls of Jericho" LP. Still, Noise considered there was a fair bit of mileage to get from signing the group, and Helloween were allowed to record some more tracks for the purposes of an EP.

"Helloween" (the mini-album, that is) brings more promises than affirmations to the table, that's for sure, but there's more than enough elements to prove that Noise had done the right thing. If any casual listener presses the play button waiting for some typical melodic power metal to come out of the speakers, I warn you that it's not going to be the case. It was a time when another subgenre - speed metal - was defining its own boundaries, and Helloween made a decisive contribution to it way before the "Keepers" were even an idea to toy with. This speedy input is particularly clear when you listen to "Victim of Fate", where the guitars of Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath show off with almost arrogant dexterity, but also with youthful enthusiasm and energy. When it comes to the instrumental parts of this song, being fast is almost a predicate in itself - and still they keep themselves miles away from overplaying it, as the sense of melody creates one hook after another for great effect. That was, still in development, the strongest side of Helloween: their ability to be very dynamic without ever losing the emotional connection with the listener. From all their earlier efforts, "Victim of Fate" (despite the really cheesy atmospheric section in the middle) illustrates it in the most effective way.

"Murderer" is another song that helped forging European speed metal, with ultra-fast picking and a relentless drive that just never takes a breath - you know, playing drums as intense as Ingo Schwichtenberg used to do is still a challenge, even for the most respectable drummers out there. "Starlight" is also good, but it clearly points to a different direction, more akin with what would later become the trademark sound of Helloween. Though as fast as anyone would expect, it is more of a typical heavy metal song than the others, perhaps like an early Iron Maiden tune recorded on a tape that runs a bit faster than it should. Besides, the intro also shows the band's inclination to humor, being perhaps the very first manifestation of the "happy happy Helloween" spirit. Even though, to be point-blank honest, it's only funny the first time around: after repeated listens, you'll be wishing you could just skip the nonsense straight to the song.

The instrumentation is faultless, as stated above, and Kai Hansen's singing, though highly unpolished and sometimes a bit too raspy for comfort, fits the songs quite nicely most of the time. But it's fair to say that Helloween still had edges to iron out. "Warrior", for instance, is an unspectacular song with a weak chorus that really ruins the listening experience - and the uneven mixing of acoustic parts, fast (but aimless) instrumentation and less-than-impressive choirs in "Cry for Freedom" is almost laughable in places, easily one of the less accomplished songs from the entire Helloween's repertoire. Still, what we have here is a beast taking shape, soon to fulfill its many promises to the bitter end (that is fortunately yet to come, as you all know). Not only a must-have for dedicated Helloween fans, this EP is also a relevant listen for anyone who wants to understand the development of European metal as a whole.

Kai Hansen (V/G), Michael Weikath (G), Markus Grosskopf (B), Ingo Schwichtenberg (D).

01. Starlight (Weikath/Hansen)
02. Murderer (Hansen)
03. Warrior (Hansen)
04. Victim of Fate (Hansen)
05. Cry for Freedom (Weikath/Hansen)

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, 22 de fevereiro de 2015

WARRIOR (UK) - Let Battle Commence (LP, Rainbow Sound, 1980)


I think it's safe to say that Warrior's "Let Battle Commence" LP was one of the very first ultra-collectables of the NWOBHM revival, the scarce copies of their sole vinyl release from 1980 changing hands for impressive amounts of moolah at least since the first half of the 1990s. An early CD reissue by Vinyl Tap in 1994 helped things a little, but it was such a limited run that it also soon became a rare (and somewhat expensive) collectable. But the guys from Chesterfield (not to be confused with at least four other recording acts under the same name doing the rounds in UK at roughly the same time) signed the dotted line for No Remorse, a larger label with more widespread distribution, so I think the CD copies will be enough to finally meet demand this time around.

A well-regarded live attraction in their locality, Warrior decided to finance their debut LP themselves, with a small run of 500 copies being all their emptied wallets could afford to pay. The resulting album shows that the lads were already a strong enough unit, but still needed more time to fully mature as songwriters. The influence of Wishbone Ash is unmistakeable, with all that highly melodic twin-guitar work you can imagine, so don't go for it expecting to hear highly-distorted riffing or huge walls of sheer heaviness. Though in the midst of the British metal explosion, Warrior were mostly a 70's hard rock band, and their association with NWOBHM was much more a matter of timing than anything else. Which is not to say that their sole album is a bad effort, of course.

The production, though not really bad, is as basic as it could possibly be, an approach that probably helped the album to be done quickly but failed to give a distinct sound to the compositions. It's a shame that a promising number like "Warrior" didn't receive a more careful treatment, as I'm sure it could have become quite a powerful track under different circumstances. The songwriting skills of the lads are also a bit wavering at times: a song like "Long Stretch, Broadmoor Blues", though marginally interesting, is more boogie than anything more substantial, and ballad "Memories" is too lame (and even a bit naive) to leave any lasting good impression. I mean, I know damn too well how losing a loved one is a hell of a hard blow for anyone, but the Oh-God-I-can't-believe-that-she-died lyrics are too simplistic to barely scratch the surface of such feelings of grief. Oh well, they were all very young, so let's not be too hard on them.

Fortunately, we also have some good tunes on display, such as great opener "Let Battle Commence" (they really spent some time working on all those guitar leads, I guess), "Yesterday's Hero" (swifts from melancholy to energy with considerable finesse), "Invaders" (perhaps the closer we get to real heavy metal here, though I could easily live without the song's intro) and most of all "Ulster, Bloody Ulster", a heartfelt denouncement about the horrors of Northern Ireland's civil war. If I was kinda harsh with the lyrics of "Memories", I must say we sure have a huge improvement here (the line "the newsman says 'another one dead and Chelsea won one nil'" is truly brilliant stuff), and the song is quite individualistic as a whole.

As we all know by now, Warrior did not last for long after releasing its sole LP, with Dave Hewitt (V) and Kev Barsby (B) soon forming a new venture called Axis. It was also a short lived project, as Dave suffered a nervous breakdown while on stage and decided to quit the music business altogether as a result. Fortunately, he would reconsider, joining Stormwatch as a bassist (a band we're going to review very soon) and now plays industrial music in a project called Sukkerpunch. Kev Barsby is also active, playing in a local act called Bad Penny. The other lads seem to have vanished off the face of the Earth, but I would love to be informed otherwise, so please kindly get in touch if you happen to know better.

All things considered, I would say that "Let Battle Commence" is not the NWOBHM underground classic many still seem to think it is: most of all, it's not even a heavy metal album in the truest sense. But it does have its moments and the music it brings sound pleasant to my ears most of the time, so I think those less obsessed with the canons of heavy metal are likely to enjoy most of the ride. Fortunately, having a copy won't cost you half a month's salary anymore, which is a thing to be celebrated I guess. Music for those who love music, and all that.

Dave Hewitt (V), Steve Allsopp (G), Mick Bannister (G), Kev Barsby (B), Barry Bingham (D).

01. Let Battle Commence
02. Long Stretch, Broadmoor Blues
03. Night-time Girl
04. Memories
05. Yesterday's Hero
06. Invaders
07. Ulster, Bloody Ulster
08. Warrior

Special thanks to Metal Melts the Ice for the CD (Vinyl Tap version) images!

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, 20 de fevereiro de 2015

CRYS (UK-Wales) - Sgrech: Casgliad o Oreuon Crys (CD, Sain, 2006)


It took a while longer than I anticipated (a good couple years, actually), but I finally got my hands in "Sgrech", a compilation that retells the story of Crys, surely the most successful Welsh-language heavy metal band ever (now that's a particular distinction, right?). Those who want to delve into detail may read my previous reviews if they like, but this humble CD is a good enough introduction if you know nothing about Crys and just happen to be curious about them. And it's also interesting for long-time fans (almost all of them living in Wales, I suppose), as there's also a new track called "Sgrech", the only song released by Crys in nearly 20 years now. 

As everyone would expect, the pinnacle of Crys' career - the "Rhyfelwr" and "Tymor yr Heliwr" LPs, released in the early 80s - is generously represented here, with no less than 10 tracks out of the total of 13 songs included. Not a bad move really, as both albums never saw proper CD reissues and probably never will, so I guess this compilation will be the only chance to hear remastered versions of "Pendoncwyr", "Barod am Roc", "Mwg", the excellent "Gwlith Y Bore", "Rhyfelwr", "Rociwch Ymlaen" and other important tunes of the band's repertoire.

As a fan (perhaps the only Crys' fan outside the UK, who knows?), I think that including only "Edrych am Nerth" from 1995's "Crys Roc Cafe" CD was a little too harsh on it ("Cefnogwyr Y Byd", for instance, could have made it onto this compilations without much effort) and the fact they left a song like "Cwrdd a Gofid" (perhaps my all-time favorite from Crys) out of the album is a total disgrace. And it was a nice move to include a song from Crys' humble 7'' single debut from 1980, but why they picked up the predictable "Lan Yn Y Gogledd" instead of the way more forceful and individualistic "Cawd Symud" is beyond me. But one has to make some choices, you know, and I guess they know way better than me what really made a difference in their career, so I'll give them credit for putting this compilation together in the first place.

And what about "Sgrech", the only previously unreleased song around here? Well, it's the first (and only to date) chance to hear new lead guitarist Grant Roberts, who filled the shoes of original axeman Alun Morgan as he was living in Canada at the time of recording. Unfortunately, it may also become a permanent replacement, as Morgan passed away in 2012. The song starts a lot like AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" (come on, you sure know what I mean), soon turning into a typical heavy/rock tune with basic instrumentation and a catchy (yet very simple) chorus. Liam Forde's voice sure matured with time, but still it's perfectly recognizable, and new man Roberts have some aces up his sleeve, delivering some tasty leads and a pretty respectable solo. All in all, a good enough song for such a commemoratory release, though not in the same league of Crys' finest compositions.

I'm not sure if there's any hope for a new album anywhere in the future, as Crys seem to be happy to keep a low profile, getting together at long intervails for a few low-key gigs and not much else. They all have lives outside of music now, and perhaps a full-scale reunion, even if for a small period of time, will never be a worthwhile endeavour for the lads. I mean, the Welsh-language music market is hardly a thriving one nowadays, let alone if you're in a hard/heavy band, so why bother? Still, I'll keep my fingers crossed - who knows, recording stuff is relatively inexpensive these days, maybe they just get the bug for writing music again... That would make me glad, really. 

Liam Forde (V/RG), Alun Morgan (LG), Scott Forde (B), Nicky Samuel (D). Also performed: Caryl Parry Jones (BV), Mark Thomas (G), Grant Roberts (G), Wyn Jones (K), Verden Allen (Organ), Richard Morris (Synth).

01. Lan Yn Y Gogledd (L.Forde, S.Forde) 3:04
02. Roc a Rôl (L.Forde, S.Forde) 4:19
03. Merched Gwyllt a Gwin (L.Forde, S.Forde) 4:23
04. Dyma'r Band Cymraeg (L.Forde, S.Forde, N.Samuel, A.Morgan) 3:50
05. Mwg (L.Forde, S.Forde, N.Samuel, A.Morgan) 4:46
06. Edrych am Nerth (L.Forde) 5:00
07. Gwlith Y Bore (L.Forde, S.Forde) 6:00
08. Rhyfelwr (L.Forde, S.Forde, G.Williams) 8:00
09. Barod am Roc (L.Forde, S.Forde) 3:34
10. Pendoncwyr (L.Forde, S.Forde) 3:25
11. Nos Sadwrn (L.Forde, S.Forde, G.Williams) 3:48
12. Rociwch Ymlaen (L.Forde, S.Forde) 4:31
13. Sgrech (L.Forde, S.Forde) 4:03

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, 13 de fevereiro de 2015

METAL VIRGINS (UK) - Animal People (LP, Thrash Metal Records, 1984)


This is one that surely needs a fair bit of background info to be fully understood. Released sometime in 1984, Metal Virgins' "Animal People" is a record that never really made sense within the NWOBHM bandwagon, being far more suited to the punk rock collecting scene - and it's perfectly justified, as we all now know the album was actually recorded by a punk band called The Accursed. The lads from Kent (UK) had already released two very raw albums in the purest DIY fashion, and their music carries a sort of deconstructive vibe to it, sometimes sounding like a highly improvised and very brutal collision of GBH and psychedelic rock. A description that, as some of you may be aware, could be adequately used for Metal Virgins as well.

The songs that comprise "Animal People" were written and recorded in a small period of time, the trio of Steve (V/G and main songwriter), Gary (B) and Glenn (D) being already busy enough with The Accursed's "Laughing at You" LP that would come out the same year. Needless to say, the resulting album is much more a piece of reckless experimentation than anything more serious, the musicians themselves probably seeing it as a twisted inside-joke and pressing a handful of copies just for the sheer hell of it. They sure tried to associate it with heavy metal, not only by adopting the Metal Virgins alias but also by renaming their Wreck Em Records label as Thrash Metal Records. But I guess you don't need more than the first seconds of the title track to realize that it's pretty much punk rock, no matter how hard they want to state otherwise.

I'll tell no lies to you people: "Animal People" is a bloody mess most of the time. Perhaps the closest comparision would be Venom (though bands like The Blood and Mayhem, the English version, would not be too far off the mark), but you would have to imagine a very punk-oriented and immensely more ramshackle Venom to form an adequate image of Metal Virgins in your mind. Actually, some songs seem to have never been properly finished - I mean, I don't think they rehearsed "Virgins" before recording it, and I seriously doubt they would ever be able to repeat what they did on "Rubber Dolls", no matter how hard they were willing to try. I'm not even sure Steve actually bothered to write the lyrics, as some of it seems to be totally improvised - the obsession with terms such as "fuck" and "shit" is probably not a coincidence, you know.

The lack of knowledge on what heavy metal is all about is clear for all to hear, sometimes with truly laughable results, and the nearly nonexistent production doesn't help matters really. Not to mention the rudimentary guitar histrionics, that come and went without any relation with what is being played by the rest of the band. Some tunes are slightly more accomplished, such as "Get Out" (with a reasonable intro before launching into ultra-fast punk/HC nonsense) and the title track, perhaps the closer we'll get to anything truly related to heavy metal around here. But I reckon that the redeeming features are not enough to justify any money and effort from NWOBHM collectors, so if you happen to be one of them I strongly suggest you to invest your hard-earned cash somewhere else.

Still (and I'm the first to admit how weird this is, considering all that I stated above), I almost like "Animal People" in places: it's all downright clumsy, but there's a lot of youthful energy going on, and their carefree approach is almost charming in a way. I mean, most of us are just too cynical to lay down such a musical racket on tape, let alone to release it as an album, so the fact the trio actually did it comes to show just how much we can shovel our opinions up our arses for all they care. They wanted to spend a few hours in a basement pretending they were a thrash metal band, and there you have it. "Animal People" is not about emulating heavy/thrash music: it's about dismantling it and having a laugh while doing it. I wouldn't say the results are exquisite, but perhaps you can find some fun in listening to Metal Virgins if you're in the right frame of mind. They get a 2-star rating out of their pure swagger, and I think it's fair enough.

Steve (V/G), Gary (B), Glenn (D).

01. Animal People 4:33
02. I'm For Real 4:09
03. Feelings 2:48
04. Virgins 3:26
05. Get Out 4:12
06. Rubber Dolls 3:48
07. Call My Name 3:01
08. Invasion 5:31

Thanks a lot to Discogs for picture sleeve and label images!

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!

quinta-feira, 5 de fevereiro de 2015

THE OATH (GER/SWE) - The Oath (CD, Rise Above, 2014)

RATING: ****

Some lifespans are meant to be very brief, you know, but it's truly amazing just how quickly The Oath came and went. After releasing a nice single in 2013, the duo of Johanna Sadonis (V) and Linnéa Olsson (G) released a very strong self-titled full lenght - and, less than two months after the CD hit the shops, announced that the band was no more. The sudden demise took everyone by surprise, as many simply didn't have the time to listen to the group before it plunged into history, something that rendered "The Oath" (the album, that is) to feel like a near-posthumous effort. It would be a overstatement to say that The Oath (the band) already achieved cult status, but I'm strongly suspicious that doom metal enthusiasts will grant the ladies such a high profile in years to come. And with good reason, readers take note.

The initial riff of opening track "All Must Die" leaves no place for a doubt: The Oath is hugely influenced by old heavy/doom like Angel Witch and Witchfinder General and is not at all ashamed of that. This could be a shortcoming if the songwriters were not creative enough, but it's not the case at all: the song in question is a strong winner, with excellent guitar work and memorable vocals creating an eerie, haunting atmosphere to die for. What an impressive way to kickstart an album. And if it's fair to say The Oath's debut CD does not always live up to the high standard set by its opening number, it's also important to make it very clear: it's a strong record from quite a good band. A very good band indeed.

Lynnéa Olsson is a highly competent guitarist with the right approach for such musical avenues. Her riffs are all very cool, her playing is intense and she has quite a good ear for somber melodies, creating some very dark textures at strategic places. And what a good singer Johanna Sadonis is.  Her voice weaves brooding melodies with sheer conviction, adding almost contemplative overtones to some seriously Satan-obsessed lyrics - and she does all that without ever losing the resolve and swagger needed to convincinly deliver such kind of heavy music (and to sing such lyrical contents without sounding very silly, of course). Simon Bouteloup (B) and Andy Prestridge (D) offer the much needed foundations for the duo to shine, keeping things simple most of the time - though there are some seriously cool basslines here and there, that's for sure. And the straight-to-the-point production is actually very adequate, giving the record a sort of live-in-the-studio vibe that makes everything all the more intense.

Songs like "Silk Road" (a catchy tune with a more rock-and-rolling vibe and excellent vocal performance), "Leaving Together" (this one could REALLY be an Angel Witch song) and "Psalm 7" (slightly closer to sludge territory, but still adequately morbid) are all quite memorable, with nice twists and turns and cleverly crafted to be engaging without getting too complicated in the process. It's not all perfect of course: "Black Rainbow", though mostly a good song, sounds a tad slack-baked to my ears - maybe it just needed a little more time in the oven to get really juicy, if this bizarre metaphor makes any sense to you. And the album loses a bit of steam towards the end, with "Silver and Dust" and "Death Delight" being perfectly acceptable but not much else, if we're to be really strict here. But don't let this pinch of criticism stand in your way: "The Oath" is a truly good album that is sure to take several spins into your CD player.

It's such a pity that this is bound to be the sole release from The Oath, as all those dreary 'irreconcilable musical differences' came earlier than usual for the ladies and we are now left to wonder what it could have been. Still, Johanna Sadonis and session drummer Andy Prestridge joined forces in a new venture called Lucifer (a subtle moniker, that), while Linnéa Olsson is sure to keep things going with Sonic Ritual and Beastmilk, so I guess we'll be hearing more from both in the not-too-distant future.

Johanna Sadonis (V), Linnéa Olsson (G). Also performing: Simon Bouteloup (B), Andy Prestridge (D).

01. All Must Die 6:34
02. Silk Road 4:15
03. Night Child 3:38
04. Leaving Together 6:02
05. Black Rainbow 5:46
06. Silver and Dust 4:50
07. Death Delight 3:17
08. In Dream 2:11
09. Psalm 7 7:13

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!

sábado, 17 de janeiro de 2015

BOLLWEEVIL (UK) - Rock Solid (7'', Ellie Jay, 1981)


It took a remarkably short space of time for Bollweevil to leave a indelible (albeit belated) mark into the NWOBHM conscience. Most scholars agree that their collective existence was a very fleeting one, and the band's actual lifespan may have been limited to a single year in total, or even less. Still, the five-piece proposition from Surrey (UK) went as far as to record a couple tracks and release it as a 7'' single on the small-but-prolific Ellie Jay label. And this humble slice of vinyl (edited, as far as we know, in a very small run of a few hundred copies), though mostly ignored at the time of its release, would soon become a huge deal as soon as the NWOBHM collecting scene stablished itself in around the early 90s. Well, you all know the score from this point onwards: the "Rock Solid" single is a very rare gem that rarely comes out for sale, and it takes considerable amounts of moolah to get hold of a copy in playable condition. But is it that good, you ask me? Well, I guess everyone will have a different opinion, but I would say that the hype around it is mostly justified.

The song "Rock Solid" became something of a obscure classic for NWOBHM addicts, for both musical merits and razor-sharp irony. The production is pretty poor to be honest, with guitars seemingly plugged in a not-very-good home system and a snare drum that seriously sound like a pan - not to mention the very nasal singing of Barry Oaten, that sounds almost like a cartoon character in places. Surprisingly, such shortcomings are not enough to ruin the listening experience - quite the opposite actually, as they render the song in question even more light-hearted and funny. It's a very upbeat heavy rocker with nice guitar leads, ultra-catchy vocal lines and enthusiastic (though considerably brain-dead) lyrics about the pleasures of well, you know, rock 'n' rolling. You could listen to this track many times in a roll without ever get bored, which is quite an achievement when you keep things as simple as Bollweevil do. Flipside "Sands of Time" is a completely different kind of tune: it starts with a sedate, atmospheric intro soon metamorphosing into a mid-tempo, slightly epic composition with quite a forceful drive. Maybe not as memorable (and off-the-wall) as the A-side, but still a cool song in its own right, so it's fair to say Bollweevil's sole 7'' offers a very good return for any collector's money.

Despite being an interesting addition to the NWOBHM universe, it turned out to be a one-off. No further recordings from Bollweevil were ever unearthed (which tends to suggest this was their only visit to a studio) and there's virtually no mention to live appearances at any stage. I guess it's reasonable to think the lads played a few small-club gigs, but they probably never put that much effort into promoting themselves, opting to disband not long after "Rock Solid" hit the shops and swiftly returning to their day jobs. Not surprisingly, no one really know what happened to the guys since Bollweevil became history. Some have hinted that guitarist Steve Spencer hooked up with some indie rock outfits in the mid 80s, included an act called Jeda, but the axeman's name is such a common one that we need some further evidence before taking it as a fact. As usual, any further info on Bollweevil would be greatly appreciated, so if you happen to know anything, please kindly get in touch :)

Barry Oaten (V), Steve Spencer (G), Kevin Bezant (G), Brian Reid (B), John Cope (D).

01. Rock Solid
02. Sands of Time

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!

quarta-feira, 14 de janeiro de 2015

GARBO (UK) - The Dancing Strange (7'', Rarn Records, 1982)


Many dedicated NWOBHM collectors are probably well familiar with Janine, a slightly glam-oriented outfit that released quite a well regarded 7'' called "Crazy On You" (or "Crazy Onion", as some sarcastic listener once pointed out to me in quite a memorable way) before disbanding by early 1982. It wasn't the end of the line for the musicians involved though, and most of them kept their careers going at least for a while. Janine's singer Bob Hamilton, for instance, established a new band called Garbo, keeping the mike stand and also accumulating guitar duties. His old chap Andy Steele (who also took part in Janine for a while) took over the drumstool, and bassist Billy Colvin (another old friend of Hamilton, both formely associated with a youthful act called Necromancer) swiftly joined in, the trio becoming what was soon to be know as Garbo.

What comes next is not exactly a sucessful story - Garbo seemingly lasted for little more than a year with such a moniker - but at least they managed to release an EP to forever remind us of the band's existence. Released by the small Rarn label at the second half of 1982, "The Dancing Strange" is a considerably adventurous record, filled with quirky ideas and a laudable leaning towards experimentation. Actually, I must make it clear that we're not dealing with a pure-blood heavy metal record: Garbo seems to be way more comfortable as a glam rock outfit (the front cover tells no lies, you know) with generous synth rock influences - not the heaviest music you'll ever hear, but still close enough to fit the ever-expanding NWOBHM multiverse.

The title track is a semi-acoustic number with very creative arrangements and catchy backing vocals. The slightly atmospheric middle section breaks the mood quite efficiently while not overstaying its welcome, and it's another highlight on a pretty interesting song. Nice tune indeed. The other remaining songs are not that effective, I think, but are still within the required standards. "Why Don't You Call Me?" is the most unusual when it comes to song structure, and perhaps its many different parts are a bit too much for such a short track (little more than two minutes in total), as it does sound a bit confuse at first. It grows on you after repeated listens, but I would still consider it to be the less accomplished composition here, although far from being really objectionable. "Everyday Hallucinations" brings another simple-and-catchy chorus to the table (Bob Hamilton seems to have been quite good writing choruses BTW, as it was also a highlight in Janine), and it's perhaps the closer we'll get to heavy metal waters around here, though it's more of a Marc-Bolan-meets-The-Damned kind of tune. The bridge to the chorus could be a bit less freakish (the unpredictable can sometimes be a song's undoing, as we all know), but it's a song that sticks to your mind with little effort, so it's sure way more a triumph rather than a flop.

It seems Garbo went under such a name until 1983 at the very latest, then assuming a new identity as Vis a Vis and writing new material more attuned with indie rock than anything more forceful or metallic. Remarkably, Bob Hamilton and Billy Colvin remained a musical force at least until the early 90s and possibly beyond, both being active at the small-club circuit up to this day. It's heartwarming to learn that some talented musicians out there just never give up playing rock, as sometimes people are too focused on pursuiting fame and money and forget that it's all supposed to be fun after all. I'll drink to that. Thanks for all the music, lads.

Bob Hamilton (V/G), Billy Colvin (B), Andy Steele (D).

01. The Dancing Strange
02. Why Don't You Call Me?
03. Everyday Hallucinations

Thanks a ton to Heavy Metal Rarities Forum for audio files and 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!

domingo, 11 de janeiro de 2015

CHALLENGER (UK) - So Sure of Yourself (7'', CMC, 1981)


This little NWOBHM artifact, though not horrendously obscure, is far from being widely acknowledged as a worthy inclusion to the ranks of the movement. Still, I must say I like it quite a lot, and it's too bad these lads from Yorkshire (UK) - whoever they were, as I'm not really enlightened about that at present -  didn't manage to release further singles, as "So Sure of Yourself" (b/w "Out to Kill") presents many promising features.

Seemingly the main focus of attention, "So Sure of Yourself" is a classic rock number with reasonably catchy vocal lines (delivered with a very healthy level of finesse BTW) and a drive not dissimilar to Uriah Heep's "Look at Yourself" (a huge influence here, by the look of things), though the keyboards remind me more of The Doors to be frank. Not the most skull-crushingly metallic song you'll ever listen to in your life, but it's a very pleasant tune with decent instrumentation that will sure appeal to those who have nothing against some classic heavy/rock from time to time. Flipside "Out to Kill" is the most metallic of the pair, with atmospheric arrangements and slightly more prominent guitar work, not to mention far more thoughtful lyrics. Norman Lee Ward seems to have been quite a gifted singer, and the keyboards from Peter Whitford are very creative, going from the gloomy to the almost enthusiastic with interesting results. The production doesn't help matters though, as it takes all heaviness out of the compositions - such a shame really, as I'm sure that specially "Out to Kill" would benefit from a more metal-oriented outlook.

It has been hinted for a while that Challenger would be something of an offshot band, the musicians involved using soubriquets so to conceal their actual identities, supposedly due to their not-remotely-metal musical origins or something. I would not rule out such a possibility, but I don't think it's a very convincing one, though there's precisely zero tangible information regarding any of the musicians involved. Maybe they were just a youthful bunch who never took things that seriously and retreated to the 9-to-5 world not long after their sole vinyl release hit the shops. Whatever the story, I would surely love to know more, as I happen to enjoy the scarce musical legacy from Challenger. If you have any first-person accounts to offer, please kindly get in touch, will you?

Norman Lee Ward (V), John Wakefield (G), Martin Keighley (B),
Alistair Wiseman (D), Peter Whitford (K).

01. So Sure of Yourself
02. Out to Kill

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!