quarta-feira, 27 de setembro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Live at Hammersmith Odeon (Rhino, CD, 2007)


The three brand new (and very inspiring) songs included on "The Dio Years" compilation sure created quite a buzz around the renewed Dio-Sabbath partnership, and the band (now christened as Heaven & Hell so to avoid confusion with the Ozzy Osbourne version of Black Sabbath) concurrently embarked on a very sucessfull tour across the USA, that kept them very busy through the earlier part of 2007. There was still something to come out under the Sabbath logo though, as Rhino acquired the rights for some recordings made in England between 31 December 1981 and 2 January 1982, at the height of the tour supporting "Mob Rules". The tapes, assembled on a single-CD release baptised (quite unimaginatively, but nevermind) as "Live at Hammersmith Odeon", are hardly a landmark moment in Sabbath's career (the very same tour was the subject of the "Live Evil" set in 1982, you know), so there's not much need to write a book-length article about it or anything. Still, the context surrounding its release is interesting enough to justify at least a short comment, and the fact that the contents are mostly very enjoyable will sure make my job easier, so there you have it.

The sound quality is fine, and the mixing is quite competent too, as all instruments are perfectly discernible and you can even hear the keyboards in places, believe it or not. That's quite a change from the muddied "Live Evil", you see, and though I wouldn't go as far as to call it the definitive live album with Dio or anything, it will sure be a more pleasant listen if you take sound clarity seriously. I also happen to find Ronnie James Dio's performances way more enjoyable than before: he still tends to over-interpret all Ozzy-era songs to a great extent, but his voice is delightfully clear and strong throughout, and songs like "Voodoo" and "Children of the Sea" are truly worthy of mention on that front.

The tracklist also brings some curiosities, as it's the very first time that tunes like "Slipping Away" and "Country Girl" appear on a official live release. Both versions are good, but I like the latter better, the delicate guitar harmonies on the intermediate session being surprisingly soothing and charming in a live environment. The obligatory lengthy version of "Heaven and Hell" is also present as expected, and it's one of the highlights of the album, as its many improvisations never get boring and the confidence with which Dio deliver the lyrics is truly remarkable. I know, many people consider the usual subjects of Dio's poetry to be quite cheesy (and I agree with such a notion on a number of occasions), but sometimes the ethereal, fantasy-laden nature of his verses and choruses actually work to great effect, and this tune is undeniably one of such instances. As for the rest of the record, I guess there's no need to further reiterate how memorable songs like "Neon Knights" and "The Mob Rules" are, so rest assured there will be plenty to enjoy while listening to this one.

Not that the concept of a live album from Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio singing was unheard of, you know, but fact is that "Live at Hammersmith Odeon" was a somewhat unexpected success upon its release, with the limited edition of 5.000 copies being sold out almost immediately. As it was never reissued on its original form, it soon became a rare artifact very sought after by collectors, though it is included on its entirely on the 2010's deluxe edition of "Mob Rules", so it's not like you simply can't buy it anymore. It's one for dedicated fans anyway, so I suspect there's really not much need for another run. A more widespread live recording as Heaven & Hell would soon be around though, and there are plenty of things to say about "Live from Radio City Music Hall", that came out only a few months later. As for "Live at Hammersmith Odeon", there's no need to spend a small fortune to buy an original copy unless you're an obsessive completist, but it's a good one to have around for the occasional spin if you find a less expensive way to add it to your collection.

Ronnie James Dio (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Vinny Appice (D), Geoff Nicholls (K).

01. E5150 1:18
02. Neon Knights 4:37
03. N.I.B. 5:16
04. Children of the Sea 6:07
05. Country Girl 3:53
06. Black Sabbath 8:24
07. War Pigs 7:40
08. Slipping Away 3:18
09. Iron Man 7:04
10. The Mob Rules 3:35
11. Heaven and Hell 14:24
12. Paranoid 3:21
13. Voodoo 5:45
14. Children of the Grave 5:05

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!

terça-feira, 19 de setembro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - The Dio Years (CD, Rhino, 2007)


Being a support musician for Ozzy Osbourne would undoubtedly be the dream job for nearly every heavy rock musician around the globe - but such a role gets a whole different connotation when you're Tony Iommi or Geezer Butler, you know. Two of the most important musicians in the entire history of rock 'n' roll, the aforementioned lads would never be contented to just play a handful of shows as Black Sabbath on Ozzfest every year, as turned out to be the case through the best part of a decade, and were eager for a bit of moonlighting whenever possible. Geezer Butler put his "Ohmwork" album as GZR out in 2005, Tony released no less than three solo records as well (all will hopefully be the subject of proper reviews very soon), and both were presumably open to any options back in late 2005, as Ozzy was focused on a new album and there was no prospect for further Sabbath touring on the immediate horizon. The opportunity came in somewhat unexpected terms when Rhino Records shown interest in releasing a compilation culled from the Sabbath albums with Ronnie James Dio, having acquired the rights of such records in the interim. The singer himself seemed very open to work again with his former bandmates, and soon arrangements were made for a few get-togethers in the studio.

Initially named as the drummer for such sessions, Bill Ward shown the first signs of his, let's say, difficult personality and jumped ship even before the sail had started, citing some obscure "musical differences" he never bothered to properly explain. Unwilling to risk losing momentum, the trio just invited Vinny Appice in, effectively reuniting the "Mob Rules" and "Dehumanizer" line-up, and I'm entirely convinced it was the right choice, as many later controversies involving Ward are well enough to testify. This revamped entity later renamed themselves as Heaven & Hell to avoid any confusion - and/or some dreaded lawsuits from the Osbournes camp, as Black Sabbath with Ozzy was still legally an ongoing concern at the time. And, as soon as these talented gentlemen got their feet on the ground, some pretty respectable music came out to make our day.

"The Dio Years" was first conceived as a box set with all Sabbath albums from the Dio period, but the idea was temporarily shelved (it would later come to fruition as "The Rules of Hell" in 2008) in favor of a more compact compilation CD. Those who just never let go of the 70's Sabbath will probably forever disagree, but there's yet another chance for them to realize just how worthy of attention all the albums recorded with Dio are. What we got here is a band that sounds different (less experimental, more concise and, honestly, forceful than most of the Ozzy years), but still is undeniably Black Sabbath through and through - and overlooking it still seems to me as silly as it probably was back in 1980, when the truly classic "Heaven and Hell" LP came out. It's all very enjoyable of course, and the track selection is mostly spot on - I would have let "Turn Up the Night" out and brought "Country Girl" in instead, and "Time Machine" should definitely have made it into the finished product, but that's pretty much it. But there's little reason to exhaustively elaborate upon such already well-know songs, so let's cut the crap and get straight into reviewing the three brand-new compositions here featured, OK?

For starters, let's say that all of the previously unreleased songs ("The Devil Cried", Shadow of the Wind" and "Ear in the Wall") are way better than both "Psycho Man" and "Selling My Soul", the two unspectacular inclusions to the "Reunion" live set in 1998. And it's not a case of badmouthing Ozzy Osbourne or anything, it's just that the band clearly took their time properly writing the songs this time around, rather than just knocking things together at short notice, as it seems to have been the case nine years previously. Both "The Devil Cried" and "Shadow of the Wind" are slower, grinding numbers with atmospheric connotations and riffs aplenty (not to mention some truly nice solos!), delivered with supreme confidence and with some cool (and never intrusive) twists and turns to make things even more interesting - the dramatic ending of "Shadow of the Wind" is no less than outstanding, readers take note. Immensely enjoyable stuff, reminiscent of the most doomy moments on "Dehumanizer" perhaps, but with a charm all of their own. And final track "Ear in the Wall" is a faster, more direct number that could perhaps have benefited from a more memorable chorus, but still holds more than enough good features to be a very compelling listen. All in all, a very strong batch of new compositions, and more than enough to justify every penny spent on buying a copy.

As above stated, the whole project was rebranded as Heaven and Hell even before "The Dio Years" was out, the Black Sabbath name being kept solely for the purposes of this release. It was a wise move if you ask me, as it made clear from the start that the foursome were willing to move beyond their former laurels and do new stuff on a constant basis, and it also offered a good excuse to focus on songs written with Dio when playing live, without anyone among the crowd screaming "Paranoid!" or stuff like that. A nice prospect really, and Heaven and Hell gifted us with some pretty tasty fruits through their (unfortunately very short) lifespan as a band.

Ronnie James Dio (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Vinny Appice (D). Also performed: Bill Ward (D - tracks 1-5), Geoff Nicholls (keyboards - tracks 1-13).

01. Neon Knights 3:52
02. Lady Evil 4:24
03. Heaven and Hell 6:58
04. Die Young 4:44
05. Lonely is the Word 5:51
06. The Mob Rules 3:16
07. Turn Up the Night 3:42
08. Voodoo 4:34
09. Falling Off the Edge of the World 5:04
10. After All (The Dead) 5:42
11. TV Crimes 4:02
12. I 5:13
13. Children of the Sea (live) 6:14
14. The Devil Cried * 6:01
15. Shadow of the Wind * 5:40
16. Ear in the Wall * 4:04
Tracks with * are exclusive to this compilation

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

domingo, 17 de setembro de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Forever Free (CD, Virgin, 1992)


It would be an overstatement to say "Solid Ball of Rock" set the world on fire upon its release, you know, but the mostly positive response was all Saxon needed to know to decide what to do next. Those were difficult times for heavy metal in general, and many bands felt that adding alternative / noisy / grunge leanings to their compositions would be the right move to keep people interested. But, after nearly biting the dust following an ill-fated attempt to become a hair metal band, Saxon sure knew better, and never threatened to wear flannel shirts, sport shaggy haircuts, detune their guitars or anything like that. Thank God. Instead, they wisely chose to keep on playing heavy metal, period - and it was clearly beneficial to their cause in the long run, as soon the persevering metal fans would be seeing them no longer as fallen heroes, but rather as valiant bearers of the flame. "Forever Free", albeit not yet a triumphant return to top form and with a few perceivable flaws to its credit, was warmly welcome by nearly everyone involved with metal at the time - and it's easy to understand why, as it was easily one of the most bona fide, honest-to-God metal releases of those confuse times.

In fact, the flirtations with glam metal that were still hinted in parts of "Solid Ball of Rock" are almost completely gone here, this CD being unequivocally metal through and through - and you don't need more than the opening notes of "Forever Free", the song, to have some conclusive evidence on that. Everything on it is very evocative of the glorious days of the past: from the straightforward song structure to the emotional guitar solos, from the lyrics dealing with romantic images of freedom to the anthemic chorus, every single detail on it wants to bring to your mind fond memories of days gone by, when things seemed less complicated and metal used to be the law. But don't go for it expecting some melancholic balladry or anything like that: it's all heavy, hard-hitting and very enjoyable, setting quite a nice mood for the rest of the record. A great start, that's for sure.

Fortunately, there's a lot more to enjoy on this one. The near speed-metal of "One Step Away" is absolutely brilliant, while "Get Down and Dirty" could be a (good) song from the 80's period AC/DC - not really thoughtful stuff, you see, but quite light-hearted and funny nonetheless. Yeah, I know, they wrote dozens of these from 1985 onwards, but it's actually quite charming this time around and works way better than most similar attempts from the past. "Iron Wheels" is also a winner, a ballad about Biff Byford's father that shows how poignant Saxon can be if given the chance - and it's also a nice way to rescue the lyrics from "Calm Before the Storm" (one of the worse songs out of the very bad "Destiny" album), as most verses on that one are also featured here. It's sure a good thing, as this touching homage are truly put to better use on "Iron Wheels". "Nighthunter" (fast and furious) and "Can't Stop Rockin'" (catchy) are also nice enough, so I guess there's more than enough good stuff here to please the headbangers.

There are some minor letdowns too, mind you. I'm afraid "Grind" just don't work as planned if you ask me: I see, they wanted to do something a tad more funky to give the album a bit of variety, but it's not something that is going to take you to the dance floor or anything, so what's the point in playin' funky music if no one's going to groove on it, white boy? "Hole in the Sky" have some pretty strong guitar work throughout, but I don't like the chorus at all: the song's strong build-up hints to something really explosive, then an overly-melodic "a hole in the sky, can't you seeeeee?" comes out of the speakers and I feel like magic's lost every single time I listen to it. "Cloud Nine" is OK I guess, but nothing too memorable, and Saxon's version to Willie Dixon's "Just Wanna Make Love to You" is serviceable enough, but not much else. Extra points of minor dissatisfaction goes to the production, with guitars that sound muddy on some numbers and screechy on others - and I would have enjoyed a more careful approach to Biff's voice in the mix, which is actually kinda odd, as the man himself is one of the minds behind the recording desk!

Considering the whole scenario around this release, I'd say that "Forever Free" turns out to be a further step in the right direction: I can't imagine anyone placing it as a favorite album from Saxon, but this offering made a clear point on their ongoing rehabilitation and sure stroke the right note with the band's faithful. It's a somewhat uneven effort just as "Solid Ball of Rock" before it, but both records had more than enough to spread the world around: Saxon were back, maybe not with a vengeance just yet, but no longer embarassing themselves with half-assed pop metal tunes that no one ever really wanted to hear in the first place. There would soon be further turmoil in the band's camp, when a series of odd developments led to a very acrimonious split with guitarist Graham Oliver just after the release of following album "Dogs of War". But it's the music that matters, you see, and Saxon never strayed out of the road ever since, so I guess "Forever Free" deserves a 3-star rating to symbolize its historical place in the band's discography.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Tim 'Nibbs' Carter (B), Nigel Glockler (D).

01. Forever Free 5:00
02. Hole in the Sky 4:44
03. Just Wanna Make Love to You 3:57
04. Get Down and Dirty 5:08
05. Iron Wheels 4:15
06. One Step Away 4:59
07. Can't Stop Rockin' 4:05
08. Nighthunter 3:25
09. Grind 4:26
10. Cloud Nine 4:35

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!

segunda-feira, 4 de setembro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Past Lives (2 CD, Sanctuary, 2002)


Not a single sane mind on Earth would qualify the original Black Sabbath reunion as a turkey, you know, but I'm afraid it was a mostly disappointing endeavor to be honest, delivering way less than its original promise. Virtually no new music came out of the quartet at first (only the two bonus tracks on the "Reunion" 2-CD package, and both hardly impressive if you ask me), and the band soon became little more than a staple in Ozzfest year after year, something that would be demeaning to the Sabbath name to a great extent. C'mon, these guys are trailblazers of heavy metal as we know it, and one would expect them to return as way more than just a support band for Ozzy Osbourne when he feels like singing old tunes from the past. It wasn't atrocious, see, but many fans felt very frustrated by this state of affairs, including myself. Considering this scenario, "Past Lives" was pretty much a cash-grab, something to keep the ball rolling in between USA tours and not much else, though I can understand that the chance to finally release the old "Live at Last" recordings in a more legitimate package was very tempting for the lads (please kindly read the review in question to see how illegitimate the whole thing was in its original form).

Actually, the first CD from this edition is a remastered version of the "Live at Last" LP, with no changes in the running order and no further additions from the original shows, as all master tapes presumably got lost in the interim. It sounds better, of course, but there's very little to be said about the tracks here featured, the contents being of real significance only for those who still didn't own the original album (or one of its many reissues, for that matter). With that said, the main points of interest will undoubtedly be available on CD 2 - though most of these recordings have already appeared on earlier bootlegs and will hardly shock obsessive collectors in terms of novelty or scarcity.

For those who never bothered to delve too deep into the never-ending unofficial catalogue of Sabbath, though, there's pretty interesting inclusions on disc two, specially the ones captured in New Jersey 1975, during the tour to promote "Sabotage". You'll hardly have another chance to hear contemporary live renditions of songs like "Hole in the Sky" and "Symptom of the Universe", so these inclusions alone are enough to justify the effort to locate a copy - though Ozzy's performance on "Megalomania" is far from top-notch, to an extent that he simply gives up altogether on singing it in key towards the end. Hardly the most enjoyable vocal performance ever captured on digital format if you ask me, but nevermind.

Taken from the fabled performance at the Olympia Theatre in Paris on December 1970 (the earliest good-quality recording of a Sabbath show known to exist), tunes like "Hand of Doom" and "Iron Man" are also of interest, not only for its historic value, but also for presenting considerably different lyrics from the canonical album versions. Maybe it was only Ozzy botching it, you know, but I kinda doubt it, as he seems mostly very confident and steady while doing so. Who knows? Whatever the story, all recordings are mostly good enough - the rough edges in it are very prominent, and even some glaring sound fluctuations are perceivable in places, but these are recordings from a time when high-quality equipment was not easily available (not to mention very expensive), so let's be grateful that these documents for posterity even exist in the first place.

I would not at all be inclined to describe "Past Lives" as a must-buy for the average metal fan, but it gets some extra points for historical relevance, doing just enough to achieve 3-star territory in my book. With that said, this 2-CD package hardly set the world into wild frenzy upon its release, and the lack of relevant input from Black Sabbath got more and more disquieting as years went on. While waiting for Ozzy Osbourne to record a new solo album in 2006, his third in a row while Sabbath was pretty much his side project (I don't want to be too nasty on the man, mind you, I still love him from the bottom of my heart), Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler decided to rejoin forces with old mates Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice, at first only to record a few brand-new songs for the upcoming "The Dio Years" compilation. But old habits never die, and soon they would all be adjusting their agendas for tentative recording and rehearsal sessions, an arrangement that soon took shape in a new proposition called Heaven & Hell. Not Black Sabbath in name, but surely in spirit, and some pretty interesting developments took shape from such partnership, as I hope to explain on future instalments of the series.

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

CD 1
01. Tomorrow's Dream 3:03
02. Sweet Leaf 5:26
03. Killing Yourself to Live 5:29
04. Cornucopia 3:57
05. Snowblind 4:46
06. Children of the Grave 4:33
07. War Pigs 7:36
08. Wicked World 18:55
09. Paranoid 3:14

CD 2
01. Hand of Doom 8:25
02. Hole in the Sky 4:46
03. Symptom of the Universe 4:52
04. Megalomania 9:53
05. Iron Man 6:25
06. Black Sabbath 8:23
07. N.I.B. 5:31
08. Behind the Wall of Sleep 5:03
09. Fairies Wear Boots 6:39

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!

sábado, 2 de setembro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Reunion (2 CD, Epic, 1998)


The concept of reuniting classic line-ups for the purposes of a tour and/or studio recordings have probably been around since the dawn of time, but it sure wasn't that worn out back in 1997, you see. Yeah, you can hark back to Deep Purple in the 80s, but there's not much else to mention on that front before the original Black Sabbath rejoined forces in 1997: Iron Maiden still had Blaze Bayley as a singer, Judas Priest were still to release "Jugulator" with Tim 'Ripper' Owens up front, Guns n' Roses weren't even formally disbanded at the time and oh well I guess you'd catch my drift. When the classic Iommi-Ward-Butler-Osbourne formation first announced their return, it was a tremendous thing for the heavy metal universe, and the expectations for any official products of such get-together were understandably huge. Recorded mostly in early December, on two consecutive dates at Birmingham's NEC Arena, "Reunion" is also of great interest by showcasing two brand-new compositions, the very first the iconic team recorded together in nearly two decades, and it's undoubtedly more than enough to set all fans falling over themselves to buy a copy. And though I'm about to raise some criticism on many aspects of this record (yeah, I know, I never learn), it's still an extremely significant piece in the history of heavy music, and it deserves a careful observation by anyone with even a passing interest on the genre.

The sound quality is obviously excellent throughout the 2 CD set (though I would surely have enjoyed to hear the basslines with a fatter, more sludgy mix), as such a high-profile event would never be the subject of an uncaring, shoddy production, so let's not delve on it too deep and proceed straight to the show itself, shall we? And what I'm about to state may seem a tad absurd to some readers, so I'd rather get to it straight away: there's a bit too much of Ozzy Osbourne here, which is to say that there's a little less Black Sabbath than it should. Calm down, don't go away just yet, please let me try to explain what I mean.

Let's start by taking a closer look to "War Pigs", the very first song here featured. It's perhaps the most important song in the history of heavy metal, and it stars promising enough: the air raid sirens, the groovy bass, the guitars setting the ominous mood quite nicely. Then the Madman starts singing it, and he does it like it's one of the anthemic tunes of his solo career, not one of the most morbid monsters from the whole Sabbath catalogue. He want to see people's hands in the air, he asks the audience to sing with him, to scream louder... c'mon, it's not supposed to be a good time, it's a song about people dying in battle and warmongers being doomed to hell, goddamn it! There's a sort of solemnity you'd expect while listening to "War Pigs", a bit like being in a ritual really, and it's mostly ruined by the God-bless-you-we-love-you-all approach Ozzy brings to the table - and let's face it, lines like "ashes where the bodies burning" and "poisoning their brainwashed minds" are hardly the most adequate ones to ask a crowd to sing along. And don't get me started on that final lead, simply the best theme ever written for a heavy metal guitar and here regrettably marred by Ozzy's ill-fated idea to provoke a "oh-oh-oh" accompaniment by the crowd. I love you, Oz, but don't ever do that again, I beg you.

Though never as uncomfortable as "War Pigs", similar shortcomings are prominent on a number of occasions. I mean, just imagine Ozzy sayin' "I can't fucking hear you! Louder! This is a song called Electric Funeral" and perhaps you'll grasp just how disparate from the musical contents some of Ozzy's interventions are. Fortunately, most of his singing is really cool, and hearing his voice on tunes like "Behind the Wall of Sleep" and "Into the Void" is like coming home really, as maybe he's the only person on Earth really able to do them justice. "Black Sabbath" is also a highlight, just as frightening as it's supposed to be, but trained ears will easily perceive the high amounts of studio magic applied to keep Ozzy's voice in tune on this one, a trickery most evident towards the end of the show (just listen carefully to "Iron Man" and "Paranoid" and you'll see what I mean).

Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are loud and evil as expected, and Bill Ward does mostly a nice job as well, not as brilliant and untamed as in his prime perhaps, but pounding his drumkit with undeniable competence and also keeping the slow-and-steady pace so necessary to give most Sabbath songs their unique, gloomy vibe. I'm also glad to say that the repertoire goes beyond the usual (and let's face it, truly unavoidable) collection of classics, with tunes like "Spiral Architect", "Dirty Women" and "Lord of this World" being unexpected (and very welcome) inclusions to the set. To my personal dismay, it was the very first time "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" appears in abridged form, and it hurts my soul really, as it's easily one of my personal favorites from the entire Sabbath's repertoire, but I guess I'll just have to deal with it.

As for the new songs, I must say that none of them caused me any lasting impression at the time of the album's release, and now that many years have passed, I still fail to find anything truly remarkable going on. There was a rumour going around at the time that these songs were leftovers from the "Ozzmosis" sessions, reworked by Tony Iommi to sound a bit more like typical Sabbath. I'm not sure if such speculation holds any water, you know, but "Psycho Man" sounds a lot like an Ozzy Osbourne tune to be honest, even with an harmonized chorus that, albeit cool enough, isn't really what I would expect from Sabbath, if I'm to be honest here. Not bad really, but far from remarkable nonetheless. "Selling My Soul" is way more direct, even a bit clumsy in places, and seems to have been knocked together at very short notice, but I must say I like the riffs better on this one, at least. Unfortunately, it also shows the first signs of Bill Ward's physical decline, as his parts on it were deemed too out-of-time for usage and replaced by a drum machine, which only adds to the generic, not-very-impressive results.

All things considered, and despite its shortcomings, "Reunion" is a curious enough souvenir for Sabbath fanatics, and it sure created a wild anticipation for further releases from the lads, most of all a brand-new studio album. Sadly, that would not be the case for a long time: attempts to record new songs in 2001 didn't come to fruition as planned, the resulting compositions never properly finished and finally shelved for the time being. For almost a full decade, Black Sabbath reduced themselves to be a yearly feature on Ozzfest and not much else, a state of affairs that was truly disappointing if you consider the great expectations surrounding the whole shebang at first. I never wanted to see Iommi and Butler reduced to side-men for the Osbourne family's endeavors, you know, and Bill Ward's deteriorating health would keep the man away from many of these outings, making things all the more frustrating. I mean, these guys are more than entitled to do whatever the hell suits them, and I'm the first to admit it - but it would take a long time (almost a decade, to be more precise) until Black Sabbath's name would be associated with something really exciting once again, when good old Ronnie James Dio stepped into the picture to have a final bite at the cherry.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D). Also performed: Geoff Nicholls (K).

CD 1
01. War Pigs 8:28
02. Behind the Wall of Sleep 4:07
03. N.I.B. 6:45
04. Fairies Wear Boots 6:19
05. Electric Funeral 5:02
06. Sweet Leaf 5:07
07. Spiral Architect 5:40
08. Into the Void 6:32
09. Snowblind 6:08

CD 2
01. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath 4:36
02. Orchid / Lord of this World 7:07
03. Dirty Women 6:29
04. Black Sabbath 7:29
05. Iron Man 8:21
06. Children of the Grave 6:30
07. Paranoid 4:28
08. Psycho Man 5:18
09. Selling My Soul 3:10
(new songs written by Osbourne/Iommi)

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!

terça-feira, 29 de agosto de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Solid Ball of Rock (CD, Virgin, 1991)


After spending over two years with not much to lean on, relying on intermittent touring and a couple live albums to make a living, Saxon finally reached a contract agreement with Virgin in 1990, something in no small part helped by the encouraging results of the "Greatest Hits Live!" package earlier that year. After securing a much-welcomed financial backing for the immediate future, the time was right for a whole different challenge for Saxon: recording a string of albums strong enough to sweep aside the bad memories left by previous flops and get the band back in the game for good. "Solid Ball of Rock", the first studio product of such endeavour, may not be the triumphant return to top form some were eagerly expecting, but it surely set the quintet in the right direction and made a clear point that all ill-fated attempts to deliver pop-tinged, watered-down hair metal tailored for MTV would be ancient history for the time being.

The importance of new bassist Nibbs Carter in reinvigorating Saxon's career should never be understated. Not only he filled Steve Dawson's shoes quite effectively in the live environment, but he took to himself the lion's share of songwriting as well, being the main responsible for the songs on "Solid Ball of Rock" and keeping a very significant input on the composition side of things ever since. No less than five out of the eleven tracks here featured were written solely by him, and he also helped to complete another three tunes. It seems that the other guys were still burned out by the vicissitudes of the not-enough-distant past, and good kid Carter took this state of affairs as a challenge rather than a hindrance, immediately positioning himself as a force to be reckoned within the band. And you can listen to it throughout the record too, with some truly interesting basslines and a strong presence in the final mix. He meant business, you see, and there's no denying the goods were mostly delivered on this one.

The CD starts nice and catchy enough with the title-track (written by Bram Tchaikovsky, of all people), a song with undeniable influences of AC/DC and a cool, memorable chorus. But you have to listen to the speed-metal riffing of "Altar of the Gods" blowing out of your speakers to fully grasp the extent of Saxon's recovery. It's easily the most aggressive song they'd wrote in years, and, though not the most remarkable piece of songwriting ever committed to tape, it was quite a breath of fresh air after all the misery their loyal fans had to endure. Similarly, tracks like "Lights in the Sky" (a song about UFOs, mind you, as perhaps all the themes involving aeroplanes and motorcycles were exhausted by then) and "Baptism of Fire" show Saxon at their most hard-edged in years, both carefully crafted to headbang all doubts away from the hearts of faithful fans.

Though not as forceful as the aforementioned trio, "Requiem (We Will Remember)" is an undisputed highlight as well, a moving homage to fallen rock 'n' roll heroes like Phil Lynott and Bon Scott that almost rivals "Broken Heroes" as the most touching song they ever penned - and that's quite something, believe me. And "Refugee" is also very interesting, a slow number that never gets boring thanks to well-crafted melodies and a heartfelt performance from Biff Byford. Quit all those awful saccharine ballads from the past for good, lads, that's the emotional stuff we want to hear from you!

Not all songs fare that well, and sometimes things veer worryingly close to the easy-listening-metal of previous albums (not that it was at all easy to listen to it, you see), as in "I'm On Fire" and "I Just Can't Get Enough" - the latter seemingly a leftover from the "Destiny" days, which is hardly a promising thing if you ask me. Though far from objectionable, "Crash Dive" (quite impressive basslines on this one BTW) and "Ain't Gonna Take It" serve little purpose but to fill up the space required for a full length release, being mostly forgettable as soon as the album is over. With songs written on disparate moments during a considerably large period of time, it's no surprise that the album sounds a bit disjointed in places, and Good soldier Nibbs Carter went as far as to record no less than two instrumental cuts ("Overture in B-Minor" and "Bavarian Beaver") as an attempt to glue things together more efficiently. It works to a certain degree, but I'm sure the musicians would have enjoyed a bit more time to test ideas before being rushed into the studio.

Still, and despite these shortcomings, "Solid Ball of Rock" is a pretty decent release as a whole, and its release sure sparked a flame of renewed optimism into the hearts of many fans. This record never threatened to rival the amazing classics released during the early 1980's, but it was arguably the most effective and enthusiastic set of songs they put together since "Power & the Glory", and the encouraging reception it garnered sure convinced the bums from Barnsley that they had a good thing going after all. It would take a few more CDs to solidify their newfound conviction and fully regain the respect of the metal fraternity, but Saxon were finally back on track - and this alone makes "Solid Ball of Rock" a worthwhile investment for anyone with more than a passing interest for NWOBHM and old school metal in general.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Tim "Nibbs" Carter (B), Nigel Glockler (D).

01. Solid Ball of Rock 4:35
02. Altar of the Gods 3:30
03. Requiem (We Will Remember) 5:16
04. Lights in the Sky 4:03
05. I Just Can't Get Enough 4:34
06. Baptism of Fire 3:08
07. Ain't Gonna Take It 4:47
08. I'm on Fire 4:24
09. Overture in B-Minor / Refugee 5:42
10. Bavarian Beaver 1:40
11. Crash Dive 4:21

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, 27 de agosto de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - The Sabbath Stones (CD, I.R.S., 1996)


Have you ever heard of Paul C. Mawhinney? It's a great story, really. He used to own a record store in the USA called Record-Rama, that would sell and buy all kinds of music - and Mawhinney, an ardent collector, would keep a copy of every single slice of vinyl he ever sold. In the early 2000's, he had amassed over 3 million items, arguably the largest particular record collection in the world at the time. But large retailers and p2p downloading squeezed Record-Rama out of business, and health issues forced Mawhinney to list his collection for sale. It took him many years to find a buyer, so he sold portions of his archive to unknown individuals before Zero Freitas, a Brazilian collector who has over 8 million records in his possession and reportedly intents to create a museum out of it, came out and splashed the cash to have the remaining stuff. After finally selling such an impressive catalogue, Paul Mawhinney became a very rare type of human being: an ex-collector. In fact, he is probably the greatest ex-collector in the whole damn world. Selling over 3 million pieces you took a lifetime to gather - just think about that.

Why am I saying all this? Well, first of all because I thought it would be funny and enlightening enough to justify the effort, but also because I feel it would be an illustrative metaphor to the sheer irrelevance of this compilation from Black Sabbath. Given the release date, I'm almost entirely convinced Mawhinney owned a copy of "The Sabbath Stones", and I'm also pretty sure Zero Freitas must own at least one piece too, gathering dust in a warehouse or something. Still, I'm willing to bet all my chips that none of the two ever gave a single spin on this album, simply because there never was any reason to do so - and this is what I think will happen to you, dear reader, if you ever bother to add this one to your (probably way way smaller) collection.

I wasn't even going to review this one, you know. But it served an important purpose in Sabbath's chronology, as it fulfilled pending contract obligations with I.R.S. and allowed the much-anticipated reunion with Ozzy Osbourne to become a reality, so I finally decided it deserved at least a mention around here. But the futility of such a release is otherwise inexcusable, you see: not only it restricts its scope to the mid-80s period onwards (a notoriously difficult and uneven period in Sabbath's run), but also seems to have been compiled at random, as no credible criteria will justify inclusions such as "Guilty as Hell", "Evil Eye" and "Heart Like a Wheel", to name a few. These tunes were no standouts even in the original albums, let alone in such an impromptu compilation like this one.

One would perhaps be inclined to say it's one for completists, but what good such a collector can get from buying it? No outtakes or alternate mixes, no remastering, the liner notes are dull and riddled with mistakes, and all this housed within a pretty atrocious artwork that was probably finished 15 minutes before printing. "Loser Gets it All" is the sole focus of interest here, as it was originally released only in Japan as a bonus for "Forbidden", and it's a decent tune that should have made it into the standard album if you ask me. But it's probably easier to locate a Japanese version of the original CD than tracking down this compilation, believe it or not (it was never officially released in the USA, for instance), so the wisdom of purchasing "The Sabbath Stones" remains largely in question.

I'll give it a 2-star rating on musical merits alone, as an album with "Headless Cross", "The Shining" and "TV Crimes" cannot be treated with complete derision, no matter how second-rate the package is. But only those really obsessed with Black Sabbath should spend any money on it, and it's a sad state of affairs when the idea of having a full Sabbath collection is the only thing that can possibly justify such an investment. It's the downside of being a collector, you see: some (or many) items will be there just to fill space, and the fact that you know it beforehand makes the purchase even less appealing. To each his own, I guess.

01. Headless Cross 6:32
02. When Death Calls 6:57
03. Devil & Daughter 4:43
04. The Sabbath Stones 6:48
05. The Battle of Tyr 1:08
06. Odin's Court 2:42
07. Valhalla 4:41
08. TV Crimes 4:01
09. Virtual Death 5:46
10. Evil Eye 5:57
11. Kiss of Death 6:09
12. Guilty as Hell 3:30
13. Loser Gets it All 2:57
14. Disturbing the Priest 5:49
15. Heart Like a Wheel 6:37
16. The Shining 5:55

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!

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Forbidden (CD, I.R.S., 1995)


Let’s start this review by giving Mr. Tony Iommi a deal of credit where is due: to keep Black Sabbath as a living entity for the best part of three decades, the axeman had to weather the worse out of many storms, and still he made a reasonably good job of it most of the time. He sure had to hear a lot of reproaching through the years (from all the other original members, for instance), but the man would just move on with a brave face, facing all adversities album after album, tour after tour. I respect him for that, you see. But sometimes you just drop the ball, and that’s exactly what happened on “Forbidden”. Not only the poorest studio release from their entire discography, it’s also the portrait of a band without a soul, a project that was incongruent to such an extent that no one really knew what to make of it, incluiding the band members themselves.

To fill the blanks left when Bobby Rondinelli and Geezer Butler jumped ship in 1994, Iommi convinced both Cozy Powell and Neil Murray to return, effectively reuniting the line-up responsible for “Tyr” back in 1990. It was a very commendable sign of loyalty, and it shows just how fond of that not-really-successful album the mainman was, but it’s hardly what the fans were expecting to hear – and it even gets uncanningly close to unintentional humour when you consider that Iommi masterminded this low-profile reunion in a time when everyone was hoping for the other reunion, with Ozzy Osbourne on the mike stand. Overwhelmed by professional obligations elsewhere, both Powell and Murray had very little input during the rushed songwriting process, while the trio of Tony Iommi, Tony Martin and Geoff Nicholls found themselves struggling to come up with usable ideas. And things went from bad to worse when someone came with the idea of injecting new life into Sabbath’s sound by asking the guidance of some guys from rap metal outfit Body Count…

See, it’s not that I hate Body Count’s music at all (I actually enjoyed some of their earlier songs when it came out, to be honest), it’s just that the whole idea was pointless from the start, like asking Freddie Mercury to produce a Bob Dylan album or something. Opening track “The Illusion of Power”, presenting Ice-T as co-writer and guest singer, is one of the least accomplished tunes Black Sabbath ever recorded, a mishmash of doomy riffing with inane, misanthropic lyrics, semi-rap singing by Tony Martin (seriously) and a pretty annoying chorus – not to mention the growling voice of Satan himself at the end, perhaps taken straight from a 1990’s low-budget horror movie! And it sounds even worse with the completely wrong approach Ernie C brought into the production, with a uncaring, one-take-and-that’s-it attitude that made the record sound shoddy and thin, the glaring disregard for the drums being a special low point – seriously man, it was goddamn Cozy Powell playing there, he sure deserved a better capture and mix. “Rusty Angels” is particularly atrocious, as some of its more delicate melodies are muddied beyond recognition and the guitar solo seems utterly out of place, like it was lifted from another song and just thrown in to make the numbers. It sounds downright awful, and it’s such a shame really, as this is one of the least questionable tunes on a very poor batch of compositions, and perhaps would provide a pleasant listen under different circumstances.

Oh well, “Get a Grip” is OK I guess: though the main riff is lifted from “Zero the Hero” (once again, BTW), it’s a mostly engaging composition with a charming chorus, and the speed-up towards the end is perhaps the only chance Cozy Powell gets to roll up his sleeves and put his magic drumsticks to good use. “Sick and Tired” is also decent, a bluesy tune that wouldn’t be out of place on a Whitesnake album, with nice vocals from Martin and a pretty cool solo. But those are but drops in an ocean of mediocrity and ill-conceived ideas, really: “Shaking Off the Chains” is no less than a bloody mess, while “I Won’t Cry for You” is a very weak attempt to write a power ballad and “Can’t Get Close Enough” tries to be an emotional mid-tempo rocker, but only manages to be downright annoying, I’m afraid. Songs like “Guilty as Hell” and “Kiss of Death” are not outrageously bad or anything, but suffer from a distinct lack of imagination, and the title track is such a poor rehashing of worn-out, allegedly forceful ideas that I’d rather forget it even exist, if you don’t mind.

Everything on “Forbidden” sounds half-hearted and rushed, like everyone involved just wanted to get rid of the damn thing as fast as they could, and that’s exactly what happened right after its release. After just a few months of touring (with Bobby Rondinelli lending a hand on drums towards the end, as Cozy Powell made an extended leave citing health issues), Tony Iommi unceremoniously disbanded the whole affair, mentioning his plans to record a solo CD. As we all know by now, the reunion with Ozzy Osbourne was also long in the works, and it would finally come to fruition in 1997, not before an album’s worth of Iommi’s solo material was recorded (and later shelved). As for “Forbidden”, nearly all musicians involved ripped it to shreds in later years, so I don’t feel we should contradict them by implying it’s any sort of underrated classic, you know.   Tony Iommi has long stated his intention to remaster the whole thing, and perhaps a better sound could highlight some minor merits hidden beneath the grooves, but make no mistake: “Forbidden” is a very poor release, the worst Sabbath album with little room for a doubt, and its redeeming features are too scarse to change this status.

Tony Martin (V), Tony Iommi (G), Neil Murray (B), Cozy Powell (D), Geoff Nicholls (K).

01. The Illusion of Power 4:51
02. Get a Grip 3:58
03. Can't Get Close Enough 4:27
04. Shaking Off the Chains 4:02
05. I Won't Cry for You 4:47
06. Guilty as Hell 3:27
07. Sick and Tired 3:29
08. Rusty Angels 5:00
09. Forbidden 3:47
10. Kiss of Death 6:06

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, 25 de agosto de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Cross Purposes Live (CD, I.R.S., 1995)


After creating quite a buzz around themselves by sharing a stage with Ozzy Osbourne on the two final dates of his "No More Tours" (oh yeah, who would have guessed), Black Sabbath managed to confuse everyone by reuniting with the other ex-singer instead, namely Tony Martin. I guess everyone involved kinda knew it was bound to fail from the start, since not a single metalhead on Earth would be reasonably inclined to say "cool, Martin is even better than the Madman himself, I'll take him" and so on. Still, I respect them for trying, and "Cross Purposes" have its moments, you know - though such a reasoning will hardly justify the release of "Cross Purposes Live", a filler if there ever was one, a live CD-plus-VHS package that makes little sense into the band's discography, and is also far from capturing the group in the best possible light. Live albums and Black Sabbath are dangerous when put together, as I once said.

The sound quality is mostly pretty decent, and the mixing is perhaps the best a live Sabbath album received up to this point, with all instruments clear and balanced all through the CD - you can even hear the keys from good old Geoff Nicholls on a number of tracks! The repertoire is also interesting enough, with a good mixture of old classics and recent compositions, adding some unexpected curios in to make things even more appealing. It would therefore be silly to dismiss this record as a toxic waste you should avoid like the plague, as it holds enough features to make it at least remotely interesting. But a live album is about delivering the goods, you know - it is supposed to sound tight and powerful, to grab you by the neck and make you feel like being right there, singing and cheering and sweating and having a good time. And there is precisely where "Cross Purposes Live" falls flat, I'm afraid.

I don't want to be rude on Tony Martin, mind you, as I really like the man and I know how ridiculed his live performances used to be back in the day, so I'd rather keep such cruel ironies aside. But the ugly truth is too clear to be ignored: his singing is mostly below average here, with few redeeming moments to be found. Let's take "I Witness" and "Psychophobia" as examples: two of the best songs out of "Cross Purposes", both with an intense drive that should work like a charm in the live environment, and Martin almost single-handedly ruins everything with shallow, unconvincing performances. It's quite intriguing and somewhat disturbing in fact, like he just couldn't bring himself to make these songs justice upon a stage, and roughly the same can be said about many cuts around here.

I have this pet theory about "Black Sabbath" the song, you know: it's actually pretty easy to sing it, but once you overdo it, you're heading straight into disaster with no chance for lucky escapes. Unfortunately, I more than often use Tony Martin's performance here, along with what Ronnie James Dio did on "Live Evil", as one of my primary examples. C'mon man, just go there and sing it, drop all these dreadful oooohs and yeahs and ha-ha-has for Satan's sake. Granted, you're singing about the Devil, but that doesn't require you to make a pitiful parody of the Fallen Angel itself, you see. Most of Osbourne-era songs are similarly flawed (don't get me started on "Children of the Grave", please), and Martin's voice even fails miserably on "Symptom of the Universe" and "Cross of Thorns", which is the exact kind of shortcoming overdubs were developed to correct, so I really can't understand why nobody bothered to make a few corrections in places. But then you must direct the spotlight to the other guys as well: Bobby Rondinelli commands a very effective performance throughout, easily the highlight on this CD, but both Iommi and Butler sound a bit too restrained if you ask me, like they're simply getting the job done and not much else.

Not that everything is pain and dread on "Cross Purposes Live", you see. "The Wizard" is actually quite cool and a song they hadn't played in ages, and it gets you thinking how different things could have been with a more careful approach to the setlist (and oh yeah, Martin sings it beautifully too). "Headless Cross" and "Into the Void" are also OK, and the simple fact that they played "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" in its entirely (not the edited or main-riff-only versions done in later years) is also something of a highlight. It's unfortunate that some of the best songs that night, like "Anno Mundi" and "The Mob Rules", never made it into the CD, being restricted to the home video format. Not like you're being deprived of anything extraordinary, mind you, but the final product would be of a considerable higher calibre with these inclusions. On the other hand, omitting "Neon Knights" was probably the right move, if you ask me.

Recorded little more than two months into the tour, "Cross Purposes Live" would be released only over a year later, when the line-up responsible for it were already history. Bobby Rondinelli was the first to jump ship, and he was even substituted by none other than Bill Ward himself for a handful of shows in South America (not the best performances the band ever delivered, to be frank, so it's not like you should bother trying to locate rare bootlegs or anything). After fulfilling all touring obligations, Geezer Butler finally got enough as well, and the split seems to have left a sour taste in his mouth at first, as some lyrics for his G//Z/R solo project will be well enough to demonstrate (more on this in the not-too-distant future, I hope). It seems that Tony Iommi was really into reunions at this point, as he took the opportunity to bring both Cozy Powell and Neil Murray back, effectively reuniting the line-up responsible for "Tyr" five years previously - not the comeback the fans were fervently expecting I guess, but there you go. As a memento of this very brief period in the band's existence, "Cross Purposes Live" may be of some interest for completists, the only ones likely to spend time and money trying to locate this long out-of-print package; on the other hand, the rest of us can rest assured our lives won't be at all incomplete by failing to buy a copy.

Tony Martin (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bobby Rondinelli (D), Geoff Nicholls (K).

01. Time Machine 5:08
02. Children of the Grave 5:25
03. I Witness 5:02
04. Into the Void 6:39
05. Black Sabbath 8:12
06. Psychophobia 3:03
07. The Wizard 4:42
08. Cross of Thorns 4:43
09. Symptom of the Universe 5:58
10. Drum Solo 1:33
11. Headless Cross 5:34
12. Paranoid 5:13
13. Iron Man 3:27
14. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath 6:11

Special thanks to Tapio's Home Page for the awesome 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!

terça-feira, 22 de agosto de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Cross Purposes (LP, I.R.S., 1994)


It seemed to be a great idea at first, and it gave quite a tasty metal fruit in the shape of "Dehumanizer", but the first attempt to bring Ronnie James Dio back into Black Sabbath was a short-lived one. Mere five months after the release of the aforementioned CD, the distraught vocalist decided to pack his bags and bid adieu in November 1992, as he couldn't bring himself to open the stage to none other than Ozzy Osbourne himself - then billing the two shows in Costa Mesa, California as the final gigs of his "farewell" tour. The scheduled performances went out as planned, famously presenting Rob Halford as a guest singer, and the fact that the famous 4-piece of Iommi, Ward, Butler and Osbourne shared a stage for the first time since 1985 set the metal fraternity in wild anticipation, with every single long-haired headbanger on Earth keeping fingers crossed in hopes for a full-scale reunion of the original Sabbath. But Tony Iommi was still pretty much under contract with I.R.S., and the label soon made clear they wanted another record to market around. Keeping good old Geezer Butler beside him, Iommi brought Bobby Rondinelli in to handle the drumsticks, and erstwhile singer Tony Martin agreed almost instantly to rejoin the fun.

In later interviews, Geezer stated that he first thought that "Cross Purposes" would be something of a Iommi/Butler offshoot, something to keep themselves busy with while agents and lawyers were clearing the path for a Sabbath reunion. I would never dare to call the man a liar, you see, and it's up to you to take his words on face value or not, but I'm strongly suspicious that it was way more a case of fulfilling contract obligations than anything else. There's no way a middle sized label like I.R.S. would give up a contract with Sabbath, and signing the dotted line with Ozzy Osbourne would never happen as long as this obstrusive agreement was still in effect. When you take all this into consideration, it gets increasingly obvious that releasing a handful of filler albums under the Sabbath name was the best option for all parties involved, even though some of the musicians may not have been fully aware of it at the time.

Many riffs and song structures here featured were first demoed during the never-ending pre-production sessions for "Dehumanizer", a clear indication that "Cross Purposes" was knocked together at relatively short notice and the band just didn't bother that much to create a full set of new compositions from scratch. Still, the chemistry between Tony and Geezer is as dynamic and engaging as ever, and Bobby Rondinelli brings with him a technical, refined approach to the rhythm section that works admirably throughout. Things start fairly promising with "I Witness", mixing a near power-metal drive with some seriously groovy riffing to achieve mostly amazing results. But next comes "Cross of Thorns", a somewhat unconvincing semi-ballad that runs from end to end without finding the hook to make it stand out in the crowd, and well-tried listeners will soon be aware they're bound for an inconsistent ride.

Being an obstinate defender of Tony Martin's early studio performances myself, I must say his singing is quite less convincing this time around, opting for a cleaner, hard-rocking register that is perceivably at odds with the darker leanings the rest of the band seems eager to explore on occasion. Songs like "Psychophobia" and "Cardinal Sin" are the most affected by this maladjustement, with Martin being surprisingly unable (or unwilling) to deliver the sinister, more forceful connotations these otherwise pretty decent tunes so blatantly required. I don't know what happened really - maybe it has something to do with the presence of Geezer Butler, who wrote many of the band's finest lyrics and would undoubtedly want to have a say on this department? Whatever the story, the finest performances from Martin will come in the shape of "Evil Eye" (with none other than Eddie Van Halen as an uncredited co-songwriter) and "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" - not surprisingly, some of the less gloomy cuts from the entire record. These are the moments where "Cross Purposes" really peak and bear a charm all of its own, and those willing to hear these tunes with an open mind are very likely to have a good deal of fun.

"Cross Purposes" marks a transitional period for Black Sabbath, and perhaps that's precisely its undoing. As a record, it fails to define its own boundaries, being close to the heaviness of "Dehumanizer" in places, then veering away from it quite abruptly in a matter of minutes. You can go from the morbid, convincing doom metal of "Virtual Death" to the confuse mishmash of heavy riffing, new-age keyboards and uneven transitions of "Immaculate Deception", and then straight into the unsure balladry of "Dying for Love" - and tell me, dear reader, where are we all supposed to stand after being taken from one direction to another in such a confuse manner? It's not a bad album at all, and this 2-star rating should be taken with a pinch of salt really, as there's some very interesting songs and a lot of worthwhile moments around here. But its lack of cohesion is impossible to ignore, and the fact that this particular line-up didn't last the distance only adds to the feeling that the whole project was much more a product of chance rather than design. Most people can easily live without a copy, but this curio is worth checking out if you've already listened to all the essentials and just need some more Sabbath in your life. And there's no such a thing as too much Sabbath for a devoted headbanger, you know.

Tony Martin (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bobby Rondinelli (D). Also performed: Geoff Nicholls (K).

01. I Witness 4:56
02. Cross of Thorns 4:32
03. Psychophobia 3:16
04. Virtual Death 5:49
05. Immaculate Deception 4:15
06. Dying for Love 5:53
07. Back to Eden 3:57
08. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle 4:31
09. Cardinal Sin 4:20
10. Evil Eye 5:58

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!

SAXON (UK) - Greatest Hits Live! (CD, Castle, 1990)


Say what you will about their late 80's input, but it's beyond questioning that Saxon are some pretty thick-skinned guys, you know. Most bands would pack their bags and leave the music scene altogether after a commercial disaster such as "Destiny", and we actually saw this exact chain of events happen on a number of occasions - but Saxon never seemed willing to concede defeat, and obstinately kept things going with a string of live performances, though the big arenas were largely a thing of the past for them at this point. There was no record deal on the horizon, and the situation was far from stable as a whole, but sometimes you just have to stay on track, you know. And it seems the lads had started to look more fondly to their former glories, seeing on all those ever-dependable tunes from the past not only a lifeline through difficult times, but also a clue on what to do next. Mind you, the tenth anniversary of "Wheels of Steel" original release seemed good enough an excuse to get the show on the road, and a celebratory European tour packed with all those popular tunes was hastly arranged, a jaunt that proved to be just what the lads needed to help their cause.

"Greatest Hits Live!" is hardly the most exciting name to be stamped on a live album, that's for sure, and the record bears a somewhat ugly front cover too (bad choice on colors, people), but the musical contents are actually quite entertaining this time around. Released in both CD and home video format by Essential (an imprint of Castle Communications), it clearly tries to sell itself as a comeback album, though it comes out after less than a year of inactivity on the Saxon front. "Saxon are back. You hold the evidence in your very mits", reads the liner notes written by Raw Magazine's Dave Ling, and though it was perhaps too soon for such a statement, fact is that the quintet doesn't sound like a bunch of weary, disillusioned, nearly-retired rockers after all.

The production values are quite raw, but I would dare to say it sound all the more engaging because of that, and perhaps even more lively than (shock horror) much-incensed "The Eagle Has Landed" itself! Ian Taylor, the bloke who engineered the whole thing, sure knew what kind of band he was dealing it, and did a nice job capturing the band's energy and gritty edge upon a stage. Damn sure the anniversary also served as a pretext for preparing a setlist tailored to make old fans happy, something that helped the band's cause in no uncertain terms. But none of it would be of any use if the band couldn't deliver the goods as planned, and that is the most significant triumph around here: after all the tribulation the lads endured in the previous years, it's truly heart-warming to listen to them in such a rapturous performance, playing their souls out song after song like nothing bad ever happened along the way. It sounds like coming home, like meeting old buddies for a pint or two, and you can actually hear them picking up steam in every note, getting their act together to ultimately reconquer the hearts of a fanbase that, even after a great deal of disappointments, still loved them to death. It's that great a feeling, believe me.

There are many brilliant moments around here, like "Heavy Metal Thunder", "And the Bands Played On", "Denim & Leather", "747 (Strangers in the Night)" and "20.000 Ft" (here spelled as "Twenty Thousand Feet" so to avoid any confusion, I guess), all performed with such high levels of dedication and enthusiasm that these cuts easily rank amongst the greatest live performances I ever heard from them, period. Less obvious inclusions like "See the Light Shinin'" and "Frozen Rainbow" also work to great effect, and even the few tunes from their not-so-inspiring later years sound way better than usual: "Crusader" is no less than grandiose, "Rock 'n' Roll Gypsy" is given such a sterling rendition that it turns out to be one of the highlights of the entire CD (yeah, I mean it), and even "Ride Like the Wind" is far from a letdown, believe it or not!

OK, I guess that using both "Rockin' Again" and "Back on the Streets" as final tracks wasn't a truly wise move: both are adequately performed and well up to par with the rest of the stuff, but placing it so late on the running order deprived the album from the explosive, frenzied ending a few more classics would provide and such a record surely deserved. All in all, though, "Greatest Hits Live!" is a rewarding and very pleasant listen - not a mandatory purchase for the average metalhead perhaps, but let's say that buying it will probably be one of the most enjoyable obligations a completist will ever have to fulfill. And the album also served its purpose to get Saxon back in the game, as Virgin felt there was enough mileage in offering the valiant musicians a long-term record deal. That was the chance they were waiting for, you know, and I'm glad to say they didn't drop the ball this time around, as the next batch of studio releases will be more than enough to demonstrate.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Tim 'Nibbs' Carter (B), Nigel Glockler (D).

01. Opening Theme
02. Heavy Metal Thunder
03. Rock and Roll Gypsy
04. And the Bands Played On
05. Twenty Thousand Feet
06. Ride Like the Wind
07. Motor Cycle Man
08. 747 (Strangers in the Night)
09. See the Light Shinin'
10. Frozen Rainbow
11. Princess of the Night
12. Wheels of Steel
13. Denim & Leather
14. The Crusader
15. Rockin' Again
16. Back on the Streets
Songtitles are spelled like shown on the back cover of the original CD release

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, 20 de agosto de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies (LP, Roadrunner, 1989)


Things looked grim on the Saxon front back in 1989: more than a critical and commercial failure, "Destiny" was a hard blow to the band's reputation within the metal community, and the consensus of opinion seemed to be that Biff Byford and his cohorts had little else to do than taking a long (perhaps permanent) vacation from the music scene before things get even more disastrous to their cause. When both Paul Johnson and Nigel Durham parted ways with the venture in the second half of 1988, there was a tangible feeling that Saxon were doomed to drift apart in no time. But the remaining trio of Byford, Quinn and Oliver decided they haven't had enough just yet, and vowed to keep things going for a while longer. Old buddy Nigel Glockler agreed to lend his friends a hand, and with then-unknown Nibbs Carter assuming bass duties, the lads just put on their bravest faces and headed straight into the live environment where they always felt more at home. It would be a long way back to the top if they wanted to rock and roll, you know, but there seemed to be well enough demand to justify a few jaunts - and, once the Roadrunner label agreed to sign a one-off deal with the lads, a small tour in Hungary in late 1988 was duly immortalised as "Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies", the second live instalment in their career.

Far from the pretentious (and, at the time of its release, perfectly justified) atmosphere surrounding their earlier live opus "The Eagle Has Landed", this LP is stripped-down in every sense, with pretty modest presentation and good enough (but hardly impressive) production values. No photos from the band on the original package, and they didn't even try to give the record a more seamless live feel by removing the fade-ins and fade-outs in between tracks. It's only a few stairs higher in quality than a very accomplished bootleg would be, but I don't think it's too much of a problem, you see: actually, it gives the record an unpolished, straight-to-the-point vibe which is a pleasant change after the sugar-coated textures on albums like "Innocence is No Excuse" and "Destiny", to name a few. It was more by chance than design though, as I seriously doubt Saxon would have drawn plans for a prodigal-son-style return to their roots at such an early stage (let's face it, the sole purpose of this release was trying to keep their heads above water, that's all).

Considering it was nowhere near a triumphant era in Saxon's career, it should come as no surprise to verify that "Rock 'n' Roll Gyspies" is a bumpy ride most of the time. It opens with a surprisingly tepid version of "Power and the Glory", then immediately recovers its strenght with a sterling take on "And the Bands Played On", which I guess is clear enough an indication that one must be ready for anything while listening to this album. The repertoire is hardly exciting as a whole though, as I suspect only the most die-hard fans of the group will be falling over themselves to hear unspectacular live renditions of "Northern Lady", "Battle Cry", "Just Let Me Rock", "I Can't Wait Anymore" and so on. Some later-period tunes fare better, admitedly, like "Broken Heroes" (I love this one, really) and "Rock the Nations" (not a world-beater by any stretch, but it sounds far more engaging than the dull studio version), but there are far too many glaring absences around here to make it a must-buy. That said, you can still hear in tunes like "Dallas 1 PM" and "The Eagle Has Landed" much of the fire that made Saxon such a household name in the past, so it may have been heart-warming for some fans to find out there was still some heavy metal blood running through Saxon's veins after all.

In retrospect, "Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies" hardly made a difference on the band's fortunes, and I seriously doubt it sold enough units to have any record labels beating a path to their door, you know. It was more a case of not fading out of the public eye, and at least it sent a message to promoters that Saxon was still on the road and willing to play wherever a crowd would have them. Since any hopes of achieving mainstream success were forever gone after the "Destiny" fiasco, and with most long-haired metalheads still keeping safe distance just in case some dreaded keyboards were lurking around the corner, Saxon could hardly wish for more. You don't really need this one in your collection unless you're a completist, but don't be too afraid to give it a chance if you spot it in the bargain bins of your local record store.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Nibbs Carter (B), Nigel Glockler (D).

01. Power and the Glory 6:28
02. And the Bands Played On 2:55
03. Rock the Nations 4:31
04. Dallas 1 PM 6:37
05. Broken Heroes 7:05
06. Battle Cry 5:49
07. Rock 'n' Roll Gypsy 5:18
08. Northern Lady 5:07
09. I Can't Wait Anymore 4:30
10. This Town Rocks 4:14
11. The Eagle Has Landed 7:26 *
12. Just Let Me Rock 4:19 *
Songs marked with a * are exclusive CD tracks 

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, 18 de agosto de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Destiny (LP, EMI, 1988)


Everyone who ever heard "Rock the Nations" with an inquisitive mind will probably agree that it is downright awful, a shockingly inept and redundant record whose shortcomings are all the more appalling when you consider it was commited by none other than Saxon, once regarded as one of the most powerful stallions from the entire NWOBHM. They managed to salvage the situation to an extent, keeping the show on the road for the remainder of 1986 - with Nigel Durham joining the fun early in the following year, after namesake Nigel Glockler decided to move on to pastures new. Still, I guess the lads were all well aware that the writing was on the wall for them, and decided to took most of the following year away from the grind of touring and trying to create a more substantial batch of songs, as a last gasp to rekindle the fire and meet the non-negotiable demands from EMI. Give us a hit or we'll show you the door, I can almost hear the executives saying - and poor old Saxon, already labelled as dead meat by critics and witnessing their flock of fans desert by the thousands with every release, decided it was time to play the desperation card. No longer able to walk the thin line, and seeing no point in attempting a back-to-basics approach, the lads jumped straight into major sell-out - and "Destiny", the ugly child of such decision, will forever be there to haunt us in our sleep.

Now, let me be as clear and neutral as possible: "Destiny" is not that bad. I mean, it's downright bloody bad of course, but not as abhorrently bad as it probably seemed to be when it first came out in 1988. There were far worse coming out at roughly the same time (have you ever heard Uriah Heep's "Equator", for instance?), and I would even dare to say (oh help me god, I'm about to say it) that it's a better album than "Rock the Nations", at least on the songwriting side of things! I mean (calm down folks, let's put the torches aside, will you), where the previous record sounded like something a bot programmed to write hard/heavy tunes by chance would come up with, "Destiny" shows perceivable signs of a band  actually trying to achieve something, putting effort into creating songs that would make sense within themselves and sound coherent as a whole. They failed, damn sure they did, but the failure comes not by sheer incompetente, but mostly because the whole concept was doomed from the start.

"Ride Like the Wind", for instance. It was surely a non-starter; Saxon recording a cover version for a Christopher Cross' song, for God's sake. I'll be charitable and concede the quintet tried to make something a tad more forceful out of it, but just think about the scenario: Saxon, a bunch of troublemakers from England's working class, recycling a well-worn tune straight from the soft-rock-radio playlists in a time when everyone hoped them to do the right thing, to relive themselves with at least a nice heavy song or two. When it came out as a single and MTV videoclip, most of those still willing to buy the album saw the signs of approaching doom and promptly started running for their lives. Even worse was to come when the second single "I Can't Wait Anyone" was released a couple months later: let's face it, releasing a dreadful semi-ballad as heavy as a Bryan Adams' ripoff as an appetizer for your new LP is hardly the best strategy if you're a heavy metal band with a career at risk. When "Destiny" finally hit the shops in June 1988, only the bravest and most persevering fans were still willing to spend a dime on it - and those who actually did buy the album should have their names displayed on Saxon Loyal Fan's Hall of Fame, as the record itself hardly offered any solace to their ears.

The sound production is as sleek and faceless as it could possibly be, trying to metamorphose Saxon into an American pop metal outfit and depriving the band from any possible sense of personality in the process. Tunes like "Calm Before the Storm" (with heartfelt lyrics about Biff's recently deceased father, totally out of place in such an innofensive, metal-for-good-guys outlook), "Jericho Siren" and "Where the Lightning Strikes", that would perhaps be less questionable under different circumstances, are rendered nondescript and frankly annoying as a result. Worse is to come when the intrusive keyboards, not happy enough with coating the album's tunes on countless layers of sugar, decide to push the guitars aside and play the main riffs for "We Are Strong" and the abysmal ballad "Song for Emma"! C'mon guys, there was no way it could be a wise move! And things slide into unintentional humour with "S.O.S", a purportedly epic tune about Titanic (it even begins with Morse code, you know) that loses the listener as soon as the atrocious chorus starts and gets almost laughable in the instrumental segment, where guitar solos, keyboards and the rhythm section seem all to be playing entirely disparate songs all at the same time. A serious contender for worse song ever penned by Saxon, and I mean it from the bottom of my aching heart.

To be fair, a few minor highlights come in the shape of the pretty decent main riff in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (but why they did such a mess with the chorus is beyond me) and most of all "Red Alert", which closes proceedings with a nice enough drive that is slightly enhanced by the keyboards (!) and with no harmonizing voices spoiling the chorus (!!!). Too little too late, I guess, and not remotely close in stature to all those outstanding triumphs of the past, but still the best song here by a long stretch, though the pointless outro should have been scrapped with no remorse from the final product. At least it's better than any song on "Rock the Nations" (yeah, kill me for this, I don't care).

As stated above, "Destiny" was so immense a failure that even its release was something of an exercise in futility, as there was precisely zero hope of ever attaining significant sales figures with it. Unsurprisingly, EMI finally dropped the band as a result, and when Paul Johnson packed his bags in late 1988 there was even talk about the rest of the band giving up the ghost as well. But that was not to be, fortunately, as Biff Byford (now pretty much the leader of the pack) managed to convince the other guys to stay onboard and even lured Nigel Glockler back into the sinking ship, God knows how. It would take a lot of time and hard work for Saxon to recapture some of their former glory, but I promise the worse of the storm is behind us, we'll soon be sailing in full wind and it will be a far less distressing navigation from now on. As for "Destiny", I wholeheartedly advise you steer well clear of it, unless the idea of never owning a complete Saxon collection is too much for you to bear. It will mostly gather dust on your shelf for the decades to come, but c'mon, I'm a collector too, I know how it feels. At least they had the decency to keep most of the original logo out of the artwork, you know.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Paul Johnson (B), Nigel Durham (D). Also involved: Stephen Laws-Clifford (K).

01. Ride Like the Wind 4:28
02. Where the Lightning Strikes 4:19
03. I Can't Wait Anymore 4:24
04. Calm Before the Storm 3:46
05. S.O.S. 6:02
06. Song for Emma 4:45
07. For Whom the Bell Tolls 3:54
08. We Are Strong 3:55
09. Jericho Siren 3:36
10. Red Alert 4:34

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!

SAXON (UK) - Rock the Nations (LP, EMI, 1986)


Previous record "Innocence is No Excuse" sold well enough copies to keep Saxon in the public eye, but, for a band clearly determined to crack the USA market once and for all, "well enough" was far less than the amount required, you know. For the very first time since their efforts to conquer America became evident, old fans in England and elsewhere were giving up on the band in large numbers, estranged by the increasingly fabricated sound and looks of their once-reliable metal heroes. Adding to an already hazardous situation, bassist Steve "Dobby" Dawson was given his freedom by early 1986, with the usual "irreconcilable differences" being mentioned and all that. As it transpires, though not overtly opposed to the direction the band were taking, Steve strongly criticised some of his colleagues (and management's) choices, most of all the presence of much-travelled Gary Lyons as the band's next producer - not that the bassist wanted someone with a lower profile, but there was a strong rumour going around regarding Lyons to have suffered a serious and work-incapacitating loss of hearing through the years, if you know what I mean. "This was being Spinal Tap for real", Dawson stated in a later interview, and Saxon being a confessed inspiration for the movie, you should take his word for it.

Wherever the truth lies, fact is that Dobby was one of the key songwriters in Saxon, and his sudden absence only further emphasized the glaring lack of usable ideas inside the group. Biff Byford played bass for the recording of "Rock the Nations", though the album credits were given to Paul Johnson, who stepped in for touring purposes and only after the recording process was over. It was a homemade sollution and it surely made things easier in the short term, but I'm afraid it also resulted in a less imaginative collection of songs, as there were less people trying to think outside the box.

There is one element that is often ignored on most analysis about Saxon's gradual decadence: the huge toll of the endless grind of touring and recording, touring and recording over and over again. In fact, if we were to resume "Rock the Nations" on a single word, I would say that it is an LP that sounds tired, from start to finish. From the very first notes of the supposedly anthemic, but actually kinda dull title-track to the unfocused, unconvincing emotional leanings of final ballad "Northern Lady", Saxon sounds like putting up with a arduous wednesday shift work and all they could look forward to is to go home, sink on the couch and crack a beer. The fire is nearly gone, and most songs just churn out some well-worn formulas without any sense of conviction, any snippet of a thing to say. It would be unfair to say they couldn't care less, but it's unmistakeable that the lads are not having that much fun at all - and, to a band that became famous for being lively, in-your-face and funny, leaving such an impression is no less than a disgrace.

Some have said "Rock the Nations" is something of an attempt to recapture their former strenght, as the production sounds a bit more direct and the guitars are somewhat sharper than on previous releases. Saying that Gary Lyons was unable to hear a guitar tone to save his life was clearly evil-speaking, as most things sound pretty much in place around here. But it's far from a considered move IMO, this metal-by-the-numbers sound being the kind of a result you could get by simply doing your homework without giving much of a though about it. After putting a lot of effort on being palatable for the mainstream charts, Saxon now only seemed willing to get the job done on schedule - not that they had left all hopes to conquer America coast to coast behind just yet, you know, as the aforementioned "Northern Lady" and the truly godawful "You Ain't No Angel" offer too clear an indication to be ignored. And it sounds completely wrong, as one would expect: it's not only that Saxon should not be writing such tunes, it's also that they sound noticeably incompetent while doing so. Second-rate glam/sleazy metal bands like Cinderella and Faster Pussycat would most probably reject such poor compositions.

Elsewhere, unimaginative metal tunes like "Running Hot", "We Came Here to Rock" and "Empty Promises" may not induce any permanent trauma to less demanding listeners, but are so damn clichéd and redundant that you're unlikely to listen to it more than once in a blue moon. "Waiting for the Night" is a bit more charming perhaps, but still nothing to write home about. You see, when an immensely average song like "Battle Cry" is probably the best of the lot, you can be sure we're not heading for a very pleasant ride at all. "Party 'til You Puke", featuring none other than bloody famous Elton John on piano (he was recording his own songs right next door, you know), is perhaps the most fitting summary of the album's shortcomings: it's supposed to be a well-intentioned excuse for a jolly good laugh, but it fails miserably to be funny if you ask me, sounding more like a three-and-a-half-minute sketch gone wrong. Considering that "Rock the Nations" is a 40-minute exercise on metal futility, it kinda makes sense in the end.

Saxon used to have such a high profile amongst the metal community than even this dismal LP wasn't enough to rip their reputation to shreds just yet, the band being still capable to book more than enough shows for a successful tour, even headlining 1986's Reading Festival in front of a mostly appreciative crowd. Still, the downward spiral was way too evident to be ignored, and EMI made ominously clear that the next record had become a make-or-break for the lads. The band got out on vacation for most of 1987, trying to invigorate themselves and start afresh on an album that would hopefully put their career back on track. What they came up with was "Destiny", a record still remembered to this day for all the wrong reasons. I understand that giving a single star to "Rock the Nations" may seem a bit harsh when compared to what would come next, but we still must point out the ugly truth: it's a very bad record, close to pathetic in places, and one that only die-hard completists should bother to obtain.

Biff Byford (V/B), Paul Quinn (G), Graham Oliver (G), Nigel Glockler (D). Also involved: Paul Johnson (B, credited but does not play on the album), Elton John (Piano on tracks 7 and 9).

01. Rock the Nations 4:40
02. Battle Cry 5:26
03. Waiting for the Night 4:51
04. We Came Here to Rock 4:18
05. You Ain't No Angel 5:28
06. Running Hot 3:35
07. Party 'til You Puke 3:25
08. Empty Promises 4:09
09. Northern Lady 4:42

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!