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!

quarta-feira, 16 de agosto de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Dehumanizer (LP, I.R.S., 1992)

RATING: ****

After spending the best part of a decade at the helm of the Black Sabbath's ship pretty much by his own, I guess it's perfectly understandable that Tony Iommi felt tempted by a offer to rejoin old buddy Geezer Butler and much-famous singer Ronnie James Dio for the purposes of a new album. Though Iommi always made clear his overall musical contentment with the Tony Martin fronted version of the band, record sales never got any close of being really inspiring, and the increasing difficulties to book enough shows for a proper tour (not a single one happened in the USA to promote "Tyr", you see) sounded like no good news to anyone involved with the Sabbath enterprise. Not only a reunion with Butler and Dio seemed artistically interesting, but it also looked commercially viable, and I suppose it didn't took much of an effort to convince Iommi to discharge Tony Martin and Neil Murray from their duties and assemble a new line-up, with Cozy Powell retaining his place behind the drum kit at first.

Contrary to what most people perhaps would expect, it took them over a year and a lot of hard work to make things happen. After got injured while riding a horse on a break from rehearsals, Powell had to be replaced by Vinnie Appice, effectively reuniting the line-up responsible by "The Mob Rules" way back in 1981. There was a growing level of creative tension between Iommi and Dio, with songs being demoed and re-written almost on a weekly basis. The whole process got close to a nightmare after a while, and nearly a mllion dollars were spent on the recording of "Dehumanizer", something that alarmed those writing the paychecks to a great extent. After such a long time in the making, the expectations were understandably high, and the new Sabbath record needed to be quite a strong one to worth all the effort. Turns out it was, fortunately.

I'm not at all afraid to say "Dehumanizer" is probably the best Sabbath record since "The Mob Rules", and much of it must be credited to a more careful, focused approach to songwriting. As soon as the thunderous drumming in the beginning of "Computer God" bursts out of the speakers, the listener is made sure that something heavy is under way, and this supremely well-crafted number moves from ominous to forceful seamlessly, being actually impossible to say it took many months to finish it! Next comes the morbid "After All (The Dead)", and it's already beyond question by this point that this incarnation of the band is unwilling to take any prisoners. Make Sabbath great again, they said, and they actually meant it.

I would like to point out how important this record is in Ronnie James Dio's chronology. He seemed to be trying to write a truly metal-to-the-soul album at least since the mid-80s, as the magic conjured on "Holy Diver" and "The Last in Line" seemed remarkably elusive on later releases (though there was never any true stinker on sight, mind you), and I guess he found on his return to Sabbath the perfect chance to do so. Not to mention his (perhaps unconscious) determination to prove the world he still owned the most technically-gifted voice for Sabbath - not that Tony Martin threatened to relinquish the throne, you know, but he did quite a good job on studio and got very close to become the definitive Sabbath-sans-Ozzy singer in the vision of many fans. Such scenario helps to explain his very strict work ethic on writing, and results on perhaps the grittiest, most aggressive performance from his entire discography. His singing on tunes like "TV Crimes" and "Computer God" is nothing less than memorable, and his lyrics move away from pocketbook-fantasy themes to more sinister, misanthropic territories, being a bit silly on a few cuts perhaps, but working magnificently on others - I for one love every single word on "TV Crimes", and his raspy singing only enhances the scornful, mordacious message against television preachers and monetized religion.

Tony Iommi riffs are back as well, and almost every single tune in here have at least one or two memorable guitar themes to its credit - I mean, how cool the simple-but-catchy main riff of "Time Machine" is? Can anyone dismiss the guitar work on "Master of Insanity" and the aforementioned "After All (The Dead)" without a great deal of previous, unjustified disdain? And even when it gets slightly too derivative for its own good, as on "Buried Alive" (the main riff is a rehashing of "Zero the Hero", you know), it still works to good enough effect, mostly due to a newfound sense of confidence and bite. Being under pressure had a good effect on the axeman, you know. And having good old Geezer Butler back is a pleasure to the ears, as his bass is loud and clear on the mix, and his basslines are as thunderous as a running herd of buffalo, believe me. Vinnie Appice handle the drumsticks with the usual dexterity and never misses a beat too, so you can rest assure all performances are well up to scratch on this one.

There are a few less impressive songs of display, that's a fact: I never really fell in love with "Letters from Earth", for instance (though I'm aware many late-era fans of Sabbath hold this one on great regard), and "Sins of the Father" is a mostly confuse composition that really should have stayed on the oven for a little longer, if you ask me. "Too Late" may also have grown a bit tired as the years passed, but most of the other tunes still rock like a monster and there's more than enough goods in the package to keep it highly interesting to this day. It's a bit of an anomaly on Sabbath's discography, admitedly, as it is perhaps the most brutal record they ever done - and, though their most successful release in years, it did not garner the attention it deserved, since it came out in a time the hype towards Seattle and the grunge scene was at its greatest. It was all unfortunate if you ask me, and this particular reunion would not last for long, as the band's insistence to open the stage for no less than Ozzy Osbourne on his 1992 "farewell" tour turned out to be way more than Dio's pride would be willing to take. The singer jumped ship later that year, and Sabbath's future became uncertain once again - but at least we have this furious, intense record as a legacy. Don't pay too much attention to the naysayers and add it to your collection at the earliest opportunity.

Ronnie James Dio (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Vinnie Appice (D).

01. Computer God 6:10
02. After All (The Dead) 5:37
03. TV Crimes 3:58
04. Letters from Earth 4:12
05. Master of Insanity 5:54
06. Time Machine 4:10
07. Sins of the Father 4:43
08. Too Late 6:54
09. I 5:10
10. Buried Alive 4:47

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, 15 de agosto de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Innocence is No Excuse (LP, EMI, 1985)


Though a commercially successful album that sold a healthy number of units at the time of its release, "Crusader" was something of a failure on artistic grounds, easily the least relevant release from Saxon's repertoire up to that point. The metamorphose was more and more evident with every record, their street-level reputation of former years patently being replaced by a more calculated, less dangerous - and therefore less appealing - outlook. While still unable to make it real big (something that NWOBHM rivals Def Leppard and Iron Maiden, on entirely disparate terms, both managed to achieve on an earlier stage), Saxon were also slowly falling out of favor with many fans, who used to love them to death and were getting more and more confused (not to say frustrated) by their heroes' questionable moves. It wasn't a case of do or die just yet, mind you: the strong backing from EMI was more than welcome, and there was far enough time to salvage the situation, provided the lads could assume a more assertive attitude and make up their minds on what to do next, once and for all. For good or bad, what they did about it was "Innocence is No Excuse", a record with good intentions to the brim, but that ultimately failed to put Saxon's career back on track - and oh yeah, it also bears a pretty awful front cover!

The five lads from Barnsley could still be dreaming with mainstream success, but were sure far from naive or inexperienced, and I guess they took the lukewarm reception to "Crusader" as a warning of some kind. Well, some of them at least, as it transpires that some of the members had indulged so deeply into, ermm, the rock and roll lifestyle that Biff Byford and Steve Dawson had to take to themselves the lion's share of songwriting in order to have the album done on schedule. It may have been an extra burden for the two, but it was also a wise move, as the more focused approach is more than evident throughout this LP. Actually, I'm not afraid to say most of the compositions are bloody good, and some may even be amongst the very best these guys ever wrote!

Listen to "Broken Heroes", for instance: it's an excellent piece of emotional songwriting, with an almost solemn (but not remotely contrived) atmosphere and simple, but heartfelt lyrics about all the young men who died on war. Truly outstanding. "Rockin' Again" may be far from usual as an opening number with its mid-paced riffing and somewhat melancholic vibe, but the vocal lines are so damn brilliant and the slightly inventive lyrics (about being on a rock show, you know, but looking at it from a far more thoughful point of view than usual) so engaging that you will be singing along before noticing it, believe me. "Back on the Streets" is perhaps a bit too radio-friendly to its own good, but it's still a tight and confident composition all round, and "Rock & Roll Gypsy" is no less than memorable, with truly excellent guitar work and showcasing one of the finest singing performances I ever heard from Biff, either before or ever since (and I mean it). These tunes all kick ass, as simple as that, and any review flatly dismissing such meritous songs would never have enough on itself to be taken seriously.

Yeah, I can almost hear you saying: if it does have such stand-out tracks, then how in hell did the album divide fans so bitterly? Well, I reckon it has a lot to do with production values this time around. Mind you, I'm not implying that Simon Hanhart is the guy to blame - quite the other way round actually, as I'd say he did quite a competent job on giving this LP a sleek, rock-oriented-radio sound, which I guess was exactly what the band's managers and label had in mind. Everyone involved with Saxon wanted to crack America coast to coast, and that's why "Innocence is No Excuse" is filled with harmonized vocals, keyboard layers, watered-down guitar tones, reverberating snare drums and all that: because that's what the guys taking care of the business side of things though was required to make it big in the USA. Turns out it wasn't - and it not only failed to take America by storm, but also stroke the wrong chord with their increasingly disillusioned fans, who couldn't bring themselves to really enjoy the overly-produced versions of tunes like "Call of the Wild", "Give it Everything You've Got", "Raise Some Hell" and "Devil Rides Out" - tracks that, if truth be told, would probably fare better on a more stripped-down approach. All right, "Gonna Shout" and "Everybody Up" were beyond salvation, no matter how back-to-basics a hypothetical production could have been, but I sincerely think the backlash would be way less harsh under different circumstances.

Many years have passed now, and the heavy metal fraternity have clearly formed a more appreciative consensus of opinion around "Innocence is No Excuse" since its original release, which I think it's fair enough. It's sure not a record you should cancel all your meetings for, but it's a mostly pleasant listen and many songs may really grow on you if given time. But in terms of giving Saxon a career boost, it was surely a misfire - and quite a dramatic one, as it signalled the end of the line for a large number of early fans, who could no longer recognize their former heroes and abandoned the band in droves from this point onwards. Not a good sign, and all the more worrying when you consider that sales in the USA, though mostly very respectable, never threatened to sky-rocket like those paying for the ride seemed to expect. For the very last time, Saxon tried to please everyone, and once again failed on that - and with all that was going on, you can say the evolving scenario forced them into the choice they long avoided to make. Next comes utter confusion, and then major sellout - a heart-rending thing to behold really, so I'll give you all time to take a breath before we move further into Saxon's fall from grace.

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

01. Rockin' Again 5:12
02. Call of the Wild 4:03
03. Back on the Streets 3:59
04. Devil Rides Out 4:23
05. Rock 'n' Roll Gypsy 4:13
06. Broken Heroes 5:27
07. Gonna Shout 3:58
08. Everybody Up 3:28
09. Raise Some Hell 3:40
10. Give it Everything You've Got 3:27

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, 13 de agosto de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Crusader (LP, EMI, 1984)


After a consistent run of strong releases with Carrere, Saxon made considerable (and understandable) waves when they announced their agreement to join EMI's roster back in 1984. It was quite a move at the time, and you don't have to look further than Iron Maiden (one of the most successful acts EMI ever got under their wing) to realise the label really meant business with this association. With the quintet already signalling their intention to conquer the USA market on previous record "Power & the Glory", it was clearly a case of shared interests between band and record company, and "Crusader", the first LP generated by such collaboration, is a unmistakeable demonstration on what both sides had in mind.

If I had to describe this album with a single word, my choice would be "calculated". I wouldn't go as far as to say it is completely devoid of spontaneity, you know: it's more like, after a handful of studio releases knocked out at very short notice, Saxon kinda enjoyed the time to think they had while doing "Power & the Glory" and decided to fully consider everything that should be done before commiting any songs to tape. There's precisely nothing wrong with such approach, just to make things clear - but, for a band that earned almost all of their reputation by being unassuming, rough-and-ready metal for the working class, it's way more profound a change that it may seem to be at first. And oh yeah, I heard all the tales about how they never really planed to record Sweet's "Set Me Free", how "Crusader" (the tune) came to them almost by chance etc, but I simply don't give these too much credit, sorry about that. Saxon were far from green in the business, and they knew what they wanted to achieve: a polished, radio-friendly, nearly innofensive version of the band, while still retaining enough of their usual charm to keep old fans satisfied. And that's exactly what you get when "Crusader" (the record) gets a spin in your stereo system.

Let's take the title track as an example. It kicks off the album in a very strong fashion, with a truly epic vibe that works admirably well right from the start and straight until the end. A remarkable song, really, and it's no surprise that it is a fan favorite to this day. It reinforces the heroic conotations of "Power and the Glory", also an opener and also a title-track for their previous album - all in a time when bands as different as Iron Maiden and Manowar were inciting the listener's imagination with similar imagery and themes. I mean, it's not like Saxon were just carbon-copying the competition, but I guess they were paying serious attention to everything what was going on around them and eager to add any elements they felt would be an improvement to their formula. The group would stick with some of these changes (such as the warrior-themed songs and illustrations) during the remainder of their career, while others, well, nearly killed Saxon in the long run.

I hope you really enjoy opening number "Crusader", you know, because it's the only moment of genuine musical grandeur around here. Most of the other tracks are serviceable, but pretty faceless and clichéd hard/heavy exercises like "Rock City", "A Little Bit of What You Fancy", "Bad Boys (Like to Rock 'n' Roll)" and "Just Let Me Rock", all featuring some brain-dead lyrics about (you guessed it) the sheer joy of living the rock and roll lifestyle to the full, whatever the hell it's supposed to mean. Oh well, I sure enjoy the occasional party as much as anybody else, but there are a few other topics one can sing about, you know, and I'm afraid that spending half an album on such a frivolous subject is a bit too pedestrian for comfort. And what's up with all that banter from Biff Byford during songs? It's so damn over-the-top that it seems like he's trying to be the English version of Dee Snider - BTW, I won't be remotely surprised if Twisted Sister received royalties for "Just Let Me Rock", as it wouldn't be at all out of place on the "Stay Hungry" LP!

Picked up as the first single, "Sailing to America" had to endure a lot of ridicule throughout the years, but I actually think it's one of the best songs from the entire record, though the not-remotely-subtle title is quite a giveaway on what they had in mind while writing it. The song blends high doses of melody with some definitely epic leanings and, though not a tune I would have chosen for a first single as EMI did, I feel it is a perfectly adequate exercise on broader waters, almost a breath of fresh air in terms of songwriting - compared to their newfound obsession with all things "rock", at least. On the other hand, "Do it All for You" is feather-weight balladry with lyrics as shallow as the name suggests, perhaps the most alarming sign of bad times to come, and "Run for Your Lives" closes proceedings on quite a confusing manner, going from tension-building guitar harmonies to a not-very-impressive chorus - and then some football hooligans just come out of nowhere, trying to pass as a native-american chanting of some sort. Yeah, I didn't get it either.

Though far from disastrous (it actually sold very well, and the accompanying tour was a resounding success), "Crusader" was met with a mixed response, many once-faithful fans starting to veer away from the increasingly commercial direction the band was taking. Artistically speaking, it simply falls flat when submitted to more rigorous scrutiny - and I'm far from happy to admit it, as it was one of the very first LPs I heard from Saxon and it brings back some nice memories every time I give it a spin. As I said on an earlier review, I don't blame them for giving it a try, but it shouldn't have been that hard to realise it wasn't working - and perhaps even Saxon themselves sensed it somehow, as they perceivably tried to raise the bar musically when writing the following album "Innocence is No Excuse". But now they had a serious (and potentially unsolvable) dilemma to fathom: should they just stop trying to please everyone and set their sights on conquering the charts once and for all, at the risk of further alienating their loyal fanbase and damaging their credibility, perhaps for all time? More than 30 years into the future, we all know what happened next, but let's save some of the deliberation for the next instalments, right?

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

01. The Crusader Prelude 1:05
02. Crusader 6:33
03. A Little Bit of What You Fancy 3:50
04. Sailing to America 5:03
05. Set Me Free 3:13
06. Just Let Me Rock 4:11
07. Bad Boys (Like to Rock 'n' Roll) 3:24
08. Do it All for You 4:42
09. Rock City 3:16
10. Run for Your Lives 3:53

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, 12 de agosto de 2017

SAXON (UK) - Power & the Glory (LP, Carrere, 1983)


I have absolutely no problem to admit that describing a successful album like "Power & the Glory" as the beginning of the decline for Saxon would sound contradictory, maybe even stupid. It was their best-selling album to date, the European tour was a huge success, and the band were shifting a increasingly relevant number of units in the USA - the most strategic market to conquer in terms of achieving world domination, and it sure was at the grasp of their hands. Therefore, and to put it kinda bluntly, labeling this LP as a failure would be no less than ridiculous. It's actually a pretty good record that had quite an impact back in the day and stood well enough the test of time, being a very astute purchase for metal fans up to this day.

But an album is more than the package you buy at the record store, you know. Each one has a context, carrying the glories and burdens of the past while also signaling the avenues to be taken in the future, if there are any. And "Power & the Glory" is sure no exception: in Saxon's chronology, it marks the very beginning of the metamorphose. Gone would be the street-level spirit and gritty bite of early releases, in favour of more calculated (and, later, downright commercially-inclined) attempts to break into mainstream territory. Not immediately, of course. It was still only in the details, it would take a while to really take shape, it was even enjoyable on many occasions - but it was already there, and you can spot it if you look close enough.

First of all, the production. The band recorded the album in Atlanta, USA, under the guidance of Jeff Glixman, a professional known for his work with Kansas, Magnum and Gary Moore to name a few. It's pretty obvious that the idea behind this was to move away from the in-your-face delivery of previous releases, bringing to the table a cleaner, more polished (and more marketable) sound. It mostly worked out as planned, and it adequately fits to the more broad palette employed by the band this time around (more on that later), but it takes away a perceivable amount of the quintet's energy and, dare to say, personality. Saxon have always been a band from the streets, formed by guys you could meet by chance at your local pub, and they sound a bit more distant in "Power & the Glory" - not only due to the slightly exaggerated use of reverb in the final mix, but mostly on a symbolic level, you know. The blokes were starting to sound no longer like a gang, but more like rockstars, and it was just wrong for Saxon, as they would find out as time moved on. But I don't blame them for trying, really: I mean, how could have they known?

The album kicks off quite nicely with the title-track, an anthemic tune with great instrumentation and a memorable, catchy chorus that would be a staple to the band's setlists for years to come. "This Town Rocks", "Redline" and "Warrior" are also great, a bit less fiery than the band's early classics perhaps, but still filled with good ideas and commendable levels of energy and enthusiasm. These songs add a different sense of sophistication to Saxon's trademark sound, but never depriving the band from their characteristic bite, so I guess most of their faithful fans enjoyed the breath of fresh air. The final number, "The Eagle Has Landed", was tested on the live environment for a while before being commited to tape - it even made it into a session for BBC's "Friday Rock Show" in 1982, and I guess that the name of their previous live LP wasn't that much of a coincidence, you know. As a consequence, I guess few people were taken aback by this slow, prog-inclined epic composition about landing on the Moon. I like it a hell of a lot, mind you, and it still feels to me like a much-welcome musical adventure, one of the highlights of this LP.

"Nightmare" is not a bad song at all, you know - it's actually a very respectable attempt to write and record a single without getting too fluffy in the process. But I must say that the many soft guitar intrusions and the harmonized backing vocals whispering "where were you?" were stretched beyond safe levels here, the track as a whole being rendered a bit too tiresome as a result. The same can be said about "Midas Touch", a tune that starts with epic promises but unfortunately dies out in some repetitive guitar melodies and a nondescript, easy-to-forget chorus. And "Watching the Sky" is an album filler if there ever was one, I'm afraid, rehashing old formulas without getting anywhere in the process.

All things considered, "Power & the Glory" is an effective and enjoyable record, and it sure maintained the run of victorious releases from Saxon to a huge extent. And an extra salute must go to bassist Steve "Dobby" Dawson and drummer Nigel Glockler, both responsible for truly inspired performances throughout. Saxon were riding the crest of a wave at this point, and it's only natural that they wanted even more - something that seemed all the more tangible once they parted ways with their french indie-label Carrere and signed the dotted line for the mighty EMI in 1984. Things would never be the same, for good and bad, and "Power & the Glory" is a fitting document of such ongoing changes. Consider this to be a very strong 3-star rating, almost a 4-star if you like.

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

01. Power and the Glory 5:57
02. Redline 3:38
03. Warrior 3:47
04. Nightmare 4:25
05. This Town Rocks 3:58
06. Watching the Sky 3:43
07. Midas Touch 4:13
08. The Eagle Has Landed 6:56

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, 11 de agosto de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Tyr (LP, I.R.S., 1990)


As I'm sure you already gathered by reading the previous reviews (if you ever read it, that is), the second half of the 80s was a long period of soul-searching for Black Sabbath. Carrying the torch pretty much by his own, Tony Iommi just put on his bravest face and went from poorly-received albums to not-really-successful promoting tours, one straight after another and with very little time to ponder on anything that was going on. Being well aware that Sabbath were fighting a losing battle in the USA (where no one bothered to buy their LPs and shows were constantly cancelled due to poor ticket sales), Mr. Iommi set his sights on markets yet unexplored, with a very successful jaunt to Russia during the "Headless Cross" tour being just what the band needed to boost morale. Some people still wanted new music from Sabbath after all - and, faithful to their work ethic during those troubled times, the axeman and his cohorts (now augmented by much-travelled bassist Neil Murray, whose associations are too many to mention really) duly entered studio once more to craft what we now know as "Tyr", one of the less typical records on the entire Sabbath canon, if truth be told.

Though not exactly a concept album, fact is that the whole package tries to conjure a sense of thematic unity around Norse mythology, going as far as using some runes on the front cover - though the symbol drawn as an 'y' would actually be a modern 'x', and I'm positive they didn't wanted to name the record "Txr" after all! It transpires that the whole idea evolved around the lyrics written by Tony Martin, who tried to distance the band from the quasi-satanic imagery of previous records in favour of something a bit less predictable and/or tongue-in-cheek. I guess it was a moderate success on that matter, though you're going to have a hard time trying to find a more subtle meaning on verses like "When the winds of Valhalla run cold / Be sure that the blood will start to flow", I'm afraid.

But perhaps the most radical departure comes on the music department, actually. I tend to think that Tony Iommi, though not at all unhappy with his status as the world's very first metal riffmaster, would just feel weary of such persona from time to time. Nothing objectionable of course, and even a positive sign of artistic yearning many would never want to give him credit for. I would say that "Tyr" was another one of those instances; I mean, he just kept most of the riffs for himself this time around, opting for power chords, ethereal melodies and/or E-string stroking on nearly all of the songs here featured. It's not a bad thing perforce, and it even works quite well on some tracks (more on that in a minute), but Sabbath just need prominent riffs to be the Black Sabbath we love, this being almost a second line of storytelling in the band's formula along with the vocal tracks. When it's nearly gone, an unique feature of the Sabbath brand disappears as well - and it shouldn't come as a surprise that "Tyr", far from a disaster it is, sounds like nearly an anomaly in the band's discography, being closer to heavy/power territory than anything else (I kid you not).

I happen to like opening number "Anno Domini" quite a lot - though it starts with a guitar picking uncanningly similar to "Children of the Sea", its grandiose vibe (enhanced by prominent keyboards and some multilayered vocal choirs) sounds far from predictable or contrived, not to mention it also showcases some of the finest riffing from the entire record. Surely a winner. "The Sabbath Stones" is also a strong number, with a slow, grinding built-up to a pretty cool chorus, and a faster final section highlighted by a fiery solo. If this one was on a Ronnie James Dio record it would be regarded by some as a classic, no doubt about that! "The Lawmaker" is also respectable, fast and engaging enough to make the grade, but "Jerusalem" (decent song construction, but the rather pointless oh-oh-ohs during the chorus are kinda annoying) and "Heaven in Black" are serviceable at best, and "Feels Good to Me" is a yawn-inducing ballad completely at odds with the rest of the material, and it should never have made its way into the final product if you ask me. The arc formed by "The Battle of Tyr", "Odin's Court" and "Valhalla" is also something of a letdown, as it pretty much fails to tell a proper story and never attains the sense of unity one would expect from such an exercise. It's not that bad, admitedly, but it's nothing to write home about either.

On many later interviews, Tony Iommi would tell of his regret about disbanding this particular incarnation of Sabbath, expressing his view that the band had a good thing going and would eventually have regained most of their former status if given enough time. It seems to be an honest opinion (and who would not have enjoyed playing alongside Cozy Powell and Neil Murray for as long as possible?), as he would even regroup this exact set of musicians for the ill-fated "Forbidden" album in 1995. Still, I think good old Tony is wrong on this one: though mostly a respectable album, "Tyr" was nowhere near a return to top form, and it also marks the first time the band ever failed to book any shows to promote a record in the USA, which is hardly a sign of greater things to come. Trying to rekindle Sabbath's fire by bringing old stalwarts back home was something of a predictable move by this juncture, and when Geezer Butler and Ronnie James Dio both signalled their interest in rejoining the band, I guess there wasn't much room for second thoughts in Tony Iommi's mind. As for this LP, it's a good one to have around the house if you are a dedicated metal fan, but it's hardly a world beater, and those less concerned about Sabbath's history should not be ashamed to invest their hard-earned cash on something else.

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

01. Anno Domini 6:12
02. The Lawmaker 3:53
03. Jerusalem 3:59
04. The Sabbath Stones 6:46
05. The Battle of Tyr 1:08
06. Odin's Court 2:42
07. Valhalla 4:41
08. Feels Good to Me 5:44
09. Heaven in Black 4:05

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!