sexta-feira, 16 de fevereiro de 2018

HEAVEN & HELL - Live! Radio City Music Hall (2 CD, Rhino, 2007)

RATING: ****

I'm sure most of you reading this are well aware that a considerable number of long-serving Black Sabbath fans held a distinct antipathy towards the Ronnie James Dio-fronted version of the band. Some still do, up to this day. Not only because, you know, Ozzy Osbourne was no longer around and there's no Sabbath without him and so on, but also because they felt it didn't sound like Black Sabbath, being pretty much a different entity altogether. I don't think such notion holds that much water to be honest, as 3/4 of the original behemoth were initially there to begin with, but it's sure open to debate, as anyone who listen to, say, "Heaven and Hell" right after "Volume 4" will notice at least a few perceivable (though not truly obvious) differences between the two incarnations of the band. That said, the decision to brand the reunion of Dio, Iommi, Butler and Appice as Heaven & Hell may have been made for practical reasons alone (basically, Ozzy would sue them had they insisted on using the Black Sabbath name), but it was also a chance to give the band a newfound personality. Taking the Sabbath logo out of the picture and including no songs from the original incarnation of the group allowed them to show just how relevant their musical input was, is, and forever shall be - and that's precisely what they did, may the Devil be praised.

"Live! Radio City Music Hall" came out as both CD and DVD in 2007, and it was the very first release under the Heaven & Hell moniker - though is surely does not sound so. Not only because of the supremely confident and powerful performance delivered that night, but also because it immediately sounds like being part of a cohesive canon, like a setlist selected from the opera omnia of a proper band rather than snippets from a entirely different entity. As a concept, Heaven & Hell is instantly coherent, credible and respectable - and it's something way more important than it may seem to be at first, as this choice cements the reunion as a bona fide proposition and not just a sophisticated, but ultimately disappointing cash-in (have I heard someone screaming "Reunion-era Black Sabbath with Ozzy"?). Sure, none of this would have any effect if these four gentlemen weren't undisputed masters of their trade, something that a single listen to this nearly 2-hour long set will be more than enough to demonstrate.

All performances are no less than stellar here. The fact that somehow Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler managed to get together and create such amazingly heavy music for roughly 50 years is an good argument for the existence of a higher power if you ask me, and this recording is yet another testimony to their complete control over all things heavy metal. Vinny Appice is often overlooked when it comes to list the great metal drummers of all time, but few out there can play basic and still fill every single empty space of a song like he does. As for Dio's performance here, we'll all have to agree that the timbre and pitch of his voice were slightly worn out after many years of heavy duty, but his versatility and sense of interpretation are no short of remarkable. He sure knew when to add color and drama to a song, and he even delivers a metal-as-you-like scream at the start of "The Mob Rules" that many singers half his age would be proud to immortalize on tape. Dio is easily one of the most important voices ever when it comes to hard/heavy music, and nearly all songs here featured will provide strong corroborating evidence on this regard.

The setlist that night was very special too, pairing the undisputed classics ("Children of the Sea", "Die Young", "Voodoo", "Neon Knights") with some minor surprises ("Falling Off the Edge of the World", "Lonely is the Word") and some good picks from the "Dehumanizer" era - one of those, "After All (The Dead)", being an unexpected (but ultimately very effective) choice for the opening number that night. Two out of three new songs from "The Dio Years" also make an appearance, and both "The Devil Cried" and "Shadow of the Wind" leave nothing to be desired alongside the more well-known staples, surviving the hard test of the live environment with great aplomb. The fact that these gentlemen can get away with such long versions of "Heaven and Hell" (this one is over 15 minutes long, mind you) without a scratch to their armor is a testimony on both their collective prowess and the perennial genius behind this colossus of a song, easily one of the best tunes in heavy metal history, period. Add some near-perfect production values (the muddy sound in "Live Evil" was a difficult lesson they never allowed themselves to forget, I'd wager) and we're very close to "essential for any serious metal collection" territory here.

It's always risky (and potentially misleading) to draw comparisons between Ozzy-era and Dio-era Sabbath, and I started this same review by pointing out just how much of a non-started this feud ultimately is. Still, I'm going to contradict myself right now, and may the world forgive me for saying it out loud: the Dio-era reunion personified on Heaven & Hell was way more exciting and musically relevant than the original Ozzy-era reunion. There's a definite sense of ambition going on all over this 2-CD set, and it actually gets stronger when you watch the DVD and see how committed and unrelenting they were upon the stage that night. Heaven & Hell is a band with something to prove, unwilling to rest on their laurels, determined to be relevant for what they were doing and/or about to do, not for what was done in the long distant past. It's somewhat ironic that Black Sabbath needed to change names to record and release the finest live album from their entire career - and yeah, I know some hardcore fans won't take this pun of mine very kindly, but nevermind. This album is pure metal magic, plain and simple, so do yourself a favor and get a copy of this one. Like, right now.

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

CD 1
01. E5150 / After All (The Dead)
02. The Mob Rules
03. Children of the Sea
04. Lady Evil
05. I
06. The Sign of the Southern Cross
07. Voodoo
08. The Devil Cried

CD 2
01. Computer God
02. Falling Off the Edge of the World
03. Shadow of the Wind
04. Die Young
05. Heaven and Hell
06. Lonely is the Word
07. Neon Knights

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

quarta-feira, 14 de fevereiro de 2018

BLUE ÖYSTER CULT (USA) - Blue Öyster Cult (Columbia, LP, 1972)


The quest for a "new Black Sabbath" was a whole niche of the heavy rock market in the first half of the 1970s, and it made a whole particular sense in the USA, where the British metal pioneers were an instant (and resounding) success. Many American rock labels were more than willing to add some Sabbath-sounding hopefuls to their roster at the time, but most of these attempts didn't exactly become money-makers overnight - an example being Pentagram, that would only be regarded as a relevant name in the scene more than 30 years after their original arrival. A notable exception (in more ways than one) would be Blue Öyster Cult, a band that was very much directed by manager Sandy Pearlman to become the American response to Black Sabbath, but still achieved huge success by crafting sound and imagery that, despite the similarities, were actually all their own.

It wasn't an immediate hit, mind you: formed in 1967 under the (rather hopeless) moniker Soft White Underbelly, they got as far as to record an album's worth of material for Elektra the following year, but the label had second thoughts and decided to shelve the whole thing. When original singer Les Braunstein packed his bags, Eric Bloom (the band's then acoustic engineer) assumed the mike stand and the most recognizable line-up (with Albert Bouchard, Allen Lanier and Buck Dharma) started to take place. Still, sessions for another purported album (now under the guise of Stalk-Forrest Group) being rejected by both Columbia and (wait for it) Elektra in 1970 wasn't exactly an auspicious sign, and the group's future was pretty much in doubt. It wasn't until they adopted a definitely darker outlook and the stupendously ominous Blue Öyster Cult name (seriously, I love it, what a truly inspired choice) in 1971 that things really got going - and when Joe Bouchard joined, shortly before tapes started rolling for the (at last) debut LP, all pieces were in place for something truly special.

Still, and despite of its many merits, not many people out there will rank "Blue Öyster Cult" (the album) as their crowning achievement, and with good enough reason. It's the product of a band that were still developing their trademark sound: songs like "Scream" and "She's as Beautiful as a Foot" (I love this one, really) bring more than a hint of the band's psychedelic roots, while "Then Came the Last Days of May" (touching lyrics about a drug deal gone horribly wrong) and final tune "Redeemed" hark to an even earlier period, with highly harmonized vocals (most prominently on the latter) and some definitely folky leanings (on both). Nothing to be ashamed of, that's for sure, most of all because the aforementioned tunes are all pretty good nonetheless. It's more a case of intended impact rather then songwriting quality per se: if you want to be the leader of the pack (and BÖC surely did hope so), you do need to have an immediate, awe-inducing effect on your target listeners, and this LP is a tad more multi-layered and sedated than recommended to achieve such results.

But let's be fair: BÖC never wanted to have the EXACT same impact than Black Sabbath after all. Where the lads from Birmingham wanted to sound malevolent and kinematic, their American counterparts were always more about creating a mystique, being less forceful in their delivery, but surely more intellectual and enigmatic in their approach. Blue Öyster Cult is no stranger to subtlety, and even the most fanatical Sabbath followers will have to admit that being subtle was never the band's forté. Having dedicated (and very talented) outside lyricists like Sandy Pearlman, Richard Meltzer and (in a later period) Michael Moorcock and Patti Smith sure helped their cause, but the band members themselves were expertly walking the thin line between heaviness and melody from an early stage, so it's fair to give them credit where is due.

There's a lot of great songs around here. "Transmaniacon MC" is a great opener, and it sets much of the vocabulary that will be developed from this point onwards, both on the album itself and in their following releases. The hard-rocking intentions, the busy (but not too complex) guitar interplay, the sardonic singing from Eric Bloom, the unusual lyrical approach, the quirky songwriting and slightly unsettling atmosphere: it's all displayed on this particular number, and this single tune tells the casual listener many things one need to know before delving into the band's repertoire. Other highlights are "Stairway to the Stars" (truly memorable chorus), "Before the Kiss, a Redcap" and "Workshop of the Telescopes", all very engaging and with menacing, quasi-theatrical leanings that work for mostly great effect. "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll", despite unashamedly pilfering the main riff from Black Sabbath's "The Wizard", is perhaps the most emblematic tune of this debut, tailored for the enjoyment of massive audiences while still keeping a devilish, occult-tinged bite. They're not just playing rock and roll, you see: they are burning cities to the ground with it, which is pretty cool if you ask me.

I guess "I'm On the Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep" leaves something (perhaps a lot) to be desired, but it would be revamped in pretty effective fashion on the forthcoming "Tyranny and Mutation" LP, so I guess it's still worth it as a curiosity. All things considered, "Blue Öyster Cult" (the album) is a good introduction to the band's canon, as it shows the group on its more straightforward, unpolished outlook and still gives a lot of clues on what was soon to come. In attitude and spirit, BÖC already were eccentric rockstars from the dark side, and though not fully developed just yet, this asset is already evident on nearly every groove of this LP.

Eric Bloom (V/K/G), Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser (G/V), Allen Lanier (G/K), Joe Bouchard (B/V), Albert Bouchard (D/V).

01. Transmaniacon MC (E.Bloom/A.Bouchard/D.Roeser/S.Pearlman) 3:21
02. I'm On the Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep (E.Bloom/A.Bouchard/S.Pearlman) 3:10
03. Then Came the Last Days of May (D.Roeser) 3:31
04. Stairway to the Stars (A.Bouchard/D.Roeser/R.Meltzer) 3:43
05. Before the Kiss, a Redcap (A.Lanier/M.Krugman/D.Roeser/S.Pearlman) 4:59
06. Screams (J.Bouchard) 3:10
07. She's as Beautiful as a Foot (A.Bouchard/A.Lanier/R.Meltzer) 2:58
08. Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll (A.Bouchard/D.Roeser/S.Pearlman) 4:03
09. Workshop of the Telescopes (E.Bloom/A.Bouchard/J.Bouchard/A.Lanier/D.Roeser/S.Pearlman) 4:01
10. Redeemed (A.Bouchard/A.Lanier/H.Farcas/S.Pearlman) 3:51

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!

segunda-feira, 5 de fevereiro de 2018

SAXON (UK) - Dogs of War (CBH/Virgin, CD, 1995)

RATING: ****

Yesterday's gone, you know. That's a concept that can be very useful for all of us, in pretty much every aspect of our lives: no matter how dreadful or sublime the events of the past turned out to be, there's nothing you can do about it anymore, and the best option will always be focusing on today, right now, when everything's still to be decided. It's a very important stepping stone for a number of philosophies, and I guess it's not entirely incidental that Saxon chose to finish this "Dogs of War" album with a track named (yeah, you guessed it) "Yesterday's Gone", as this excellent record is truly a milestone in the band's career. In it, the long road to redemption after a few disasters in the mid-to-late 1980's is finally fulfilled with great aplomb, and even the most cynical listener wouldn't be able to deny the overwhelming fact that Saxon were back, and this time it was for good. OK, I know the song itself is not about personal and/or collective redemption (it's about a guy telling his ex to fuck off, basically), but the metaphor, even arguably unintentional, is too compelling to be ignore: stop whining about the past, we'll no longer ask for forgiveness, we're back to metal and you better beware, 'cause we're out to kick your ass. Yesterday's gone.

Curiously, it was a very unstable moment for the lads from Barnsley, culminating with long-serving guitarist Graham Oliver resigning (or being fired, depending on who you choose to believe) right after recording sessions were completed. It seems that Biff Byford did not take lightly that Oliver was selling copies of the legendary 1980 performance at Donnington without the other guys' consent (unsurprisingly, some less-than-respectable labels have been repackaging the tapes in a number of not-too-legitimate releases for some good 25 years now). If these accusations are accurate, I can only wonder what the hell the man was thinking, but it's hard to be 100% sure about such things, so let's not be too emphatic on that. Whatever the story, Oliver was history even before the album was out, and Doug Scarrat (a longtime friend of Nigel Glockler) stepped in at very short notice, with very little time to do his homework before all promotional and touring commitments began. It was all very complicated, and it would get even nastier in the following years, so it's truly remarkable that "Dogs of War" turned out to be such a kickass album, as the circumstances surrounding it were less than ideal, to say the least.

There's not a huge deal of difference here from what Saxon had already done on "Solid Ball of Rock" and "Forever Free" a few years previously: it's not like they set a whole new bonfire burning, you see, but more like a fire they were rekindling for a while and then, all of a sudden, stars burning brighter than anyone could have foreseen. In a nutshell, it's pretty much the same, only way, way better. The title track kick things off with a killer opening riff and a scream-your-lungs-out, raise-your-fist-in-the-air chorus. After years of half-baked, totally forgettable tunes, it's a balm to hear Saxon opening proceedings with an instant classic, and this insanely good song set the mood nicely for what is coming next.

The songwriting is top notch. Less typical songs like the surprisingly convoluted "Demolition Alley" and the truly amazing "Don't Worry" (one of the most inventive and engaging songs from the band's entire catalogue IMO) are perfectly paired with more predictable, but equally effective numbers such as "Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home)" and "Burning Wheels". Even when the more accesible element of their music is displayed, as in "Hold On", it comes with such skill and confidence that all pop metal flops of the late 1980's are not even allowed to come to mind, let alone being taken as a credible pattern for comparison. And there's also "The Great White Buffalo", with an ominous-yet-forceful atmosphere and a riff I'm sure Tony Iommi would be proud to call his own. There's not much to be mentioned in terms of individual performances here, but it's actually a good thing, as the team spirit is the true highlight: there's not a beat that could have been more intense, not a guitar lick loosely put together, every single bit of performance sounds tight and is carried along with confidence and infectious enthusiasm.

Some may argue that this CD loses some steam towards the end, with "Walking Through Tokyo" and "Give it All Away" being something like album fillers when compared with the rest of the package. It's not an absurd notion at all, but it wouldn't be wise to stretch it out of proportion IMO, as "Walking Through Tokyo" is embellished by some interesting arrangements in the chorus and "Give it All Away" works fine in its unpretentious outlook, both being miles away from any serious letdown. And then comes "Yesterday's Gone" to the definitive rescue, with great basslines and a no-fucks-being-given attitude that works for memorable effect. "I've got news for you baby / yesterday's gone", Biff Byford sings, and you better know he means every word of it.

From this point onward, Saxon found a safe niche within the heavy metal universe: maybe not the strongest act around in terms of record sales, but a reliable recording and touring entity nonetheless, always with a competent and reassuring collection of hard-hitting songs to save the day. That's pretty much what everybody ever wanted from these NWOBHM heroes, so it's fair to say that "Dogs of War" was close to a resounding success, even if it never threatened to enter the charts. As earlier mentioned, those were troubled times for Saxon, with a lot of legal wranglings just waiting around the corner, but it is the music that matters, and it's nearly 25 years without any major complaints in this regard. If you love British metal and want to understand how it survived the 1990's, this one is no less than a mandatory listen - and it's also pretty bloody good, so do yourself a favor and get it ASAP.

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

01. Dogs of War
02. Burning Wheels
03. Don't Worry
04. Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home)
05. Hold On
06. The Great White Buffalo
07. Demolition Alley
08. Walking Through Tokyo
09. Give it All Away
10. Yesterday's Gone

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me ( and let me know!