quinta-feira, 23 de agosto de 2018


It's about time to delve once again into the fascinating world of obscure, elusive and not-really-metal-oriented collectables from the 1980's British scene! As stated on Volume I of this series, I happen to enjoy listening (when I don't need to sell my mother to obtain a copy, that is) to records that once were (and sometimes still are) listed in NWOBHM wants lists, but are actually nothing of the sort - and I also think there's enough interest around such items to justify the effort of dropping a few lines about it for history's sake.

There are many reason for a long-forgotten slice of vinyl to be labeled as NWOBHM without actually being a significant release for collectors of the genre - mostly due to shady individuals being deliberately misleading in order to sell a turkey for obscene amounts of money, but genuine mistakes are also not uncommon, either by enthusiasts counfounded by similar band names / picture sleeves / track titles etc or dealers / scholars /database sites that don't research their facts deep enough and keep spreading wrong info around (an ulhealthy habit for sure, but not necessarily done with a clear intent to defraud). So, don't take such articles as finger-pointing or anything: I'm just honestly trying to spread the word around, so buyers can make more informed choices in the future -  and most of these records were already converted to mp3 and can be found on P2P and/or online communities, so it's not like people couldn't find out the truth by themselves, you see.

That all said, I guess we can proceed. OK? Let's go, then:

TERRA COTTA (UK) - Terra Cotta (EP, Private, 1978) **
Coming from Cambridgeshire, the quartet formed by Terry Cotham (V/RG), Steve Ludlam (G), Kelly Cantlon (B) and Chris Woodcock (D) were a reasonably promising act at the tail end of the 1970's, and this 7'' EP from 1978 was at the receiving end of some local adulation when it originally came out. Many dealers have been advertising this slice of vinyl as a pre-NWOBHM achievement of some sort, but proceed with caution if you're partial to the more hard-hitting side of the NWOBHM spectrum, as Terra Cotta is nowhere near a full-on metal assault. "To Be Near You" (soft rock with very simple song structure) and "C'C'Mon" (slightly more pub rock-oriented, but still fairly uncomplicated) comprise the A-side, and there's really not much reason to delve too deep on these numbers, as both are hardly a showcase of groundbreaking musicianship or stunningly original ideas. But things improve to a considerable extent on the flipside, to be fair. "Hard to Know" is the closer to heavy rock you'll get around here, slightly reminiscent of the most hard rocking tunes of prime-era Tygers of Pan Tang, but actually closer to Foghat's "Fool for the City"-era than anything more metallic. There's a lingering, more sedated instrumental section halfway through, but soon things return to more upbeat waters, with a fairly basic (but pleasant) guitar solo. The guitar work in "Two Timin' Me" is also not a million miles away from heavy music (there's even a twin-guitar melody discreetly going on in places), but only those really charitable will agree to rank it among the pioneering efforts that preceeded the NWOBHM explosion, as the 1970's hard-rocking values of this track are also too clear to be ignored. Terra Cotta weren't really trying to revitalize heavy metal back in 1978: I'd say it's way more a case of trying to play uncompromising, basic rock and roll for the benefit of small, but probably very enthusiastic local audiences. I think it's fair enough, and I'm sure they enjoyed themselves while it lasted. Unfortunately, their quest for worldwide (or local) stardom seems to have been a short-lived one, and they had already bitten the dust for good even before NWOBHM really got going, which was a bit of bad timing perhaps. It's not that hard to locate a copy for a reasonable price these days, so perhaps it's a good one to add to your collection if you're OK with some light-hearted rock music in your spare time.

DEAD CERT (UK) - Time Bomb (7'', Certain Records, 1980) **
Promising band name and songtitles perhaps, but don't get too excited! This South London bunch were on the go since 1978 at least, playing a brand of rock and roll / power pop with some 1960's leanings, most evident on the B-side of this 7'' single from 1980, recorded at R+G Jones studios in Wimbledon. "You'd Better Stop" is pretty much an invitation to dance (sorry mates, but I'd rather sit this one out if you don't mind), while "Time Bomb" is a much more substantial number: the languishing guitar arrangements are a bit too overdone for my personal taste, but the song is OK as a whole I guess. The NWOBHM tag added to this piece on a number of eBay auctions is completely misleading anyway, this being a collectable for those curious about the many unfoldings of late 1970's punk rock scene, but of minimal (if any) interest for British Metal enthusiasts. Dead Cert seems to have had a fair chance to make it big for a while, laying down some demos for record labels and getting as far as opening to The Cure in 1979 (thanks to My Life is a Jigsaw for the info), but everything fizzled out not long after the single was released, probably due to the lack of serious commitment from record labels of the time. If you're interested, though (and there's nothing wrong about enjoying some 1980's power pop along with your usual ration of metal, you know), a live recording is known to have come out as a CDR sometime in the 2000's, and it seems that a version of the band was ongoing in as late as 2011, recording songs for the purposes of a full-length release. I suppose none of such recordings have seen the light of day so far, but you got to give them credit for keep on rocking after such a long time, and I sincerely wish them the best.

EMANON (UK) - Raging Pain (7'', Clubland, 1977) *
Yet another case of potentially-misleading moniker, this sole slice of vinyl from Emanon came out via Clubland, a label known to have released a few pretty respectable slices of heavy music (Camargue and Destroyer being good examples) from the late 1970's onwards. I'm sure it sounds like a band name some long-haired NWOBHM hopefuls would pick from a demonology book or something, but look closely and perhaps you'll find out it's only "no name" spelled backwards... Oh well, it sure looks like a metal-enough artifact at first, and when you consider that most copies were originally sold without a picture sleeve, it's not difficult to understand that a few early-2000's NWOBHM collectors got carried away by enthusiasm when locating a copy of this one. Don't let yourself be fooled though: it's all semi-punk new wave nonsense, and not a very exciting one on that, at least to my humble, fallible ears. There's a interesting enough 60's rock feel in "Rip a Bough", the flipside of this 7'', with a few guitar harmonies reminding me of The Byrds - not quite in the same league of course, but still a nice enough touch. But the song is pretty unspectacular as a whole, I'm afraid, and the garage rock leanings of "Raging Pain" are also not enough to give this record enough substance to really qualify it as a nice find. The self-production job is quite bad to be honest, and some guitars even sound out of tune in places, which is hardly a redeeming factor if you ask me. Oh well, the lads sound young and unexperienced, so let's not be too harsh on them. Perhaps more broad-minded punk collectors may find some enjoyment listening to this one, but I reckon most NWOBHM aficionados are well advised to not include Emanon (not an unique name choice by any means, go figure) on their want lists. A fact made even more obvious when you take a look to the rubber-stamped sleeve that houses a small fraction of the surviving copies, quite a giveaway of its not-remotely-metal contents.

ABC (UK) plus WITCHES BREW (UK) - Rhythm On The Radio / The Party's Over (7'', Oval, 1979) *
The existence of a LP compilation named "The Honky Tonk Demos", released by the Oval label in 1979, will hardly be a mystery for more dedicated vinyl collectors, as it features one of the earliest known recordings from none other than Dire Straits - a live demo version of "Sultans of Swing" that is. Compiled by DJ Charlie Gillett from songs he used to play in his alternative radio show called "Honky Tonk" on BBC Radio London, this slice of vinyl also gave useful exposure to artists that actually made a name for themselves in later years (such as Darts, Chas'n'Dave, Charlie Dore and Live Wire, to name a few), so it's fair to say it truly served its purpose to bring some new music to the masses. But I guess it's comparatively less widespread knowledge that an obscure 7'' split single was also released, selecting two songs already included on the original package. It's difficult to understand the point behind such release, mind you, as neither ABC nor Witches Brew were particularly shiny hopefuls at the time, and I'm pretty sure there were dozens of deserving bands that weren't included on the LP and would be more than willing to receive such a chance instead. Bizarrely, some newcomers to the NWOBHM collecting scene seemingly found this long-forgotten single in a bargain bin or something, and immediately associated the Witches Brew here included to the obscure Irish bunch of the same name, responsible for the mildly interesting "Angeline" 7'' in 1983. They were wrong of course, and a single listen to the jazzy, bossa-nova tinged "The Party's Over" may have been enough to provide conclusive evidence that it's an entirely different combo indeed. It's an OK song I guess (in abridged form when compared to the LP inclusion), with good female vocals, a nice flute solo and even a few noisy guitar histrionics in places. But it simply has nothing to do with heavy rock, let alone heavy metal, and the same can be said about ABC's "Rhythm on the Radio", a reggae tune with slightly funky basslines that will hardly be the soundtrack for good headbanging, you see. It's not at all difficult to buy it cheap enough if you just can't live without a copy, but there's really no reason to bother if you're a NWOBHM aficionado, so I'd suggest you to just let it find its way into more suitable shelves if you ever find this one for sale.

BRANDS HATCH (UK) - Teacher Teacher (7'', Independent, 1983) **
Yeah, I know. Such an esoteric item, eh? But we have to deal with the facts around here, and the facts are plain and simple: this particular piece of wax is no NWOBHM monster at all. Tales about the existence of this single are circulating since at least the mid 2000s, and some assumed for a while that it was the same band that laid down two tracks for the famed "Roxcalibur" compilation (some sources still do, incidentally), a misconcept that skyrocketed the prices of this record to the stratosphere. But it's not the case really, and this particular Brands Hatch (whoever they were and wherever they came from) were seemingly at home playing a very melodic, slightly more hard-rocking - but still quite unsubstantial and innofensive - type of pop rock/new wave music. The opening chords of "Teacher Teacher" may be quite deceptive, as there are indeed some heavy enough guitar arrangements going on - a bit reminiscent of Masterstroke's "Prisoner of Love", if such comparison makes sense to you. But soon the female vocals appear, the keyboards take control of the song and the truth of the matter will be established without any room for doubt. Still, it may be a reasonably acceptable listen if you have a (very) broader view on what NWOBHM is about - until those dreadful clapping hands make a not-really-welcome appearance towards the end of the song, at least. But I guess there's no metalhead in the world that wil enjoy listening to "You Can Make it if You Try", the flipside of this 7'', as it's a new romantic-tinged, soul-influenced, featherweight pop ballad that makes for one the most pitiful scores ever reached on my personal Metalomether. The backlash from wealthy collectors who first bought this slice of vinyl seems to have dwindled the asking price quite dramatically, so you can perhaps buy a copy of this (admitedly very rare) item without remortgaging your house in the process, but it's hardly worth the effort if you're a heavy metal fan, believe me. Whatever the case, it would be nice to know more about this (seemingly very fleeting) combo, so, if you ever had any involvement with it, I would be more than happy to get in touch with you, so we can tell the facts behind this particular Brands Hatch in greater detail.

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

domingo, 5 de agosto de 2018

SAXON (UK) - Unleash the Beast (CD, Virgin/CMC International, 1997)


I wasn't there, you know, but I have the distinct feeling the recording sessions for "Unleash the Beast" marked the most relaxing times Saxon had in the studio for quite a while. The stormy days were far behind at last, and everything was going well with the band at the time. Previous album "Dogs of War" was laured by fans and critics as an impressive return to form, the ensuing tour was quite a well-attended (and therefore lucrative) one, and the NWOBHM survivors were in the receiving end of a fair bit of widespread recognition at last, being increasingly regarded by pretty much everyone in the scene as reliable flamebearers on all things Heavy Metal. New soldier Doug Scarratt had little (if any) difficulty to fit in too, and all the tensions created during the dramatic break-up with original guitarist Graham Oliver seemed a thing of the past too - it would eventually resurface in quite nasty terms a couple years later, you see, but let's not touch the subject just yet, as it's better suited for upcoming reviews. And CMC International (later to take new shape as Sanctuary Music) declared interest in distributing the band's new opus, a much-welcome backing that allowed them to book some USA dates once again, the first jaunt to the country in nearly a full decade. Yeah, Saxon were doing just fine in the late 1990s - and tell me, who can blame them for getting a bit carried away?

I wouldn't go as far as to say that "Unleash the Beast" suffers due to a presumable lack of focus, but it's clear for all to hear that it's a less engaging and powerful album than its predecessor. I wouldn't call it faceless too: actually, there's something of a distinct personality lurking beneath the grooves, with some dark leanings in both lyrics and instrumentation that were quite uncommon for Saxon up to that point. But it's mostly underdeveloped really, and the final product sounds mostly without a direction as a result, with frequent distractions stealing much of the album's potential thunder.

Let's take the title track as an example. After an anodyne intro, the first proper song on the CD takes off in pretty interesting terms, with a hard-hitting vibe that is a direct descendant from the glorious early 1980's, as well as a slightly atmospheric, memorable chorus. Nothing new really, but definitely well done and perfectly enjoyable, exactly what one would expect from these long-serving metal merchants. But I still struggle to come to terms with the final section of this tune, a musical detour that sounds totally disposable and sewn together with the rest at very short notice. It doesn't go anywhere really, fading out without ever threating to make sense, and this ill-conceived outro turns out to be quite detrimental to the overall effect of the song, which is a shame if you ask me.

This lack of cohesion (or inspiration) is equally present on many other songs around here. "Terminal Velocity", for instance, doesn't really deliver the promise of its title, being a hard-rocking bike anthem that is pleasant enough, but far from groundbreaking if you ask me. Tracks like "The Preacher" and "The Thin Red Line" are mildly interesting, but not much else, and ballad "Absent Friends" is simply not in the same league of, say, "Iron Wheels" or "Refugee" (and the over-simplistic chorus is quite a letdown too). "Cut Out the Disease" has its moments (most of all in the heavy-as-hell, almost sludgy guitar work), but its structure is quite confusing as a whole, with mellower parts coming and going without much of an outline to justify such oscillations.

Not all is lost, though. "Circle of Light" (nice main riff and pretty effective vocal lines) and "Ministry of Fools" (highly melodic) are more than capable inclusions to the band's ever-expanding repertoire, working quite well  without ever getting too complicated in the process. Similarly, I can't see anyone ever listing "Bloodletter" as a classic, but it's an enthusiastic tune full of good metallic intentions, and I'm sure there's enough in it to justify a healthy dose of headbanging. "All Hell Breaking Loose" moves perilously close to self-parody in places, but I happen to like this tune's uplifting nature, so I'd say it closes proceedings in a mostly good manner. And the presence of good riffs aplenty (even when put to use in less-than-memorable songs) was a healthy sign when it comes to Doug Scarratt's creative input, showing that he was more than capable to help the band's cause in no small terms.

"Unleash the Beast" is hardly a highlight in Saxon's career, but let's not be too harsh on them: some albums are simply better than others, and one can't honestly expect a band to hit the nail right on the head every single time. It may not have been the further move towards world domination some perhaps would expect, but it was no step backwards either, and the developments ignited by this particular release sure helped the band's cause in the long run. You don't really need it if you're not an ardent fan, but it's not like you should avoid it at all costs too - I do own a copy myself, for instance, and I even give it a few spins from time to time. Don't be afraid to give it a chance if you find it for sale at a reasonable price.

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

01. Gothic Dreams 1:33
02. Unleash the Beast 5:18
03. Terminal Velocity 4:46
04. Circle of Light 5:28
05. The Thin Red Line 6:20
06. Ministry of Fools 4:31
07. The Preacher 4:57
08. Bloodletter 5:33
09. Cut Out the Disease 5:25
10. Absent Friends 4:57
11. All Hell Breaking Loose 4:31

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

sábado, 4 de agosto de 2018

SAXON (UK) - The Eagle Has Landed Part II (2 CD, Virgin, 1996)


It was a long way back to the top (well, sort of), but Saxon finally fulfilled their redemption with 1995's highly accomplished "Dogs of War". Maybe the sales figures weren't as impressive as one would expect, but the metal fraternity surely welcomed this major return to form with open arms, and the lenghty (and healthly lucrative) tour that followed was a direct consequence of renewed general interest in the band's activities. To celebrate their improved status, and as a much-needed break before a new batch of songs could be properly written and recorded, the English stalwarts picked some cuts from their recent German jaunt and assembled it as the somewhat pompous "The Eagle Has Landed Part II" 2-CD release. As an extra, the album also served the purpose to formally introduce new axeman Doug Scarrat, being the first release to ostensibly feature his name and contributions. Not a classic by any stretch, this live record is a pretty pleasant listen all the same, and I feel there's enough things to say about it to justify the exercise of a short review, at least.

Given that "Dogs of War" was the album being promoted during the gigs, and remembering how well received it was by the time of its release, it's a somewhat unexpected fact that it's mostly absent in the running order. There's only three songs from the aforementioned album, while "Solid Ball of Rock" (a not-very-successful and, honestly, less interesting CD) is granted with no less than five inclusions - and I'm not mentioning the preludes, mind you. I mean, we could easily had lived without "Can't Stop Rockin'" or "Ain't Gonna Take it" in order to have some "Burning Wheels" or "Yesterday's Gone" included. Who knows, maybe the lads just found out their most recent batch of compositions, albeit pretty strong as a studio offering, just didn't have enough bite to make the pundits go wild in the live environment or something. At least the few inclusions from their 1995 opus are all strong and effective, with both "Dogs of War" and "The Great White Buffalo" ranking amongst the best renditions of the entire set - and "Demolition Alley", surely an unusual choice for a final track, actually works out fine too, being a pleasant and upbeat way to close proceedings.

Quite well recorded and mixed, "The Eagle Has Landed Part II" is still not recommended for those unfamiliar with Saxon, due to the fact that only a few classics from the 1980s actually made it into the final product. "Denim and Leather" features guest Swedish axeman Yngwie Malmsteen making one of his typically excessive, tasteless performances, so I'd say it's hardly the best version of this NWOBHM standard ever recorded, you know. "Crusader" (in abridged form) serves its purpose well enough, and the mandatory duo of "Princess of the Night" and "Wheels of Steel" can do no wrong as well, but I'd pick "The Eagle Has Landed" as a true highlight here: its remarkable atmosphere works admirably well upon a stage, and Biff Byford really sings his heart out on this one. But that's pretty much it when it comes to classic-era Saxon around here, and I'm sure any old-time fans of the band will be more than capable to name over a dozen other tracks from the old days that could (and, in some cases, should) have been included. I truly understand the reason for such omissions, as this live album was meant to celebrate recent achievements rather than past glories, but the resulting package turns out to be one for those already converted, as newcomers will hardly have a representative picture of Saxon's trajetory with this one.

That all said, there's really no reason to dismiss this one if you're a fan, and don't hesitate to spend a few bucks on it if you find a copy being offered for sale. There's hardly any turkey on sight, and Saxon does a commendable job in both the hard-hitters ("Light in the Sky", "Crash Dive", "Forever Free") and the more thoughtful, subtle moments ("Requiem", "Iron Wheels", "Refugee"), so you can rest assured that you're going to spend an hour and a half with some truly pleasant music coming out of your speakers.

Biff Byford (V), Paul Quinn (G), Doug Scarrat (G), Nibbs Carter (B), Nigel Glockler (D). Guest musician: Yngwie Malmsteen (G on "Denim and Leather").

CD 1
01. Warlord (intro) 2:19
02. Dogs of War 4:52
03. Forever Free 4:49
04. Requiem 5:55
05. Crusader 5:57
06. Light in the Sky 4:30
07. Iron Wheels 4:18
08. Ain't Gonna Take it 4:44
09. Crash Dive 4:22
10. Refugee 6:02

CD 2
01. Solid Ball of Rock 5:03
02. The Great White Buffalo 6:32
03. The Eagle Has Landed 7:37
04. Princess of the Night 5:16
05. Can't Stop Rockin' 4:40
06. Denim and Leather 6:19
07. Wheels of Steel / Demolition Alley 12:53

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