segunda-feira, 12 de outubro de 2020

UFO (UK) - No Place to Run (LP, Chrysalis, 1980)


I sincerely think that, if they wanted to soldier on as a band, there wasn't much of an option for UFO in late 1978 but to get rid of Michael Schenker. Let's face it: no matter how much of a genius he was (and still is), Schenker's alcohol abuse, unpredictable mood swings and erratic behavior were all very difficult to deal with, and I fully understand why Phil Mogg (pretty much the mainman on UFO from this point onwards) felt it was about time to let the guitarist go. The excellent results of the "Strangers in the Night" live album may invite some oh-if-all-could-have-been-different meditation on many listeners, but the fact is still there for all to see: Schenker messed things up big time, to such an extent that his stand-in and future substitute Paul Chapman had to fill his shoes more than once, as the German axeman would be too inebriated and/or unwilling to perform. You can use the "there's no UFO without Schenker" card as much as you like, but it takes two to tango, you know.

The problem, as you all can imagine, is that it's not at all easy to replace an outstanding musician such as Michael Schenker. Paul Chapman (another one that has left the building way too soon, so may he Rest in Power forevermore) was a natural choice, almost a no-brainer in fact: he knew the songs by heart and was tested and approved on the live environment (I suggest looking after a semi-bootleg release named "Parker's Birthday" in case you're still in doubt). The new guy sure knew what to do with a guitar on his hands, and UFO were more than well served with him upon a stage. But you don't need more than a couple of spins to "No Place to Run" to know exactly what Chapman's achilles' heel was: he wasn't half the songwriter Michael Schenker is. Considering that Pete Way and Paul Raymond had become more of sporadic songwriters, and Phil Mogg was the kind of collaborative composer that needed someone else's instrumental ideas to work with, it's easy to understand that their ability to write seriously good music was in sensible decline. 

Most of the songs featured on "No Place to Run"  lack the dynamics and the imaginative sollutions so abundant in earlier releases, being little more than competent, but rather formulaic attempts to follow the trend of the times - just like "Obsession" before it, but with perilously poorer results. Play simple music is not that simple, you know: even the most basic of songs need some sort of creativity and/or sense of urgency to capture people's minds, and UFO seems to be running out of both assets in this LP. Perhaps even more worrying is the perceivable decrease in energy, something completely at odds with the youthful enthusiasm of then-arising NWOBHM; a song like the title-track, a tune that wouldn't be more than serviceable under normal circumstances, comes out even less interesting when played in such a bureaucratic manner, like the guys were just trying to get rid of the task as fast as they could. 

Don't get me wrong: these guys were still masters of their trade, and songs such as "Money Money" (an intense heavy rocker with nice use of support vocals and guitar embellishments, perhaps the best composition from the entire record), "This Fire Burns Tonight" (nice chorus) and the competent version of Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" (excellent solos on this one) are sure to make fans happy. I also like ballad "Take it or Leave it", a truly beautiful track with delicate, neat arrangements. But redundant, less-than-enthusiastic rockers like "Lettin' Go" and "Young Blood" don't help matters at all, and poor tracks like "Anyday" (a very confusing composition that fades out to oblivion before threatening to make sense) and "Gone in the Night" (a sort of cabaret-vibe rock and roll that simply doesn't work to any extent) are close to an embarassment, if we're to be honest here. 

As a whole, "No Place to Run" sounds too midtempo and tamed to be a strong contender, let alone in a moment when the NWOBHM was taking the world by storm with a much more energetic, dynamic and forceful musical approach. Much of the blame should go to the production / mixing job by George Martin - a household name that may have seemed quite a strong choice at the time (he used to be the Fifth Beatle, for God's sake), but turned out to be disappointing due to the bland, faceless results of his work here. Nothing sounds real bad, but nothing stands above average either, a shortcoming that only adds to the run-of-the-mill feeling of the proceedings. While bands like Judas Priest, Scorpions and even Black Sabbath were successfully adjusting their sound and image to the new times, UFO were missing the wave they pretty much saw before anyone else.

"No Place to Run" wasn't that good when it came out in early 1980, and it surely didn't get better with age, so there's no urgency to buy it unless you're already a fan (like myself, for instance). The great comercial success of "Strangers in the Night" would still keep UFO's head above water a while longer, but they seriously needed to deliver something more substantial next time around, if they really wanted to survive as a relevant group in the very competitive rock/metal environment of the 1980s. And credit where is due: they surely tried hard.

Phil Mogg (V), Paul Chapman (G), Paul Raymond (G/K), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Alpha Centauri (Chapman) 2:06
02. Lettin' Go (Way, Mogg) 3:51
03. Mystery Train (J.Parker, S. Phillips) 3:55
04. This Fire Burns Tonight (Chapman, Mogg) 4:31
05. Gone in the Night (Way, Mogg) 3:47
06. Young Blood (Way, Mogg) 3:59
07. No Place to Run (Way, Mogg) 3:58
08. Take it or Leave it (Raymond) 3:01
09. Money, Money (Way, Mogg) 3:29
10. Anyday (Way, Mogg) 3:48

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!

MANOWAR (USA) - Battle Hymns (LP, Liberty, 1982)

RATING: ****

I really don't like Manowar that much, you know. This is quite a strange way to start this review, no doubt about that - but, if it makes sense to warn the casual reader about my huge appreciation for Iron Maiden before writing about their records, it's equally reasonable to let you all know the forthcoming analyses about Manowar's merits and shortcomings are from someone who was always less than impressed by them in the first place. I only have one CD from Manowar in my collection, a piece of "Louder than Hell" I bought way back when it first came out; a record that never really impressed me, and I haven't listen to for nearly a decade. Besides, I always felt that the band's antics were too contrived and silly for comfort, and the "born to rock drink and fuck" bullshit aged even worse than expected, now sounding like a truly moronic display of eternal adolescence - not to say an apology for alienation, mysoginy and hatred against difference, but let's leave it at that. I won't delve into the subject of Joey DeMaio's arrogant and unfriendly behavior towards other bands, or waste any time with ex-guitarist Karl Logan and his repulsive connection with child pornography, because I'm pretty confident you have already catch my drift.

Oh yeah, I totally can read your mind right now: if the guy despises Manowar so much, why bother? Well, I guess it's something of a challenge, you see - trying to be fair and reasonable while talking about a band that, despite not being my cup of tea at all, undoubtedly left quite a mark in the metal music scene. But don't expect me to suffer through self-indulgent re-recordings, redundant live recordings, pointless compilations and so on: the reviews will be restricted to their studio input, and I'm not going to move beyond the aforementioned "Louder than Hell", unless someone pay me good money to do so. I mean, I just couldn't care less about listening to cringeworthy stuff as "The Lord of Steel" ever again, let alone with so many yet-unheard records from respectable artists waiting in my personal queue. Similarly, there will be little (if any) comments about the band's history and development, as 1) it takes some research, and I'm not inclined to make such an effort 2) you surely can find it elsewhere, done by people with far more commitment to the group's cause than myself. The albums, and the albums only: that's what you're going to get, so be warned!

That all said, let's get the party started, huh?

For starters, I feel it's interesting to note that Manowar was clearly a more collaborative band back then, with Ross the Boss and Joey DeMaio sharing most songwriting credits and, dare I say, a common vision about what Manowar should try to achieve. Actually, I can hear something of Ross' former band The Dictators on "Death Tone", a biker-friendly heavy rocker that also has more than a hint of late-70s Kiss to it. It could have been a real good song under different circumstances, but it ultimately leaves something to be desired when it comes to songwriting, most of all in the nonsensical chorus. I certainly wouldn't choose this kinda ramshackle track as an opener for my debut LP, but what do I know? "Metal Daze" comes next, and it is as over-the-top as it gets, the first in a long row of brain-dead lyrics about how cool it is to be a metal fan - and it comes with an immensely cheesy chorus most groups out there would be really ill-at-ease to employ. That said, it's all very light-hearted and catchy, this being a good-time, celebratory tune rather than anything more arrogant or contrived. Though far from an all-time classic, I must say that I like "Metal Daze" way better than, say, "Army of the Immortals" or "Brothers of Metal" - maybe because Manowar don't seem to take themselves too seriously on this one, and being over-pretentious is hardly the best approach when singing about something as trivial as enjoying a particular kind of music.

The production job is far from stellar (actually, it manages to be both thin and murky at the same time, which is an achievement of sorts I guess), but the early 80s metal records aren't exactly renowned by their pristine sound, so let's not overreact about it. In fact, it's not all out of place when you consider the rock-based structure of songs like "Fast Taker", a tune that could easily have been a Saxon song due to its (probably unintentional) NWOBHM feel. The solos from the Boss sound quite bluesy on this one, and it's a nice touch if you ask me. Lyrically, early Manowar were obviously miles away from any sophisticated poetry, but they didn't have completely lost their grip to reality just yet, and their macho-man imagery isn't there to embarass us just yet, fortunately. It even gets quite political on "Shell Shock", a heavy rocking tune about surviving the Vietnam War that is surely the more street-level and down-to-earth Manowar ever got - and I must say it's easily one of my favorite songs from their entire repertoire! It's a formative number for sure, and the fact that Manowar chose not to further pursue this particular formula should come as no surprise really - let's face it, there's nothing on this particular track that most competition weren't doing at precisely the same time, often with more accomplished results. But it's cool to hear Manowar trying to say something meaningful about the world around them for a change - and, though the innovative features in Manowar's music sure laid elsewhere, maybe they could have been a more endearing (and less self obsessed, and funnier) metal entity if they had kept some of the not-totally-serious spirit you can hear on the A side of their debut LP.

Despite this mild appreciation to the not-at-all-brilliant, but still charming results of the first half, it's undeniable that the songs that made "Battle Hymns" a landmark release for the power metal scene are pretty much confined to the B side. "Manowar" is decent, but hardly a song to deserve more than a very brief mention; in fact, I'd say "Dark Avenger" is the first song here to really show what the fuss about the band was all about. The storytelling (helped in no small part by a cheesy, but still amusing narration by none other than Orson Welles) works remarkably well, and the contrast between the plodding first part and the fast paced attack when the main character gets his 'revenge' is expertly built and very effective. It's widely seen as a classic, and deservedly so, easily being one of the highlights of this album. "William's Tale" comes next, and it's the first instalment in the seemingly obligatory series of pointless instrumental cuts laid down on tape only to please Joey DeMaio's ego. He is a very precise bass player of course, with a fast picking that is all of his own, and the results are far from atrocious this time around, as this track (written by Gioachino Rossini) is a more well-humoured (there you go again) and (slightly) less indulgent display of dexterity than like-minded efforts like "Black Arrows" or "Thunderpick" (oh my).

But the true gem in "Battle Hymns" is its near-title track, no doubt about that. There's little doubt in my mind that this single tune is the crowning achievement in the band's career, most of all because it was a truly innovative number by the time it officially came out. Granted, there were lots of epic numbers in metal since at least the early 1970s ("War Pigs" comes immediately to mind), but playing a song that actually sounded like being in a battle wasn't that much a thing way back in 1982, believe me. The way the galloping basslines from DeMaio evoke an actual march is truly amazing, and the generic lyrics are actually a strong point rather than a hindrance: this ancient battle could be any battle, you know, and it doesn't take much imagination to picture yourself right there, holding a sword and shield to kill or die. It's one of the defining moments for Eric Adams' career as well: I'm not that huge a fan of his allegedly unbelievable singing prowess (more about that on future reviews), but here his over-the-top style is perfectly in place, adding to the grandiose imagery of the lyrics in no uncertain terms. Even the drumming of Donnie Hamzik, that pretty much keeps the beat and not much else through most of the record, works perfectly fine on "Battle Hymn", giving the exact muscular drive it needs to create its cinematic, all-conquering atmosphere. A true classic, no doubt about that, and a song that will forever keep Manowar among the true innovators from the heavy metal scene.

All things considered, "Battle Hymns" is a mandatory listen for anyone who wants to understand how epic power metal came to be, and it still holds its own remarkably well after nearly 40 years - let's face it, some of their later albums sound way more dated than this one nowadays! They were still trying to find their own niche, and some drastic changes were just around the corner (the arrival of powerhouse drummer Scott Columbus being the most significant of all), but this is the work of hungry musicians willing to leave a mark and fully commited to their cause, and I think it's always something to admire. It would be quite a bumpy ride for these American stalwarts in later years, but this is a CD I wouldn't at all be ashamed to have in my record collection -  but don't expect me to buy a copy of "Battle Hymns MMXI", as I'm not at all enamoured with pointless re-recordings of classic releases!

Eric Adams (V), Ross "the Boss" Friedman (G/K), Joey DeMaio (B), Donnie Hamzik (D).

01. Death Tone (DeMaio, Friedman) 4:48
02. Metal Daze (DeMaio) 4:18
03. Fast Taker (DeMaio, Friedman) 3:56
04. Shell Shock (DeMaio, Friedman) 4:04
05. Manowar (DeMaio, Friedman) 3:35
06. Dark Avenger (DeMaio, Friedman) 6:20
07. William's Tale (DeMaio, Rossini) 1:52
08. Battle Hymn (DeMaio, Friedman) 6:55

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!

domingo, 11 de outubro de 2020

UFO (UK) - Strangers in the Night (Chrysalis, 2 LP, 1979)

RATING: *****

Yeah, I know. A perfect score for a live album? Not only that, but a live album being the landmark of a band's career, the best thing they ever done, the crowning achievement that will be remembered by the thankful masses long after they're gone? For most bands, a live recording is little more than a money grab, often a way to celebrate a successful period and turn it into even more albuns sold - or else, if your band are on a down, a subterfuge to milk some extra cash out of past glories. Sometimes, it also works as a quick and effective stratagem to get rid of disadvantageous or obstructive record deals. But there aren't that many bands out there that could (or can) release a live album strong enough to leave a lasting mark, capturing their efforts upon a stage in such a favorable light that you can't help but wish you were there, every single time you listen to it. UFO surely could, as they were always an outstanding live act with a strong repertoire to match - and they surely did it with "Strangers in the Night", easily one of the best live albums a heavy rock band ever managed to release, and I mean it.

Recorded in autumn 1978, during a string of shows in the USA, this 2-LP package is so unbelievably good that it even makes UFO look bigger than they really were at the time. If you never heard the band before, this is the record that will almost fatally turn you into a big fan, and you're likely to search around like crazy for the studio releases, just to find out that the live versions are actually better in nearly all cases: they never captured in a recording studio the same magic they created live, which is a compliment to their powers when in concert rather than anything detrimental to UFO's usual releases. Take "Doctor Doctor" as an example: a good-enough-but-nothing-memorable song in "Phenomenom", it comes out as a near masterpiece in live form, a perfect mix of melody, hard riffing and exhilarating energy. "Rock Bottom" is perhaps even better, its 11-minute-plus showcase of strong riffs and powerful guitar-keyboards interplay being a tour de force of jaw-dropping proportions, dwarfing the studio version in no uncertain terms. 

All musicians deliver great performances here. Maybe Pete Way and Paul Raymond are slightly less prominent than the rest, but they sure provide a great backbone for both Phil Mogg and Michael Schenker's sterling performances to shine, whereas Andy Parker (never mentioned in any drummer's hall of fame, as far as I know, which is a bit of a shame if you ask me) shows in no uncertain terms just what a highly capable sticksman he is. Contrary to most live releases of the time, there's very few overdubs to be heard around here - the guitars, for instance, couldn't be overdubbed, as they also came through the drum mics and any extra tracks would hopelessly mess the whole thing. Therefore, "Strangers in the Night" is mostly very faithful to the experience of being in a UFO concert - despite the fact that the tracking order bears but a passing resemblance to the actual setlists of the tour in question, but nevermind. 

It's no easy task to pinpoint highlights around here, as there's such an abundance of remarkable moments that nearly all tracks are memorable in each own right. "Love to Love" sounds even more grandiose than its (already very good) studio counterpart, with an atmosphere that enfolds the listener from start to finish, while "Out in the Street" and "I'm a Loser" are highly emotional pieces carried along by beautifully played, near-hypnotic keyboard parts. On the other hand, "Lights Out" fulfills its heavy metal promises with great aplomb, and even undemanding hard rocking tunes like "Too Hot to Handle" and "Only You Can Rock Me" sound surpringly powerful and intense, way more enthusiastic than their rather tepid studio versions. These are songs meant to be played upon a stage, and the production (handled by Ron Nevison with Brian Chubb as a live sound engineer) deserves a lot of accolades for capturing UFO's energy in all its glory. All things considered, this is a truly impressive affair, and everyone involved should be very proud of having a part on it.

Unfortunately, this remarkable release would also be the swansong for a very fruitful period in the band's history, as Michael Schenker would make his leave almost as soon as the tour from which it was recorded was over. Not a surprising development anyway, as the axeman's erratic behavior had become too exasperating for his bandmates (most of all Phil Mogg) to endure - to such an extent that they seemingly had a replacement at hand, clearly anticipating the worst case scenario to come. It took them no more than a few days to confirm Paul Chapman as a substitute, the new guitarist having already filled in for Schenker a number of times during the "Obsession" tour, as the German guitar hero's unreliability and excesses more than once rendered him unable to perform. It's a shame that such a strong formation had to come to an end, but maybe good things can only last so long, who knows? Whatever the story, "Strangers in the Night" is an album any self-respecting heavy rock aficionado simply can't live without. If you don't have it, do yourself a huge favor and go buy it straight away. Like, right now. 

Phil Mogg (V), Michael Schenker (G), Paul Raymond (G/K), Pete Way (B), Andy Parker (D).

01. Natural Thing (Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:55
02. Out in the Street (Way, Mogg) 5:12
03. Only You Can Rock Me (Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:58
04. Doctor Doctor (Schenker, Mogg) 4:30
05. Mother Mary (Parker, Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:17
06. This Kids (Schenker, Mogg) 4:40
07. Love to Love (Schenker, Mogg) 7:37
08. Lights Out (Parker, Schenker, Way, Mogg) 4:55
09. Rock Bottom (Schenker, Mogg) 11:02
10. Too Hot to Handle (Way, Mogg) 4:17
11. I'm A Loser (Schenker, Mogg) 3:49
12. Let it Roll (Schenker, Mogg) 4:35
13. Shoot Shoot (Parker, Schenker, Way, Mogg) 3:45

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!