At HMO, you’ll find reviews of metal albums old and new, from the glammiest to the blackest. There is also news coverage, new releases and general chit-chat about what I’ve been listening to and buying.
More reliably excellent stuff from the Norwegian black thrash icons. Aura Noir cast back to the early days of black metal’s “first wave”: the gnarly thrash of old Venom, Celtic Frost, Sodom and the like delivered with the cold intensity of “second wave” bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem. And on 2018’s Aura Noire the band grinds their sound down to the bare power-trio minerals. It feels significantly less face-flaying than their older stuff but the band’s supply of killer, twisted riffs and mischevious lyrics (“truly fictitious!”) is inexhaustible and the stripped-down sound allows their music to breathe with a natural, live energy. Aura Noire doesn’t strive to impress, so it’s tempting to write it off as merely solid. That would be a mistake. Dark Lungs Of The Storm, Grave Dweller and Mordant Winds are all charnel delights and the album’s old-school brio and confidence mark it out as a future favourite.
Following several poorly-received albums and the acrimonious ousting of frontman Geoff Tate, the rebooted Queensrÿche returned to the fan-pleasing style of their classic era with this eponymous 2013 album. The twin guitars, hefty bass, percussive drumming and the uncanny Tate-alike vocals of new member Todd La Torre all sound the part, bringing to mind albums like Rage For Order and Empire. But this is progressive metal in sound rather than form: straightforward verse/chorus songcraft with little of the state-of-the-art sophistication of old. No thought-provoking lyrics here either, unless “take a look around in the lost and found” strikes you as high-concept. But, as modern mainstream metal goes, it’s tight and focused with great hooks. The up-tempo Don’t Look Back and Fallout are especially potent and songs like A World Without and Open Road have plenty of heart. Queensrÿche played it too safe to count as a true return-to-form but it was good enough to return much needed credibility to the beleaguered band.
HMO Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5
Queensrÿche - Fallout (OFFICIAL VIDEO) - YouTube
Live bonus tracks appear again on the box set version of their latest album ‘The Verdict’
Skyclad – A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol (1992)
A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol is a grand medieval banquet full of succulent folk, juicy classic metal and meaty thrash. Skyclad’s 1992 album was a truly original and pioneering work that built on their debut album’s idiosyncratic promise. The addition of a full-time violinist Fritha Jenkins adds class and colour to a rich and varied set of pagan metal all graced by the gifted lyrics and charismatic vocals of Martin Walkyier. The lusty jig Spinning Jenny and the fist-pumping The Declaration Of Indifference are the enduring set-list faves but every track here is special. The mix of traditional metal mastery à la Maiden and Manowar coupled with the rage and darkness of the underground made this the album to beat in a year when proper epic metal seemed to be in short-supply. From the dystopian anger of Broken Promised Land to the historical tragedy of R’Vannith and the mellow moon-lit ley lines of Ring Stone Round, A Burnt Offering… is a treasure from start to finish.
Samson’s 1979 debut was one of the first albums to come from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. But the hasty Londoners weren’t quite studio ready yet and Survivors was a half-decent effort at best. Bassist Chris Aylmer and vocalist Bruce Bruce are pictured on the cover but weren’t actually in the band when Survivors was recorded so guitarist Paul Samson handled vocals and Gillan’s John McCoy added some heavy help: playing bass as well as co-writing and producing. And the album is at its strongest when it picks up some of that gonzo Gillan-esque edge. It’s Not As Easy As It Seems, Big Brother, Koz and Six Foot Under are all boisterous highlights. But the rest of the album is dated and forgettable and Samson and McCoy both fall short in their vocal and production roles. Still, for all its faults, it has an ordinary Joe charm that captures the spirit of the emerging movement. Later, with Aylmer and Bruce onboard, Samson would power up and hit the NWOBHM head on. With biceps of steel.
HMO Rating: 3 Out Of 5
(Buyer note: Most reissues add alternative versions with improved sound and Bruce Bruce on vocals. Essential!)
Backed by a band of skilful Swedes (including Mic Michaeli and John Leven of Europe fame) the rehab-ed and rejuvenated “Voice Of Rock” delivered an engaging set of hard and groovy AOR with 1994’s From Now On… The album wasted no time getting Purple fans onboard with the rousing, Hammond-led opener Pickin’ Up The Pieces and the superb blues metal of Lay Your Body Down. But it also pointed the way forward with the moody funk of Walking On The Water, soulful rocker The Liar and the trippy Into The Void. It gets too middle-of-the-road for comfort at points and there’s some dated bloat in the album’s later stages but the closing title-track and a couple of ace Purple covers are worth holding out for. Stronger and more confident from here on in, Glenn’s releases would get increasingly adventurous and exciting. But this album was a strong building block for his comeback and also a great place for new fans to discover his talents.
The punishingly bleak death metal on Paradise Lost’s 1990 debut Lost Paradise makes it the odd-one-out in a discography more renowned for gothic melody. But the five teenagers had only been together about a year before being faced with the challenge of recording their first record and, despite not having found their voice yet, they make a pretty decent fist of it. A lack of songcraft means it all kind of mushes together but they already have their doleful mix of riff and lead guitar down, there’s the occasional decent hook (“where is your God now?”), and the whole thing has a entrancingly subterranean atmosphere. And Lost Paradise has proven pretty influential in its own right as one of the earliest albums to slow death metal down to a miserable crawl. The Yorkshiremen would do much better with subsequent releases but fans of meat and potatoes death/doom could do a lot worse than check this out.
The modern idea of “heavy metal” starts here. Judas Priest’s seminal sophomore album Sad Wings Of Destiny laid down the template for countless others to follow with its evil, slashing riffs, demonic guitar duels and the screaming, theatrical vocals of the one-and-only Rob Halford. This 1976 album contains four peerless classics in the humungous Victim Of Changes, the thrashing Genocide, Tyrant and the malevolent The Ripper. And, while less innovative, the deep cuts like the orchestral Prelude, psychedelic Dreamer Deceiver and the funereal Epitaph give the album a mournful, gothic construction that makes this the Priest to hear if you’re a crucifix-necklaced, flare-wearing, doom metal type. Supposedly the album’s A and B sides were accidentally reversed on initial release so we’ve all been listening to it in the wrong order. But it doesn’t matter. Listen to this any way you like: forwards, backwards, up, down, shuffle. Either way it’s a masterpiece. Actually… maybe avoid listening to it backwards. Just in case.
Yngwie M. F. Malmsteen goes for the commercial jugular on his fifth studio album, 1990’s Eclipse. Aided by his first all-Swedish lineup, the borking-mad maestro dishes out a superlative set of melodic Euro metal that expands on the AOR leanings of his previous record Odyssey. The album opens with its three singles. Making Love is smouldering of verse and colossal of riff; Bedroom Eyes is fun Europop with loose jamming guitar; and the smoochy ballad Save Your Love is a skippable bore. Luckily the next track Motherless Child is an exciting metal rager. It’s a stunner, charged with emotion, and from there on the album barely puts a foot wrong. From the explosive pomp of Devil In Disguise and Judas to the flawlessly layered Faultline this album is a blast. Might prove too cheesy for fans weaned on Marching Out but if you fancy a bit of pop and pomp with your power, the stars align on Eclipse.
Demon Head – Hellfire Ocean Void (Released 22nd Feb 2019)
Remember when bands used to “get it together in the country”? Demon Head do. In the winter of 2017-18 they headed out to a remote recording studio in the Danish countryside to record their third album. But this is no bucolic, hippy, communing with nature type affair. More a “getting lost in the woods, people with strange animal masks, ‘it’s time for your appointment with The Wicker Danzig’” situation. The creepy rural seclusion approach has worked: Demon Head have definitely got it together on Hellfire Ocean Void.
The Night Is Yours and In The Hour Of The Wolf are the standout tracks: occult, old-fashioned metal that will appeal to fans of Tribulation and In Solitude. There are also lots of rustic interludes and mystical ambience which, combined with the band’s Pentagram-style proto-doom, gives the album a folk horror allure. The guitar work is much improved, some exciting NWOBHM-esque workouts and solos here, and Ferriera Larsen is finding his own voice: shaking off the Bobby Leibling/Fonzig comparisons of old.
As with previous albums, there’s a tendency to meander which means it takes a few listens to grab you. But it’s their most thoughtful, consistent and well-crafted effort yet with depth and atmosphere in abundance. It builds on the promise of their earlier work and suggests exciting ways forward. Fan of pagan, old-school metal? It’s time for your appointment with Demon Head.
HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5
Demon Head: The Night Is Yours (Official Music Video) - YouTube
If you’re a fan of Ritchie Blackmore you get used to band members coming and going. But for fans of Rainbow, the departure of Ronnie James Dio in 1978 was a tough pill to swallow. The mighty castle metal of the Dio years was replaced with the AOR hit Since You’ve Been Gone and the proto-Miami Vice vision of new vocalist Graham Bonnet.
But don’t pull your drawbridge up just yet. 1979’s Down To Earth is one of Rainbow’s best albums. Since You’ve Been Gone might be too slick for some, but it’s a classic rock track: deceptively sophisticated and impeccably delivered with a Blackmore guitar solo made out of sheer joy. And if the new frontman was more James Dean than James Dio, his powerful and versatile lungs allow the band to get raunchier and bluesier, bringing to mind revered Deep Purple albums like Machine Head and Burn. The driving All Night Long has brilliant Smoke On The Water style riffs and Love’s No Friend is a superbly moody sequel to Mistreated. Better still, the grandiose proto-power metal of the previous Rainbow remains in the thumping Eyes Of The World and the medieval tinges of Makin’ Love. The closest the album comes to filler is the generic No Time To Lose but even that adds some welcome up-tempo energy, as does the lively closing track Lost In Hollywood.
Inevitably, the coming and going continued with the departure of both Bonnet and drummer Cozy Powell. Which means Down To Earth becomes a transitional album in the Rainbow catalogue: steering the band from Ye Olde Rainbow to the slicker Joe Lynn Turner era. But with shades of both styles and a timeless hue of Deep Purple too, it’s a stone-cold classic in its own right. Could I be wrong? No.