Wednesday, 23 June 2010

TOM ALLALONE & THE 78s - Major Sins pt 1

78s
In February 2010, one of my favourite bands of the previous couple of years broke up rather suddenly. Driven by an equal love of Brian Setzer, Elvis Costello and old Phil Spector discs, the 78s were set to bring rock ‘n’ roll music back to the people. The timing was right – after all, other bands like Baddies and the over-rated Vincent Vincent and the Villains were starting to make waves with sometimes similar types of retro cool. The band had even secured a deal with major label Nettwerk, who’d taken a gamble by making Tom Allalone & The 78’s their first UK signings. Sadly, the record company then showed less than no interest and give ‘Major Sins Pt 1’ no promotion whatsoever at its time of release.

Released in May 2009, their album showed a great deal of potential. Taking those aforementioned influences and trademark check shirts, the band deliver the album’s thirteen songs (many thinly veiled with references to their hometown and surrounding areas) with gusto - sure, there are slow numbers, but even those are brimming with self-confidence.

The album’s lead single ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ is a full throttle rock ‘n’ roll belter. A tale of being wronged by women, this track is largely driven by Richard Clarke’s twangy guitar riff and a shouty chorus. Similarly, ‘Gravesend Boys’ is chock-full of r ‘n’ r bluster and is another moment where the no-nonsense Stray Cats influence is at its most obvious. Combined with sexually charged lyrics regarding an unnamed local lass, it’s probably the track on the album I’m most likely to skip; it doesn’t make it bad – it was always an excellent live number – it’s more a case of ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ doing this kind of thing better. For simple, high energy rock ‘n’ roll, ‘The Jitterbug’ – an ode to sex on the dancefloor – is the album’s winner. Si Fawcett’s bass work is confident, Matt Evans’s drumming is suitably aggressive and the guitar riff is cutting. If you want to cut loose and listen to something that’ll make you want to jump up and down, look no further.

Despite the rock ‘n’ roll influences at the heart of the band’s core sound, it’s on a few of the album’s more complex tracks where the 78s really shine. ‘Casillero Del Diablo’ brings a Latin quality (not to mention a really memorable guitar part) and an excellent use of horns. Lyrically, it features some of Tom’s best work as he describes that nighclub where everyone seems to go, but nobody really should, since “the dance floor is a black hole” and the DJ swigs “petrol from an old hip flask”. Opting for a slightly more indie-rock feel and probably the track that’s most accessible to the widest audience (though always retaining their retro cool), ‘I’m Just The DJ’ explores the lonely world of the lonely man who spins the tunes while everyone around him has a good time. He provides the entertainment (in Tom’s world, this is provided while listening to ‘Gloomy Sunday’ on the earphones), but ultimately goes home alone. The album’s second single ‘Crashland’ is a fantastic soul inspired number with energetic use of brass. Trading in fifties rock for a sixties soul vibe is inspired and the band sounds equally comfortable here. The arrangement is faultless (this sounds like hype, but I honestly think it’s that good) and it features one of Tom’s greatest vocals. In short, it should have been a hit.

‘Wounded’ is another story of loneliness; this time it’s loneliness caused by a painful break-up. Musically, it’s one of the album’s simpler numbers, showing a big Chris Isaak style influence. Once again, it’s Tom’s knack with lyrics which makes it stand up. Lyrically, ‘Dogshit Street’ is Tom’s greatest achievement. Set to a gentle musical arrangement which makes great use of piano and slide guitar, this tells the heartbreaking tale of a girl subjected to a terrible upbringing, who in turn gives her kids a similar life (“Roach butts and roaches lie at your kids feet/You won’t change/ “You race home from Dover with goods you hand over to kids/A small girl that is sober is hard to win over”). When I first heard it, there was something in its frankness and downbeat nature which reminded me of Eels; musically, too, there’s a smidgeon of Mark Oliver Everett in there, though that’s most likely due to the piano and bells.

‘Sign On You Lazy Diamond’ provides another musical and lyrical high point. Its chorus is one of the album’s most memorable, while the story within regards a pushy mother and her insistence our protagonist should sign on and look for real work instead of looking at music for a career. But, as he says, “someday I’m gonna be somebody and prove that woman wrong”. The track is structured around a superb walking bassline from Si Fawcett and sharp rhythm guitar parts. It’s as good as anything you’ll ever hear in this style. ‘This Teenage Crush’ is an epic number with a strong Phil Spector vibe which evokes the sound of those classic girl bands and fifties doo wop. The rhythm section is used sparingly; the dramatic build up is provided by well arranged strings and an increased volume from the vocals and guitars until eventually the strings all but take over in this wall of sound.

Since the album lacked promotion, it seemed to be only the band’s die-hard followers and those who saw Tom and co supporting The Stereophonics or Imelda May (a tour the band got kicked off of for being too good) who took notice to any great level. Their future should have been so much brighter – and listening to the demos for the unfinished second album, the 78s sounded more confident in their approach than ever.

There’s something altogether familiar about Tom Allalone & The 78s. The familiarity may have something to do with my closeness to the band – having seen them approximately fifteen times over the course of three years – but it’s more than that. Despite having a twenty first century edge, Tom Allalone & The 78s’ music has a timeless quality, largely due to their classic influences. Track down a copy of this album - you won’t regret it. Since it wasn’t a great hit at the time, I’m sure it’ll become a cult classic.


See the video for 'Crashland' here.
See an acoustic version of 'Who's Gonna Kiss Me at Midnight' here.


June 2010

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

8-POINT ROSE - Primigenia

8 point

8-Point Rose is a band which rose from the ashes of Evermoore, a Swedish metal band who’d previously produced a couple of demos and toured Europe for seven years. The twin lead guitars, combined with the heavy drumming and the melodic, yet very 80s metal vocal stylings present during this album’s opening number tells you everything you need to know about power metal band 8-Point Rose almost in a heartbeat. Aside from a few extreme vocal growls here and there, they don’t especially deviate from their core sound during ‘Primigenia’s ten songs - but on the basis of this debut album, there’s very little reason why they should.

Between the bombast and heaviness of that opening number, ‘Resolve’, there are some great twin lead guitar parts. Those combined with a strong lead vocal and hook should be enough to convince you that ‘Primigenia’ has plenty in its favour. The chugging guitars and accompanying keyboard riff which opens ‘Out of the Shadows’ could suggest the band also have a liking for a lot of European progressive metal, though it’s only here ‘Primigenia’ lends itself to anything in that genre; once Marcus Nygren’s vocals put in an appearance, it’s obvious where 8-Point Rose’s strongest musical loyalties lie, since this number is another solid piece of melodic power metal. While, at first, it appears this track could be heavier than the opener, the chorus has a huge hook and is very accessible – a contender for the album’s stand out track.

‘Relentless’ shows the band in a slightly heavier mood. A track completely driven by Johannes Timander’s double bass drumming and the dual vocal featuring Marcus Nygren’s melodic wail contrasted Adam Johannson’s metal growl, it’s a number which brings more extreme influences to the fore; it doesn’t sacrifice melody completely – it’s just very heavy! ‘The Shadow’ is more in the Swedish melodic metal camp, complete with a huge chorus which makes best use of Nygren’s voice. Again, the more extreme vocal from Johannson makes an appearance during its mid section, though this is brief and doesn’t detract from a great melody and hook. And if you’re into big choruses, then ‘When Chaos Rules Our Lives’ will certainly appeal. While parts of the song are a little too aggressive, the chorus is fantastic. It has a very Swedish feel (and for those of you who’ve been into melodic rock for years, you’ll know exactly what I mean) which harks back to the late 80s/early 90s.

‘Endless Rage’ is also recommended listening, since it showcases everything which makes 8 Point Rose decent. The main thrust of the song comes from its power metal groove, which features extensive use of double bass drums and a solid lead vocal, but it’s the mid section which provides most interest. After a gentle interlude, the listener is treated to a gorgeous solo – long, soaring notes at first, before breaking into a superb twin harmony followed by a great metal solo which remains tuneful and never resorts to outright shredding and showiness.

After opening with a great twin lead which is slightly reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s more epic moments (during their ‘Seventh Son’ period, mainly), ‘The Shadow’ doesn’t quite live up to promise as it slips into grandiosity with a slightly overwrought vocal. This could have been forgiven with a more interesting musical approach, but up against the rest of ‘Primigenia’, this is very pedestrian. It’s with moments such as this I understand why 8-Point Rose have been likened to other power metal bands like Dream Evil. Generally speaking, they’re much better than that, though, as most of this album shows.

The closing number, ‘Name of Time’ features the band at their absolute heaviest. Here, 8 Point Rose channel the more extreme parts of their sound. Adam Johannson contributes more vocals, so that alone is going to ensure it’s harder nature. I’m not especially a fan of his aggressive vocal style, but generally it’s not overused on most of the album and – as said previously – it’s always balanced by Nygren’s traditional metal vocal. The aggressiveness of this track makes it the album’s weakest in terms of both melody and structure, but since most of ‘Primigenia’ is so strong, it doesn’t matter too much.

Great songs, solid sound and a decent production make this debut by 8-Point Rose one of 2010’s best melodic/power metal releases. If you like your metal with a huge sound and a European slant, you need to grab this.


June 2010

Monday, 21 June 2010

SIMPLE MINDS - Real To Real Cacophony

real

Released in 1979, Simple Minds’ debut album ‘Life In A Day’ was a largely unremarkable affair. Mostly made up of post-punk/new wave material (played by what sounds like a pub band), the only things which ever remain memorable are its two singles – the title track and ‘Chelsea Girl’.

Few people could have predicted that the band’s second album, ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ (released only seven months later) would feature an almost complete stylistic change. Gone are the straight ahead, pop-rock styled chorus songs. In their place, a collection of twisted art rock gems.

The spiky ‘Naked Eye’ weaves around a funky bass part from Derek Forbes and a slightly unhinged vocal; both this and ‘Citizen (Dance of Youth)’ show Wire influences. There’s a dark feeling at work during ‘Citizen’ which reminds me of Wire material (from ‘Chairs Missing’, particularly) meeting with a more lightweight offering from The Birthday Party. ‘Premonition’ creates a nice contrast, being one of the album’s more accessible tracks – stylistically, still a long way from the debut album, there’s an obvious early Roxy Music influence and here, seems to be where Jim Kerr is in strongest voice. In fact, it’s one of the only tracks where he’s recognisable as the Jim Kerr most people would know. Also more song-based is the album’s only single ‘Changeling’. It’s been said elsewhere that this track is weak. To be fair, it’s not weak – it just feels a little out of place here amongst the darker, arty stuff. Maybe the band had been told they needed a single and this was thrown in at the last minute; or maybe it was written before the sessions took a dramatic, experimental slant? I don’t know.

That said, ‘Calling Your Name’ could never be called experimental either. A bouncy new wave tune, this mightn’t have been out of place on XTC’s ‘Go2’, or ‘Drums and Wires’. John Leckie’s production is sharp and the band is in good shape, but generally speaking, it fits rather more into the ‘fun’ category. With it’s almost slow ska rhythms and carny-influenced keyboards, the obviously titled ‘Carnival (Shelter In A Suitcase)’ [I’m guessing ‘Carnival’ was its working title due to that keyboard riff], is in good company with ‘Calling...’, but even this slightly more commercial sounding material bares little in common with the Simple Minds with which most people are familiar.

The online music bible AMG claims that ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ wanders into directionless territory in the middle, but I couldn’t disagree more. ‘Cacophony’ and ‘Veldt’ appear wilfully arty for the sake of it on the surface, but like the aptly named ‘Film Theme’ near the album’s end, these songs are wonderful, Eno-esque soundscapes and show a real appreciation for art rock. Charlie Burchill’s guitar work on the soundscape style tracks ranges from under-stated, to sharp and discordant. His guitar never feels out of place, despite most of the album sounding like an experiment in late seventies electronica. It should be noted, though, that while the various Roxy/Eno/Bowie and Wire influences over parts of the album are more than obvious, absolutely none of it sounds plagiarized. Each influence has been given a new slant, making ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ a captivating listen.

Although the album doesn’t feel traditionally coherent, there’s something about this ragbag of misfit songs which feels right when played as a whole. It’s dark, often challenging and sometimes even difficult listening. If you’re a casual fan looking for stadium pop hits, there’s nothing for you here. As far as Simple Minds are concerned, sometimes I’m convinced ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ is their best record.

[The 2003 remastered version was erroneously retitled 'Reel To Real Cacophony']


January 2010

Thursday, 17 June 2010

IDEALIPSTICKS - Radio Days

radio days

From the opening moments of this Spanish garage rock duo’s album, I think it would be more than fair to say that the crashy rock ‘n’ roll spirit contained within the eleven songs on ‘Radio Days’ seemed instantly familiar. However, both Eva J Ryjien and Jave Ryjien share vocals and the contrast in voices provides Idealipstics with a notable difference to the other garage fuelled bands with which they could be easily compared (and believe me, the similarities to some are more than obvious; though I suspect it’s damn near impossible to push this trashy simplicity into new territory). Most lead vocals are taken by Eva, but Jave has a strong presence on a few tracks. His vocal harmonies give ‘The King Has Died’ depth; both his and Eva’s voices work well together, as the musical arrangement – in this case, a garage rock jangle – gives the track a sleazy vibe. The dual vocal is also really effective on ‘Legs’, in a great call-and-response arrangement on the chorus.

‘Frozen Head’ is very strong. The energy behind the rhythm guitar work really comes across and a decent chorus (slightly more complex than some here) makes things fairly memorable. Eva’s vocal is slightly slurred and a quirky pronunciation in places adds to the all-round trashiness. ‘Love Destroy All’ highlights a slightly more sultry edge and showcases a very strong Yeah Yeah Yeahs influence. It’s a trick which would fit easily onto their ‘Fever To Tell’ full-length. ‘U Talk’ has a pre-chorus built solely out of repetition which promises a great deal for a chorus, yet when the similarly repetitive chorus appears, it stretches simplicity just a little too far and eventually falls flat. It’s a brief misfire though, since ‘Don’t You Love Me Anymore?’ follows quickly and quickly taps into an arrangement which evokes a sloppy Kinks-esque riff and once again drives home a simple and repetitive chorus, highlighting Idealipsticks' best traits.

‘Bitch & Whore’ shows Eva and Jave in a rather more spiteful mood. Here, the lead vocal is taken by Jave, but Eva joins for a strong co-lead on the chorus. This track stands out, not just for the vocal, but for its slightly softer arrangement. The main bulk of the song features an almost new-wave approach to its rhythm guitar work. If this is a little too restrained for you, ‘How Does It Feel?’ hammers full-throttle from the speakers. Imagine Karen O tackling something with the intensity of The White Stripes’ ‘Let’s Build a Home’ and you may have some idea of what Idealipstics do very well. Alongside ‘Legs’, it’s the album’s best track.

One review claims Idealipsticks have a completely unique sound, but I challenge anyone not to hear this album and instantly think of Karen O and her band, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I’d recommend taking Idealipsticks for a spin if you really like the noisier bits of the Ravonettes, Detroit Cobras and early Yeah Yeah Yeahs, since this album features some fantastic tracks. However...I can’t imagine a time when Idealipsticks’ ‘Radio Days’ will replace ‘Fever To Tell’ in your affections, no matter how decent it is.


See the promo video for 'The King Is Dead' here.
See the promo video for 'Legs' here.
Watch a full 8 song live in the studio gig from Spanish TV here.


June 2010

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

LLOYD DOBLER EFFECT - A Mute Reminder

Lloyd

For most of you of a certain age, the mention of the name Lloyd Dobler will raise a smile. If you’re smiling right now, you’ll know that this power pop outfit are named after John Cusack’s enthusiastic leading man in Cameron Crowe’s movie “Say Anything...”; Lloyd was a man with very specific goals. He didn’t want to “sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed”.

As far as the Lloyd Dobler Effect are concerned, like the original Lloyd Dobler, they mostly get it right, if not always (their small failing here being that the album can occasionally start to feel a little samey, but it’s really a minor complaint) but based on parts of ‘A Mute Reminder’, they get full marks for giving 100% every time. ‘A Mute Reminder’ is the second release from Lloyd Dobler Effect, but not their second album – 11 of the 12 songs here were originally issued on LDE’s self-financed eponymously titled disc. (This 12 song version actually works better, since that 15 track self-titled version felt a little long).

‘Meet Me In London’ is a fantastic piece of power pop. Its simplicity is key and its infectiousness is equal to the work by those mid-90s power pop geniuses The Loveless. The chorus is one of those stupidly catchy ones you’re in danger of breaking into while you’re in the supermarket. ‘Have Faith’ initially reminded me of Maroon 5, but with a harder edge. Repeated listens proved this reaction to be a bit glib, since although vocally there could be a comparison, the music has more complex elements. The guitars have just the right amount of drive to push the song far enough out of the pure pop field and indeed, the end of the track goes for full-on funkiness; listen closely – Patrick Hughes’s fluid basslines are superb. If it’s basslines you want, then the latin funk of ‘Might Be Love’ is a high point; it’s almost Santana-lite approach during the song’s verses provides plenty of bounce and as such provides plenty of contrast with the song’s simple but effective pop chorus.

Another stand-out, ‘Release Me’ finds LDE at their most aggressive; but naturally it’s a radio friendly aggression where Donnie Williams gets to hit his snare drums a little harder. Again, any comparisons to early Matchbox Twenty feel almost unavoidable; Phil Kominski’s slight Rob Thomas styled vocal affectation is stronger than ever and in short, it’s another track which pushes all the right buttons. There are plenty of moments during this album that evoke Matchbox Twenty, but that’s not to say it’s plagiarism. It’s yet another example of LDE’s knack of turning in a decent hook almost every time. I say almost since one of the weakest tracks, ‘Radio’ let down by a very lightweight and repetitive chorus. It could be argued that “My radio” repeated in an almost call-and-response fashion is a simple hook, but it’s just that little bit too simple and after tracks like ‘Meet Me In London’ et al, it ends up feeling weaker by default.

The slower ‘Sold Out’ makes decent use of vocal harmonies and a gentle lead guitar riff. ‘Fingertips’ tells the tale of an habitual law breaker; it’s slightly more serious lyrical tone is balanced out by plenty of jangly rhythm guitars and yet another funky bassline. The Santana influence first heard on ‘Might Be Love’ returns by the truckload on ‘Stranger’ where LDE go full-on Latin, giving percussionist Rusty Williams ample opportunity to show off his bongo prowess. The Latin shuffles are complimented by a Rob Thomas style vocal delivery (and surely Santana’s ‘Smooth’ would have been a big influence here) and a tastefully used horn arrangement.

I discovered Lloyd Dobler Effect almost by chance and am glad I did. You’ll find very little originality within the twelve songs on ‘A Mute Reminder’, but what the music lacks in originality is more than made up for with its charm and catchy hooks. If you’re into any of the bands mentioned here, you need to put this on your list of things to check out. You might be glad you heard them too.


June 2010

Thursday, 10 June 2010

ALEXI LALAS - Ginger

alexi

Most of you will know Alexi Lalas as “that American soccer guy”. In 1998, Lalas released the album ‘Ginger’ (his third, I believe) and it’s a fantastic record, full of power pop gems.

On the album, he not only wrote and sang all the songs, but played guitar, bass and drums. Lalas is a fine vocalist, but rather more importantly here, he proves himself to be a superb songwriter. You won’t find any deep or life-changing lyrics, but then that’s not what ‘Ginger’ is about. The opening number ‘Goodnight Moon’ sets the tone with its upbeat jangle, sure to please fans of Gin Blossoms etc. However it’s the album’s second track which really makes the listener realise they could be onto something a bit special; musically, it’s got a similar vibe to the opener, but a catchy, simple guitar riff gives it edge. The lyric “hey hey hey, just another cliché, too much too fast and it slips away” would suggest Lalas more than understands the fickle nature of the music industry (and fame in general) and come what may, he’s getting maximum enjoyment from his work – and that’s something which really comes across in most of this album’s performances.

‘Drive-by Serenade’ has a more mature sound and slows thing down a little. It feels less throwaway than some of the album, but somehow that doesn’t make it better. If you want a comparison, this fits snugly into the late 90s alt rock mode again and wouldn’t sound too out of place played up against the likes of Far Too Jones. It holds its own with the best music of that style. ‘Sonic Lullaby’ tears by in full-on rock mode - and is gone in under three minutes. ‘This Should Be’ is perfect Gin Blossoms style jangle-pop. I may even dare suggest it’s better than some of the material on their second album! ‘Vacancy’ is another slower number which combines both acoustic and electric guitars and is very reminiscent of Five Easy Pieces – another great and largely unknown band from the late 90s.

The songs on offer are so strong; ‘Ginger’ is an album with no unnecessary filler and at approximately 37 minutes playing time, it leaves you feeling like you need to give it that second spin when it’s done, just to help keep up the good vibes. If you’re a fan of ‘Hang Time’ era Soul Asylum, Goo Goo Dolls or Gin Blossoms (and particularly their side project Gas Giants), then you need this record. As far as largely ignored albums go, this is one of the greatest.

March 2010


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

SAXON - Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie

saxonmovie

If you’ve been a regular visitor to Real Gone, you’ll know that Saxon is a band who have been featured previously – more than once, in fact. ...And deservedly so, since their long history has seen many changes; from changes in line-ups, to changes in management – the band, driven by the heavyweight enthusiasm of frontman Biff Byford, appears to be almost unstoppable.

This documentary film made by Coolhead Productions tells their story right from the beginning; when vocalist Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn were playing to small audiences in their slightly ambitious blues/prog hybrid Coast, while simultaneously Steve "Dobby" Dawson and Graham Oliver were getting gigs in a Free influenced hard rock outfit named Sob. Eventually the four musicians joined forces: Sob was renamed Son of a Bitch and with the addition of drummer Pete Gill, was eventually renamed Saxon.

Fans of the band’s first taste of success as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal will have plenty to sink their teeth into, since this movie sees their 1979-82 period discussed at great length, with a particularly in-depth segment regarding Saxon’s support slot on Motörhead’s ‘Bomber’ tour of ’79. As expected, Lemmy is on hand to recount a few stories and we are given an insight into a friendship which was formed between the two bands – a bond which remains strong. The main highlight with regards to storytelling comes from Saxon’s then manager – David Poxon – who recounts the night he was hired. Allegedly, he got stuck in room with the band who then embarked upon a five hour tea-drinking frenzy while Biff cornered him and talked incessantly.

The eighties are tackled with a similar depth, including some great in-the-studio footage of the band recording ‘Crusader’ with REO Speedwagon producer Kevin Beamish. For those looking for the traditional ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ spirit previously associated with Saxon, the 80s albums have always divided their audience. This documentary highlights that the band weren’t always sure with their direction here either – and it’s strangely comforting to hear that!

Although the documentary is superb, there’s a feeling that the band’s output between 1990 and their headline performance at the German Wacken Festival in 2008 is a little rushed. There are decent interviews with guitarist Doug Scarratt and bassist Tim ‘Nibs’ Carter, where they talk about joining Saxon; there’s the obligatory discussion regarding Graham Oliver finishing his tenure with the band. There’s also time given to the discussion of the Harvey Goldsmith documentary (which is claimed went some way to putting Saxon back on the right path, but from some angles here it looks like a hatchet job). But for the more casual fan (there are a lot of lapsed fans out there, and here’s hoping this documentary could inspire them to re-connect with the band), any discussion of the many albums Saxon released throughout the 90s and most of the 00’s appears to fly by in minutes. 1990’s ‘Solid Ball of Rock’ is discussed briefly as marking the beginning of a move back towards a more metal sound for Saxon, before barely any time at all is given to the albums which followed.

While all the interviewees have great stories to tell (Biff and Dobby are particularly engaging), ‘Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie’ is not always laughs abound. There’s a moment where the slightly boastful tones of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery turn to regret as Dobby recounts tales of times spent with groupies, particularly on the Mötley Crüe tour of ’84. Even though, as a viewer you know it’s coming, hearing the less optimistic voices of Dobby and Graham Oliver talk about their leaving the band/being fired also lends a gentle sadness. Biff also talks about his first wife and child and becoming a father at 17 and having to choose between them or life as a musician. When asked if he ever looks back, he replies: “No. I don’t think about it. You have to put it in a little package and put it away somewhere...

If the late 70s and early 80s established the band as one of the leading lights in the heavy metal scene of the time, then their renewed vigour in the 21st Century really highlights why they’ve endured for so long. There are extensive clips throughout the film of Saxon’s St George’s Day performance in 2008 and the aforementioned Wacken 2008 performance. Here, with the Byford/Quinn/Scarratt/Carter/Glockler line-up, the band sound stronger and heavier than ever before and hearing Biff talk of Saxon’s future, he remains very optimistic.

In addition to the many interviews with past and present members of Saxon, their managers and the always enjoyable input of Motorhead, ‘Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie’ also features cameo appearances from other musicians, some very well known, some not so. Probably the most famous interviewee is Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, who as always, comes across as a little self important. He says that Saxon were the biggest influence on his band... Y’know, I could swear I’ve heard him say that about Diamond Head and other bands too... On the plus side (and it’s a big plus) Lars’s contribution means the viewer is treated to a clip of Metallica playing ‘Motorcycle Man’ with Biff guesting on lead vocals!

Despite the last 45 minutes feeling a bit pieced together, ‘Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie’ is fantastic - a rollercoaster of happiness and sadness; full of great stories and great tunes. If you're a fan, you're in for a fantastic journey.


The extended version of ‘Heavy Metal Thunder: The Movie’ is available from Coolhead productions here.

(Although the documentary available from the Coolhead website has a running time of 2h 53m for the main feature, the main feature on the standard retail edition has only a 90 minute running time. The website only 2DVD set contains many extra features including the 2008 St George’s Day gig and a 1981 Beat Club performance in their entirety. So, if you want the whole story, you know which version to get!)


June 2010

Monday, 7 June 2010

BLACK FLAG - Damaged

damaged

After the release of the ‘Nervous Breakdown’ EP in 1978, Keith Morris, Black Flag’s vocalist, quit the band. Attempts at making a full-length LP were started and abandoned during the following couple of years and both Dez Cadena and Ron Reyes had a shot at being the band’s replacement vocalist. Things eventually fell into place after Henry Rollins got on board as full-time vocalist and larger-than-life frontman.

The first release featuring Rollins (and the band’s first full length), ‘Damaged’ was released in December 1981 on guitarist Greg Ginn’s own SST label. (The album was originally scheduled to be released on Unicorn Records with distribution from major label MCA, who’d already pressed the first run of the LP. However the label pulled out at the eleventh hour. Ginn decided to release the album himself on SST; this would lead to a long legal dispute which meant Black Flag did not release any new material until March 1984).

All of ‘Damaged’s music tracks had been recorded prior to Rollins joining. In fact, nine of the album’s fifteen tracks had been attempted during the aforementioned album sessions; in some cases – like ‘Police Story’ – some tracks had been recorded several times (for those who want to hear the earlier attempts of these cuts with Black Flag’s three previous vocalists, then the ‘Everything Went Black’ compilation should be required listening). From a hardcore punk perspective the album is musically very powerful, but it’s that power combined with the album’s unrelenting lyrical content which has made it a genre classic.

‘What I See’ presents the band at their most outwardly aggressive as Rollins, with a perfect delivery, rants over Chuck Dukowski’s distorted bassline. With his fantastic groove, Chuck forces the listener to pay attention as Rollins makes such stark claims as “Life’s cold / I want to feel it reach inside and turn my mind off / I don’t wanna live / I wish I was dead”. ‘Damaged I’ (a track which looks towards Black Flag’s later, slower material) is similarly oppressive as the band hammer out a seemingly never-ending grinding, monolithic riff as Rollins screams “I’m blind, I’m blind / I’m damaged!” in a tortured tone, befitting of the musical arrangement. His delivery is so convincing – the sound of anger at its purest form. Rollins sounds like man fit to explode.

Musically, the rest of the album concentrates on faster material. Lyrically, a lot of it is still pretty heavy stuff, for example: ‘Police Story’ recounts the city’s heavy handed police force and ‘Padded Cell’, as you’d expect, deals with feeling trapped (“Earth’s a padded cell, defanged and declawed / I’m living in hell, it’s a paradise fraud”). On the whole, ‘Damaged’ as an album, shows Black Flag in a far more uncompromising mood than suggested by their earlier recordings.

‘Six Pack’ and ‘TV Party’ present a far more lyrically lightweight band. ‘Six Pack’ celebrates the live-for-the-moment spirit of youth seen through an alcohol haze (“My girlfriend asked me which I liked better/I hope the answer don’t upset her”); ’TV Party’ is rather unsubtle swipe at the TV generation. With their three-chord, disposable arrangements, they revisit the basic punk roots of Black Flag’s earliest work. However, the guitars are still unmistakably the work of Greg Ginn, as he occasionally breaks into atonal guitar leads. The gang vocals on ‘TV Party’ represent the album’s most trashy element, possibly designed with live performance in mind. Despite feeling more fun on the surface, both songs possess a nihilistic spirit, in keeping with the rest of the material. The album’s only obvious positive vibe comes from ‘Rise Above’ which deals with finding strength and breaking free from society’s control.

Although the band would sound more confident and self-assured on the releases which followed, (even when the material wasn’t always great) ‘Damaged’ is the quintessential Black Flag album - a genuine hardcore punk classic. While most of it doesn’t sound anywhere near as threatening as it once did (many bands would take similar aggression to more extreme levels later), this album still retains an energy and DIY spirit which many punk bands aspire to. No self-respecting punk collection should be without one.


March 2010

Friday, 4 June 2010

IRON MAIDEN - Powerslave


By the time this album was released in September 1984, Bruce Dickinson was settled in his place as Iron Maiden’s frontman, having replaced Paul Di’Anno over two years previously. He’d also proved to be a great songwriter, as shown on ‘Revelations’ (from the band’s 1984 album ‘Piece of Mind’). Nicko McBrain had replaced Clive Burr in December 1982 and he too seemed comfortable in his role as the new drummer. ‘Powerslave’ was the first album released by the band to feature the same line-up as the preceding offering, so it’s unsurprising the band sounded stronger and more confident than ever before.

Beginning with ‘Aces High’, the band sounds truly alive. Fast paced with Steve Harris’s trusty, galloping basslines, this track is an archetypal Maiden number, it tells the tale of a fight between British fighter pilots and the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. Similarly inspired by true events, ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’ (a Bruce Dickinson/Adrian Smith co-write) features a lyrical theme about the Doomsday clock; specifically it’s reaching close to midnight after both the then Soviet Union and the USA tested H-bombs within months of each other. These two tracks were released as singles to promote the album and are among the band’s strongest songs and possibly explain why Iron Maiden are often thought to be more sophisticated than many of their contemporaries. ‘Back In The Village’ is a sequel of sorts to ‘Number of the Beast’s ‘The Prisoner’. While this album offers much better songs (notably in the songs which follow and the two singles), this song’s energy makes it stand up and demand attention. It’s not Maiden’s best song, but certainly not their worst by a long stretch.

The title cut shows a maturity rarely seen in Maiden’s previous work. Its Egyptian theme both musically and lyrically provide the album with something accessible and striking, with a stylish approach not traditionally associated with anything NWOBHM-related at that point. Both this number and ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ push the boundaries of 80s metal into new horizons. ‘Rime’ is a thirteen minute epic: on the surface, all of Maiden’s previous musical signatures are here – most notably the galloping rhythms, Bruce’s unmistakable voice with its siren-wail, and a knack for story-telling within the songs. Between the twin lead guitars and sheer power, it features a slow, atmospheric mid-section featuring a reading from Coleridge’s poem of the same name. Maybe it is a little pretentious, yes, but you’ve got to applaud them for branching out from their tried and tested musical traits. It truly raises the musical stakes.

Very few albums are perfect; ‘Powerslave’ is no exception: Its main flaw is that it sags in the middle (or the end of the first side, if you originally had this on vinyl). Firstly, the instrumental number ‘Losfer Words (Big ’Orra)’ has a decent drum groove from Nicko, but as is often the case with instrumentals, this feels like filler. And secondly, okay, Bruce Dickinson may be a championship level fencer, but surely two songs about swordsmanship is one too many? While ‘Flash of the Blade’ (written by Dickinson) and ‘The Duellists’ (Harris) are musically strong, their themes of valour and honour seem to wear a little thin by the end - especially so, considering they’re sequenced next to each other.

Rather interestingly, given these potential weaknesses, I’ll still tell you that ‘Powerslave’ is my favourite Maiden LP (and has been since release) and with good reason: there are moments which are far more adventurous then Maiden’s previous couple of outings. I love the way they took a gamble and went for something really extravagant in ‘...Ancient Mariner’. Whether they knew they were on to something special at the time, I don’t know – but with hindsight it is pretty special, as this is an album which could be seen as being responsible for starting the progressive metal subgenre.


February 2010

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

MASS - Sea Of Black

MASS

Despite this Boston based hard rock/melodic metal band forming in 1980 and releasing albums throughout that decade, they’ve never really gained much attention. They were inactive throughout the 90s, but returned at the beginning of the 21st Century and played live shows, which eventually led to a comeback album ‘Crack of Dawn’, released on Escape Music in 2007. I’ve been a fan of melodic and hard rock for years and have an extensive collection of cult albums, but somehow, Mass passed me by completely. This 2010 release – again released by UK based melodic rock label Escape – marks the first time I’ve heard them.

The opening track ‘Falling From Grace’ is probably the heaviest thing on offer as the verses really thunder, but this is counterbalanced by a very melodic chorus; this approach reminds me of the self-titled album by Heaven’s Edge (for those of you who’ve never heard that, their approach of melodic rock with guitar histrionics is almost unrivalled). During moments of this opening track Louis D’Augusta’s vocal approach can seem a little waily, but even so, it’s obvious right from the start he’s got a decent voice – although for me, it’s one which works best when played down a bit. ‘All The Years Gone’ slows things down and here, Mass are at their strongest: Gene D’Itria’s guitar riff hits a solid groove with a classic 70s rock vibe, but it’s Joey Vadala’s drum work which gives the track real power; his drum fills are more than reminiscent of a Bonham style, and due to this, it’s hard not to hear a Led Zeppelin influence.

The same heavy drumming is at the core of ‘All That I Needed’, its mid-paced stomping riff providing a base for one of D’Augusta’s more restrained vocal offerings (at least during the verses) and the guitar riff has a chuggier approach. You’d think given its chug and the heavy drums this song would end up sounding rather heavy handed, but at this stage in their career, Mass are clearly old pros and never overplay anything here. If you want things overdone though, look no further than ‘More Than a Friend’, a track which makes Firehouse’s ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ appear tough. In all honesty, this track’s four minutes made me feel queasy with its sickly sentiments, acoustic guitars and wailing. I like a rock ballad as much as the next man (provided that next man isn’t from a Norweigan black metal band), but this – in a word – is hideous. ‘Hear Me Now’ pulls out the acoustic guitars again, but uses them in an entirely different way. The contrast between the electric hard rock and these acoustics is fairly striking. The acoustic guitar remains clear in the mix after the heavy riffs make an appearance and are still used to create rhythm underneath a fairly aggressive guitar solo. This contrast, in fact, was one of the first things which struck me about ‘Sea of Black’.

‘Ashes To Ashes’ goes for a different tack again, in that the verses are guitar free. The drive here is provided by Michael Palumbo’s bass playing. His approach is very solid (and repeated listens of this album show him to be a decent player) and as such, the absence of guitars here almost goes unnoticed. When the guitars kick in, they are suitably heavy, replete with a decent amount of squeals. As with a few of the other tracks, it’s the drum work which provides this tracks greatest feature as, during a bridge section, Vadala goes for his best Bonham-esque fills.

‘Sea of Black’ is well produced and although musically it’s almost instantly familiar, Mass clearly have plenty of potential in their retro rock sound. Those who like hard rock with hair-metal touches and an occasional Zeppelin-ism should find more than enough entertainment here.


June 2010