• Fascinating: My changing tastes over the last three years.

    Nov 10 2009, 19:11

    My overall tracks chart has continued to be dominated by what I listened to the first year after I created this profile as this profile comes up for its third anniversary. You can get a vague idea how my tastes have changed by comparing the overall chart to my rolling six month or annual charts, but thanks to http://troublewithdreams.com/scrobbler/ I can see all three 'years' (give or take a few days) as separate charts! The trends really fascinate me as I can recall partly my reasoning for the orientations I had at the time. It turns out I was more influenced than my environment than I may have realised at the time. For example, toward the Summer of 2008 I was listening to a lot more thrash than at any other time - largely as a result of having shared a flat for a year with a group of peers who laughed mockingly at my prior power metal tastes.

    For 'posterity', here's some excerpts of the annual snapshots:

    Chart for grantrs's top tracks between 19/11/2006 and 04/11/2007

    1. Rush - One Little Victory 41
    2. Marty Friedman - Viper 37
    3. Firewind - Tyranny 36
    4. Racer X - Hammer Away 36
    5. Racer X - Scarified 32
    6. Helloween - Power 31
    7. Judas Priest - Electric Eye 28
    8. Firewind - Kill to Live 27
    9. Coheed and Cambria - A Favor House Atlantic 26
    10. Racer X - 17th Moon 25
    11. Thin Lizzy - Waiting for an Alibi 25
    12. Racer X - Into the Night 25
    13. Freak Kitchen - Black Spider Flag 25
    14. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble - Couldn't Stand The Weather 24
    15. Firewind - Falling To Pieces 24
    16. Coheed and Cambria - Welcome Home 24
    17. Iron Maiden - Revelations 24
    18. Racer X - Let the Spirit Fly 23
    19. Dream Theater - Take the Time 23
    20. Edguy - Fallen Angels 23
    21. Coheed and Cambria - The Suffering 23
    22. Coheed and Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 23
    23. Racer X - Dead Man's Shoes 23
    24.Firewind - Ready To Strike 23
    25. Racer X - Street Lethal 22
    26. Firewind - The Fire and the Fury 22
    27. Firewind - Allegiance 22
    28. Iron Maiden - Die With Your Boots On 22
    29. Iron Maiden - The Prisoner 22
    30. Paul Gilbert - I'm Not Afraid of the Police 22

    Chart for grantrs's top tracks between 04/11/2007 and 26/10/2008

    1. Freak Kitchen - Blind 27
    2. Devil's Slingshot - Nederland 26
    3. Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank Planet 26
    4. Porcupine Tree - Anesthetize 24
    5. Devil's Slingshot - Flamed 23
    6. Coheed and Cambria - No World For Tomorrow 23
    7. Anthrax - Room for One More 23
    8. Overkill - Blood Money 23
    9. Bruce Dickinson - Back from the Edge 23
    10. Devil's Slingshot - Def Bitch Blues 23
    11. Overkill - Infectious 22
    12. Overkill - Coma 22
    13. Overkill - Elimination 22
    14. Soundgarden - Jesus Christ Pose 21
    15. Faith No More - From Out of Nowhere 21
    16. Paul Gilbert - Hurry Up 21
    17. Freak Kitchen - Raw 20
    18. Thin Lizzy - Massacre 20
    19. Overkill - Thanx for Nothing 20
    20. Anthrax - In My World 20
    21. Overkill - Time to Kill 20
    22. The Offspring - You're Gonna Go Far, Kid 19
    23. Faith No More - Surprise! You're Dead! 19
    24. Faith No More - Epic 19
    25. Racer X - Into the Night 18
    26. Overkill - Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher 18
    27. Overkill - Frankenstein 18
    28. Paul Gilbert - Straight Through the Telephone Pole 18
    29. Marty Friedman - 世界に一つだけの花 18
    30. Anthrax - I Am the Law 18

    Chart for grantrs's top tracks between 26/10/2008 and 25/10/2009

    1. Derek Sherinian - Day of the Dead 24
    2. Frameshift - I Killed You 23
    3. Andy Timmons - Deliver Us 20
    4. Planet X - The Thinking Stone 18
    5. Marty Friedman - ポリリズム 18
    6. Greg Howe - Morning View 18
    7. StoneWall noise orchestra - Skyscraper Moment 17
    8. Extreme - King Of The Ladies 17
    9. Edguy - Speedhoven 17
    10. Angel Witch - Angel Witch 17
    11. Guthrie Govan - Fives 16
    12. Sieges Even - Sequence II: The Lonely Views of Condors 16
    13. King's X - Complain 16
    14. Planet X - Desert Girl 16
    15. Jaguar - Axe Crazy 16
    16. Derek Sherinian - God of War 16
    17. Extreme - Star 16
    18. Greg Howe - Reunion 16
    19. The Answer - Come Follow Me 16
    20. Ark - Just a Little 16
    21. Edguy - Dead or Rock 15
    22. Gillan - Message in a Bottle 15
    23. Edguy - The Pride Of Creation 15
    24. Guthrie Govan - Waves 15
    25. Guthrie Govan - Wonderful Slippery Thing 15
    26. Planet X - Matrix Gate 15
    27. Sieges Even - Sequence V: Blue Wide Open 15
    28. Angra - Holy Land 15
    29. Angra - Carolina IV 15
    30. Greg Howe - Child's Play 15

    No doubt if there's anyone at all reading this, they'll have noticed the decrease in playcount necessary to get in my annual top 30s almost immediately. I'm pretty sure the amount of music I've listened to has satyed more or less constant, so this is an interesting reflection of the expansion of my playlist and library.

    The main things you can observe from the first group are that I had a higher tolerance for repeated listening at the end of 06 and throughout most of 07. You can also observe a small variety in artists as most artists that do appear do so around 5 times in a chart only thirty tracks long. ...I remember being in the habit for a week or two of putting one of those top 5 or so on as soon as I arrived home. How I didn't get bored sooner, I don't know, but I was definitely in the habit of getting in, turning the PC on and immediately playing One Little Victory. It made me feel better about myself, somehow. Also I love the drumming in the intro section, and I suppose when this chart started counting I had only stopped taking drum lessons two months previously.

    Perhaps it's more apparent if you use an end of December cut off for the years, but the second chart definitely has a much higher than usual thrash metal concentration, mostly Overkill (making a mighty 8 appearances), though Anthrax also featured (particularly in the December version of the chart). My favourite Soundgarden track makes a prominent appearance in this chart, possibly influenced by the fact it is a really tough sounding song that I felt confident I wouldn't be called wimpy for listening to and possibly also helped by the fact one of the other guys in the flat was a big grunge fan. Porcupine Tree make some appearances in that chart too, this partly because the chart's cut off point matches approximately with when I bought Fear of a Blank Planet as well as the fact I did see them live that December and, again, one of my flatmates was a fellow PT fan. Also a few instrumentals in there, probably again influenced by the desire to avoid having my flatmates overhear any power metal, haha. Freak Kitchen topped that chart largely because I finished collecting their discography by adding their debut to my collection around about the time of that cut off point.

    Finally the third chart! By November last year I had been listening to music in a once again peer pressure free environment for a couple of months, so the incentive to listen to very heavy very angry music a little more often had waned somewhat... However, we have a rather different chart to the 06-07 one. There's a lot of instrumentals here, particularly Greg Howe and Guthrie Govan, two guitarists who have some noticable jazz fusion leanings. None of the bands with vocals appear more than twice. Extreme and Edguy both had albums out in 2007 that I bought in November, which explains partially their appearances. Angel Witch and Jaguar both sneak in a song each representing my newfound NWOBHM interest, but otherwise the trend, if there is one at all among the vocal groups seems to be toward softer music, if only be a slight degree. Sieges Even, King's X, The Answer, Extreme, Ark and Angra (particularly considering which two Angra songs and which Ark song appear) while not exactly the softest music ever are a lot less macho and posturing than Overkill who dominated the previous year's track chart. I still love Overkill, and I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but their music is a lot more aggressive than those who featured in the third chart here, and it's notable also that Anthrax didn't appear either. Having said that, Derek Sherinian's Day of the Dead has a Wylde-ly heavy selection of riffs in its metal sections. I do predict an even softer year next year though. (What you can't see because for some reason I'm cutting these off at thirty is that the next ten or fifteen on the third chart are dominated by Sieges Even with some The New Tony Williams Lifetime and a track each from IQ and Jethro Tull.)
  • NWOBHM Band of the Week: Trespass

    Set 25 2009, 21:07

    (Previous NWoBHM Band of the Week)

    Anyone who's been keeping an eye on what I've been listening to recently probably saw this selection coming. Trespass' entire recorded works during the NWOBHM movement are (almost all*) currently available as part of the Castle/Sanctuary collection One of These Days: The Trespass Anthology, and there's a surprising amount of material that at the time didn't get released, as well as a write-up of the band's history more informative than mine will ever be. However, the band didn't release a lot of stuff during the 1979-83 period, so I shall be able to cover it very quickly with any luck.

    Trespass (Mark Sutcliffe - Vocals and Guitar, Paul Sutcliffe - Drums, Dave Crawte - Guitar, Richard Penny - Bass) made a name for themselves in October 1979 with their debut single One of These Days. The single sold very well considering it's lack of promotion or not and reached number 3 in Sounds magazine's chart (not to be confused with the official UK singles chart). A-side One Of These Days (youtube) starts with a slow guitar led intro before morphing into more of a mid-tempo track with Paul Sutcliffe's average but well intentioned vocals, slightly reminiscent of Mark Knopfler. Trespass didn't come close to amtching the speed or aggression of some of the nwobhm bands that would surface a year or two later at the movement's height, but in so many ways One Of These Days, performed by a band who only played their first gig 7 months prior to the single's release embodies the nwobhm in all its good intentioned, poorly produced naivety and sheer desire to rock. The b-side Bloody Moon (unfortunately unavailable on youtube, it seems) is a tiny bit faster paced, but a near equal for the a-side.

    The band had written loads of songs and were eager to capitalise on the success of their debut. They recruited a new dedicated singer, having heard that the influential DJ Neal Kay didn't like Paul's vocal, and had the interest of major label EMI (who signed Iron Maiden around this time and were behind the infamous Metal for Muthas compilation). A quick stint in the studio with new vocalist Steve Mills produced four tracks, of which two made it onto the sequel to Metal for Muthas - a re-recorded One Of These Days and Stormchild (youtube). EMI looked kindly enough on the band after this and a session for the BBC's Friday Rock Show (during which Mills is reported to have had a bad cold and you can really hear it), the band were invited in to EMI's studios as a test run for a potential contract, just when it looked like things were going to happen in a big way for the band, however, EMI were bought out and management shuffled around, effectively forcing them to sideline the imminent acquisition of Trespass as an addition to the EMI roster.

    Next Trespass courted Chrysalis with their then unreleased second single, the double a-side Live It Up/Jealousy. However, it transpired that all they were interested in was trying to acquire the song Live It Up (youtube) as a potential track for Michael Schenker to record. The flip side of Live It Up was Jealousy (youtube, obviously. By the time the single was released, again on the small Trial that the band had started on, it was almost a year after the debut single and the bassist position had become a rotating door, while Mills had been replaced already with Rob Eckland.

    Trespass' recirding career petered out after the 1981 three track EP Bright Lights EP which although reaping some positive critical reviews failed to secure the band a stable future.
    Bright Lights
    The Duel
    Man And Machine

    (shaky live footage of reformed band playing The Duel, not too representative of the original studio take)

    Two albums worth of previously unreleased material were released after the end of the 80s (originally as The Works), though it all dated back to the nwobhm era. It seems a version of the band has been resurrected for touring, or was resurrected at some point, but they don't release new studio works.

    My final verdict on Trespass? It's difficult to say because more so than just about any other band to this point covered in this journal series Trespass didn't have a chance to properly develop. The Bright Lights EP is artistically much better than the early stuff, but the cultural significance of One Of These Days is very highly notable and the way it captured the moment toward the beginning of our favourite historical musical movement is a big draw. They never had the opportunity to develop enough to threaten the major successes of the period (eg. Maiden, Saxon) and truthfully I don't think they ever would have ever quite reached those levels, but they're worth listening to and have belatedly released around two-albums worth of above average tracks.

    * Edited: There are just one or two tracks as exceptions.
  • NWOBHM Band of the Week: Hellanbach

    Set 11 2009, 15:20

    (Previous NWOBHM Band of the Week)

    This week I will be writing about Hellanbach, one of the plethora of nwobhm bands to originate in or near Newcastle. Also, one of seemingly very few nwobhm bands who are have at no point continued to be active after the mid 80s, meaning this could be a bit shorter than some previous entries in this series. The low number of youtube links is partly because there aren't many for this band and partly...well you'll see why you don't need them, hopefully.

    If you've heard more than one or two songs by Hellanbach, you'll probably have made a comparison to Van Halen. Once you have, it's hard to ignore the glaring similarities, of which there are lots. In fact, I can save myself a lot of words in this guide by announcing up front that pretty much all the Hellanbach catalogue can be described alternately as highly comparable to one of the following: Atomic Punk, On Fire, Ice Cream Man, Light Up the Sky, Hear About It Later or Panama. All The Way (youtube, album version) has chorus lyrics almost identical to the first verse's lyrics in On Fire. In fact, the major differences between Hellanbach and Van Halen are that Hellanbach vocalist Jimmy Brash sings on average about a tone lower than David Lee Roth and there are no Michael Anthony-esque backing vocals in Hellanbach's songs.

    Guitarist Dave Patton's technical ability is very high, and a good match for Eddie Van Halen. He also seems to favour using the middle and high strings in a similar fashion to Eddie and throws in plenty of natural harmonics in what could (and has, repeatedly) also been accused of being deliberate apeing of EVH's style. Meanwhile, singer Brash, though not quite averaging the same pitch or dynamic energy as Roth also seems to imitate every other trademark of Diamond Dave. In fact, the similarities are too numerous to mention other than to claim it's almost everything. I believe most people wouldn't believe it even if they heard it.

    Now, onto the career description!

    In 1980 Hellanbach self-financed and released their debut EP Out To Get You EP, which, although at times sounds like there are tapes slowing unnaturally (there probably were I guess), gained them a deal with Neat Records.

    The band's first full length would not be issued until '83, but Neat had them include a track on two of their compilations "60 minutes +" (All The Way) and "One Take...No Dubs" (All Systems Go (Full Scale Emergency) (youtube)). The latter recorded in September '82.

    Now Hear This was released in '83 to a swathe of Van Halen comparisons. While some claimed Hellanbach incentivised Van Halen to perform better, most just criticised Hellanbach as copycats. Some journalists nicknamed the band Halen-bach, while others tipped Patton as a rising guitar hero.

    Some journalists relented on the Van Halen comparisons briefly for Hellanbach's Disney cover Everybody Wants To Be A Cat which was tagged on the end of Now Hear This. Some just compared it to Ice Cream Man. Unfortunately for Hellanbach's claim to originality, some later David Lee Roth work would further validate this comparison

    In the interim before the 1984 follow-up, which would be titled The Big H, the band promised journalists the next album would be less of a Van Halen rip-off and show a more individual sound from the band. Neat Records' management then canceled almost all of the scheduled tour dates for the band and brought them in to record earlier than originally planned. The band's only line-up change happened around this point as they brought in a new drummer. The band never liked the Van Halen comparisons constantly thrown at them, but with their second album they still sounded a hell of a lot like Van Halen, without much more to add to that description. Sales of both albums were simply 'respectable' according to reports and the band petered out without ever officially splitting.

    There, one of the simplest careers I've covered so far this series.

    Final thoughts? I'm sorry for the band who aren't going to like me saying this if they ever read it, but there's no two ways about the fact that Hellanbach were Van Halen-lite, or possibly Van Halen-dark since they tended to focus toward the darker, heavier, faster and more aggressive VH songs' style. There's one song (S.P.G.C.) on the second album where Brash sounds uncannily like Joey Belladonna instead of Roth, the fact that S.P.G.C. stands for "Street Punk Going Crazy" which comes very close to combining the title of a Van Halen song and a DLR solo song, however, doesn't help distance the band from their clear inspiration.

    So, overall, Hellanbach were pretty much an uninterrupted Van Halen soundalike band. Now, I love Van Halen, so I can happily listen to plenty of this, and some songs actually best some Van Halen songs in some aspects, so owning the Hellanbach discography is almost like stumbling across two album's-worth of unheard Van Halen demos that didn't quite make the cut for the albums. I suspect most big fans of Roth-era VH would find something to enjoy in Hellanbach. Similarly, people who sort of liked VH but always thought it would be an improvement if the songs were just a shade faster and deeper (tonally speaking) might find Hellanbach to be the band to fill that Van Halen shaped void in their listening. Unfortunately though, it's really difficult to credit the band with any originality at all, so if you're inclined to stick to morale values of only listening to bands that emanate originality throughout their body of work then Hellanbach will not be for you.

    One easily adaptable critic-like insult/appraisal I've been tempted to use a lot recently and can't remember where I got the phrase from is, "It's like they are a <insert band name here> tribute act who just happen to play original material," a phrase, I think, which is applicable here.
  • NWOBHM Band of the Week: Blitzkrieg

    Ago 14 2009, 15:48

    (Previous NWOBHM Band of the Week)

    After more than a month of waiting here's my next NWOBHM Band of the Week entry: Blitzkrieg. I'm not going to provide youtube links this time it takes way too long for me to continue bothering to do that. Sorry if that's all you read this for, but you can search yourselves if you'd like and if you're lucky someone might add links to the individual songs' last.fm pages.

    Blitzkrieg are perhaps most notable for two things: (1) bringing the world vocalist Brian Ross who also went on to form (temporarily) a vital part of both Satan and Avenger (2) being one of the large stable of NWOBHM acts covered by Metallica.

    In light of this, it may surprise people new to Blitzkrieg to learn that the band started life as a female fronted covers band called Split Image. I'm not going to focus much on the line-up changes that Blitzkrieg have undergone over their time because it will take until Christmas to detail all that unless I just copy and paste a list, but what would be the point of that?

    The nucleus of Blitzkrieg was formed by original guitarists Jim Sirotto and Ian Jones, who initially had the lion's share of writing credits, as well as Brian Ross who joined the band in time with the name change.

    An early demo was independently distributed in 1980 on cassette featuring the three tracks Blitzkrieg, Inferno and Armageddon.

    The independent release impressed enough to get the band a session with Neat Records for a 1981 7" single featuring a new version of both the band's self-titled track and Buried Alive, which was actually the a-side, surprisingly. Inferno also saw re-recording and re-release on the Neat compilation Lead Weight.

    Original bassist Steve English left then to be replaced by Mick Moore who would feature on the band's self-released live cassette Blitzed Alive which showcased new tracks Take A Look Around and Saviour as well as a cover of Deep Purple's Highway Star as well as the three songs from the band's original demo, meaning that the tracks Inferno and Blitzkrieg had now seen three releases each.

    Then in '81 the band split up! Brian Ross and Mick Moore formed Avenger, as I've previously discussed when I wrote about Avenger a couple of months back. Ross dropped out of Avenger fairly promptly after their first single to sign up with Satan, no pun intended. Around '84 Ross, Sirotto and Moore collectively realised that somehow they'd managed to have quite a big effect on the heavy metal scene as Blitzkrieg, even being a named influence of the rising stars Metallica, and decided actually they wanted to get the album they planned in '81 recorded and released so they could call it a day with Blitzkrieg.

    A Time of Changes followed in 1985. For the album the band reprised all of their previously released original songs, except the lone a-side Buried Alive, but decided to leave the new version of Take A Look Around off the album in the end anyway. Besides a brief introductory track Ragnarok which on many re-releases and cd conversions of the LP is run together with (the fourth version of) Inferno, A Time of Changes featured four new tracks Hell To Pay, Vikings and the title track A Time Of Changes as well as Pull The Trigger (a track Brian Ross brought with him from his time with Satan (the band)).

    The album wasn't released outside Britain but is considered by some to be a classic and essential.

    Blitzkrieg didn't officially split up after the album, but unless you saw them at a gig between '85 and '91 they might as well have done because they didn't release any material. When they did eventually return to the studio for a tenth anniversary celebratory cd only Brian Ross remained of the classic line-up of 80-81 not even keeping either of the replacement members of the 84-85 stint.

    Ross' group has continued to use the name and branded three albums between '95 and '98 with it before once again returning to an almost studio-free agenda only producing two further albums this decade.
  • Praying Mantis gig

    Ago 6 2009, 16:08

    Wed 5 Aug – Praying Mantis, Fury UK, Core of Nation

    Last night was a worthwhile gig at the relatively small Purple Turtle in Camden, London.

    Openers Core of Nation from Sweden impressed me very much very quickly. Stationed near the equalising desk the sound was almost as perfect as one could possibly demand from a studio mixing. Though it's highly cliche to say so the band played like a well-oiled machine and I found it hard to believe they weren't headlining their own show of at least this size. I suppose I would describe the genre loosely as stoner metal with a classic rock leaning, particularly in the vocals field, or alternately classic metal with a stoner metal leaning in the bass sound and prominence and riff characteristics. I came away with their Machine World album, which I haven't listened all the way through yet, but will likely be willing to write something about or answer questions on once I have.

    Second act Fury UK, I had seen before but I believe they've had a line-up change since then. They started well - better than I remembered them being when I last saw them in late '07 supporting Blaze Bayley. Around about the time singer/guitarist Chris Appleton asked everyone to move 5 steps forward the sound seemed to worsen, but as I didn't move back toward the sound desk I'm not sure whether this was just a result of being further from the desk. Consistent with my previous observation/memory of last time I saw them Chris Appleton's guitar skills are very impressive and the main stand out factor of the band. A few of the songs seemed to be a little repetitive IMO, but I was nevertheless impressed overall. I wish them success, but I have a feeling they'd be more likely to achieve it through being snapped up as replacement sidemen for existing bands who've already "made it" then maybe reuniting for their own project later.

    Praying Mantis were the band I think everyone was there to see though. Their set list began with:
    Children of the Earth
    A Cry for the New World
    Restless Heart
    the last of which led straight into Tears In The Rain, which was ruined a little by Tino's Marshall amp-head dying more or less exactly as the two songs ran together. There was feedback aplenty for the five-minute duration of the track followed by a forced break in the set for the offending piece of equipment to be mercilessly thrown to the floor and hauled off stage.
    The second half of the set then consisted of:
    Rise Up Again
    In Time
    Captured City
    Before the abrupt announcement "That's all we've got time for, sorry."

    In fairness it was around 11:30 then and most London venues do have strict curfews forced upon them. One of the great things about small gigs like this is that any member of the audience can comfortably see the band they came to see without any pushing or shoving or craning of necks, so it was very nice even to see this probably abridged set in such an environment. Chris Troy's bass really stood out throughout, taking on a great meaty quality that drove the songs forward very nicely the entire show. Further both the Troy brothers had a stage personality to be admired, with Tino's technical difficulties emerging half way through the show it was really Chris who looked more comfortable and natural of the two, though it was apparent that both of them either had some natural stage quality or a wealth of experience on stage, or most likely both.

    Rise Up Again featured a chorus of We Will Rock You toward the end in addition to its own anthemic chorus almost equally as suitable for fist pumping and shouting along, if only the crowd was ten times the size.

    Vocalist Mike Freeland's time to shine in the set list was really In Time where, with the exception of the opening two words "Fly Agaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnn" (which in the studio sounds like a generic young pop punk band but live sounds much more metal) he reminds me in a good way of Roy Khan as the vocal melody suggests a theatrical, but not over the top, just slightly sinister narrative and is bloody catchy too! This song is probably also the moment to shine for Andy Burgess (the replacement of Dennis Stratton) who dealt out a very nice melodic solo lasting most of the song's final minute.

    Finally I was mildly surprised, but delighted to hear Captured City on the set list. Minimal research at www.setlist.fm (a site I newly discovered) suggested it might not be making an appearance, which would have been a shame because it is a great track. It made it onto the set list though as an abrupt closer and it was both enjoyable and fascinating to watch with its twisting arrangement. One has to assume it would be one of their best known songs, having been included on the infamous Metal for Muthas album.

    An omitted song I was half expecting to see on the set list was Letting Go, which I would have been very pleased to see. Given free choice however, I probably would most have liked to hear Threshold Of A Dream. All in all, though it would have been nice to have not had the hardware malfunction and a longer set from the headline act it was very much worth my trip there and the almost negligible price of entry. I would strongly recommend seeing Mantis if and when they come to a city near you and will be keeping my eye on Core of Nation. I'd also recommend the new Mantis album Sanctuary, streamable on last.fm and available from Frontiers Records, it's received surprisingly good press reviews and I think Freeland might just be the best vocalist they've had.

  • IMO Song and Album of the Year 1967-2006 (Warning: bias toward metal and prog)

    Lug 24 2009, 14:32

    Below I have chosen a favourite album and favourite song from 40 separate years ('67-'06). This is just my opinion and based on the music I've actually heard. The favourite track does not have to come from the year's corresponding favourite album. In cases where the track does happen to come from the year's favourite album it is usually either an indicator of a weak year (1993) or an incredibly strong album (1982). However, I do tend to change my mind quite a bit, so I may return to this journal to update my preferences, particularly when I discover new albums and new tracks to love. In most cases the decision was incredibly close with many runners up in extremely close contention


    Album: The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold As Love
    Song: The Who - I Can See for Miles
    Album: Cream - Wheels Of Fire
    Song: Cream - White Room
    Album: Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin
    Song: King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King


    Album: Deep Purple - In Rock
    Song: Deep Purple - Speed King
    Album: Jethro Tull - Aqualung
    Song: The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again
    Album: Deep Purple - Machine Head
    Song: Yes - Siberian Khatru
    Album: The Who - Quadrophenia
    Song: Genesis - The Battle of Epping Forest
    Album: Blue Öyster Cult - Secret Treaties
    Song: Yes - The Gates of Delirium
    Album: Scorpions - In Trance
    Song: The New Tony Williams Lifetime - Red Alert
    Album: Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak
    Song: Rush - 2112
    Album: Judas Priest - Sin After Sin
    Song: Thin Lizzy - Dancing in the Moonlight
    Album: Judas Priest - Killing Machine
    Song: Van Halen - Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
    Album: Thin Lizzy - Black Rose: A Rock Legend
    Song: Thin Lizzy - Roisin Dubh (Black Rose)


    Album: Diamond Head - Lightning to the Nations
    Song: Iron Maiden - Running Free
    Album: Rush - Moving Pictures
    Song: Van Halen - Unchained
    Album: Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast
    Song: Iron Maiden - Children of the Damned
    Album: Dio - Holy Diver
    Song: Iron Maiden - Where Eagles Dare
    Album: Van Halen - 1984
    Song: Iron Maiden - Rime of the Ancient Mariner
    Album: Allan Holdsworth - Metal Fatigue
    Song: Allan Holdsworth - Devil Take the Hindmost
    Album: Iron Maiden - Somewhere In Time
    Song: David Lee Roth - Goin' Crazy
    Album: Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien
    Song: Racer X - Scarified
    Album: iron maiden] - Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
    Song: Cacophony - Images
    Album: Overkill - The Years of Decay
    Song: Overkill - Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher


    Album: Steve Vai - Passion and Warfare
    Song: Megadeth - Tornado Of Souls
    Album: Overkill - Horrorscope
    Song: Soundgarden - Jesus Christ Pose
    Album: Joe Satriani - The Extremist
    Song: Extreme - Everything Under The Sun
    Album: Anthrax - Sound of White Noise
    Song: Anthrax - Room For One More
    Album: Freak Kitchen - Appetizer
    Song: Dream Theater - A Mind Beside Itself (i. Erotomania / ii. Voices / iii. The Silent Man)
    Album: Marty Friedman - Introduction
    Track: Shadow Gallery - Alaska
    Album: Angra - Holy Land
    Track: Freak Kitchen - Taste My Fist
    Album: Psycho Motel - Welcome to the World
    Song: Dream Theater - Lines in the Sand
    Album: Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding
    Song: Freak Kitchen - Mr. Kashchei and the 13 Prostitutes
    Album: Racer X - Technical Difficulties
    Song: Racer X - Technical Difficulties


    Album: Racer X - Superheroes
    Song: Spock's Beard - The Great Nothing
    Album: Devin Townsend - Terria
    Song: Devin Townsend - Earth Day
    Album: Spock's Beard - Snow
    Song: Dream Theater - Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
    Album: Muse - Absolution
    Song: Firewind - The Fire And The Fury
    Album: Balance Of Power - Heathen Machine
    Song: Derek Sherinian - Day Of The Dead
    Album: Sieges Even - The Art Of Navigating By The Stars
    Song: Frameshift - I Killed You
    Album: Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death
    Song: Guthrie Govan - Ner Ner
  • NWOBHM Band of the Week - 3rd July 2009: Saracen

    Lug 3 2009, 13:25

    (Previous NWoBHM Band of the Week)

    Let's start with a music video and see if you reach the same first impression as I did, this is Saracen - Love On Sight:

    If one of your first thoughts was "Poor man's Queen", you reached a similar first impression to mine. The above was one of three very similar music videos arranged by Neat records circa 1985, admittedly it's probably the softest of the three, and neither my favourite nor least favourite of those three, but let us now turn to the chronological beginning:

    Apparently there are two bands from the UK called Saracen. I will only be looking at the better known one of the two.

    Saracen, according to metal-archives.com (reference), formed in 1976 in Derbyshire as Lammergier, changing their name in 1980 to Saracen.

    The band's recorded career kicked off with a single for Nucleus called No More Lonely Nights (youtube) b/w Rock Of Ages. On the basis of said single, it is hard to see how the band were saddled with the tag of heavy metal in the first place. While it may be the case that some aggression could have been toned down in the studio in comparison to live gigs, Saracen were one of the few nwobhm associated bands to employ a keyboard, and there is heavy reliance on it as it dominates the sound, beckoning more comparison with new wave pop or the radio friendly hard rock of Queen than most supposed contemporaries. Even fellow keyboard utilisers White Spirit and Praying Mantis both sound much more aggressive than No More Lonely Nights, or at least they did around this time. Further, Steve Bettney's vocals lack the youthful, aggressive, frustrated, punk-influenced edge of contemporaries regarded recently in the series such as Avenger, Tank and Sledgehammer, instead, again prompting a Queen comparison as some distinctive Freddie Mercury-isms emerge briefly and often, seemingly teasing at a possible segue into Radio Ga Ga (despite the fact it wouldn't be released for another three years).

    The b-side on the other hand, Rock of Ages, bears a closer resemblance to some contemporaries. Saracen here show a more up tempo side with a rhythm section that pound out a up-tempo shuffle rhythm beat most of the way through, making for easy comparison with the majority of the 70s glam scene (which relied heavily upon shuffle rhythm) and here we have a comparison to suggest that Saracen might be leaning more toward the harder, almost metal, side of rock than the poppier style heard on the a-side. Undoubtedly though, what stands out as the most metal thing here is the slightly pirate-like, Emerald-like, jig-like guitar line that comes up a few times and is arranged in triplets (courtesy of guitarist Robert Bendelow). Vocally here I may be more inclined to draw comparison to Kiss or Paul Rogers than Freddie Mercury, it's slightly more aggressive here but still firmly toward the melodic end of the nwobhm spectrum of vocalists.

    Later that year both sides of the single would feature on the band's debut album Heroes, Saints & Fools (reviewed here by Deathriderdoom). You may be glad to learn that four of the album's five tracks that weren't on the single clock in over six minutes and showcase a very different sound to the single.

    Opener Crusader sounds to me like a track from Sin After Sin or Stained Class complete with some much more Halford sounding vocals than the two sides of the single. At 6:20 I'm obviously thinking of some of the longer Priest tracks like, for example Let Us Prey/Call For The Priest. Though I use Rob Halford as a comparison for vocalists far too often, I feel the comparison is extremely relevant here. Unlike some later imitators and exaggerators, and even later performances by Halford himself, Bettney captures much of the emotion and timbre of Halford's performances from 3-4 years previously at times becoming difficult to differentiate from the real thing. Despite the ever-present keyboard a Judas Priest similarity carries through the other mini-epics like Horsemen Of The Apocalypse and Ready To Fly. Vocally, the Halford comparison wanes a little on Horsemen..., but there's some very good guitar work there keeping Priest in mind through the majority of the song but also invoking some comparison to later (then yet to be recorded) Iron Maiden tracks. The keys surface for a lot of Horseme's duration, sounding mainly Keith Emerson and Tony Banks influenced in tone, though keyboardist Richard Lowe displays far greater restraint than Emerson, sticking mainly to just playing one theme when cued. Ready to Fly sounds to me firmly Priest inspired during the verses, while the organ backed extended guitar solo is more in line with Deep Purple.

    The title track completely stumps me. The words 'rock opera' spring to mind. We're not just talking about long metal songs anymore, the line to prog influence has most definitely been crossed. It's hard to pin down a single band who couldn't be named as a possible influence on the song. It sounds like it could have been written today, while it was obviously recorded in the 80s. There's perhaps a bit more Yes in the instrumental parts here than some other acts and, certainly than the other songs on the album. It brings to mind the rock operas of Ayreon and The Who, while obviously preceding Ayreon by nearly two decades and not displaying an overtly obvious debt to anything pre-1970. I wish there was a youtube link for this one because I'm not sure anyone reading this will have a clue what I'm on about otherwise unless they find some other way to hear it.

    Dolphin Ride is a fairly bland instrumental led by Richard Lowe's keyboard. It's pleasant and tuneful, and makes up for the lack of non-epic tracks that weren't on the preceding single but I wouldn't say it adds too much.

    As usual, I don't know the what the sales figures were like, but judging by the relative infrequency of the band's name's inclusion on various nwobhm short lists, I'm guessing it wasn't a surprise success domestically. ...though there are reports that it did well in Venezuela. Go figure. Interestingly the few magazine quotes I've come across all opt to describe Saracen as progressive rock and not as heavy metal. I would hypothesise that this frame of mind could be a contributing factor to the infrequency with which the band is mentioned in nwobhm lists. However, the 6-8 minute tracks on the debut album don't all resemble our usual perception of prog, unless, that is, you would be inclined to put some late 70s Priest tracks into the progressive category as well.

    Whatever actually did happen, it wasn't until 1984 that a follow up surfaced. Change Of Heart was released on neat records and preceded by the single We Have Arrived (youtube) b/w A Face In The Crowd (youtube). The single doesn't show a huge difference over the previous single, with a return to the Queen-like AOR/ melodic hard rock sound displayed three years prior, but in comparison to the debut album, it would appear to be a major step toward stripping down the length and dumbing down for radio, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, if that happens to be your thing.

    The album, Catalogue number: NEAT 1016, included both sides of the single again, and this time failed to surpass the 4:33 mark. The major change, of course, is the revamped line-up, now retaining only two members from the past album, vocalist Bettney and keyboardist Lowe. The split having occurred before signing to Neat, just as a major label, Polygram, had taken an interest in the band. Needless to say, the split lost the interest of Polygram leaving the remains of the band to turn to Neat instead.

    Tracks like Cheatin (youtube) and Seabird (youtube) as well as Love on Sight (see top, remember?) continue the unambitious AOR like trend of Change of Heart, though Seabird, nearing four and a half minutes does have a slight touch of prog to it.

    The group disbanded a year after Change of Heart and remained split until a reunion circa 2000. Two further albums were issued in 2003 and 2006, the former (Red Sky) composed mainly of re-recordings of earlier songs, the latter a Da Vinci Code-esque concept album about Templar Knights entitled Vox In Excelso. Meet Me At Midnight (youtube) is a recording for Vox...

    For further details and preview clips try the official website. A review of Red Sky can be found here. Interested parties may wish to check out Rob Bendelow's solo project Templar, which shares a section of the same official website.

    My summarising thoughts are that this band has four very, very good songs on their debut album. They also have a pumped up glam rocker on that album, if that's your thing. After that, not so much. I haven't been tempted to change my first impression of "Poor man's Queen" for the second release, and what I've heard of the later stuff hasn't enthralled me, though a comparison to Magnum may be in order, particularly seeing as Bob Catley shares a drummer with the current line-up. Seemingly a four track wonder here though.
  • NWOBHM Band of the Week - 19th June 2009: Tank (Part 5)

    Giu 25 2009, 21:07

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    Ok, the final part of my week of Tank will attempt to cram in the abbreviated 1984-2009 part of the band's history. Given that it took me 4 parts to cover '78-'83, this isn't even going to approach the level of detail of the other parts. Sorry, Tank fans. I'll make up for it with big pictures.

    Honour & Blood

    Honour & Blood (1984) welcomed Cliff Evans(Guitar) and Graham Crallan (Drums, ex-White Spirit) into Tank's line-up, replacing the founding members Peter and Mark Brabbs. Average track times are creeping up on this release with two tracks passing the 8 minute mark and, but for a couple of seconds, almost achieving 4/7 tracks over the 6 minute mark. (Feel the need to test the title track?) Tank's punk element is almost completely obscured on a track such as the title track, there's no longer much reason or temptation to call the band a Motorhead clone, rather they closer resemble Iron Maiden now, instrumentally at least. The vocals on the title track, interestingly remind me of Adrian Smith's later project A.S.A.P., which can't be a bad thing.

    Kill (youtube) isn't hugely different, continuing in the Maiden-esque instrumental mould with the same style of vocals as the rest of the album. It is one of the 8 minute tracks though, actually closing the album out.

    The tour saw them supporting little-known Music For Nations labelmates Metallica on their equally little known Ride the Lightning tour, earning them a 'thank you' on the US band's long-forgotten next album, only to be shunned and omitted by Lars Ulrich when it came to compiling the '79 Revisited cd a few years later.


    The band's line-up almost held until the next album the self-titled TANK (1987), only changing drummers to Gary Taylor. There was a label change though, likely a large contributing factor to the 3 year wait between albums. TANK was originally released on GWR in Europe and Restless in the USA.

    The self-titled album is regarded by many as a sign of musical differences and lack of direction, often described as leaning heavily toward Algy's punk background. A track like, March On, Sons Of Nippon (youtube) is characterised by the slow kind of punk riffs and gang vocals during the chorus but the twin guitars are still there for solos when needed and don't shy away from the spot light.

    Sources then vary, but sometime between then and the end of '89 the band had their obligatory nwobhm band split. Most of the line-up, particularly Ward were then busy in various projects, filling in with other soldiering nwobhm bands, beginning new ventures with other nwobhm veteran players.

    The Reunion

    Tank reunited in 1997 with Steve Hopgood (drums) joining the three members of the pre-split Tank. A batch of live albums have trickled out since then as well as the 2002 studio album Still at War

    In December 2008, after a couple of years of little to no touring, a new line-up was announced. Algy Ward was no longer a member of his own band. Guitarists Mick Tucker and Cliff Evans remained in the line-up which also saw the return of original drummer Mark Brabbs. It was decided it would take two men to replace Algy, those two men were: Chris Dale (Skunkworks) on bass and Doogie White (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, ex-Rainbow). Official word was that Algy had elected to concentrate on his autobiography over resuming touring. However, that same official Tank website forecasts a new album soon STURMPANZER which will feature Algy Ward on bass and vocals, not Doogie White or Chris Dale. Evans and Tucker remain on guitar duties while Bruce Bisland (Praying Mantis) picks up the sticks for his scond Tank album (his first being Still at War).


    Do I need to write a paragraph summarising the band now? I can't, I'm exhausted. Tank: Awesome band. First and third albums are pretty much essential. I'm sure I'm going to have to revisit the band for another bout of journaling in a few months to improve upon what I've written so far.
  • NWOBHM Band of the Week - 19th June 2009: Tank (Part 4)

    Giu 23 2009, 20:08

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    My week of journals dedicated to Tank began on Friday, so far I've chronicled Algy Ward's pre-Tank career, the first batch of Tank singles and the classic debut album. Having had a day off of journaling on Monday, I'm now going to attempt to cram in the second and third albums and accompanying singles' summaries today!

    Power of the Hunter & This Means War

    Crazy Horses (youtube), yes, an Osmonds cover, it doesn't just share the name, was the only single lifted from Tank's sophomore effort Power of the Hunter. It's obviously one of the Osmonds most rocking songs to start off with (almost a contradiction in terms), but Tank strip it down to a raw, aggressive track that doesn't stand too far apart from the rest of their catalogue.

    The album, recorded with the same line-up as the first, and less than a year later continues in much the same vein as the first (but with a different producer). Some people called it slightly more experimental, but there's honestly not a huge difference...so much so that many consider it to be a continuation of the first album. If you've played through the first album you'll be capable of deciding whether you need to purchase this one for yourself, but T.A.N.K. (youtube), an instrumental, perhaps shows a different side of the band, or at least emphasises it more. The album and the single were, apparently relative flops after the success of Filth Hounds, which isn't surprising if you share my opinion that the second one is more of the same but a stone's throw short of the first.

    After Power of the Hunter though comes the first real developments in Tank's story since finding favour with Lemmy. A second guitarist, Micky Tucker (fresh from the now failing White Spirit having replaced Janick Gers there), is added to flesh out the band's sound and a change of labels to the upcoming Music For Nations, becoming labelmates with all the big US exports of the next couple of years. (Former label Kamaflage having tanked - forgive the pun.)

    Echoes of a Distant Battle (youtube) was the first and only single from 1983's This Means War (produced by John Verity best known for work with Saxon). It was released as both a 7" and 12" with a total of three different non-album b-sides across the two formats.

    Armed now with twin guitars, This Means War veered a little closer to the sound of many contemporaries, but in doing so dished out the guitar solos of album opener Just Like Something From Hell (youtube) which begins with the dreaded 80s keyboard sounds we, with hindsight, don't want to hear at the beginning of any metal album before exploding into the usual antics, just with an extra guitar and longer solo sections clocking the track in at 8:30.

    TMW, was certainly a move toward the 'middle ground' of the nwobhm for Tank, but the now expanded four-piece proved they could deal that middle ground nwobhm material as good, if not better, than the majority of their peers as they increased the complexity of their compositions and upped grandiose factor on guitar solos. The record buying public bought it, literally, it sold a lot more than Power of the Hunter, supposedly bringing Tank back to form...albeit a slightly more metal, less punk form than they had originally displayed.

    Music for Nations soon comissioned another album, but some might consider TMW as the last true Tank album before two thirds of the founding line-up in the form of the Brabb brothers left the band.

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  • NWOBHM Band of the Week - 19th June 2009: Tank (Part 3)

    Giu 21 2009, 18:51

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    In Part 1 of this journal entry, I took a brief look at Algy Ward's pre-Tank career with The Saints and The Damned. In Part 2, I mentioned Tank's vigourous early touring schedule and perused the band's first three singles. Today I will discuss Filth Hounds of Hades.

    Filth Hounds of Hades

    Having found favour with the successful Motörhead, Tank found themselves recording Filth Hounds of Hades from Dec '81 to Jan '82 with "Fast" Eddie Clarke producing. Given the strong Motörhead connection then, it won't come as too much of a surprise to find a noticeable similarity between the two bands.

    Shellshock (youtube) kicks things off with some atypical fake tribal chanting before running into the main part of the track. Forgetting Algy Ward's prior punk connection and any segregated feeling among British music fans of the time, the bulk of the track is typical nwobhm of above average calibre and a bit of a Motörhead leaning.

    Struck by Lightning (youtube) continues in a similar vein. There's little to really add to the description at this point.

    Run Like Hell (youtube) notably ends the chorus with the lone word 'run' repeated several times, which could be interpreted as a little repetitive, but the delivery of Ward's voice is nicely varied so one could just as easily find it a catchy brilliant chorus.

    Blood, Guts and Beer (youtube) was discussed in part yesterday. It's something of an intended drinking anthem and has ended up achieving just that for many people. This one is perhaps regarded as one of the most enduringly popular tracks on the album.

    T.W.D.A.M.O. (youtube, standing for That's What Dreams Are Made Of) is a much needed change of pace bringing the tempo down below compulsory Motörhead comparison bpm, though there's still reason to make that comparison with some guitar parts reminding me of Motörhead's (I Won't) Pay Your Price. Up until this point we've had a reasonably sparse dose of guitar solos, but we finally get a long one from Peter Brabbs and it's pretty sweet. Peter's solo is a fairly slow paced affair, dancing over the relentless, monotonous bass line kept up by Ward. I've yet to see a review of the album that doesn't quote the interesting first line of this track, so I'll spare you that. There's a brief interesting low spoken part just before the solo that reminds me a little of The Who's cover of Summertime Blues, not that the deep spoken vocal adds a lot to the track in this case, but it isn't repeated much by the band.

    Turn Your Head Around is exactly the same as the version released as a single.

    Heavy Artillery has become something of an anthem, another of the most enduringly popular tracks on the album.

    Who Needs Love Song (youtube) is another welcome change of pace, with a nice just slightly funky metal sounding riff, but predictable lyrics. "Who needs love songs/Who needs love songs/Who needs love songs/I do" It reminds me a little of a song from the Simpsons about the Kwik-e-mart, but Tank were obviously first.

    Filth Hounds of Hades (youtube) - the title track - is another Motörhead-esque rattler and pleasing to fans of difficult to define heavy rock/proto-thrash...much like a large number of nwobhm bands. Ward's vocal doesn't mirror Lemmy much here though, he never quite has the low croaky vocal of the Kilmister, though the difficult to describe punk/metal blend of influences, actually leaning more toward punk doesn't totally separate the two frontmen/bassists.

    (He Fell in Love With a) Stormtrooper is similar to the single version, but is in fact a different recording. It's still regarded by many as a classic, that hasn't changed since yesterday's journal.

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