Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Boys of ‘79

Saxon – Call To Arms

UDR/EMI/Militia Guard Music – 2011

Hellions, during that most un-metal of times – the mid 90’s – many metal bands lost their way and succumbed to the temptation of staying “relevant” and tried to incorporate dreadful alternative music into their sound. This proved to be a complete failure for almost every band that attempted it. Old fans reacted in horror and fled in droves; alternative fans found old metal bands to be a joke; and MTV ignored them for the flavor of the day. Metal bands broke up and disappeared at an alarming pace and it seemed that metal would be discarded on the ash heap of music history with disco.

However, a few stalwarts rejected the alternative sounds and defended the true faith of pure metal; bands such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Testament and Overkill continued to crank out steel for the grateful legions of metalheads. One band in particular that kept the faith was the mighty Saxon, who not only survived the 90’s intact but became one of the premier traditional metal groups in the world.

Saxon was founded way back in 1976 as Son Of A Bitch but wisely changed their name to something that would actually be acceptable to a record company. They leapt to the forefront of the NWOBHM and released disc after disc of classic metal such as Wheels Of Steel, Denim And Leather, Strong Arm Of The Law, Power And The Glory, and Crusader. They had quite a bit of success in England and Europe but sales in the United States remained elusive. It was at this point that the band decided to incorporate more commercial elements into their sound in order to breakout in the US market.

This was a disastrous decision as the next albums — Innocence Is No Excuse, Rock The Nations, and Destiny — failed to break the band in the States but succeeded in alienating older fans. Those albums were, frankly, crap of the highest order and they were dropped by EMI. It appeared that Saxon was over but the band managed to stage a comeback in the 90’s really starting with Dogs Of War in 1995 and continuing throughout the 90’s and 2000’s. They actually got heavier and incorporated many elements from European Power Metal into their music and toured relentlessly.

The Metal Blog Of Metal had the good fortune to see them in 1998 in small club in Cincinnati with 20 other people. A sleet storm was in progress and very few people came out but Saxon came on and blew the roof off of the dump. They also hung out with the crowd afterwards and signed anything you wanted. I became a fan for life at that moment. I think they would have played a set just for me if I had been the only one to show up. Hails to Biff and the boys for keeping the faith and playing Metal when lesser bands wrecked on the shoals of alternative music.

The latest effort from Saxon is Call To Arms, and it’s another superb album of pure Heavy Metal. The cuts here are what you expect and want from a Saxon album. If you’re looking for turntables, jazz, harsh vocals, songs about how your life sucks, or any other weak-ass shit like that, you are out of luck. What you get is another excursion into songs about Vikings (“Hammer Of The Gods”), The brotherhood of Metal (“Back In 79”), overcoming the odds (“Surviving Against The Odds”), War (“Call To Arms”) and the Apocalypse (“When Doomsday Comes). These are all lyrical themes that belong on a Heavy Metal album and Saxon does their usual classy and professional job on these tracks.

I’ve read elsewhere that this album is more “blues based” than previous efforts but I have no clue what the hell that means as this is classic Saxon with no modern elements or other fat clogging up the disc. Call To Arms has a great balance of fast tracks like “Hammer Of The Gods,” “Surviving The Odds,” “Afterburner,” and mid-paced fare like “Back In 79,” “Chasing The Bullet,” and “Ballad Of The Working Man.” The centerpiece of the album is the title track “Call To Arms” and it’s another in a long line of Saxon tracks that are about soldiers leaving for war. It’s an excellent cut and deserves a place alongside “Broken Heroes” in the melancholy Saxon war songs hall of fame.

Saxon has also released a video for the track “Hammer Of The Gods” and it can be viewed below.

Call To Arms is not scheduled for release in the United States until 9/27/11 and it’s unclear at this time what formats it will be offered in. I have the European two disc digipak version and it features a remixed and remastered Live At Donington 1980. This isn’t really essential as all of the tracks from this show have been released multiple times, including on the 2009 EMI remasters of Saxon and Wheels Of Steel.


The Bottom Line: Saxon has once again crafted an excellent disc of traditional Heavy Metal and they show no signs of aging or slowing down. The band, like Motörhead, have been releasing material that is probably superior to everything they did back in the 80s. Be sure to pick this one up when it’s finally released because they deserve your support for their tireless efforts in keeping the Heavy Metal flag flying.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Swedish Skull Crushers

Wolf – Legions Of Bastards

Century Media – 2011

My fellow Heavy Metal enthusiasts, I am sure you are aware of the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal (NWOTHM.) The NWOTHM tag is essentially a marketing gimmick that was invented by Earache Records in 2009 to categorize all the up and coming traditional metal bands. Bands such as Cauldron, Portrait, White Wizzard, Holy Grail, Armour, Volture, Enforcer, and Skull Fist were all lumped together in the NWOTHM whether they considered themselves part of this group or not.

Long before these bands were put axe to the wax other traditional metal bands soldiered on such as Twisted Tower Dire, Cage, and Widow. Another band that has been playing rib crunching, spine cracking, traditional Metal for years is Wolf from Orebro, Sweden. Imagine the galloping music of Iron Maiden melded with the high pitched vocals of King Diamond and you’ll have a fairly good idea of the band’s sound.

Wolf has been putting out consistently great albums since the release of their eponymous debut in 2000. Their 2004 release Evil Star is a favorite of The Metal Blog Of Metal, the title track a crushing sledge of metallic greatness. Unfortunately, their 2006 follow up The Black Flame, was a letdown with too many average tracks and poor sequencing which resulted in most of the excellent cuts being at the end of the album. Wolf quickly recovered in 2009 with the fantastic Ravenous which featured the superb tracks “Speed On,” “Hail Caesar,” and “Voodoo.”

This year Wolf has blessed the Metal world with Legions Of Bastards and it’s a cracking album of pure chromium plated steel. Picking right up where the last album left off, the band offers up 11 tracks on vinyl, 12 on digital download and standard CD, and 13 on the deluxe digipak CD. Wolf has in no way back loaded this disc; the album kicks off with three hooky burners in “Vicious Companions,” “Skull Crusher,” and “Full Moon Possession.” Any of these three cuts would make a great lead single or video but right now all I can find online is a live performance of “Skull Crusher.” Check it out:

“Jeckyll and Hyde” is a longer multi-tempo track with crushing riffs and a very cool chorus. “Absinthe” is a tribute to everyone’s favorite extract of wormwood, and it will have you banging your head at the 1:40 minute mark. “Tales From The Crypt” is the album's epic centerpiece and features such jolly lyrics as “Tomorrow is just another word for misery.” It’s another fantastic song with noodly Maiden guitar parts. “Nocturnal Rites” starts with an intro similar to either “E5150” or “The Dark” by Black Sabbath and then develops into a mid-paced grinder with sweet, sweet gang vocals in the choruses.

It’s at this point that the album hits a bit of a snag due to poor sequencing. On the digital download and CD the songs “Road To Hell” and “False Preacher” are back to back and both have the same lyrical content – the perils of organized religion. The tracks are actually separated on the vinyl and the album flows much better as a result. Wolf should have followed the vinyl sequencing in other formats or ditched one of these tracks and used it as a bonus song on different versions.

“Hope To Die” is another fast song with strong solos and riffs and lyrics about spooky rituals and the occult. The last track on the vinyl and standard CD is “K-141 Kursk” and deals with the accidental sinking of a Russian submarine and the subsequent death of all hands on board. It’s a decent song but it has a particularly effective outro as the song fades and all that can be heard is a mournful sonar ping. It conjures up visions of doomed submariners waiting to die in the dark as their vessel takes on water.

The Deluxe edition CD features the track “6 Steps” which was the bonus track on the Japanese edition of Ravenous. It’s a mid-paced number with a crunchy guitar tone that lyrically is reminiscent of Maiden’s “Fear Of The Dark.” Both the Deluxe CD and the digital download end with a cover of Metal Church’sMethod To Your Madness.” Wolf is particularly adept at cover songs, and in the past has produced excellent covers of Mercyful Fate, Blue Oyster Cult, Slayer and The Ramones songs. “Method To Your Madness” is no exception and is well worth the listen.

If you can’t decide which version of the album to purchase, I suggest the vinyl because not only do you get a nice piece red vinyl, but you also get the Deluxe Edition of the CD tucked into one of the gatefolds. That’s a very cool way for labels to entice people to purchase vinyl. You can see the pictures of this version at the top of this review.


The Bottom Line: Wolf once again delivers the Metal with Legions Of Bastards and they deserve your support. They were NWOTHM long before the NWOTHM was cool so go out there and buy something from them. Here’s hoping that some day they make it to the States for a tour.


Pure Thievery

Ripped-off Riff

Riot gets no respect and is all but forgotten today but bands sure liked to rip them off. Check out your favorite artists stealing an amazing riff from Riot:

I think the Mercyful Fate claim is a bit tenuous but the other's are straight up theft.

Smooth Slayer

Angel Of Death?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Everybody Wants Some!

Van Halen Asteroids

Check this out - someone has made a Diamond Dave version of asteroids! Hilarious. Play it here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Gods That Failed

Enter Night: A Biography Of Metallica by Mick Wall

St. Martin’s Press – 2010

Bangers, you know as well as I that whenever Heavy Metal is discussed Metallica will somehow enter the conversation for either good or ill. Usually the subject of the dreaded SELLOUT will be mentioned. Older fans like yours truly will then relate at which point they stopped listening to the band by saying, "I liked the first 3 (or 4 or 5) albums but after that they lost me."

I remember listening to Master Of Puppets when it came out in ’86 and thinking it was the tightest, heaviest album of all time. As the years went by Metallica seemed to have lost their way and caved into pressure from management and producers (Bob Rock in particular), and had diluted their sound to the point where they were just another hard rock band.

By the time they released St. Anger in 2003, it seemed obvious that they were completey out of touch with what it meant to be a hard rock band, let alone a heavy metal band. The 2004 Some Kind Of Monster documentary made the band look pathetic and clueless as these millionaires were crying and whining to a goofball therapist. Ugh. Truly this was the nadir of a once great band.

I thought I knew exactly what happened with them: Lars controlled the band and poor old James and Kirk followed along blindly while Bob Rock completely destroyed their sound in a quest for hits. It turns out that I and many others were completely wrong. Mick Wall’s new book Enter Night: A Biography Of Metallica sets us straight. The 470 page tome details the band’s career from inception all the way to the 2010 Big Four shows in Europe. Mick Wall has been covering the band since their earliest days for Kerrang! magazine and that puts him ins a unique position to write their biography.

Wall’s writing is excellent and fast paced and he does not hold back with his opinions. He also reveals a host of interesting facts about the band that I didn’t know. Among them are:

  • Metallica has never gotten along with Slayer, and Slayer feels likewise. Upon seeing Some Kind Of Monster, Kerry King called Metallica “fragile old men.”
  • Not only did the band try to get John Bush from Armored Saint to front them, but they also tried to get Armored Saint’s bass player Joey Vera to replace Cliff Burton when he died.
  • Immediately prior to Cliff’s death, James and Cliff had seriously contemplated firing Lars because of this his mediocre drumming. Dave Lombardo was someone they considered for his replacement.
  • Jess Cox of Tygers Of Pan Tang was also considered as a vocalist but the band had no way to contact him.
  • Metallica has more number one albums than any band in history including U2, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles.
  • The four top contenders for Cliff’s replacement were Mike Dale of Corrosion Of Conformity, Willy Lange of Laaz Rockit, Les Claypool of Primus and, of course, Jason Newstead of Flotsam And Jetsam.
  • Jason Newstead was in the band for 15 years and he had exactly 3 songwriting credits.
  • Every album that Metallica has released since Metallica has sold progressively fewer units and St. Anger was a commercial disaster.
  • Lars has only ever been in one band in his life.
  • Lars is one of the savviest people in the music business and usually makes the correct decisions about the band's financials. He makes Gene Simmons look like a kid with his first lemonade stand.
  • James runs the band with an iron fist. All musical decisions are his and he also approves all major business decisions.
  • Kirk has little to no input into the band either musically or business-wise. He enjoys smoking weed, surfing, horror films and reading comics. He is essentially a non-entity.
  • James is a vicious drunk and a bully who has no clue who he actually is as a person. He is a real nasty piece of work and I have zero respect for him.
  • Both Flemming Rasmussen and Bob Rock forced Lars to take drum lessons during recording as his skills were rudimentary at best. In fact, Rasmussen had to teach Lars that drumming meant more than just fills and Lars didn’t even know what an upbeat was.
  • Kirk relied on Joe Satriani for help when he was working on solos early on. Joe was Kirk’s guitar teacher.
  • Jonny Zazula was still serving time in prison when he brought the band to New Jersey to record Kill ‘Em All.
  • Geoff Tate is an insufferable asshole. He labels Metallica fans as “low education, lower income, drunks, and drug users.” Geoff, what the fuck do you know about Metal anyway, you washed up, no voice-having shitbird. Release something as good as the Queensryche EP again and maybe I would listen to you, but until then shut the fuck up.

What makes this book invaluable is the understanding it provides about why Metallica makes the choices they make when it comes to musical direction. Here's the picture that emerges from the book.

Initially Lars and James wanted to emulate their heroes of the NWOBHM and thus they made Kill ‘Em All. Both Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets were revolutionary and sounded like nothing else in Metal. It’s at this point that Metallica as a revolutionary force in Metal ended and the band became reactionary.

Believe it or not, …And Justice For All was a reaction to Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite For Destruction and Lars really wanted an angry sounding album like Appetite. Later, Lars had been listening heavily to both The Cult’s Sonic Temple and Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood and wanted the drum sound in particular on the next Metallica album, so they brought in Bob Rock who had produced those albums. Both James and Lars wanted to go in a more commercial direction so they recorded music that would lead to singles and videos. The result was the massive Metallica album that has sold 25 million copies to date.

In 1995, the band regrouped and once again reacted to what they thought was the dominant music of the day – grunge. They were determined to stay on top commercially and thus recorded Load and “reinvented” the image of the band with the short hair, eye liner, cigars and Lollapalooza tours. It’s here that the band was too clever by half because Grunge had already over after Kurt Cobain gave himself a shotgun shampoo.

In essence, they miscalculated gravely and left a lot of money on the table. The smart thing for them to have done would have been to continue in the vein of Metallica and make commercial Metal. They failed to do this and as a result they alienated a large part of their old fan base and gained none of the Grunge audience who had zero interest in Metallica regardless of their hair length, tattoos or piercings. Their absence in the Metal market allowed bands like Pantera to pick up the ball and run with it to great success.

Following Load, the band pooped out Reload which consisted of the remaining tracks from the Load sessions. It sold half of what Load sold and was subpar at best. This was followed by Garage Inc., and S&M because the band had renegotiated their contract, which now allowed them to count live albums and compilations as part of their obligation to their record company. Thus they churned out stopgap material to satisfy their seven album deal.

By 2003 the band was in turmoil because of Jason's departure and James' stint in rehab. They had no clue what to record because there were no real trends to follow. Thus you get the unfocused nonsense that is St. Anger which is virtually unlistenable. Their label was beyond dismayed when they heard it and it was a disaster financially.

Finally by 2008, the band had noticed that the “classic rock” or “nostalgia” circuit was in full swing with bands like Kiss, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden cleaning up on the road. This led them to crank out Death Magnetic and then to agree to the Big Four shows. After 20+ years they cared about thrash again.

Thus Metallica has always been about being the biggest band in the world and not the biggest Metal band in the world. They want commercial viability above everything else and with Lars’s business acumen and James’s songwriting abilities they were successful beyond their wildest dreams. In many ways I admire them because they have achieved everything they wanted and more, but I am also sad because I now realize any integrity they had about being a Metal band was a fraud. They used that when it suited them and then discarded Metal when it was no longer fashionable.


The Bottom Line: I would recommend this book to anyone who's a current or former fan of Metallica. It’s chock full of details and revelations about the biggest band in the world but don’t be surprised if you become melancholy upon finishing it. The band you thought you knew and loved never really existed.


Am I Evil?

The Hirschkraft Slayer Dashboard

My fellow Metalheads, have you ever wondered just how evil each Slayer album is? Well wonder no more because the good people at the Hirschkraft Slayer Dashboard have constructed a little widget that will definitively answer all your Slayer evilness questions. No longer will you be sitting at a dinner party unable to join the riveting discussion of the relative evil merits of Haunting The Chapel vs. World Painted Blood. You will know just how many times Slayer has used the words blood, death, evil, hell, kill, satan and war in their songs.

The secret of which band member writes the most evil lyrics will be revealed to you with this fantastic Dashboard as well as who writes the evilest music. But wait, there’s more! Act now and you will also know the average evil song length and evil album length. Hail Satan!