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Old 07-23-2012, 04:43 AM   #1431 (permalink)
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Continuing my attempts to meld music with TV, I've been watching the Simpsons, like most people, for what seems like all my life now, but is probably about 25 years, and I've seen over that time them parody a few of my favourite songs, or at least songs I know. Sometimes they do it well, sometimes badly, and in this new section I'd like to share some of them with you. Just for the craic, y'know?

Here they do a great version of Falco's “Rock me Amadeus”, tied in to “Planet of the Apes: the Musical” --- ah, if only! Sadly, I could only get a proper copy that has a still image: others have stupid repeating loops, or are in a foreign language. Well, enjoy!


One I don't know, but know of, from the classic western musical, this is their version of “Paint your wagon”. Homer does not approve! “They're singing! Why aren't they killing each other?”


And from the classic movie “Willie Wonka and the chocolate factory”, here they are with “The Garbageman”! Again sorry about the stupid video, but hey, just listen to the music...
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Old 07-23-2012, 04:47 AM   #1432 (permalink)
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Let's have a shot of Queen to get the week off to a flying start, shall we? Here's “Breakthrough”.
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Old 07-24-2012, 03:38 AM   #1433 (permalink)
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Black holes and revelations --- Muse --- 2006 (Helium 3)


Do what? You've never heard Muse? Pull the other one mate! Laugh? I nearly paid my television licence! And so on.

No, I freely admit that although I've heard of the band (and caught a few short minutes of a live performance on TV) I have never yet listened to a full song, never mind a full album. This one --- probably their most popular and successful, if I read things correctly --- has been sitting on my hard drive for over a year now, patiently awaiting its turn, and that turn has now come. Hey, I'll probably hate it, or be totally disappointed with it, but comes with the territory. Course, I could be completely blown away by it, become a big fan of Muse or at the least not regret having downloaded the album.

Let's see how it pans out, eh?

Need I recount who the band are? Oh, all right then: formed in 1994 in the picturesque county of Devon by three schoolfriends, Muse were successful right from the off, with their debut EP scoring high on the indie charts, though it took an American label to have faith in them and release their first album, which failed to set the charts alight, just scraping into the top thirty. It was the second album, “Origins of symmetry”, that got them a top three hit, with the following “Absolution” hitting the coveted number one spot and confirming them as a hot property, so that by the time this, their fourth album was released, comparisons with the likes of Radiohead which had dogged their early days and first album were forgotten, and “Black holes and revelations” again took the coveted top spot.

It's said Muse integrate many types of genres and styles into their music, such as progressive rock, electronica, jazz and heavy metal, but this album extended that influence and broadened their musical spectrum to pull in classical, latin and Italian music. It's also heavily political, with some fairly angry lyrics and a decent grounding too in science-fiction themes.

So it opens then on fast, frenetic keyboard with backing synth as “Take a bow” accuses unnamed (but hardly unknown) political figures of corruption and evil, and of spreading their dark message beyond the borders of his own country, the vocal of Matt Bellamy low and understated but loaded with contempt. The keyboards get faster and more electronic, almost moving into trance territory (is it? I'm not certain what trance is to be honest, though I have an idea) as Bellamy's raw guitar cuts into the mix, and Dominic Howard gets tougher on the drumseat, pounding out the rhythm as the song heads towards its powerful climax, Bellamy warning ”You will burn in Hell/ For your sins!”

Strong opener, and it gets better with the very new-romantic “Starlight”, a lovely buzzy bassline from Christopher Wolstenholme leading the song, the keyboards (also courtesy of Matt Bellamy) very poppy and upbeat, and the song contains the album title as he sings ”All of our hopes and expectations/ Are black holes and revelations.” After the slowburning opener it's a decent shift in tone, and shows that Muse are certainly capable of a lot of variety in their music, and this continues into “Supermassive black hole”, with a real hard rock guitar sound and a falsetto vocal from Bellamy, some sharp electronic drum patterns from Howard giving the song a very artificial feel, while the vocals are almost soul in their style, the song keeping the tempo high and upbeat. The style veers back into electronica/dance territory for a while with “Map of the problematique”, Bellamy sounding like a wounded Bono, sharp staccato synthesisers stabbing the melody from all sides, as the song slides more towards a rock theme now, though retaining the new wave style synthesisers that characterised the sound of so many bands of the late eighties.

Everything slows down, and indeed is stripped down for the blues ballad “Soldier's poem”, with Matt this time sounding to me like Fran from Travis (he'll probably hate that, if he ever reads this, which will never happen), with a sort of swirly, swaying chorus of backing vocals, coming close to Queen territory, and with some fine double bass from Wolstenholme. It's only a short song, but very effective, then we're into low humming synth and high-pitched (maybe hi-strung?) guitar with heavy organ and rolling drums to take us into “Invincible”, some wobbly and weird keyboard effects (maybe pitch-bent?) rising like the cry of a banshee over Matt's passionate vocal. Howard's drums beat out the rhythm in a military style until about halfway in, when he kicks into a more natural rhythm as the song progresses.

“Assassin” then takes us into a faster, more rocky vein with some good electronic elements, with a sort of moaning, crying style vocal and some great hard guitar work, then “Exo-politics” scales things back a little, still hard rock but not as fast, with a pretty angry edge to it, especially the guitar. Great backing vocals on this song, and a very catchy hook. “City of delusion” has a lovely fast acoustic guitar intro, with a great bassline and then some powerful strings as the song kicks into high gear. An excellent bass solo in the second minute, joined by talk-box guitar and then more guitar and synth really opens up the tune as the strings slide back in, then a fantasically mariachi trumpet from Marco Brioschi is a star turn, making this one of the most interesting tracks on the album.

That has got to be Spanish guitar at the start of “Hoodoo”, although it's not mentioned, then some lovely slide takes the song in as Matt's understated vocal is so low it's almost indiscernible for a few moments, as beautiful strings merge with gorgeous piano, which then fires up on all cylinders in a real classical way, hard rolling drums coming in and Bellamy's vocal rising like an avenging angel, the whole thing putting me in mind of the very best of the Divine Comedy. The song then ends on the fragile, beautiful guitar on which it began. Stunning.

The album closes on the sounds of horses galloping against a synthy background before heavy drums start slow then increase in tempo as “Knights of Cydonia” gets going with an almost old-western-movie melody, trundling along on the back of whirring synth and rolling drumbeats. Electronic dancy rhythms are counterpointed by sharp guitar stabs and choral vocals, with Bellamy's own vocal ranging from the low, quiet to the loud and passionate, even desperate, at one point only backed by the bass, with vocal harmonies coming to join him as the song ramps up for its end, drums rising like smoke out of the mist and guitar punching in to take control.

So, what was the end result of this album? Did I get into the music of Muse? Sorry, let me just check my download of their discography … thirty percent. Good. Soon be able to listen to more. And I need to listen to more! Hey, I may be late to the party, but at least I've arrived!

TRACKLISTING

1. Take a bow
2. Starlight
3. Supermassive black hole
4. Map of the problematique
5. Soldier's poem
6. Invincible
7. Assassin
8. Exo-politics
9. City of delusion
10. Hoodoo
11. Knights of Cydonia
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Old 07-24-2012, 03:41 AM   #1434 (permalink)
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There are some occasions when a total classic is covered and not butchered: this is one of 'em. This is the late Robert Palmer, with the Powerstation, and their take on T-Rex's grinding anthem.
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Old 07-25-2012, 03:58 AM   #1435 (permalink)
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Come with me back to the heyday of British heavy metal, to a time when bands like Iron Maiden and Motorhead stalked the earth, and you couldn't turn around without hearing a squealing guitar solo or a thunderous drumbeat. A time when heavy metal was undergoing a resurgence, which would lead to the rise of some really fine metal bands, the demise of others and a whole studded-double-fistful of totally mediocre ones, as well as some which though they faded away, did not deserve to. The time period is the tail-end of the 1970s, and as one decade surrendered to another, disco was dead and punk was spitting its last vitriolic epithets at the world, raising two defiant fingers and going down fighting, but going down anyway. Metal was the new genre on the rise, and out of the ashes of both the older “hard rock” bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, as well as the better and more, ah, musical, of the punk bands which had come up in the turbulent mid-seventies, a new race of warriors was being born, and going forth to deliver their message to the world. And that message was, pretty much, PLAY IT LOUD!


Part the third, in which ancient history comes face-to-face with modern warfare, and somewhere out in the forests of the night, a lonely wild animal howls...

In this, the third section of my look at the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, I want to look at three more bands, all different. One became a stalwart of the genre, bestriding the metal scene like a colossus, linking muscular, tattooed arms with heavyweights like Maiden and Priest, while another flew the flag for the remnants of punk, successfully melding elements of both, the third only releasing one album before receding into the mists of heavy metal history.



With their founder having been in one of the seminal punk bands of the previous era, the Damned, Tank were always going to have a more punky, thrashy sound to their music, and with the likes of Motorhead and Raven, they epitomised the faster, less cultured if you will side of heavy metal; with bands like Maiden and Leppard concentrating more on intricate solos and deep lyrics, and gaining a “brand identity”, Tank were all about how fast they could play, how loud they could play and how powerful they could be. This total lack of restraint is evident from their debut album, the tastefully named “Filth hounds of Hades”.

Filth hounds of Hades --- Tank --- 1982 (Kamaflage)


There's no gentle run-in as the album opens on “Shellshock”, with a semi-African chant and bongo drums, and you definitely get the idea of a tribe of warriors preparing for battle. Then suddenly the drums and chanting stop, and Algy Ward, singer, bass player and founder, yells “Wakey wakey!” and the song gets going with superfast power guitar and thundering drums. You can hear the similarities to Motorhead here, though even at that I believe Tank to be more melodic than Lemmy's bunch, who to me a lot of the time just sounded like pure noise. Ward certainly has a decent and powerful voice, not screaming or growling but able to deliver the lines well enough, with a certain ragged quality to his vocal. “Struck by lightning” more or less follows directly on from the opener, with not too much difference between then two tracks, then “Run like hell” is a bit different, a little more rock/metal than punk style, and rather surprised to find it fades out. Metal doesn't fade out! Works though.

There's no doubt that Peter Brabbs is a man who knows how to play his guitar, and he takes centre stage on this album, while his brother (I assume?) Mark bashes away on the drums, but is capable of a certain amount of restraint when it's required. In fact, by the time “Blood, guts and beer” hits, the album has lost a little of its freneticity and has settled down into a really good metal album with some powerful hooks. Nothing radio-friendly, certainly, but then Tank were never really about the hit singles. There's an almost Mick Ronson-like guitar opening to “That's what dreams are made of”, like something off “Ziggy Stardust”, or even classic rockers Steppenwolf, and the guys are really rockin' now. Some great punching percussion from Mark Brabbs, his brother's guitar riff running right through the song and affording it its identity, with a powerful solo worthy of Moore or Gorham in there too.

“Turn your head around” kicks everything back into superhigh gear, while “Heavy artillery”, despite the gung-ho, macho title, tones it down slightly, while still being balls-to-the-wall hard and heavy. There are no slow or soft songs on this album, it's all just a question of degrees of hardness, as it were. Some songs are faster than others, some crunchier, but one thing you can be sure: there will be no ballads! Tanks don't get involved in love scenes, they roll over them and keep going. Nowhere is this more evident than in “Who needs love songs?”, which takes a blues/boogie beat and builds a heavy metal shuffle around it, with some great guitar and a very punk feel to it; however the lyric betrays the title, as Ward sings ”Who needs love songs? I do!” Still, if (for some insane reason) you're looking for ballads, look elsewhere.

That takes us to the title track, which is another fast, breakneck rocker which really showcases Mark's drumming prowess, a rolling, military style beat carrying the tune, and we end on the hilarious “(He fell in love with a) Stormtrooper”, with a strong boogie rhythm to it and a very fun way to end an album which really doesn't ever take itself too seriously, which is always a good place for a metal band to start.

TRACKLISTING

1. Shellshock
2. Struck by lightning
3. Run like Hell
4. Blood, guts and beer
5. That's what dreams are made of
6. Turn your head around
7. Heavy artillery
8. Who needs love songs?
9. Filth hounds of Hades
10. (He fell in love with a) Stormtrooper

Perhaps eager to follow up their debut and cash-in on their success in the emerging NWOBHM, Tank could not have been accused of hanging around, deliberating about their next album, and it was out no more than six months later. Their third and fourth albums would follow within a year of each other, possibly too much too soon. Where other bands in the genre were taking a year, two years, or more to craft their next album, Tank seemed impatient and maybe impulsive and a little naïve, but despite their prolific output during the first half of the 1980s, they never quite hit the same spot with subsequent releases.

Power of the hunter --- Tank --- 1982 (Kamaflage)


So Tank released their second album, mere months after their debut, and basically it's more of the same. Good atmospheric start to the opener, “Walking barefoot over glass”, then it rocks out to keep the armoured machine rolling, while “Pure hatred” slips a little back towards the punkish style of the debut, a little thin on ideas, and “Some came running” is a little more of a blues/boogie cruncher, certain sense of Zep's “Whole lotta love” about it. The old punk sensibilities come right back though for “T.A.N.K” (why didn't they just call it “Tank”?), which is very interesting as it's actually a full instrumental, something you just wouldn't expect to get on an album like this. It does however confirm that Tank are really great musicians, within the genre.

Nice chunky guitar intro then into “Used leather (Hanging loose)” before it kicks into high gear, with Ward's vocal a little less ragged --- shall we say, more metal and less punk? The song is a little on the repetitive side though. Interesting choice for a cover version then, with the Osmonds' “Crazy horses”, which I suppose in some ways does lend itself rather well to the heavy metal interpretation. Perhaps correctly, Tank avoid the “horses neighing” sounds made by the guitarist on the original, and yet without that there seems something lacking in the song.

After that, it's pretty much standard metal, flying along at fast to breakneck pace, with “Set your back on fire”, “Red skull rock” and the title and closer winding the album up adequately, but to be fair there's nothing that terribly special. I'd reiterate my contention that this album was rushed out too soon, but rather than learn from this “mistake”, they had two more albums out within a year of each other.

TRACKLISTING

1. Walking barefoot over glass
2. Pure hatred
3. Biting and scratching
4. Some came running
5. T.A.N.K
6. Used leather (Hanging loose)
7. Crazy horses
8. Set your back on fire
9. Red skull rock
10. Power of the hunter

1983 and 1984 saw the release of two further albums, neither of which made any impression, however they did change Tank's musical direction quite dramatically. With the addition of second guitarist Mick Tucker from White Spirit, the music became more planned-out, more melodic and less punky, and in certain cases quite long, leading to each of the two albums, 1983's “This means war” and 1984's “Honour and blood” both having an opening track which was over eight minutes long. Each of these albums also had a total of seven songs, as opposed to the ten of the first two. In 1984 both Mark and Pete Brabbs left the band, Mark being replaced by another White Spirit member, drummer Graeme Callan, while Pete was supplanted by Cliff Evans.

1987's self-titled would be the last Tank album for a while, as Ward broke up the band two years later, but they reassembled in late 1997 and returned with a new album, 2002's “Still at war”, with yet another new drummer, this time Chris Bisland occupied the drumstool.

Still at war --- Tank --- 2002 (Zoom Club)



It opens, rather appropriately and satisfyingly for a band who had been away for over fifteen years, with the sounds of a rolling tank approaching --- Tank are back! Then the title track gets going and you can hear the change in Algy Ward's voice, far less strained and scratchy and with a much more solid sound behind him from the reassembled band. The music isn't as frenetic or fast as on previous albums, and unlike the last few this one has eleven tracks, the longest Tank album to date. Definitely a fuller, more expansive sound to the guitars now, and they're giving off a purer metal vibe than the punk that characterised their original efforts.

It's a defiant statement of intent, and a powerful opener, and it continues into “That girl's name is Death”, with some growling guitar and a smattering of Metallica in the melody, with “Light the fire (Watch 'em burn)” goes a little back towards their heyday with “Filth hounds of Hades”: very fast, punkish, almost thrash in areas, then “The world awaits” is a big, heavy, stomping cruncher, slowing everything down in an almost Sabbath/Dio vein. Great guitar solo from either Tucker or Evans, not sure which. Good, commanding vocal performance by Algy Ward, too: he's certainly grown up on this album, and so far I'd say this is the standout. Shows a lot of control, something Tank had been lacking up to now.

Back to hard, fast, headshakin' metal then with “And then we heard the thunder”, then another heavy cruncher for “The last hours before dawn”, where Ward does his best Phil Lynott and the guys do some great work on the guitars. There's a clever and funny little intermission before the next track, with a constructed radio announcement while says “And now that we have your attention”, launching into “Conspiracy of hate”, another fast heavy rocker with a lot of bite, then for a moment you think you're hearing a cover of Gary Moore's “Cold hearted”, but it turns out to be “When the hunter becomes the hunted”, another heavy, slow metal cruncher, though the riff is pretty much ripped off from Moore's 1982 song. Still, I guess you can forgive them for that. It's the “Return of the filth hounds” next, and for this throwback to their glory days the lads really pull out all the stops, racking everything up to ten and breaking the sound barrier in terms of speed. Other than the shouted intro though I'm not entirely sure what link this shows to the original song, but it's good to hear it mentioned again, and the wolves' howls at the end is a nice touch.

After that, “The blood's still on their hands” seems a little slow and plodding, a rather obvious and heavy-handed dig at the Nazis, perhaps all Germans, or maybe exending it to all mankind (but then, if that were the case it should be blood on our hands, shouldn't it? Besides, they mention “deutschland” in the lyric...), but the album ends quite strongly on “The fear inside”, a fast rocker with some good chorus work and some fine guitar frenetics.

TRACKLISTING

1. Still at war
2. That girl's name is Death
3. Light the fire (Watch 'em burn)
4. The world awaits
5. And then we heard the thunder
6. In the last hours before dawn
7. Conspiracy of hate
8. When the hunter becomes the hunted
9. Return of the filth hounds
10. The blood's still on their hands
11. The fear inside

This is, then, where the history of Tank hits, if you'll excuse the metaphor, the mudflats. After “Still at war”, which was generally well received, Algy Ward began making preparations for a new album, “Sturmpanzer”, to be released in 2006, but it never saw the light of day and Ward, the founder of the band, who had been with them through all their, to this date, six albums, departed and was replaced by Doogie White, known to fans of Rainbow, Praying Mantis and Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force. In 2008, original drummer Mark Brabbs rejoined the band and Ward was replaced on bass by Chris Dale, who had played with Bruce Dickinson.

Pete Brabbs did not rejoin and in fact his brother left before the recording of Tank's next album, being replaced by Dave Cavill from Voodoo Six. This new lineup then released their first, and Tank's seventh, studio album, 2010's “War machine”.

War machine --- Tank --- 2010 (Metal mind)


It's interesting after almost thirty years of listening to Algy Ward to hear someone else sing with Tank, but if they were going to replace him then Doogie White was a good choice. His voice certainly seems to suit the material as the “new” Tank hit the world, and the album opens with “Judgement day”, a heavy but somehow more controlled song, and you can hear White's Rainbow influence coming through, almost like that greatest of Rainbow icons, the late Ronnie James Dio. He definitely has a powerful voice, and this is more solid metal than previous Tank outings. There's another metal cruncher then in “Feast of the Devil”, with some quite Sabbath-style guitars from Cliff Evans and Mick Turner, though I do get the definite impression that White is trying to change this band into Rainbow. Well, Dio actually; perhaps not intentionally, but his voice has changed not only their sound but their whole direction entirely. Were I not told this was a Tank album, I doubt I'd be able to figure it out.

“Phoenix rising” takes things up a notch, speeding up the tempo and allowing the band to rock out a little more, sounding just a shade more like the Tank we know and love, but with a pretty hefty dose of Murray/Smith in those guitars, and that can't be bad. The title track then has that rolling tank sound again, which is certainly welcome, but then the song itself is another heavy cruncher: nothing wrong with that, but it sounds a little too like Sabbath/Dio for my tastes. Nice expressive guitar work, though, and a sort of Pink Floyd feel to the backing vocals, circa “The Wall”. Ramping everything back up to ten then for “Great expectations”, as the guys really cut loose, while “After all” shows Tank tackling their first ever ballad, that I've heard. To be honest, it's not that great, and I'd suggest they maybe just stick to the fast hard rockin'; some bands just aren't suited to the slower songs. Luckily, they soon get back to doing what they do best, and “The last laugh”, “World without pity” and “My insanity” round off the album very well.

TRACKLISTING

1. Judgement day
2. Feast of the Devil
3. Phoenix rising
4. War machine
5. Great expectations
6. After all
7. The last laugh
8. World without pity
9. My insanity

With the departure of Algy Ward, Tank really become a whole new band, and so it's hard to say where if anywhere their path now lies. After this album they replaced Cavill with Mark Frost, and this year the occupant of the drumstool was yet another guy, this time the original drummer, Steve Hopgood, who never played on any of the Tank albums. Under this lineup they released their eighth album this year, 2012's “War nation”.

So it would appear that despite losing every single original member of the band, Tank are still a force to be reckoned with, three decades later, and like the armoured fighting machine from which they take their name, they just keep rolling on and on.
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Old 07-25-2012, 04:03 AM   #1436 (permalink)
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Another of those songs that takes a classical piece and builds a pop/rock beat around it, this one was quite well done. To the basic tune of Pachelbel's “Canon in D Major”, here's the Farm, with “All together now”.
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Old 07-26-2012, 10:21 AM   #1437 (permalink)
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When you discuss the true giants of the NWOBHM era, there are about four: Iron Maiden of course stand head and shoulders above every other band, not just because of their success, but due to the influence they had, not only on other upcoming bands (and still do today), but in forcing serious heavy metal into the mainstream charts, with songs like “Run to the hills”, “Flight of Icarus” and “The Trooper” often hitting even the top ten. In this “Holy quadrology” you'll also find Motorhead, who did more to advance the cause and spread of thrash, speed and extreme metal than any other band in England, except perhaps Venom (though Motorhead were taken more seriously by their peers), Def Leppard (who really wimped out pretty early and “Americanised” their sound, but did contibute to the rise of the NWOBHM) and of course the mighty, indefatigable, unapologetic Saxon.

One of the bands to burst right out of the new resurgence in interest in heavy metal, Saxon hit the scene at just the right time, releasing their debut self-titled album in 1979 after several years of tours supporting Motorhead had prepared them to make their own assault on the world of heavy metal music. The album did not do very well commercially though, despite being a hit in the metal community, and it would not be until the next year that Saxon would make it big, with the release of what is still for many fans their best album.

(Note: as those who have read previous sections of this dissertation --- to make it sound all intelligent and artsy --- know, I usually like to cherry-pick from an artiste's recordings: debut, second/third, something in the middle, most recent, maybe including some album that changed their style or is very important in their catalogue. But Saxon have had almost 20 albums over the years, and whereas I would normally not do this, apart from their unremarkable debut, the first four albums after that really encapsulate how they took the lead in the NWOBHM and became one of the most loved and respected metal bands, so I need to feature each of them. After that, as four or five is usually my limit, I'll take one other, possibly at random. I know this may not give a true overall picture of this most important of bands, but I'll try to write them up as best I can. If I were a vampire, with all eternity to write, I'd feature all twenty in detail, but as I'm not (so far as you know --- yeah, brackets within brackets: what ya gonna do about it? Here are some more (these are just for show) I have to draw the line, and this is where I've decided it will be.)

Wheels of steel --- Saxon --- 1980 (Carrere)

Strangely enough, for a British band who prided themselves as such and used the ancient name for the English, the cover of this iconic album featured a symbol which was more akin to the German eagle, particularly as used by the Nazis during World War II, though where the “SS” logo would be at that time Saxon replaced it with the wheel, presumably meant to be off a motorcycle, with their own logo on the hubcap. This theme of metal married to motorbikes was nothing new (Steppenwolf had penned “Born to be wild” twelve years prior), but became something of a sigil for the band, cropping up in their image, their lyrics and their fanbase.

The album opens on one of the songs which gave them their first hit single, “Motorcycle man”, which uses the old but still valid trick of revving a “sickel” engine to introduce the track. Then the guitar cuts in as motorbikes race by, the drums hit and the soon-to-be-instantly-recognisable voice of Peter “Biff” Byford yells out the opening lyric. Saxon captured the very zeitgeist of the NWOBHM, and came to ultimately help define both it and heavy metal, influencing hugely the slew of metal bands, both British and other, who would come in later years. Down and dirty, uncomplicated, heavy with a capital H and always in your face, Saxon were unapologetically heavy metal, and no-one would think to call them anything else.

One of the many “metal pride” songs that would emerge over the next ten or so years, “Stand up and be counted” is another hard rocker, with great sharp guitars and a rolling drumbeat, elements of Thin Lizzy and Steppenwolf in the melody, slower than the opener but not by much, then another future classic is “747 (Strangers in the night)”, which rocks again with great enthusiasm and again has some spectacular guitar work from Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver, becoming a real favourite with fans. The title track then is a pure joy for metal fans, fist-pumping, headshaking, air-punching exuberance. Saxon were never accused of overindulgence or pomposity, and their lyrics concern largely the staples of the metal community and lifestyle, like bikes, cars, women, beer and fighting, though as seen from the previous track they could write some quite insightful songs too.

Thing speed up a lot then for “Freeway mad”, with a great twin guitar attack, some fine solos, and the tempo is maintained for the headbanging “See the light shining”, and indeed for “Streetfighting gang”, then although it's not in any way a ballad, “Suzie hold on” is the slowest track on the album and the closest Saxon come to a lovesong on this album, and it ends on “Machine gun”, with a great almost stride/boogie guitar intro that then segues into a fast, headbanging closer. This is without question Heavy Metal!

TRACKLISTING

1. Motorcycle man
2. Stand up and be counted
3. 747 (Strangers in the night)
4. Wheels of steel
5. Freeway mad
6. See the light shining
7. Streetfighting gang
8. Suzie hold on
9. Machine gun

After the release and success of this album, Saxon enhanced their image and pulling power with their appearance at the first ever “Monsters of Rock” festival in Castle Donington, where they went down a storm. The hit singles from “Wheels of steel” also landed them in unfamiliar territory, with slots of “Top of the pops” opening their music up to even more fans, and spreading their fame. Trumping even the prolific Tank (as related in the previous article), no more than four months later they were back in the studio, and in September released their third, and widely acclaimed to be their best, album.

Strong arm of the law --- Saxon --- 1980 (Carrere)


Taking another cue from one of the first proponents of heavy metal, Steppenwolf, this album opens on “Heavy metal thunder”, a hard rockin' anthem which hops along at a fine lick and really punches the third Saxon album open with a vengeance. Despite having recorded their second album only a matter of sixteen weeks or so ago, Saxon show no signs of slowing down and this would be the third in a sequence of four albums released over a period of four years. “To Hell and back again” ramps everything up with some smoking fretwork, the groundwork of thrash metal being laid down before your eyes (well, ears), but yet with a lot of melody that many of the later bands forgot to include, and which is so important.

The title track then is a real boogie rocker, almost in the vein of a (much) heavier Status Quo, something that just conjures up images of those two/three man guitar performances where they all rock onstage together. The song details their less-than-cordial dealings with Her Majesty's Constabulary, and the hassle they get for looking as they did. No fans of the police then, Saxon! “Taking your chances” and “20,000 ft” keep the pressure up, then an incongruously gentle guitar intro takes us into a bluesy, almost southern-rocker Saxon call “Hungry years”, with a great swinging beat and some fine breakout guitarwork. “Sixth form girls” is fun and then the album ends on a serious note, as “Dallas 1 pm” recalls the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, closing the album strongly and again showing that when they want to, Saxon can write thoughtful, inspiring songs, and that they don't always have to be about bikes, beer and babes.

TRACKLISTING

1. Heavy metal thunder
2. To Hell and back again
3. Strong arm of the law
4. Taking your chances
5. 20,000 ft.
6. Hungry years
7. Sixth form girls
8. Dallas 1 pm

The last album to be released by Saxon in this rather heady period of album-after-album was 1981's “Denim and leather”, which was seen as a tribute to their fans, and also described the general “uniform” of headbangers, who would wear denim jeans and leather jackets (or denim jackets and leather pants or skirts in some instances). After the recording of the album drummer Pete Gill would leave, having injured his hand just prior to the band going on tour, and would be replaced by Nigel Glockner.

Denim and leather --- Saxon --- 1981 (Carrere)



The album kicks off with one of their most famous and loved songs, “Princess of the night”, written about the decline of the steam railroad, and rocks along like just that very locomotive, while “Never surrender” is another of those stand-up-and-shout songs, with again quite a lot of Lizzy in the guitar melody. It's a fast start right out of the gates, and continues Saxon's presence as very near the top of the metal tree in the 80s, only beaten by the likes of Maiden, Leppard and maybe Motorhead. “Rough and ready” is another tough streetrocker, while “Play it loud” became another anthem of the heavy metal era, a real rebel song for the teenage metal generation. Great powerful guitars as Biff snarls ”Play it loud! Give your neighbours hell!” You have to laugh at the audacity and the ****-you attitude.

Often mistaken for a song about the “Titanic”, “And the bands played on” is in fact written about the Donington festival, and has a lot of Iron Maiden in it, another favourite. “Midnight rider” returns to Saxon's favourite subject, hogs, and rocks along with something of Creedence in it, with a guitar riff that hints at that old BOC classic, while everything flies off the rails as “Fire in the sky” blasts in, this being probably Saxon's second politically-themed song, dealing with the threat of nuclear war. The closer, then, is also the title track, and traces the evolution of heavy metal from the late seventies through into the explosion of new bands of the NWOBHM. A “thank you” to their fans in somewhat similar vein to Manowar's laughable “Army of the immortals”, it's a slow, crunching, punching anthem that told the fans they were appreciated. And everyone likes to know that.

TRACKLISTING

1. Princess of the night
2. Never surrender
3. Out of control
4. Rough and ready
5. Play it loud
6. And the bands played on
7. Midnight rider
8. Fire in the sky
9. Denim and leather

(Thanks a bunch, maximum character count! You are the bane of my life! Part two of this entry on Saxon follows tomorrow...)
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Old 07-26-2012, 10:25 AM   #1438 (permalink)
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The worm is featuring this for one reason only: so that he can shout “It's Hammer time!” And it is...
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Old 07-27-2012, 03:39 AM   #1439 (permalink)
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Saxon finally took time off from recording albums to tour the UK, and thus got their music across to even more people, and established themselves as one of the major UK metal acts of the time. When their live album, “The eagle has landed”, was released the following year, it shot to number five in the album charts, something pretty much unheard of for a metal band. Or any band. They toured with Ozzy Osbourne and again played at Donington, the first ever act to do so twice, tightening their grip on the hearts of metal fans in the UK and further afield.

1983 saw the release of their fifth album, as the NWOBHM began to burn itself out, leaving behind some massive piles of cinders, and a few hardened and tempered weapons who would be the mainstay of the metal scene in the eighties and nineties. Saxon of course fell into the latter category, and this album, their biggest selling, was the first to break them in the USA.

Power and the glory --- Saxon --- 1983 (Carrere)


The first album to feature new drummer Nigel Glocker, the sticksman wastes no time establishing himself and setting his mark on this album from the opener, and title track, which rocks along and is a great headbanger, Biff's voice a little less rough and ragged as he began to find his true sound. I suppose if there's one negative thing you could say about Saxon it's that they were unadventurous, as much of each album sounds like the rest, and the three featured here sort of blend together on occasions. But then again, you could also interpret that as the band finding what works, and sticking with it. Sometimes the fans don't want experimentation, don't want change: they know what they like, it works and they want the band to stick with it. Saxon certainly did not disappoint in that regard.

“Redline” is yet another motorbike-themed song, boogieing along with a great southern rock beat somewhat reminscent of “Hungry years” from “Strong arm of the law”, while “Warrior” pushes in on Manowar's territory, elbowing the Americans aside and showing how it should be done! Great rolling drumbeat from Glocker, hard and fast guitars from messrs. Oliver and Quinn, some great steaming solos and a powerful vocal from Biff. There's something of a change in style then for “Nightmare”, which has almost AOR overtones, though it's still very heavy. Very melodic, could have been good radio fodder. Maybe.

There's nothing outside-the-box though about “This town rocks”, as it powers along on rails of steel, striking sparks as it thunders along, and “Watching the sky” keeps things fast and heavy, with “Midas touch” slowing things down in an almost Iron Maiden ballad style a la “Childern of the damned”, with some lovely blues guitar, sliding into a great heavy solo, and finally “The eagle has landed” takes us to the close of the album, with a superb slow cruncher opened by an almost three-minute instrumental, Biff's vocals double or echo-tracked to make them sound a bit psychedlic and weird. It makes a powerful finale to the album though, and in the best tradition of Dio it's a real power stormer.

TRACKLISTING

1. Power and the glory
2. Redline
3. Warrior
4. Nightmare
5. This town rocks
6. Watching the sky
7. Midas touch
8. The eagle has landed

To be fair and honest, this is where I stopped buying Saxon albums, as my tastes began to mature towards more progressive rock and drift away from metal, with bands like Marillion and Pallas coming through, so I really don't know what their releases after this album were like and as such it's then hard to pick one. Fact is, though “Power and the glory” had broken Saxon in the hard-to-crack USA, subsequent releases, paradoxically more polished and commercialised for the US market, failed to capitalise or improve on that success, and only the next two or three showed any signs of charting, and all in the lower end of the US charts. In the UK, things were just as bad, as fans over this side of the water reacted badly to the “Americanised” Saxon, with album sales suffering. The heady days of the early 80s, when they had enjoyed top ten or twenty positions with their albums for a period lasting about four years, seemed well and truly over.

But chart success is not necessarily the measure of a band, and certainly not a metal one, and Saxon continued churning out albums. After a rather brief flirtation with commercial metal as they tried to pry open the lucrative American market, they returned to their roots in 1991, after releasing four albums that confused Saxon fans, with “Solid ball of rock”, with further albums helping to re-establish them as one of the great heavy metal bands. But in 1994 longtime guitarist Graham Oliver was sacked from the band and replaced by Doug Scarratt. In 1997 they released their first album with him, and he has remained with them to this day.

Unleash the beast --- Saxon --- 1997 (CMC International)


Truth be told, you can definitely see a huge change in Saxon's direction, as “Gothic dreams” opens more like something you would expect from Dio, with heavy orchestral sounds, choral vocals, dramatic keyboards (!) in a short instrumental that soon breaks into a monster in the title track. This was also the first time Saxon had attempted a more cohesive album, not a concept but with some recurring themes running through the songs. The vocal harmonies are a lot more to the fore, though the guitars are still fast, hard and heavy, the drumming as tight and powerful as ever. In fact, this is one of Saxon's faster tracks, edging out even some of the stuff on the classic 80s albums.

On “Terminal velocity” Biff does his best Bon Scott, and there's certainly no sign of the sound having been watered down (although I have intentionally skipped over the US-centric albums; maybe I shouldn't have, but that's how it is) and Saxon sound as heavy as ever, the opening instrumental perhaps having wrong-footed me a little. There's an even heavier style portrayed on “Circle of light”: no, you wouldn't think Saxon could get any heavier, but there's a very definite shift here towards the more extreme metal that was coming out of the US at that time, the likes of Metallica and Slayer, and perhaps the old masters were finding the pupils had outdone them, and were taking some of their influences?

Another war-themed/political song in “The thin red line”, with some very chunky guitars and a hard-hitting military backbeat, and another in “Ministry of fools”, in which you can hear the influence of AOR/American commercial metal on Saxon, and I must say yeah, it's very catchy! Heavy organ builds behind an evangelist decrying, uh, just about everything fun, as “The preacher” gets going, then “Bloodletter”, despite its heavy title, has quite a bit of AOR about it too, especially in the chorus, though the guitars certainly burn!

There are more choral vocals and heavy dramatic elements in the cruncher “Cut out the disease”, yet another politically-themed song --- seems Saxon have grown up since I last heard them! Nice acoustic intro to “Absent friends”, the first real ballad I've ever heard from these guys, and it mostly continues in the acoustic vein, although there's a superb and emotional electric guitar solo about halfway through, but it's nice to see Saxon can handle an understated song like this. The album ends, however, as you would expect, on a headshaking, air-guitar-frenzy, rockin' heavy metal screamer, with “All hell breaks loose” bringing “Unleash the beast” to a powerful and very metal end.

TRACKLISTING

1. Gothic dreams
2. Unleash the beast
3. Terminal velocity
4. Circle of light
5. The thin red line
6. Ministry of fools
7. The preacher
8. Bloodletter
9. Cut out the disease
10. Absent friends
11. All hell breaking loose

And on they go. Saxon have to date released nineteen studio albums, with their twentieth due next year. In the meantime, they've struggled to protect their bandname as a trademark, when ex-members Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson sued for the right to use it, but lost, and been refused permission to play the Dubai Desert Festival, due apparently to offence being taken at some of the lyrics in the “Crusader” album. Don't these people know it's only rock and roll, even if they don't like it? But undaunted Saxon have toured the world, building and rebuilding their popularity, and they are still, and likely always be, revered by metal fans as one of the few acts who never truly sold out.
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Old 07-27-2012, 03:46 AM   #1440 (permalink)
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One of the better hits from Nik Kershaw, this is “The riddle”.
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