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Old 09-12-2013, 02:07 PM   #381 (permalink)
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1978

1978 was a stellar year especially if you were a punk/post-punk or new-wave band, in fact I bought my first ever singles at this time (actually they were bought for me) and they were Blondie, Boomtown Rats and Showaddywaddy yep **** Showaddywaddy! It was also a fantastic year for AOR and in fact a great year for most musical genres. But for the ‘heavy scene’ it was very much a year in the doldrums creatively and would throw up one of the poorest years since I started with this journal. As always the half dozen or so great albums at the top end of the list easily picked themselves, but it was something of a struggle to fill out the rest of the list with quality releases! Now at first glance 1978 is a very deceptive year, because as already noted it was a poor year BUT that tag refers largely to studio releases and not live releases, because 1978 threw one of the best years on record with quality live releases! The crisis affecting the ‘heavy scene’ as a whole was not largely unsurprising as its early pioneers in Led Zeppelin, Back Sabbath and Deep Purple were either struggling to push the cart out or were simply no more. It’s next wave of bands such as Uriah Heep, Budgie and Alice Cooper amongst others had run out of steam, and other bands such Nazareth and Blue Oyster Cult were looking to realign themselves with current trends. The flag was therefore kept flying by the likes of UFO, Rainbow and Thin Lizzy in the UK and with Aerosmith and Kiss doing the same stateside. This was all good and well, but it was certainly at the expense of new blood not only not coming through, but not getting the right exposure once it did and the scene was therefore in an urgent need of inspiration, but all was not lost as two bands would prove there was still hope! Firstly Judas Priest were the pivotal band here and not only for the year but also for the final quarter of the decade, as they essentially traced their metal line right from the heart of Black Sabbath and blasted it right through to the explosion that would be the arrival of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in 1980. Not only were Judas Priest one of the most important metal flag bearers ever, they were also one of the most innovative as well, as they not only carried the metal flag, but basically re-wrote large chunks of the script. Secondly and running parallel to Judas Priest stateside, were new arrivals Van Halen who would typify a number of different characteristics in the metal genre in relation to Judas Priest, but in their own way would prove to be as equally influential.
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If you can't deal with the fact that there are 6+ billion people in the world and none of them think exactly the same that's not my problem. Just deal with it yourself or make actual conversation. This isn't a court and I'm not some poet or prophet that needs everything I say to be analytically critiqued.
Metal Wars

Power Metal

Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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Old 09-15-2013, 05:23 AM   #382 (permalink)
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10. Gillan Gillan 1978 (East World)
Hard Rock

A samurai in the land of the rising sun.


Overview
Since departing from Deep Purple back in 1973, it had taken Ian Gillan a number of years to get back into the swing of things and that was on the slightly unexpected Ian Gillan Band project, which despite being loud when they wanted to be, was more of a jazz-fusion project with an experimental slant to them. The first album of the Ian Gillan Band had been the Child in Time album (see review) and this was the best album of the three he did in this set-up, as the other two released in 1977 Clear Air Turbulence and the superbly named Scarabus did very little for me. The Ian Gillan Band with its highly noted session players, always felt like a temporary project anyway and it was no surprise that Ian Gillan now under the moniker of just Gillan, would eventually drift back onto more familiar ground and that would be a more standard hard rock sound. His second post-Deep Purple project would be his most popular stint as a solo artist and it would be all change with his array of backing musicians as well. The Gillan band would go through a number of personnel changes over the ensuing years, but keyboardist Colin Towns would be the crucial element on these Gillan albums, along with bassist John McCoy. The majority of the songs are joint Ian Gillan and Colin Towns compositions, which show just how influential Colin Towns would be for Ian Gillan here. This debut album though, is blighted by a couple of setbacks for Ian Gillan. Firstly despite the reputation of Ian Gillan, this album was patched in for a Japanese only release, which certainly hampered sales in the two most important markets the US and the UK. Secondly apart from the aforementioned Colin Towns and bassist John McCoy, the other band members would also be replaced by the following year. With all this occurring, it was therefore quite appropriate that the album cover had a crazed Syd Barrett type image dominating it! There is also a much longer 1993 version of this album, which also combines tracks from 1979’s Mr. Universe album (Ian Gillan’s best and most popular solo release) and to confuse matters even more, a number of the tracks on the Gillan debut would reappear and be recorded with a different line-up for the following year’s Mr. Universe album, which of course had been slated for an international release.

Ian Gillan- Vocals
Steve Byrd- Guitar
John McCoy- Bass
Colin Towns- Keyboards
Liam Genocky- Drums
Pete Barnacle- Drums

Production- Paul ‘Chas’ Watkins

Album
Second Sight
- With its almost Tubular Bells atmospheric start, the song then takes on a familiar Rainbow type stance along with some good work by Colin Towns on keyboards, who also has sole writing credits here and the track then leads into….. Secret of the Dance- We’re now into familiar territory here and that means Deep Purple territory. The song has some a real up-tempo gusto about it and sets the tone for much of the album to come. I’m Your Man- A plodding and melodic effort, which again falls into some more typical Ian Gillan style singing material and it’s one of the more thorough efforts on the album as well. Dead of Night- Similar to the previous track as Ian Gillan tells a tale in his familiar and plodding style. Fighting Man- The second song solely accredited to Colin Towns, so it’s no surprise that the piano features highly on the song and at more than 7 minutes it was obvious that this was pencilled in to be the most accomplished song on the whole album and the song is a true treasure! Message in a Bottle- An energetic album track that kicks off the second side of the album and a song that would feature on the following year’s Mr. Universe. Not Weird Enough- Typical 1970s rock fare here, that is both fun and easy on the ear and probably the most laid back track on the whole album. Bringing Joanna Back- With some crunchy guitar the song is another melodic effort. Abbey of Thelema- With a subdued piano intro and some nice touches by Colin Towns, this song is probably the strongest track on the second side of the album. Back in the Game- As expected the album closer is a pacey effort that does the job and enables the album to finish on a high.

Verdict
There is no shadow of a doubt that Ian Gillan on this debut album, was attempting to realign himself with the Deep Purple sound that had initially made him a superstar back in the early 1970s. So this shift in direction is clearly evident on the pacey and frenzied second track “Secret of the Dance” which ends with some great screaming by Ian Gillan and this same frenzied approach can also be heard on tracks like “Message in a Bottle” and even more so on the album closer “Back in the Game”. This is all then contrasted with the plodding, melodic and heavy songs like “I’m Your Man” and the similar sounding “Dead of Night”. The Colin Towns composed “Fighting Man” is a seven minute slow-burner which focuses on Ian Gillan’s singing and has him singing in some of his cleanest vocals ever and in fact both Colin Towns and Ian Gillan are all over this song, with of course features Ian Gillan’s trademark screaming at its end! The song also happens to be the most accomplished and best effort on the whole album as well. As for the second side of the album, the most interesting song here is probably the “Abbey of Thelema” and that is largely thanks to Colin Town’s great keyboard work. Gillan might not be an essential hard rock listen, but it’s an album that the casual hard rock listener will enjoy, as the songs are both melodic and heavy, but still easy on the ear. As for Ian Gillan and Deep Purple fans, then It’s certainly an essential listen along with its follow-up the far better known Mr. Universe (which of course has numerous songs that were featured on Gillan) In fact no rock fan should miss out on hearing “Fighting Man” which in hindsight sounds like one of those powerful pumping slower tracks that were the highlights of the decade and it’s a song that a band like UFO would have been proud to have called their own as well. Overall Gillan is a steady album in Ian Gillan’s somewhat disjointed solo career and in hindsight Ian Gillan out of the three vocalists that fronted the three biggest hard rock/heavy metal British bands of the 1970s, would see Ian Gillan’s as being the least appreciated out of a trio that consisted of Robert Plant and Ozzy Osbourne, and for that reason alone Ian Gillan’s solo work is probably the most rewarding of the three as well.

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Metal Wars

Power Metal

Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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09. Nazareth No Mean City 1978 (A&M)
Hard Rock
Jack boots, hi-jacks and a spraying of hard rock.


Overview

After the superb Hair of the Dog back in 1975, Scottish hard rockers Nazareth had certainly lost their way somewhat. The two albums that they had released in 1976 Close Enough for Rock ‘n’ Roll and Play ‘n’ the Game had seen the band trade in much of their hard rocking grit for a more commercial sounding softer rock approach, surely in an attempt to breach the burgeoning AOR market in the US at the time. Indeed these albums produced some radio hits and the band demonstrated some interesting diversity on these albums, from their usual flirtation with southern rock right up to their experimentation with psychedelia and pop amongst other styles. The great problem though, was that Nazareth were and out an out hard drinking and hard living rock band and getting them to try and do AOR, was akin to getting say Elton John doing a metal album! By and large though, these two albums were far from terrible and indeed the song “Telelgram” on the former album is an interesting concept, but the albums were never going to really cut it where it mattered. 1977’s Expect No Mercy was a pure return to what the band knew best and the first side of that album is one of the best that the band ever put out, sadly though the album would lose all its spark and beans on its far weaker second side (see albums that missed the cut for 1977) By the release though of 1978’s No Mean City, its title taken from the 1935 novel of the same name, one of the staunchest line-ups around had added a fifth member and second guitarist in the ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band guitarist Zal Cleminson, in order to give greater depth to their sound. The move on deeper analysis though, might not have been that overly surprising, as Nazareth were surely aware of the benefits that fellow hard rockers Thin Lizzy had achieved with their own dual-guitar team. The group had also realised that pop-sensibilities were never going to be their forte, but I’m guessing the hugely successful “Love Hurts” single a few years earlier had blinded them in that respect, as the whiskey-soaked vocals of Dan McCafferty were only really good for one style of music. Most interestingly and starting with Expect No Mercy and then on No Mean City, the band were putting out some of the most metal album covers ever seen for a 1970s band in an interesting footnote.

Dan McCafferty- Vocals
Manny Charlton- Guitar
Zal Cleminson- Guitar
Pete Agnew- Bass
Darrell Sweet- Drums

Production- Manny Charlton

Album
Just to Get into It
- A faster than average Nazareth track and it displays plenty of the band’s newly acquired firepower with the hiring of Zal Cleminson. May the Sunshine- With its Celtic acoustic guitar intro that accompanies much of the song, the whole thing is beefed up with electric guitars and is a rambling track in the acoustic style of Led Zeppelin. The song also has a great bassline from Pete Agnew as well and the song is accomplished in every aspect. Simple Solution, Part 1 & 2- Gritty and addictive and with a great overall feel, this is without doubt one of the real highlights of the album and a really great song, it’s also one of Dan McCafferty’s best vocal performances on the album. Star- A power ballad that has some nice harmony work on offer, but from a vocal perspective and overall feel, the song ultimately fails where it matters and that is in how it resonates with the listener. Claim to Fame- A heavy plodder that is too repetitive for its own good, but it does have some powerful vocal surges from Dan McCafferty. Whatever You Want Babe- A galloping upbeat track that unfortunately sounds like something that Rod Stewart could’ve done and the singing here is disjointed to say the least, but the song is saved by the musical ability of the band. What’s In It For Me- A good album track that despite a certain amount of repetitiveness just seems to hold it altogether where it matters. No Mean City, Part 1 & 2- The album closer is a strong 6 plus minutes track overall and on some versions of the album, there is an instrumental version of “Whatever You Want Babe” which is far superior to the earlier version with vocals.

Verdict
No Mean City was certainly a return to form by Nazareth, not so much in the quality of the overall material on offer here, but more so in its consistency in general and the added benefits of guitarist Zal Cleminson which are evident on much of the album. His added depth is noticeable from the word go on the rocking “Just to Get Into It” and with existing guitarist Manny Charlton the two of them add some great depth on tracks like “May the Sunshine”. The strongest tracks on the album are probably the aforementioned “May the Sunshine” the addictive and fairly hypnotic “Simple Solution, Part 1 & 2” which at times has a guitar riff that would even do Thin Lizzy proud and the album closer the title track "No Mean City, Part 1 & 2". Despite the consistency on offer here, the album does have a few duffers that throw a spanner in the works and they surely come in the form of the power ballad “Star” the repetitive plodder “Claim to Fame” and the vocally woeful “Whatever You Want Babe” which also comes with a far superior instrumental version of the song on some versions of the album. Now none of these are terrible songs per se and they don’t overly detract from the consistent feel of the album, but the problem is that all three of these songs come straight after one another and leave something of a quality hole in the middle of the album, luckily though the back end of No Mean City is not afflicted with the lack of quality that ruined Expect No Mercy. No Mean City is probably the better of all the late 1970s Nazareth releases and shows that the band towards the end of the decade still had something to offer, but in a better year the album would have never ever have been considered for a top ten placing on this year’s list.

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Metal Wars

Power Metal

Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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08. Scorpions Taken By Force 1978 (RCA)
Heavy Metal

I'm feeling blue since you’ve been gone.


Overview

It’s taken the Scorps four studio albums before finally appearing here on my main review list. Now without beating about the bush, the Scorpions are without doubt one of my most beloved of all hard rock and heavy metal bands from the late 1970s and early 1980s period, quite simply due to the number of stunning songs that the band put out, along with the unforgettable powerful nasal whine of Klaus Meine! The Scorpions were also one of the first metal bands that I ever really liked, so the Scorpions always evoke a huge amount of nostalgia for me when it comes to this kind of music! Early Scorpions though, were a far cry from the metal force that they would actually become in the latter period of the 1970s, a force that would make them a major influence on the soon to be NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) Their first album was Lonesome Dove and like a number of non-anglophone bands at this time, it was littered with musical errors as the band tried to meld a hard rock, psychedelic and krautrock effort together. Despite this calamity, it was the only album of their earlier period to feature the mesmeric Michael Schenker before he jumped on the UFO ship, after having impressed whilst the Scorpions were supporting UFO. Their second album Fly to the Rainbow and now featuring Ulrich Roth on guitar was a marked improvement all round and had the roots of their future sound, but Klaus Meine still hadn’t asserted himself vocally, as both Uli Roth and Rudolf Schenker (the group founder and elder brother of Michael) also shared vocal duties on these albums. By the time of their third and fourth albums In Trance and Virgin Killer, the band had dropped the longer musical suites that had plagued their earlier albums and were now churning out a heavier and tighter sound overall, and despite finally finding their niche here and the trademark Scorpion’s sound, a certain something special was still lacking from these albums! Perhaps it was the band still not being fully aware of just how good vocalist Klaus Meine actually was, as guitarist Uli Roth was still chipping in vocally on some albums, or perhaps in was the fact that the band were a German band, who were still trying to find the correct balance that would appeal to a genuine English speaking market. Taken By Force recorded in 1977 and largely released in 1978, would see the band put out their most composed and complete release yet, and the year would be topped off with the superb live album Tokyo Tapes as well.

Album
Steamrock Fever
- With an intro that features the brief sound of construction work and then vocals that actually don’t really sound like Klaus Meine, the songs turns out to present itself as a thrustful and meaningful rocker, which has some good work by the band on offer. We’ll Burn the Sky- With its slow ballad type start, the song would quickly pick up pace and give us a steady and rhythmic rocker, before then falling back into a quieter and more intricate musical section and the song keeps these two patterns flourishing together for more than 6 minutes of glory, a true classic. I’ve Got to Be Free- Penned by Uli Roth and a consistent track from beginning to end, and the song is one of the heavier efforts on the album. The Riot of Your Time- With a great guitar strumming intro, this is a dynamic track with a pumping melody and a great example of how good this band were when it came to song titles. This track is one of the best and most accomplished efforts on the album and a prime example of the album’s darker feel. The Sails of Charon- The second side of the album starts with the first of two songs penned by Uli Roth and this the first is the stronger of the two tracks, which also happens to be another album highlight as well, especially with its special effects, rocking intro and outstanding guitar work from Uli Roth. Your Light- This song has a touch of subtle funk in places (Germanic style) and the song after feeling itself out, turns out to be an easy paced album track. He’s a Woman, She’s a Man- A thunderous intro and the band let it all hang out here, but the song is probably too overly repetitive to match the quality of its title. Born to Touch Your Feelings- The album closer would become a virtual blueprint for the slower side of the band over the next several years, as they would duplicate aspects of this sound on their future ballads.

Klaus Meine- Vocals
Ulrich Roth- Guitar
Rudolf Schenker- Rhythm
Francis Buchholz- Bass
Hermann Rarebell- Drums

Production- Dieter Dierks

Verdict
By 1978 one thing was certain and that was the Scorpions were putting out some of the best and most sexually explicit and controversial album covers around (In Trance and Virgin Killer) and Taken By Force would actually see them release an album to match the quality of their covers, even though Taken By Force would be one of their few albums that didn’t feature a woman in a provocative style, it featured a graveyard instead! As said earlier, the band had nearly been there on their two previous albums In Trance and Virgin Killer, two albums very similar in style and sound, and both containing some very good songs, but a certain amount of composure had still been missing on those albums. Taken By Force addresses this slight, as the band now take their foot off the accelerator to give us a much more composed and consistent listen overall. Taken By Force not only has the band fusing their current sound, with the darker style of their earlier albums, but it also sees the band writing longer songs again. These are songs such as “We’ll Burn the Sky” and “Born to Touch Your Feelings” which are two songs of great calibre and demonstrate how the band had now gone full circle musically. The majority of Taken By Force is taken up by a number of thrustful tracks like “Steamrock Fever” and the classic “The Riot of Your Time” which truly laid down the Scorpion’s gauntlet when it came to melodic heavy metal. But what truly made the album special were the aforementioned classic songs like “We’ll Burn the Sky” and “Born to Touch Your Feelings” which are songs that fully encompass the Scorpions sound, a sound which contained rhythmic and melancholic vocals, great guitar work and the band’s uncanny mix of blending powerful rock, that is spliced with moments of epic balladry and yet treats that balladry like a casual verse just slotted into the song. The second side of the album starts two songs penned by Uli Roth and both of the songs give a hint to satanic lyrics but both are very different in style. “The Sails of Charon” is a classic guitar ticker with Uli Roth at his best, whereas “Your Light” is a subtle effort with a tinge of funk. Taken By Force would finally see the Klaus Meine and Ulrich Roth songwriting partnership finally flourish, but alas Ulrich Roth would bale out after this album! Despite the lofty appraisal I’ve given this album, the band would still be capable of producing even better material, which was just around the corner. But what is special about Taken By Force, is that it’s an accomplished piece of work, by a band that had finally recognized their strengths and had finally got them down on one album. If ever a metal band could be deemed as being charming, then the Scorpions with Klaus Meine’s Germanic yet melancholic voice certainly fitted the bill.

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Metal Wars

Power Metal

Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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07. AC/DC Powerage 1978 (Atlanta)
Hard Rock

I’ve got holes in my shoes and I’m way overdue.


Overview

Powerage is something of an enigma album as far as AC/DC go. From some quarters and mostly from music critics, the album is seen as the lesser work in the band’s classic run from Let There Be Rock to Back in Black due to its uneven quality. Whilst others see it as the forgotten gem in this classic run and indeed the album is hardly forgotten, as it has appeared on both the prestigious Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time” list and Kerrang’s “The 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time” list as well and artists ranging from the likes of Keith Richards to Slash have stated it as their favourite ever AC/DC album. In fact amongst the AC/DC faithful it’s often seen as a real fan favourite and is somewhat akin to future Iron Maiden fans raving over Killers being a good comparison. But one thing for certain, is that most of the songs on this album seemed to have been covered or used in one way or another and that often speaks volumes about an album’s quality. Powerage still sees the band’s annoying habit (or better said the band’s label) of having a different track order listing depending on which country’s version of the album that you had and therefore Powerage had both a US/Australian and a European track listing order that differed slightly. All future CD releases of the album would actually follow the US/Australian version and that is the one that is used below, and the album cover was also repeated on its rear side, which was no great loss for any album owners as it’s a great cover anyway. Powerage also saw the arrival of bassist Cliff Williams, whose basic basslines would follow the rhythm guitar of Malcolm Young and forge a great working partnership between the two of them. Previous bass player Mark Evans has stated that he also played bass on the album, as the recordings for the album had started straight after the Let There Be Rock album. Also the influential production team of Harry Vanda and George Young, who had been there with the band since the beginning, would see this as their last album with the band and for this reason alone Powerage closes the curtain on the band’s early years, as after this release the band literally went from being just popular to worldwide superstars!

Bon Scott- Vocals
Angus Young- Guitar
Malcolm Young- Rhythm
Cliff Williams- Bass
Phil Rudd- Drums

Production- Harry Vanda and George Young

Album
Rock ‘n’ Roll Damna
tion- With its hell bent for leather start, the song is typical AC/DC material hence making it typical hard rock material in every aspect and the song is a band signature tune. Down Payment Blues- With its steady and menacing introduction, the song is a mid-tempo effort that is perfectly suited to enhance the vocals of Bon Scott and it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. Gimme a Bullet- A steady track and a typical album track that really doesn’t ignite at all. Riff Raff- The whole album picks up again with this fast paced effort and at times it draws heavily back to the band’s Led Zeppelin influences and especially to the Led Zep song “Rock and Roll”. I recently read that Slash has revealed this as his favourite AC/DC song ever! Sin City- One of the best known songs on the album and also one of the most covered as well. What’s Next to the Moon- The second side of the album starts off with this competent effort, but the song does flatter to deceive and is possibly not as good as it threatens to be on its initial start. Gone Shootin- Once again the band attack with a mid-tempo effort, on a song style that would become the generic band sound of the 1980s and 1990s. Up to My Neck in You- A stronger later album track, which will certainly please any Led Zeppelin fans looking to hear some quality music and guitar licks, as the song certainly kicks butt where it matters! Kicked in the Teeth- A song that is built around the guitar of Angus Young and the vocals of Bon Scott, which means the quality is guaranteed here and this quality at times is an intense and manic document by this whiskey fuelled band. “Cold Hearted Man” a song released on the European version of the album.

Verdict
Powerage without a doubt falls out as being an uneven effort overall, but where it’s good it certainly is good and luckily the good bits heavily outweigh the weaker ones. The album certainly has that propulsive and meaningful AC/DC attack about it, and it displays all the facets that made up the band sound at the time. The album is heavy, loud and brash as you’d expect from a band at the peak of their powers and in songs such as the signature track “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation” and the propulsive “Down Payment Blues” are two songs that surely rank as amongst the band’s best ever efforts. Then there is “Riff Raff” which is a virtual re-write of Led Zeppelin's “Rock and Roll” and “Up to My Neck in You” also leans heavily on the Led Zeppelin connection as well. Then there is a song like “Sin City” which is a song that typifies all the aspects of the band’s sound and especially Bon Scott’s colourful vocal storytelling dynamic, but the best is left till last in “Kicked in the Teeth” which shows the band at their most manic. On the albums negative side, songs like the 1970s generic hard rock sounding “Gimme a Bullet” are below par for the band and a song like “What’s Next to the Moon” actually has the beans to be a better song than it really is. The often highly rated “Gone Shootin” actually did more damage to the band long term than the passing of Bon Scott did, due to its future generic feel which would go onto characterize a lot of the band’s releases with Brian Johnson in the vocal hotseat. I’ve hardly mentioned the album’s riffs in this review, for the simple reason it would be impossible to pick out the standout riffs and like with Let There Be Rock, there is Angus Young’s signature riffage on every song anyway. Powerage as an album therefore falls somewhere between the two estimations that were mentioned in the ‘overview’ section of the review. The songs and spark are there in places, but in other places the songs are weaker than the previous album Let There Be Rock and also even more seriously certain songs fail to ignite in places and with a band like AC/DC the car ignition was even more vital than it was for some other bands! Despite these shortcomings, Powerage is still a guaranteed must for any AC/DC fans and shows these hard drinking and hard living Aussies enjoying themselves to the maximum!

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Metal Wars

Power Metal

Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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Album Pick of the Year
06. Ace Frehley Ace Frehley 1978
(Casablanca)
Hard Rock

I’m the kind of guy that likes feeling high!


Overview

When each member of Kiss released a solo album at the same time, the 17th September 1978 history was certainly in the making here. Now band members from highly popular bands releasing solo sets was nothing new of course, but what was new was doing it in a clever commercial ploy the way that Kiss did. So instead of releasing a Kiss studio album in 1978, the band were now effectively releasing four studio albums in the same year! Kiss were easily one of the biggest grossing bands on the planet at this time and 1977’s Love Gun had been their last studio album, but since that they had released the highly successful Alive II and the reasonably successful greatest hits remix Double Platinum. So these solo projects were therefore another way to tap the band’s huge commercial appeal. Now bright and safe observation would’ve revealed that the best solo stuff would come from the band’s most consistent writer in Paul Stanley, with Gene Simmons then fighting it out with ‘dark horse’ Paul Criss for second spot and Ace Frehley bringing up the rear….. but just how wrong everybody would’ve been! Now when band members release solo material they often use this as an exercise to do something different, as they aren’t weighed down by the usual confines of their band. Paul Stanley though decided to play it safe and released the most Kiss like album of the four and if anything if Kiss as a band had released a studio album that year, it probably would’ve sounded like this. Overall though and despite some good material, the album was a very average bit of work that didn’t do Paul Stanley any credit at all. Gene Simmons the other main focal point of the band, did decide to branch out stylistically and his flirtation with Beatlesque pop, 1970s funk/disco and good old fashioned rock & roll would’ve raised some eyebrows, as Gene Simmons had always been largely associated with dishing out Kiss’ heavier material. The overall result was an album largely inferior to even that of Paul Stanley, which had been nothing special either. Dark horse Paul Criss whose ability at the power ballad as shown on “Beth” and his love of rocking hooks made his release eagerly awaited, but the end result though was an album as flat and boring as a pancake without any toppings, and the album was a woeful piece of work. All was not lost though, as the Eddie Kramer produced Ace Frehley was head and shoulders above the other three albums and turned out to be an enviable piece of work, and an album that displayed hard rock at its very best!

Ace Frehley- Guitar/Rhythm/Bass/Vocals
Will Lee- Bass
Anton Fig- Drums

Production- Eddie Kramer

Album
Rip It Out
- A pounding opener with a venomous bite, that basically craps all over the rest of the material found on the other three solo albums! Speedin’ Back to My Baby- With its hokey kokey singing at the start, the song surprisingly then falls into a fun and highly enjoyable melodic tale, with some really catchy lyrics and a song which sums up the gist of Ace Frehley. Snow Blind- One of the heaviest tracks on the album and also one of the most solid. It sounds like the kind of song that Gene Simmons could’ve written on a Kiss album and a pity that Gene himself couldn’t write anything like this on his debut set. Ozone- Another heavy song to lead on from the previous effort and despite its repetitive feel, it has enough songcraft to fill out its almost 5 minutes of listening time. What’s On Your Mind?- Probably the most Kiss sounding song on the album (well the introduction is anyway) The song overall would’ve fitted nicely on any Kiss album and the song has a great combination of both heaviness and fun melody, which makes the whole thing a fun listen. New York Groove- One of the many songs that were penned by Russ Ballad in the 1970s and like a lot of his material it was aimed at glam bands, of which British glam band Hello were the band to debut this song on their 1975 album. Not a bad song but really doesn’t fit on this album, given the feel of the rest of the songs on offer. I’m in Need of Love- A quality album track that doesn’t let up on the heaviness for one moment and it has a great uptempo guitar section halfway through the song which lights up proceedings. Wiped-Out- With a heavy drumming intro by Anton Fig, the song quickly reveals itself as a track built around great lyrics and then the whole thing explodes into a haphazard chorus to great aplomb. Fractured Mirror- One of my favourite instrumentals from a leading band/artist at this time, so nuff said here really!

Verdict
This debut album sets its stall out from the word go on the biting “Rip It Out” which gives the listener the bit between the teeth from the word go and also shows that this guy wasn’t planning on messing around and stacking up the songs to make the numbers! This album is heavy and this heaviness along with a fair dosage of substance, are provided on addictive songs like “Snowblind” and the even heavier “Ozone” a song that really shows the ability that Ace Frehley was able to harness on some of his songs. These songs which despite being reptetive at times, were really able to keep the listener engaged from start to finish, with a combination of both heavy music and catchy riffs. Now Ace Frehley shows us that he’s no one trick pony and that he can actually put out some great songcraft on a song like “What’s On You Mind?” where he is able to combine both heavy elements with fun melodies, and then chuck in some cute sounding lyrics…..ah what bliss! Then there is a track like “Wiped-Out” which probably ranks as my favourite on the album and a track that seems to encompass everything that was great about this album on all its previous tracks and then the album finishes on such a high with the instrumental “Fractured Mirror”. Even the low key efforts like “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” all just seem to fall into place on the album, largely due to their catchy lyrics and melody. In fact every song on this album with the exception of the Russ Ballad penned cover “Back in the New York Groove” are great rocking songs, as the Russ Ballad cover is largely a glam song that just doesn’t fit in at all, with the harder rocking and jovial material on the rest of the album. Even more impressively and with the exception of the one cover song mentioned above, Ace Frehly writes on every song on this album and by and large this is with hardly any assitance from others. The Ace Frehley debut is a tight hard rocking album, that’s full of clever melodies and even cleverer lyrics, that at times all seemed to be just chucked together in a nonchelent lapsidasical style, but the whole just sits together so well and the aforementioned song “Wiped-Out” just seems to sums all this up nicely! The whole album is a great example of chucked out hard rock, that’s written off the cuff and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry would try something similiar a few years later on his first solo album…..but it ’s nowhere near as good as Ace Frehley’s effort!

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05. UFO Obsession 1978 (Chrysalis)
Hard Rock

A slow heavy lumbering and melodic beast on call.


Overview

Obsession may well have been one of those last great hard rock albums at the end of the 1970s that was still being referred to as hard rock, as in just a few short years and with the advent of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in 1980, everything and anything that was loud was usually being referred to as ‘heavy metal’. As in the early 1980s the ‘genre label’ had became more dominant than ever, by now categorizing music in a much more detailed way than before. If the truth be told though, any current musical trend that had any band displaying some of its characteristics could easily find itself being pigeon-holed and often this was done incorrectly. Obsession is an album that seems to split opinion and for many it’s a disappointment after the previous Lights Out and I’ve seen various negative reviews that refer to it as a heavy lumberer that lacks spark, along with references about a number of the songs not being up to scratch amongst other things. In one aspect I do agree with some of these negative comments, but a lot of this negativity I also do see as a positive aspect overall for the album. For example the lumbering heavy feel of the album is in stark contrast to Lights Out and so instead of giving us a Lights Out MK.II which the band could’ve done, they probably give us their heaviest album even more so than Force It in their discography! Some of the songs on Obsession are indeed not quite up to scratch, but the sheer volume and the style at which some of the songs are played at, make it one of the strongest albums in the whole UFO discography and also it’s one of my personal favourite albums by the band as well. Obsession would also see the break-up of the classic band line-up, as guitar maestro Michael Schenker due to band differences amongst other things would leave the band and go solo, until finally returning again to the band in 1993. The band would again retain the production skills of Ron Nevison, whose touch had ignited the classic Lights Out album just the year before and of course Ron Nevison would go onto become a dominant producer for AOR bands in the 1980s. The album cover was certainly very contemporary for the late 1970s and kept up the band’s standards when it came to quality album covers as a whole.

Phil Mogg- Vocals
Michael Schenker- Guitar
Pete Way- Bass
Paul Raymond- Keyboards/Rhythm
Andy Parker- Drums

Production- Ron Nevison

Album
Only You Can Rock Me
- Commercial with a feel good factor, as this song kicks off proceedings on the album. The song would also be included in a 3 track EP that included fellow album track “Cherry” and the older classic “Rock Bottom”. Pack It Up (And Go)- One of the more typical tracks on the album, it’s a heavy and cumbersome sounding beast, and a great pounding song from beginning to end, with some great drumming by Andy Parker. Arbory Hill- This is a delightful instrumental of just over a minute and composed by Michael Schenker. Ain’t No Baby- After a brief melodic and commercial sounding start, the song does a u-turn and we have another slow plodding heavy number yet again. Lookin’ out for No.1- The band’s only real attempt at a power ballad this time around, but unlike some of their other power ballads, this one firmly lacks any real spark. Hot ‘N’ Ready- After the previous drab power ballad, the pace of the album really picks up again and the band are spot-on by inserting this pacey hard rocker right here. Cherry- We’re back on the melodic trail here and the second track on the EP that was released from the album. You Don’t Fool Me- Strong later album track which fits in with the general feel of the album. Lookin’ out for No.1 (Reprise)- As the name suggests a reprise, which is probably a better listen than the main song. One More for the Rodeo- A track that actually has Ron Nevison all over it and this type of song would soon represent the harder rocking side of the then contemporary AOR sound. Born to Lose- The album closer is a poor effort for such an exalted position on the album and it’s one of the weakest album closers on any UFO album,

Verdict
When the album kicks off with the carefree and melodic sounding “Only You Can Rock Me” the listener is probably expecting another Lights Out type album, in an attempt to tap out the commercial appeal of the band and with Ron Nevison on production duties, this is surely what is expected on this album. But then on the second track “Pack It Up (And Go) which sounds like a very heavy of combo of Led Zeppelin meets Aerosmith, we have a track that is far more in line with the album as a whole and this sentiment is quickly followed-up on the fourth track “Ain’t No Baby” with its great guitar work and pounding rhythm section. This same sound is echoed on the b-side of the album with tracks like “You Don’t Fool Me” and its stellar guitar playing by Michael Schenker. Then there are softer moments like the delightful instrumental “Arbory Hill” which is a great one minute solo song from Michael Schenker, which harks back to earlier on in the decade and then onto “Cherry” which is probably the best balanced of all the melodic moments on the album. “Hot ‘N’ Ready” starts proceedings on the b-side and it’s probably the most energetic track on the album as a whole, and is strongly matched by the melodic rocking flow of “One More for the Rodeo”. Some of the more derogatory comments that surface on some reviews for this album, are usually aimed at the power ballad “Lookin’ Out for No.1” which ultimately fails in what it sets out to do and that is give us one of those memorable epic 1970s power ballads, also surprisingly the song wasn’t issued as a single. If this isn’t enough, the band then give us a fairly pointless reprise of this same song later on in the album! The song “Born to Lose” as an album closer is such a lowlight, that the band could’ve replaced it with any number of songs that probably would’ve been better. Overall though Obsession is a strong album for fans of a heavy hard rock that has a dash of melody added, but bear in mind its central softer heart is certainly its weakest spot and falls well below its heavier outer core quality wise, making it something of an anomaly in the UFO discography, which is strange considering just how strong the band were when it came to softer melodic moments of real richness on their albums.

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Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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04. Judas Priest Killing Machine 1978 (CBS)
(Hell Bent for Leather)
Heavy Metal


The spearhead for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Overview
Before the release of British Steel an album often regarded as the band’s most famous and certainly most commercial outing, the band had already started to move gradually in that direction on their previous studio release two years earlier with 1978’s Killing Machine. So after a trio of dark, lyrically disturbing and potent metal albums that reached their full climax on Stained Class (reviewed higher up on this year’s list despite being the earlier release of the two, but it was certainly the stronger) The band would therefore on Killing Machine, adopt a far greater radio-friendly sound on some of the tracks, which were strongly aimed at the US market. But of course the band were not willing to totally neglect their darker side and the band’s infamous subject matter still finds its way onto most of the album’s songs! The album title Killing Machine, would also be re-titled Hell Bent for Leather in the USA, due to the fact that the name Killing Machine was seen as too disturbing in the US market. Killing Machine would be an album far more commercial than any previous Judas Priest album to date and it would also be the album that would usher in the ‘leather and studs’ image of the band, an image that would of course be largely centred around lead vocalist Rob Halford. So depending on your point of view, this ‘leather and studs’ image could be seen as giving metal a greater macho appeal to its multitude of metal acolytes out there, or equally it could be seen as providing metal with a more negative ‘camp image’ that would go onto plague Judas Priest and metal throughout much of the 1980s! Years later Rob Halford’s sexuality would of course explain the ‘leather and studs’ persona and in hindsight it would see him as one of the most flamboyant of lead vocalists by the end of the decade, a decade which of course saw flamboyance in fellow vocalists like then-old boy Freddie Mercury and newbie David Lee Roth. So with all this in mind, Hell Bent for Leather was actually quite an appropriate name, even more so than the far more menacing Killing Machine! Killing Machine as an album though, certainly showed how importantly the band saw commercial appeal not just for themselves but for the metal genre as a whole, as they had surely witnessed the commercial monster that was known as Kiss and thus thought about seeking out a wider appeal for themselves. Killing Machine is quite simply an album that predates the commercial metal trend of the 1980s by a couple of years, but still holds true to the values of metal.

Rob Halford- Vocals
K.K Downing- Guitar
Glenn Tipton- Guitar
Ian Hill- Bass
Les Binks- Drums

Production- Judas Priest

Album
Delivering the Goods- A straightforward opening rocker that would be typical of a lot of future songs by the band, especially with its stripped down sound. Rock Forever- The typical steady second track that was now being employed by the band, which focused largely on a steadier but still at times frantic pace. A quality cut that now has all the hallmarks of the band’s sound and would be one of the singles from the album. Evening Star- With its subtle and atmospheric start, the song soon emerges into one of the album’s most commercial efforts and best known songs. Hell Bent for Leather- One of the most frenzied tracks on the album with its speed metal approach and it focuses on metal’s obsession with motorbikes and speed, a subject area that Saxon would take to their hearts. Take on the World- The band were certainly taking the cue from Queen here, with one of those dreaded anthemic metal songs that the band would compose every so often and which would plague the metal genre in the 1980s. Burnin’ Up- A lurid tale about S&M that is excellently reaccounted by Rob Halford and it’s one of the best tracks on the album to boot as well. The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)- Judas Priest were one of the great metal bands when it came to choosing their cover songs and here they do an excellent metallic cover of the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac version of the song. Killing Machine- The title track is a mid-paced heavier track, that adds real power to the latter part of the album. Running Wild- The band pick up the speed again, with a song about living the frantic nightlife and I reckon German power metal band Running Wild, may well have got their band name from this song. Before the Dawn- A sullen ballad that harks back to the earlier days of the band and it’s an accomplished song as well. Evil Fantasies- One of the few bluesy efforts by the band, which is surprising considering how the band had stripped the blues from much of their sound and the song is another track about S&M.

Verdict
After the mean and complex playing on the legendary Stained Class album, our heavy Brummies decided to strip things back a bit and head into the aforementioned commercial direction and all the rewards that came with with it. Despite this move though, the band didn’t take their foot of the accelerator that much and overall they gave the listener a more stripped back sound in places and focused on more primal guitar leads, rather than the complexities that had been more dominant on Stained Class. This different approach can be heard from the word go on the album opener “Delivering the Goods” which is a good example of this new approach. The album also has some great medium-paced cuts like the excellent “Rock Forever” and also sees the dark tales of the Stained Class album, being replaced by lurid tales that focus around S&M themes, and these can be heard on songs like the excellent “Burnin’ Up” and “Evil Fantasies” then there are tales of hitmen on the actual title track “Killing Machine”. But of course the main focus of this album must surely be on the band’s two highly commercial efforts and on one the band succeed in great style with “Evening Star” but on the other they fail with “Take on the World” which is a commercial anthemic metal track, that really just lets the band down and was really best left to a band like Queen. But the heart and soul of the album, is surely the band’s speedier and heavier efforts such as the US title track “Hell Bent for Leather” and the often forgotten “Running Wild” along with the heavy cover of “The Green Manalishi”. The cover of “The Green Manalishi” is done in the most metal way possible, and it’s a cover that would encourage the likes of the future Melvins and Corrosion of Conformity to also cover the song and finally there is the heavy album closer in “Evil Fantasies” with its excellent metal vocal display. Killing Machine was the perfect prelude for the pivotal British Steel album now just a few years off and whilst not quite being as excellent as that album, Killing Machine is still a great album that is also one of the very first albums to truly usher in a style of metal, that would soon be coined ‘pop metal’ in the 1980s. Both this album and the prior Stained Class serve as a fantastic example, of how a band in the same year were able to pull out not just two great metal albums, but even more impressively two metal albums that are quite distinct in both their make-up and feel. Again the Glenn Tipton and K.K Downing partnership is stellar, with Glenn Tipton writing some of the strongest material on the album.

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I'd just like to point out that it's still called Hell Bent for Leather over here and it's how I'll always think of the album.
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03. Van Halen Van Halen 1978 (Warner Bros.)
Heavy Metal

Spandex, leather flares and guitar wankery at its finest!


Overview

As said earlier on the Judas Priest entry, Van Halen were a band that were filling in all the aspects of metal that Judas Priest had failed to cover and quite simply the differences between the two bands were in focus rather than in execution. Judas Priest were a band that had metal in their veins, whereas Van Halen were a glamorous metal band made for Hollywood. Judas Priest had the twin team of K.K Downing and Glenn Tipton, whereas Van Halen just had a certain Eddie Van Halen. But what they both had in common were two flamboyant frontmen with the vocal chops to match and both bands would be pivotal in towing the future ‘pop metal’ line of the 1980s. Now the birth of Van Halen had occurred when brothers Eddie Van Halen and elder brother Alex Van Halen, had decided to put a band together using the name of Mammoth and they operated largely as a covers band in the LA area, before adopting their surname Van Halen as the band name! Interestingly Eddie had started as a drummer and Alex as a guitarist before finally swapping over their instruments. Added to this retinue was blond-maned metal god David Lee Roth on vocals and Michael Anthony on bass. The band would be spotted by producer Ted Templeman, whose polished assemblage of work included the Doobie Brothers and Carly Simon, but of course he had been able to rough his hands up with the likes of Montrose as well. It was therefore probably no accident, that both Ted Templeman and Montrose would be a a huge influence on Van Halen, who would of course go onto garner the huge worldwide success that had been denied to Ronnie Montrose and his band. Van Halen as a band would be groundbreaking, in the fact that they ushered in a polished sounding metal which was firmly built around the fundamentals of the genre, but their version had a strong eye on commercialism, which largely came with the visual appeal that was applied by frontman David Lee Roth. The band were literally stars in the making and their debut album simply titled Van Halen, would take the heavy rock world by storm. This was an amazing achievement at the time, considering that punk, new-wave and AOR ruled the airwaves! Also for what was largely a covers band, they were able to put out an album that contained around 80% original material and limited their covers to just two songs. So to have a contemporary metal collection at the time, the listener truly needed both Judas Priest and Van Halen to get the whole picture of what was going on, and this picture was largely two different tales depending on which side of the pond you were sat!

David Lee Roth- Vocals
Eddie Van Halen- Guitar
Michael Anthony- Bass
Alex Van Halen- Drums

Production- Ted Templeman

Album
Runnin’ with the Devil
- From the word go we are introduced to the potent Van Halen sound and this album opener is a steady and heavy track, that has some slick guitar work provided by Eddie Van Halen. Eruption- A guitar solo instrumental worthy of any metal guitar god, which would go onto influence any number of future metal guitarists over the ensuing years. You Really Got Me- Commercial choice par-excellence here, as the cover of the famous Kinks song, was surely guaranteed to tick all the right commercial boxes and of course it was released as a single. Quite often the original Kinks version of the song, is regarded in some quarters as being the first ever ‘heavy metal’ track laid down. This is something that I don’t overly agree with, but I guess Van Halen covering this song surely adds weight to the debate. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love- One of the most famous songs composed by the band and a song surely built for the vocals of David Lee Roth, as here he is able to sing some of his coolest sounding lyrics and then combine them with his cool spoken drawl in places. I’m the One- It’s one of the fastest songs on the album to close the first side of the album. Jamie’s Cryin- A typically paced Van Halen track, with its heavy and punchy sound, and it’s often regarded as one of the signature tracks on the album. Atomic Punk- A crunching album track and despite the name, the song is metallic in feel and not punky at all, and Eddie Van Halen makes it one of the album's highlights. Feel Your Love Tonight- Despite not being released as a single, the song is fairly typical Van Halen melodic single fare. Little Dreamer- This is one of my favourite tracks on the album and a track that really sums up the quality of the album overall. Ice Cream Man- A cover of the blues track, that was originally performed by Chicago bluesman John Brim and shows David Lee Roth at his quaintest. On Fire- One of the most vibrant songs on the album is left till last and a song that is the antithesis of the band’s commercial side and a song that is metal in every aspect.

Verdict
The first thing to notice here, is just how clear and potent the band sound from the moment “Runnin’ with the Devil” starts the album and this is surely down to Ted Templeman’s slick sounding production which of course dominates the album. We are then led into the guitar wankery of “Eruption” a track that few guitarists could do as well as Eddie and despite how innovative this sub-two minute track is, it would go on to influence countless future guitarists into similar fret sounding wankery over the years. This perfectly leads us into “You Really Got Me” a cover of the famous Kinks song, which probably sees Van Halen at their punchiest and the song was always a guaranteed crowd pleaser at the time. Tracks like “I’m Not the One” and “Atomic Punk” are some of the fastest tracks on the album and the former demonstrates the band’s love of traditional rock ‘n’ roll, an area that they would explore over the coming albums. Tracks like “Jamie’s Cryin” and “Little Dreamer” are the complete opposite of the above two, with their plodding sound and melody, something that the band would always do to a great level. One thing was also very obvious with Van Halen and that was whatever the speed of the song, the band were totally unfazed by such things and were able to perform without blinking an eye. The star track on this album though, is without doubt the legendary “Ain’t Talkin’ bout Love” which is probably the band’s finest ever moment and would basically serve as a blueprint for the band’s trademark sound at its very best. The basis of this track would accompany the band right through to their sixth album the pivotal 1984, which of course would see the end of the band’s first phase. Overall David Lee Roth is the dominant force on this album, but it’s surely Eddie Van Halen that is the real star here with his mastery of the guitar and like Jimi Hendrix before him, here was a guitarist that literally used his instrument like a second lead vocalist in the band a la Jimmy Page. The Van Halen debut is an album of visceral force, that even the band themselves would find hard to match again song for song. Like Aerosmith before them, Van Halen on this debut set, literally set-up a template for much of the metal scene in the USA in the 1980s. Even today the album still sounds as fresh as it did right back then some thirty plus years ago!

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Metal Wars

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Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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