|01-23-2022, 01:21 PM||#1 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Everything you ever wanted to know about the NWOBHM but were too drunk to ask
Going back even further than my Dio special, this was a series I began the very year I returned to Music Banter (2011), in which I began looking at the singular phenomenon of the rejuvenation of heavy metal that took place in the late seventies and early eighties in the UK, which became known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM.
Although the phrase “heavy metal” has been around for a very long time, and its first usage in reference to music goes back to Steppenwolf's 1968 classic “Born to be Wild”, the first heavy metal bands rarely referred to themselves as such, preferring the term “hard rock” or even “heavy rock”. It wasn't really until the end of the 1970s that the term began to get more common usage, and started to become linked with certain types of rock bands.
During the late 60s and 70s, the heavy metal scene, such as it was, was pretty much dominated by “the big three”: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, who would later split to become Rainbow. Yeah, Zep were never heavy metal, but their music certainly influenced a whole slew of later bands who would be big in the genre, besides, "the big two" just doesn't have the same ring to it! You also had the likes of of course Hendrix, Blue Oyster Cult, Cream, Kiss and some others, but in general few if any of these bands considered themselves heavy metal**. Long established, they ruled the roost and there was little room for newcomers, with the heavy rock/metal scene growing increasingly jaded as these bands, by now seen by some as dinosaurs, lumbering behemoths out of step with the changing trends in modern music, churned out album after album and filled stadiums and sports arenas, becoming, in the eyes of some, further and further removed from their fans, increasingly disconnected from what was happening at grassroots level.
What was happening, was happening in the UK, mostly in London, at a small nightclub called “The Soundhouse”, where aspiring bands were taking the stage every night and beginning to make a name for themselves. Tired of the by now overblown and in some cases pompous albums being released by the old masters, the new young guns were trying it themselves, and finding not only that they liked it, but that others did too.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal had been born.
This revolution in rock music would create, in the same way punk had a few years previous, some great bands, some okay bands and some truly awful bands, but it would shake up the heavy metal/heavy rock scene in a way it had never experienced before, and lead to a renaissance of the genre. As in any revolution, there were winners and there were losers; some bands thrived and grew in popularity, and indeed a few became nationally and then internationally famous, and are still around today. Others were not so lucky. They either had their day, enjoyed it while they could and then disbanded, either to go on to new things or to return to their day jobs, or in some cases just failed utterly to get off the ground.
In this series, I will be taking a look at some of the major, and minor, movers in this unprecedented turnaround in the fortunes of heavy metal and rock in general. I'm going to try to concentrate on three bands per segment, and the whole series I hope to run to ten parts in all. So crank up your air guitar, turn your amp to ten, and let's get rockin'! Or something...
Note: Though they are without question the biggest and most successful of the bands to come up through the NWOBHM, I will NOT be featuring Iron Maiden here. I've given them plentiful coverage over the last decade, and anything you don't know about them and need to know can be accessed through any of my threads on them or reviews of their albums. I'd only be repeating myself, and besides, if you don't know Iron Maiden you have no right to call yourself a metalhead.
Part the First, in which a band has many deaths and rebirths, another goes all American and a third is cruelly cut down before it has a chance at life...
The first band I want to concentrate on, in this first part of the series, is in fact the oldest of the NWOBHM bands, actually predating the movement by a number of years. Praying Mantis were formed in 1974 by two brothers, Chris and Tino Troy, but it wasn't until new metal began to be taken seriously, with the onset of the NWOBHM, that the brothers were able to get their music recorded, and their profile began to prosper.
Carried along on the wave of enthusiasm and euphoria engendered by the NWOBHM, Praying Mantis, fleshed out by Andy Burgess (guitars), Benjy Reid (drums) and Mike Freeland (vocals) went on to support the band who would become the stars of the movement, and the biggest heavy metal band in the world, even today: Iron Maiden. This raised their profile considerably, and also won them their first recording contract with the Arista label, on which they put out their debut - and acknowledged as their best - album, Time Tells No Lies.
Although Mantis have released, up to this year*, a total of eight albums, with a thirty-year-anniversary retrospective out this year*, I'm constrained to review only two of their recordings here. There's just too much to get through to spend too much time on one band, and I do have to take the odd breath you know!
So hopefully I'll be able to give you a flavour and overall impression of a band I personally know nothing about in this short and restricted review. Of course, if your interest is piqued in this, or any of the other bands I'll be tackling, you're perfectly free to go get their other albums and listen to your heart's content. But brevity is not a thing that comes easily to me, so I'm doing my best not to overextend the articles here. Hey, I can try!
Time Tells No Lies - Praying Mantis - 1981 (Arista)
The album opens up with “Cheated”, a track I feel reflects the style of recently-reviewed Stampede (although since their album didn't come out until two years later, I should say Stampede use influences from Praying Mantis!), and with some nice Thin Lizzyesque touches in the guitar work. For a debut it's very polished, really more in the AOR camp than heavy metal, with a very Yes or Asia-like sleeve created by Rodney Matthews, whose art was very popular at that time, particularly among metal and prog acts.
Next up is a cover version of the Kinks' classic “All Day and All of the Night”. Gets things rocking all right, but I've never been a fan of this song. Still, they do a good heavy version of it. “Running for Tomorrow” returns to the AOR influences with a hefty slice of Yes-style prog rock in there too, while “Rich City Kids” goes right back to rock basics, and must have engendered much headbanging when played on stage!
Things get serious though with the arrival of “Lovers to the Grave”, and it's a whole new ball game! A tense, powerful ballad, the song reeks of Gilmour-style guitars and Waters vocals, so much so that you might (might!) be tempted to believe it WAS a Pink Floyd song. Very mature, very technically perfect, a true tour-de-force, and you suddenly realise this band has arrived! And then, in true Southern Rock fashion, the song speeds up as Tino shows just what he can do on guitar - oh yes, this is a band who were destined to go big places and last a long time.
The song does, however, quite disappointingly end abruptly, and we're into “Panic in the Streets”, a straight-ahead rocker, little tinges of nascent punk leaking in. Some great guitar solos on this album! Also a lot of exclamation marks in this review: sorry, that's just how I am... “Beads of Ebony” starts off heavy, but soon becomes a very tuneful slice of AOR. One thing these guys have got right from the start is vocal harmonies: they're pitch perfect. “Flirting with Suicide” is another fast rocker, again recalling Stampede (sorry, other way round!) and the rocking continues unabated for “Children of the Earth”, an early eco-song from a metal band! Absolutely love the harmonies these guys put out! This song speeds up and slows down like a forgetful pensioner behind the wheel...
“Thirty Pieces of Silver” is another great rocker with a heart and a deep message, and the album ends with two live versions, “Flirting with Suicide” and “Panic in the Streets”. I probably could have lived without their inclusion, but then this is a debut album, and with the addition of these two tracks you get twelve altogether, so good value for the hard-pressed and often poor metal fan at the time! Also good value for collectors of exclamation marks: nine in all! Ten, with that one...
As a debut, I have to say this stands head and shoulders above anything I've heard from this era. Even Iron Maiden's debut, good though it was, was a lot less polished and varied in styles than Time Tells No Lies. A great start, without question.
2. All Day and All of the Night
3. Running for Tomorrow
4. Rich City Kids
5. Lovers to the Grave
6. Panic in the Streets
7. Beads of Ebony
8. Flirting with Suicide
9. Children of the Earth
10. Thirty Pieces of Silver
11. Flirting with Suicide (live)
12. Panic in the Streets (live)
As far as output during the era of the NWOBHM goes, that's it for Praying Mantis. They almost achieved glory in 1980, when they intended to cover Russ Ballard's “I Surrender”, but unfortunately Rainbow had the same idea, and with their clout and muscle Blackmore's gang were able to have their way, releasing the single which charted and made them a household name. Mantis were left to lick their wounds, and dream of what might have been. Although they did release an EP - under, for some reason, the name Stratus - in 1984 entitled Throwing Shapes, they broke up soon after and only reformed in 1990 on the back of renewed interest in an anniversary album of NWOBHM artists, and their constant and loyal following they had built up in, of all places, Japan. This led to the release of what was technically then their second album, 1991's Predator in Disguise.
Predator in Disguise - Praying Mantis - 1991 (Under One Flag)
Information from hereon in is hard to get and sketchy when it is available, even from the Mantis' own website, but it would appear that Dennis Stratton, best known before this for his guitar work on Maiden's debut self-titled album, came back to the band, having been with them before they recorded the debut but left prior to that happening. There's a mention also of one Steve Carroll having left, but I can't see where he fits in. Wikipedia can only take you so far...
Anyway, this is as I say their second album, and the sound is a lot different to the debut, with more of an emphasis on keys and less on the powerful and evocative guitar solos of Tino Troy. In many ways, Praying Mantis seem to be moving even closer to the AOR likes of Asia and Kansas, and away from other, “harder” NWOBHM bands like Raven, Fist and Iron Maiden.
The album kicks off with “Can't See the Angels”, which is really quite Americanised, more in the vein of bands like Journey and REO, but a good track, well written and very tightly played. It certainly carries on their fascination with American forms, and it's very commercial. The hilariously embarrassing “She's Hot” is pure Kiss, possibly picked up during Stratton's time supporting them on tour with Iron Maiden. You can hear the difference his vocals make on this album. I preferred Troy's, personally - Stratton just sounds too West Coast, even though he is English.
“Can't Wait Forever” lifts the album in the same way “Lovers to the Grave” did on the debut: a powerful, crunching, emotional puncher that just stands apart from the rest of the album, so far. I am amazed that “This Time Girl” didn't break them worldwide, as it's a fantastic slice of stadium rock, totally airplay-worthy, the guys channeling Journey at their most radio-friendly. I wonder, in fact, if the idea was to target America, as the sleeve does feature Lady Liberty herself? Guess it didn't work, but hey, the Japanese loved them!
“Time Slipping Away” is a faster rocker, more metal than previous tracks, but I still would put Praying Mantis firmly in the AOR/soft rock side of things. Okay, they don't have any annoyingly sugary ballads (yet!), but their music does seem like it would appeal more to fans of Styx, Journey, Asia or Boston than Metallica, Maiden or Motorhead. The overuse of keyboards probably contributes a lot to this, but it's no criticism of them: there were some very dodgy bands came out of the NWOBHM, and it's clear that Tino Troy can still rip off a hell of a guitar solo, as he does here. And what was that I said about ballads? Here comes one now, though in fairness “Listen to What Your Heart Says” retains the soul of a rock song - no digital piano or saxophone solos here, and not a choir in sight. Sounds a little Gary Moore, to me, specially the solo. No higher praise...
The AOR style continues for “Still Want You”, with some really good keyboard arpeggios, then “The horn” is the closest Praying Mantis come to out-and-out heavy metal; an instrumental, very reminiscent of Iron Maiden indeed, leading into “Battle Royal”, an odd title for what turns out to be a power ballad, and they manage to squeeze a lot into a song that runs for less than four minutes. Another great guitar solo, and why was this song not on the radio, twenty-four hours a day?
Penultimate track “Only You” is a rollicking rocker which puts me in mind of Bon Jovi circa Keep the Faith (sorry for all the comparisons, but Mantis' music does invite them), and the album closes on “Borderline”, probably one of the weaker tracks unfortunately, with the vocals fuzzy and down in the mix, don't ask me why. An album that started so well ends as a bit of a damp squib.
1. Can't See the Angels
2. She's Hot
3. Can't Wait Forever
4. This Time Girl
5. Time Slipping Away
6. Listen to What Your Heart Says
7. Still Want You
8. The Horn
9. Battle Royal
10. Only You
I don't know if Praying Mantis ever lost that very American feel to their music. If they didn't, I'm sure it was no detriment to them, as the Japanese love that kind of American rock. So hopefully they're doing okay, and as they are, as previously mentioned, releasing a new album this year* (well, an anniversary compilation) they are obviously still alive and kicking. As our first peek into the often dark and shady world of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, they're certainly not the heaviest nor the roughest, but as Rik Mayall once gleefully stated, “They could bash out a tune or two!”
* at the time of writing
** Yeah I'm sure Zep never considered themselves metal either, but **** 'em
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|04-12-2022, 09:21 AM||#2 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Okay, on we go with the second part of our in-depth look at the cultural phenomenon that swept, first the UK and then later the world, in the early 1980s, a movement that revitalised and redefined the heavy metal franchise, and gave birth to a whole fistful of bands, some of whom went on to do very well, some of whom blazed briefly before being extinguished and some of whom, well, just went out like guttering candles.
This time out, we're concentrating on three who made it, and not only that, one of whom had such a far-ranging and lasting influence on one particular part of the scene that they coined a new phrase which was taken up and used to describe and create a whole new sub-genre. But more of that later.
Any new movement is going to create and sweep up in its grasp a whole slew of bands who think they can make it. Look at the punk movement, or even the grunge rock of the nineties. So many bands got formed, gigged and then totally failed to make any impression on the public that they quickly disbanded and were forgotten about. It was of course the same with the new “young guns” of the heavy metal movement. Many bands never made it out of the starting blocks, or to tweak that analogy a little, never completed the first lap. It was, and is, and ever will be, a dirty, mean, unforgiving business, the music scene, and really, if you don't learn to swim with the sharks you end up being eaten by them.
Well, that's enough mixed metaphors for one morning! Point is, like the punk explosion of the seventies, everyone who could play three chords or bash a drum or roar out a song thought they could be a band, or in one, or form one. Enthusiasm is all very well and good - where would we be without it, after all? - but mixed in with that you have to have a healthy dose of realism, pragmatism, and - what's the other one? Oh it just escapes me, on the tip of my tongue … oh yeah. Talent.
That's the problem with new fads, crazes, waves, call them what you will. Everyone thinks they can be a star. Probably the kind of thinking that led to no-talent wannabes queueing for hours outside the X Factor studios in the hope of getting their five minutes of glory, even if it's just to be “that bloke who told Cowell to **** off!” Easy, instant fame. Everyone wants it. But it isn't that easy.
Of course, that's not to say that there was anything close to the talent-show-factory culture there is now back then, but it just serves to underline the fact that no matter how hard some of these guys wanted to be a metal band, some of them just hadn't got it in them. Bands like Ethel the Frog, Fireclown, Fist, Nightwing, Legend and Ireland's Sweet Savage all had their day but faded quickly after the initial onslaught of the NWOBHM. Personally, I have not heard anything from these bands, so would not in any way denigrate them or say their music was below par, however it is a matter of record that the abovementioned, along with many other bands which rose under the NWOBHM banner, fell by the wayside and did not emulate the success of huge acts like Iron Maiden, Saxon or Def Leppard.
But as I said at the beginning of this piece, in this, our second episode, we are looking at three bands, with hugely varying styles, who all “made it” in one way or another.
Part the second, in which demons roam the earth, crows fill the sky and Heavy Metal is “born to darkness”...
The first of these bands I want to concentrate on is one who were formed well before the advent of the NWOBHM and would go on to crack America, or nearly, suffering some personal tragedy along the way. They were called Raven, and they were formed in 1974 in Newcastle by brothers John and Mark Gallagher (yeah, two more Gallagher brothers!) and Paul Bowden. Signed to the Neat Records label, they released their debut album, 1981's Rock Until You Drop.
Rock Until You Drop - Raven - 1981 (Neat)
There's little finesse about this album, but then, what do you expect from a NWOBHM band? AND one from “oop North” into the bargain! It's heads-down, straight-forward rockin' metal, with snarling guitars and thundering drums, all played at a pretty ferocious pace. “Hard Ride” opens the album and sets the pace, which really never slackens throughout the whole recording. The songs are short, sharp and uncomplicated, with few over four minutes, bar the closer and one other. Vocalist John Gallagher, who also plays the bass, belts out the songs with the fervour of a real rocker, and although he does scream a lot you can always make out what he's singing. The simplicity of the setup - bass, guitar, drums - makes me think of a seriously heavy and much faster Rory Gallagher (well, the name is there, after all, and no, I don't think there's any relation between them). There are no frills here, and no pretensions.
There's no doubting the talent of these guys, as a super guitar solo from Mark Gallagher during “Don't Need Your Money” shows, with Rob Hunter pounding the drumkit like a steamhammer, and then “Over the Top” has a certain Thin Lizzy feel to it, a little bit of boogie stuck in there somewhere among the screaming guitars and thunderous drums. There's a short almost medieval instrumental then, which comes across almost as a joke among all the headbanging and mayhem, but it's soon back to business with “For the Future”, though in fairness this is a little more restrained, reminding me of early Maiden really. Gallagher J more growls than screams this song, making it a little easier to understand, and it has a great hook. Quite melodic, in fact.
The title track comes in on a sort of handclap and military drumbeat, a slow cruncher with Gallagher M cranking the best he possibly can out of his guitar, and the speed flies right back up to the top of the scale then for “Nobody's Hero”, until they churn out the only cover on the album, a great version of The Sweet's hit “Hellraiser”, combined with another minor hit for the seventies glam rockers, “Action”, with some truly superb guitar work.
The closer is the longest track on the album, at just over seven minutes. “Tyrant of the Airways”, which becomes their first foray into progressive rock, or I should say progressive metal really, with its different sections and key changes and time signatures, is a really impressive ending to their debut album.
1. Hard Ride
2. Hell Patrol
3. Don't Need Your Money
4. Over the Top
6. For the Future
7. Rock Until You Drop
8. Nobody's Hero
10. Lambs to the Slaughter
11. Tyrant of the Airways
After the initial success of this and their next album, 1982's Wiped Out, Raven attracted the attention of one of the big US labels, Megaforce Records, who had on their books also American metal acts Anthrax and a little outfit called Metallica. Touring with both bands raised Raven's stateside profile considerably, and in 1984 the band moved permanently to New York. Before that, however, they released their first album on the US Megaforce label, 1983's All for One.
All for One - Raven - 1983 (Megaforce)
Their third album, and their first directly aimed at, and recorded for, the US market, All for One is still considered by many fans to one of their finer albums, before they became Americanised. It kicks off heavy enough, though slower, with the songs more coherent and less frenetic: you can already see the influence playing with the likes of Metallica was having on the boys from Newcastle. Even John Gallagher's voice is lower, more growly and gutteral, with much less of the high-pitched screaming that characterised previous albums. The guitar is used to much better effect, too, with a lot of reverb and feedback.
The opener, “Take Control”, is perhaps a misnomer, as the only people who had control over Raven were their new US label taskmasters, Megaforce, and later the giant Atlantic Records, but “Mind Over Metal” at least throws down the gauntlet, asserting that it's all about the music. Again, it's heavy, a little faster than the opener and almost in the vein of the songs off their debut, but with a definite growl in Gallagher J's voice as he no doubt sought to emulate James Hetfield.
“Sledgehammer Rock” became something of an anthem for them, with its heavy guitars and punchy chorus, while the title track of course recalls the legend of the Three Musketeers, with some great crowd-participation moments, no doubt. This is definitely a band enjoying themselves: wonder what the Americans made of the impromptu rendition of La Marseilleise in the middle of the song? Perhaps onstage Raven switched it for The Star-spangled banner?
Seems they had “Run Silent Run Deep” as a song title before Maiden did, and it's a good rocker with a truly fantastic piece of guitar exposition in the middle. “Hung Drawn and Quartered” is a return to the Raven of old, with breakneck drumming, screeching guitar and indeed screeching John Gallagher! In fact, as the album crashes headlong towards its end, it becomes apparent that the Raven we heard on Rock Until You Drop are reasserting themselves. The songs get faster, heavier, and John Gallagher screams a lot more. It's really quite a joy to hear.
“Seek and Destroy”, the penultimate track, does exactly what it says on the tin. Powerful, racing metal with screaming vocals and drumming that just punches your face in. Closer “Athletic Rock” (which later became the odd way Raven described their particular brand of metal) is a little slower (though not much!) and a little more restrained, almost as if they were being reined back in, though it was completely apparent even at this stage that this raven could not be caged for very long.
1. Take Control
2. Mind Over Metal
3. Sledgehammer Rock
4. All for One
5. Run Silent Run Deep
6. Hung Drawn and Quartered
7. Break the Chain
8. Take It Away
9. Seek and Destroy
10. Athletic Rock
So what happened to them after that? Well, they released in total another nine albums, up to 2009, making twelve in all, but there would come a drastic shift in direction. After All for One, Raven theoretically hit the big time, being signed by Atlantic Records, but like many labels, particularly the larger ones, the US giants demanded more control over Raven's output, forcing them to move into a more commercial, radio-friendly vein, and the first two albums released on the Atlantic album, 1985's Stay Hard and its followup the next year, The Pack is Back, despite yielding a semi-successful single from the former, served to alienate many of Raven's diehard fans. Two more albums were recorded with Atlantic before the band were let go by the label.
In the interim, Rob Hunter left the band to spend more time with his family, replaced by Joe Hasselvander, and the band released five more albums, including the sort of follow-up to All for One, 2000's One for All, though the growing supremacy of the grunge rock movement, particularly in the USA, was edging them out and they decided to concentrate on playing Europe and Japan, who had always loved them (what is it with the Japanese and heavy metal?) until tragedy struck.
In 2001 a wall fell on Mark Gallagher, crushing his legs and forcing Raven to take a five-year break while he recovered. They came back in 2006, touring over three years and finally releasing their last, to date, album, 2009's Walk Through Fire.
Throughout their career, Raven have remained true to the original lineup of bass/guitar/drums and vocals, never once adding any other instruments except under pressure from Atlantic for 1986's The Pack is Back, when Mark experimented with synths and guitar synths. The backlash from the fans obviously told him that had been a bad way to go, and they returned to their tried and trusted format.
Raven are an example perhaps of a band who rose through the NWOBHM, became big in America, fell out of favour and returned to what they do best, and yet they are relatively unknown to the public at large. Ask any ordinary Joe or Jane in the street who Iron Maiden or Def Leppard are, they can probably tell you. Ask about Raven, they'll probably say isn't that a crow? Sad in a way: Raven could have been just as successful as either of the two bands mentioned above, but got distracted and spellbound by the bright lights, and for a time gave over their music to Suits, who did their level best to change and therefore destroy it, trying to make it fit into their own concept of what made a good rock band. Or at least, a profitable one.
But despite Mark's injuries and the loss of founder member Hunter, Raven continue on, and are, as far as I know, still on the road as I write. The wings of some birds, it would seem, are harder to clip than others.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|04-12-2022, 09:42 AM||#3 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Ah, what a great name for a metal band, eh? Conjures up all the right (or wrong, depending on which side of the barbed-wire fence you're sitting!) Satanic images, doesn't it? Hailing from Wolverhampton, of all places, Cloven Hoof formed in 1979 but settled their basic lineup and released their debut EP in 1982. Throughout their career the band would endure many staff changes, as is a recurring theme through most of the NWOBHM bands - even the mighty Maiden - but in the case of these guys, the lineup would be stipped down right to the bone, leaving one member as the sole survivor from the original band. But more of that later.
Originally, the band consisted of four members, who had the admittedly quite unique and interesting idea of each taking as a pseudonym one of the four elements, as described below, with notes to explain who left and was replaced by whom.
David Potter (Water) - Vocals (see Note 1)
Steve Rounds (Fire) - Guitar (See Note 2)
Lee Payne (Air) - Bass
Kevin Poutney (Earth) - Drums (See Note 3)
Note 1: After recording the debut, Potter left to be replaced by Rob Kendrick. He assumed the mantle of “Water” for the time he was there. In 1988 he was replaced by Russ North. By now the band (of which only Lee Payne remained, he hiring basically a whole new crew) had dropped the pseudonyms. The band split again in 1990, reformed in 2001 (although reformed is not really the word, as this was again a whole new lineup) and Matt Moreton took on the role of vocalist, until 2006 when North came back. He left and rejoined a few times, but for the sake of simplicity we'll just say he was their last steady vocalist, and leave it at that.
Note 2: in 1988, when Payne restarted the band, Rounds was replaced by Andy Wood. In 1989 Cloven Hoof added a second guitarist, Lee Jones, before splitting again. Wood was replaced by Andy Shortland for their 2006 album, and thereafter by Mick Powell, joined later by Ben Read to replace the departed Jones.
Note 3: Jon Brown took over on the drumstool for the first reformation of the band in 1988, and then Lynch Radinsky in 2006, shortly afterwards replaced by the returning Brown.
Footnote: the lineup changes in Cloven Hoof were a lot more complicated than this, but rather than confuse you with a dizzying account of people who left, came back, left again, came back again, joined briefly before leaving again, and so on, the above will have to suffice as a basic idea of how fluid the membership of this band was.
Under the original lineup listed above, Cloven Hoof released first an EP in 1982 titled The Opening Ritual, and two years later their first full album.
Cloven Hoof - Cloven Hoof - 1984 (Neat)
Well, if you're going to title your first album the same as your band, you may as well have a song called that too! AND have it first! So the album opens with the riproaring “Cloven Hoof”, and from the beginning this band sound really more black metal (although by that time the term hadn't really been invented) than heavy metal, with growling, guttural vocals (though not, thank everything, death ones!), echoey guitars that can at a moment's notice snap to face-punching power chords, thundering drums and dark, doomy lyrics. Throw in a few demon growl sound-effects and you're set for an album that, even by its title and that of the band, was guaranteed to draw attention from the self-styled protectors of the innocent.
Great guitar solos from Steve Rounds - or should I say, Fire? - which really bring some class into a song that a times is just a little too heavy, not in terms of music but just in general: seems a bit plodding even if it is fast. That makes no sense, I know. Just listen to it, you'll see what I mean. It's kind of like drowning in hot tar. But the lively guitar provides a lifeline for you to climb out of the pit.
Metallica and Megadeth must have taken their cue from some of the songs here, as the style is somewhat similar, as “Nightstalker” refuses to let the pace slacken, in fact ups it slightly, Rounds managing to sound like two guitarists instead of just the one, and David “Water” Potter's voice perfectly complementing the material. This is not metal for beginners! Elements of fellow metallers Saxon in there, as well as speed and noise merchants Motorhead. “March of the Damned” is a short instrumental, great showcase for the guitar, recalling the best of Diamond Head, then we get a track which originally appeared on their 1982 debut EP The Opening Ritual. Remixed and re-recorded, “Gates of Gehenna” is another rock chugger, cracking along at a loping pace with a lot of early Iron Maiden in evidence, as well as the best of Black Sabbath.
This is a short album, only seven tracks in all. There are actually ten on the CD, but that's a reissue with bonus material, and my policy has always been to review albums based on what was on either the original vinyl recordings (I'm an oldie, you see) or if they were never on vinyl, whatever was on the original CD. So we're left with only seven tracks to work with, and after the powerful, thumping “Gates of Gehenna” comes to an equally powerful and emphatic close, “Crack the Whip” is the closest Cloven Hoof come to a straight-ahead rock song, with a beat that resonates with Steppenwolf memories and just a dash of the Stones (Rolling, not Roses), with “Water” Potter attempting a pretty funny falsetto - I don't think it's meant to be funny, but by gum it is!
“Laying Down the Law” is another standard rocker, less heavy than their previous material but with a great beat and some excellent, finger-burning fretwork from Rounds - no wonder he chose fire as his symbol! - then the album closes on the nine-minute epic “Return of the Passover”, which starts off a little prog-rocky, with heavy synth and feedback guitar, then kicks into a Maiden groove, going through some major changes over the course of its life, some choppy, snarly guitar switching with sweet shredding and then galloping, chug-a-long axework as Steve Rounds makes the most of what would, in the end, be his last outing with the band.
A powerful and epic opening shot, the debut from Cloven Hoof comes across in places as more speed or even thrash metal, veering into black metal territory, though they seem to be able to pull back on the throttle enough to play basic heavy metal, and all in all it's a pretty impressive debut.
1. Cloven Hoof
3. March of the Damned
4. The Gates of Gehenna
5. Crack the Whip
6. Laying Down the Law
7. Return of the Passover
As detailed earlier, this was the last album recorded by the original lineup of Cloven Hoof, and true to the nature of the feet in their name, they split, and weren't heard from again for four years, when bassist, and only surviving founder member Lee Payne recruited essentially a whole new band to record their second album. This would be a lot different to their debut, firstly by being a concept album, and secondly by being based on a science-fiction storyline.
Dominator - Cloven Hoof - 1988 (FM Revolver)
There's no slowing these guys down! With new vocalist Russ North onboard, the new lineup takes up where the original left off in terms of speed, and power into the appropriately-titled “Rising Up”. One thing you can hear straight away is the difference in North's vocals as opposed to Potter's guttural growl and roar: his are much clearer, cleaner and more suited to the material here. He can shout with the best of them, but seems not to believe he has to growl or scream, a much more controlled voice I believe.
Great guitar work from replacement axeman Andy Wood, ably filling the shoes of the now-departed Steve Rounds. I'm not certain of the actual story behind the album, but “Nova Battlestar” tells the tale of a spaceship going to war in some far-flung galaxy, and would seem to be influenced by the big science-fiction epics around at the time, the likes of the Star Wars films and of course the series Battlestar Galactica (the original, not the re-imagining of recent years): you can also hear the Iron Maiden leanings evident on the last few tracks of their debut begin to burgeon and expand now, and they're definitely more in the camp of power metal now, shying away from the darker, muggier style of their first album. Even the artwork on the album cover is slightly reminiscent of some of the Iron Maiden covers.
“Reach for the Sky” continues the story (whatever it is!) and was originally on their live album, Fighting Back, as was later track “The Fugitive” (more Maiden links?), and is a good solid rocker, with the days of black and doom metal now, it would seem, firmly behind them. Great guitar solo on this track, and new drummer Jon Brown certainly knows where the kit is! It's another short album, and “Warrior of the Wasteland” takes us halfway there, with the first slow song I've heard yet from Cloven Hoof. Impressive vocal from North, as he narrates part of the story, and some really introspective guitar work from Wood before the song fires up a little, getting heavier but still remaining generally mid-paced, not a ballad by any means, with some fiery fretwork from Wood as it then gathers speed, and a really discordant solo that somehow fits in perfectly. By the end of the song it's been through about as many changes really as the closer to their debut! Not bad for a song that's four minutes shy of “Return of the Passover”...
“The Invaders” (the Maiden references just keep coming!) keeps things fast but with churning guitars and galloping drums maintaining order on the song, and North's authoritative vocal taking charge. Some interesting vocal effects where he tries to sound alien or robotic, but comes across as a Dalek with a bad cold! Then “The Fugitive” (see what I mean? It even starts out like Maiden's song “The Prisoner”!) keeps things rocking until the title track kicks in to slow things down just a little with more of a cruncher than we've had up to now.
As he wrote every song on this album, I can only imagine that Lee Payne must have been listening to most of Iron Maiden's catalogue, especially Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind and Powerslave, as this album, apart from being so unlike the debut, is so like Maiden that it's almost scary. Yes, Cloven Hoof have certainly their own identity, and I would not accuse them of ever being a Maiden rip-off or copycat band, but they have obviously been heavily impressed and influenced by the work of Messrs Dickinson, Murray, Harris and Co., particularly on “The Fugitive”.
Closer “Road of Eagles” was originally on their first demo, and is a little hackneyed, but a decent one to end on, if not the strongest of tracks. It's interesting though to see how much the band have changed from the dark, somewhat confused heaviness of the debut, to the clearer, slicker and more cohesive sound on Dominator. Definitely a band who were evolving.
1. Rising Up
2. Nova Battlestar
3. Reach for the Sky
4. Warrior of the Wasteland
5. The Invaders
6. The Fugitive
8. Road of Eagles
Unfortunately, as we have seen, Cloven Hoof were only to release one more album before this rather fine lineup fell apart and the band split again. Normally, I only take a maximum of three albums from any one band featured here, but as Cloven Hoof only had four real albums in all, we're going to look at them all here.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|04-12-2022, 10:00 AM||#4 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
A Sultan's Ransom - Cloven Hoof - 1989 (FM Revolver)
One year later they released A Sultan's Ransom, with the same lineup but this time the songwriting duties were shared between Payne and Wood, the latter co-writing about half of the album with him. This time there are ten tracks - the longest ever for a Cloven Hoof album - and it kicks off with “Astral Rider”, a good, fast rocker which again runs through some changes and more or less picks up where the previous album left off. “Forgotten Heroes” keeps the quality high, Russ North again in fine form, Andy Wood clearly enjoying himself on the guitar.
Now, a year later, they seem to be establishing their own sound, with a lot less of the Iron Maiden influence in evidence. “DVR” - which apparently stands for Death Valley Racer - is the first song on which Andy Wood co-writes, and it's played at breakneck speed, as you might perhaps expect; North manages to reach some notes that sound like they really hurt! Truly manic guitar solo here, then “Jekyll and Hyde” is the first kind-of Maidenlike song on the album, but we'll forgive them that, as it's a real belter. Eastern melodies introduce the Arabian Nights -themed “1001 Nights”, the story of Scheherezade (don't know if I spelled that properly) who was the central figure in the story. It's another good rocker, but I think Kamelot did better with the source material. Mind you, that was ten years later.
“Silver Surfer” is another fast and heavy number, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, and “Notre Dame” is back with the Maiden influences, treading very hard on the toes of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, while “Mad Mad World” is a short, somewhat throwaway track. The album finishes strongly though, as both “Highlander” and the closer “Mistress of the Forest” stand out, the former due to its rollicking, into-battle theme referencing the movie and later TV series of the same name, with some great busy guitar. The latter is totally unexpected, with harpsichord opening, and some lovely choral synth on a ballad, of all things. No keyboard player is credited sadly, so I can't tell you who's playing the keys, but they do a hell of a good job.
O-kay. It's not a ballad, but it certainly started out like one. It gets kicked up the arse though, and quickly becomes another rocker, though vastly different to the previous tracks. It's also the longest track on the album, at just under seven minutes. After rocking hard for about five of those, it ends with a slow, relaxed harpsichordal outro, as it begun.
The only major difference I see between this album and Dominator is that on this Cloven Hoof have tried hard to shake the cloying Iron Maiden cliches, and for the most part they've succeeded, creating a more individual and representative album, very much stamping their identity on A Sultan's Ransom. The closer in particular lays down the marker, where they make it clear they are not just another Maiden clone.
1. Astral Rider
2. Forgotten Heroes
4. Jekyll and Hyde
5. 1001 Nights
6. Silver Surfer
7. Notre Dame
8. Mad, Mad World
10. Mistress of the Forest
And once again, just as they seemed to have it together, events conspired to tear the Cloven boys apart, and they went their separate ways. Despite many attempts by Lee Payne to bring them back together and reform the band (again!) it would not be until 2005 that Lee would finally give up, hire session guys and head into the studio to record what would be their last album, so far.
Eye of the Sun - Cloven Hoof - 2006 (Escape Music)
It's another hard rockin' opening, but new vocalist (well, stand-in vocalist I guess) Matt Moreton is more harsh and guttural than I would like, more in the mould of original singer Potter, and on “Inquisitor” he screams and growls rather than singing. After the lush voice of Russ North on the last two albums, it's a little like going back to Paul Di'anno after hearing Bruce Dickinson. Alright, enough with the barbed Iron Maiden references, I hear ya!
Session guitarist Andy Shortland appears a decent replacement, at least on this, the first track, but the whole style of the third incarnation of Cloven Hoof seems to have slipped back to that of the debut, and the music is much harder, heavier and less melodic - not quite black metal, perhaps grey metal? The title track offers something of a return to the sort of Cloven Hoof we've been used to over the last two albums, with Moreton reining in the harsher aspects of his singing and sounding a little clearer. It's a slower track, a cruncher with some really pounding guitar and bass work, the solos kept to just the areas where they'll be the most effective.
It's not made clear, but it seems likely as he was the one who put the band (back) together that all the songs here are written by Payne, and this time out he's decided to rope in the aid of a keyboard player, James Hartley. “Cyberworld” is very catchy, almost AOR. But not. Not quite. But close. For Cloven Hoof. Some great backing vocals on this, for the first time either used, or credited. If the latter, then the man who gets the plaudits is Lee Small. “Kiss of Evil” opens with a big, Thin Lizzy-esque guitar, then gets down and dirty, though I have to say I'm not that fond of the shouted vocal in the chorus. “Eye of the Zombie” keeps up the pressure, with a great hook and again fine backing vocal, but by “Absolute Power” it seems Moreton's voice is settling back into that guttural growl he began the album with and the song is not helped by the rap elements - yeah, that's what I said! - in it. Don't like this one. Might be for fans of harder Metallica, possibly.
“Whore of Babylon” is off and rocking again, with Moreton a little more restrained in his vocals this time, but he's definitely no replacement for Russ North. Nice picked guitar introduces “Golgotha”, with a really laid-back vocal, neither of which last as the song explodes into life, powering straight into speed metal territory before dropping right back to gentle guitar and low-key vocal, then heavy again to the conclusion. Interesting song, based not surprisingly given the title around the Crucifixion. A few religious themes throughout this album, now that I look at it.
“King for a Day” is very Metallica, a mid-paced cruncher with growly guitars and energetic drumming, and to be honest I have to say that I notice no discernible contribution by Hartley on the keys. Kind of makes you wonder why they bothered: doesn't seem to have made any real difference to the band's sound. More Lizzy-like guitar, then we're into the closer, “Angels in Hell”. And now I can hear the effect of the keyboards, though it's a little late. Extremely unsettling intro, with almost quiet death vocal growling as Moreton recites extracts from The Lord's Prayer, then the song kicks into a high-powered rocker to end the album on a powerful note.
All in all though, I see Eye of the Sun as a backward step for Cloven Hoof, retracing the kind of music they plied on their debut album, when they had managed to pin down a fairly perfect formula with the second and third album. It's a pity they couldn't have kept that lineup together: might have been more successful, or at least more prolific.
2. Eye of the Sun
4. Kiss of Evil
5. Eye of the Zombie
6. Absolute Power
7. Whore of Babylon
9. King for a Day
10. Angels in Hell
Since that album was released, Cloven Hoof have reformed, so to speak, which is to say that the three who recorded Dominator and A Sultan's Ransom with Lee Payne have returned, and together they worked on a remixed collection of their best songs, with Mick Powell coming on as second guitarist. A new album was scheduled for 2010, but only developed into an EP, Throne of Damnation, with some new songs alongside some already recorded.
Frustratingly, the band remains fluid, with people leaving, joining, leaving, rejoining, and so on, so that there is not at the moment a stable lineup. Perhaps this is Cloven Hoof's, if you'll forgive the mixed metaphor, Achille's heel. If they could stay together long enough they could probably record a really good album, but each change of personnel seems to morph the sound into another shape and direction. Though still around today, the guys' latest release has been a remixed update of Dominator. Perhaps that in itself tells its own story.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|04-12-2022, 10:35 AM||#5 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Technically proficient guitar solos. Thoughtful, inspired lyrics. Intricate keyboard solos and quite stunning ballads. Just some of the many things that were never associated with Venom, who became the initial black sheep of the NWOBHM: heavier, louder and faster than any of the bands of the era, pushing the envelope so far they not only tore it open, but probably wiped their arses with it too, Venom were the epitome of all I hated about extreme metal. To my mind, they sounded like they couldn't play, their singer roared incomprehensibly, and their songs were a joke.
And they worshipped the Devil. Really. Well, sort of.
Formed in Newcastle in 1978, just as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was rising up like some great tsunami of music and hope and noise and excitement, Venom went through their lineup changes as have most bands at the start. In fact, at the beginning, they weren't even called Venom, but Guillotine, with members from two other bands joining as others left, and in 1979 they took the name Venom, with a lineup finally stablised as a three-piece, as below:
Conrad “Cronos” Lant - Vocals and bass
Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn - Guitar
Anthony “Abaddon” Bray - Drums
This was the “classic” lineup which recorded Venom's debut album, the very appropriately-named - in every sense - “Welcome to Hell”. Venom would become famous (or infamous) for taking the “black road”, revelling in all things Satanic - at least in public - and writing about the Devil, Hell, damnation and sin. The Religious Right must have loved them! Not exactly musically proficient, they would become ostracised and reviled by the “real” metal bands, who considered them at best a parody and at worst an embarrassment to their music. Nevertheless, Venom would soon gain a large following, which would swell to a huge one, and would give birth to a musical sub-genre of metal.
Welcome to Hell - Venom - 1981 (Neat)
The opener, “Sons of Satan”, puts me in mind right away of fellow thrashers Motorhead: it's superfast, loud, powerful and the vocals are snarled, though in fairness I've been dreading listening to this band's music, and it's not as terrible as I feared it would be. Competent guitar solos from Dunn, drumming that sounds like Bray has about twenty sledgehammers for arms, and it's hard to really review any of the songs, as they all go sort of past in a neverending cacophony of unremitting noise. Don't think we'll be getting any ballads out of this one!
The title track is a little slower - just a little, quite Iron Maiden in its execution - the vocals a little more discernible, and you can see the effect this sort of band would have on the likes of Metallica, Anvil and Megadeth some years later. The track features a female vocal reciting part of The Lord's Prayer, no doubt a deliberate attempt to flip the bird to the Church. Things speed up again for “Schizo”, then there's a rare introspective guitar interlude of just under a minute, where Dunn shows that he can play guitar, before he's off and shredding again on “Poison”.
I have to be fair here: the vocals, though growly and rough, are still a hell of a lot better than the deep-throated and often unintelligible death grunts/vocals espoused by later bands like Dimmu Borgir and In Flames, and for what they are, and what I expected, I'm surprised and impressed: I assumed this would be one long bout of discordant noise, and it's really not. It's loud, it's rough, it's heavy and it certainly has no frills, but it's still music. Not my kind of music, but I'd still now listen to a Venom album before one by, say, Death. Great solo on “Poison”, before we're into “Live Like an Angel”, which was in fact on their first demo, one of their earliest songs, and which features as the B-side of their first single. It's not bad, to be fair. It's fast, thrashy with yet another great guitar solo and powerful vocals.
The rest of the album is pretty much the same: fast, loud, powerful. It's kind of hard to pick out anything that really stands apart from the general mishmash, though “Witching Hour” has a fantastic guitar solo, and “In League With Satan” is a slow, heavy cruncher in the best mould of Black Sabbath, while “Red Light Fever” opens with, of all things, a violin! But it soon smashes into another hard fast rocker.
There's kind of little to say about Venom's debut. It's loud, it's angry, it's fast and it's unapologetic heavy metal, not to be mistaken for any other sort of music. That's how they were, that's who they were, and man, were they proud of it!
1. Sons of Satan
2. Welcome to Hell
4. Mayhem With Mercy
6. Live Like an Angel
7. Witching Hour
8. One Thousand Days in Sodom
9. Angel Dust
10. In League With Satan
11. Red Light Fever
Neither this, nor their followup album sold well, but nevertheless fans turned up at Venom gigs in their droves, discovering a new, harder and faster type of metal. Already becoming disillusioned with the shift of some of the newer bands in the NWOBHM towards more classic heavy rock - and even, in some cases, verging on AOR - diehard metalheads took Venom's loud, brash, almost earsplitting music to their hearts, and embraced the sound that would forever after become known as “black metal”, although it was truer to what would follow as thrash, speed or death metal. Either way, it was the loudest and fastest game in town, and there was a whole new breed of fans who wanted it, and wanted more.
So when Venom released their second album in 1982, one year after their explosive debut hit the shops, it may not have shifted the units, but it pleased the burgeoning fanbase, and more importantly, laid down a marker for hundreds, perhaps thousands of bands to follow. It influenced a new generation of metal bands, and birthed the sub-genres named above. Venom's music would have most influence in Scandinavia, particularly Norway, which would become the focus and spiritual centre of the black, doom, death metal of the nineties, with bands like Darkthrone, Satyricon, Enslaved and Dimmu Borgir all coming up on the music of this Newcastle trio.
Black Metal - Venom - 1982 (Neat)
If Welcome to Hell was fast, it's nothing compared to Black Metal: just breakneck all the way. Opener and title track is a juggernaut, setting the tone for the album, while “To Hell and Back” is a bit more coherent, though still damn fast! It's only when “Buried Alive” kicks in that you hear the real Sabbath influence in a total cruncher that would typify the forthcoming black metal sub-genre. Doomy, moody bass, vocals growled as if Lant (now officially credited as Cronos, with his cohorts named as Mantas and Abaddon) is in pain, dirty, moody guitar and stomping drums. Strangely enough, for a four minute song, it doesn't seem like it, and it quickly slips into “Raise the Dead”, as Venom power out with more fast thrash metal, then whatever way Cronos sings, “Teacher's Pet” comes across to me as “Jesus wept”, which he probably did.
Venom do a tongue-in-cheek play on the old song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” with their “Sacrifice”, blistering guitar carrying the song along on black wings, while to be honest, the next few tracks pass in a blur of shredding and growling: not that they're bad, just kind of unremarkable, and they all more or less blend together, a problem I'm seeing as having dogged at least early Venom. This finally comes to an end with the closer, which is actually a preview of a monster track that would characterise - and title - their third album, which I'm reliably informed saw Venom move into more progressive metal territory. We shall see, but the taster here is certainly interesting and whets the appetite for more.
If they did evolve into a more prog-metal band, even for one album, it could only be a good thing for Venom because, although they were ultra-popular with the hardcore metal fans, no band can be expected to keep up that level of energy and power in their albums, and even if they did, at some point it's all going to get stale and repetitive. I already find it hard to remember much about either of these albums. Everything seems very much the same all the way through.
1. Black Metal
2. To Hell and Back
3. Buried Alive
4. Raise the Dead
5. Teacher's Pet
6. Leave Me in Hell
8. Heaven's On Fire
9. Countess Bathory
10. Don't Burn the Witch
11. At War with Satan (preview)
Normally I wouldn't go for three albums in a row, from a band who have more than that (twelve at the moment, with another due this year), but due to the marked shift in musical direction brought about by their third album, I feel it's important to examine it. It's supposed to have, as I already mentioned, progressive leanings, and considering what I've heard so far, I'm curious as to how Venom accomplished that.
At War with Satan - Venom - 1983 (Neat)
Eager to prove themselves as proper musicians, and be taken seriously by their contemporaries, Venom produced an album which had one side devoted to one huge composition, the title track, consciously emulating Rush with their 2112 opus. They would only have one more album released before leaving Neat Records, and it would in fact be another three years after that album before they would again return to the studio.
The title track, which opens the album, is less thrashy, as it were, than previous efforts, and shows the band indeed expanding their repertoire to include elements usually found within the more progressive of the heavy metal bands, like Iron Maiden, and later Kamelot, Dream Theater, Opeth and Shadow Gallery. It's still loud, and mostly fast, but “At War With Satan” goes through, over the course of its almost twenty minutes, some interesting changes. The choral vocals at about the thirteen-minute mark, and the gentle acoustic guitar for instance, very atypical of what people had come to expect from this band. The dark narration, with choral vocals and what sounds like (but isn't) deep keyboard in the background near the end, which is, I believe, the excerpt included on the previous album. All very new and a total change of direction for the godfathers of black metal. Rather oddly, it suddenly fades out, very unsatisfying after basically twenty minutes of waiting for a powerful end, for it to just drift away like that...
It's perhaps telling that a band who began their career more or less swearing their allegiance to Lucifer had, by 1983, declared themselves His enemy, fighting against him, though of course that was probably just for the song. Nevertheless, there are after this no mentions of Satanic themes, Hell (except in the closer-but-one, and then only peripherally) or black magic, and it seems Venom are beginning to shed the image of “black music idiots” they had been carrying since their debut album. Wanting to be taken seriously, it seems they widened their lyrical and thematic base to include subjects perhaps closer to the average metaller's heart, like beer, women and motorcycles.
The rest of the album returns to the basic style, and even in fairness “At War With Satan” is just a longer version of their usual fare, though it does attempt to break out of the rather restricted mould. You're not about to get any intricate keyboard solos or plucked classical guitar on this album, though! “Cry Wolf” is a good rocker, as is “Stand up (and be counted)”, with its hilarious and yet ardent declaration ”We are the/ Black Metal Gods!/ V-E-N-O-****ing-M!” You've gotta laugh!
But sadly, laughter is the only real reaction to this album, and to the whole band, so far, from me. Especially the last track, simply entitled “Aaaaarrgh!”, and which basically seems to be a mad jam with lots of drumming, screaming and - somewhere in there - sound like, a piano! Weird is not the word!
I can see why Venom weren't taken seriously and were ridiculed by the other metal bands of the NWOBHM. I mean, compare them to any of those I've previously featured, or to the godly Iron Maiden or Saxon: there's just no contest. Venom are - or were, we'll see if they changed shortly - playing at metal, while the others were doing it seriously for a living. Still, they certainly made money out of it, and gained the respect, reverence and awe of a whole new upcoming slew of bands from the USA to coldest Norway.
1. At War with Satan
2. Rip Ride
4. Cry Wolf
5. Stand Up (And Be Counted)
6. Women, Leather and Hell
The ride, of course, couldn't last, and after 1984's Possessed failed to impress, Dunn left the band, and after 1987's Calm Before the Storm, the rest of the band departed, leaving only Bray to continue on. Rather like Cloven Hoof, reviewed prior, Bray then set about putting a “new” Venom together, and they released three more records. Finally, in 1995, eleven years after the first of the original band had left and eight since the others legged it to leave Bray sailing the ship alone, Venom got back together and released an album in 1997, whose themes returned to the dark ones of the first two albums but also mixed in the mythological ideas that had powered the unsuccessful Calm Before the Storm. This, then, is the final example of Venom's work we're going to look at.
Cast in Stone - Venom - 1997 (SPV/Steamhammer)
So, the guys are back together. Is there any improvement in the sound? Well, yes and no. Cronos seems to have managed to learn how to sing a little more clearly, though only a little. Mantas is as always pretty nifty on the guitar, and Abaddon is, well, Abaddon. This could be the shortest review ever.
“The Evil One” gets Venom right back to basics, with a return to the Satanic imagery they relied on for their first two albums, if a little slower than usual, but losing none of the heaviness. The reduction in speed is soon erased though when “Raised in Hell” shoots at you like a missile, almost the speed of thought. Well, at least the boys sound like they're having fun! Which, I have to say, is more than I am...
“All Devil's Eve” and “Bleeding” are the usual Venom fare, while the longest track, almost seven minutes of mayhem in “Destroyed and Damned” opens with an unusally melodic guitar from Mantas, recalling a little of the progressive leanings of “At war with Satan”, and bringing to mind the best of Iron Maiden: even Cronos sings a little more softly. Could this be a Venom ballad? Such a thing even possible? Nice peals of thunder against the background of the restrained guitar, then the power chords explode, and the song is, well, not a ballad. More a metal cruncher, something close to Metallica's “Enter Sandman” really. Well, I'll give them this much: it's about the best-constructed and played song I've heard from Venom so far. Mind you, that's not saying a lot for the rest of their material.
Let's be honest, Cast in Stone does showcase Cronos' newfound ability to sing: I mean, I can actually understand most of what he's shouting about this time round! “Flight of the Hydra” brings in the influence of myth and legend on the lyrics explored by Venom in Calm Before the Storm, one of their least successful albums: their fans wanted songs about devils and blood, not fairies and giants! But it's a nice change of pace, in a way, although the music is never less than crushingly loud and breakneck fast. “God's Forsaken” though takes us back to Satanic territory lyrically, with the music a little less frenetic and a really nice, technically flawless guitar solo from Mantas. There's another one in “Infectious”, and the guy really seems to be learning his craft well.
Nice bass intro to “Kings of Evil”, but other than that it's a fairly standard Venom song, as is the cheerful “You're All Gonna Die”, then it's nearly over as we head into “Judgement Day”, a slower, heavy cruncher about - anyone? - with a very competent and dramatic guitar solo, and the album closes with “Swarm”, a fast rocker which is actually a little bit melodic. Slipping there, boys?
Well, as far as I can see, the Venom lads should have stayed together, as the “classic” lineup seems to be a lot better than the “alternative” Venom that Bray put together in their absence. In the end though, it's kind of a moot point, as to me it's basically all noise. No, that's not fair: it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be, and there are some genuinely good moments throughout their catalogue, insofar as I've managed to listen to it, but in general this is not a band whose music I would listen to, given a choice.
1. The Evil One
2. Raised in Hell
3. All Devil's Eve
5. Destroyed and Damned
6. Domus Mundi
7. Flight of the Hydra
8. God's Forsaken
11. Kings of Evil
12. You're All Gonna Die
13. Judgement Day
Of course, this isn't an article about who I personally do or don't like in the pantheon of NWOBHM bands. The fact remains that Venom opened up the world of heavy metal to a whole new generation, created a new sound, invented or coined a new sub-genre of metal and have forever taken their place in the lore of the NWOBHM, a place which can never be assailed or questioned, no matter your opinion of them as a band, as people or of their music.
In the end, the best - and probably most fitting - tribute that can be paid to Venom is that they were, are, and always will be, Venom. You know: V-E-N-O-****ing-M!
So that concludes the second part of our look at the bands who were pivotal in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It will be a while before the next part, as I have a lot of other articles to attend to, but next time I'll be looking at Wolf, Tank and the mighty Saxon. Till then, keep rockin'! (And no sneaky worshipping the Devil, all right?)
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018