Tag Archives: heavy metal

Have we been seeing a creative renaissance for our vintage rock and metal acts?

OK, so Black Sabbath may have played its last ever tour, we have seen one devastating rock star death after another and a number of acts are no more. But, in spite of all that, have we been witnessing a real renaissance for some of our classic rock and metal bands in recent years? I would contend we have.

After some difficult years in the late eighties and nineties for many of our much loved rock giants, one band after another have been releasing albums that stand up really well against their early classics. The aforementioned Black Sabbath released the brilliant 13 album in 2013, which in my view can happily sit alongside the first four Sabbath albums as a genuine bona fide classic. Uriah Heep’s Outsider released in 2014 can unashamedly sit alongside the David Byron-era material in terms of Heep’s unmistakable brand of melodic hard rock. Girlschool’s Guilty As Sin is every bit as good as their era-defining early albums, with lead track Come The Revolution a match for any of their well-known classic tunes. Saxon’s Battering Ram from 2015 and Judas Priest’s Redeemer Of Souls from 2014, each reviewed elsewhere here, both stand up well and offer everything you’d want to hear in a new album from either band. Even The Stones have got in on the act with their critically-acclaimed back-to-basics Lonesome & Blue album celebrating their R&B roots.

My theory is that all of these bands have reached a stage in their musical careers where, unlike some often painful attempts a decade or two ago, they have more than proved themselves. They now no longer feel obliged to sound contemporary or try to keep up with modern trends but can simply concentrate on sounding like themselves and producing the kind of music and the kind of albums that brought them to the public’s attention in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be championing newer rock acts and none of the bands I’m talking about here are going to be around forever. However, I think we could still be seeing a few more classic releases yet from some of our favourite rock veterans over the next few years.

2017-01-21 15.38.55.jpg

 

Black Sabbath at the O2 31/1/17

How do you end the most iconic heavy metal band of all time?

At one point, a couple of decades after their 70s heyday, it looked liked it might be with a constantly changing cast of replacement musicians, declining album sales, less than enthusiastic ticket sales and something of a whimper rather than a bang. But, following an initial reunion in the late 90s, a mega-successful album with ‘13’ and a hugely successful world tour which reunited three of the original four members in 2013/4, fans hoped that there would at least be one more opportunity to say a final farewell, even in spite of a hugely worrying lymphoma diagnosis for Tony Iommi.

So here we have it: The End – Black Sabbath’s final farewell tour which reaches it’s ultimate conclusion with a couple of dates at London’s O2 and two final concerts in the band’s home city of Birmingham. And it’s every bit as magnificent, spellbinding and heavy as Black Sabbath should be. From the familiar doom-laden chords of the opening ‘Black Sabbath’ to the unforgettable riff of ‘Paranoid’ for the encore, every single minute of this concert was special. Geezer Butler delivers those unmistakable bass-lines, Tony Iommi delivers that unmistakable crunching guitar and Ozzy Osbourne delivers those unmistakable wailing vocals – the essential and unchangeable ingredients that make Black Sabbath what it is. Yes, it’s a shame that Bill Ward is not here to participate in this final tour but drummer, Tony Clufetos, does an absolutely outstanding job with immense energy. I doubt, really, whether anyone could have done it better.

Ozzy, as always, is a fascinating character. Between songs he shuffles around the stage like the mumbling, slightly bewildered figure TV viewers came to love so much. But the second a song starts he is instantly transformed into the wailing, demonic rock god that fans of the ultimate heavy metal band have always known.

My first ever live experience of Black Sabbath was with Bev Bevan out of ELO on drums and Ian Gillan out of Deep Purple on vocals, encoring with Smoke On The Water (?!) How fitting that what is likely to be my last has Tony, Geezer and Ozzy performing Sabbath exactly the way it should be performed. It was an absolutely magnificent performance, stunning setlist and suitably evocative special effects. The atmosphere at the O2, which can be a bit lacking at times however good a band is, was absolutely electric from start to finish.

Whatever happens now this band has made it’s mark on rock music a billion times over and their contribution will not be forgotten. Thank you Black Sabbath.

Setlist:
Black Sabbath
Fairies Wear Boots
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes
After Forever
Into the Void
Snowblind
War Pigs
Behind the Wall of Sleep
N.I.B.
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Iron Man
Dirty Women
Children of the Grave
Paranoid

http://www.blacksabbath.com/

maxresdefault

Previous review:

Black Sabbath at Hyde Park

Saxon / Fastway / Girlschool at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 5/11/16

So it’s another trip to London and another trip to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for New Wave Of British Heavy Metal veterans Saxon, who are currently headlining a tour that also includes includes Fastway and Girlschool.

Girlschool are first up and deliver a great opening set. Even those unfamiliar with pretty much anything the band have put out since the 80s would find lots to like here. I always thought Girlschool’s brand of heavy metal worked best for them when they channelled their inner glam-pop sensibilities (something they always acknowledged was a key influence) and delivered songs that were loud, hard and heavy but laden with unmissable hooks, catchy choruses and memorable riffs. And for much of the set that’s exactly what we get: old favourites like Demolition Boys, Hit and Run, Emergency and (Gun cover) the fantastic Race With The Devil. Fitting very much into that template, too, is new song Come The Revolution, from their latest album: 2015’s Guilty as Sin.

Even thirty-odd years after Girlschool formed all-female rock bands are few and far between but well done the women of Girlschool for keeping the flag flying all these years and for doing it so brilliantly in 2016. A definite thumbs up from me.

Girlschool setlist
Demolition Boys
Hit and Run
Come the Revolution
Take It Like a Band
Future Flash
Watch Your Step
Race with the Devil
Emergency

http://www.girlschool.co.uk/

When Fastway was launched in 1983 a heavy rock supergroup was in the offing, featuring former members of Motörhead, UFO, and Humble Pie. Pete Way of UFO left before they even made their first album and, incredible a guitarist though ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke undoubtedly is, the band never really stayed on my musical radar. But at least that allowed me to approach their set tonight with a completely open mind. And my verdict: probably among the most talented performers of all three bands this evening. Eddie Clarke is an awesome guitarist, in particular, and Toby Jepsom (lead singer since 2007) has a great voice and a charismatic stage presence. And all the musicians had a good musical vibe and worked well on stage together. But… and this is a big but … compared to the other two bands this evening with their fistfuls of songs that are always imprinted on your brain and you can sing in the shower, this lot simply don’t reach that bar. In spite of some superb musicianship and a great stage presence having a great set of songs is, for me, a crucial component in distinguishing a good rock band from a truly exceptional one. However, Eddie Clarke’s greatest moment of the night is yet to come.

Fastway setlist:
Misunderstood
All Fired Up
Another Day
Deliver Me
Telephone
Heft!
Feel Me, Touch Me (Do Anything You Want)
Easy Livin’

http://www.fastwayofficial.com/site/

By the time Saxon come on at around 9pm every last square inch of floorspace in the Shepherds Bush Empire is completely rammed. I like being part of a sell-out audience in a packed venue but this bordered on being too close for comfort. Perhaps it’s a welcome sign that Saxon need to start booking bigger venues for their next tour.

Now Saxon have had their ups and downs over the years. After the initial wave of early 80s success, they never managed to attain the dizzy stadium-filling heights of their contemporaries like Iron Maiden (though personally I think Saxon are by far the superior band). Saxon risked being derided as heavy metal has-beens and written off as a bit of a joke. A much publicised documentary in 2007 saw them at constant loggerheads with Harvey Goldsmith as he took up the challenge to help restore the band’s popularity. But whether the band took on board any of Goldsmith’s advice or not it inevitably lead them to reflect on their music and their career. There’s been a significant change around in fortunes since and their bloody-minded determination to carry on serving their old fans as well as looking to gain a next generation of new ones has seen them through.

The album currently being toured Battering Ram stands up well against any of their early classics and it’s great to hear the album’s title track open the set. The album has been played and played on my stereo and so songs like The Devil’s Footprint and Queen of Hearts have become familiar old friends to me now and sit well in the set alongside earlier material. The last third of the set, however, is a non-stop run-through of those early Saxon classics: And The Bands Played On, Dallas 1PM, Wheels of Steel . It’s briefly broken for one of those ‘need-to-be-there’ moments when Eddie Clarke returns to the stage for a cover of his old band’s Ace of Spades as Saxon’s very special tribute to Lemmy Kilmister. Then it’s on with more timeless classics: 747 (Strangers in the Night), Denim and Leather and Princess of the Night.

Saxon in 2016 deliver the old material as good as they ever did, produce truly stunning new material and perform with a confidence and authority as befits one of British rock’s truly great bands. Just book a bigger venue next time, Biff!

Saxon setlist:
Battering Ram
Let Me Feel Your Power
Sacrifice
Solid Ball of Rock
Never Surrender
Crusader
Stand Up and Be Counted
The Devil’s Footprint
Strong Arm of the Law
Killing Ground
The Eagle Has Landed
Queen of Hearts
And the Bands Played On
Dallas 1 PM
Wheels of Steel
Ace of Spades (with Eddie Clarke)
747 (Strangers in the Night)
Denim and Leather
Princess of the Night

http://www.saxon747.com/

saxon-r800-310516

Related review:
Saxon – album review: Battering Ram

Diggeth at The Carlisle, Hastings 15/7/16

The Carlisle pub in Hastings is the town’s premier rock venue, hosting a range of up and coming bands, more established (yet not major league) acts as well as various tributes to some of the big name bands (usually all free). After a trawl around Hastings old town with an old friend, we made it into the Carlisle just as the night’s headline band, Diggeth took to the stage. If you’re not familiar with a band already it’s sometimes a bit of a hit and miss affair: you are never going to like everything after all. But this band immediately grabbed my attention.

Diggeth are a Dutch three-piece who’ve been around for about a decade now. Loud, crunching bass, powerful drumming, some great guitar riffs and those austere slightly Germanic-sounding, slightly American-sounding vocals that Dutch rock singers can pull off so well. But, very importantly, they had some really, really good songs, too. It’s all original material but pays enough dues to heavy metal and hard rock heritage to give some of the songs the immediate air of sounding like would-be classic rock staples. In fact it’s a sure sign of musicians making an impact on their audience if a band that you’ve never heard of before, play you songs that you’ve never heard of before and get you enthusiastically humming and moving along to them while at the same time still sounding fresh and original.

In terms of influences the band cite AC/DC to Metallica to Michael Schenker to Slayer, as well as many more. I was certainly impressed enough by Diggeth to fork out a fiver for their CD – Kings of the Underworld, released in 2014. No souvenir purchase that’s soon forgotten about this: I’ve played it at least half a dozen times in the three or four days since I bought it. Songs like the title track ‘Kings of the Underworld’ and ‘See You in Hell’ have already become memorable classics to my ears and this is a band I’m certainly pleased to have stumbled across.

https://www.facebook.com/Diggethmusic/#

13770285_10154330639651449_4872438845177996960_n

Metal: album review – Judas Priest ‘Redeemer of Souls’

After being so impressed with Judas Priest on their recent UK tour, it wasn’t long afterwards that I found myself putting their most recent studio album, 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, on my Christmas present list.

When the album was being launched guitarist, Glenn Tipton assured that fans that they need not expect something wildly experimental. “Sometimes in the past we may have come under fire for being too adventurous musically…so we have listened,” he claimed. “From start to finish, ‘Redeemer of Souls’ is 18 songs of pure classic Priest metal.” Well, I have only got the bog-standard 13 track version rather than the deluxe version, but other than that I’m not going to argue.

The album opens in strong form with Dragonaut which pretty much contains everything you want from a classic metal album, crunching guitars, tuneful melodic solos, thunderous vocals and an accessible, well-written tune you can sing along to.  Other memorable, stand-out tracks on the album include the title track, Redeemer of Souls, as well as Down In Flames and Metalizer. But if truth be told there’s not a weak track on the album. This is the first album with new guitarist, Ritchie Faulkner, who replaced founder member KK Downing. But as was also evident on their recent tour he certainly “gets” the Judas Priest sound.

In spite of having a reputation of purveyors of fearsome uncompromising metal, however, Judas Priest have also been able to pull the odd nicely-judged hard-rock ballad out of the hat. Beginning Of The End, the last track on the album, does the job beautifully.

After so much confusion around the band’s future only a few years ago, Redeemer Of Souls is a real return to form for Judas Priest. The line-up refreshed. The band rejuvinated. And with a clear sense of musical direction apparent from the outset. This is an album that stands up well against the band’s classics of the late 70s and early 80s.

Released July 2014

http://judaspriest.com/home/

Redeemer-of-souls-album-cover-art-1280

Previous review: Judas Priest at Brixton Academy 

Judas Priest at Brixton Academy 1/12/15

The evening kicked off with excellent support from Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. And Schenker clearly understood the golden rule of being an effective support act: unlike the headliners that everyone has paid to see, hit the crowd between the eyes with your best song first – don’t save it ’til the end! So we begin the night with a cracking version of Doctor Doctor. It couldn’t have been a better start to the evening in an absolutely jam-packed Brixton Academy.

I first discovered Judas Priest as a teenager back in the early 80s not long after British Steel came out and the band can still be heard regularly blasting out from my speakers. But as a gay heavy metal fan I can’t also fail to mention my personal admiration for lead singer Rob Halford. In a genre that always seemed so resolutely heterosexual, Halford’s decision to be open about being gay back in 1998 was a big moment both for him personally and for heavy metal generally. Seeing his total command of an adoring crowd tonight it’s hard to believe that Halford’s sexuality could ever even have been an issue. But there must be many a teenage rock fan across the globe who can personally thank Rob Halford for demonstrating so visibly that, yes, it’s ok to be both gay and like heavy metal. Cheers Rob.

Halford is not a frontman who goes for a lot of between-song chat and audience banter but, boy, does he know how to work a crowd: mass chanting, crowd sing-alongs, every stage movement eliciting a multitude of fists in the air and more costume changes than Elton John, Halford knows how to squeeze every last drop of adulation from an audience. His vocal range is as wide and as powerful as it always was. He growls the lowest of the low notes and howls the highest of the high notes just as he always did. It’s a performance of utter brilliance in every respect, as is that of the whole band. The unmistakeable twin lead guitars are as powerful as ever, with Glen Tipton being joined by new guitarist Richie Falkner (who replaced Priest veteran, KK Downing, in 2011).

And let’s not forget the songs of course. They deliver a great mix of songs representing different eras of the band’s history, the relevant album cover for each song flashing up on the giant screens on stage beforehand, fuelling anticipation of what might be coming next. We get some new songs from last year’s album, Redeemer of Souls, of course – the first with new guitarist, Falkner. But as we move through the hour-and-a-half set, more and more of the unforgettable classics of the 80s emerge: Breaking The Law, Hell Bent for Leather, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.

Soon we are nearing to a close, however, with the crowd going wild to a high-octane version of Painkiller and a brilliant sing-along Living After Midnight. Always metal. Always Loud. Never just noise. Judas Priest are still on form and are truly still the Metal Gods.

Setlist:
Battle Cry
Dragonaut
Metal Gods
Desert Plains
Victim of Changes
Halls of Valhalla
The Rage
Turbo Lover
Redeemer of Souls
Beyond the Realms of Death
Screaming for Vengeance
Breaking the Law
Hell Bent for Leather
The Hellion
Electric Eye
You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
Painkiller
Living After Midnight

http://judaspriest.com/

2015-12-01 20.36.07

Metal: album review – Motörhead ‘Bad Magic’

Bad Magic, Motörhead’s 22nd studio album in the band’s 40th year, opens in classic Motörhead fashion with Victory Or Die. All the essential ingredients are there: the fast and furious rumbling bass, the hoary, growled vocals, the blinding guitar solo, coupled with a memorable rock ‘n’ roll tune and some world-weary seen it all, done it all rock ‘n’ roll lyrics. It’s a strong opener. For sure, Lemmy’s voice might sound a bit more aged than previously. But given his well-publicised health problems in recent years it’s something of a miracle that this album sounds as good as it does. Many of the songs wouldn’t sound at all out of place on some of the albums from late 70s/early 80s “heyday” period. Thunder & Lightning and Electricity are both stand-out tracks for me in that vein, as well as the aforementioned Victory Or Die.

It’s not all completely predicatable, though. Two tracks depart significantly from the tried and tested Motorhead formula. Firstly, we have Till The End, a slow number that has Lemmy spelling out his life philosophy with some suitably heavy but melodic backing. And we also have a cover of the Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil. “Motörhead sing the Stones” could have sounded a bit gimmicky but, surprisingly, it comes off. A wall of thunderous drum sound provides an atmospheric backdrop for Lemmy to let rip on the old Jagger/Richard classic.

Did I need another studio album by Motörhead? If truth be told this is the first new studio album of theirs I’ve bought in years. But admiration for how long they’ve kept going twinned with a realisation that this is a band almost certainly in the final stages of its long career drove me to buy it. I’ve not been disappointed.

Released: August 2015

http://www.imotorhead.com/

motorhead-bad-magic

Previous review: Motörhead at Hyde Park 

Metal: album review – Saxon ‘Battering Ram’

Whatever the genre of music and however talented the musicians, without strong tunes and hummable melodies no band is going to make much of an impact on me. And that goes as much for my heavy metal as anything else. It’s one of the reasons that attracted me to Saxon in the first place, thirty-odd years ago.

And while there’s not necessarily the next Wheels of Steel or 747 (Strangers in the Night) on this album, there are certainly some strong and memorable songs here. Title track Battering Ram is a classic slice of Saxon and a strong opener.. Biff Byford’s voice is as powerful as ever and the album rocks hard as you would expect. But there is light and shade here, too. Proggy, choral backing vocals on tracks like Queen of Hearts add texture and atmosphere to the hard, driving guitar riffs.

Kingdon of the Cross, Byford’s poignant reflection on the slaughter of the First World War is another stand-out track on the album. “Comrades of their different coats, Came to fight and die, From all sides they stood and fought, And fell beneath the sky”. Apart from the choruses this track is delivered entirely in spoken word. That may sound strange for a Saxon track, but it works. In fact, Byford has such a wonderfully characterful speaking voice you could almost imagine him doing the voiceover for a BBC4 documentary.

Any some-time fan of Saxon who feared this is a band who had lost their way years ago should get this album and have those fears immediately dispelled. And don’t just take my word for it. “This is cool. What’s this music?” asked a friend’s 15 year old daughter when her and her mum popped round just as I was playing the album for the first time. Biff would be pleased, I’m sure.

Released: October 2015

http://www.saxon747.com/

saxon-batteringram-cover2015