A recent musical discovery for me has been West Midlands-based doom metal outfit Alunah, via their latest album “Solennial”. The band was formed in 2006 by vocalist Sophie Day along with her husband David Day (guitars), Jake Mason (drums) and Andy Barnett (bass).
Barnett had been replaced by Gareth Imber by the time the group’s debut album “Call Of Avernus” was recorded and released in 2010 and was to appear on second album “White Hoarhound” (2012) as well before departing and being himself replaced by current bassist Daniel Burchmore. “Awakening The Forest”, the band’s third album, surfaced in late 2014.
March 2017 witnessed the release album of number four, the aforementioned “Solennial” – the groups’ first with label Svart Records (home of Trees Of Eternity and Jess & The Ancient Ones amongst others). The record was recorded at Skyhammer Studios by producer Chris Fielding who has previously worked with artists including Winterfylleth, Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Electric Wizard.
As with so many bands within the doom metal scene, Alunah clearly take inspiration from a fellow West Midlands act – the rather well-known Black Sabbath. However, whilst other groups of their ilk are content to use said inspiration as a template from which they seldom deviate Alunah have over the course of their previous three records sought to expand their own sonic palette.
“Solennial” begins with a gentle and soothing “The Dying Soil”, as a cascading guitar part and barely-there drums lay a backing for Sophie Day’s delicate delivery of lyrics concerning the transition from Autumn to Winter. This introduction gathers in eerie intensity until coming to an abrupt conclusion as the fuzzy guitar tones of David Day usher in “Light Of Winter”, a song that shows the band’s pagan leanings as it concerns Alban Arthan – a Druidic festival at the Winter Solstice.
“Feast Of Torches”, the second longest track on the album at a little over seven minutes, has more variety within its duration. This, and the vocal delivery brought to mind the sound of Blood Ceremony to me. This is underscored really by the psychedelic passages that occur throughout the album.
“The Reckoning Of Time” has a fluid and melodic guitar solo amongst some nice light and shade before the monolithic riffing returns with the fabulous “Fire Of Thornborough Henge” – a song inspired by the fire festival of Beltane being celebrated at Thornborough Henge, a monument in Yorkshire spanning built approximately five thousand years ago.
The next number “Petrichor” (which means the earthy scent produced with the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather) is another track with a nice balance of light and shade but is itself eclipsed by the rather good “Lugh’s Assembly” which addresses some Irish mythology concerning the pagan God named Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu who seems to have also been Queen of the Fir Bolg. Whatever the story it’s a great tune!
Finally we have a cover of “A Forest” – originally recorded by The Cure way back in 1980. The intro riff here is a slowed down version of the original which retains a gothic rock quality but that quickly gives away to doom riffing at funereal pace and a masterful reinterpretation of a song that – as with many of those preceding it – is concerned with the natural world around us, specifically forestry, and ancient lore.
Performance-wise, the drums and bass of Mason and Burchmore are perfectly suited to this material, underpinning everything with unfussed economy, with the spotlight falling onto the two Days with the huge riffs providing a great counterpoint to the often ethereal quality of the lead vocal delivery.
Doom metal certainly isn’t for everyone, but Alunah’s sound is undoubtedly at the more accessible end of the spectrum with the aforementioned comparison to Blood Ceremony indicating that they are closer to that band’s doomy psychedelia than, say, the heavy intensity of Electric Wizard and I believe that most metal fans would find a lot to appreciate with this record…“Solennial” tracklist:
1. The Dying Soil / 2. Light Of Winter / 3. Feast Of Torches / 4. The Reckoning Of Time / 5. Fire Of Thornborough Henge / 6. Petrichor / 7. Lugh’s Assembly / 8. A Forest
A little over a week ago number two son and I headed off to the first concert together since catching Cradle Of Filth in Bristol getting on for two years ago, as many of the shows that I go to aren’t really his cup of tea. I think that whilst he credits me with his taste in music – particularly the really heavy stuff – he doesn’t have the appetite for experiencing some of the bluesier or lighter acts that cross my radar.
This one, however, was right up his street. San Francisco thrash legends Death Angel headlining at the intimate surroundings of Hobos in the Welsh town of Bridgend as part of their European tour that seems to be mainly made up of festival slots and low key club shows like this one.
We found the 150 capacity venue upstairs through a door between two shops in the main shopping area of the town. There’s a bar area where a merchandise table was set up and then through a door into the performance area, where we arrived as the first act of the evening, Welsh death metal band Sodomized Cadaver were getting started. The space was, even at this early stage, fairly packed so we took up a position close to the nearest PA stack situated in slightly to the side of the stage front.
Neither of us were remotely familiar with the band or their material but were both impressed by what we saw. The band started life back in 2013, and these days drummer Gavin Davies is the sole remaining founder member. Completing the line-up are bassist / vocalist Charlie Rodgers and diminutive guitarist Jordan Roberts.
The three-piece outfit got an enthusiastic response – one chap headbanging in front of the stage like his life depended on it – from the audience for numbers with typical death metal titles such as “Half Dead Burial” and the delightfully-named “Lords Of Rape”. There was a nice mixture of pace on display from the fast and frenetic death metal to more doom-like passages. For whatever reason the group had to leave out the final two tracks of their planned set – whether they were late starting or were just overrunning their allotted times. Regardless, the band gave is a good start to the evening’s entertainment…
1. Chapel Of Unrest / 2. Vampire Of Düsseldorf / 3. Martyrdom / 4. BKTC / 5. Skull Fracture Massacre / 6. Torture / 7. Rapid Guttural Disfigurement / 8. Lords Of Rape / 9. Half Dead Burial
1 and 4 origin unknown but perhaps as 8 / 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9 originally from “Verses Of Putridity” (2016) / 6 originally from “Vorarephilia” (2014) / 8 from yet to be released “Morbid Tales Of Mutilation” (2017)
After a short break and equipment changeover it was the turn of main tour support act Warbringer. Formed in 2004, Wabringer are a thrash metal band from Los Angeles who have had a relatively high turn over of members in the subsequent thirteen years. Alongside founding members John Kevill (vocals) and Adam Carroll (guitars) are Chase Becker (guitars), Carlos Cruz (drums) and Jessie Sanchez (bass), the last two of which have only been with the group since last year.
Despite that the group’s performance was tight and polished. On tour to promote their fifth album “Woe To The Vanquished” the band didn’t look like one that had nearly imploded completely following the previous album and tour cycle a couple of years ago.
Of the “big four” thrash bands I suppose my initial impression was that Warbringer have to most in common with Slayer sound-wise. Our position close to the PA stack meant that whilst Becker certainly looked skilled with his guitar we were only really able to hear Carroll’s contributions to the onslaught. Kevill got the now-expanded crowd involved and a mini circle-pit going too and I suspect the group will have made a good few new fans with their performance in Wales.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what the band’s setlist for the night was, and my direct request to them has gone unanswered, so below is my best guess, using the tracks played two days earlier in Wolverhampton…
1. Silhouettes / 2. Woe To The Vanquished / 3. Remain Violent / 4. Shellfire / 5. Descending Blade / 6. Shattered Like Glass / 7. Hunter-Seeker / 8. Living In A Whirlwind / 9. Combat Shock
1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 originally from “Woe To The Vanquished” (2017) / 6 originally from “Worlds Torn Asunder” (2011) / 7 originally from “IV : Empires Collapse” (2014) / 8 originally from “Waking Into Nightmares” (2009) / 9 originally from “War Without End” (2008)
Finally, as 9:20pm came around, the main attraction appeared. Drummer Will Carroll took to his stool first, followed onto the stage by bassist Damien Sisson, rhythm guitarist Ted Aguilar and band founder Rob Cavestany (lead guitar) and lastly long-serving vocalist Mark Osegueda as the group launched straight into the one-two of a snippet of “The Ultra Violence” leading into “Evil Priest” – both from their 1987 debut album.
Immediately it was apparent – and this is no disrespect to what we’d witnessed before – that Death Angel are a class act. The sound was really good (though rather loud where we were standing. It would be two days before I could hear normally again after the show was over!) and you could see that whilst these men were seasoned pros they also clearly love what they do.
One could perhaps argue that Osegueda laboured the themes of “unity in metal” and “being true to yourself” etc. and could have arguably left out some of the talking – particularly the over-long band introductions – but he can certainly belt the songs out with the best of them! (Also number two son was more than a little chuffed to have fist-bumped the man twice during the show).
I found myself watching Cavestany most as the gig progressed, impressed by his mix of technical prowess and flair for showmanship as he cranked out a succession of excellent thrash metal riffs and blinding solos in a set showcasing tracks from last years’s excellent “The Evil Divide” record as well as a selection from the majority of their back catalogue releases and a great Black Sabbath cover too.
As with the recent Blood Ceremony show in Bristol, which was in a similarly small venue, I can’t help wondering how bands can play gigs like these. Assuming this one was a sell-out, at £12.50 a ticket (excluding costs) that gives a total take of £1,875.00. This is to pay for venue hire, coach and truck hire, PA, crew wages, living costs etc. even without the three sets of band members getting anything. With just four shows in the UK in four days – covering London, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland – its hard to see the artists making much out of it financially. And as all four were small venues this trip is clearly not about fame and fortune – its about dedicated metal musicians reaching the fans who love the music. So, on that front this show must be considered a huge success…
1. The Ultra-Violence / Evil Priest / 2. Claws In So Deep / 3. Father Of Lies / 4. Caster Of Shame / 5. Thrown To The Wolves / 6. Seemingly Endless Time / 7. Breakaway / 8. Lost / 9. Falling Off The Edge Of The World / 10. Kill As One / 11. The Moth
1 and 10 originally from “The Ultra-Violence” (1987) / 2 originally from “Relentless Retribution” (2010) / 3, 7, 8 and 11 originally from “The Evil Divide” (2016) / 4 originally from “The Dream Calls For Blood” (2013) / 5 originally from “The Art Of Dying” (2004) / 6 originally from “Act III” (1990) / 9 cover of Black Sabbath song from “Mob Rules” (1981)
The latest concert outing saw another trip to Bristol – probably the closest big city that has a reasonably regular supply of decent acts appearing. This time it was to a new (to me) venue, and quite likely the smallest venue that I’ve attended a show at to date, the Louisiana, to see psychedelic occult rock band Blood Ceremony on their latest UK jaunt in support of latest album “Lord Of Misrule”.
The show took place in the small upstairs room (capacity just 140) at the pub. The event was billed as a sell-out by the promoters, but when I went up and presented my ticket ten minutes before show-time I had doubts about this as I found myself alone in the room with just a set-up-and-ready-to-go stage area for company!
Feeling more than a little self-conscious I took a photo of the stage and then chose a vantage point along the side of the room, propping myself up on the bar / shelf that ran along the wall as a few other folk began to troop into the darkened room. One downside of this positioning was that as the room filled up I had a less clear view of the low stage and was unable to get any decent photos – hence all the remaining piccies used here were found out there in internet land.
When tickets had gone on sale the support act hadn’t been announced and although heavy rockers Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell were mentioned on the tour poster they weren’t down as appearing at the UK dates in London and Bristol. Shortly before the show date I discovered that the support on the night would be London stoner rock band Steak.
Bang on 7:00pm the four members of the band – vocalist Chris “Kip” Haley, guitarist Reece Tee, James Cameron (bass) and Sammy Forway (drums) – made their way through the expanding audience (the dressing room area is at the opposite end of the room to the stage) onto the stage and launched into riff-heavy opening track “Pisser” from their 2014 debut album “Slab City”.
Numbers such as “King Lizard” and “Overthrow” from their new album “No God To Save” left me with a definite sense of Soundgarden being channelled and Kip himself struck me as being a mixture of the aforementioned Soundgarden’s late Chris Cornell, Jim Morrison (The Doors) and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) – which is certainly no bad thing.
A band that are often compared to stoner rock legends Kyuss, Steak have bags full of heavy and groovy riffs being belted out of Tee’s fuzz-drenched Les Paul and went down pretty well with the crowd. Kip mentioned that they’d had a five-hour journey to play the gig, and with a slot of just thirty minutes I hope that they felt it was worth it – I’m sure most of those who witnessed them first-hand did. Impressive stuff…
1. Pisser / 2. King Lizard / 3. Living Like A Rat / 4. Liquid Gold / 5. Hanoid / 6. Overthrow
1, 4 and 5 originally from “Slab City” (2014) / 2, 3 and 6 originally from “No God To Save” (2017)
After Steak had dismantled their gear and carried it through the thinned-out audience (many of whom had disappeared downstairs for liquid refreshment) the members of psychedelic / occult rockers Blood Ceremony and their one roadie / driver (I think) ensured that their gear was ready for their own set, which began at 8:00pm.
By that time the room was absolutely packed and the reception afforded to the headliners was more than a little enthusiastic! The focal point of the band is undoubtedly vocalist / keyboardist / flautist Alia O’Brien, and with her long dark tresses, make-up, velvet catsuit and witchy hand gestures she certainly looked the part of mistress of occultic ceremonies!
Following opener “Old Fires” the band turn to classic “Goodbye Gemini” from 2013’s superb “The Eldritch Dark” album – an album that is justly very well represented tonight, accounting for five of the thirteen songs aired. “Drawing Down The Moon” is up next and is, like “Goodbye Gemini” a textbook example of the group’s potent mixture of psychedelia, groovy 70s riffs and O’Brien’s vocalising interspersed with evocative keyboard work, with flute being prominent too in the earlier track.
The next two tracks are among my favourites from last year’s record before the Black Sabbath worshipping “Return To Forever” which boasts more flute and some great axe work from guitarist Sean Kennedy and, like everything the band did, received a fantastic response from the hairy rockers, gothic girls and assorted others – so many of whom knew every word and sang along – filling the room. Unlike other shows I’ve been to of late there was precious little chatter amongst the audience too.
“Lord Summerisle” was book-ended by a couple of songs from “Living With The Ancients”, the album that introduced me to this great band. Bass player Lucas Gadke took the mic for “Lord Summerisle”, which is surely a track that would fit nicely amongst the soundtrack for “The Wicker Man”, the film that inspired it.
The main portion of the set was closed by the brilliant “Witchwood”. Once the initial guitar riff and keyboard atmospherics had given way to the groove of the song the room resembled a scene from some cool 60s horror movie where a club full of people get down to the infectious sounds of the house band. In fact a good number of folk had been grooving throughout, illustrating just how accessible the group’s songs are and the reaction that it provokes, as whilst Blood Ceremony might just be the perfect band for a 60s / 70s Hammer Horror type film they are also very much for today and have clearly made a connection with the audience.
Rather than trying to make their way through the audience only to return for an encore the quartet (completed by drummer Michael Carrillo) elected to remain on stage and get straight into the final two numbers of the evening, “I’m Coming With You” from their debut record and finally the magnificent “The Magician”. A (black) magical and spellbinding performance to be sure and a band that I’d love to see go onto bigger and better things in the near future…
1. Old Fires / 2. Goodbye Gemini / 3. Drawing Down The Moon / 4. Loreley / 5. Half Moon Street / 6. Return To Forever / 7. My Demon Brother / 8. Lord Summerisle / 9. Oliver Haddo / 10. Lord Of Misrule / 11. Witchwood / 12. I’m Coming With You / 13. The Magician
1, 4, 5 and 10 originally from “Lord Of Misrule” (2016) / 2, 3, 8, 11 and 13 originally from “The Eldritch Dark” (2013) / 6 and 12 originally from “Blood Ceremony” (2008) / 7 and 9 originally from “Living With The Ancients” (2011)
Originally hailing from Toronto, Canada, psychedelic occult rock band Blood Ceremony were formed sometime in 2006 by guitarist Sean Kennedy, who recruited vocalist / flautist / organist Alia O’Brien, bassist Chris Landon and drummer Andrew Haust.
The band’s name was apparently taken from the English translation of the Spanish horror movie about the Countess Elizabeth Báthory from 1973 titled “Ceremonia Sangrienta”. This is rather appropriate in two ways. Firstly the band’s music is firmly rooted in the early Seventies, the likes of which you may have found on the legendary Vertigo label (particularly early Black Sabbath) as well occult rockers Black Widow and the great Jethro Tull, the latter thanks to O’Brien’s flute work. Secondly the band’s lyrical stance is concerned with all manner of occult themes – witchcraft, magick, devil worship etc.
The group’s debut album “Blood Ceremony” was released in 2008 and was followed in 2011 by the record through which I originally discovered the band, their second album “Living With The Ancients”. By this time bassist Landon had been replaced by current bass player Lucas Gadke.
A further line-up change occurred prior to the recording of album number three “The Eldritch Dark” (2013), with Michael Carrillo taking over the drum stool from Haust. That record, influenced in part by classic horror film “The Wicker Man”, had a much less overt Black Sabbath influence than the first two, and continued the improvement in the band’s sound and material.
Now, following lead single “Old Fires”, comes the group’s fourth album – and second with the line-up of Kennedy, O’Brien, Gadke and Carrillo – titled “Lord Of Misrule”. The album kicks off with a fabulous seven-minute-plus song “The Devil’s Widow” which contains all that is great about this band. Doom metal style guitar riffing, progressive twists and turns, folky flute playing to rival that of the aforementioned Jethro Tull and a nicely sinister vocal delivery from the frontwoman – not to mention that it’s really catchy too.
Chief songwriter Kennedy has done a marvellous job here, as there is not one duff track and the album feels like a natural progression from the last one. Gadke and Carrillo provide solid foundations, but it is the material and guitar playing of Kennedy and the multi-talented performances of O’Brien that really give this band their magical retro-inspired sound.
Personal highlights on the album include “Loreley”, the acoustic “Things Present, Things Past”, the brilliant “The Weird Of Finistere”, “Half Moon Street” and “The Devil’s Widow”. The band have stayed true to their early Seventies vibe and pagan sensibilities whilst also managing to broaden their sonic scope. A great album that really appeals to my love of Seventies progressive and folk rock, great songwriting and, of course, matters related to paganism and the occult. Fabulous stuff and highly recommended…
“Lord Of Misrule” tracklist:
1. The Devil’s Widow / 2. Loreley / 3. The Rogue’s Lot / 4. Lord Of Misrule / 5. Half Moon Street / 6. The Weird Of Finistere / 7. Flower Phantoms / 8. Old Fires / 9. Things Present, Things Past
Legendary British heavy metal band Black Sabbath have been with us since 1968. Formed in Birmingham by guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and drummer Bill Ward, the blues rock band was originally known as Earth. At the end of that year Iommi left briefly to join Jethro Tull, before returning to Earth early in 1969.
The band changed their name to Black Sabbath, apparently inspired by the Mario Bava film of the same name, and took a new musical direction. A recording contract followed and their eponymous debut album was one of the first albums to be released by the famous Vertigo record label.
Iommi has been an ever-present member since then, and indeed the original foursome lasted until 1977 when Osborne quit, only to return the following year for the “Never Say Die!” album. However in 1979 he was shown the door.
Numerous musicians have graced the ranks of the band since then, with perhaps the most notable being vocalist Ronnie James Dio (1979-1982, 1991-1992 and 2006-2010 – when the band traded under the moniker Heaven & Hell playing only Dio-era material (although they used the Black Sabbath name for the three new songs recorded for the 2007 “The Dio Years” compilation album). The other recording vocalists have been Ian Gillan (1982-1984), Glenn Hughes (1985-1986) and Tony Martin (1987-1991 and 1993-1997).
Osbourne himself served as vocalist from 1969-1977, 1978-1979, 1997-2006 and from 2011 to date, Butler has provided bass guitar from 1969-1985, 1990-1994 and 1997 to date, whilst Ward’s tenures were from 1969-1980, 1982-1985, 1994-1997, 1998, 2006 and 2011-2012.
The original foursome reunited in late 2011 after Heaven & Hell had ended as a result of Dio’s death from cancer in 2010. Unfortunately, for reasons that the four don’t seem to be able to agree on even the cause of, Ward pulled out of the reunion in early 2012 and was replaced on tour by drummer Tommy Clufetos who’d worked with Osbourne on his 2010 solo album “Scream”. Keyboardist / rhythm guitarist Adam Wakeman, who also appeared on “Scream” also appeared on tour.
When Iommi, Butler and Osbourne entered the studio in the summer of 2012, however, they enlisted the services of former Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk as a session player.
The resulting record, titled “13” surfaced in 2013, and was the band’s nineteenth studio record and the first full album of new Black Sabbath material since 1995’s “Forbidden”.
A big hit, “13” was planned to be followed up by a new album in 2015. However, it has since transpired that the three founding members could not agree on doing so with Iommi laying the blame on Butler, stating that he had “…so many riffs. I wrote a whole load of stuff for another album and we met up in L.A. but the others… well, Geezer didn’t particularly want to do another album…”, whilst Osbourne for his part said “…I’m 67 in December, it would take three or four years to write and record an album,and so we decided just to do a farewell tour…” Given that “13” was recorded in the space of six months this latter claim seems a little suspect. Nonetheless, the band are nowworking their way through their final “The End” world tour.
For those of us who wanted to hear more after the excellent “13” album there is good news. Whilst the deluxe version of “13” boasted twelve tracks (as opposed to the regular edition’s eight), it turns out that the band actually recorded sixteen. And so it is that the remaining four tracks have been released as an EP, also called “The End”, with the addition of four live tracks.
So, how does it hold up and is it a fitting end to the band’s long career? Well opener “Season Of The Dead” is seven-plus minutes of excellence. Iommi’s riffing is peerless, Osbourne’s multi-tracked vocals are spot on and Butler and Wilk provide a solid and thunderous rhythm section. There are some tasty martial rhythms in the guitar and drum parts too. Why this didn’t make it onto “13” is a complete mystery!
“Cry All Night” is just under seven minutes of doom metal at its finest and “Take Me Home” features a nice acoustic guitar solo from Iommi on top of another of his trademark riffs.
Meanwhile “Isolated Man” is blessed with an incredibly catchy riff that dominates the final minute of the track, following another great Iommi solo. I could have happily listened to that riff for another minute or two at the end to be honest!
Of the four live tracks, the near-ten-minute “God Is Dead?” is sonically poor – bootleg quality really – and sadly highlights the deficiencies in Osbourne’s live vocal abilities these days.
“Under The Sun” sounds better, as do the final two tracks, though Osbourne still struggles. Only one of these four songs, “God Is Dead?”, made it onto the band’s 2013 live album “Live… Gathered In Their Masses” so it’s nice to have versions of two more “13” tracks performed live, but realistically it’s only going to be the four studio songs that receive repeat plays here in the shadows.
So, half of it holds up to “13” – even betters some of it – and that same half is a fitting end to the Black Sabbath story. It’s just a shame about the second half. Shame the three of them couldn’t have agreed to record a proper final studio release, as I expect that would have been a far better epitaph to this great band…
“The End” tracklist:
1. Season Of The Dead / 2. Cry All Night / 3. Take Me Home / 4. Isolated Man / 5. God Is Dead? / 6. Under The Sun / 7. End Of The Beginning / 8. Age Of Reason
1 – 4 recorded during “13” sessions (2012/13) / 5, 7 & 8 originally from “13” (2013) / 6 originally from “Vol. 4” (1972)
American progressive rock band Spock’s Beard were formed in 1992 by brothers Neal Morse (lead vocals / keyboards) and Alan Morse (guitars), together with drummer Nick D’Virgilio and bassist John Ballard.
Following a change of bass players to Dave Meros the band released their debut album “The Light” in 1995, after which the band’s line-up expanded to include additional keyboardist Ryo Okumoto.
This configuration of Spock’s Beard released a further five studio albums together up to and including the double concept album “Snow” in 2002. Neal Morse’s conversion to Christianity prompted him the leave the band immediately after the release of “Snow” to enable him to fully express his new-found faith through solo work, with D’Virgilio taking on lead vocals as well as drums.
Four further albums followed until D’Virgilio himself quit the band in late 2011. He was replaced with new lead vocalist Ted Leonard and drummer Jimmy Keegan and the revised line-up released their first album together, titled “Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep”, in April 2013.
August 2015 saw the release of the band’s twelfth studio album, and second by the current line-up, “The Oblivion Particle”.
This is one of those albums that isn’t suited to many of the youth of today, not being something disposable that can be audibly consumed in bite size chunks. No, as with all good progressive rock this needs to be listened to in its entirety, and a good few times, before the various layers of what’s going on here really begin to reveal themselves.
That isn’t to say that this music is not accessible – it certainly is as there as some great melodies to be found here – but it is complex as challenging as well as engaging and entertaining.
Opener “Tides Of Time” is a case in point. Clear vocals, nice harmonies, memorable melodies plus complex structures, multiple layers of keyboards and guitars etc. Really, it’s the most “traditional” Spock’s Beard track here.
“Minion” is more of the same, but with an updated approach. The guitar riffs are heavier on this record, but the band haven’t strayed into progressive metal territory, there’s still plenty of light to go with the shade!
Instrumentally, as well as the usual guitars we find Alan Morse dabbling with autoharp, banjolele, electric sitar and mandolin, broadening the sonic palette further. For further variety, drummer Keegan provides the lead vocal on “Bennett Builds A Time Machine”.
There is plenty of excellent music on this album, but as things stand my favourite tracks are the epic ten minute “To Be Free Again”, “A Better Way To Fly”, “Tides Of Time” and “Disappear”. The only reservation I have is over the bonus track, a cover of the Black Sabbath classic “Iron Man”, here sung by bassist Dave Meros, which seems rather superfluous and out of place to be honest.
Of the main album proper, however, I have no such reservations. This is modern progressive rock at it’s best whilst still firmly rooted in the classics of the seventies. Granted, if progressive rock’s not your thing, then “The Oblivion Particle” isn’t likely to change your mind, but if it is then this album really is something quite special.
“The Oblivion Particle” tracklist:
1. Tides Of Time / 2. Minion / 3. Hell’s Not Enough / 4. Bennett Built A Time Machine / 5. Get Out While You Can / 6. A Better Way To Fly / 7. The Center Line / 8. To Be Free Again / 9. Disappear / 10. Iron Man
Recently I looked back at my favourite albums from 1981. Having previously also looked at 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987, I guess it’s time to start filling in the missing years from that decade in music.
So, back to the beginning today with 1980. As with any other year previous to 1981, which is when my love of music really began, the majority of the music here was discovered in retrospect…
AC/DC “Back In Black”
The Australian band’s seventh studio album, released in the summer of 1980, this was the first record with Brian Johnson on vocals following the death of his predecessor Bon Scott in 1979.
Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the record was to be a massive success and is one of the highest selling albums in history. Two tracks were released as singles in the UK and US – “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back In Black” itself – both of which were top 40 hits, whilst the album featured very strong material in the shape of “Hells Bells”, “Shoot To Thrill”, “Given The Dog A Bone” and “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.
One of the best albums in the AC/DC catalogue, and an excellent hard rock record in anyone’s book.
2. Adam And The Ants “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”
Although “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” was the second album from Adam And The Ants, following 1979’s “Dirk Wears White Sox”, this was the record that saw the band gaining huge chart success.
The band’s manager Malcolm McLaren recruited Ant’s band members to a new band, Bow Wow Wow, at the start of 1980 leading to a completely new line-up being recruited including guitarist Marco Pirroni who co-wrote all the tracks on the new album with Ant.
The record, released towards the end of the year, showcased the band’s new tribal sound, heavily influenced by the presence of two drummers in the line-up, and spawned three singles that all made it into the UK top three – “Dog Eat Dog”, “Antmusic” and the title track.
Other great tracks on this unique and brilliant record are “Ants Invasion”, “Physical (You’re So)” and “The Human Beings”. An 80s classic.
3. Black Sabbath “Heaven And Hell”
Just like AC/DC, Black Sabbath in 1980 were effectively looking to re-launch themselves with a new singer, in this case following the dismissal of Ozzy Osbourne after eleven months of fruitless recording sessions. New singer Ronnie James Dio, who had previously been in the band Rainbow, brought a powerful and commanding vocal presence to the proceedings and was responsible for all the lyrics on the resulting “Heaven And Hell” album.
The record, which would become the band’s highest charting platter (making the top ten in the UK) was followed by two single releases in “Neon Knights” and “Die Young”, but it’s the album’s title track that is the real highlight here, and was usually extended beyond it’s initial seven minute duration when performed live in concert. Another classic heavy metal record.
4. Dire Straits “Making Movies”
Although vaguely aware of the single “Romeo And Juliet”, which was a hit in early 1981, I don’t think that Dire Straits really came across my radar until sometime around the release of their live 1984 album “Alchemy”.
Nonetheless, “Making Movies” now ranks at number three on my personal Dire Straits chart, behind “Brothers In Arms” and “Love Over Gold”.
A quite cinematic sounding record, “Making Movies” contains the excellent “Tunnel Of Love” and “Skateaway” (both also released as singles) as well as the delicate “Hand In Hand” and uptempo numbers “Expresso Love” and “Solid Rock”. Less vital, for me, is the closing “Les Boys”, a song about gay men performing cabaret in a German disco bar complete with “…leather straps… SS caps… a little S&M…”. That misstep aside, though, great album.
5. Gillan “Glory Road”
Former (and now-current) Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan’s band Gillan (which followed the more jazz rock flavoured Ian Gillan Band) released their third album “Glory Road” in October 1980.
The group had frequent appearances on BBC TV’s “Top Of The Pops” during the early 80s and this record featured two of their singles in “Sleeping On The Job” and “No Easy Way”.
The original vinyl release came with a free second record, titled “For Gillan Fans Only” which contained outtakes and specially recorded material and showcased the band’s humorous side.
On the album proper, my favourite tracks are “Time And Again”, “Nervous”, “On The Rocks”, “No Easy Way” and the brilliant “If You Believe Me”. With the free record this was superb value for money.
6. Iron Maiden “Iron Maiden”
The debut album from the Paul Di’Anno fronted Iron Maiden, this self-titled record contained a number of future classics.
Two top forty hit singles were present, “Sanctuary” and “Running Free”, whilst the title track would become a concert favourite.
“Phantom Of The Opera” – the band’s first long and complex number – was used for a time in advertisements for Duracell batteries and “Charlotte The Harlot” spawned a sequel on 1982’s breakthrough album “The Number Of The Beast”. Although only really hinting at the potential of this now legendary band, and not as good as follow-up “Killers”, this is still a very good debut album.
7. The Police “Zenyatta Mondatta”
Released a year and a day after previous album “Regatta De Blanc”, “Zenyatta Mondatta” was the third album by Sting’s former band The Police. The band, completed by guitarist Andy Summers and drummer extraordinaire Stewart Copeland, played a mixture of rock and reggae with some punk and jazz influences.
This particular album was recorded in Holland within four weeks, a period that also saw the band play concerts in Milton Keynes and Dublin, and they left for the next part of their 1980/1981 world tour on the same day that recording sessions finished!
Despite this, two of the band’s biggest hits came from this record, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and the teaching experience / Lolita-inspired “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”. Other great tracks on this album included “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around”, “Canary In A Coalmine” and “Shadows In The Rain”. One of The Police’s best albums.
8. Saxon “Wheels Of Steel” / “Strong Arm Of The Law”
Cheating slightly here, I suppose, by including two albums as one, but Yorkshire heavy metal band Saxon released their second album “Wheels Of Steel” in May 1980 and follow-up “Strong Arm Of The Law” at the beginning of September 1980. Both albums now form part of the band’s “holy trinity” of albums (together with 1981’s “Denim And Leather”).
“Wheels Of Steel” contained singles “747 (Strangers In The Night)”, “Suzie Hold On” and “Wheels Of Steel” as well as classic “Motorcycle Man” and “See The Light Shining”.
Of the two, however, “Strong Arm Of The Law” is the stronger. Although it only contains one single, the title track, amongst the album tracks there are numerous classics including “Heavy Metal Thunder”, “20,000 Ft.”, “Hungry Years”, “Sixth Form Girls” and the ever excellent “Dallas 1 PM”. A golden era for the band, that’s for sure.
9. Status Quo “Just Supposin’…”
The thirteenth studio album from British rock band Status Quo, “Just Supposin’…” was actually recorded at the same sessions that produced the follow-up, 1981’s “Never Too Late” album.
It was this record, though, that contained the stronger songs. UK top twenty hit singles “Lies”, “Don’t Drive My Car” (those two as a double A side), “What You’re Proposing” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll” (which was released after the “Never Too Late” album) are all present and correct.
In addition there are the quite brilliant album tracks “Run To Mummy”, “Over The Edge” and my personal favourite “The Wild Ones”. Taken together with the subsequent album and those recording sessions were seriously productive, and this is one of my favourite Status Quo albums to this day.
10. Thin Lizzy “Chinatown”
Following 1979’s classic “Black Rose (A Rock Legend)” album, which finally harnessed the excellent Gary Moore in the studio for the band, was never going to be an easy task for Thin Lizzy.
For many the band’s tenth studio outing “Chinatown” is something of a disappointment. Moore had left the band (again) and been replaced by former Pink Floyd touring guitarist Snowy White, whilst keyboards had also been added to the band’s sound.
Having got into the group via 1981’s compilation album “The Adventures Of…” I was already familiar with this album’s two hit singles “Chinatown” and “Killer On The Loose” before obtaining a copy of the album itself.
Although the latter stages of the record is pretty good, it’s probably fair to say that the record’s best material is on side one (as it was in those days) as that contained both singles, the anthemic “We Will Be Strong”, the catchy “Sweetheart” and “Sugar Blues” which featured some brilliant drum work from Brian Downey. So, not the band’s best work, but a Thin Lizzy album is always welcome on the turntable.
That’s my top ten albums of 1980 then. Margaret Thatcher was in her first full calendar year as the Prime Minister in the UK whilst Jimmy Carter was in his final year as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division with the FA Cup going to West Ham. Cinema-wise, top films released included “The Empire Strikes Back”, “9 To 5” and “Airplane!”.
I’m returning today to my occasional top ten albums of the year posts, and to what is probably my favourite decade in music – a period of time that started a few months into my secondary school career and ended when I was a fully fledged grown up – the 1980s.
I’ve already covered five years (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987) so, without further ado, listed alphabetically, these are my favourite ten albums of 1981…
AC/DC “For Those About To Rock”
Released late in the year, this was the first AC/DC album to make it into my collection, having heard the single “Let’s Get It Up”.
Following the monumentally successful “Back In Black” album (released in the summer of 1980) must have been some task, but the band certainly rose to the challenge.
The second single to come from the record was the title track, an epic number with thunderous final section featuring a twenty-one cannon salute – apparently inspired by cannons being fired during the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana which occurred during the recording of the album – and has become a highlight of the band’s live shows.
Other favourites on the record are “Inject The Venom”, “Evil Walks” and “C.O.D.”. An excellent hard rock album.
2. Black Sabbath “Mob Rules”
“Mob Rules” was the second studio album to feature Ronnie James Dio as vocalist and the first to feature new drummer Vinny Appice.
A heavy sounding record than the preceding “Heaven And Hell”, the album contained two hit singles with “Turn Up The Night” making number 37 in the UK and the title track hitting number 46 along with other great tracks like “The Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Voodoo”.
3. Blackfoot “Marauder”
Jacksonville, Florida based southern rock band Blackfoot came to my attention when they released a double pack 7″ featuring the “Dry County” single and a free live single recorded at the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington in August 1981.
The parent album “Marauder” was the last studio release to feature the classic line-up of Rickey Medlocke, Charlie Hargrett, Greg T. Walker and Jakson Spires.
Favourite tracks on this excellent record include “Good Morning”, “Diary Of A Workingman”, “Too Hard To Handle”, “Fly Away” and “Rattlesnake Rock ‘N’ Roller”. The classic live album “Highway Song – Live”, recorded in Europe and released in 1982 would be the last release before the band decided to change their sound to chase chart success, ironically leading to diminishing returns both commercially and artistically – but this album remains a classic of the genre.
4. Def Leppard “High ‘N’ Dry”
The second album from Sheffield hard rock band Def Leppard, “High ‘N’ Dry” saw the group team up with legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange for the first time and start to show the qualities that would break the band into the big time with 1983’s “Pyromania” and 1987’s “Hysteria” albums.
Two singles were released to promote the album, “Let It Go” and “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” – the latter became a minor hit when issued in remixed form in 1984 and was covered in 2002 by pop singer Mariah Carey.
Also featured on “High ‘N’ Dry” are the great album tracks “Another Hit And Run”, “No No No”, “Lady Strange” and the instrumental “Switch 625”.
5. Duran Duran “Duran Duran”
Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album was released in the summer of 1981, having been preceded by singles “Planet Earth” and “Careless Memories”.
Something of a guilty pleasure at the time – my circle of mates at school were all heavily into rock music, with favourite bands being Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, The Sweet, Slade, Saxon and Iron Maiden – but this fantastic new romantic pop album remains one of my favourites of the era.
A further hit single followed in the form of “Girls On Film” and the band’s 12″ remixes, often known as “night versions”, and popular videos certainly helped the album’s success. My favourite non-single tracks on the record include “Friends Of Mine”, “Sound Of Thunder”, “Anyone Out There” and “Night Boat”. Excellent.
6. Foreigner “4”
The third album on this list produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC and Def Leppard being the other two), this particular record is probably best known for the hit single “Waiting For A Girl Like You” which reached number 3 in the UK.
Two other tracks were released as singles in the UK – “Urgent” and “Juke Box Hero” – and it was through hearing the latter of BBC Radio One’s “Friday Rock Show” that I got into the band. The best-selling album of the band’s career and an excellent melodic rock record.
7. Iron Maiden “Killers”
The band’s second album, “Killers” was to be the final one to feature original vocalist Paul Di’Anno before his sacking and replacement with Bruce Dickinson.
I’d say that this record also has my favourite cover, by Derek Riggs, of any of the Iron Maiden albums to date.
Musically, the album built on the strengths of the previous year’s debut and was written almost solely by bassist and founder Steve Harris (the exception being the title track, co-written with Di’Anno).
There are two singles from the album in “Purgatory” and “Twilight Zone” – the latter of which was not originally included on the record, being included on the US version and later CD reissue. Other great tracks here include two instrumentals “The Ides Of March” and “Genghis Khan” as well as songs like “Wrathchild”, “Innocent Exile” and “Murders In The Rue Morgue”.
8. Rainbow “Difficult To Cure”
The fifth studio album from Ritchie Blackmore’s band, this one was the first to feature third lead vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, saw the band’s sound continue to become more commercial in approach.
There were two singles from the record – “Can’t Happen Here” and “I Surrender” – to hit the UK top twenty, and this was an album that spent a lot of time in my Sony Walkman.
Hits aside, my favourite tracks are “No Release”, “Spotlight Kid” and “Difficult To Cure” itself, which was a fabulous reworking of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
9. Saxon “Denim And Leather”
“Denim And Leather” was Saxon’s fourth album, and the third of their “holy trinity” to hit the shelves in just eighteen months.
Three singles were issued – “Princess Of The Night”, “Never Surrender” and “And The Bands Played On”. The latter became the band’s most successful single to date and describes their experiences when playing at the inaugural Monsters Of Rock festival the previous year.
“Play It Loud” and “Midnight Rider” are great album tracks, but the title track is one of the best and a firm live favourite through the years since.
10. Status Quo “Never Too Late”
The first Status Quo album that I owned – received instead of a chocolate egg for Easter ’81 – I had been introduced to the band by hit single “Something ‘Bout You Baby I LIke”.
Apparently recorded during the same sessions that spawned 1980’s “Just Supposin'” album, “Never Too Late” is often regarded as the weaker of the two – indeed the follow-up single to “Something…” was taken from “Just Supposin'”! This was also the last album to be recorded featuring the “frantic four” of Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan.
Nevertheless, with material like “Riverside”, “Long Ago”, “Mountain Lady” and my personal favourite “Take Me Away” this is still a very good Status Quo album.
In the wider world, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the UK and Ronald Reagan became President of the USA – replacing Jimmy Carter. In football the old first division champions were Aston Villa, with Tottenham Hotspur winning the FA Cup. On the big screen the top films of the year were “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond” and “Superman II”.
In 2012 German singer Johanna Sadonis and Swedish guitarist Linnéa Olsson formed heavy metal band The Oath. For reasons that remain unclear that band suddenly announced their spilt soon after the release of their self-titled debut album last year.
Rising from the ashes of The Oath, Sadonis has teamed up with former Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings to form a new band – doom / occult metal (self-described as heavy magic rock) band Lucifer.
“Lucifer I” is their debut album. In addition to Sadonis and Jennings, the group’s line-up includes former Zoltan / The Oath drummer Andrew Prestridge and bassist Dino Gollnick, formerly of The Projects.
There are a fair number of bands these days that pay homage musically and / or visually to the great rock bands of the 70s – some good, some less so. Lucifer and one of the better ones. In fact I’d go so far as to say that they are excellent. Carved from the same kind of monolithic rock that spawned the likes of early Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard and, naturally, Cathedral.
The record kicks off with “Abracadabra”, an uptempo track with a superb riff from Jennings. Throughout the album I was impressed with the vocal delivery of Sadonis – even more so than on The Oath’s album – and was reminded of Mostly Autumn’s Olivia Sparnenn for some reason.
“Purple Pyramid” continues things with more fabulous riffing. The songwriting on this album is of a very high quality and the production is very good too. The most Black Sabbath-like track to my ears is, fittingly, “Sabbath” – complete with doomy riff and tolling bell!
My personal highlights would be “Total Eclipse”, “Izrael”, “Abracadabra” and the brilliant “A Grave For Each One Of Us”. Fans of early Black Sabbath, Cathedral etc. will find much to enjoy here. Love it…
“Lucifer I” tracklist:
1. Abracadabra / 2. Purple Pyramid / 3. Izrael / 4. Sabbath / 5. White Mountain / 6. Morning Star / 7. Total Eclipse / 8. A Grave For Each One Of Us