Greetings, glancers! As I warned you previously, it’s time to listen to some more of the Iron Maiden side-output. So where is the Iron Maiden connection you ask? Keep reading and you’ll learn. Samson were another NWOBHM band emerging in the late 70s and featured at various times both Clive Burr on drums and Bruce Dickinson on vocals. Dickinson joined as their first album (Survivors) was released, but played no part on it. We’ll skip that one. Head On was their second album, released in 1980, features Bruce on vocals and an early version of The Ides Of March which would appear in a different format on Maiden’s second album. It’s all very confusing, as is much of metal. How about I shut up and listen before the executioner on the album cover fulfills his wish and fists me?
‘Hard Times‘. I listened to the first track of Survivors first – As imagined the production isn’t stellar, but gives a very raw, garage feel. The bass was very prominent, has a very rusty feel (I mean that as a positive), and was overall a fine punk influence track. This has a similar production, possibly a little thinner, and Dickinson has a weird and unnecessary effect on his vocals. He sounds young here, but not unrecognizable. The song itself is fun, a clear enjoyable riff, but the whole thing is let down by very tinny drums which sound more like someone tapping a pen on a table in places. The drumming itself is fine, the guitar solo is serviceable following a descending rhythm, and it feels fairly commercial. I’m guessing it’s named after the Bronson/Hill movie based on the lyrical content.
‘Take It Like A Man‘ starts with some distant whistling, what sounds like someone chucking a milk bottle, then the crunching guitars come in nicely. The intro is at odds with the eventual verse – it has an early Di’anno era Maiden feel actually, a rough edge, a joyful intensity, and a sense of fun and ambition. Dickinson sounds pretty different here, the drums are excellent, if again a little under-produced, and the guitars are good. Bruce does let out a trademark screech at one point. Good song.
‘Vice Versa‘ opens with cascading drums before shifting into some bizarre slow tempo, otherwordly verse. It’s interesting, and I like it, and as it progresses the effects give way and a more traditional vocal and sound emerges. The drums here are hilarious, going off on their own Keith Moon or Mastodon style, using it as a lead instrument rather than providing a beat and fill. There’s a lot of phasing on the guitars, Bruce singing ‘vice versa’ actually sounds more like ‘bite faster’ or ‘fight bison’. We get a groovy instrumental section in the middle followed by a very abrupt stop and return to the verse. PS: I know what this reminded me of – One Track Lover from Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place.
‘Manwatcher‘ opens with another dirty riff, Bruce’s vocals following its melody. There isn’t a chorus so it feels a little repetitive, at least so far. Samson loves those sudden pauses. It’s moving off into a new section now which bears little resemblance to the first part aside from the obvious. Again the drums are maybe the best part, good guitar solo, but its still let down by the production – listening through Youtube certainly isn’t helping. Bruce doesn’t sound like himself here – less force, less volume.
‘Too Close To Rock‘ gets straight to the point, big riff and hanging backing chords, the riff feeling a little Zeppelin-esque and having little changes each time. Bruce really sounds like Bruce here, though the drum sound is again a let down. The song suddenly shifts around the minute mark for what I suppose is a chorus, but feels like a random charging increase of pace. There is another verse and chorus, followed by an electric, energetic instrumental/solo section. I like how without warning these shifts are – no pre chorus or change of beat, just straight in almost as if there was something edited out. It’s refreshingly short, and closes on a trademark Brucie ‘WAOOW!’
‘Thunderburst’ reminds me in its opening moments of Alice In Chains – acoustic, mysterious, ominous. Then the thunderburst comes in, crushing guitars, tumbling drums. As Maiden fans will surely note, this is an early version of The Ides Of March and in all honesty it isn’t much different.
‘Hammerhead‘ starts with a little drum snap before another cool riff. This does suffer from those silly group vocals shouts that I always hate but the melodies, especially in the chorus are reminiscent of some 80s Maiden tracks – just commercial enough to widen the listening net. The drums are good again, but you know by now the production lets things down. There seems to be some sort of breaking glass noises in the background too. There is a sort of middle 8th or change in the middle where a lot of the distortion is withdrawn – it changes things up just a little before the obligatory solo. It’s another good New Wave metal song that I had no idea about previously, not too sure about the fade out ending though.
‘Hunted‘ sees the band almost breaking out into a bit of funk. There’s a prominent bass line and some Di’Anno style verse vocals. Nice reverb on the guitar gives the song an air of mystery, the backing guitar lines have a nice crunch to them. The chorus is a bit of a let down, musically and lyrically, but we can forgive it as the song as a whole is short. Interesting ending too.
‘Take Me To Your Leader‘ has a weirdo intro, effects and flange, but it’s only for a few seconds before the speed pounces on you. This one sounds much more like the Bruce we know, lots of screams and yelps, and the pace is relentless. You know the score by now – drums, playing – great, production – not so great. Nifty bass again here, and the lyrics are amusing. This one seems like it had a bit more thought in the construction, it’s more dynamic, and it has another interesting ending. The band had ideas, weren’t merely playing hard and fast.
‘Walking Out On You‘ opens with a plodding single bass note, like someone flicking an elastic band. Then a lot of weird stuff happens – noises, distorted choir vocals, creaks, alien guitars – I wasn’t expecting anything like this, so props to them. This goes on for about a minute before a more traditional song structure emerges. It’s heavy, slow, then the volume withdraws and we get a more subtle verse – still lots of effects on the vocals and guitar, and the drums are still doing their own thing. The whole quiet verse, loud chorus thing had mostly been perfected by Zep, but it’s nice to see an actual metal band giving it a go. Nice instrumental section in the middle with guitar parts I quite enjoyed, the beat remaining steady throughout. The final minute goes a bit crazy, with Christmas bells, spoken parts, kids, all sorts of weird effects and oddities.
‘Angel With A Machine Gun‘ gets this back to basics – simple riff, Brucey vocals, tight playing, fact pace, standard British metal lyrics. As seems to be the case with the band, they add the occasional little twist – a brief drum interlude or twist on the existing guitar riff. Otherwise, this is straightforward stuff, nothing startling, but plenty of energy and fun.
‘Kingsway Jam‘ is apparently a bonus track. It’s near 10 minutes long too – will it be instrumental? We get stuck in straight away – a fade in to chaos, drums blasting and distant guitars twiddling. Bruce unleashes one so we’re not in instrumental territory. This feels like a live track from the production, the vocals are noticeably less polished on this one, but I could attribute that to them simply arsing about in the studio with this one. Guitar and drums are good as always. This ostensibly follows a verse and chorus format, just that there are longer jams between each, at least until the 4.30 mark where the pace slows and Bruce starts talking hilariously. He’s laughing as he does it, adding to the banter. This settles into a more routine steady slow jam, along with some fairly funny lyrics, and more instrumental pieces. It’s your standard bonus track jam in other words.
Overall I would say this was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed it a lot more than Bruce’s first solo effort, and I think I was relieved that it didn’t succumb to many of the tropes and ‘mistakes’ of early 80s metal. There’s a lot of ideas, if not full blown ambition on display, and there is that unmistakable quirky sense of fun which comes from the band being British – there are a lot of tongues in cheeks, but the band prove they can play with the best of them. It’s a shame the production isn’t the best – the overall sound has a lot of hissing and the drums lose the impact which they no doubt would have had with a fuller sound. Nevertheless, this is one I’ll listen to again and one I’d recommend to any fellow metal heads who enjoy this era or are looking into the past.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Head On and if you have any special memories of the band or the time!
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Take It Like A Man. Take Me To Your Leader. Hammerhead.