Nightman Listens To – Samson – Head On! (Iron Maiden Solo Output Series)

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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.

 

Nightman Listens To – Bruce Dickinson – Tattooed Millionaire

Greetings, Glancers! As I said in a previous post, it’s time for me to delve into the other output which the the core members of Iron Maiden have released over the years. I don’t know much about any of these, I don’t have high hopes of any of them being any good, but if any of them are then it’s going to be Brucey’s solo stuff. While we’re here, we may as well listen to the bonus tracks from the various re-releases. Lets go.

Son Of A Gun‘ opens with a tinny, distant, atmospheric riff. Sounds like early Maiden. Dickinson singing in his more traditional voice than the gruff approach. Slow, heavy. Doesn’t have an 80s vibe, just sounds like classic metal/rock. The chorus isn’t great melodically, and on the whole it’s very simple – not too many risks or progressive elements – I was expecting it to get faster at some point but it stays on the same level throughout.

Tattooed Millionaire‘ is one I may have heard at some point, but I can’t remember. This one is very 80s and does feature a more Fear of The Dark era vocal by Dickinson. It’s a little faster, a little lighter musically – a little more Def Leppard in other words. It has a commercial chorus, though the lyrics are as biting as what Maiden were putting out at the time. Good solo in there, but this is basically a pop song with more prominent guitars. That lead/ending riff also sounds like a copy of Run To You by Bryan Adams.

Born In ’58’ starts quite nicely, not metal at all. Nostalgic lyrics. This could be anyone, sounds like stadium rock, but a bit more subtle. It’s quite nice, feels like a centerpiece and Dickinson saying he can do more than just metal. As The Mullet Man might say, this is one for the ladies.

Hell On Wheels‘ is slow – ACDC slow. Gruff vocals for the verse, old school for the chorus.  Instead of locked he sings ‘lacked’, that style. Very simple and plain. Standard uninspired rock, okay melodies.

Gypsy Road‘ starts slow and soft, similar to ‘Born In 58’. Everything on the album is much lighter than the Maiden wall of sound. It’s Springsteen again, but via Dickinson’s mind and mouth. It’s all very formulaic, verse chorus verse chorus solo chorus end stuff. Melodies okay again.

Dive! Dive! Dive!‘ is presumably going to be higher, starting with an ‘Aces High’ vibe. Then it goes… weird. Oh wow oh vocals. No guitars. Drum, bass, vocals. Then guitar and oh wow oh. I won’t call this one formulaic, though there’s nothing outlandish here. It’s just weird, not weird in a good way, weird in a ‘who thought this was a good idea’ way. A good minute long than it needs to be, not that any of it needs to exist.

All The Young Dudes‘ is Bowie with Bruce’s voice. If you’ve read my Bowie posts you’ll know I’m not a massive fan of Bowie’s vocals. Bruce does a Bowie mimic here for the most part. Still a good song, but get the feeling that all of these should have just been B-Sides or demos or something.

Lickin’ The Gun’ follows what has gone before – gruff vocals, slow pace, basic structure. This one is riff heavy but still sounds weak – middle of the road and uninspired. This could be any 80s rock or soft metal band.

Zulu Lulu‘ opens with howls and guitars. That steady pace is here again and we can already tell from the intro how this is going to go. Talky vocals, lots of pauses in the guitar parts, simplistic. Maybe Bruce had all this crap boiling up in him and needed to get it out of system before getting back to Maiden and making good music again?

No Lies‘ is, of course, the early Bruce version of Bring Your Daughter, with a very similar opening riff. This feels like a demo as the same few words are repeated over and over. Then in the second minute the lyrics start pouring out. It’s a little bit better than most of the other stuff, but it has the same problems – vocals aren’t great and there’s nothing new or of any decent quality. It just reminds us of better songs – No More Lies due to the title, Bring Your Daughter, and Can I Play With Madness thanks to the drums in places. We have this long section in the middle with drums and distortion and nothing else, a bit of bass that no-one cares about. After this brief dalliance with the pointless we return to the chorus and an okay solo.

Spirit Of Joy‘ is the first bonus track. It’s an Arthur Brown cover. A lot of these will be covers. It has a faster pace, sounds better already than most of the album stuff. Not a song I’m overly familiar with but it’s fine.

Darkness Be My Friend‘ is not a cover. It starts well, ominous and soft, much better vocal. Like a dark and lonesome folk song. This is easily the best song so far. Then the flute (?) comes in. Yet it works, even if I imagine pixies skipping about a glade or something.

Sin City‘ is AC/DC, so not my favourite band. Starts with starty stoppy chops of music. Ding don ding dung. Then the familiar ACDC beat comes in. Then the vocals and the cut-off guitars. Not my thing. Growly vocals sound silly. Shite all round.

Winds Of Change‘. Ha ha, this really does sound like G’n’Rs version of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. And that’s all we’ll remember from this. This is some sort of love song with big Brucey vocals. It’s cheese, but it’s fine.

Riding With The Angels‘ is a Russ Ballard cover – he wrote songs for KISS and others. Sounds live. Screeches and talking. At least this is fast and energetic which makes a change from the rest of the album. It sounds both like very early Maiden and early 90s Maiden. Just a bit of throwaway speed fun.

Bring Your Daughter‘. You know it. You love it. Or hate it. Maybe you haven’t heard this version. It’s almost the same though, slightly different vocals, different guitars but almost the exact same song.

Ballad Of Mutt’. It’s a funny name, and it seems it’s a funny song with some unfortunate vocal appropriation. Still funny though, funny lyrics, standard blues stuff. I wrote a song almost exactly the same as this. Except mine was called ‘Barnaby’.

Black Night‘ is Deep Purple. Live again. More energy and speed. You all know this one, right? Feels like Sabbath, but isn’t, so must be Deep Purple. It’s unfortunate when your covers, which aren’t that great, are better than most of the songs on your official album.

So I said at the top I didn’t have high hopes but that this was likely the best? Oh dear. If this is the best, then we’re in for a whole crapload of crap in the coming listens. Mercy, please. Let us know in the comments what you thought of this – did I get it wrong, does it deserve another listen?

Nightman Listens To – Steve Harris – British Lion

Greetings, Glancers! So, we’ve listened to solo Dickinson, and we’ve listened to pre-Maiden Dickinson. It’s time to tackle some alternative work from Maiden’s primary songwriter Steve Harris. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of his solo, or non-Maiden work and I have no idea what this will be like. Harris has been with Maiden from the start, and they are a fairly prolific band, and while they do change it up a bit in each album you generally know what you’re going to get – fast paced metal. Maybe Harris wanted to explore other avenues, other sounds? Maybe this is more streamlined rock? Maybe it blues? Maybe it’s simply material he didn’t feel was good enough for Maiden, or suited the direction the band was going in at the time. Lets consult the online world – the album was released in 2012, and came about after a band of the same name contacted Harris in the early 90s. It seems he was impressed with them to the extent that he decided to mentor and eventually join them as a side project. Fair enough, lets do this.

This Is My God: A promising start – heavy, but not punishingly so. An immediately different sound than Maiden. There’s a lot of wah and effects on the guitars, not something Maiden usually play with, and the vocals and style are very different. It’s at a slower pace than I was expecting, but feels very assured. It’s almost more in the vein of something like Audioslave. There’s a spoken part in the middle that we could have done without, but I do like the chorus, and overall I think it’s a good song.

Lost Worlds: The bass is more prominent here. I appreciate the melodies in the opening tracks, there’s a lot of focus on their crafting rather than knocking us on the head with volume or speed or technique. There seems to be a lot of negativity against the vocals – I must say I really like them so far, but then I’m not an entrenched metal fan who can’t look beyond sheer force. he has a great tone and a lot of emotion and range. This is… actually great stuff. There’s a fake ending leading into a softer acoustic section which closes the song.

Karma Killer: This starts with a fat, wah based riff, crashing steady drums, before the vocals and bass take over in the verses. Not a fan of the pronunciation of ‘deeper and deeper’. The chorus is fairly simple, vocals matching the fat riff. Maybe the heaviest feeling song, but the weakest so far.

Us Against The World: This has the most Maiden intro so far. I know, I shouldn’t be comparing them, but I wouldn’t be listening to them otherwise. The comparisons fade in the verse, and we’re back on track with more atmospheric melodies. The vocalist is somewhere between the guy from Khoma and Gary from Haven. This has much more interesting chorus than the previous song. It must be said that there isn’t anything new here, it’s just emotional, commercial heavy rock.

The Chosen Ones: This starts like ACDC, or early Maiden. It doesn’t feel like it will fit with the rest of the album. The verses are muck, but there are moments in the pre-chorus and chorus which work well enough. It’s all very cheesy and is very out of place – like a different band from the one who performed the previous songs.

A World Without Heaven: This starts off like Fear Of The Dark era Maiden, a more atmospheric rock feel. I like the punch of the chords, I like the vocal melodies and emotion in the verses, though the chorus needs a bit more force or grit to really push it forwards. I will say that the pronunciation of ‘heaven’ is awful. Why is it ‘havan’? That almost puts me entirely off the song, which is unfortunate as the rest of it is great. The extended instrumental section seems tacked on for the sake of appeasing Maiden fans, but it’s much more simplistic than what we would get from Maiden, and the guitars are very plain. Still a good song though, just held back from being great.

Judas: Deeper vocals this time around. The guitars move between metal and rock, the verse melodies are largely one-note and uneventful, while the chorus for some reason reminds me of The Stereophonics, and that’s never a good thing. After the second chorus the song takes a very abrupt shift – like mid note – into some weird faded acoustic section which I probably enjoyed more than the louder half of the song. The loud part comes back for the last minute.

Eyes Of The Young: What is this happy horseshit… was my first thought on hearing the opening riff. This is clearly going for the positive, yearning anthem. It has crowd friendly ‘wooh ohhh’ chants and decent enough melodies, but it doesn’t quite work. It’d fine, but it’s no Summer Of 69. 

These Are The Hands: Another slower start. Don’t worry, it’s still heavy. It follows the atmospheric and melodic qualities of the reset of the album. This one feels a little more assured and complete, and it’s a great vocal performance. I like everything about this one – it’s not amazing, but very catchy and the melodies flow superbly throughout.

The Lesson: It’s only four minute so it probably won’t be an epic closer. It starts off in that vein though – piano and strings, two of my loves. It’s like a condensed version of a latter day Maiden intro. Lots of not quite off key guitar and bass. It never gets out of that first gear though – I keep expecting the volume to switch, but it’s content to remain soft and… miserable isn’t the right word. It’s good, but an odd choice to end the album.

I assumed when I started this post that this would be an early 80s band. I wasn’t expecting them to be so recent, and I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. I know that many will complain about the vocals – it’s not Bruce essentially – but I enjoy that sort of sound and tone. There are moments when the vocals could have been more urgent or forceful, but on the whole I think they suit the songs very well. Let us know in the comments what you think of British Lion – if you’re a Maiden fan, does this style grab you too, or do you crave Dickinson?