Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time: Dead Skin Mask – Slayer


Raise those horns, shit is about to get loud. Oh yeah… that’s not a Slayer pic up there, but one I took of Opeth back in 2010 – thought I’d better add some pictures to these posts ‘cos the words sure as shit ain’t exciting. If you follow my blog, you’ll probably know a little of my musical preferences by now. I was a rock, metal, and grunge kid in the early 90s and most of my books and homework were covered in scrawls of guitars, band logos, skulls, and snakes. Metallica, Nirvana, Guns’n’Roses were the most common, but every so often I’d whip a Slayer out. The funny thing was, I didn’t actually know any Slayer songs. Give me a break, I was like 10 years old. As big as metal was at the time, you think that shit was getting played on the radio? Not only that, I didn’t have MTV. One of my friends and metal comrades did though, so it was during my sleepovers at his house that we would stay up to catch Headbanger’s Ball and Beavis And Butthead and late night music videos. I don’t remember ever catching a Slayer song though… and in truth I don’t recall when I really got into them. I wasn’t… then I was.

Slayer had been growing in power and influence throughout the 80s, and their fifth album Seasons In The Abyss came in 1990, right around the time the industry was about to drastically change. While still incredibly fast and brutal, the songwriting had matured significantly and the band were branching out into some slightly different directions, if not outright experimenting. While War Ensemble is the leading single from the album, it’s Dead Skin Mask which makes the most impact. A significantly slower song with a clearly defined riff, borrowed from South Of Heaven, it tells the story of Ed Gein complete with spoken male and female parts and screams. The song builds and builds in a way more akin to Metallica and Megadeth than the all out fury and shredding we are more used to from Slayer.

The verses are static and monotone as many Slayer songs are, but stripped back to just drums and sustained chords while the chorus hilariously is about as singalong and commercial as you’ll ever get from the band. It’s stupidly catchy and each repetition adds a pulsating mesmeric rhythm right up until the finish with the yelping woman screaming to be let out. Even the solo is more refined than the usual whammy stylings of Kerry, and the lyrics vary a little more than the Slayer trope of how many times can you say ‘Death’ in a minute.

Dead Skin Mask remains popular with fans and still pops up when the band (sadly not for much longer) play live. In terms of covers… you’re not going to get many non-metal renditions of a song like this, but the likes of Black Metal band Dark Funeral and experimental noise band Nadja have offered their own wildly different interpretations. The song was one of a small number of Slayer songs which got regular enough rotation at my local metal bar ‘The Venue’ in Belfast. It acted as both a breather between faster songs, and one for the blokes to shuffle about to and warm up their neck muscles while the ladies grabbed a beer and waited for some Nine Inch Nails. I’m sure once I started DJing, I played it too though it and the band were rarely requested. Still, it’s a safe enough introduction to Slayer for non-metal bands due to it’s slower pace and restrained brutality – be sure to check it out by clicking any of the links in this post.

What do you think of Dead Skin MaskLet us know in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Maiden Solo/Other Output

Greetings, Glancers! As many of you may know, I’ve always been a bit of a metal fan and rank Iron Maiden as one of my favourite bands. One thing I’ve never actually bothered to do though is listen to the other work by the various band members – solo or with other bands. And why the hell not? It’s probably crap, as is usually the way with these things, but I’m going to do it anyway, and you can come along for the ride. Oh yeah, I’m not going to bother with the Blaze Bailey or Paul Di’Anno stuff. I can’t be arsed. Maybe one day. For now, here’s a handy list of the albums I’ll be covering:

Bruce Dickinson: Tattooed Millionaire. Balls To Picasso. Skunkworks. Accident Of Birth. The Chemical Wedding. Tyranny Of Souls.

Samson: Survivors. Head On. Shock Tactics.

Steve Harris: British Lion. Calm Before The Storm.

Urchin:  Urchin. High Roller. Get Up And Get Out.

ASAP: Silver And Gold

Psycho Motel: State Of Mind. Welcome To The World.

Primal Rock Rebellion: Awoken Broken.

Streetwalkers: Downtown Flyers. Red Card.

Fish: Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors

Gillan: Double Trouble. Magic. Gillan’s Inn.

Any favourites, let me know!

You Love Us

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

Ostensibly where it all began, the song where the band truly announced itself to the world, looking every inch like a band nobody wanted and instead claiming to be the band everyone needed, the band to save the world or implode trying. Hated by other artists, feeding off the finger-pointing and setting themselves clearly apart from every other act in the world, they unleashed this torrent of seductive, caressing hatred, mocking fans, mocking themselves, and looking like they were having the most fun in the world, living the rock and roll dream while admonishing it for the nightmare it truly was. It’s a fast paced, chugging rock behemoth that didn’t sound like anything on the airwaves, Bradfield’s sneering vocals and lightning fast guitars, Edwards and Wire’s luscious stares and snarling wit, and Moore’s marching band percussive attack, it’s one of the classic statements in all of rock music. Looking at it as a song on its own merits, it is fairly simple stuff with a plain verse chorus attack, but there is such joy in the melody, in the unashamedly big chorus, and such brilliance in the final, Paradise City style instrumental blow out, that it can’t be avoided, or disliked.

The first link below is the album version – in my opinion the best version. There have been multiple versions of the song, each one with slight notable variances, so try all the links below and find your favourite. There was also a ‘new’ version a few years back but I can’t find a good link to it.

You Love Us: 4/Great


Heavenly version

Stars N Stripes Mix

Misheard Lyrics:

  1. Our voices are furry
  2. Realize and won’t be bought
  3. Honestly we can never be loved
  4. Throw some mess into your face
  5. Your lessons drill in heaven instead
  6. Parliament you flick like C4 (?)
  7. Your life a cycle holocaust/you love a psycho holocaust

Actual Lyrics:

  1. Our voices are 4Real
  2. We realised and won’t be mourned
  3. Understand we can never belong
  4. Throw some acid onto your face
  5. Your lessons drill inherited sin
  6. Parliament’s a fake life saver
  7. Your life is like a holocaust


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?

Chart Music – 1992

Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here –


Greetings, Glancers! It’s time for me to think of another absurdist metaphor concerning looking to the past, as we look to the past – 1992 to be precise. In 1992 I was already a bite-size metal and grunge kid, watching Headbanger’s Ball and reading Kerrang magazine. Thanks to my love for those genres, even by that point in my life I was pretty miffed at the state of UK music charts. The bands I liked never got any credit or praise from the mainstream media and the radio would play the same shite. Sometimes of of course they were forced to bow to audience pressure and play something with a rock vibe – I remember many times that certain stations would play something like Sweet Child O’Mine or Smells Like Teen Spirit, yet cut the song short before it had ended. Even when the genres were at a commercial peak, they were shafted and pushed to the side.

But what else was happening in 19 and 92? George Bush senior disgraced himself and his nation by barfing all over the place, then officially ended The Cold War, The Maastricht treaty was signed, The Bosnian War kicked off, LA had some riots, Barney The Dinosaur appeared, Denmark won Euro 92, the Olympics were held in Barcelona, and Slick Billy prepared to become President. In music, Nevermind was number 1 in the charts, Mariah Carey went unplugged, John Frusciante left the RHCP, November Rain became the most expensive music video ever, James Hetfield got burnt, and The Bodyguard became the biggest selling soundtrack ever.

  1. Tasmin Archer: Sleeping Satellite

This was everywhere in 1992, and is still one of those songs that you can’t forget once you’ve heard it. I did like it then and listening now it’s still pretty great. Those gruff vocal parts are funny… I don’t think I’ve heard another Tamsin Archer song so I’ve no idea if she was a one hit wonder. I don’t remember the wacky organ solo.

2. Boyz II Men: End Of The Road

Speaking of songs that were everywhere, this thing was at number 1 for about 12 years. I’m not sure why it was so popular – I get why it was successful – but not why it was such a monster. It’s a decent ballad, but it’s cheesy as fuck and that video is horrific – four funny looking blokes with incredible voices moping about in funny looking clothes. This is what women were into in 1992 apparently.

3. Bizarre Inc: I’m Going To Get You

From the name alone I don’t remember this so I’m going to guess it’s a one hit wonder chav mess. Aaand, with the first second I remember it. Okay, I managed the first minute, that’s all you need to hear. I mean, it is dreadful. The singing, the repetition, the music, and the theme which seems to be rape.

4. Madonna: Erotica

We’ve covered this on the blog before.

5. Bon Jovi: Keep The Faith

We’ve covered this on the blog before.

6. Doctor Spin: Tetris

Now we get into the really bad shit. This wanky dance music was seriously popular at the time and if today’s charts are anything to go by, wanky dance music won the race. It’s basically the main Tetris theme tune with some weird voice in the background and other Nintendo noises zooming around. Just think for a second – someone actually made this, and enough people bought it that it reached the Top 10 in the UK charts.

7. Dr Alban: It’s My Life

The second medical practitioner turned shit music maker in our top ten this year. This one at least is less repetitive and has a weird, creepy, industrial vibe. I don’t think that was intentional. The overlapping beats are actually cool and this one has held up much better. Only the vocals really date it.

8. The Shaman: Ebeneezer Goode

Congrats, it’s another one that I refuse to link to because it’s an absolute abomination. One of undisputed worst songs of all time.

9. Take That: A Million Love Songs

And this is one of Take That’s less annoying songs.

10. Arrested Development: People Everyday

I’ve no idea what this is, so I’d better give it a listen. I don’t think I’ve heard this before, but I could be mistaken. It sounds so generic that any of these type of songs from this period all sound similar to me. It is quite annoying, all the call, response stuff, and weird backing vocals stuff, plus the kind of rap which was successful in the UK at this time was so tame.

So, a mixture of dreadful and bearable. 1992 saw plenty of major, genuinely good releases – Generation Terrorists, Vulgar Display Of Power, Little Earthquakes, Somewhere Far Beyond, Countdown To Extinction, Dirt, Tourism, Automatic For The People etc. For a much more invigorating and lovely list of songs from 1992, have a gander at these boys.

  1. Alice In Chains – Nutshell
  2. Del Amitri – Always The Last To Know
  3. Manic Street Preachers – Condemned To Rock And Roll
  4. Soul Asylum – Runaway Train
  5. 4 Non Blondes – What’s Up
  6. Nirvana – Aneurysm
  7. Dr Dre – Fuck Wit Dre Day
  8. Mr Big – To Be With You
  9. Richard Marx – Hazard
  10. Shakespears Sister – Stay

Feel free to share your memories, musical or otherwise, of 1992 in the comments below!


The Gathering – Accessories


*Originally written in 2006

This ‘between albums’ release is a large collection of live, alternate, and demo versions of some of the band’s biggest songs, as we as some covers that many fans may not have heard. This double album is interesting for the more avid fan but I wouldn’t recommend any new listeners getting this first. Some of the live versions give an idea of how the band like to have fun with their performances- changing parts, adding parts, or playing with an orchestra, and some of the demos are useful in highlighting how a song goes from initial idea to completion. Perhaps the best songs here are the few covers- they tell us of the band’s influences and when played feel like originals by The Gathering. This is a good collection but it isn’t essential by any means.

In Motion 1 Live: This live version of the Mandylion classic has an extended introduction with a sound clip which sets a tone of night time- I’m not sure of the relevance but adds something different to a song they perform every night. The song is not quite as heavy as the album version, just one guitar here and the sound quality is fairly distant. Anneke sings strongly, not showing any flaws or fear from being outside the recording booth.

Leaves Live: This blends in seamlessly from the previous song and is as good a live version as you will get anywhere. The musicians are all on top form, occasionally making a few changes and having fun on stage while Anneke again blows the front row back a few feet. The only problem is the same as the last song, that it seems too distant, maybe it’s the lack of crowd noise or maybe it’s that the volume isn’t high enough. Either way, the solo is still breathtaking and glad to see Rutten doesn’t resort to any Malmstein-esque twiddles with it live.

Adrenaline: This is the best B-Side the band has done and it’s tragic that it never appeared on any of their first albums with Anneke. I assume that it just sounds too upbeat and up tempo to fit in with the darkness of Mandylion and NB. Looking past that though, it has been a live favourite since its first play, and is one of their few songs that really gets the crowd jumping and dancing at speed. Lyrically it is nothing out of the ordinary, but melodically it is brilliant, musically catchy without being flashy- fairly heavy with crunching chords and synth but mostly free of solo work. Anneke gets a chance to wail and scatter her voice all over the place and everybody gets to smile.

Third Chance Alt: I’ve always seen Third Chance as the darker partner to Adrenaline, the album version was very good but this is exceptional. It is quick, angry, filled with urgency, but mainly stands out because Anneke sings in a higher register than on the NB. The notes she reaches and the style in which she does is enough to make me grin and shiver every time and I would recommend it over the album version every time. The quiet middle section and build up to the ending is all the more effective now because of the higher register, the ominous synth, and the urgency of it all.

Strange Machines Live: It is a bit of a come down after the energy of the previous song to hear this. The Gathering are a great band because they are constantly trying new things, not only with new songs but with their classics. Like Metallica’s S & M, they get a full orchestra involved here to play possibly their most famous song. Also like S&M, it should work brilliantly but doesn’t. Maybe it’s the sound quality, but it just sounds flat, almost empty. There is none of the energy of the album track, and certainly none of the energy from their normal live plays. Part of my problem is that the brass is the main focus, whereas I much prefer strings swelling in from all sides. This could all be personal preference and it may well work for you, but I don’t think it woks like it should.

In Power We Trust The Love: This Dead Can Dance cover is one of the few cover songs I’ve heard which makes me search out the original band- I think the Gathering version is better if only because the song suits Anneke so well. An ethereal, soothing number which builds through various phases- the type of song The Gathering have been making throughout their career except with this we get some great lyrics, something which is rarely a part of the Dutch band’s repertoire.

When The Sun Hits: Being a big Manic Street Preachers fan, I suppose I should hate this Slowdive cover. I’d never listened to that band before I heard this cover, but it’s pretty good. The Gathering is known for downbeat sounds, if not quite shoe-gazing, so again this suits them. Again it is interesting to see Anneke sing some different lyrics, the type which the band would never write. The song has a sleepy quality and is one of the better ones in this collection.

Confusion: This demo from the EROC sessions isn’t too dissimilar from the final version on NB. The sound is slightly more tinny, and Anneke’s voice sounds like there are more effects on it. Aside from some additional synth and slight differences you are on familiar territory.

Shrink Alt: This version of Shrink is played on strings rather than piano, has lots of background sound clips, and has a dual vocal from Anneke.

Frail Live: This live version of Frail is pretty similar to the album track, soothing guitars and flawless Anneke vocals.


Cyclist: This instrumental theme for ‘The Cyclist’ movie is interesting as it doesn’t particularly sound like anything the band has done before. Having not seen the film I can’t see how well it works, but as a stand alone piece of music it is fairly good, lots of brass and percussion with a lead piano part. I like the string section coming in towards the end, but it isn’t a track I would listen to often.

Leaves Orchestra: Like the earlier Strange Machines this doesn’t always work, although it has a much more bombastic feel to it. It sounds like Anneke enjoys competing for prime position with the full band behind her, and some of her vocals are strained to extremes. I’m not a big fan of brass taking the lead so personally this isn’t a favourite, plus this cuts my favourite part from the original- the middle guitar solo and end.

Life Is What You Make It: This Talk Talk cover is the weakest cover in the collection, mostly because the original material isn’t as strong as the others. Nevertheless it is a decent song which sounds like a slight departure from what the band would usually play. There is a nice messed up guitar part in the middle, and lots of drum based effects and Anneke sings as well as always without having to try too hard.

Amity Live: This is an average live version of Amity let down mostly because Anneke sounds drained and here vocals aren’t great, especially towards the end. Mostly it is musically the same as the album version, with some different effects.

New Moon, Different Day: This opens the second disc- rarities. There isn’t anything too startling or exciting here, a slightly different version of the one we all know.

Kevin’s Telescope: This instrumental abandons the darker intro of the final cut and instead focuses on the light melodies of the verse and the emotion of the chorus. If the vocals were added it still wouldn’t be too different.

Shrink: This seems to be a slightly more up tempo take on the song, and the piano tone isn’t as dark. This is pretty good but again not anything surprising.

The Earth Is My Witness: We are on familiar ground with this one as not much seems unusual. There are a few differences- guitar parts, effects etc, but the structure of the song is the same.

Diamond Box: This is quite an odd one – an instrumental with plenty of effects and sound clips. The main part reminds me of a computer game level set in a dank sewer, or something with a slightly Eastern twist. For some reason it reminds me of Banjo Kazooie. It’s worth a listen but it isn’t one I come back to often.

Nighttime Birds: The main difference here is some background guitar work and less dense effects. Otherwise the song is the same length, same style.

On Most Surfaces: Again this is very much the same as the main version, a slightly more swirling and extended introduction and background guitar work being the main differences.

Hjeimar’s: This is a strange instrumental piece which consists entirely of some eerie guitar work. Just as it sounds like it is building towards something it is cut short. I’d like to hear what the band could come up with by extending this short piece.

My Electricity: This is a strange version of My Electricity with low sound quality but some nice dual vocals. The accompanying guitar seems too metallic though to fit (even though it is acoustic).

Probably Built In The 50s: This is another odd take on the original with Anneke’s voice being heavily cropped, and with some extra distortion on the guitars. This is quite a bit different from the original and is worth a few listens to appreciate the differences. Some great singing and a high tempo middle.

Illuminating: This version is slightly shorter than the main one but is mostly similar in sound and style. The introduction features different drum sounds and the synth isn’t as deep and brooding.

Red Is A Slow Colour: This is a much more distorted take on the original, with clipped vocals and less subtlety. The chorus is different as the guitar tone changes from distorted to a twang, and rather than the effects beats we get some interesting chord strumming and odd background phaser sounds. There is also a strange middle interlude with all manner of noises clashing together- a nice sign of the experimentation which would go on to make the finished album a classic.

Travel: The band like trying different things with their songs, especially when played live and Travel is one which is constantly tweaked. This version is completely different from the final one- it sounds like a very early version as many of the lyrics are missing. Mostly it sounds like a heavier take on the second half of the complete song, but extended to over 7 minutes.

This is definitely a collection for existing fans only as I don’t see anything here which would particularly charm any new listeners. Most of the demos and alternate takes are the same, with a few additional instruments and lower sound quality, but some of the outtakes and B-sides are interesting as they show the band’s creative process. For the live versions I would stick to the main live DVDs and CDs, or better yet catch them live if they ever come to Britain again. For a band with such talent I wish they would have recorded more B-sides and covers but that seems to be a dying art. This is a good album, but too long to listen to repeatedly- just pick your favourites.

If you have heard Accessories, let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Ronnie James Dio – July 10, 1942 – May 16, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, a pioneer of Heavy Metal, and undoubtedly one of the greatest male vocalists ever. Unless you’re a metal fan, sadly, you probably won’t have heard of him. Perhaps though, you know some of the bands he sang with – Black Sabbath? Rainbow? Deep Purple? Queensryche? Perhaps you’ve heard of some of the bands and singers he has influenced – Metallica? Iron Maiden? His vocal style is synonymous with metal, he is credited with the creation of the fist pumping devil horns hand gesture, and a number of his albums are rightly regarded as classics, and not just by metal fans and critics. A strong voice was backed up by a wide array of musical talents – his ability on guitar, trumpet, and keyboards are well-known. The man behind the stage persona though remained wise and humble – a constant feature in charitable organizations. Dio will forever be remembered as a hero within the Heavy Metal community.


Feel free to leave your thoughts and memories about Ronnie James Dio in the comments.

The West Pole – Music Reviews

The question for the fans (less so the band) was how move on having lost possibly the greatest singer there has ever been. The answer for the band is to first remind yourselves that you made the music and in many ways Anneke was simply the super sweet icing on the top. Fans of the band have come and gone in stages- some when Anneke first joined, others when they changed their sound, and certainly more now that Anneke has gone. Similarly to the situation with Nightwish (but to a lesser extent) there was a lot of disapproval and many thought that this would be the end. The rest of us knew (cautiously) that this would spur the band on to new directions- would they go for a copy cat replacement? Would they go back to male vocals? Perhaps they would use a mix, or even scrap vocals altogether. What we have is a more commercial rock sound, lighter lyrics, and overall a more upbeat, faster album than the last couple.

`When Trust Becomes Sound’ opens with a distorted, angry growl- nothing like they have sounded before. It almost has a grunge feel, a simple riff building up as more instruments join in- this one gets the feet and head moving and sets you up for what appears to be an all out rock album. This instrumental piece almost seems like a joke from the band- we’ve waited so long to hear the new singer and then they don’t even put her on the first song! It works great as an opener, perhaps a similar style of song for the next track would have fitted better.

`Treasure’ opens with distinctly lighter guitars and a poppy drum beat and when we first hear Silje Wergeland’s voice we know we are in good company. There is a definite Anneke depth and great ability, but she sounds more like the girl next door while Anneke was the rebel. This track makes for a perfect single and could really have been a hit in any number of charts- the melodies are catchy and light, the lyrics are simple and have great sing along quality all building up to a sun-filled chorus. This being The Gathering, they throw in a nice bridge towards the end to stunning effect, bright and loaded with emotive strings before the calm, easy finish.

`All You Are’ opens in a similarly poppy fashion, this time with a muted guitar riff which bleeds into some Tori Amos style e-v-e-r-y syllable counts singing. This builds to a heavy, non-metal chorus giving Silje a chance to show off the power of her voice, backed again by a powerful string section. Like Anneke at the beginning the lyrics need some time to mature but they are okay for the moment. Halfway through the song the chorus extends into a long thumping section with some new melodies and bitterness. Again this is a song which will get the crowd moving.

`The West Pole’ opens with a distant, hissy guitar, a line that almost sounds dismissive. The lead chords crash in along with some sorrow filled vocals for the album’s first epic. If that had been written 10 years ago it would have had a massive production behind it with guitars and effects flying all over the place. As it stands now it is fairly basic, happy to rely on vocals and drums for the most part, things only getting varied in the chorus. This album is filled with big anthem style choruses and this is no different- it seems like the whole album was written for the fans to scream back at the band during every performance. There is the traditional sound clip in the centre of the song before a nice change comes along with some sweet, whispered singing.

`No Bird Call’ is quite a strange song, opening with flanging organs to sound like a funeral march. The first vocals make it seem like this is going to be a downbeat, `Souvenirs’ song but the problem is that never gets going. I think this one could really have been half the length and still worked as well, cutting out part of the middle and shaving the last couple of minutes, leaving the part when the glorious strings enter. As this album is quite short another song or two could have been written and used, but what do I know?

`Capital Of Nowhere’ features almost childlike singing, an offbeat accent, and giving a new twist to the sound. This is another one with a big pop style chorus, great melodies but is stretch out to epic status with some interesting, spacey interludes.

`You Promised Me A Symphony’ is a piano led ballad with a great chorus featuring classic melody and lyrics. My only problem is that the verses don’t match up to the quality of the chorus. The lyrics are nice throughout, just those verses are pretty forgettable. With stronger verses on top of the excellent chorus singing this could have been on of their best, but just misses out.

`Pale Traces’ is the longest song on the album, opening in atmospheric style with strange sounds, deep vocals, and a good melody. The song then picks up pace with one of the best bass performances from Marjolein and steady drums. I’m not sure what is missing from this one- maybe some of the early parts seem bare, but this is as good as anything on the album and has some of my favourite singing. In my more contemplative moments I wonder what Anneke would sound like covering this but it doesn’t really matter. This is a great song that I hope they play live because it’s bound to have an emotional response.

`No One Spoke’ speeds things up again with a faster rock song. This one has a nice building up atmosphere which is sure to make it a live favourite, catchy verses and chorus and some effective piano parts. There are a few bass and guitar moments thrown in to spice things up making it another commercial sounding song with a rock twist.

`A Constant Run’ finishes the album at high speed, an ominous, urgent bass line, galloping drums, and some atmospheric synthesizer. The vocals here are strong, but it is again the chorus which stands out- anthemic, a joy to sing along to, and of course it all makes you wish you were watching them in an adoring, dancing crowd. This leaves you begging for more, for an encore at the end of the album but unfortunately none comes. As I type I wish they would come to Britain again. The ending stretches out to over 7 minutes (but it seems much shorter) with speeding drums and keyboards in true Gathering style- they are still here and they still have it.

This may be the band’s most simple album so far in terms of how it sounds and how the songs are structured. The new line-up (if it remains) will take some time to gel, hopefully after some touring and writing together they will come back with another classic. This album is a good new beginning- lots of great moments, a few forgettable ones, but it is still the band we love and we should rest easy in the knowledge that after all this time they can still do little wrong. Silje does a great job under a lot of pressure (as do the guest singers) and the rest of the band are as good as always. Rene doesn’t get much time to show off- there aren’t really any trademark moments- just the occasional Johnny Greenwood style fast playing. I think this still gets fairly mixed reviews, I would say that while it isn’t one of their best it is certainly very good (though painfully short) and as it is The Gathering it still reigns supreme over most other bands.

*Written at time of release

The Gathering – Home

I reviewed this album when it was first released on a blog and went into detail about how to me the whole album seemed like a journey through life and death. There is an overall pervading mood which conjured images of travelling through the Underworld, mythical style and coming into contact with lost souls before resurfacing. Whether this was partly intentional or whether this was my imagination going to unrelated places I’m not sure but now that I’m reviewing all of their albums again for Amazon I thought I would ditch what I see between the lines and focus on what remains. Home was recorded during a difficult period for the band- personal tragedies and hardships were occurring and it had been a few years since they had recorded anything new. The music has taken on a more minimal approach, there are no long songs here, and it may be their most commercial record, although the usual dark moments, experimenting, and self deprecating lyrics are exhibited.`Shortest Day’ opens the album, a mid tempo song pushed along by a steady beat and backed by a swelling guitar riff. Anneke sings in her usual melodic style, she doesn’t show off her powerful vocals or sensitive qualities yet but it is a good opener which has become a live staple. The shrouded effects at the end open the following track.`In Between’ flows along with a stunted guitar riff and a mix of low to high pitched vocals. Once again the lyrics are good, the tune melodic, but neither are particularly outstanding. The chorus shows some nice tricks by Anneke and there is a typically interesting bridge and middle section before the strange and unnerving climax which goes back and forth like an ocean ever approaching closer.

`Alone’ was the main single from the album and the intro sounds (like a few other parts of the album) OK Computer influenced. Once the main riff kicks in there is a `Souvenirs’ era dark and foreboding feeling. The guitar again has a Eastern tone to it and the verses are pushed along by a computerized thump, sounding like an army of robots marching forwards or a huge factory hammer squashing downwards. There is a good, simple guitar solo and an interesting fake string section before an extended ending which moves from soft back to that robotic thumping.

`Waking Hour’ is the best track here, and possibly the band’s best ballad; possibly Anneke’s best performance also. There is the familiar robotic effect controlling the rhythm of the verse, the chorus gives Anneke a chance to push her vocals to the limits, but it is the quiet middle section which makes the song something truly special. Every time this is performed live the crowd is in silenced awe as she does her thing, and there is usual an adoring few seconds of applause before the rest of the song continues. Again it is the range of emotions, the heartbreaking tenderness of it all which will make you freeze and listen and rewind and repeat. Just when you thought the song would end it goes on for a mellow, emotional, conclusion. Boeijen’s piano also deserves special mention on this track.

`Fatigue’ is a strange, mostly uneventful, mostly experimental song. It is less than two minutes long, has a couple of whispery vocals, and features some machine like noises growing and fading.

`A Noise Severe’ is another fairly mellow, laidback song. There is good bass here, some background distorted notes from Rutten, and some very good vocals from Anneke- beautifully melodic verses, and then a soaring `ooh’ chorus. This song in part symbolizes the live DVD package- one was loud, one was soft; this features both styles in almost equal servings.

`Forgotten’ is the second piano led ballad on the album and is just as effecting and gorgeous as the first. This time the structure is more straightforward- consisting of verse and chorus, Anneke and Boeijen. Everything reeks of sadness and regret again, loss and lonliness and rather than being in anyway depressing (like many detractors would claim of Radiohead) it is fragile and affirming.

`Solace’ begins to the sound of money perhaps hinting at wealth not bringing happiness and making one lonelier? The sounds of money and a chugging guitar drive the song forward, the drums coming in to match the beat. The vocals are okay here, the melodies not as catchy as others meaning the song won’t be remembered as fondly as most. The best part (and one which is memorable) is the fading out and back in `ooh ah’ part before the main beat returns.

`Your Troubles Are Over’ lifts things up with a quicker pace, with clear `There There’ Radiohead beats. The story style lyrics work well, the rhythm sounds like we are being rushed towards the finish line, and Anneke has a pretty simple job until the louder sections begin. As the instruments build and the drums get more prominent the song moves into a higher gear and we can jump about. This should really be a live favourite due it’s growing, bouncing nature, but I don’t think it is played very often.

`Box’ is marked by organ playing giving the song a church like tone, served well by Anneke’s usual angelic vocals to give an almost ethereal quality. This one seems to be left behind when people talk about this album, true there is nothing too special but can still be seen as a good album track with some nice twisting guitar work and an unusual hissing drum climax.

`The Quiet One’ begins wonderfully with Anneke’s voice accompanied by some light guitars. At some point along the way the song loses its grip but luckily it isn’t too long. It is a decent instrumental with a handsome guitar part in the middle.

`Home’ closes the album, another ballad, another success. This in retrospective could be seen as Anneke coming to a realization that she was ready to move on- she has given everything to her bandmates, been a massive part in their success as a band and as people. It speaks in a maternal, protective way of raising and setting free (though never fully leaving) a child or a friend. It has some of the band’s most melodic work, excellent strings, and of course flawless vocals and guitars. As an album closer it brings the journey to an end, finally reaching the place where everyone wants to be. More than any other song perhaps there are OK Computer influences as I am always reminded of `The Tourist’ when I hear this. Which is the better song will depend on you.

`Forgotten Reprise’ is a longer version of the earlier song, hidden at the end of the album. The main difference is that the piano is replaced by a strange keyboard sound and the vocals are more whispery. The chorus is changed and it is really only eighty seconds long while the ending is stretched out for minutes, repeating keys and church bells.

Home signals the end of an era; one of the best vocalists ever deciding to leave on of the best bands of all time. Both sides relied on each other and both would move on to new recordings. There is an air of sadness when returning to this album and any number of hidden messages can be found in the lyrics and music. Putting all that aside it is another different album by The Gathering once again trying something new, one again succeeding. While some songs don’t always have the impact they perhaps should those moments are more than covered by a few glittering classics. The line up from this era would go on tour and produce two amazing DVDs before finally parting- these are essential and feature many tracks from this album. Non-metal fans should appreciate this album more, but as with all of their albums I would encourage everyone to give it a try.

The Gathering – Sleepy Buildings

Sleepy Buildings came as a between albums surprise for fans and remains the best present the band has given us. It ranks highly in my opinion with the best live albums ever –    it has all the trademarks of a classic live recording- passion, fan favorites, inspired performances, the odd mistake which add to the overall gig. This was a semi-acoustic show for fans at the Lux Theatre in 2003 with a couple of bonus songs from their British live shows. I was lucky enough to see them at Glastonbury and while that was a much livelier show the acoustic nature of this show means everything is more mellow, more laid back, and more personal. The small crowd gives a sense of intimacy and the songs chosen vary wildly from their respective original versions. Some of these new takes feel at times better than the way they are usually performed but naturally that is subjective. This is a must for fans and I would strongly encourage anyone remotely interested in the band or anyone who wants to try something new to invest in this; you won’t be disappointed.

`Locked Away’ opens the album softly just Anneke’s voice and some background acoustic guitar. Pianos and tambourine soon follow giving this a much different feel to what we are used to. This sets the tone for the whole show- everything is subtle and underplayed quite amazing considering how complex some of the originals are. The irony is that while those originals were so ambitious, it was equally ambitious trying to strip them down. And for anyone wondering, Anneke sounds even better live than on record.

`Saturnine’ is taken from `If Then Else’ a highly melodic and at times bitter song, here featuring some fantastic bass and stunning vocals. Here, like most of the album most of the instruments are close to being drowned out by the sheer power and emotion of Anneke’s singing. This is one of her best performances of the show but there is also some simple backing guitar which covers any blank spaces. Towards the end the non acoustic parts come through with some nice synthesizer and keyboard piano playing, but never once does it get heavy; it remains chilled, blissful.

`Amity’ comes again from `If The Else’, a simple piano led song with Anneke singing multi layered melodies. While the vocals are great and the song itself is good, lending a typically dark tone to proceedings, it doesn’t stand out as much as others here. The lyrics are nice and clear here though and the guitars have a nice ghostly effect.

`The Mirror Waters’ is taken from the V festival and is one of three songs taken from pre- Anneke days so it almost seems like a new song. I like the different take on the song, Anneke sings with her usual effervescence, and the backing music and organs are excellent. The lyrics actually stand out here, given a new reality via Anneke’s performance. The song builds through several loud and quiet parts before descending into a minute of typical Anneke `ooh ahhs’.

`Red Is A Slow Colour’ retains the threatening mood of the original but changes the drumming and loud guitars for some latter-day Gathering effect work and soft strumming. Again it gives Anneke another chance to shine, proving that she could sing anything and make it sound angelic. Once again there is an extended outro of `oohs’.

`Sleepy Buildings’ was a new song written for this performance- a simple Anneke with piano song. It has quite a bouncy, upbeat feel to it and seems a little strange surrounded by these other songs. It isn’t exactly out-of-place, it just has an oddness about it. Still a good song though, maybe we’ll see it again some time in the future.

`Travel’ comes in with the full force of the band, an epic acoustic here which is just as good as the original. If anything this version has more melody, more sadness to it as it lacks the heavy guitars and experimental noise. It is rare to have an acoustic song this lengthy in a live performance but it works every second (perhaps cheating with some added electric guitars and keyboards). Anneke does some great shouting for the final part of the song, topping off a fine performance.

`Shrink’ never really sounds different in any performance of it that I’ve heard. An ultra heavy thrash version of it might be interesting. Here it is as fragile and beautiful as ever, Anneke belts out the vocals rather than the more hushed take on `Nighttime Birds’. This doesn’t take away from the haunting sensation that will inevitably creep up and down your spine upon hearing, and I like the way the climbing piano melody fits in with the riff in the next song’s introduction.

`In Motion Pt II’ here is among my favourite Gathering songs, and it may be Anneke’s best vocal display. Control, moving from gentle to brutal, from weakness to utter desperation, her range is unending and the number emotions she is able to convey are just as moving as the emotions themselves. I challenge anyone not to feel a shudder of admiration when they hear the chorus come in. The musicians give equally strong displays, with subtle keyboards to effective backing guitars; this is as perfect as music can be.

`Stonegarden’ is another re-worked early song, but this time I don’t feel it is as effective. It opens strongly enough with keyboards and Anneke’s first line. Perhaps the song simply works better with lower range male vocals, the verses don’t have too memorable melodies although the time shifts are good. As with every song here it is essential listening as I’m sure this will turn out to be someone’s favourite.

`My Electricity’ has never been one of my favourites in any incarnation though here it is as good as any take I’ve heard. It is in no way a bad song, it just doesn’t do much for me. This sees Anneke and Rene’s guitar without any external interference and of course it works. When you have such talented people, everything works.

`Eleanor’ is still one of the band’s most popular songs, the opening sounds usually accompanied by a giant roar from the crowd. This version is cut down as far as it is possible to go, with light guitars and piano. Anneke sings in a softer way giving the song a new feel and at times it sounds more vicious and sadistic with those creeping pianos. As usual I’m almost certainly reading too far into things but either way this incarnation is especially good. We don’t even miss the blast beats.

`Marooned’ in this gig is perfect; gorgeous vocals, almost unnoticeable guitars, computerized drums, and a very light backing organ sound. The lyrics are highlighted here and we can sense the desolation and despondency of the lonely narrator. The no-one’s home phone sound is put to good use and everything sounds complete as if it was written to always be played this way.

`Like Fountains’ closes the album- the final V song, and the final pre-Anneke song. It may also be the best song on the album. Most of the song it is simply Anneke singing over some sparse piano, and you can tell not a word was spoken in the crowd while this was being played. The multi verses build up to a Tori Amos style chorus, heartbreaking, melodic, soft, yet full of conviction. To finish an album as good as this on such a high is something special.

Anyone unsure of The Gathering’s genius should buy this. Knowing what they can do in the recording studio, and seeing it all being thrown out the window before picking up the pieces and creating something new and equally brilliant is a gift few if any other bands have achieved. The only tragedy is that this, and the band are largely unheard of. For those who already fans, and for those who have just clicked `add to basket’- your ears will rarely hear something as good. DVD please?

*Originally written in 2009