Nightman Listens To – Black Sabbath – Debut (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancer! Or should I say ‘Greeeeeeeee-tiiiinnnnnnnnngs, Glaaa-aaa-aaaanc-eeeerrrrrs’? Because that’s Doom Metal – slow, foreboding, and pretty much single-handedly created by Black Sabbath. Hailing from the ‘why would anyone want to live there’ town of Birmingham, featuring Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, and Bill Ward, Sabbath is the band most people would call the first true Heavy Metal band. Now I know there’s a whole argument surrounding when Metal as a genre truly started, and that there were Metal or Metal-esque songs before Black Sabbath. In reality, that’s all bullshit. Other acts had been playing heavy music before, other bands had even coined the term, and other artists had been writing lyrics about war, death, demons, and all of that creepy stuff years earlier, but the fact is that Black Sabbath was the first to mix it all together and craft it into a uniquely evil sound – the riffs, the tone, the vocals, the foreboding bass, the thunderous beat, the lyrics and image and surrounding hysteria all swirled into a single package, and thus Heavy Metal as we know it today was born.

Some of my personal feelings on Black Sabbath; I’ve probably mentioned it elsewhere on the blog, but I’m much more of a Black Sabbath Greatest Hits kind of guy. I’m almost certain I’ve heard this album (and others) the whole way through, but in general it’s the same key songs I listen to. It’s not like Metallica or Maiden or any of my other favourite bands where I enjoy the mid-album, non-single tracks as much as their hits, no, with Sabbath it’s mainly their hits. Mainly, as there are a few non-hits I have in my rotation. With that being said, it’s a while since I’ve listened to a full Sabbath album and so I’ll be rectifying that today with their 1970 self-titled debut.

The seven songs here feature two cover versions, both given that Sabbath once-over, but it’s their original material and their title track which are the most infamous. The band was critically derided when they first arrived on the scene as sub-standard heavy blues rock with silly lyrics, but their debut was nevertheless a commercial success. Later critics would come around. It’s funny that all of the Satanic Panic hogwash was assigned to the band by their followers and the surrounding media, rather than the band themselves. Of course, they would lap it up. Before we get stuck in, lets have a gander at that cover art:

sabb

Now I don’t know about you, but that artwork has always struck me as genuinely creepy. The washed out colours, the desolate surroundings, the apparently begotten building, and of course, the pale faced banshee blasting a cursed gaze into our souls with her pit black eyes. Is she a demon? Is she a nun? Is she even a women, because with the right amount of liquor she kind of looks like Ozzy. You can see where a thousand Black Metal bands got their artwork inspiration from. When most Metal bands try to be sinister or scary it comes off as ridiculous, like when a toddler tries to punch your shin in a genuine attempt to cause serious injury. Here, I feel it works – that creature, though forlorn, has clearly been up to no good in that house in the background; she’s probably killed a family, stolen the baby and stashed it up her habit, and is now walking towards us – with every diseased step pressing decay into the very Earth, scorching the ground for eternity, with every step she gets closer to reaching out through the artwork in your hand and placing her maggot-wet fingers around your throat, squeezing as the first shimmer of a smile creeps from her lips. Or maybe she’s just the woman from the Scottish Widows commercials who got caught short on the way to pick up some Insurance. Life Insurance. For her dead husband. WHO SHE MURDERED AND ATE!

Black Sabbath: I’ve spoken before in these posts about the critical importance of first impressions. Your first song has to nail it. That’s exactly what Sabbath does with their self-titled track. It’s not a pleasant experience. Remember, this was 1969/70, the height of hippy happiness and love and all that balls. These guys open their career with the sound of rain and funeral bells. Then that huge riff comes in like a bomb, the final note wriggling like bait on a hook, while Ozzy announces the immortal ‘what is this that stands before me’. It must have been a shock when it was released, and taken as a whole there wasn’t anything else like it. There’s an ounce or two of theatricality as Ozzy howls ‘oh no no please God help me’ and when the song gets up to a gallop they unleash an unholy noise which kicked soil over the eyes of the hippy dream.

The Wizard: It wouldn’t be 70s without some harmonica. Even it is given an evil spin, yawning out like an ogre stretching out of bed before an morning snack of bones. The guitar follows the yawning before branching off into a set of furious riffs of its own. Ozzy’s vocals aren’t amazing technically, but they are unique and fit the overall tone. Even with the volume and Ward’s manic drumming, this is a jive.

Behind The Wall Of Sleep: A lesser known song, it still packs a punch. It feels like an improvised jam, but it’s very tight. It’s the central riff – not one of Iommi’s best – which brings the whole thing together. It’s another mixture of blues and heavy rock with a little taste of funk, but the growl of the guitars and the technicality send it firmly into the realm of metal.

NIB: One of the most famous bass solos ever – probably the most famous until For Whom The Bell Tolls. Then the main riff comes in, and it’s very Cream inspired. That’s fine as they crush it with sledgehammer power. It’s the first song where the lyrics seem Satanic, calling out Lucifer by name. Even though it’s a love song where the devil becomes good. It’s the middle section I really love here, on top of the great riff – everything from the ‘my love for you’ melody, all the way through the extended instrumental section is terrific. Then they swirl it all around and run through it again.

Evil Woman: Not an original I was ever familiar with until I searched it out to see what the fuss was about, Sabbath’s take is slower, lower, and grimy. It does feel quite poppy, especially that chorus, and almost doesn’t align with the tone of the rest of the album. In the US the song was replaced by the original Wicked World which probably is a better tonal fit even if it is a pretty upbeat and bouncy song too.

Sleeping Village: Yes, back on track with a sinister opening and some sort of Didgeridoo stuff going on. Apparently it’s called a Jew’s Harp, but that sounds offensive. The song loses its way after the intro and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, beyond a series of random chords and tumbling drums. If anything it’s a showcase for how good Ward and Butler are.

Warning: We close with a cover, and it’s a long’un. 10 minutes plus. Again, I’m not familiar with the original. I don’t think I have any real need to hear it. I do like how the previous track bleeds into this one only for a funky riff to take over. It’s mainly an instrumental and each member gets to show off, but it shows how tight they were as a collective unit too. Solos and rattling and rumbling all tip over each other, compliment each other. There’s some crazy guitar in the middle of this, proving that Iommi wasn’t just a riff master but could shred with the best of them too. And it just keeps going.

Definitely a case of the first half being stronger than the second. The second isn’t bad by any stretch, but it doesn’t compare with the near perfect first half. The best of this and the best of their next album would have made for one hell of a record. As it stands, it’s still one of the great debuts and a must-listen for anyone really. Even if you’re not a rock or metal fan, no music fan should pass it over as a vital part of history. If you are a rock and metal fan, then there’s no excuse. Some of these songs should be etched into your being.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Black Sabbath!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Black Sabbath. The Wizard. NIB.

Nightman Listens To Ghostmane – Anti-Icon (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! I truly have not the slightest idea what this is. I checked my 2020 albums list to see what I had to listen to next, I saw the name, I clicked ‘Create post’, and I started typing this sentence. Based on the name, I’m guessing either Metal or Rap. As part of my intro, I typically Google the album name to pull up the artwork, and sometimes that tells me something about the artist, such as the genre, where they’re from, some snippet of information which sheds some light on a previously unheard of band or person. Lets see what we find with this one….Googles…sees American singer… paint and piercings… so… Metal?

Ghostemane: ANTI-ICON Album Review | Pitchfork

Bloody arms grabbing one of those old styley torture masks. Self-flagellation? Ripping the head off some Slipknot dude? Random violent image for shock purposes. Is the helmet a symbol of the icon we are meant to be anti about? Lets just get into it, and lets hope it’s good. Oh look, the songs are very short. Yes, the songs are short. In many ways it’s an unusual album, the brevity of each each track being part of that strangeness. There’s a fair amount of diversity, yet it all feels very samey; there are the Nu Metal inspired songs, the Industrial ones, the Rap oriented ones. Some songs have clean vocals, some have growls, and some have that irritating yapping which made Nu-Metal so detestable. The variety feels shoehorned in rather than substantial, and yet it’s not a yawnsome experience. The sub three minute nature of the majority of the songs means no particular annoying factor gains too much focus, yet they feel so rushed together and free from real creativity or emotion lead to a giant shrug of the shoulders for most of the run time. It’s like hearing some local rock band being hyped up as the saviour or your Country’s next big thing, but when you watch them live you spend most of the time thinking you’ve seen it all before and ignoring what talent they may genuinely have.

Showmanship and Production are two of the major positives – the dude wants to be the next Manson or Ghost or whatever, and seems to have the charisma and social media know how to entrap a new breed of listener, and the Production is top rate, mixing a lot of the digital cut up quirks we’ve already seen many Metal artists showcase in this 2020 series so far, with guitars crunching and stuttering into a distant chaotic fog, and vocals buffering in and out of sequence with a viral intensity. Plenty of songs achieve an atmospheric atmosphere – the opener being a booming, suitably ominous intro like a descent into some cavernous industrial underworld. Still, I can’t help but shake the feeling that there is absolutely nothing new here. From the Fred Durst whining raps which sound like the poor man is curling out a particularly raw turd to the blatant Disturbed and NIN rip-offs, to the nods to such weak adolescent bedroom door slam anthems of Linkin Park, there isn’t a trace of feeling; the whole album feels like a publicity stunt. The only glimmer of honesty comes with album closer Falling Down, Something In The Way – esque conclusion and the album’s only real moment of calm, which neatly ties in with the throbbing beats of the opening track. Elsewhere, Vagabond is a great highlight reel for the album, packing in everything you need to hear in under two minutes.

Ghostmane is a talented enough performer, assuming he’s the sole vocalist and plays some guitar, and isn’t afraid to mix up the pacing with an instrumental track or introducing some mumblecore elements to his raps. The raps, the vocals are decent enough when we’re not resorting to the aforementioned Durst mewling. The lyrics are fine for this type of thing, but if you want to get the point across that you’re suffering, you’re in pain, that life is shit, there are more poetic ways to do it than screaming ‘I don’t love you anymore’. In fairness, the topics here run the usual gauntlet from suicide to being angry about the state of society and fame, to drugs, and back to suicide – all the sorts of things an edgy young audience will be enticed by, and maybe he doesn’t need to be particularly incisive with his pen – just enough of a rebellious slogan that someone pissed off at the world can be sucked in by. Of course I don’t know anything about the dude or his band, and I’m sure the stuff he’s talking about is coming from the heart. As a Metal fan, that’s something I can appreciate, but the message is more powerful when it’s delivered in a more personal way. I’m still waiting for that killer 2020 Metal album. Outside of a couple of interesting moments and meshing of styles, this album did nothing for me. It’s loud, the guy has good presence, and the Production is excellent – I’m sure it’s the sort of thing which will inspire angry young things to get into Metal, though it may be too abrasive for the masses.

Album Score

Sales: 1. There’s no offiicial Wiki entry for the album, and that’s usuallymy go to for a lot of this sort of information. Best I can tell is that the album sold in very low numbers – less than 5-10 thousand copies. It’s an Indie release, which you could take into account, but I struggle to justify giving even a 2 here. 

Chart: 2. This is barely any better. But it did seem to momentarily hit Top 40. For a Metal album, that’s not too bad, and for an independent artist that’s the exposure you need. Still, it hardly set the charts alight Worldwide or anywhere in particular. 

Critical: 4. Generally well received by the Metal and Rock reviewers, and mainly positive from everyone else. A solid 4. 

Originality: 3. 2-4 is the range here, depending on your own bias and knowledge of music. I’d say this is closer to a 2 than a 4, but while most of what is on display has been done both better and a lot worse before, I suppose it’s a modern spin on those. 

Influence: 2. I fail to see how much impact this particular album will have given it’s limited ales and accessibility. Someone will hear it and maybe be influenced, but will that lead to anything worthwhile. I think the influence will come from the artist’s body of work rather than this single product. 

Musical Ability: 3. Nothing amazing, nothing exciting, but nothing it’s easy to point to as poor. 

Lyrics: 3. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s all personal to him, but for the most part the lyrics didn’t connect with me or were hitting the nose too readily. 

Melody: 2. Little to latch on to, but some chanty shouty moments the kids will enjoy. 

Emotion: 3. I didn’t feel much but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt once more. This is a low 3.

Lastibility: 2: I can’t see me ever listening to this again, and with the rate the guy seems to be pumping out material, whatever fans he picks up will likely focus on the new thing more than the old. I could be wrong, but I don’t see this still being talked about in a few years. 

Vocals: 3. The Durst stuff is bad enough to warrant a 2, but on the whole I think a 3 is deserved. 

Coherence: 3. I could be tempted to go 4, because even with the jumping between genres, there’s still a sense of anger and of grim industrial sounds. But I don’t think it flows particularly well and the jumping from genre to genre feels sporadic.

Mood: 4. I’ll give a 4 to mood as the atmospheric aspects are notable. Metal relies on mood and atmosphere heavily, more than many other genres. 

Production: 4. All good, especially for an Indie release.

Effort: 3. Shorter songs – doesn’t always mean less effort – but many of these songs are under three minutes and aren’t too dissimilar.

Relationship: 2. As much as a Metal fan as I am, this felt like a step away from my preferences. I’m not a Nu Metal fan, Industrial doesn’t do much for me, and people trying to look all spooky with tattoos and piercings and white eyes just makes me giggle at the childishness of it all. If there’s no substance beyond the shock value, then it feels more like a fashion statement or like an admission that you don’t really have anything valuable to say. Not to judge an artist on their looks or anything. The music didn’t speak to me on any personal level, beyond a few atmospheric moments. 

Genre Relation: 3. As someone who doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of this brand of Social Media Metal, I don’t have much to compare this with. Lets go with the average 3.

Authenticity: 2. I freely admit to being wrong here, but I just didn’t feel it. Whatever genuine authenticity there may be, I lacked the ability to pick up on it. Therefore, I blame the album. 

Personal: 2. Unsurprisingly, not a high score from me. While it was critically reviewed well, for me it missed out on the emotion, melody, and smarts to keep my interest, while also neither charting nor selling well. 

Miscellaneous: 3. There are some creepy creepy music videos set in spooky spooky tunnels. That’s enough to warrant a 3. 

Total: 54/100 Possibly the lowest scoring album so far, but there are a few with similar scores in the 2020 series. But what do I know? Let us know your thoughts in Anti-Icon in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! We return to the Top 500 Metal Albums series with an album I was familiar with in my youth but which I haven’t really listened too since. To me, when you mention the Big Four (which typically meant of Thrash Metal, but is really extended to cover all 80s American Metal), I always add Pantera in there. Get Anthrax out because seriously, it’s Anthrax. Out of all of the 80s metal bands, Pantera was one of the few who entered the 80s unscathed and even better than they had been in the 80s. In the face of Grunge’s authenticity and lack of bullshit, most 80s metal bands faded away. Pantera simply evolved and became their true selves.

You see, when Pantera started out, they were just as wanky as Poison and Winger and all of those other bell-ends. Towards the end of the 80s they brought in a new vocalist in Phil Anselmo who was known for a harsher and more aggressive style and they eventually moved towards a new sound more akin to the heavier end of the Spectrum. In 1992 they perfected this new sound, something along the lines of Groove Metal – fast, yet rhythmic, aggressive yet funky, and weighed down by timeless riffs courtesy of Dimebag Darrell, all sprinkled with a distinct Southern Sludge tone. Vulgar Display Of Power was the album which finally cemented the band as one of the pioneers of the genre as a whole and it contains some of their most famous songs. I don’t think there’s any question of this one being included in any Top 500 Metal albums list. It’s been a while since I’ve listened though, so lets give it a blast.

Mouth For War‘ is trademark Pantera. It has a tone all of their own and that bruising combination of drums and riffs which shouldn’t make sense but somehow whirlwind around to create a whole. Then Alsemo’s vocals rip up the stereo. There’s no glam nonsense here, just punishment. It of course collapses into a supercharge for the final moments as the thrash comes out – music to break stuff, and each other, too.

A New Level‘ is one I’d mostly forgot about, but it’s funny how it all comes back. Memories of one of the older teens walking around with a ghetto blaster while me and my metal and grunge mates tried to slide into their group without being noticed (while also being noticed). It has a truly blinding solo and more riffing and chugging which shouldn’t come off in a coherent way, but does.

Walk‘ is probably the most famous Pantera song. In the metal club I used to go to on Saturday nights, this was played every week. Even in the rock club I sometimes went to this would be the one Pantera song you would hear. Of course when I was DJing I played it too. Talk about simple but effective roots. This is basically a single note riff with a string bend. Or hammer on/pull-off depending on how you play it. As simple as it is, it’s hard to give it that flavour that Dimebag does. No metal classic is complete without a face-shredding solo, and Dimebag obliges in his unique way.

Fucking Hostile‘ is another famous one. You don’t get to be a Metal fan without hearing this one. It’s pure Thrash. It’s already four inches deep in your neck in the first second. There is no intro or chance to breath, just an explosion and you’re away. It never lets up and is played at three hundred miles and hour from start to finish.

This Love‘ is the one I always called ‘Run To You’. Because seriously, those opening notes and tone sound exactly like the intro to Bryan Adams’s song. It’s almost a ballad for the opening moments, but then the chorus flattens you. It uses a little of the quiet/loud dynamic which Nirvana had popularized, but to even more extreme levels. It flies all over the place with old school headbanging breakdowns to give you a breather and overlapping riffs and arpeggios till you don’t know if you’re coming or going.

Rise‘ is punishment for having a marginally slower song last time. It again explodes out without warning or any semblance of an introduction. The lack of intro is the intro and the riffs slow once the verse hits. It’s another collection of parts which shouldn’t fit but somehow do. The lyrics would be more powerful if it weren’t for Anselmo’s seemingly dubious politics/tongue in cheek outbursts over the years, but the sentiment remains solid and caustic – RISE.

No Good‘ is maybe the mid album step down. It’s still good, it just becomes forgettable in the middle of everything else. Great drums and bass throughout and particularly towards the end.

Live In A Hole‘ opens with another one note riff, though that does become something else after about fifteen seconds. It then uses voice-box for comedy effect before launching off into another series of riffs and vocals. The one note riff makes up most of the chorus once it returns. The solo is one of the most interesting the band has recorded – not because of what it is but because of how it works and what surrounds it – the beat ever quickening, then following away, then entering a dissonant stretch of industrial waste before picking up and returning to the chorus.

Regular People‘ does have a riff or two which seem like they were borrowed from And Justice For All. It feels like another which gets buried under the weight of the more famous songs – it’s good enough on its own but rarely gets a chance to stand out. Another typical Dimebag solo – very fast, lots of divebombs and riffs that go four steps up, one step down each time.

By Demons Be Driven‘ opens with a different sort of riff than what we’ve seen so far on the album. It doesn’t feel very Dimebag, but that is quickly replaced by one which is 100% pure Dimebag. The chorus ends with a sequence which I always used to replace with ‘Breakin The Law’. I still do. The solo is almost one huge screech – it’s easy to see people being put off by this, but then such people shouldn’t be listening in the first place.

Hollow‘ also known as Fade To Black Part 2 is the band on rare introspective form. It’s a ballad for adolescent males who don’t know how to emote. To me it always simply felt like a chilled out ending, albeit one with an edge and a crushing conclusion.

My wife isn’t a metal fan, at all. But for some reason she likes Pantera. There’s something seductive in those low-down riffs – the predatory way they growl and repeat and the fact that they are funky, like it or not. This album has some of their best riffs and is one of the quintessential Metal albums. If you don’t have at least three songs from this album on your playlist, you’re not a Metal fan. Like a lot of metal albums there are songs which get drowned out by the good stuff or by the more obvious stuff – here those songs tend to be good but do suffer a little during an album run through. On one-off listens they don’t lose any power, but in a single sitting a few aren’t as potent. To remain potent in a metal album either the songs have to be short enough that we fly through them, or each has to be completely unique. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly one of the genre’s greatest albums and Pantera were one of the few shining lights to start in the 80s but find their feet in the 90s with albums like this.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Mouth For War. Walk. Fucking Hostile. Hollow.

Nightman Listens To – Dio – Holy Diver (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Last time around I was treated to some Dio fronted 80s Black Sabbath and today we listen to probably the vocalist’s most heralded and famous work, Holy Diver. I used to listen to this quite a bit but I thought I would cover it again because it has been a long time since I’ve been through the whole thing.

Stand Up And Shout‘ blasts furiously out of the stereo and doesn’t let up. It has that early Maiden relentless charge, but Ronnie’s vocals blow Di’Anno out of the water. The band chooses to avoid that awful chorus chanting which so many bands employed at the time – any other band of the era would have had a host of voices singing ‘shout’ together, but that’s another reason why Dio stood out from the crowd – that added class and intelligence and subtlety. There is one moment of this later in the song but we can excuse it and it’s sandwiched between two brief but battering solos to soften the annoyance.

Holy Diver’ is one of the most famous title tracks in metal and a song every metal fan should have on their playlist. Possibly a precursor to prog metal thanks to the airy synth, atmospheric slow building, and assorted sound effects. You can tell Dio had a definite tone in mind when creating this – the move into verse is a little too abrupt but that’s just me. The slower pace might not work with a lesser vocalist but it allows him to wrap those vowels neatly and placing a desire on the listener to copy along. It takes a powerful song to make such an impact on the metal world when it is this slow – add to this the fact that the chorus is a non-event. The eye watering solo surely has something to do with it – a series of layered riffs and almost careless playing which moves both leisurely and frenetically. Lyrically, Dio has also been a step ahead of most other metal bands, adding to the mythology of the genre more than any other artist since Black Sababth emerged.

Gypsy‘ kicks off with a mini solo right off the bat and takes us in an AC/DC direction, a sordid tale of lust and ladies delivered with a raunchy roar. It’s a little silly but again Dio’s authenticity and vocals carry it through.

Caught In The Middle‘ has a lighter, positive feel – metal with hope and joy without cheapening itself by finding joy between a pair of tits. Not like that’s a bad thing either, but it’s such a cop out and a sign of an unimaginative band. Dio had an imagination and the tools to unleash that on us. It doesn’t manage to soar or truly stand out, but it’s quite lovely.

Don’t Talk To Strangers‘ has the requisite acoustic opening – we could do without the whisper, but elsewhere it’s a darkly skimmed intro and verse. Then it explodes into another pulsating series of chords while Dio lets his full theatrical side out. We get the most blistering solo of the album so far – it just keeps going – and leads to a suitably thumping climax.

Straight Through The Heart‘ is the song I’ve always found most catchy from this album. Those verse melodies, complete with growls and yearning howls are plain on the surface but have a knack of sticking in my brain. It’s not the most complex song in the world, it’s very drum prominent to the extent that the guitars almost take a back seat, but there’s something irresistible about the melody, even as I recognise their simplicity.

Invisible‘ has a lovely extended intro hinting at another moody near-ballad, nice use of harmonics before the synthetic vocals come in. Lighters up, in other words. This switches shortly after the minute mark, transforming into a thunderous stomper. The production shines again – everything is crisp and meaty and given equal space. The heavier portion of the song isn’t the most exciting, the riffs now feel generic though the scratchy solo is still suitably manic like it has been lifted from another song on another planet.

Rainbow In The Dark‘ is the first song which feels full 80s, thanks to some synth stuff in the intro accompanied by crunching guitars. Again Dio’s vocals lend credibility to it all and the verses soar from screech to hook. The chorus feels like a natural continuation of the verse and the solo is another encouraging call to all metal-heads to grab their nearest guitar and give it a crack.

Shame On The Night‘ starts with dog howls and a brief repeating riff before fading down to another very slow stomping rhythm. The song again isn’t the most interesting, but it’s Dio who gives it an invigorating quality. The bass and drum led verses are punctuated by more screeching harmonics and some of Ronnie’s finest wails. The intro riff returns, feeling like it drifted in from a different song entirely, and we close with a growing collection of mournful voices mimicking one final riff in disdain.

Although released just as heavy metal was exploding almost forty years ago, the album still backs a punch and sounds fresher than many released in the genre in later years. I think that comes down to the musical choices made and Dio’s vocals. The vocals never age and are eternally powerful while the musical choices are not hindered by the fashion and tropes of the genre which would soon become prevalent. Quite a few of the songs are of middling quality on their own – you feel as if they would not be as interesting if another singer was performing. It’s a sign of just how unique Ronnie was, but a reminder that he could have been even bigger with the right song to sing. Other bands of the era starting writing better songs yet lacked a truly great vocalist, while those who merged frontman talent with songwriting skill became huge. Nevertheless, this was a game-changing moment in metal, melding the NWOBHM attack with Dio’s penchant for lyricism and 70s songwriting. As such, and on the strength of the stellar handful of songs in the first half, this remains a must-have for any metal fan.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Stand Up And Shout. Holy Diver. Caught In The Middle. Don’t Talk To Strangers.

Ranking The Iron Maiden Albums!

Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

Greetings, Glancers! No, you haven’t seen this post before, so shut up. I’ve reviewed every single album (though they may be posted on Amazon rather than here), I’ve ranked my favourite Maiden songs, but given the recent announcement of their upcoming new album (writing this on 21st July 2021) and the unveiling of their new single, and the fact that I’ve been reading quite a few similar lists recently, I thought I’d slap something together too. I’ll make this as condensed as possible; a nice, quick, and obviously divisive thing. No Live albums, because what’s the point?

A little bit before we begin – when I think of Maiden, I think of Brucey, so I’m not a huge fan of the non Bruce albums. However, its clear the band and Bruce needed a break from each other before getting back on track. I don’t enjoy Blaze or Paul’s vocals, but moreover the songs written in these two disparate periods aren’t overly interesting to me, for differing reasons. Roughly I have a list of Maiden albums I listen to regularly, and a list I only take regularly enjoy a few songs from. Those in the bottom half could be in any order, and those in the top half could be in any order. Got it? Lets do this!

16: Killers

Old school Maiden fans and punk boys will hate me for this, but I’m not a fan of Killers. I’m surprised the band managed to succeed after this weak sophomore effort. Obviously that had plenty to do with Bruce joining and the band changing their style – Killers feels nothing like progress, and more like cutting room floor outtakes from the debut. If you like that sort of thing, then you probably like this album. Pat yourself on the back. Few of the songs have the immediacy or punch or lasting appeal of those from their debut, and there’s another needless instrumental stinking up the short running time. Only Wratchchild feels special. To be positive, it’s still Maiden – it might not be the Maiden prefer, but they still play hard and fast.

15: No Prayer For The Dying

Following up an incredible run of albums in the mid 80s is this tired, turgid affair. Bruce was distracted, the band feel unsure of their sound or direction, and again there’s only a single song which makes any sort of impact. Bring Your Daughter is the big one – it’s not even very good – and a small handful of other songs at least have energy and ideas, while still feeling dull as a whole. Mother Russia tries to be inventive, but ends up a bit of a mess.

14: Virtual XI

More than any other, this album felt like the end. Thankfully it wasn’t, but if it had been most fans would have agreed that the band had run its course. Neither Blaze album is good, the meagre 8 tracks on offer here somehow feel longer than they are, and once again only one song stands out for me – Como Estas Amigos is genuinely touching. While the band would continue to lean in to excess and repetition, here it feels boring and more noticeable. The much lauded The Clansman is dull, The Angel And The Gambler loses steam after a couple of minutes. Futureal doesn’t live up to its opening. The band wouldn’t be this poor again.

13: The X Factor

Their 10th album is only marginally better than their 11th. It’s longer; too long. Essentially every song could have 30-40% shaved off their running times and we’d have a better album – still not a good album, but more palatable. Unlike the previous albums on my list, this one doesn’t have a single standout song, but a handful of the songs are more enjoyable than much of my 16-14 picks.

12: Iron Maiden

It’s the debut. They set out their stall and let us know we’re in for a wild ride. Being punk inspired, it’s fairly one tone, fairly simple, and lacks the musical and lyrical nuance of what the band would become. At least it has the songs, which 16-13 are missing. Any number of songs here, while not personal favourites, are still live and general fan favourites but along with the nuance, the production isn’t great and the overall conceptual approach to making albums wasn’t quite in place.

11: Fear Of The Dark

Fear Of The Dark is all about the title track; it’s one of the finest the band has ever written. Somewhere in here is an okay album – Judas My Guide is great, the band experiments semi-successfully with slower songs, and Be Quick Or Be Dead is a good opener. The problem is that there’s an air of disinterest, Bruce is arsing about with his vocals, and there are too many average or forgettable songs which are difficult to differentiate between.

10: The Book Of Souls

Now we switch gears. Everything after this album (on my list) is gold – every one a classic. The Book Of Souls – the band’s latest album at this point – is a good album, but shows too much of the bloating of the new Dickinson era. There are 11 songs, only 1 is under 5 minutes (by 1 second), and we have three songs over the ten minute mark. That’s not a problem in itself, but playing the thing as an album is exhausting. Speed Of Light isn’t the most exciting single and the epics don’t feel as powerful as on other albums. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. The songs are songs of moments rather than fully functioning and standing on their own, but it’s probably the album I’ve listened to least – partly because it’s so exhausting.

9: Powerslave

It’s a classic. I simply don’t like it as much as the albums below. I do have issues with it – I don’t think Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is all that interesting and Losfer Words can fuck off. Aces and 2 Minutes are perfect, Flash Of The Blade is underrated, and the others are strong.

8: The Final Frontier

Another beast, the longer tracks here don’t feel as artificially stretched as those on Book Of Souls, and the shorter songs pack a greater emotional punch. It’s a fantastic album which is perhaps too daunting for those fans stuck in the 80s – but it showcases supreme songwriting chops and shouldn’t be missed.

7: The Number Of The Beast

It’s one of the greatest Metal albums of all time, by any measure. It’s not higher on the list partly because the hits are so overplayed and partly because outside of the hits the songs aren’t as strong for me. Gangland, Invaders, The Prisoner – they’re fine, but not a patch on 22 or Children, which themselves aren’t as strong as the biggies.

6: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son

Bearing in mind that every single one of these albums is essentially a masterpiece which I hold dear, it isn’t easy to number them by preference. These will change from day to day. Today, the classic Seventh Son is lower because I’m rushing to get this list finished. It does what Number Of The Beast doesn’t by making the non-singles just as strong as the singles. The epic of the piece isn’t overly interesting, but I prefer it to Rime and Alexander.

5: Somewhere In Time

The second half is weaker than the first, with only Stranger In A Strange Land in regular rotation for me, but the first half is as close to perfect as the band gets.

4: Dance Of Death

The band’s follow-up to their wildly successful ‘comeback’, Dance Of Death is essentially more of what made Brave New World so strong. It follows a similar format with a couple of short and punchy singles surrounded by much larger or experimental songs. Journeyman is basically an acoustic song and introduces strings, while Paschendale is a serious contender for their best song. In an era of pop punk and Nu Metal fame, Dance Of Death put most other rock and metal artists to shame with its scope and value – the WTF title track a jaunty descent into folksy storytelling cheese yet managing to not be shit, and No More Lies my all time favourite Maiden song.

3: Brave New World

While any of these top five albums could be my favourite Maiden album on any given day, it’s these final three which I listen to most – both as whole albums and when considering many of the individual songs. Brave New World holds a special place because it’s the album which, out of nowhere, pulled the band back from a 4 album downturn and near irrelevance, into the unstoppable machines they remain today. Opening track The Wicker Man is one of their best singles, a modern twist on their 80s classics and the whole album eschews the trends and sounds of the contemporary metal of the time to firmly place Maiden in a genre all of their own. Some songs do go a little overboard on repetition and I’m not a lover of fan favourite Blood Brothers but every other song has an instant melodic and tonal quality that it should pull in and hold fans who had abandoned the band, newcomers, remainers, and even those unfamiliar with the dark art of Metal.

2: Piece Of Mind

My favourite of the band’s 80s albums, it may also be the most clear example of the flawless first half, and much weaker second half. Luckily that second half opens with The Trooper. The album saw the band step away from both their punk and NWOBHM roots and foray into Prog – more songs with broader ideas and greater length and scope, songs with more interesting and less conventional structures and rhythms, and instrumentation beyond the standard guitar, bass, and drums you may expect. The guitars, bass, and drums obviously make up the bulk of the sound – this is still a Heavy Metal album – and they are still played with face-melting pace and vigour, but there’s more to it than just speed; there is intent, there is invention, there is a desire to be more than what they were and more than what others were doing. From the opening drum and gallop attack of Where Eagles Dare to the subtle, mirage like intro to To Tame A Land, and even with the ridiculous Quest For Fire sandwiched in the middle, it’s one of my favourite, and one of the best Metal albums ever.

1: A Matter Of Life And Death

I don’t think many fans will have this album as their number 1, but really it has everything an Iron Maiden fan should want in their music – Bruce is on top screaming form, the punchy singles are as shred-heavy and melodic as their most famous songs, and every member outdoes themselves in terms of writing and playing. There are allusions to Literate and Cinema and mythology, there are lofty concepts, and the epics are truly stunning without ever feeling like they meander or go off into unsatisfying stretches of ambience or directionless twiddling. Every diversion has a reason, every note has an intent, and more often than not there is a satiric and unnerving poignancy and rage at the state of the world – warmongers, religious tyrants, the shielded figureheads are all taken to task before painting a picture of skeletal ruin, but underneath it all is the defiance of punk ethos screaming ‘we’re not gonna take it’. There’s not a weak song on the album, and barely a weak moment. The vicious spite of These Colours Don’t Run. The pseudo-sequel to Paschendale in The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg, the ominous skin-crawling opening to Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, and the fiery dual closers Lord Of Light and The Legacy lift an already peerless band to heights few other artists ever even aspire to.

There we go, what do you think of my ranking? Feel free to share your ranking and reasoning in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Judas Priest – British Steel (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

See the source image

Greetings, Glancers! I realise it hasn’t been that long since my previous (first) Judas Priest album, but I’m following Martin Popoff’s list chronologically and he seems to have a thing for men in leather. British Steel is of course an album I’ve heard of and it frequently hovers near the top of the Heavy Metal Premier League. I don’t know much about the album, and in these reviews I want go in with limited knowledge so that I don’t add any further bias. I do look at the album cover and the tracklisting – the cover is very familiar to me, and I’ve heard a couple of the songs – at least two are metal classics familiar to most metal fans of a certain age. The cover is fine – not quite iconic, not embarrassing, though I could have done without the cute little spiked bracelet. Then again, this is Judas Priest. I mostly enjoyed my last JP outing so I’m hoping for a similar positive experience today. Lets do this.

‘Rapid Fire’ gets us off (matron) to an almost blistering start. Simple guitars, furious drums, plain vocals and melodies. They repeat the main chord slide as if it’s some revelation, but it’s one of the first things you try when you learn power chords. They discard this thankfully for some more intricate solo play in the next section, but bring it back for the final stages. Halford finally shows his pipes on the last note and some stormy percussion takes over, leading into…

‘Metal Gods’ – a slower song. It’s very plain again and doesn’t make any interesting choices until the synth-like singing of metal gods before the decent solo. It isn’t notably forceful or melodic, but it does allow for the sound of a whip cracking which always raises a giggle.

‘Breakin The Law’ is of course a classic. It’s one of the most famous metal songs of all time, in that people who don’t listen to metal know it. They get away with the chanting nature of the chorus by not shouting it, by not making it melodic. It’s a literal chant, and all the more musical and memorable for it. It has a great riff and the verses and bridges are melodic, and it’s both short and punk-driven rather than trying to pulverize you. Then the lyrics compliment that rebellious streak which Metal is supposed to embody, in a cheery 80s sort of way.

‘Grinder’ has a driving bass and beat and that unique 80s way of conveying masculine swagger. It’s another song which sacrifices speed for stomp and doesn’t go out of its way to provide a vocal hook. The main chord line is fine again – very simple and doesn’t leap out.

‘United’ is the slowest song yet. It still stomps. It has the most bizarre chorus – it’s ridiculously cheesy and soft – I get the message they’re going for, but it feels like Queen via Westlife through an ill-advised football chant. It’s truly awful, but props for trying something like it. The pre-chorus isn’t as bad, but seriously, wtf?

‘You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise’ sounds more promising. Props to the clean production – everything is crisp, clear, and meaty. This 30 second intro already feels more like an anthem than whatever that last disaster was. Halford at least sounds like he’s biting on this one, wrapping his gums around the words and spicing them up. There’s a touch of AC/DC here, which can either be a very bad thing, or not so bad, and Halford goes a little Plant at times. It’s not the fastest son in the world, something as a whole the album seems to lack.

‘Living After Midnight’ is another famous one. Could be another case of an album being acclaimed because of a couple of hit singles. That’s the way these things usually go. It’s not as good as Breaking The Law, but it’s a fun metal-lite song, catchy, and the sort of song people who don’t like metal can mistakenly head-bang to.

‘The Rage’ opens with bass plonking all over the place, then it sounds like they’re going reggae, then the crunch sweeps both away. Halford sounds more keen on this one too. Decent solo, back to the reggae, back to the crunch. It’s not bad.

‘Steeler’ is the fast song I’ve been waiting for. A quick check lets me know this album came before Screaming For Vengeance, so maybe they hadn’t quite latched on to the speed angle yet? This proves they have the chops – the drums and guitars outshine most of the rest of the album, though it’s not the most creative and the melodies aren’t there. I can tell the influence this had on other British bands of the era.

Well, that was a disappointment considering how I felt about Screaming. Aside from the two songs I knew going in, the rest of it seems and sounds average. Maybe because I’ve heard so much metal in the years since this was released this feels very tame. Tame and lacking in creativity and energy. Still, it’s obvious they can play, it’s obvious they can write a hit, it just seems that they needed another couple of years to hone in on their most potent skills. It’s not a bad album – distinctly average in the grand scheme of things, and a let down because of the hype.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Breaking The Law. Living After Midnight. Steeler.

Nightman Listens To – Heaven And Hell – Black Sabbath (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! It didn’t us long to get back to Black Sabbath. This time though we ring the changes, as Ozzy Osbourne has been replaced by the great Ronnie James Dio. I definitely know at least two of the songs on offer here, but I’ve never heard them in relation to the album. There honestly isn’t a lot to say about the album artwork – it’s not very Metal, but it does have smoking and gambling and big-titted Angels, so I guess it kinda sorta almost qualifies. I don’t have much else to say, so lets do this!

Neon Knights: Well, this certainly has a different sound from early Sabbath. It sounds eerily similar to Broken Algorithms by Manic Street Preachers. Dio’s vocals are a major part of the transformation but even before he start singing the guitars are chunkier, the tone isn’t as melancholy, and the sound is more upbeat. This being Dio, he’s singing about more fantastical subjects. It’s faster than what I tend to think of when I think of Sabbath, there’s not a slow, doom riff, but there is a blistering solo.

Children Of The Sea: This is one I do know, and again it feels more like a Dio song than a traditional Sabbath song. Lyrically, tonally, there is a definite shift. Possibly this is as much to do with the time that had passed since Sabbath first emerged and that they didn’t want to plough the same fields. In any case this is a slower groove, opening in an acoustic ballad style before crunching chords and funky bass come in. The two parts meld well and there’s another Iommi skin-melter in the middle.

Lady Evil: A fat bass intro hints at a more traditional Sabbath sound, but that’s blown away when the guitars drop. The drive and tone is more like a halfway point between 70s Rock and 80s Hair Metal. It’s silly fun, you’ll punch the steering wheel if you drive to this, but it doesn’t have the atmospheric edge of Sabbath’s best or the grandiosity of Dio’s. A perfectly fine album track.

Heaven And Hell: The title track and the other one I know. I hate to keep repeating myself but once again it feels like a Dio song rather than a Sabbath song. It also feels like a Maiden song – specifically Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. It goes without saying, but Dio’s vocals are exquisite. Like that Maiden song, there’s a long and meandering instrumental section. This one picks up during the instrumental, solo and drums gathering speed before a frenetic climax and half a minute of quiet tinkling.

Wishing Well: Another light-hearted rocker with that 70/80s hard rock vibe. Not much to say beyond the fact that it’s a driving rock song – more great bass work, the drums haven’t been as noticeable on the other tracks but they do standout here. It’s a simple, straightforward, fist-pumping song that everyone can enjoy.

Die Young: An atomospheric, spacey intro goes into more prog sounding territory than what Sabbath would usually try. It doesn’t last and we rapidly thunder into the fastest song so far. This one is very Maiden-esque too, it’s only lacking the double guitar thrust. We withdraw into a nifty little quiet, spacey section before embarking on another leg of insanity.

Walk Away: A mid-paced stomper raised by Dio’s character and quality. It’s a simple song once more with not many detours, although we do still get a decent standalone section for the solo to fit into.

Lonely Is The Word: The closest thing to a riff led song so far, this has a very simple, very repetitive riff. It’s a slow one with a terrific layered guitar section from around the two minute mark which just keeps going, reminding us what a talent Iommi is – not just a master of riffs he can peel off fiddling fret work with the best of them. Dio does his best with the vocals but the melodies don’t allow him to hit any real emotive heights. As if to highlight the master of the guitar work the band steals one of Page’s moments from Stairway To Heaven and deploys it as a keyboard refrain as the song fades out. An epic closer which could have been better if the vocal melodies were more potent.

A very consistent album with no weak link, this is an album which sounds fresher than it should given that it was released in the 1980s. It manages to circumvent most of the problems metal would suffer from in the 80s. While none of the songs, on first listen, have the impact of an Iron Man or a Paranoid, they are a lot of fun and the band feels almost rejuvenated. It always takes time to hit your stride when you onboard a new vocalist, but this is a promising start. I haven’t heard much of Sabbath’s 80s input but if it’s all like this then I’ll have no complaints.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Die Young. Neon Knights. Children Of The Sea. Lonely Is The Word.

Nightman Listens To – Screaming For Vengeance – Judas Priest (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Well looky here, my first ever official ever listen to a Judas Priest album ever – ever! For the longest time I’ve always named Priest as the largest single blind-spot in my metal knowledge. They are undoubtedly one of the biggest selling and most important metal bands of all time, with output stretching back to the 1970s and I know a lot of their songs. I just never cared enough to give them full attention. Back in my formative metal days in the late 80s and early 90s they were one of the bands I was most aware of – part of the biggest of the big along with Metallica, Maiden, G’n’R, Megadeth, Pantera, Slayer, Anthrax etc. For whatever reason I didn’t have as easy access to their stuff as I did the aforementioned bands, and by the time I started buying my own music I wasn’t interested in spending on them. Maybe it was Halford’s voice, maybe it was that all the leather just looked silly, but from that point on I’ve never bothered checking them out further. So join me as I react to Screaming For Vengeance for the first time. Before we get to the songs, lets check out the artwork:

veng.jpg

That’s respectable, right? There’s no nudity or leather or immediately cringeworthy ingredients, unless you have something against birds of prey zooming through a radioactive sun while toothpaste oozes form their flange? I have no idea why, but the first word to come into my mind when I see this image is ‘Lego’. It doesn’t even look like Lego, but that’s what I’m thinking. The image presents a sense of speed, the metallic gleam is very 80s – almost to the point that the body looks like it’s sweating rather than simply shiny. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s striking or depicts anything beyond an almost stereotypical depiction of what metalheads think is cool, but it was probably eye-catching enough back then to moisten the pits of many adolescents. Maybe there’s some connection to the album content. Lets find out.

The Hellion: Gets off to a curiously familiar start – nice atmosphere, dual guitars, simple and introductory. I think it sounds familiar because I’ve heard so much metal from this era. There’s some comforting, confirmation bias stuff going on when you here something you’re familiar with or from your youth, a soothing blanket of nostalgia even if the individual piece is completely new to you.

Electric Eye: This joins with the first song and gets off to a ripping start. It feels quite Maiden. It’s not hugely heavy or aggressive – that nice middle ground between inviting the uninitiated and not pissing off the experienced. The vocals aren’t the ear-shredding highs I was expecting. Melodies and production quite good, I don’t need the effects on the vocals, mandatory solo. Gets you pumped up.

Riding On The Wind: More comforting sounds, more fast paced fun. There isn’t a lot of complexity so far, but a lot of energy. There’s the vocals I was expecting. Halford sounds so young. A tasty solo maintains the frenetic pace. This is fun without being overly cheesy.

Bloodstone: A slower start with a lone guitar. Has that 80s stomp to it, visions of hard lads strutting the streets looking for trouble. Melodies aren’t amazing, but the authority and conviction of the delivery smooths over any cracks. I believe this was around their 8th album so they must have been fairly confident by this point. The songs are each short, driving rock songs so far with as much in debt to punk as earlier metal albums.

Take These Chains: Where did this come from. It feels very different. I had to flick back to Youtube to check it wasn’t one of those wonderful mid-album adverts they throw in. This is quite unusual, the melodies going to unexpected places, the vocals deeper again, and more complexity in the structure than before. The vocals almost sound out of tune at various points – I assume this was on purpose. It’s quite poppy in the chorus, even the lyrics are what you would expect from a pop rock band, but they pull it off.

Pain And Pleasure: A slower song. It was the 80s so we have to expect some effects on the vocals, but Halford is a good enough singer that we don’t need any of that shite. Some S&M stuff going on here, combined with the effects and the general sauntering rhythm and some of the backing vocal shouts makes this the first truly cheesy song. We can forgive them, as long as it’s a one off. The chorus isn’t bad.

Screaming For Vengeance: A hellish scream and a chaotic clashing of drums and guitars gets us back on track. Lots of nifty blues riffs played with caterpillar fingers before Halford starts howling. Now this feels just like the 80s metal I know so well – fast, brazen, high-pitched, noisy. It’s certainly not subtle, but a hatchet in the lip isn’t supposed to be. It doesn’t have the finesse of a Maiden or Metallica, but it’s one song and it’s lightening fast fun designed to bust you neck and your mother’s best sofa. I may have heard this before, can’t quite put my finger on it.

You’ve Got Another Thing Coming: I do know this one. I don’t have a specific memory or relationship with it but it’s one of that handful of Priest songs that always seemed to be around. The vocals always felt very rap adjacent – they’re almost spoken in places and the steady beat almost demands you start spitting rhymes. I think the rhythm feels like Lost In America, though this is faster. It does feel like an unusual hit – there isn’t an obvious hook, but the overall tone and rhythm combines to create this driving, free-wheeling force which is compelling.

Fever: Going for a ballad? Nice, swirling atmospheric guitar intro which plays havoc with my orientation as it switches from left to right in my headphones. This absolutely nails that 80s rock vibe I love – everything from the pounding bass matching the rhythm of the drums to the sustain on the guitars. It takes me back even though I don’t believe I’ve heard it before. It fits in with a lot of other songs from the era, but is pretty great on its own. I think they missed a trick with the solo, but it doesn’t take too much away.

Devil Child: Big chords to open the closer. It’s another stomper, but it replaces the atmosphere of the previous ones I’ve liked with a balls-out confidence which can be irksome. That’s just me. It feels closer to the more middle of the road, one-hit wonder metal bands of the era, rather than an act that blazed trails. It has a big crowd-pleasing chorus and a crazy solo, Halford goes full Halford, and I imagine most fans will see it as an appropriate closer.

Well, that was far from the cheese-fest I was expecting. There’s definitely enough here for me to want to listen to it all again and get me hyped for the next Priest album on the list – which is. I won’t go as far as shouting ‘where have you been all my life’, but it does make me feel bad that I didn’t listen earlier. I would have loved this when I was young. It’s the best album I’ve heard so far on this metal journey and while it’s not perfect and I wouldn’t rank it alongside some of the others listed in Popoff’s Top Twenty, it’s one I’ll gladly catch up to again.

Let us know your thoughts on Screaming For Vengeance in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Take These Chains. Riding The Wind. Screaming For Vengeance. You’ve Got Another Thing Coming. Fever.

Nightman Listens To – Van Halen – Van Halen (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Van Halen (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! You can probably guess, but I’m not a fan of Van Halen. They were one of the biggest hair metal bands and hair metal has always represented everything that metal shouldn’t be – fun times, happy go lucky pop songs, box-checking business led metal, technical skill for the sake of technical skill, poser artists only in it for money and women and drugs, lyrics about tedious bullshit like women, going fast, and fast women. Hair metal is basically the mainstream RnB of the 80s – seriously, compare any major RnB song and hit hair metal song of the day’s lyrics, and they’re basically the same thing.

And yet, I’m talking in generalizations and I haven’t given most of the major bands a fair chance. I’ve heard the big songs, I probably have heard some of the albums but I don’t remember, and my preconceptions and criticism of the genre have possibly blinded me to some good stuff. This album was a huge success, Eddie Van Halen is one of the great guitar Gods, and maybe as this was their first album there is a more raw feel before hair metal became drained down to the faux-pop it undoubtedly is. I’m here to learn, that’s part of the point of me going through these posts and albums – I don’t expect to be converted and I’m fully prepared to hate it even more than I already do, but I hope to at least find some new songs I’ll enjoy.

So, before Grunge and European Metal came and thankfully cleansed us of all of this masturbatory, self-worshipping, reality TV-precursing, pouting, watered down stain, Hair Metal was King – silly, shouty choruses were being sung by bankers, soccer moms, children, and chavs alike. The album cover is about as respectable as it gets for Hair Metal – it presents the four members of the band in a live setting, so at least we assume they can actually play. I’m not sure why two of them appear to be on fire, one seems to have a steam of stench emanating from his shoulder, and Roth is doing the Robert Plant thing. Urgh, here we go.

Runnin’ With The Devil: If you’re going to have a metal album, and a debut, you’ve got to give your first song a great title. It’s better if it’s a great song of course, but a cool title helps. No complaints on that front. Of course I already know this song, and it looks like the first half of the album is stacked with the hits. I’ll admit it takes balls to have an instrumental and a cover in your first three songs. It begins with a siren/alien spacecraft/car screeching by sound before a single repeating bass note sets the pace. The drums are 80s a few years early, very steady and plain, and Roth’s vocals have a deeper tone than you may recall. The verses are mostly uneventful, while the chorus has that Desmond Child/Def Leppard shouting thing I can’t stand – one of the key factors which hurts hair metal for me. It’s a very plain opener – even the guitars don’t offer anything out of the ordinary, and for me isn’t a great representation of what the band could do.

Eruption: This is one of those tracks which budding guitarists have on their wishlist shortly after picking up the instrument. We make the list of songs we want to be able to play from our favourite artists, but then there’s the holy grail list, usually starting with Johnny Be Goode and running up to this. This showcases what Eddie brought to the band and how he almost single-handedly revitalized the instrument. Plenty of other guitarists had played with speed and intensity and brought the tapping style, but here the showmanship and ferocity and focus on doing it fast opened the door for the next gen. It begins simply enough, with a cascade of drums and a bit of guitar wankery, but once that first dive-bomb hits it picks up. It’s brief and it has since been surpassed, but at the time this must have been a revelation and sounded almost unearthly.

You Really Got Me: Although it’s louder and chugs more, it’s somehow less metal and sexy than the original. It’s something about the cheesy harmonies in the chorus and the cleaner sound. Naturally the solo is crazy and short, but all the vocal grunting and squeaking is very silly.

Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love: Another famous one and I’ve always quite enjoyed the lead in riff – there’s a touch of that shadowy atmosphere I’m always going on about. The vocals are much too plain and anti-melodic for my liking. It’s almost a punk or old blues approach to the vocals, while the chorus is still shouty without being annoying. In essence I don’t think the rest of the song lives up to the promise of the riff – I don’t think they knew what to do with it.

I’m The One: A furious guitar attack intro is joined by some really shitty sounding drums. It’s a shame because the actually drum technique is satisfactory. The pace is maintained throughout but again the vocals and melodies are the link which bring the whole chain dangling down. The song feels like a jam – Eddie just says ‘fuck it’ and busts one out, Alex is clearly off his face and tries to keep up, and the other two randomly shout and play the first thing that comes into their heads. I’m not sure what sort of melody they actually could have slapped around the guitar and drums so it’s probably as good as you could hope for.

Jamie’s Cryin’: A down and dirty sluggish riff is accompanied by a higher pitched squealing guitar. The mocking vocals come in and it feels like the band is taking the piss. The chorus is the same as all the others – sing the title while harmonies repeat it at the same time. Some cool drums before the second chorus. It’s inoffensive easy listening stuff and to its credit the chorus hook is more memorable – it does get annoying after the twentieth time though.

Atomic Punk: You can tell where G’n’R got their intro idea for Mr Brownstone from – this begins with a similar phaser style. Then the verse starts and feels like Di’Anno era Iron Maiden with a US twist. The punk of the title isn’t just in name only, there is a punk influence here but it’s taken in a more metal direction thanks to the guitar ability. It’s not the most exciting song, the riff again is good and it does pack a punch.

Feel Your Love Tonight: A more traditional hard rock, blues infused riff and feel. Again the harmonies just don’t work, because they’re not really harmonies – it’s just singing the same lyrics in the same way in a slightly higher register. That stands out to me and I can’t shake how futile it feels – if you’re going to add harmonies, do it right. The vocals aren’t the best – very anonymous – and there isn’t a single hook to hang your bandanna on. I get why people probably think it’s fun.

Little Dreamer: Another plodder. I wasn’t expecting the nods to the blues so much, but they take what they don’t like from that genre – samey vocals. Luckily the backing vocals are better this time, the ‘oohs’ doing what the harmonies of the previous song failed to do. The guitar solo almost feels out of place – there’s this little blues ramble and a lead guitar firing off at a billion miles per hour. This one is catchy, more than I can say for most of the others.

Ice Cream Man: I know I mentioned the Blues before and I expected people to vent in the comments about how there’s no way any of this is blues. Then this disaster drops and it’s completely taking the piss. Beyond the funny lyrics this is complete nonsense – I’ve said before that Blues is the easiest music to copy and one of the most limited genres. Listen to any three or four blues songs, hand someone a guitar, and they’ll come up with the same thing. That’s what this is, but of course they bring the metal half way through. It doesn’t add anything beyond volume and some more furious guitar.

On Fire: A punk influenced closer – lots of yelling, pretty chaotic, and lots of wacky guitar. A few riffs charge about, lots of running up and down the fret, lots of shrieks, and buckets of energy. No melodies though.

On the whole I was pretty much spot on with my introduction – this doesn’t feel like a true hair metal album as it came a few years before that genre truly started. It’s something like mashing together Aerosmith, a batch of US punk bands, a touch of NWOBHM, a sprinkling of what Hair Metal would become, and capped off with Eddie’s guitar. It’s the guitar which makes this noticeable – without it this would have been a long forgotten average rock album, but because every riff is at worst solid, at best iconic, and the playing what you remember. Which is good because most of the actual songs are very ordinary, throwaway straight rock with barely a tune between them to whistle while you work. Roth was a better stage presence than he was a singer, making up for a lack of character in his voice with a series of leaps and twerks, and the other pair aren’t really noticeable for the most part. So, it’s not horrible but it lacks any real stand out tracks.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Eruption: Jamie’s Crying.

Let us know what you think of Van Halen in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Accept – Restless And Wild (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s perhaps apt that I begin this metal journey with a band whose name starts with an ‘A’. Accept isn’t a band I have a lot of experience with, at least not that I am conscious of. As with many of the bands and albums coming up, I’ve probably heard their stuff and just ignored it or not known who it was. I know fo’ sho’ I’ve heard a number of songs by Accept – their 1983 hit Balls To The Wall is familiar to most metal fans of a certain age. They’re a band who have been going since the 1970s and are still recording an touring today – when you’re metal, you never stop. Hailing from Germany, we may be in for some unintentionally hilarious lyrics or accents, and we’re sure to hit some top speeds. I know the band are one of those European bands named by later, more successful bands as an influence so I’m hopeful I get this series off with a blast. This 1982 release was apparently their fourth album, just before they hit it big with Balls To The Wall so maybe this has some of the hit-making qualities which paved the way.

Fast As A Shark: Ah yes. I know this one – it’s in the classic Demons – a movie about people trapped by zombies/demons in a cinema. It has a comedy false opening with some sort of folk song which gets obliterated by a shriek and some lightening drumming. As was standard for the genre and the period, the vocals are somewhere north of crotch-crushing. The production isn’t the best, but it’s far from the worst and gives it that added grimy touch – like watching a VHS tape. You won’t be able to make out most of the lyrics, but this is all about the speed and energy anyway. You can tell where the likes of Metallica got their influence from – many thrash guitar solos which would emerge in the next few years sound just like this.

Restless And Wild: Here we get a slice of Maiden-esque galloping. It’s a great intro which falls apart in the verses as the instruments withdraw and the vocals go to strange places. For metal fans, there’s plenty here to charm you but it’s not going to entertain anyone else. There isn’t much subtlety and you can understand your average listener dismissing it as noise. The rest of the band gets in on the vocal act, chucking in deeper harmonies in that classic 80s shouty way. The solo is another belter though.

Ahead Of The Pack: A more restrained, cultured intro if you will. Of course it’s only seconds before we descend into another series of adolescent-pandering slogans and screams – just the way we like it. It’s a very classic metal feel. The verses do this interesting pause thing once each time which catches you off guard. It doesn’t seem to serve any other purpose. There’s a cool effect before the solo smashes in, and the tone of the lead guitar is dirtier than a whore on Friday.

Shake Your Heads: A slower song with a simple riff/structure. Those vocals though, they sound like a eunuch being throttled. Imagine Bon Scott being fired to the moon via a firework in his anus, and you’ll be somewhere close. Still, that’s what everyone was at those days. The solo has more room to breath with this structure, but it’s a very basic one. Maybe one the fans can practice playing along to.

Neon Nights: I just had to pause in my writing there, because that intro is fantastic. There are a few moments which remind me of much bigger metal songs, eerie and otherworldly, and then there’s a great fuzzy boom and guitar tone before the song properly starts. The vocals are more restrained, nowhere near the sphincter melting heights of every other track. The solo goes back to that fuzzy tone of the intro as the rhythm section slops along. This one was written with a little more skill and attention.

Get Ready: A more straightforward classic rock intro with a little metal kick. The vocals are back. This one feels cheesier than the rest. It’s still fun and quirky for the modern metal listener and it’s decent enough for me who remembers a lot of this sort of thing from my childhood. I’m not a big fan of the ‘shout along handful of word chorus’ approach which Def Leppard would later perfect – it’s prominent here.

Demon’s Night: It starts okay, but loses steam in its simplicity. Decent rhythm, chugs along – it’s a bit of a precursor to Creeping Death but with little of that song’s brilliance and spark. Lots of pleasingly headache inducing guitar inflections and twists – a pity of the vocal melodies and approach don’t shape up.

Flash Rockin’ Man: An intro suspiciously like Two Minutes To Midnight. Ha ha, a quick look down the comments and everyone has mentioned the same thing. METAL! The verse goes in a completely different direction from that classic and it doesn’t have a chorus – instead going for some bonus guitars. Well, it eventually gets to a chorus. I’ve no idea what he’s shouting about. It just reminds me of a time when every metal band sounded like this and some of the local hoods would walk around with ghetto blasters pissing off the oldies by playing this stuff. Some nice twists in the second half.

Don’t Go Stealing My Soul Away: This one comes closest to having an actual melodic, singalong chorus. Yeah, if you want to rip your throat to pieces by trying to sing along with any of the songs on this album, by all means go ahead. It’s another simple one which gets immediately to the point and stays there with no frills. Not much to say beyond that singalong chorus.

Princess Of The Dawn: Jeepers, this one has a Two Minutes To Midnight feel too. Then it turns into Maiden’s The Clairvoyant. It’s another strong intro and this time they go all in on the melody. As much as they’re creatively able to at least. The vocals are patchy in places, mumbling and veering between the lower range and the painful high stuff. Who is the princess of the dawn? She Ra? Great solo. The best production and attention seems to have gone towards keeping the solos crisp. There’s excellent drum-work as the solo draws to a close and the final couple of minutes throw in a batch of other ideas which raise the song to further heights.

If I’d been a born a few years earlier and had access to more funds and the ability to buy stuff, I imagine I would have listened to a lot more stuff like this. As it stands, I was only exposed to the biggest bands and everything else was one-off songs until much later.  By the time I had money, it was all grunge and Brit-pop. There’s enough ability here that you can tell the band weren’t just making up the numbers in the metal community. They weren’t just playing fast and loud, they were expanding and trying other things. They don’t go very far in that direction here – maybe they do on later albums – but maybe those were enough to encourage the next wave of bands to go further. Metal fans of my age and older will enjoy this, but I don’t see many metal fans younger than me going for it – it does feel too much like a relic of another age, and it you weren’t a part of that age the style and approach may be too foreign to you. Still, I’m glad I’ve heard it and there are a few I’ll be listening to again even if I wouldn’t class any as a great.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Neon Night. Faster Than A Shark. Princess Of The Dawn.