Nightman Listens To – Deep Purple – Machine Head (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s finally time to listen to another one of the bands known for laying the ground work for Heavy Metal. Out of all the late 60s, early 70s bands who contributed to the genre’s foundations – Deep Purple are likely the most important alongside Led Zep. I know a few Deep Purple songs fairly well – they are a band you come to early on when branching out in rock and metal’s roots, and they’re a band whose songs you become familiar with when you first decide to play guitar.  Machine Head is their most famous album, and while I’m not sure if I’ve heard all of it, I know I’ve heard most of it at various points. There was a kid who lived on the street I grew up on – his dad (who bore a striking resemblance to Gerry Adams and was therefore the brunt of much pranking around Halloween) was a big Deep Purple fan. He would blast tunes while washing his car. Just a random memory for you – you won’t get this content anywhere else folks!

But before we take a closer look at the tracklist, lets check out that album cover.

The combination of me not being as familiar with the facial features of the band members as I am with other artists, and the warped and blurred puddle marked cover mean I don’t know who’s who. The fella on the right gets the worst of it, his forehead being hoovered up into the psychedelic mire of the upper half, leaving his chin and ‘tache dangling like a swollen scrotum. Elsewhere, fake Syd Barrett is popping up looking all serious like, while on the far left a random college professor seems to have accidentally stumbled into the shoot – his faintly nervous gaze betraying his awareness of an imminent kicking by the rest of the band.

I don’t recall the album being so short – only seven songs and only one of those is over seven minutes long. The big one here is of course Smoke On The Water, but Highway Star and Space Truckin’ I know. I’m sure some of the others will come back to me when I listen. Lets see what Blackmore and co. have to say for themselves.

Highway Star‘ gets down to business off the bat with a series of charging beats and chords and a classic rock yell. The overall force and production is a little thin, weak which means the vocals and percussion lack bite. The drums are top notch, with lots of rattling fills at speed and the instrumental middle is zany fun. The extended solo in the second half is nifty too – more like a repeated series of different riffs up and down the neck. With more oomph in the production this would be an ideal driving song – that’s really the only thing letting it down for me.

Maybe I’m A Leo‘ has a fatter sound, the cymbals do still feel too tinny for my liking, but the lead riff is chunky, accompanied by a funky beat. In terms of metal – this does feel much more in the vein of ‘classic rock’ than metal, like most of the heavy rock bands of the time do. The organ shenanigans and the changes in beat also give it that 70s blues and jazz infusion which a lot of bands of the era had.

Pictures Of Home‘ opens with a splattering of drums before the guitar assault. The vocals still sound distant – they’re just not prominent enough in the mix, but it feels like everything is at an arm’s length rather than being in your face like this sort of music should be. I see Martin Birch was in the studio – usually his work is beefed up more than this, so maybe it’s just the copy I’m listening too. Again I can’t fault the playing – the song has a set structure but is loose enough to allow each member to off-shoot when they desire. Melodically, the song relies on those off-shoots to be interesting as the main vocal and core are plain, but I’m not getting much from it on an emotional level.

Never Before‘ is another slower, funk filled song. The verse raises the tempo and adds a big blues riff while the chorus brings a more notable hook. There are quite a lot of time shifts in the four minutes, including a brief pre-solo mellow phrase. It’s a simple rocker, spiced up with sprinkles of creativity lacking in chart music today.

Smoke On The Water‘ is the one we all know. Big, famous riff, strong chorus. Not a lot to add.

Lazy‘ surges into view with an electronic throng which reminds me of Money For Nothing. It then takes off into a jaunty organ jazz-fest before the rest of the band make up their minds to join in. Is it a 7 minute instrumental? It’s working well at the moment – a collection of riffs and zooming beats, but instruments rarely sustain their value for me for more than a few minutes. Like a lot of these instrumentals, this feels like a jam, except I get the impression this one was more well-practiced and performed than most – it’s tight. Ah, four minutes in we get our first vocal, interesting. Harmonicas now, followed by more vocals and screams. It’s pretty good fun.

Space Truckin‘ has that highly distorted electronic throng sound again – like a lightsaber swung through a brass tube. It’s a riff led song with a fair amount of groove thrown into the mix, and the chorus is one of the snappier sequences on the album. It builds to freak-out levels before the final chorus and the drums are once again the most noticeable instrument. Gillan then goes all Halford for some reason.

That was a little underwhelming, probably because the album is so short. There are no bad songs but even the best songs don’t hit any heights for me. The band sure knows how to play – drums, keyboards, and drums being the highlights while the bass and vocals didn’t have a huge impact on me. The production on the version I’m listening to gave the whole album an unfortunately thin sound – that’s not what you want to feel when you’re a hard playing rock band. While I eventually got used to this, it does still leave me at an emotional distance from much of the music. It is a consistent album – I’d say every song is around the high C, low B grade for me – but really Smoke On The Water is the only song anyone beyond the band’s fans are going to care about. I’ve added a few others to my playlist, but I can’t see me listening to them more than once or twice. While this may be seen as Deep Purple’s most famous record, I’m hoping it’s not known as their best.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Highway Star. Smoke On The Water. Lazy. Space Truckin.

Nightman Listens To – Operation Mindcrime – Queensryche (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Sweet Lady of Pain”: The History of Mary in Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime - The Rockpit

Greetings, Glancers! Queensryche. They were ‘one of those foreign bands’ my 10 year old self would have said without a hint of irony. It was a shock when I later found out they weren’t even ‘foreign’. When I used to read metal magazines back in the day, they were one of the bands I felt I knew, purely because they were mentioned and discussed quite a bit, without me ever hearing any of their stuff. At some point though, I did hear them. I had a few friends who had older siblings, which is likely how I got into a lot of music and movies – seeing posters on their bedrooms of things I wasn’t allowed to watch, or was too young to full comprehend beyond thinking it looked and sounded cool. Operation Mindcrime was one of those things – it wasn’t scary and devil-worshippy like some of those foreign bands, but they told stories with their songs and their songs had cool names. Come to think of it, it may have been one of my first exposures to the concept album, though I would have heard Pink Floyd and a lot of Alice Cooper by this point.

I’ve no idea when it was I last heard any of this. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to Queensryche beyond what is on this album. Popoff ranks it in the Top Ten metal albums of all time – far above albums I know I love a lot more. It’s time for a re-evaluation. I probably won’t go into much detail with the concept or lyrical side of things – I get the feeling that will require more focus on my part, rather than me listening and typing at the same time.

I Remember Now: The thing I never liked much about Concept Albums (especially Metal ones) are the spoken tracks like this – I mean, Eminem is probably the best at this sort of thing. Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd had the wit to make the spoken part a part of a genuine song. Stuff like this has a tendency to come off as naff to anyone who’s not au fait with prog, and even then it’s touch and go. But it’s okay, this is just their way of setting up the story.

Anarchy X: The album gets a proper introduction with this brief instrumental, a militaristic march and series of chants all heightening the themes of protest and anti-whatever. We get a nice guitar piece and the music builds before blending into –

Revolution Calling: – which has that nice atmospheric guitar tone I always enjoyed. I remember clearly pieces of this, the vocals aren’t exactly my thing now but I used to think it was bad-ass back then, back when every metal singer sounded like they had no balls. The guitars are still good, melodically the verse is a little scattered, the chorus better, the solo strong. Lyrically it’s like a carpet bomb of all the stuff we should be fighting against, again without much focus – politicians are bad, rules are bad, religion is bad, greed is bad – they basically could have sung those four statements and followed it up with the chorus and had the same result.

Operation: Mindcrime: This song starts with a bit of a tease – you always think the drums are going to come in earlier than they do, and when they finally do the song is revealed to be much slower than you anticipated. I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s funky, but there’s certainly a rhythmic quality to the structure, and the bass is going places where metal songs usually fear to tread. The guitars are the highlight here, without being amazing or being particularly inventive. It’s a song with ideas, just lacking a major hook if you’re into such things.

Speak: This picks up the pace and adds a sense of urgency. The problem is again the lyrics – when you’re doing storytelling in lyrics you don’t leave a lot of room for both the words and music to be strong. Here the music is straightforward and the lyrics are pretty silly and simplified, but we get the point – stuff is bad, we must make it better. You get the impression that this was (and still is) probably taken as a call to arms by both sides of the same coin. Because people are stupid. Another nice solo.

Spreading The Disease: We all know this one. Phat drums give way to guitars and a charging verse. I took this as a ‘lets get angry at rich people’ song or sometimes a ‘drugs are cool’ song when I was young, but most often a ‘whatever the disease is, lets spread it’ song. It’s pretty obvious what it’s all about now… glad to see America has changed since its release. Oh wait. The rich are still rich, and the US still funds wars in other countries to increase the wealth of their 1%? Well, it’s not like that has ever come back to bite them in the ass.

The Mission: A sermon and a bell delivered to the sound of a gun being loaded, before church bells and ominous riffs collide. Church bells and riffs always seem to go together. This is more my style of things – a nice and thoughtful build-up before a throbbing, sinister verse. It’s a pity so many of the melodies and chorus styles are so similar from song to song. Good thing we make up for it with great solos and, here, synth work.

Suite Sister Mary: A near eleven minute epic starts out with some more story, go kill Mary and The Priest etc. We then get a stalking riff conjoined with Omen style chanting, all building up a nice atmosphere. I would have preferred this to continue but the verse largely abandons the good ground work for a more whispering, subtle approach. The verse gets better as it progresses and the storytelling lyrics work more fluidly. The chanting comes back, acting as an interlude before the heavier guitars take us to the next section. There’s a definite grasp at the operatic, at the epic here – melodically it still doesn’t quite get there for me. The various repetitions of the main hook do grow on me, but not quite enough. It’s a song you’ll need to listen to four or five times before any of it will stay with you. There’s some great, epic stuff in the middle which shows the heights the band were aiming for – if you’re doing an album like this you need the balls to shoot for the moon, and the talent to pull it off.

The Needle Lies: A much needed blast of pace highlights this as obvious single or metal club hit – it’s the song you could lift off the album and listen to out of any wider context, it’s the song you’d want to share to get your mates to listen to the album. This is straight to the point, lyrically and musically, and as such is probably my favourite of the album so far. There’s no grand aspiration beyond making a face-melting metal classic and that’s what they do.

Electric Requiem: Of course they follow it up with a brief track of chatter and instrumentation and yells. It’s not skippable, like many similar tracks on similar albums are – I’m looking at you Nightfall On Middle Earth – but it’s not one you’d go looking for either.

Breaking The Silence: I recall liking this one quite a bit when I was younger. It has the atmospheric chugging guitars I like so much, and most crucially it has the melody and emotion to make it all worthwhile. It feels like an 80s Power Ballad and wouldn’t be out of place on one of those Power Ballad or Car Driving 3 CD compilations you see marketed to Dads at Christmas. It’s not quite as cheesy as most of those, but you know me – anything Power Ballad or Power Ballad adjacent I probably enjoy.

I Don’t Believe In Love: This one was pretty famous back in the day too, though I don’t remember much of it. It’s very much in the vein of the last song, though with more of an edge. The lyrics are of course cynical which adds to that edge, but you can still see it as a Power Ballad, the music video likely featuring a sultry vixen dancing in shadows while the singer throws a whiskey baller against the wall and shrieks into the camera.

Waiting For 22: Nice transition into another extended atmospheric intro. The song is just an intro track for the next song, but it works well enough on its own too. It’s not one you’re likely to play much on its own though.

My Empty Room: This one also feels like an introduction, a short build up to the closer. No need for the friend yelling and sudden end though – it’s clearly ripped from The Wall but doesn’t work nearly as well.

Eyes Of A Stranger: The closer begins as another clear rip-off of a very specific song from The Wall but quickly becomes its own thing. The swell of music promises something good, but it falls away for a more mellow verse instead. The volume comes eventually, good vocals sound emotional, and the melodies are fine. Good solo in the middle, not quite the epic closer I was expecting.

Almost every song in this album has a comment on Youtube either comparing this with The Wall or saying it’s better. I know that Youtube isn’t exactly the bastion of intelligence it thinks it is, but just remember that your comments are there forever once published. Even if you delete them. I’ll take the comparisons – they’re both prog albums of a sort, but they are both very different in style, approach, and tone, and subject matter. While this was taking metal in new, more expansive directions, The Wall was basically – nine years earlier – saying every final thing that prog ever needed to say. There’s honestly no comparison between this and The Wall, because there’s not really any comparison between anything and The Wall. 

Still, it’s an album that my opinion of hasn’t really changed over the decades. Mostly it comes down to that most base of Metal opinions – I like the guitars. There are plenty of ideas and obviously a lot of work and thought went into forming the songs and the concept. There are many many better metal albums out there, concept or otherwise. In fact, take the concept out of this and the music isn’t nearly as adventurous as other albums released around the same time. We expect progressive music to be just that – challenging, doing things that others haven’t, or doing things that others have but to the next level. I wasn’t in a position to compare these things when this was released, but in retrospect you can see other acts were already years ahead by the time this came out.

I enjoy the second half more – that’s when the band remembers they’re making music, not just telling a story, and slaps some worthy melodies into the mix. Some of the songs have become metal classics for many people, but for me the biggest and/or best songs hover around the high C, mid B Grade territory – not enough emotion of melody to truly engage me. The world can use these types of albums though, and if anything they can spur others on to better things. If the first half had the melodies of the second, I’d hold this much higher in my estimation. I’ll admit that, as with most albums of this type, it probably takes multiple listens to sink in and to fully get on board, but sometimes you just know it won’t ever be your bag.

Nightman’s Playlist Pics: Breaking The Silence. The Needle Lies. I Don’t Believe In Love.

Nightman Listens To – Judas Priest – Painkiller (Top 500 Metal Album Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with our third Judas Priest album, and with this one it at least has one song I’m familiar with. The Title track is an obvious classic of the genre. I think my foray into the bonkers world of Ju-Pre, as they shall henceforth always be known, has been mostly positive. Having only known their big singles previously, they were maybe the most jarring gap in my classic Metal knowledge. I’m looking forward to this – I mean, look at the absolute state of this album cover:

Painkiller | Raves From The Grave

What the holy hell is that? If it’s not the most Metal thing you’ve ever seen, I don’t know what to say. It could only be more Metal if that cyborg angel had massive breasts. I mean, this is Ju-Pre, so boobies might be a no-no. But just look at the ecstasy on the face of this future-medieval marauder. He’s just singlehandedly won Superbowl MMXXV, earning 14 Trillion Moon Credits, and found out that his mistress has given birth to solid gold triplets. To celebrate, like any sane freak would, he erupts into the atmosphere on his Harley-Dragonson, a motorcycle/wyvern hybrid so badass that even having a giant silver-plated scythe rotating at 96 mph in its mouth can’t slow it down. The exhaust appears to be a chrome-based swordfish, his cute little boots are all spiky, and the speed the machine is travelling at is fast enough to reduce the city below to a nuclear wasteland. I don’t even need to listen to the album now, my Metal quota for the year has been surpassed.

‘Painkiller’ is in many ways the quintessential Metal opening track and title track. I could even argue that, from an outsider perspective it’s the quintessential Metal song; It’s fast, loud, brash, obnoxious, not pleasant to listen to, and has thunderous, technically proficient instrumentation. It’s completely over the top and ridiculous in every way. It speeds up at various points, Rob’s screeching is almost unbearable, and there are guitar solos every couple of minutes. In short, it sounds like war. It’s why people who don’t like Metal will hate it, people who do like Metal will love it. It’s everything which the cover art promises. It’s also the only song on the album I was already familiar with, so I’ve no idea if the others have this energy or if they simply can’t compete. It’s a glorious six minutes which every Metal fan should hold dear, at the very least as a part of history even if you’re not a fan of the band.

‘Hell Patrol’ begins with a clattering Am I Evil introduction before settling into a series of metal clichés. It seems to be some sort of dedication to Metal in general – bands, fans, you get it. It’s lyrically very silly and is a prime example of what non-Metal fans think of when they accuse Metal of lacking intelligence. Outside of that intro, there isn’t much going for it musically. It’s still enjoyable – because I enjoy big chugging guitars and twiddly solos – but it’s by the numbers.

‘All Guns Bazing’ is more of the same. Fast paced, more amusing lyrics. In fact, this album as a whole is like you threw a pile of Metal buzzwords into a computer and it pumped out AI generated lyrics. Tasty solo in the middle, bit of a tempo change which gives the main riff a different flavour. It’s fun but not a stand out. The intro is hilarious though.

‘Leather Rebel’ feels like the band is trolling us at this point. I’m sure they’ve already mentioned leather several times by this point, but lets have another. More silly lyrics, but this one is a step up musically. It feels like they’ve put more thought in to make it melodic and as such it’s the best song since the opener.

‘Metal Meltdown’ opens with a Judas Priest version of Eruption, as every True Metal song should. An unusually repetitive vocal in the verse, the pre-chorus verges on unlistenable, and the chorus is Def Leppard style chanting shite. But, it’s fast, angry, and sometimes that’s enough.

‘Night Crawler’ succeeds because of a fairly catchy chorus and riff. The verses are good too, though very plain. You know the formula by now – silly lyrics, fast guitars, generally fun atmosphere. It goes off in more interesting off-shoots than most of the other songs – slower, whispered sections which are supposed to be scary or evocative of whatever a night crawler is. But those add a different musical slant, momentarily.

‘Between The Hammer And The Anvil’ has a breath in breath out guitar intro before it remembers that it should be fast and loud. Then it goes fast and loud. A more notable solo in the middle of it all.

‘A Touch Of Evil’ merges neatly with the previous song and is the one slower song on the album, and the one coming closest to a love song of sorts. It’s pretty good and doesn’t change the pace or intent or tone of the album. Due to its slower pace and solid melodies, it’s another standout.

‘Battle Hymn’ is a brief instrumental intro to the closing track. It’s good.

‘One Shot At Glory’ is the requisite epic closer. While the solos are as fast and furious as you would expect, the pace of the overall song isn’t as intense as most of the other tracks. It’s well layered though and they’ve clearly tried to make this one a more subtle bookend to the album than the opening track – equally long and reaching, but without the buck mental vibe.

It’s not big or clever, well, it is big. Fast too. But it isn’t clever. The title track deserves some better support – it’s like they threw everything they had at the title track then tacked on some other leftovers which are little more than ‘play fast and say words like marauders, night, and leather’. All that sounds very negative, but if you’re looking for a straightforward, no frills Metal album then you’ll get fewer better than this. There’s little irritating in there, there’s no nonsense, no ballads, no asides, and none of the songs go on too long. It’s stripped back, right down the middle, loud, fast, distorted Metal. Even as the individual songs aren’t stand-outs, they’re all a hell of a lot of fun, and consistently so. The title track is a ten, and everything else is a 6. It’s the most consistent Judas Priest album I’ve heard so far. It’s well worth a listen, but I suspect it’s only existing Metal fans who will enjoy it.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Painkiller. Touch Of Evil. Leather Rebel.

Nightman Listens To – ACDC – Highway To Hell (Top 500 Metal Albums)!

Acdc Highway to Hell.JPG

Greetings, Glancers! For anyone who has stumbled upon this post via the power of Googling (or even Binging), I should explain what I’m doing here. Basically, it’s like those reaction videos on Youtube where people (usually rap fans or young’uns or idiots) listen to a rock or metal song for the first time and pretend to be shocked and amazed. I’m doing that, except without the visual, or the faking. And given that I’m a Northern Irish fella, nothing really shocks or amazes me.

A little about me then – I’ve always been into rock music, from as far as I can remember. I was a kid in the 80s, but hit my musical peak in the 90s, living through the death of hair metal, grunge, brit pop, and rock music as a popular form. When I was a kid, ACDC was one of those holy bands that everyone talked about and was supposed to love. Not knowing any better, and only knowing a handful of their songs, I assumed I loved them too. It’s only when I got older and heard more of their stuff that I realised… they’re not very good. Limited musically, screechy vocals the likes of which tend to be heard during a beheading, and silly teenage boy lyrics about boobies. In essence, it’s a hair metal band but without the make-up and stupid clothes. But beyond Back In Black I’ve never listened to one of their albums in full. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ll love this. Maybe I’ll eat my own words like an anti-politician. I doubt it, but we’ll see. Before we begin, lets have a laugh at the album cover, which sees fake Mick Jagger wearing a hair-band of thorns, and swishing his tail around all la-di-da like. The rest of the boys seem to have forgotten they’re taking part in a photo-shoot which will see them appear in shops in front of millions, and instead seems to be either laughing at something happening in the background, waiting anxiously for the cameraman to ask them to ‘say cheese’, or simply look bewildered because they have never seen a camera before. In any case, the whole thing is a shambles. There are two songs here I know already. Lets see what the others have in store.

Highway To Hell‘ opens the album. You know it, I know it. It’s actually one I don’t mind. I sure don’t love it, but you can’t escape you catchy it is.

Girls Got Rhythm‘ is the sort of title and song which makes you wonder if the band ever got any. It’s as simple a rock song as you’ll find – couple of chords followed by a riff. It’s straight blues with added crunch and white boy swagger. I admit there is a charm in hearing a Classic Rock song for the first time – I have nostalgia for the whole genre which covers up any cracks. It’s not bad – it has a solid beat and repetitive nature which ensures its place as a party song (I imagine). There’s not a lot to it of course, and none of the melodies or instrumentals are particularly strong.

Walk All Over You‘ opens with a touch more imagination. Drums and guitars taking turns and playing – playing the same thing over and over yes – then the main riff drops and the pace picks up. It’s more Blues Classic rock stylings. Again, I can see drunks dancing to it. It falls apart when the chorus and the backing vocals drop. It’s distinctly average – I imagine it was popular because it dropped at the exactly right time in the US when they were crying out for this sort of party music. It has no business being longer than 5 minutes.

Touch Too Much‘ is the other song I know. Like any number of AC-DC songs it is a mid-pace stomper – you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Highway To Hell, so similar is the pace, structure, and beat. Naturally the melodies and guitar work are different enough to keep such comparisons at bay. It’s as good as the title track and if you like that there’s absolutely no reason why you won’t enjoy this.

Beating Around The Bush‘ is another song title which might have made me snigger when I was 10. To its credit it starts out with a more interesting riff and launches with a furious pace. It somehow almost feels Country. The pace relents briefly for the chorus before getting straight back to the verse. This one is quite fun.

Shot Down In Flames‘ starts out in traditional fashion – I’ve a feeling a large part of why I don’t get the band like others do is the the drums. So often there is zero variance with the drumming. It feels very much like a session drummer who has been brought in for a pay cheque to simply lay down the bare minimum – there’s no life or attempt at style or colour. The song itself is fine – it’s not any better or worse than most of the other stuff that I’ve heard them do.

Get It Hot‘ is further proof of my drumming statement. It’s like they got the session drummer for 20 minutes to record one song, then they just copied and pasted the same parts over every other song. I’m adding my own fills with my mouth as I listen – it’s really not that difficult to make a song standout by adding an extra couple of beats and blasts here and there. This is more of the same, musically, lyrically. AC-DC are just like Status Quo, except they look more like farmers than Quo do.

If You Want Blood‘ is a song I think I’ve hard before, I just can’t place it. The song builds a little differently from the others, but then the verse starts and it’s identical to the previous song, even the riffs. It’s amazing to me how such an unimaginative band became so successful, in a genre which frequently demands innovation – or did around the time this was recorded. It’s lowest common denominator rock.

Love Hungry Man‘ opens with big chords but once the cymbals come in I know what’s coming. Wait for it. Wait for it. There it is. Same beat. At least the guitar approach in the verse is slightly different. The chorus is almost the same as Alright Now. Straightforward easy rock with no strings attached. And that’s just not enough for me – where’s the skill? Where’s the feeling? What sets them apart from any wedding band? The farmer look?

Night Prowler‘ is the longest song on the album, to close things out. It opens fairly slowly, and I can just about imagine the slow walking pace of some weirdo going to the beat. Also, the drummer actually does something different here! Unfortunately the band just can’t get it right and the slow pace only heightens their deficiencies. They’re just…. not very interesting. There’s a slow and loose solo in there somewhere. It’s a three minute song stretched to 6.30 by halving the pace.

It’s far from a bad album, let me be clear. Most of my criticism for the band is just down to personal taste. At a stretch I could say my personal test touches upon some genuine critical insight – they are a repetitive band, they are formulaic, they’re not the most engaging or technical musicians. But then I listen to and love plenty of other artists I could make the same argument for. So personal taste then – I understand why others enjoy these songs, and given the right time, place, and frame of mind I can enjoy them too. But the majority of the time they feel like overly simple, average rock songs. As mentioned, the classic rock sound has a special place in my heart, so hearing songs from that genre that I haven’t heard before does give me some kind of fuzzies, but that quickly fades as each song progresses through the same beats. Like a lot of bands, I think nostalgia is what keeps them selling, but people are coming around to the realization that many of these acts of the 60s, 70s, 80s, had a handful of decent tracks and the rest were empty re-treads.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Highway To Hell. Beating Around The Bush.

Nightman Listens To – Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (Non Maiden Series)!

Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (2005, CD) - Discogs

Greetings, Glancers – it’s Brucey time! It’s a long time since my last Bruce solo outing, and in truth that was pretty crap. This was his first album after fully leaving Maiden. Unlike his debut, this one I haven’t heard of at all, and I don’t remember anything about it from around the time of its release. I don’t recognise any of the ten tracks below, though at least they sound metal. CLICHES!

Cyclops‘ this opens with a bit of an Iron Man vibe, albeit with some pseudo-industrial 90s beats and sounds. I’m not sure how to feel about it, then a crunching riff drops and I suddenly feel a lot better. It spends its time getting to the first verse, then Bruce begins singing, theatrical as always, sounding revitalized. He’s sneering and yelping. The chorus reminds me of Brutal Planet. It’s a while since I heard Tattooed Millionaire, but this feels heavier than anything off his debut. It doesn’t sound like anything Maiden would write, which I suppose is the point. The guitar attack and tone is completely different from your Maiden style, but I can see most Maiden fans getting behind this, even if it is a harsher sound. A great extended instrumental to close out.

Hell No‘ opens interestingly enough. A tribal, looping beat. I can only imagine this sounded quite modern in 94. It’s a type of metal I’m not overly familiar with so it feels fresh to me. It carries on with ominous verse and booming chorus. Nicely layered vocals in the chorus – these always sound great when you have as powerful a singer as Bruce. There’s a whispering, then shouting middle 8 just for fun. It’s a good follow up to the first track.

Gods Of War‘ has another different type of drum intro. I’m going to level with yoy, let you see behind the curtain. I’m writing this sentence, listening to the song for the first time on 24th March 2020. Earlier today I listened to AC-DC’s Highway To Hell album for the first time and was pissed off by how similar each song was and by how samey the drums were. Basically every song followed the same rhythm, format, and beat. Here we are, three songs into this album and each one has been different in form, rhythm, and beat. But enough of that. I like the more tender nature of the verse and how the pre-chorus veers between effervescent, epic, and vicious. The chorus itself isn’t the best, but there’s a great solo and rhythm section in there. I hope this continues, but so far this is a vast improvement over the first album.

1000 Points Of Light‘ opens with a repetitive series of crunching chorus before the venomous drums and vocals join. The verses are somewhat monotone yet there is an underlying layer of funk. The chorus offers more in terms of melody, the instrumental breaks up the funk quota, and the second verse mostly dispenses with guitar. It’s the little changes and choices which prevent this mostly average song from being boring. We even get a little soft jazz ballad breakdown in between solos somewhere in the middle. If the verses were less monotone this would be better.

Laughing In The Hiding Bush‘ has a more disjointed feel in its opening moments before the verse finds coherence thanks to another near tribal beat and a great snarling vocal. This time its the verses which offer the more interesting melody over the chorus. Not a lot too this one, just a simple hard rock song.

Change Of Heart‘ begins with, is that a slight Latino feel? The beat and the guitar tone certainly suggest as much. The verse vocal is despondent and mournful. Melodically it reminds me of Audioslave’s Like A Stone. I’m waiting for the metal to come. A crunch of sorts comes for the chorus, it’s a brief chorus – I would have liked a little more to it, but it’s good while it lasts. It’s a song which feels like it could have been, in the right ot wrong hands, a power ballad in another life. Dickinson keeps things grounded, even when he’s tackling subject matter he usually doesn’t, such as here.

Shoot All The Clowns‘ has a beat which a lot of rock bands adopted in the mid 90s, or which a lot of pop artists did when they wanted a little more oomph. It does feel a little, not dated, but it does scream mid 90s. Dickinson is enjoying the vocals here, giving it the snarl from his previous two Maiden albums. It’s all quite funky too and was that a Welcome To The Jungle in joke? It all continues in this vein until Bruce decides to give rap a crack, and a fair crack it is because we know the man can do anything. A strange entry in his canon, but it’s quite fun.

Fire‘ has a good old fashioned dinosaur stomping riff and drum intro which treads onward through the verse. Now this one reminds me of Slash’s Snakepit and several other rock and metal bands of the 90s. It’s loud and violent and it cruises but the melody isn’t there so it slips from memory. There’s a little hook in the chorus. Is that actually Slash playing the solo – it sure feels like him.

Sacred Cowboys‘ brings the speed again. It also brings the rap again. It’s cool that Bruce is trying stuff that he either wouldn’t or couldn’t in Maiden. Jeepers, take a breath there son, you’ll faint. It’s another which lacks melody in the vocals, until the chorus which thankfully is a good one. I’m not sure I’d listen to this again, but it does stand out in memory as one to recommend to fans who may not have heard it – just as a bit of an oddity and something different. Bruce keeps it from being a failure and there’s some variance and depth in the instrumentation.

Tears Of A Dragon‘ closes the album. There’s different versions of this, I’m going for the 8 minute one, which certainly begins in epic form, all pianos and building. Then it enters a phase with some muted guitar which reminds me of one of my all time favourite songs – Dangerous Tonight. The verses are a little cheesy but we’ll excuse him. It builds to what I assume is the chorus – epic melodies. Yeah, it is more cheese than not, but it’s good and I think I would have loved it more if Id heard it at the time. Into an instrumental section which soon begins to gallop along with all manner of string synth sounds. It even manages to sound like Beat It. And like a precursor to Knights Of Cydonia. Good solo. From the name, he’s obviously poking fun at the whole thing. I like it – it doesn’t hit the peaks of other epics I love, but like I say – many of those epics I’ve been listening to for more than 20 years so this would have some catching up to do regardless. Then he rips the arse out of it for the final minute.

This was a much stronger effort than Bruce’s first solo. While I couldn’t identify a common thread tying it all together, beyond Bruce and beyond it being a hard rock album, there wasn’t anything bad I can pull away from it. Mostly good songs, a few very good songs, and the rest are passable. Metal vocalists don’t have a great track record when they go solo, but I’d wager that this is one of the better ones and there’s a lot here for fans of heavy music to enjoy.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Cyclops. Gods Of War. Change Of Heart. Tears Of A Dragon.

Nightman Listens To – Motley Crue – Shout At The Devil (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

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Greetings, Glancers! Not that I’ve heard the album as yet so I can’t say for sure, but I’m already wondering why this album is so high on Popoff’s list. I’ve no doubt it was influential and I know it was successful – but I have sever doubts over whether or not it’s any good given what songs I’ve heard by Motley Crue and the fact that it’s influence probably only spread as far as making wuss metal popular. I mean, look at that front cover – are we to take this seriously? We have Thunderdome Cher in the top left, She-Ra’s pre-teen sister top right, bottom right is one a groupie for the WWF’s Road Warriors, while bottom right is a frog masquerading as a human male masquerading as a human female. But that was the style of the time. When I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s as a metal and grunge kid, I wasn’t particularly fussy over how my metal performers looked or even sounded – as long as it was loud, fast, and felt angry and dangerous that was good enough for me. Crue was definitely a band I claimed to like in front of the bigger kids and I would have written their name and logo into my school books. But with time comes maturity, expectation, wisdom, and we begin to cut the chaff away and hone in what we truly feel kinship for. It wasn’t long before Crue went the same way as almost every other Hair and Glam metal band. Looking at that album cover now – there’s nothing rebellious, there’s no danger… it’s merely four blokes asking to be ridiculed.

As for what I know about the songs contained within – there are a few I’ve heard before – the title track, Looks That Kill, and I think I’ve heard their version of Helter Skelter before. Their bigger hits would come later so presumably this is the one where they first got noticed. Part of the reason I embarked on this journey was to fill in the gaps in my own musical knowledge as a fan of music, but more specifically of metal but perhaps more importantly to re-evaluate or challenge my preconceptions or long held opinions on artists I’ve liked or disliked, and see if I feel any different now. So lets do this.

In The Beginning: A brief instrumental intro which presumably tries to be ominous and threatening, but loses any credibility with the cheesy spoken vocals. Still, it does serve well as a bridge to the first track.

Shout At The Devil: There’s a tone, a guitar tone which most hair metal bands have – it lacks the crunch and vicious nature of say, G’n’R. Throw in the screechy indecipherable vocals and you can understand why I’m not overly enamoured by a song which is known to be a classic of the genre. It does succeed in being groovy and has a decent enough series of riffs. What angers me most, personal taste and it goes with most similar artists, is that fist pumping choral vocal – that’s the one quality about 80s metal I can’t abide.

Looks That Kill: Another one I’m familiar with. A fine parade of lead riffs, and the chorus is easily remembered. Lyrically, it does that glam thing of merging sex with your typical violent metal vocabulary and it hasn’t yet been watered down to sub Carry On levels of silliness. It’s very plain, uncomplex, but you can see why it sold so well.

Bastard: This one opens well with drums flashing all over the place. It falls apart a little at the verse as the music pulls back rather than maintaining the pace. The chorus goes a little in the annoying shouty direction, and rather amusingly is sounds like they’re shouting ‘fast’ or ‘plaster’ but certainly not ‘Bastard’. I can imagine all the little rebels fist-pumping to the chorus – it is catchy for its faults, but it’s a little juvenile.

God Bless The Children Of The Beast: This is a genuinely strong instrumental, sweet, nuanced, it’s just a pity it feels like filler in that it doesn’t really go anywhere – it doesn’t try to reach the next level. Maybe it doesn’t need to, but I feel that I’d listen to it more if it went through more dynamic changes. No need for the single line of vocals at the end.

Helter Skelter: Yes it’s the requisite cover. The original somehow feels heavier, even with all the chugging guitars and solos. It’s not bad by any means, but I’d stick to the original.

Red Hot: I think it would unfair to say many of these songs sound unfinished – it’s just that they’re so short. They’re not aggressive enough to be punk, more technical but still basic. They get to the point quickly and without arsing around, but because of that they feel less metal.

Too Young To Fall In Love: I actually think the choral vocals work well here, maybe because it’s not just a single word which is being shouted, maybe because I quite like the melody of the refrain. It’s a song I’d gladly hear again, but another which feels short, undercooked, or like something is missing.

Knock Em Dead Kid: The tone here has more crunch and bite, it does do some of the annoying shouting. The riff is simple and its all very repetitive, yet I don’t mind. Possibly because I don’t remember hearing this before, possibly because the band is winning me over? I wouldn’t go that far. It ends with some standard twiddling.

Ten Seconds To Love: This is as cheesy and silly as the album has been so far, with lots of talk of squeezing triggers and the like. The tone is full glam again and the silly shouts are out in force – this is the bad shit I’ve been talking about.

Danger: This has a spirited intro almost as if they want it to be their epic. Of course it’s only four minutes long so I know it isn’t going to go far. The vocals are terrible, the rougher, edgier guitar tone is thankfully back – the riffs are good again but the chorus melody and attitude is silly. Who says something like ‘you’re in danger when the boys are around’ with a straight face? Or at all? Clean up the vocals and entirely change the chorus and this would be much stronger.

Let’s get this out of the way first – it’s not as embarrassing as I was expecting it to be. I already knew a few of the songs and didn’t have any strong opinions about them either way, but based on other songs by the band I expected it to be more glam nonsense. I suspect because this was earlier in their journey they had more ambition and venom about them which became dulled the richer they became. It’s a surprisingly brief and brisk listen, barely half an hour long. That’s refreshing because there’s no messing about, but the whole and the individual parts feel lightweight. In total, it isn’t as bad as I feared.

However, it’s nowhere near as good as it thinks and while it’s a tad more aggressive than what is usually found in hair metal, it’s the aggression of a pup snarling because you took its favourite slipper away. There’s little substance or creativity or depth to keep me coming back and they don’t sound like a band who have anything more to say. It’s party rock for dude-bros – the same people who listen to Grime or Trap or whatever the hell is supposed to be popular yet gritty now; it’s poser-store-bought rebellion to middle class teens miffed because mom won’t let them borrow the sedan on Friday night, it’s metal because playing loud and fast happened to be trendy at the time. I’d still jump around if it came on in a club and I was drunk, because I have no self-respect. It has its place, and it serves its purpose a little more than adequately.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Shout At The Devil!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Looks That Kill. God Bless The Children Of The Beast. Too Young To Fall In Love.

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.

Nightman Listens To ASAP – Silver And Gold (Maiden Solo Output Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s time to check out another Iron Maiden related release. This one is going to take a little ‘splaining, so bear with me. Back in the early 70s before Iron Maiden was created, childhood mates Adrian Smith and Dave Murray formed a band. It was a bit crap so Murray left and began prepping for Maiden. Smith rounded up other friends and friends of friends and made a couple of singles under the name ‘Urchin’. I was planning to cover their stuff but they didn’t do much and a compilation of singles and live stuff was released in 2004. Maybe I’ll check it out too, but probably not (SPOILER ALERT – I did check out their album, and inexplicably posted my thoughts about it before publishing this post which was written much earlier. Mysteries Of The Spac Hole). More importantly, Smith went on to join Murray with Maiden and the rest is history.

In the late 80s, Smith was taking a break after the grueling Maiden touring session and decided to call up his old ‘Urchins’ to see if they wanted to try writing and recording some stuff. Silver And Gold got quite a bit of hype at the time, given that it featured a member of the biggest metal band in the world and Ringo Starr’s son on the skins. However, grunge was on the rise and the album was dismissed like so many others. The band collapsed soon after and Smith went on to form the slightly more successful Psycho Motel before re-joining Maiden at the end of the 90s. So that’s the story of Silver And Gold… but is it any good? I have no idea, because I haven’t heard a single second of it yet, but that’s what we’re here to find out. Maybe we’ll uncover a few gems, maybe it’ll be another 45 minutes of regret to add to my running tally. Life is all about taking risks though, expanding your horizons, giving something you haven’t experienced a shot. Even if you don’t like it, you’ve learned something. Maybe you even get something more.

The Lion‘ opens the album. Perhaps I should mention that Smith isn’t only the guitarist here, he’s the vocalist too. I’ve no idea how he sounds, beyond the odd bit of backing from Maiden. This opens, perhaps unsurprisingly, with some sort of synth. Musically it has a touch of 80s without being immediately obvious. Smith’s vocals are different – I’m not sure what I was expecting. He’s a good singer then, his voice harsher, more gruff than Bruce. It’s a similar style to a lot of 80s rock singers, but less strained, less high pitched. The approach is more rock than metal. There’s an abrupt shift from chorus back to verse but I can get behind the melodies. Harmonies provided by a series of backing vocals. It has a good, fast pace for an 80s rock song. A brief piano interlude. This style of song was probably dated by 89 but was super popular earlier. Typically fast solo with a heavy use of the whammy. The lyrics less story driven than Harris, more like a standard rock ballad lyric. Nice start.

Silver And Gold’ is next up. I forgot to mention that the name ASAP made me think of WASP, which isn’t good. This is starting like a more atmospheric ballad. I go on about this atmospheric feeling in 80s music – it’s a combination of synth, of chord choice, of pace, of the production, but there’s something less tangible in there that just wraps me in a warm nostalgic embrace – even if I’ve never heard the specific song before. It’s your typical verse opening, vocals and an airy synth before the drums and guitar kick in. The pre chorus and chorus are more in line with cheesy 80s rock – it’s not quite Def Leppard levels of cheese but it’s in that general vein. There’s an echo effect of some description on the vocals, given the appearance of depth and again adding to that atmosphere. The chorus is a little meh, but I can people singing along to it, there’s enough of a hook. A more extended solo this time. It’s very heavy on the harmonies throughout, highlighted in the little bridge. There are a few progressive twists, if I can call them such – just slight variations on the standard structure – a tuck here, a tug there. Not really progressive, just stretching the norms and expectations very gently or abruptly for added effect.

Down The Wire‘ opens with an interesting enough arpeggio, not one you hear often. Well, this is a strange verse with a melody I can’t quite grasp or catch up to, at least on first listen. A very strange rhythm, at least to me, with an odd structure and stretched backing noise. It’s like the different pieces were shoved together and don’t really work but have been left in anyway? The drums are just bordering on the 80s sound I don’t like – just enough out of it to still be good. The second verse doesn’t help me out in terms of melody – there’s something very strange going on there. The chorus is non-eventful, but the verse has this strange drum structure which moves from single thumps to doubling the beat later which seems to have caught me off guard. Interesting middle section which fades completely away then brings the single thump drums back before returning to the chorus. Some neat acoustic guitar pieces in the middle part too. The Wall Of Sound style extended backing vocals are doing a bit of a number on me – as they stretch out it’s giving me an uneasy sensation, like a not unpleasant pain in the pit of my stomach. Best I can describe it is when I’m trying to cut my toenails I get an uneasy, anxious feeling. Yeah, you’ve no clue what I’m talking about and neither do I.

You Could Be A King‘ seems to be going full cheese. It starts like Take My Breath Away. Then it breaks into a faster part akin to Footloose before settling on the verse. Not a lot of guitar for the verses in this one. I’m not sure I like the effects on the vocals. Some of the vocals and melodies here… there’s no way we can’t compare with Springsteen. I think that’s the style they’re going for, but I’ll leave it for you to decide how successful it is. I do like the 80s strained vocal style, even though it’s so easy to ridicule. Nice middle break which reminds me of Bryan Adams – What’s It Gonna Be specifically. I’m not paying much attention to the lyrics, but this seems to be a positive encouraging message. There’s a country twinge to it too. This was the softest song so far, as commercial MOR 80s rock as you can get. Very American too.

After The Storm‘ starts with a lot of synth and is just begging me to shout ‘I! I JUST DIED IN YOUR ARMS TONIGHT!’ Jeepers, then it does another bit of Bryan Adams rhythm thievery as this verse sounds exactly like Can’t Stop This Thing We’ve Started. That is bizarre. Actually, that song came a couple of years after. I wonder if Adams or Mutt Lange heard this. Unfortunately the album is getting more cheesy as it goes along, at least so far. Some of these backing vocals sound like a Southern Gospel choir. Good solo though and those tiny progressive elements remain; like after the solo we get a plaintive quieter vocal with gospel backing. Going back to the chorus is less exciting, but those backing vocals keep the chorus interesting. WTF. Hold on a sec – as the song has an extended coda with more of those backing vocals, I had to google the singer as there’s no way that’s Smith. And the name is Stevie LANGE. Could it be? Stevie Lange for those in the know, is Stevie Vann, a famous backing vocalist on many 70s and 80s hits and appeared in one of my favourite movies The Monster Club. But most importantly here, she was married to Mutt Lange, who I mentioned above, and has worked with Bryan Adams. Have I just uncovered some previously unknown case of theft, imitation, flattery, Illuminati bullshit? Almost certainly.

Misunderstood‘ plays the same trick again – intro goes one way, then threatens that the verse will go in another direction, then flips the switch and instead goes in a third direction. It’s a very cheesy first part of the intro, the second part is much more interesting, Alice Cooper-esque, then the verse is fair enough. The chorus is unfortunate cheese. I do like the middle, goes in on the minor key and holds that for the solo.

Kid Gone Astray‘ gives me instead Journey or Springsteen vibes. Similar tone. The verse does the minor to major shift thing I life, better melodies on this one. The chorus doesn’t stay in the minor so falls a little foul of my own tastes. But that’s fine. They’re going for another positive anthem and the chorus certainly allows a certain listener to get pumped up. There are some funny vocal twitches and twerks in later verses, the solo is okay, I don’t like the echo on the backing vocals and think it’s unnecessary and makes the melody more irritating by constantly reminding us of it.

Fallen Heroes‘ starts with overlapping synth bass and drum sounds before the verse explodes through. It’s similar enough to where the last song left off, then I get excited as there are a few minor notes, then the chorus does something completely different. Is it the chorus? It’s where the chorus should be anyway – basically all the backing instruments withdraw leaving Smith’s vocals and some dweeby synth before another abrupt return to the verse. Very odd. I’ll give the album credit for trying to be different – credit for making those choices, not necessarily credit to the results.

Wishing Your Life Away‘ starts out ALLLL wrong, way too much like a 70s crooner trying to make an 80s rock song. Those brass synths are awful. The vocals are very late 80s, early 90s Pink Floyd here, melodies, riffs all hackneyed and silly. The middle section tries to be different, pulling back certain instruments again, and the solo doesn’t add anything – just thrown in for the sake of it. Probably, definitely the least interesting song here and doesn’t give any indication to the talent involved.

Blood On The Ocean’ closes the album, lets hope it’s a good one. Starts out okay, has (I’m sure they have a name, not a xylophone but something like that) that synth percussion which always reminds me of Commando or something summery. The verse is slow, piano led, lyrics about war or about people dying or some such, melodies a little bland and overly open and free form, but that’s fine if it leads somewhere interesting. The chorus melody is better, but hardly memorable. I think they’ve tried to make an epic here but haven’t really started with a good base or strong central idea. The middle section is divided into several parts – the first is chaotic and aimless, the second being a solo played over the verse structure, the third simply the solo continuing over the chorus backing. It’s a decent solo but it misses scratching that epic itch.

It started out well. A few good songs which made me hope things would progress. Instead the best was in the first half and the ideas and quality has all but drained away by the time we reach the end. It’s not bad – none of the songs are terrible and I can see hair metal and less discerning rock and 80s fans digging it. It simply lacks the smarts, the punch, the ideas, of Iron Maiden. I know this isn’t remotely trying to be Maiden, but that’s the inevitable comparison. I’m not comparing them in terms of their genres or approach, more what both bands do within those labels. Maiden make fantastic metal music, ASAP make uneventful, MOR rock which no amount of mid-song fiddling can improve. I like Smith’s vocals – he doesn’t have the character of Dickinson or of a wealth of other 80s vocalists, but he doesn’t go into screechy territory which ruined many a decent singer of that period. I can’t recall a single strong riff or truly memorable solo after this single listen – generally after one listen the truly great stuff does stay in my mind, while it takes another couple of listens for the more subtle stuff to take route. So based on this one listen there are a handful of songs I’d like to hear again – some for regular enjoyment, and that strange one which freaked me out with its drums and structure. I can’t say many Maiden fans loving it too much, but I think it deserves a shot – it’s certainly more appealing than many other bands from that period who had massive success.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Silver And Gold!