Posts Tagged ‘thrash metal’

1000x1000.jpgI initially got into Prong through a boxset, which I listened to a little too much all at once on shuffle. It seems shuffle was my enemy at the time, because just as it initially only played me the few super commercial Saxon songs that were the least like I wanted. Well, with Prong it only seemed to play me the slower weirder more experimental tracks with that sort of My War era Black Flag influence that just isn’t to my taste. Stuff like ‘Contradictions’ and ‘Sublime.’ For a while I always felt disappointed by Prong as they didn’t sync up with my own personal tastes.

A good five years later after I really sort of wrote Prong off as being not-for-me altogether, I caught them live supporting Exodus and Obituary and discovered that they were actually phenomenal; they had some really raging Thrash Metal tunes, some incredible Groove Metal tunes and their singer Tommy Victor is almost as cool a frontman as Rob Flynn.

Re-stoked on Prong I’ve been going back to those boxset albums over and over (and not on shuffle this time!) and then started branching out to more into the rest of their discography. One of the absolute best of which is Carved Into Stone. It was released in 2012 by Steve Evetts (Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura, Sick Of It All) on SPV records, and features the bass talents of Tony Campos (Fear Factory, Ministry, Soulfly etc.)

Prong are a really interesting band. They cover a lot of different ground. Early in their career they were a Hardcore Punk band, after that they crossed over into more Thrash teritory. Then they released some seminal Groove Metal albums before going into a much more Industrial direction with some slight Nu Metal overtones. Then they broke up and came back, and went in a few more slight alterations of combinations of all of these styles over their next few albums. Some are more raw, some are more polished, some lean more heavily in one direction, some lean more heavily in another.

The music here, on Carved Into Stone, is terrific. The album opens with two faster ragers, drops into a punkier number and evens out with a mid-paced groover in the spirit of Black Label Society (only with an alternative rock style chorus). This little run is really a mixture of all the different eras of their career. There’s a few moments of industrial flavours here and there. There’s plenty of Pantera, early Machine Head and ’90s Sepultura sounding stuff. There’s tiny little pieces of Fear Factory on the odd occasion. There’s straight up Thrash used sparingly, and moments of punk. It all mashes together smoothly and perfectly both within the songs themselves, and along the album as a whole. It flows really well and all the parts gel together within individual songs.

If you are a new Prong fan, the common consensus is that you should start with their classic 1994 album Cleansing. In my opinion the next place you should go after that is here, Carved Into Stone. I was about to list highlights, but really the aforementioned first five tracks are all absolute must-hears. They show off different parts of the Prong sound. If you wonder if this album is for you then check out any but preferably all of those. ‘Eternal Heat,’ ‘Ammunition’ and ‘Carved Into Stone’ in particular are like three different bands and no one on their own showcases the band fully, yet all of them are absolutely brilliant examples of what Prong do (in part) and really good tunes in and of themselves.

Overall; if you like bands like Fear Factory, Pantera, Machine Head, Pissing Razors or ’90s Sepultura you may seriously want to check out Prong. If you check out Prong you may seriously want to check out Carved Into Stone. It is a very well mixed combination of a few different styles within their arsenal, but what tips it over the edge is the brilliant performances, punchy production, level of consistency and better than usual songs from the band.

 

220px-ExodusBloodInBloodOut (1)Exodus have had a lot of line-up changes over the years. Not as many as say Cradle Of Filth or Annihilator but certainly not as stable as the likes of Rush or Clutch. They’ve had three lead singers on record; firstly Paul Baloff on their immortal debut album Bonded By Blood, who was replaced by former Legacy (the band who would go on to be Testament) vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza. Zetro saw them through the rest of the ’80s and early nineties (on, in my opinion, their most important and seminal work and some of the best Thrash Metal by any band at all). He himself was then replaced by Baloff again in the late ’90s until Baloff passed away.

The band got back together with Zetro and released one of the best albums of their (or anyone’s) career in 2004’s Tempo Of The Damned. (Incidentally; If you don’t love ‘War Is My Sheppard’ then I just don’t know what to do with you). Then, just a year later Zetro was out and replaced by the then little-known Rob Dukes, who we were all very skeptical about but who fit the band monstrously well and eventually won a lot of people over, during the course of his tenure, lasting three studio albums, a live album and a remake compilation of Bonded By Blood. After two singers zig-zagging there was finally vocal stability and the modernized band was the going concern that would see them through to retirement.

[Before the angry comments flow in I know I mentioned line up changes and then just discussed the singers. It wasn’t only the singers. Guitarists have changed, bassists have changed. Drummer Tom Hunting has left and returned a few times (although that’s more understandable as he has a health condition). But for the last few years things had been nice and stable within the group more or less.]

Where was I? Yes… to see them through to retirement. ….Aaaaaaaaand then Dukes was out and Zetro was back again. What the hell? Do you know how hard it is to get fans to accept a third singer!? And to do so this late into their career. Imagine if Blaze Bailey actually won over Maiden fans. Do you know how rare that is? And then they go start over again. I didn’t buy this album for a full two years after I wanted it just out of sheer mourning for Dukes.

Oh well, at least it wasn’t a new singer again. As much as I love Dukes’ vocals on that run of albums its hard to deny that Zetro is an absolute legend and the definitive voice of Exodus for me. He’s who I’d want to see live and my dream setlist by the band is 80% Zetro era songs. It just makes sense. In fact, it took me catching the band live to get over the shock and realize things weren’t just reunion for reunions sake. Yes it is mentally untidy that their current singer is on their was their singer, then not, then he was again, then he wasn’t again and then he was again, and that his time in the band was ’86-94 and then not until ’02 and out again in ’04 and then not on the superb trilogy of albums between then and 2014.  Its untidy, but that’s Steve fucking Souza! That’s the guy who sang ‘Accelerating faster, devastating plaster, fabulous disaster.’ How can you deny him?

Anyway. That’s all a very long-winded bit of background to Exodus’ tenth studio album, 2014’s Blood In, Blood Out. The name presumably a cheeky wink to their history with line-up changes. The only reason to even mention all this background is that it sits there swirling away in your mind as you listen to this album. Can it live up to the monster of Tempo Of The Damned? Can it live up to their ’80s glory period? How will it affect their absolute top run of form on those previous Rob Dukes albums, are they just going to throw away all that good work?

Well the good news for all of us is that this album absolutely kills. After a strange industrial intro courtesy of guest star Dan The Automator (which if you didn’t know about beforehand would make you fearful Exodus have taken a funny turn and decided this album is going to go a bit Static X) the band burst into an absolutely ferocious and concise hour of blistering, up tempo Bay Area Thrash.

The songs are very catchy and memorable without letting up on the intensity. Its very restless, aggressive and pounding. Yet somehow there are tonnes of hooks to grab on to. The chanting gang vocals on some songs are undeniable. On some songs the razor sharp guitar solos get stuck in your head. Some songs have that one riff that is just irresistible and breaks a huge smile across your face. I mean just listen to the chorus to ‘Collateral Damage.’ You aint forgetting that any time soon! Hell; listen to its guitar solo. That’s not just any other guitar solo, its really rather unique. And that’s just one song. I can’t emphasize this enough: each and every one of the songs on the album, all of them, are catchy and memorable. There’s nothing that needs removing from the album. Nothing that should’ve been trimmed to make it more punchy.

The songs are generally less long and feature less repetition than on the previous few albums, and what is left is really just all the best parts. It may be less ambitious and less adventurous but it makes up for it in snarling, barking, high speed uuumph. It really is the pure essence of Thrash Metal writ large in modern production, triumphantly performed by absolutely bad asses who have only gotten better with age.

An interesting point here is the guest appearance from Metallica’s Kirk Hammet who we all remember was in Exodus before he joined Metallica (Tempo Of The Damed featured a song he’d written on). Kirk adds some guest guitar to ‘Salt The Wound.’ Its a nice touch. Speaking of guest appearances, Testament’s Chuck Billy also comes in and does guest vocals on ‘BTK’ and the title track. He is always a great guest. I loved it when he showed up on Forbidden’s reunion album Omega Wave and I love him showing up here (just as Zetro guested on Testament’s First Strike Still Deadly). I love the whole Bay Area Thrash camaraderie thing.

Side note: Does anyone else remember that fun, weird, N64 game ‘Body Harvest’ ? I can’t forget it now. Exodus have a song by that name here and now all I can think of is giant blocky praying mantis-looking aliens. Every time I spin this album all I can think of is those aliens, Chuck Billy’s smile, and how weird it is that Rob Dukes is out of the band and yet they totally make their discography make sense with this album. Oh, and while we’re at it; Best guitar solo on the album? Body Harvest!

After a brilliantly strong opening, the guest appearances, the great stomping ‘Body Harvest’ and its great solo and ‘BTK’ and all that stuff, you’d think the album may start to lag towards the end. That is a remarkably good first half, and by anyone’s standards they could dump a bunch of filler at the end and most people would still go away thinking it was a great record. Well, that is exactly what they do not do. The second half arguably mirrors the first for quality, for ferocity, for catchiness and for interesting memorable moments: ‘Wrapped In The Arms Of Rage,’ ‘Honor Killings,’ ‘Food For The Worms’ …these are all raging tunes.

Overall; despite line up drama, this is an absolutely ripping album from the Bay Area legends, and people like me were wrong to doubt them. The band are arguably in much better shape than three quarters of the rest of ’80s Thrash bands are at the minute, arguably stronger than ninety percent of new Thrash revival bands, and this album is arguably in the top half in not top quarter of their entire discography (and those are damn big words, but I genuinely mean it). If like me you are skeptical of yet further line up changes or just plain sad to see Rob go, don’t hesitate like I did. Blood goes in, Blood goes out, but Exodus are always bloody brilliant.

Frontvr2Keeping on the theme of bands whose third album is excellent in my opinion but not as fondly remembered as their first two are…

After putting out two of the most outstanding and essential Thrash Metal albums of all time in the form of 1989’s classic Alice In Hell and 1990’s Never Neverland; Canada’s best Thrash band (well, in my opinion anyway, we can debate it another time) took their time getting a third album out. The first two albums were largely written in demo form before the band were even signed or (at least before their second record was out) and just perfected over time. An album a year. Nice. Next time round there was more time needed to build up a full record’s worth of material though.

Always a band for constant line-up changes, Annihilator once again saw a big shift in membership. Jeff Waters, band leader, lead guitarist and occasional singer basically IS the band in the way Trent Reznor is to Nine Inch Nails or Josh Homme is to Queens Of The Stone Age or Dave Mustaine is to Megadeth. Jeff obviously stayed, as did bassist Wayne Darley even though he supposedly didn’t actually play on the album. This album features however their third singer in three albums (Coburn Pharr replaced here by Aaron Randall, though Pharr still gets writing credits on some of the songs) their third Rhythm-guitarist in three albums (Neil Goldberg replacing Dave Davis) and their second Drummer in three albums (the lovable Ray Hartman replaced by Mike Magini – now of Dream Theater fame!) and even then, he’s one of three drummer on the album because Ray is still on two tracks and there was yet another drummer on the ballad. With all these line up shifts its like watching Cradle Of Filth’s early career or something!

I suspect that there are some reasons why a lot of people didn’t receive this album as well at the time and again why it isn’t remembered just as fondly as the first two. First reason; constant line-up shifting can give an impression of being muddled and unfocused. Second reason; ballad included, can give impression of selling out. Third reason; came out in 1993 after the glory period of Thrash was over and everyone either sick of it or was told to listen to something from Seattle instead by the press.

Do you know what’s not a reason though? The music. This album is bad ass! From the heavier tracks like the stomping Title Track, the crazy-ass technical workout ‘Brain Dance’ (an absolutely amazing song spoiled only slightly by its silly comedy section in the middle) as well as the speedy ‘No Zone’ to the more shreddy, softer, hard rock jams like ‘Sounds Good To Me,’ ‘Snake In The Grass’ and ‘The Edge’ which show a different side of the band, this stuff is all gold! I remember the first time I read the back of their Greatest Hits CD it said ‘Canada’s Answer To Metallica/The Van Halen Of Thrash Metal’ and I thought well I get the Metallica reference but this album is the first time where I really hear the Van Halen coming out… ‘Don’t Bother Me’ is some serious guitar workout, with that skiffly off-the-rails Van Halen feel, only with the chug and power of Thrash behind it.

The absolute best moment on the album for me however has to be the incredible ‘Knight Jumps Queen’ which is tied with Exodus’ ‘Braindead’ as the catchiest and most memorable Thrash song ever released! That main riff! It sticks in my head for days!

For me, Set The World On Fire is a great record. Its a bit more varied than their previous work. Not just as heavy as often, but in terms of songwriting quality, in terms of musicianship and in terms of fun it ticks all the right boxes. This album is a real winner and vastly underrated. If you haven’t already go on, give it a go! If you have before, give it another chance!

220px-Atrophy_socialized (1)This album won’t be for everyone, but if you like the following sentence, I’d recommend giving it a square go: 20% Coma Of Souls, 20% Forbidden Evil, 10% Handle With Care, 50% The Legacy. …Interested? If so, read on.

 

Atrophy were one of many late ’80s bands pumping out Thrash Metal. They were sometimes associated with Sacred Reich and Flotsam & Jetsam due to geography, although they had more of a Bay Area sound (and specifically, Testament worship) with some Teutonic Thrash tinges and the tiniest wee bit of a crossover Thrash influence.

 

Now, if you know your Thrash, you’ll know that there’s several tiers of both quality and when-you-should-check-em-out that most fans can broadly agree on. Individual preference and media exposure in your territory may make you disagree on some placements but the overall theme is usually agreed upon. There’s of course the very Top tier of Thrash, the stuff you usually get into first, is probably objectively the best and the stuff that makes you fall in love with the subgenre. Stuff like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Overkill, Exodus, Testament and Kreator. The definition of Thrash for many.

There’s then the second-highest tier, the stuff that you bought purposefully because it was Thrash and that is still fairly successful and famous but not just as much; stuff like Annihilator, Forbidden, Heathen, Vio-lence, Death Angel, Dark Angel, Sodom, Destruction, Early Sepultura, Sacred Reich, Nuclear Assault. The real guts of Thrash fandom for many.

 

There’s a third that only real Thrash fans love, you’ll find it in list of best Thrash albums ever, but not in the general lists as much. When major outlets cover Thrash this stuff is ignored but when people in the know really nerd out on Thrash this stuff comes up. Stuff like Whiplash, Razor, Onslaught, Paradox, Devastation, Rigor Mortis, Morbid Saint, Toxik, Xentrix and Hirax. And; of course, Atrophy. Then there’s a tier or three below that of diminishing fame (and some say diminishing quality, others vehemently deny that however) but you get my jist by now.

 

I bring this up really to illustrate where Atrophy fit in and in so doing also how likely you are to enjoy them. If you like Thrash enough to get into multiple bands from the third tier then this is worth serious investigation. If you only want the absolute best or most famous stuff this may seem a bit too derivative for you. If you don’t like Thrash at all then never worry your pretty head about Atrophy because I don’t think they’ll be your cup of tea anyway. How could they be really? They are basically one of the purest distillations of the Thrash formula ever to form a band.

 

Atrophy don’t play the kind of Thrash that’s closer to NWOBHM in sound, nor the kind that is a direct close precursor to Death or Black Metal, nor even the kind that’s Punky and ramshackle. They aren’t a progressive variation on Thrash. They don’t have any happy melodic Power Metal tendencies. Its pretty straight down the line Thrash with no thrills and little diversity (but done perfectly!).

 

What it lacks in a unique sales pitch (hey check out the band with the funk influence or the orchestra etc.) it makes up in consistency, quality and ferocity. All the compliments you can level at Testament’s debut album The Legacy all work for Atrophy’s Socialized Hate. The razor-sharp riffs, the creative and powerful guitar leads, the intros, the barked hard low vocals, the relentless drumming. Atrophy also specialize in really good lyrics (well, except the silly one off joke song Beer Pong, but you can let that slide as the rest is so good).

 

Songs like the Title Track, the opener ‘Chemical Dependency’ and the fabulous three-song run of ‘Product Of The Past’ ‘Rest In Pieces’ and ‘Urban Decay’ are just really strong, really entertaining and really pure Thrash Metal, and if that’s your bag then Socialized Hate is worth adding to your collection. Sure, it might not be your first Metal album or your first Thrash album (or even your fifteenth) but if you love this stuff and want more, but more that is still great and not just more for the sake of it, then… y’know… Socialized Hate, innit.

kreatorgodsofviolencecdKreator are an amazing band who have made some astounding and important music over the years; from their 1986 Extreme-Metal-influencing classic Pleasure To Kill, to their infectious politically aware genre-defining Thrash albums Extreme Aggression & Coma Of Souls, to their 2001 renaissance Violent Revolution, the German legends have been a positive force for top quality Metal.  In the last 17 years they have only been getting stronger and stronger with albums such as 2009’s frankly breathtaking Hordes Of Chaos arguably even better than either anything they released in their ’80s glory-period or indeed anything younger bands from today are producing.

Back once more, in 2017 on Nuclear Blast, produced by the excellent Jens Borgen (Amon Amarth, Opeth, Soilwork); Frontman Mille Petrozza, drummer Jürgen “Ventor” Reil and at this point long time guitar and bass associates Sami Yli-Sirniö and Christian Giesler have released the fourteenth official Kreator studio album, and boy oh boy is it a good one.

The album opens strong with the thrashier material such as ‘World War Now,’ ‘Satan Is Real’ and ‘Totalitarian Terror’ competing with other ’80s Thrash bands still at the top of their game such as Exodus and Testament for who can put out the highest quality material the latest into their career. This hard, heavy and fast material gets the blood pumping right from the get go.

Unlike many albums however, it isn’t frontloaded. Rather than diminishing returns, this one just gets better and better as the record goes on, with some of the later songs being the best, just check out the ridiculously catchy ‘Side By Side’ or ‘Hail To The Hordes.’ And continuing on that theme, it just gets better and better the more you listen to it. Its a real grower that rewards repeat listens and scrutiny.

There’s a lot of variety on this disc, from the all-out brutality of the first few songs, to the acoustic moments such as the intro of the Title Track and Lion With Eagle Wings. From the shout-along fist pumping anthemic parts you wouldn’t have found in their ’80s stuff to the crazily good guitar hero soloing with jaw dropping speeds, tapping, tricks and all that flashy stuff that manages to still stay tasteful. There’s neat little touches here and there such as harps, choirs and even bagpipes but there’s still furiously quick double-kicks and buzzsaw guitar lines… There’s also a huge amount of melody.

The last decade saw the band take influence from Melodeath into their thrash mix (and boy can Jens Borgen make that sound good), but there’s guitar lines here that go beyond that, even towards Power Metal or Trad Metal territories at times. Its a fine balance that adds infectious feel-good smiles from the sheer quality of the guitar work without loosing the balls or heaviness. There’s also groovy memorable riffs that could rival the catchiest moments of Coma Of Souls at times to balance that all out and stop it feeling one sided, just try listening to ‘Fallen Brother’ without wanting to headbang or windmill! Lyrically there’s a lot of great moments of variety too such as where they talk about ending homophobia one minute and about flying a Lion With Eagle Wings the next.

All the orchestral arrangements, diversity and balancing of the Thrash legacy with not being repetitive make this a very strong and memorable album, and the quality of the musicianship (especially the riffs and solos!) drive it even further up the scale towards being one of the band’s most impressive releases to date. If you like Kreator, especially their recent work, you really owe it to yourself to give this one a listen.

I went to go see Exodus live at the Manchester Academy-2 on 28/10/16. It was as part of a four part bill, The Battle Of The Bays tour, featuring Florida Death Metal band Obituary (who were actually the headliner but not the band I was most interested in), San Francisco Thrash Metal legends Exodus, New York cross-over thrash turned Groove Metal trio Prong and Australian Grindcore noise makers King Parrot.

I walked in, after having already visiting the merch booth for an Exodus t-shirt, into the first King Parrot track, to join a reasonably revved-up crowd, reacting to the Aussies’ noisy obnoxious music. It was pretty damn entertaining, the singer was like former Jackass celebrity Steve-O in facial expressions and attitude, and kept getting into the crowd, touching people’s face, spitting and throwing liquids at them, screeching in teen girl’s faces, mooning the crowd and generally acting like a 1980s Hardcore Punk front-man, he had that fun obnoxious vibe. The music had blastbeats and grinding guitars, punky moments, and a lot of groove metal sections to balance the two styles out. Not bad at all musically, very good performance wise (from all the band, even though I’ve only bothered to describe the singer) and a very good way to warm up the crowd and start off a fun evening. I’d check em out again. Give em a shot if you like the heavier stuff.

Now, I have a boxset of Prong albums but I hardly ever listen to them. I really love the band when they are playing something that sounds like Fear Factory, Machine Head or Pantera, but I don’t really vibe with their dissonant noisy moments or their hardcore roots the same way. Things that sound like Vulgar era Pantera yes, things that sound like My War era Black Flag, no.

After this concert, I have a lot more interest in Prong. When they played songs I knew, I absolutely loved it. I was singing ‘Another Worldly Device’ at work all the next day. When they played music I didn’t yet know, I was very very impressed. They sound so much heavier and more full live. Maybe it was the production on those albums, or maybe the performances were just that much more firey live, I don’t know, but either way, Prong shot up about 400% in my estimation and I’ll be revisiting them a lot more in the wake of this. Tommy Victor reminds me a lot of Rob Flynn in a lot of good days. He’s a good front man. How in to it he got during closer ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck’ really made me warm to him and I’m totally game to try some new Prong albums in the very near future.

Then came my main event, Thrash Metal legends, number 5 of the Big Four, the best of the Bay Area, the mighty Exodus. This is the reason I was at the gig, I got an email saying they were in town and within a few hours I owned a ticket.

Steve Souza was back in the band, but even at that I was still treated to the amazing gift of having them open with my favourite song from Exhibit B’ ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ …a viscous and scathing documentary style comment on the true story of two Californian serial killers who murdered up to 25 actual humans in real life. The vocal performance on the chorus line ‘Killers of Children, Rapists of Women, Sado-sexual Violence’ really conveys how horrific their crimes were (even more so than the lyrics themselves, its the way its spat out that tells the real story). Zetro did not disappoint doing Rob Duke’s material. Nor did he disappoint doing Ballof’s material. Or indeed his own. I love Zetro the best of all of Exodus’ singers over the years, and to hear absolute gems like ‘War Is My Sheppard’ and ‘Blacklist’ live absolutely set me off. In fact, it set the crowd off. I was happy with how well the crowd reacted to Tempo Of The Damned material. That album was such an important moment from the band for my fandom and I was afraid the crowd would be a load of people who only wanted to hear Bonded By Blood songs (of which there was already a heavy percentage). No, good crowd. They know that ‘War Is My Sheppard’ is an indisputable classic now. Smart people. Any concert with ‘Blacklist’ in it is a pretty damn good concert, I’ll tell you that much!

I couldn’t fault the setlist. I wouldn’t remove anything. The only thing I wish is that there was more time. It would’ve been amazing to hear more of my favourite Zetro-era classics ‘Chemi-Kill,’ ‘Brain Dead,’ ‘Fabulous Disaster,’ ‘Corruption,’ ‘Impact Is Imminent’ or indeed newer stuff from the Dukes era like ‘Altered Boy,’ ‘Class Dismissed’ or the Dukes era’s best ever tune ‘Children Of A Worthless God’ but that would’ve been a headline show. How much time would that all take?

How great was it to hear the famous tracks like ‘Bonded By Blood’ or ‘The Toxic Waltz’ though? Oh my goodness did I enjoy that. The crowd began to bang, there was blood upon the stage, metal took its place, bonded by blood. Hearing stuff of the new album like ‘Blood In. Blood Out.’ and ‘Body Harvest’ kept it all vital and not just nostalgia… I mean there’s been no decline in quality over the years. Either of those tracks would still be one of the best songs on Tempo’ or Impact’

I also loved their performance; they were hungry, rabid thrashers, not slow washed-out old men. I’ve heard it said that millionaires can’t make Thrash Metal, and so in that way its good Exodus never got as famous as Metallica, because Exodus are still unrelenting in their delivery. Its as if they’re still in their twenties. I also love their interaction with the crowd, they were very accommodating and interactive and the dialougue about the value of Heavy Metal itself all chimed very well with me. Overall, an amazing, feel-good performance and excellent setlist. I had myself a great time singing along, and I would go see them again tonight if I could. If you ever get the chance, no matter where they are on a bill and how short a slot they’re given, get yourself down to an Exodus show and you’ll be a happy man (or woman) (…but let’s be honest, man. Do I have any female readers? I doubt it.)(Interesting sidenote: Exodus certainly have a pretty high female audience ratio…. way more than I’ve seen in about my last 7 or 8 concerts. More than C.O.C for sure. Not quite Peirce The Veil levels of equality, but for greasy, brutal ’80s Thrash it was more than you’d expect).

At his point my night was complete, only it turns out that Obituary were headlining, as I’ve mentioned, and so I stayed to check them out. I’m not a fan yet, and have only ever heard one song. I’ve been meaning to try them for ages and have picked up their boxset numerous times in HMV but money shortages stopped me ever actually going through with the purchase. I like the other bands in Death Metal’s big four. I’ve liked Cannibal Corpse and Deicide a medium amount for years. I got into Morbid Angel a bit this year. Just Obituary left of the four. (And Death, Immolation, Incantation and many others still to come from the next tiers).

It was a very good performance. The two standout tracks were ‘Slowly We Rot’ and ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Die’ as well as the Celtic Frost cover as a close third. I was taken aback by how dedicated and into the crowd were. I noticed in the last few years how many morrisound album t-shirts have skyrocketed in popularity both in the streets of Manchester and especially at Metal gigs. It seems to be enjoying a renewed popularity, but man, I never expected an Obituary gig to be so packed of such an invested crowd. Shows what I know.

I was very, very impressed. There was no blasting, nothing unmusical. It was all fat, thick, groovy. There was a mix of doomy intros, speedy mid sections, and cool stop/start staccato moments ala Fear Factory, with surprisingly audible and discernible vocals and great lead guitar. Colour me impressed. Obituary are definitely worth me checking out it seems.

Good night.

Manowar – The Triumph Of Steel

Manowar – The Triumph Of Steel

In the same year that Grunge was well and truly selling billions of CDs worldwide, US Heavy Metal legends Manowar released their seventh full-length studio album – 1992’s The Triumph Of Steel.

It must have been no easy task following up their immensely popular and loyally beloved 1988 release Kings Of Metal, nor must it have been easy having to train up a new drummer and guitarist after losing Scott Columbus and Ross “The Boss” Friedman. In fact, nor can it have been fun trying to promote an album of blistering, powerful, OTT Heavy Metal after “Man In The Box” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” changed what must’ve felt like every journalist on earth’s priorities in the pre-internet culture of the day.

Despite all that was going against them, Manowar released what must surely be one of their greatest ever albums (certainly its my personal favourite at any rate). Call it ambition, or call it arrogance, but the band even opened up the record with a twenty-minute long song. A song with a bass solo, a drum solo so indulgent that it has a separate solo for the cymbals and for the drums, two minutes of somber guitar violining… all telling the story of Achillies and Hector from Greek Mythology. The world wanted “Touch Me I’m Sick” …Manowar gave ‘em “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts.”

Despite how easy it is to skip a twenty-minute album opener with three solos in it, the song isn’t poor. In fact, some sections of it are absolute genius, such as the furious Thrashy “Death Hector’s Reward” part, which feels like the musical equivalent of being battered upside the head.

After that, the first normal-length track comes in. Its my favourite track on the album, or by the band. “Metal Warriors” is the most perfectly-pitched, sing-along tribute to Heavy Metal that’s ever been written. Ludicrous to the point of featuring the lyric “If you’re not into Metal you are not my friend” and yet musically out of this world. Its some kind of supercharged version of Kiss’ “I Love It Loud” filled with Painkiller screams, mountain-top chants and the screech of guitars that feel only-barely in control.

There’s more blistering speed, in the sword-and-scorcery realm of “Ride The Dragon” with its constant double-kicks and incredibly catchy chorus.

The band then take a different tack, choosing to sing about Native Americans in a surprisingly tasteful way, in an interesting mid-paced affair that sonically evokes cowboy movies subtly, but doesn’t loose that Manowar sound. Maybe they were jealous of Anthrax? Who cares why they did it, but it works, really well!

Then they follow it up with another mid-paced track called “Burning” which you’d imagine might be a momentum killer, but is actually one of the more interesting compositions in the band’s catalogue. It’s a bit different than their usual any of their usual directions… epics, ballads, rousing anthems or blistering speed. It’s a nice change of pace. Sort of experimental, with a lot of emphasis on dynamics and Eric Adams trying out as many vocal techniques as he can imagine.

“Power Of Thy Sword” comes next, and its what I would consider the quintessential Manowar song. If you wonder if the band are for you, this is one of the tracks you should use to decide. Its got everything that’s great about the band in spades. Its so powerful, OTT and fun. Its beyond catchy, the solo is awesome, there’s slow bits, fast bits and there’s a touch of the orchestral epic-ness that the band aspire to. With this one song, you get a good musical, technical and lyrical picture of Manowar… oh, and by the way its a great song too!

Even if the last one felt good enough to be an album closer, it doesn’t stop there. There’s more Metal in the form of “The Demon’s Whip.” A robust, interesting track which is half crushing Sabbath-inspired Doom and half double-kick Thrash attack, almost-ending the album with a jarring reverse-whiplash effect as the too-slow doom accelerates out of control to the tune off way-too-loud whip samples.

It all closes with the grand, cinematic, vocally-impressive “Master Of The Wind” which kind of evokes Greg Lake-era King Crimson with its chiming bells, big reverb, dynamic production and haunting singing. Its probably the best ballad/orchestral-track that Manowar ever did. Not something to be skipped, but a genuine album highlight in itself.

Overall; Triumph Of Steel is a really diverse and almost strange album. Despite its seeming lack of focus, it really feels like Manowar just doing everything they could think of to absolute perfection. Anthem – nailed. Ballad – absolutely nailed. Fast bits – nailed. Slow bits – nailed. Exploring new ideas – nailed. Keeping true to what makes Manowar, Manowar – nailed. It might not have gotten the attention it deserved at the time, but for my money this album is a straight up-and-down masterpiece that shows what superb musicians, performers and songwriters Manowar are from every possible angle. Highly Recommended!