Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Review)

By 1975 Sabbath were a little burned out. And you can hear it on the album they recorded, with it’s experimentation and out-of-character choice of some instruments. Its release revitalized the band for a couple more years, but now, this album seems to have fallen by the wayside, with the End Tour only featuring only the riff of the title track in its setlist. But is that due to necessity or choice? Let’s find out by looking at the album closer.

The album opens to the gritty guitar tone and stellar riffing of Tony Iommi, as you would likely expect. The title track is the song, and it’s one of the only songs off the album to get much live play post-1998. It’s easy to hear why, being textbook Sabbath awesomeness. But it also shows an exemplary melding of acoustic parts with electric parts. Sabbath were experimenting with this at the time, and unlike some of the other songs on the album, they really nail it here. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” gives way to perhaps the most underrated riff in the Sabbath catalogue (at least of the Ozzy era). This riff belongs to the song “A National Acrobat”, which is again incredibly underrated. The riff is an amazing piece of guitar work that just worms it’s way into your head, only getting better when the second guitar kicks in. The vocal melody is really good too. Anyone who thinks Ozzy just sang along with the riff has a lot to learn, and should probably listen to something other than Iron Man. But “A National Acrobat” is flawed in perhaps one of the most non-Sabbath ways. Most Sabbath songs feature two to three different riffs (eg- “Into The Void”, “Electric Funeral” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” itself), maximizing bang for buck. “A National Acrobat” does this, and that’s the problem, because the other riffs don’t match up to the first at all. Furthermore, unlike the previous songs mentioned, “A National Acrobat” doesn’t return to the original riff. Regardless, “A National Acrobat” isn’t a bad song, but I don’t ever really listen to it past the two and a half minute mark.

“Fluff” is next. Four minutes of pedestrian acoustic strumming, I could have easily done without this one. It brings everything to a halt, and is too repetitive. Maybe if it was shorter it would make for a nice intro to a song, a la some of their tracks on earlier albums. Thankfully the next song, “Sabra Cadabra” restores things proper. It’s an energetic song that manages to also incorporate piano and synthesizer without compromising the Sabbath sound. It was one of the first Sabbath songs I heard, but I don’t think it’s just the nostalgia talking when I say that it’s a great song. Greatness continues on the next song, with its rolling riff. “Killing Yourself to Live” features the aforementioned riff, with some neat effects to accentuate it to boot, along with another great vocal melody. 1975 was probably the peak of Sabbath’s writing quality. However this is where the truly great songs end. With three songs to go, enjoyment does take a dive. The first of the trio, “Who Are You” is probably the worst song on the album. It has a weird riff, with weird effects, and just is a bit too slow. The next song does improve on this a bit though. “Looking For Today” is not the type of song that I’d put on to listen to on it’s own, but with it’s excellent meld of soft and heavy it definitely gets enjoyed on the album itself. Lastly there is “Spiral Architect”. “Spiral Architect” is pretty good, but it is eclipsed by some off the other songs on the album. It dies make for a nice uptempo way to finish the album, and ironically, the most interesting part of it is the most non-Sabbath part; the strings. They make for a great listen in the background of the song there. I do like string, as you shall find out better in a few weeks.

As for the answer to the above question about it’s disappearance from live shows, the answer is a bit of both. Ozzy’s simply unable to sing the best songs off this album, which is a shame. The album itself is a good listen, but only half the songs I’d feel the urge to seek out and listen to on their own. At least the others aren’t bad, most of the time.

The verdict- 3.75/5

Song of the Week: Evil Woman

Welcome all, to the second most unorthodox song of the week, a title awarded to this post for focusing on Electric Light Orchestra. A band that is neither mad nor metal. But they are excellent, so they are eligible for discussion on this site. Just this Friday I had the honor of contributing a list to Lebrain’s Nigel Tufnel Top 10 Ballads livestream (Which you can find here). As you could probably guess, my list involved a fair bit of ELO. “Evil Woman” wasn’t the top song (that went to ELO’s own “Ticket to the Moon”), but it had enough versions to qualify for doing of the week, and I do love it a lot. This was probably the hardest song of the week ranking I’ve ever had to do, and I briefly considered just putting them all at number one.

Top 5 Renditions

1- Zoom Tour Live

Top spot goes to this live version for ever so slightly better production. Namely just a tad more lush sounding, as well as the grander sound on Richard Tandy’s piano during his solo.

2- The Studio Version

The studio version is very close to perfection. It’s only very slight personal preferences that put the Zoom Tour Live version ahead of it on this list.

3- Stripped Down Mix

Unlike most of the other versions on this list, this one actually has a significant difference to the others, namely the titular stripped down mix, as well as an extra verse at the end. I almost prefer it the the studio version but I think I need the extra instrument fills.

4- Wembley or Bust

Jeff Lynne is very consistent in the quality of his performances. 42 years later and he’s only showing minor signs of ageing. It’s been extremely hard to rank these versions on account of them all being excellent. Thus we have resorted to scrutinizing the minutiae of each version. In this case this version is ranked here only on account of the keyboard fill in the chorus not sounding as good as some of the others.

5- Fusion 1976

Despite being the only version on here to feature the legendary Kelly Groucutt, he’s not singing lead (though that’s still not a criticism of Jeff Lynne’s lead vocal capacities), and the vocal melody on the verses is just slightly off in my opinion.

The Best Cover

Black Sabbath

No, I’m not referring to the Sabbath cover of The Crow’s “Evil Woman (Don’t Play Your Games With Me)”. I’m referring to the tour rehearsal’s for the Born Again tour. This song was in contention due to ELO drummer Bev Bevan being in Sabbath at the time. Needless to say there is not video for this I can show you, but how can I say this is the best without even hearing it. Well, simply, Ian Gillan singing and Tony Iommi on guitar covering an ELO song. ‘Nuff said. That and that there aren’t many covers of the song to begin with.

And our humorous send-off for the week is also ELO related (consistency!). This is a picture of the disc from ELO’s Greatest Hits. Note the writing at the bottom stating that all the songs were written by Jeff Lynne except for “Ma-Ma-Ma”, which was writtien by Belle/Jeff Lynne.

Any self-respecting ELO fan will instantly be able to spot the mistake. Track nine isn’t supposed to be titled “Ma-Ma-Ma”, it’s supposed to be titled “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle”. See it now? That actually made it into production, and even though this disc is eclipsed by other hits collections, I still treasure it, in part due to this little character-building mistake. Well, that’d all for today folks. We’ll be returning on Wednesday with the usual review, and I’ve got some other, bigger things planned for July as well.

Hollywood Vampires: Rise (Review)

You may remember way back when I reviewed Living Loud that I mentioned The Hollywood Vampires as the zenith of supergroups. There are two reasons for that. This album is the second. Their sophomore album, Rise flips the formula, boasting far more originals than covers, a stark contrast to their debut. Released just over a year ago, let’s see how it stacks up today.

Well the opening to “I Want my Now” is still a contender for best album opening for a long time. Long, drawn-out guitar notes herald the titular vampires as the tempo builds before the song kicks into gear as Alice still proves he’s got it vocally (which he also continues to do for the next three tracks featuring vocals. But my favorite part of the song, and the whole album for that matter, is the keyboard fill after the chorus. Chills every time. And also, though I don’t notice it often, the rhythm section is this song is doing some great stuff in the background. “I Want My Now” is a complete win in all aspects and it’s not hard to see why it’s the concert opener. The liner notes also point out that Sheryl Cooper even gets a backing vocals slot on the song.

Now at this point I shall take a brief sojourn to discuss the production. The first Hollywood Vampires album had very modern-sounding production and you could very easily tell what era it was from. Rise is a little more timeless. Sure it’s modern-sounding, but it’s a lot less obvious, you can’t always tell just by listening to the backing vocals. I do prefer it that way, it’s a little easier on the ears. But anyway, moving on to track two. “Good People Are Hard To Find” is just one of four little thirty second to one minute long instrumental tracks on this album. While they aren’t much on their own, they work to fill the cracks and ultimately create an album that flows a bit more naturally, rather than just cutting to silence between every single track. In a sense they also reward the listener for listening to the album in full rather than just listening to the individual songs. This one might just be some laughing and murmuring, but it gives the album character and I definitely prefer it on here.

“Good People Are Hard To Find” immediately segues into the very first advance single, “Who’s Laughing Now”. I loved it then and I still love it now. It’s heavy and actually features some talk box that I like. As a bonus we even get a guitar solo (not many of those on the album, but they’re always good). I can also hear what Alice Cooper meant when he said he was ‘spitting Johnny’s venom’. Although Alice claimed he did no writing because of his solo band commitments, the liner notes say otherwise. Regardless, Johnny Depp had a large impact on the writing and it’s easy to hear that in many of the songs. And funnily, it’s actually the lyrics that give away the release date of this album, not the production, as they make reference to ‘selfie sticks’ and ‘clergy sleaze’. (I also like the subtle dig at the ‘speeches that preaches on the blog’). It’s debatable whether something dating an album is a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t mind. Now also seems like a good time to address anyone who may still have a decidedly negative view on Johnny Depp. Put simply, Alice Cooper, one of the nicest guys in rock, stands by Johnny 100%, and that’s good enough for me.

But anyway, back to the music. Track four, titled “How The Glass Fell”, is another short instrumental. Unlike the previous one, “How The Glass Fell” instead features some light harpsichord action. That’s another thing I like about the four short instrumentals, they all are different from each other. “How The Glass Fell” precedes “The Boogieman Surprise”, a more slower track. But slowness isn’t always automatically a negative in my book. “The Boogieman Surprise” is a win, with highlights including the catchiness of the pre-chorus and the chorus, along with the drum fill between the two. “The Boogieman Surprise” gives way to the tongue-in-cheek “Welcome to Bushwackers”. I love how the album can effortlessly switch between heavy, farcial and creepy without sounding disjointed. “Welcome to Bushwackers” is catchy, and strips back to production to the basics, allowing for song and the listener to fully focus on the humor. And it works.

Now we get to the first song not featuring Alice Cooper on lead vocals, and it’s also the first of the three covers on this album. Guitarist Joe Perry steps up to the microphone to tackle Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”. It’s alright, and Joe Perry does a fine job at the vocals, but mostly I’m just glad that Joe Perry has some lead vocals on this album as he often seems to get shafted by the media who want to focus more on Alice and Johnny. Bottom line the song isn’t bad at all, and I wouldn’t cut it if I had the choice.

From here, as we get into the second half of the album, Johnny Depp’s presence is greatly increased as he takes a lot of lead vocal duties, starting with “Git Round From Me”, which has some very aggressive vocals from Mr Depp. It seems Alice isn’t the only one spitting his venom. This is balanced out in the song with a heavy, yet atmospheric, chorus featuring, for the first and only time, lead vocals by Alice Cooper guitarist Tommy Henrisken. Johnny stays behind the microphone for the second cover, “Heroes”. It either will or won’t come as a surprise to you to find out that Johnny is a good singer. I was pretty surprised, probably another mark of my young age. He nails “Heroes”, and this is definitely my favorite version of the song. We now get to the final short instrumental, a very sinister little upright bass number entitled “A Pitiful Beauty”. This one’s easily my favorite of the four little instrumentals, and it leads into a contender for favorite song on the album (though it’s hard to definitely say given how many excellent songs are on it).

That song is “New Threat” and it features the return of Mr Cooper. This song rocks HARD. 3.33 minutes of relentless rocking and riffing, which as you know, is always good. Major head banging abounds on this song. And doesn’t on the next song, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The next song is titled “Mr. Spider” and of all the songs on the album it is the one that’s most reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s solo work. It’s got really creepy vibes, especially in the chorus, and the largely acoustic nature of it definitely helps complement that. And it’s only fitting that it’s Alice himself behind the microphone, ratcheting up the sinisterness and atmosphere, something that’s also helped by a healthy dose of a string section. “Mr. Spider is definitely another contender for my favorite song on the album.

From here the album audibly begins to wind up, as we move to the song closes to a title track, “We Gotta Rise”. “We Gotta Rise” returns to the tongue-in-cheek and catchy style of “Welcome To Bushwackers”, and does it just as well. It almost seems like a sequel to “Elected” as lead vocals are handled by none other than President Alice Cooper. The final proper song on the album is the third cover, “People Who Died” with Johnny Depp singing. It’s not a bad cover, but looking at Hollywood Vampires’ setlist, I would have much preferred “Train Kept A Rollin’” in its place. The album is then properly closed out by a depressing spoken word track “Congratulations” and I do have a small gripe about the running order of these last three songs. “Congratulations” ends the album on a dour note and I usually just eject the disc after “People Who Died”. I would have cut “Congratulations” like I said, and move “We Gotta Rise” to the closing spot, to end the album on a funny and perhaps cautiously optimistic note. But it doesn’t make any difference to the quality of the songs so it’s not major.

So there you have it, a Hollywood Vampires album where I am shockingly more excited about the original songs than the covers. It is hard to compare to the debut given how different they are, but I don’t care as I enjoy both hugely. This is a very self-indulgent album, and I like that. It goes a lot of different places and doesn’t sound like something manufactured to sell records. Although there weren’t many contenders for the title, this album still easily earned the title of top album of 2019 for me, and it’s probably my favorite album that Alice Cooper has ever sung on.

The verdict- 4.75/5

I just wish I could get the Japanese edition with a whole bonus 2-disc live album.

Live Evil VS Live at Hammersmith Odeon (Ramble)

There are many debates in the rock and metal world, and for that reason I’m not going to bother listing all of them here. I’m sure a bunch of them already popped into your head already. I will mention one of them though because I do intend to weigh in on it in detail here. As the title suggests that will be the discussion surrounding which live album by Dio-fronted Black Sabbath is better: the veteran Live Evil or the upstart Live at Hammersmith Odeon. Before getting into an in-depth comparison of each song, I will address some of the other aspects, starting with the exterior of the albums.

The Packaging and Artwork

Live Evil has an interesting cover art that has many Easter eggs and callbacks to the Sabbath songs featured on the album, but it’s lacking something. Cohesiveness, maybe? It’s a cool album cover, but it’s not really right for a live album, and it fails to convey the awesomeness contained within. Live at Hammersmith Odeon, on the other hand, goes for a simpler, less is more, look, and pulls it off. It’s cover looks like a live album cover, and with Dio front and center you know exactly what you’re going to get. Live Evil might make a better display piece, but Live At Hammersmith Odeon takes the win in the exterior stakes, especially when we get to the back cover/liner notes. The original Live Evil LP credited lead vocals to ‘Ronnie Dio’ and listed Vinny Appice and Geoff Nicholls under ‘Special Thanks’. The deluxe edition does rectify this, but only inside the liner notes, as the exterior of them replicates the original vinyl sleeve. Live at Hammersmith Odeon meanwhile one-ups Live Evil, and secures the point in the process, as it gives both Appice and Nicholls full credits.

The Production

An album’s production can sink it if it’s stuffed up properly. While live albums don’t require as much mixing and fiddling in the traditional sense, it’s still important, hence it’s inclusion here as one of the categories to discuss. Live Evil has a more traditional metal mix whereas Live at Hammersmith Odeon has a more hard-rock style mix, punchy, tight and upfront. My personal preference lies with the slightly more laid back Live Evil mix. However the Live Evil mix is hampered by a really quiet audience in the crowd participation bits for whatever reason (dogged dedication to authenticity, maybe?). They’re incredibly quiet and it’s a real shame because crowd interaction is always fun, when done correctly. Live at Hammersmith Odeon, on the other hand, while it features a louder audience, also has a slightly inferior sound quality in a few places. But that’s relatively minor, and in the end this category will have to result in a draw, as the different mixes suit different songs. Now we get to the main event: the direct comparisons between the songs.

The Songs

E5150-

This one is just a tape played over the speakers to signify the end of the concert, so there’s not much to say about it. I love the keyboard solo that ends the track and leads into “Neon Knights”, although it’s the last sound I’d expect to hear at a Black Sabbath concert. As the Live Evil version is louder and a bit more clearer it will take the win for round one.

Neon Knights-

This one goes to Live Evil too. The mix suits it better (oddly specific criticism here: I hate the cymbal sound on the Hammersmith version), and I prefer Dio’s performance here as he draws the notes out and growls less. The just audible keyboards behind the solos are good too, and not the last time the keyboards will be mentioned, that’s for sure

N.I.B.-

Although I’m tempted to fail them both for omitting the bass solo, I’m giving the win once again to Live Evil. This song was my introduction to Live Evil and it’s my favorite version of it. The Live at Hammersmith Odeon version however, is plagued with feedback issues, and Dio’s performance is just, well, not as good.

Children of the Sea-

Both versions are very similar, but it’s the audible keyboards on the Live Evil version that secure it the win. That, and that the intro riff on the Hammersmith version is just a little bit too jangly for my tastes. At this point we’d hit the first discrepancy between the two tracklists. I’m going to address those at the end, and continue on with the direct comparisons, which brings us to “Black Sabbath”

Black Sabbath-

While a jangly intro sets Live at Hammersmith Odeon off on a bad start, it recovers and manages to beat the Live Evil version on account of a better second half, along with some brief keyboards that shockingly didn’t also feature on the Live Evil version.

War Pigs-

Live Evil once again helped by keyboards, but it’s the simultaneous existence of more growliness on the Hammersmith version and a bonus two minutes of Appice thundering away on the drums that gives the win for this round to Live Evil.

Iron Man-

These versions are both incredibly similar in quality. Live Evil may have some background keyboards feature briefly in the outro, but that’s not enough to say that the Live Evil version is unequivocally better. Thus, in the interests of fairness, this one is a draw too.

The Mob Rules-

Due to not having to fade-in, the Live at Hammersmith version has a great start as the keyboard solo intro is louder. It’s then thanks to the punchy mix, with Dio not as distant sounding, that it secures the point.

Heaven and Hell-

NOTE: The Live Evil “Sign of the Southern Cross and Tony Iommi guitar solo will be covered later. This segment only focuses on the “Heaven and Hell” parts.

The liberal use of keyboards in both versions is very much appreciated here, but it’s the louder crowd of Live at Hammersmith Odeon, along with the fact that that version is both one uninterrupted track and keeps the other instruments going with Iommi’s extended solo, that secures the win for Hammersmith in this crucial round.

Also, where’s our DVD Tony?

Paranoid-

If you’ve read the very first song of the week you’ll know the answer to this one. Punchy mix and ‘whoah oh ohs’ give the point to Live at Hammersmith Odeon.

Children of the Grave-

I think the Live Evil version of this is the heaviest this song has ever been. Live at Hammersmith Odeon’s version is no slouch either, making this one a tie. We know get to the mixing and matching with the leftover songs that didn’t fully match up. The first is “Voodoo” which occupied a different place on each of the tracklists.

Voodoo-

Nice and heavy on Live Evil, and the extra lyrics and slightly faster tempo compared to Live at Hammersmith Odeon give it the win.

50% of Sign of the Southern Cross + Guitar Solo+ Fluff VS Slipping Away + Country Girl-

The guitar solo definitely bogs down Live Evil a bit, and even though “Sign of the Southern Cross” is a really good song, it can’t stand up to the entirety of “Country Girl”. Heck, if “Slipping Away” (my least favorite song off Mob Rules) was switched for “Falling Off The Edge of The World (my favorite song of Mob Rules), I wouldn’t be writing this post.

In Conclusion

Well, with nine points each, this post is rendered pretty useless as we end up with a draw. But that’s kind of fitting as both albums fulfill different requirements. Live Evil is a full, double disc live album with all the bells and whistles and the gig atmosphere. It’s ready for a long listen and full absorption. Meanwhile Live at Hammersmith Odeon is a compact single disc for when you want an uninterrupted listen at a gathering or in the car. I love both of them and I will continue to enjoy both of them all the same. I hope you do too.

Song of the Week: Burn

“Burn” is one of the flagship songs of Deep Purple MK3, and fully deserving of being this week’s song of the week. It’s not hard to hear why. It’s a six-minute slice of rock that shows off the entire band, with varied yet complementary styles from both singers, and plenty of soloing from both Blackmore and Lord. A live staple of that era of the band, we’ll have no trouble finding enough versions to discuss.

Top 5 Renditions

1- Live in London

This one gets top spot due to personal preference, and it’s quality of course, but also due in part to the fact that it was the first place I heard the song. Being from the ’74 tour it means we are not yet at the Tokyo ’75 stage where Coverdale employed liberal uses of just screaming above his range, so we get a stellar performance from both him and Hughes (who also sounds in excellent form).

2- Calinfornia Jamming

Of all the video versions of “Burn” out there, which isn’t many, this is my favourite (though there is some grainy footage purporting to be from the London show out there). Another strong ’74 showing.

3- The Studio Version

The studio version manages the unlikely, capturing most, if not all, of the ferocity and explosiveness that would mark the live versions.

4- Rises Over Japan

Another iconic performance, though for the wrong reasons in some people’s eyes. I actually like this version. It does trade vocal-note accuracy for speed, but the energy is ironically higher than ever. I really like the energetic, unhinged performance of this version, even if it can be a little iffy on the ears at times from the singers. Tommy Bolin’s arm might have been largely incapacitated, but he still pulls of a great solo, even if it’s slightly closer to Yngwie than Blackmore. The icing on the cake is the mighty Jon Lord and his Hammond playing lead “guitar”, to further make this version unique. Glenn Hughes does sound a little tired here though, but it’s not too much of a drag.

5- The Purple Album

In the interests of not repeating myself, and adding some variety, I have gone for the Whitesnake version over the Paris 1975 version. Whitesnake have managed to modernise the song fairly well, though they did “Coming Home” better. Glenn Hughes is missed in the vocals slot, but the rest of the band are still competent enough to do a good version, including adding some of their own flavour to certain parts. And unlike many of the other songs on The Purple Album, David Coverdale even manages to do pretty good justice to the voice he sang the song with back in 1974.

The Best Cover

Mr Big

I haven’t heard any Mr Big before this, but this cover is a good sign of what may be to come. The singer is quite expressive and manages to make the song work really well with a less Coverdaley voice, with the other members pulling off Glenn Hughes’ vocal parts admirably, and displaying a high level of musicianship. Colour me impressed. There is a weird sound at the “All I hear…” bits when it sounds like the CD is skipping a bit in the background thanks to some creative guitar work.

And we finish off this week with a wry observation from Whitesnake almunus Neil Murray.

Judas Priest: Jugulator (Dual-Review)

Stupid pixelated effect is stupid

Welcome back everyone, to the Judas Priest dual review series, as we make our triumphant(?) return with our thoughts on Jugulator. Needless to say, by 1997 Judas Priest could definitely be called a victim of changes. Four years out from Halford’s departure and only now releasing an album with their new singer, there was a lot riding on the album. Reviews were mixed from the crowd at the time, but it’s 2020 now, and humanity has evolved to be able to stomach the loss of a beloved member of a band. So how does Jugulator fare 13 years on?

Well, it’s a mixed bag. There isn’t a single song on here that’s truly bad, but there isn’t really any that are that good either. Virtually every song is just faceless riffing and singing, with nothing much memorable about them at all. A throwback to the infamous British SteelPoint of Entry section of the review series, virtually all of these songs just fall into the filler category. There are some points of note though. The first is in the negative, and refers to the prevalence of non-musical sounds or talking as an intro to a song or played over it. In the case of the former it means it takes ages to get to the actual song, which becomes more of a problem when the song isn’t really good. It really doesn’t make for an enjoyable album listen when every second song is interrupted by some unnecessary sounds. And in the case of the latter it just comes off as cheesy, cliché narration, that honestly just detracts from the song. Let the music do it’s thing unhindered.

There are two songs that rise above the filler, though even these songs are still fundamentally flawed and imperfect. The first is “Burn In Hell”, which features an awesome, tension-building atmospheric intro quite reminiscent of the start of “Turbo Lover”. But this just gives way to more faceless metal filler unfortunately. The second song, and the better of the two, is “Cathedral Spires”. “Cathedral Spires” is a more unusual one though. In its current form it really is quite good. It’s heavy, atmospheric and has fairly sophisticated lyrics, especially when compared to some of the other songs on the album. But even this song can’t escape the filler. The electric guitar parts, though not the least memorable on the album, fill that filler tag quite well. But the acoustic bits (intro verse and the choruses) are where the song shines. Ripper Owens is very good at softer singing it turns out, and the chorus nails the epicness. While I enjoy the song as it is I think it would be better (or at least tighter and more coherent) if kept entirely acoustic, like the first verse, with the chorus and outro chanting retained for epicness.

Jugulator is not a bad album, but it’s not a successful album either. It is commendable for it’s consistency though, even if the bar it sets itself isn’t very high. 

The verdict- 2/5

Ironically, the acoustic bits on this heavy metal album are the most memorable and sound to have the most potential. Or at least to these ears they do. Whatta ya say Holen?

They take Painkiller to it’s heavy endpoint, and with Glen Tipton penning the lyrics, it’s somehow even cheesier than before. The production sounds like a glorified demo, but some of the riffs here are pretty inspired. They take a Pantera influence, tuning down their guitars to C in some instances. “Bullet Train” stands out as a formidable opponent, building in dynamics, but Priest sound like they’re playing catchup a lot of the time. ‘90s groove metal plays a huge influence. Ripper is a formidable replacement to the departed Halford, hitting all the highs while possessing a gravel based low-end that perfectly fits the tunes at hand. He’s certainly a much better ‘90s replacement vocalist than Blaze Bayley. The inimitable “Cathedral Spires” is a fan classic, and for good reason. There’s some melodrama, but the riffage should win you over. What lets the album down is some bland melodic moments amongst the heaviness. Something is lost. It’s not horrible, but very little of it is inspiring.

2.5/5 Procrastinations

And how does Ripper fare live? Find out next time when we tackle the enormous ’98 Live Meltdown.

Pat Benatar: Live From Earth (Review)

When discussing female rock and metal vocalists, it’s usually hard to decide who is best on account of the fact that all of them are very good. Often it falls to personal preference based on the songs they recorded. In my case it’s Pat Benatar, and this album, recorded during her 1981 tour (and my introduction to her), is the exact reason for that. Now of all the artists I know, Pat Benatar has the most notable difference in quality between the live performances and the studio. Live she’s a beast, backed with the same band, yet all have made creative tweaks to their performances, resulting in much superior versions. In the studio she’s merely a shadow of her live self. All the playing and singing is reined in, and her studio songs are fraught with perfection. Everything comes in perfectly in time. Notes are perfect and the tempos never waver. Her studio output sounds manufactured, like a set of tapes perfectly layered over one another to create a song. Needless to say, she is far superior live. Now let us just see exactly that.

The album commences with a simple introduction by a man: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome…Pat! Benatar!” And that’s all that’s needed to hype the audience up. No frills, no exaggeration, just her name. And even though the album opens up with a slower number, “Fire and Ice”, we can still very easily hear why. It reminds me of Judas Priest opening the Fuel For Life tour with “Out in the Cold”, though “Fire and Ice” wasn’t the show opener. “Fire and Ice” is just the first of many songs to show off the two main improvements the live performances have over the studio versions. The first is a slight increase in tempo (always a win), and the second is just a pinch of rasp added to Pat’s vocals. This has the effect of adding some grit to these versions, much amplifying the rockness compared to the sterile and clean high notes of the studio versions.

The second song is also an exemplar of the band’s strengths. “Looking For A Stranger” is the first we really hear of the band’s ability to equally and perfectly balance keyboards and guitars, and the songs are all the better with both instruments firing on all cylinders. But there’s a lot more to this show and this band than just the instruments, and it is with the third song, “I Want Out” that we get our first taste of just how good Pat is vocally. The song itself is a good rocker with melody, but it’s the finale that really hammers the point home. The song ends with an uptempo call and response between the backing vocals and Pat herself, as she absolutely lets loose screaming her lungs out going ‘I want out!’. It’s an end worthy of a rock song, and not the last time that we’ll hear such an ending.

But not now, as we go to song number four, which is also the only live song to be legitimately able to be described as mediocre. It really isn’t too different from the studio version as Pat just goes really high on the chorus. Not a bad thing per se, but already established to be not the best way to do these songs or showcase Pat’s abilities. Admittedly it would be hard to improve this song just by adding rasp, but they could have countered that by including a different song. I believe they did a great cover of “Helter Skelter” on this tour. Anyway, it’s not too much of an issue as the next song, “Hell is For Children”, is a strong contender for best song on the album. It’s not an out-and-out rocker, starting with a quiet piano intro, but it soon roars into life and ends with a finale similar to the end of “I Want Out”, which we’ve already established was fantastic.

The metaphorical side two then opens with a song I’m sure you’ve all heard of already. It is the mega-hit after all, and this is probably the definitive version of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. And despite being far and away the best known of all the songs on here, it still doesn’t feel out of place, nor does it overshadow many, if any, of the other songs. Because the next song for example, “Promises in the Dark”, is another contender for best song on the album. It’s quite similar to the aforementioned “Hell is For Children”, starting with a slow intro, but it too soon roars to life, taking the song in a more uptempo direction than the one on “Hell is For Children”. It also manages to incorporate studio-Benatar raspless high notes and make them work perfectly, never overdoing them.

The live portion of this disc is then closed out by the early hit “Heartbreaker”. One of the faster songs on the album, it’s exactly what was needed to perfectly close the album. Except it doesn’t, because we have two more songs, these ones being studio tracks that were included at the end. These ones bug me. The first one “Love is a Battlefield”, was a mega-hit and became very well known, despite sounding like utter crap to these ears (easily the worst song on the disc), being an overproduced mess with some dubious creative choices. Meanwhile, true album closer “Lipstick Lies” is a more stripped back and very catchy mid-tempo song that I prefer infinitely more, and yet ended up being relegated to obscurity. Alas, it’s a great way to end the album, but that’s unfortunately the only place you’re likely to hear it.

Really, you don’t need any other Pat Benatar album that isn’t a live one if you have Live From Earth (though you may want to iTunes “All Fired Up”, one of the rare studio tracks by the band to be great as is).

The verdict- 4.25/5

Single LP live albums from back in the day don’t come much better than this.

Song of the Week: Iron Maiden

Song of the Week expectantly returns again this week, and features our first Iron Maiden song, “Iron Maiden” itself. The 80’s unholy trinity (song title=album title=band name) is known for finishing the main set of every Maiden show with a spectacular display of both theatrics and musicianship. As such, we’ve quite a few renditions to draw upon today for our top five.

Top 5 Renditions

1- Download Festival 2007

This version takes top spot due to its sheer awesomeness. Di’Anno purists will argue that Bruce Dickinson is a poor fit for the song, and they’re not completely wrong, but the vocals are not the focus of this version, the experience is instead. Featuring one of my top three Maiden stage props, it’s from 2:05 onward that this version kicks into maximum awesome overdrive.

Just imagine being there on the day. You know something’s going to happen, everything goes dark, and then you hear actual tank noises. You think “they wouldn’t actually have a tank, would they”. But they do, and then the dual guitars kick in and you see it. It’s not a real tank, but who cares it’s awesome all the same. It’s the shot at 3:00 that really cements this version up here. Goosebumps.

2- The Soundhouse Tapes

The version found on debut album is just a bit too slick and too fast for me. This version has the perfect tempo, and I prefer Di’Anno’s vocals here too. The guitars are better produced too, with a more gritty and raucous tone to suit the song. And to top it off even the drumming on this one trumps the drumming on the debut version of the song (not that that version is bad).

3- Live at the Rainbow

Though it lacks the bounce and tempo of the version found on The Soundhouse Tapes, it still manages a raw guitar tone, and it can be argued that the energy here offsets the lack of desired tempo, and I’d probably agree. Di’Anno is in fine form too, and as an added bonus, listen out for one of the guitarists (probably Adrian) play the wrong bit for a second or two at 2:35. I love it when bands leave in little things like that. It gives the track character and authenticity.

4- Beast Over Hammersmith

Probably my favorite Dickinson rendition of the song, I think he fits it quite well here. It’s not his usual operatic style but I like it, and it works.

5- Live After Death

This version definitely has more epicness than the Beast Over Hammersmith version, and that’s it’s greatest strength. While Bruce isn’t massively ill-fitting for this song in my opinion, it’s the backing vocals here that really help him hit that level of awesome on the chorus. I picked the video over the audio because I think it’s a slightly better performance, plus you really need video to get the full experience of this song.

The Best Cover

Tankard

Not many bands seem to be too keen on covering a song named after another band, it seems. Furthermore it’s hard to find covers of Maiden songs that aren’t out and out thrash. Nevertheless I find the version by Tankard to be pretty good. They’ve tweaked the vocal melody a bit to put their own spin on it, and the vocalist isn’t grating to listen to. This version will likely find its way into my collection at some point.

And to finish it all off, we’ll address a little image some of you might be familiar with.

It’s the back cover of the 1998 reissue of Iron Maiden, and 1980 purists might be wishing that the track time listed for “Sanctuary” was indeed correct. And in other news, you can expect the Judas Priest Dual-Review series to return sometime next week.

British Lion: The Burning (Review)

Way back in 2012 Steve Harris released a solo album titled British Lion, which turned out to be a very polarizing album. Those that liked it liked it on it’s own terms and enjoyed it for what it was. Those that didn’t enjoy it mostly laid the blame squarely at the feet of singer Richard Taylor, who was commonly derided as being very bland in the vocals slot. Even I couldn’t defend that in some cases on the debut. But sometime over the eight years between that album and this one things changed a bit, for the better too, as you will soon find out. The most noticeable change though is that the band is billed as British Lion now and not a solo project of Steve Harris. Regardless of the band’s name though, The Burning certainly doesn’t have a lot to live up to, though it does have a lot to accomplish if the band wants to stay in the public eye.

The album opens with “City of Fallen Angels”, and right from the off we can start to see some improvements over the first album. Richard Taylor sounds a little more expressive though still a little lacking in grit and power. The sound is also heavied up a bit and the tempo is upped as well. What results is an uptempo chugger that’s certainly not dull and which features an excellent guitar solo too. There aren’t many solos on the album, but when there is one it’s always great. It’s a very good start. The band then pull a Dio, sequencing the title track in second spot. “The Burning” is a good song, good enough to be released as an advance single, and melds uptempo rocking with a soaring chorus. Taylor even manages to muster up a little aggression on the verse to really put some icing on the cake. Third song “Father Lucifer” is the worst of the three we’ve heard so far, though not bad by any means, especially with a great main riff to compensate for vocals that are slightly on the dull end of the scale.

The next song though, is where one of the great strengths of the album is first hammered home, and that is the vocal melodies. Richard Taylor might not have the most interesting voice, and there might definitely be grounds to call him bland in some cases, but on this album this is almost always completely balanced by either great riffs or really good vocal melodies. “Elysium” is a slow song with very little in the way of aggression, but it is still really good thanks to the melody. The band fully play to this strength, and craft an album that falls firmly into the genre of what I like to call ‘melodic metal’, a phrase that was, as far as I know, coined right here as a way to classify this album. Soaring vocals, great melodies and heavy, head-banging riffs all work together to craft a very solid album.

This point is hammered home on just the very next song, “Lightning”. See the previous line for a description of this song, though do add in another instance of accomplished guitar soloing. Ditto the melody praising for the following song (“Last Chance”) as well, which also sports a gentle guitar intro with some shades of UFO (I wonder which member of the band was responsible for that…). It’s possibly the best example of the songwriting ability compensating for Taylor’s voice not being the most interesting at times.

Of course, this album isn’t perfect. The first true brush with mediocrity is up next. “Legend” is very forgettable and probably should have been cut. Thankfully it’s sandwiched between two great tracks so its negative impact is minimized. Which brings us to the very first advance single, “Spit Fire” (released all the way back in October 2018). At the risk of repeating myself I shall say that it, like many other songs, shows off Taylor’s soaring vocals brilliantly (though this one has a little more bounce to the chorus. It works well). “Spit Fire” gives way to one of the best riffs on the album, present in “Land of the Perfect People”. Though lyrically it’s nothing sophisticated, it’s still got great musicianship, and also sports the only proper hook on the album, more noticeable due to how effective it is. A definite win and definitely single-worthy in these eyes.

The album does take a noticeable dip in quality after this point though. Second to last song, “Bible Black” is surprising in that it features a mess of a vocal melody that not even the guitars can save, to the point where I think that the whole song should have just been cut. With ten other songs on the album it could easily have been done and no one would miss it. The final song on the album is called “Native Son”. It’s a largely acoustic track. It’s alright, but nowhere near as memorable or as good as some of the others. Given it’s uniqueness among the songs, album closer is definitely the place for it, and it’s its position there that stops me from suggesting it should have been cut too.

The British boys have definitely created a much better and more consistent album than their last outing, and also found their style and settled in quite well. Richard Taylor sounds much more confident and at home behind the microphone than he did in 2012. Now if you absolutely hated the first album, you still won’t like this one, but if you thought it had some potential, or are just in the mood for some excellent melodic metal you’ll probably like this album quite a bit.

The verdict- 4/5

They are still a studio band only though unfortunately. Richard Taylor can’t fully deliver the goods live.

Song of the Week: Beyond the Realms of Death

This week’s song of the week features a song that has quite obviously grown on me a bit since the legendary trashing of Stained (Cl)ass.

Top 5 Renditions

1- Live Miami 1988

There’s no better way for me to describe this adequately. Just listen to it. If you thought “The Sentinel” on Priest…Live! was going above and beyond the call of duty vocally, then this is will blow your mind. This right here is solely responsible for me being sad we didn’t get a Ram It Down 30th Anniversary edition. Sure it’s not an official release, but it’s too good to omit. You’ll just have to crank the volume.

2- The Studio Version

The studio version melds softer sections with electric guitar choruses excellently, even featuring a likely-unintentional similarity to the main riff of Rainbow’s “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” in the guitar work on the chorus. The studio version gets number two spot for overall excellence in all areas.

3- Live in London

Ripper Owens does a good job at this song due his ability to nail the quieter portions while also adequately doing the high notes. They may not be the highest notes ever done on the chorus but he puts his own unique spin on the song, one that works quite well.

4- Live Insurrection

One from Halford’s solo career here. He might go a bit Painkillery a bit here and there but it’s still an excellent version. Halford knows what he can and can’t do anymore, hence the largely strain-free vocals, which are much appreciated. The dynamism to the vocals in regards to which notes are used is what puts this one above the next one.

5- Live and Rare

Very authentic to the studio version, this version only sits in fifth place due to personal preference towards the other more interesting version. Also a few little rare strains resulting in a little aggression missing from some moments.

The Best Cover

Blind Guardian

Not many covers of this song out there. This one is similar to the Judas Priest original, but still manages to fill it’s own little niche. If for some reason you thought Judas Priest wasn’t heavy enough, this version will have you covered (pun completely intended).

And to cap it off we have a humorous image that directly relates to the song at hand. Here’s a little something I mocked up in a couple minutes a while ago.

Les Binks

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