Def Leppard – “The Def Leppard EP”

Def Leppard – “The Def Leppard EP” (UMC / Mercury)

Battle Helm Rating

The one that started it all for Def Leppard. A fledgling band at the time straight out of high school, this EP was recorded in 1978 for the princely sum of £148.50 – borrowed from vocalist Joe Elliott’s dad no less – and self-produced by the band on their own label Bludgeon-Riffola. With the sleeves being glued together by Elliott and his mum(!), the initial 1,000 pressing was distributed as a means of gaining wider exposure. At the same time, John Peel, a BBC Radio 1 DJ was fast becoming the champion of punk and alternate music and as chance would have it, visited Leppard’s home city of Sheffield, whereupon said EP was thrust into his hands by a stage invading Elliott! The EP received the vital airplay it needed, climbing up the singles chart to eventually sell out the entire pressing, but more importantly, garnering the interest of Phonograph Records, who signed the band for their debut “On Through The Night”. The rest is history. Recorded with Frank Noon on drums, the EP features 3 tracks, ‘Riding Into The Sun’, a lightweight melodic rocker that was wisely left off the debut although a new version was recorded in 1987 as a B-side to the ‘Hysteria’ single. However, the next 2 tracks would be the defining moment for Def Leppard. ‘Getcha Your Rocks Off’ was a fast rocker, driven by an ultra catchy guitar riff backed by a hard end comprising of Rick Savage’s bass and Noon’s drum work – a beautiful synthesis of heaviness and melody, not to mention instant addiction! As if to answer any critics of the band’s youth, the impressive near 8 minute ‘The Overture’ would have jaws dropping at the Rush like composition, acoustic and tranquil in its beginnings, yet leading onto epic proportions of heaviness with unashamed harmonies – not to mention some blinding solos by the late Steve Clark and Pete Willis. Despite being one of NWOBHM’s commercial success stories, the relationship between their homeland and the band has always been a disputed one, but whatever the sensitivities, this EP serves to remind me of a time when youthful talent from humble backgrounds could indeed reach for the stars, and attain it. Big time.

Fates Warning – “Awaken the Guardian Live (Disc 1)”

Fates Warning – “Awaken the Guardian Live (Disc 1)” CD/ DVD/ Blu-ray/ Vinyl (Metal Blade Records)

Battle Helm Rating

A cult classic since its release in 1986, “Awaken the Guardian” was the first charting success for US prog metallers Fates Warning, and with an unwaning popularity over the years, resulting in several re-issues! Although their 3rd album, it would also mark the departure of vocalist John Arch, himself destined to become a cult figure despite the band’s continuing success – the fact that he spent 17 years away from the music business only adding to his mystique!! During this time, the emergence of the ‘true’ metal scene in Germany had begun to grow, along with underground festivals like Keep It True who specialized in bringing back long forgotten cult bands and especially original line ups of certain acts. As if willed by fate, the original recording line-up of “Awaken the Guardian” – including Arch – were re-united at Keep It True XIX some 30 years later for the album’s anniversary! Needless to say, it was a packed out show and thanks to the amazingly resilient vocals of John Arch – still able to remarkably hit those quasi operatic highs – the roaring crowd needed no cue whatsoever to sing along to the likes of ‘Guardian’, and my personal fave ‘Fata Morgana’. Although tagged with the ‘prog’ label, I would say this might apply to some sound elements as well as the mesmerising technical guitar work of Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti, but overall, the band are metal which is probably why I’ve always appreciated them, with much of their material resonating epic Maiden-esque tones. This unmissable live release, which may in time become a cult release in itself, captures the band’s entire 12 song Keep It True festival set, being made up of the 8 original album tracks, along with early classics like ‘Night on Brocken‘ off their namesake debut release in 1984. Undoubtedly a special show in every sense, the enjoyment for those unable to see this original line up live or make it to these special shows can be appreciated whatever the format – be it CD or the deluxe package – as the energy and passion is unmistakable from the band and audience coming together to celebrate these unforgettable songs 30 years on, and still going strong! Definitely one of the year’s top live releases and as a parting note, the title says ‘Part 1..’ and having also played the ProgPower USA festival that same year, no doubt a follow up will soon be due of that show too!!!!

Life of Agony – “A Place Where There’s No More Pain”

Life of Agony – “A Place Where There’s No More Pain” (Napalm Records)

Battle Helm Rating

Without a doubt one of the more different bands in the early 90s, not in the least for their standout debut in “River Runs Red” in 1993, Life of Agony tastefully blended hardcore punk with metal along with a fair amount of alt rock in a melancholic, downtuned sound that didn’t just reflect their hard surroundings of Brooklyn, but openly (and unusually) shared emotions of deeply personal encounters with depression, alcoholism, abuse, grief and suicide. Produced by Type O Negative’s Josh Silver, this album would set the band on a path to sell over a million records worldwide, and tour with the biggest names in rock, including Metallica, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Foo Fighters, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, by 1997, vocalist Keith Caputo’s life choices and departure spelled the end for the band just 2 years later. With a short lived reunion in 2003, and the band members all individually involved in other musical projects, it wasn’t until 2014 that a second reunion took place, after Caputo’s gender reassignment to become Mina Caputo. “A Place Where There’s No More Pain” is the band’s first studio album in 12 years and right off, it’s a lighter release – sound wise but certainly not for the subject matter – well away from the harsh, grinding concrete aggression of “River Runs Red”. If it is a cathartic release, and I’m sure it is, then I’m certainly pleased for the band, at last free of their demons to write about them comfortably(?) in retrospect, rather than this being some of immersive therapy as in the past. Gone is the baritone Danzig-esque wailing of Keith, replaced by Mina’s soulful but melancholic tones that wouldn’t be out’ve place in Alice In Chains. Indeed, the mood of this album has more grunge and is more contemporary hard rock (even if Sal Abruscato still hits as hard as he used to!) from the heavy, trippy groove of opener ‘Meet My Maker’. Follow up ‘Right This Wrong’ see’s the twisting of Caputo’s distorted voice and Joey Z‘s snaking guitar with bassist Alan Robert bringing up a heavy back end. Thankfully, ‘Dead Speak Kindly’ takes me right back to “River Runs Red” with its heavy grunge melancholy and Caputo’s voice swirling around my head like a heavy trip before an illuminating rock chorus gives me some hope of returning back to normality! Equally is ‘Bag Of Bones’, with its dark melancholic guitar that wails emotionally to you as Caputo implores you not to ignore its poignant theme of alcoholism amid a sprinkling of weird melodies, unsurprising given this song is dedicated to the late Pete Steele, their Brooklyn brother in arms. With ‘Song For The Abused’ continuing the heavy emotive theme through a stark contrast between light, trippy pieces and heavy, downtuned metallic passages, making for the most powerful track on the album, the closer of ‘Little Spots Of You’ is anything but that being an ethereal piece of melancholic piano with Caputo’s ghostly voice bringing a dramatic end to this emotional rollacoaster of a album. Definitely written by a band who’ve experienced it rather than imagining it, this is the record that 24 years on in their maturity I would expect Life of Agony to have released.

Cirith Ungol – “King of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)”

Cirith Ungol – “King of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)” CD / DVD (Metal Blade Records)

Battle Helm Rating

Now here’s a name. Forming in California during the early 70s of molten rock that became proto metal and ultimately heavy metal, Cirith Ungol took in the whole sword n sorcery pandemic that was sweeping the nation to deliver their debut – and now cult classic – “Frost and Fire” in 1981 making them one of the few US bands that could match the onslaught of Britain’s NWOBHM. And so the legend began….continuing through this sophomore (and arguably the band’s best release) onto a 3rd and finally ill fated 4th album in 1991, ultimately spelling doom to the quest owing to irreconcilable differences with the band’s label and general disillusion with the music business. Well the band may have thought it the end – but the fans knew differently! With a string of re-issues and compilations over the years, 2 successful reunions at the Frost and Fire music festival in Ventura, California, along with massively awaited first European show at the Keep It True in Germany this year have only served to reignite once again, the interest in this mystical metal band who originally and always have played the ‘true’ metal that is ironically very much in demand these days! This ‘Ultimate Edition’ release is a full re-mastering of the original sophomore, along with ‘Last Laugh’ (live 1984 – bonus Track on original CD), an alternative version of ‘Death of the Sun’ (taken from Metal Massacre I) and 3 live tracks from 2016’s Frost & Fire Fest II festival in ‘Master of the Pit’, ‘King of the Dead’ and ‘Cirith Ungol’, which I would say are coincidentally the 3 best tracks on the album, representing the band at their best. From Tim Baker’s shrilling voice to the late Jerry Fogle’s raw yet virtuosic guitar, Flint’s rumbling bass runs and Robert Garven’s pounding pagan drum work, the complex yet epic sound still holds captivation for me, when heavy metal was about presence and effect given life through lengthy songs, multiple solos, and stirring choruses that were in effect mini concertos felt from the smallest club to big halls. Cirith Ungol were the band who achieved this during and even before their time, and whose inspiration were felt by an entire generation, if cruelly denied to the band themselves. Completed by the bonus live DVD providing footage of an 8 track vintage 1983 show at the famed Roxy in West Hollywood, Cirith Ungol seem to have last received some true justice in being a name that now lives thankfully beyond legend.

Mammoth Mammoth – “Mount The Mountain”

Mammoth Mammoth – “Mount The Mountain” (Napalm Records)

Battle Helm Rating

With a reputation of being a badass bar room brawling band, Mammoth Mammoth have long been kickin’ it in AC/DC’s stride across their native Australia. Whilst countless other bands have also adopted the Young & Young blueprint, when compared to their arena conquering cousins Airbourne, Mammoth Mammoth are more honed to the dark recesses of bars and seedy clubs playing the dirty biker rock that the real Hell’s Angels listen to! As such “Mount The Mountain” is the musical equivalent of a biker run right from Ben Couzens revving guitar to Pete Bell’s growling engine bass and the brawling, stomping drum work of Bones. Topped off by the raw, tripped out vocals of window smashing Mikey Tucker and you’ve got all the rebellious and anarchic ingredients to make this outlaw rock at its best: honest and unpretentious, yet deep in heart and full of freedom loving soul bleeding all over the 11 tracks making up this 4th album. From the wild, warbling mayhem of ‘Kickin’ My Dog‘ it’s like Motorhead meets AC/DC with Bon Scott’s ghost stirring up s–t to the dirty fuzz rock trip of ‘Spellbound’ with it’s monster groove and Tucker wailing insanely like he was on bad acid, the songs are a solid reflection of the band’s live show, intentionally I would say, given that Mammoth Mammoth live up to their name of being a heavy touring band who indeed, live for the road and venue destruction. Still, it’s not as if even these hombres don’t need some recovery time after getting leathered and ‘Cold Liqour’ tells of the morning after with its reverb drenched blues guitar and Bone’s drums thudding like multiple hangovers as Tucker tells the woeful tale before the tempo shifts into a boogie frenzy towards the end. Not exactly winning awards for technicality and probably not intending to do so either, Mammoth Mammoth stick to giving the listener what they want be it at home or on the live front and do so appealingly – I just wonder if Kylie Minogue’s heard their cover of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’!!!!

Mythra – “Still Burning”

Mythra – “Still Burning” (High Roller Records)

Battle Helm Rating

Having recently witnessed this cult NWOBHM act at Hard Rock Hell in Sheffield and been duly impressed by their performance this album’s title is a pretty apt one! Clearly unwilling to rest on past glories or rehash a retro cash in, Mythra have commendably opted to bring their authentic NWOBHM style to a modern generation of metallers as well as oldsters like me who remember them back in the day. Grabbing the bull by the horns, they flew to Poland to record this album in one go with High Roller god, Bart Gabriel and despite being their first new album for 14 years, these seasoned veterans deliver what discerning headbangers like me yearn for! Still with their late 70s founding core of guitarist John Roach, bassist Maurice Bates and vocalist Vince High, the band have consistently fought against the odds over the years and that energy definitely comes across in their live show as well as the material here, a mixture of British hard rock, proto metal and pure heavy metal mayhem! Led by High’s vocals, gamely soulful yet tinged with a hint of rough, come the twin guitars of Alex Perry joining the aforementioned Roach, chugging and warbling effortlessly in unison while comfortably offering individual lead breaks along with fluid solos – all naturally in a classic NWOBHM style. Along with the power and energy, there’s melody across the numbers along with a healthy dose of chanting chorus lines – something playing very much to High’s tune especially for those who’ve witness his crowd rousing singalongs! From ‘Sands Of Time’ which starts ambiently before roaring into big riffs and thundering drums with an epic galloping groove to ‘That Special Feeling’ with Simon Davies bringing in some light double bass drumming to increase the tempo while the twin guitars warble in those melodies to match Vince’s easy rocker vocals, it’s all across the 11 memorable tracks here. For me, the standout number had to be ‘A Call To All’ with its ballsy yet catchy chugging groove and of course, it’s singalong potential graced once again by the shining, metallic guitars of Roach and Perry – sweet! An excellent comeback even my today’s standards, “Still Burning” resonates the true essence of NWOBHM but with a modern sound and feel.

Kreator (feat. Ghost & Drangsal) – Satan Is Real | Circus HalliGalli | ProSieben

On Tuesday, German thrash titans KREATOR delivered an exclusive live performance on the German late-night show “Circus HalliGalli” together with two very special singers on stage. Whilst performing ‘Satan Is Real’, Papa Emeritus III of GHOST as well as DRANGSAL front man Max Gruber joined Mille Petrozza and his hellish team and delivered a performance to remember! “It was an absolute honour and a lot of fun to have such amazing artists as Max Gruber and Papa as guests on ‘Satan is Real’. We will never forget this night of diabolic love!”, states KREATOR mastermind Mille. Continue reading

THE OBSESSED – The Making Of “Sacred”

Earlier this month, doom rock legends THE OBSESSED unveiled their long-awaited Sacred full-length alongside a trippy new Jimmy Hubbard-produced visual accompaniment to the record’s title track. Today, the band is pleased to unleash a five-and-a-half-minute “making of” clip giving viewers an up-close-and-personal, behind-the-scenes look at the video’s creation from concepts to costumes. Continue reading