Album of the Week 15-2012: Uriah Heep – Look At Yourself

Seeing Uriah Heep play live last week and being thoroughly impressed by their energy, which outdoes that of many bands that are much younger, made me listen extensively to their back catalog. I have loved this band ever since my parents gave me their vinyl of ‘Look At Yourself’ with the actual mirror on the cover, while I was discovering Deep Purple around age 10. Since I loved the hell out of that band (and still do), they figured I’d like this seventies Hard Rock band with a dominant Hammond organ as well. And they were right.

I can still remember being drawn into the music directly by Ken Hensley’s loud, obnoxious and ugly Hammond sound. It just cut through the whole thing, actually overpowering Mick Box’ almight guitars at some points. Hensley’s Hammond is still my favorite sonically. Plus, there’s a sense of controlled chaos in this record that made it the heaviest thing I had ever heard until that point. There’s plenty of material on ‘Look At Yourself’ that predates the term Heavy Metal, but actually is just that. I’m thinking of ‘Shadows Of Grief’ and the title track mainly.

At the time, I didn’t quite know what to make of David Byron’s vocals and honestly, I’m still not sure. His higher head voice register is flawless and his vocal definitely have a strong charisma, but current singer Bernie Shaw – who joined the band in the year I was born – surpasses him in every part of his range except for the highest notes. Still, Byron’s delivery is moving. Especially during album highlight ‘July Morning’, where you can feel the melancholy and despair through his vocals. Just brilliant.

As mentioned before, the frenzied nature of many of the tunes here is what drew me towards the album at the time and what I still love about it. When the album opens with its title track, everyone goes to eleven. It’s almost as if the drums, Hammond and guitar try to push each other off the record and the jam session at the end of the song is of similar insanity. The same goes for the organ-guitar interplay in ‘Shadows Of Grief’ or the solo section to the more R’n’R-ish ‘Tears In My Eyes’. In fact, despite the slightly more mellow direction of ‘July Morning’, the only true moment of slowing down on this album is the psychedelic ballad ‘What Should Be Done’.

Now it’s 41 years later and Uriah Heep is still going strong. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how good they are live these days if you don’t actually go out and see them. Mick Box is the sole remaining member of the lineup that recorded ‘Look At Yourself’, but this lineup does the Uriah Heep legacy justice with a string of fantastic albums (‘Sea Of Light’ and onwards) and even better concerts. Nothing beats the experience of hearing Ken Hensley’s Hammond sound for the first time though!

Recommended tracks: ‘July Morning’, ‘Look At Yourself’, ‘Shadows Of Grief’


Album of the Week 14-2012: Accept – Stalingrad

‘Blood Of The Nations’ was the perfect comeback. ‘Stalingrad’ is nothing short of spectacular. With their new American frontman Mark Tornillo, Germany’s most influential Heavy Metal band (let’s say Scorpions are Hard Rock) seems to have had one of the strongest rebirths in the history of Pop music and although I love classic Metal tracks like ‘Princess Of The Dawn’, ‘Head Over Heels’ and ‘Metal Heart’, I like them better now than with Udo Dirkschneider fronting – and not only because of Tornillo’s better command of the English language. For those of you who thought traditional Heavy Metal was dead or at least dying these days, I was one of them, but ‘Stalingrad’ proves me wrong.

First of all, Wolf Hoffmann has always been renowned for his lethal guitar tone. ‘Stalingrad’ is the superlative in that respect. Once ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’ kicks off the album, it’s not only the perfect Heavy Metal riffs, but also the way they sound that makes me smile so wide that my face hurts. Andy Sneap’s production also helps; it’s obvious that he put more effort than usual into this album, because this album steers away from the presets he always hangs on to.

However, this album is not just sonically superior to everything Accept has done before. The songs on this album just simply kick ass. As mentioned before, ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’ is the ideal opening statement to an album that screams Heavy Metal. It sounds familiar, yet takes the Accept sound to another level. Of course it’s the Teutonic sound Accept has started and that has been copied an annoying amount of times since, but let’s face it: we’re dealing with the founders here. Accept still does this better than any third-rate German Power Metal copycat. Their choruses actually do invite to sing along, as do their guitar solos. Pounding fists in the air is optional.

Other highlights include the brilliant melodic midtempo stomper ‘Shadow Soldiers’, which vaguely reminds me of ‘Head Over Heels’. It’s probably the melancholic atmosphere and slow-gallop riffs. The album’s title track is a lesson in Heavy Metal dynamics, with the melody of the old Soviet anthem – my favorite national anthem ever – appearing near the end of the track and ‘Against The World’ is a proud anthem for Metalheads all over the world. ‘Flesh To Bang Time’ pleasantly kicks up the speed a bit and ‘The Galley’ accounts for a slightly darker take on the Accept sound, with an especially brilliant middle section. But honestly, the entire album is of consistently high quality. Even bonus track ‘Never Forget’ is every bit as strong as the rest of the album.

Accept deserves every kind of compliment they can get for ‘Stalingrad’. Even Accept themselves have never before released an album that was so consistently awesome. ‘Blood Of The Nations’ came close, but the larger amount of variation makes ‘Stalingrad’ a more pleasant listen. In addition, the album puts many bands so obviously influenced by Accept where they belong: in their shadow. Buy if you like Heavy Metal. That’s not a recommendation, that’s an order.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shadow Soldiers’, ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’, ‘The Galley’

Album of the Week 13-2012: Picture – Warhorse

I love it when old bands get back together and do something that actually outdoes all of their older material. ‘Warhorse’ is one of those occasions. Picture is most likely Holland’s oldest Heavy Metal band and though they released some classic material in the early eighties – ‘Heavy Metal Ears’ and ‘Eternal Dark’ come to mind – they silently disappeared in the way so many bands did in the mid-eighties: by losing their interest in music altogether due to intense label pressure. Picture reunited a few years ago and released the decent ‘Old Dogs, New Tricks’ record, but the class and pure power displayed on ‘Warhorse’ is something no one could have expected.

Two new guitarists were enlisted for this album – former Vengeance guitarist Peter Bourboun and Detonation’s Mike Ferguson to be exact – and I’d have to think they brought Picture’s mojo back to the band. The riffs on ‘Warhorse’ stomp powerfully, the solos are spectacular and the sound just kicks you in the face. You need to look no further than the fantastic opening track ‘Battle Plan’ to come to that conclusion. This is what Heavy Metal’s supposed to be like, packed into well-written songs with big, hooky choruses.

But for me, the biggest treat is Pete Lovell. The Brit who sang on the classic ‘Eternal Dark’ album – of which the awesome title track is re-recorded for this album – is every bit as good as he was in the eighties, if not better. He’s got the power, the raspy edge and such an instantly audible love for the material he’s singing, that he lifts the already killer tunes to a higher level. And he’s even better live. Combined with him being possibly the most amiable front man I’ve ever seen makes him the perfect fit for today’s Picture.

Without exception, the songs on ‘Warhorse’ are amazing. Save from ‘Think I Lost My Way’, which is a lovely power ballad with amazing guitar solos sung expertly by Lovell, all the tracks are obligatory Heavy Metal tracks. With enough variation to keep things interesting. For instance, ‘The King Is Losing His Crown’ stands out due to its lower tempo, stomping lovingly, ‘Killer In My Sights’ is the album’s absolute highlight with it’s exciting structure and dark riffs, ‘My Kinda Woman’ and ‘The Price I Pay’ lean towards eighties Hardrock and ‘Edge Of Hell’ has these nice choral backing vocals in its chorus. It’s remarkable that the re-recording of ‘Eternal Dark’, though a classic track, doesn’t necessarily stand out. That’s how good it is.

So there it is, Picture outdid themselves with this one. And let’s just hope it’s not for the last time. With this lineup, Picture really struck gold. ‘Warhorse’ is by far the best classic Heavy Metal release from my home country in a long, long time. And the reason for that is the complete lack of pretense. The band just went out and wrote twelve unbelievably good Heavy Metal tunes. Paired with a crisp and heavy Oscar Holleman mix, there is really nothing to be desired except another Picture album after this!

Recommended tracks: ‘Killer In My Sights’, ‘Battle Plan’, ‘Edge Of Hell’, ‘War Horse’

New issue of Gitarist in stores this week

The new issue of Gitarist will hit the shelves in the Dutch and Flemish book stores this week. My contributions to this issue include two small interviews with guitarists promoting their new albums. There’s Bluesrock guitarist Philip Sayce with whom I had a very pleasant conversation about his new album ‘Steamroller’ and there’s Orphaned Land guitarist Yossi Sa’aron with whom I talked about his first solo record ‘Melting Clocks’ (which rocks, get it, now).

I’ve also written a block of reviews on a bunch of new records by Dutch Metal bands. This time it’s Epica’s ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’, Vengeance’s ‘Crystal Eye’ and Picture’s downright amazing ‘Warhorse’ record. The latter will be presented by Picture during their release party at Bitterzoet in Amsterdam this Saturday and since I really love the album, I’ll be there! Will you?

Among the other articles, there’s an interview with acoustic Blues master Eric Bibb, a workshop on “classical shred” and an article on Ibanez’ prominent RG series. You know you want to read it, don’t you?

Album of the Week 12-2012: OverKill – The Electric Age

To those who know me personally, this album of the week should come as no surprise. OverKill has been my favorite band for at least fifteen years (could have been longer, had I not turned 26 earlier this week) and a new album is always something I’m looking forward to. ‘The Electric Age’ probably even moreso than any other, because its direct predecessor ‘Ironbound’ was the best OverKill album since ‘W.F.O.’ in 1994. ‘The Electric Age’ is a logical successor; the album is stylistically similar to ‘Ironbound’, just a tad faster. Those of you who gave up on OverKill in their Groove Metal age, should give this Thrash grenade a chance.

First thing I noticed during my first spin of the album is what a fantastic drummer Ron Lipnicki is. I liked the drum sound on ‘Ironbound’ better, but his playing is unbelievable. Fast, powerful and Thrashy. What else can you wish for? Well, maybe Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth being every bit as good in his fifties as he was in his twenties and the massive guitar sound of Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer complementing founding bassist DD Verni’s riffs perfectly. Linsk’s solos – decorating an OverKill studio album for a record number of sixth time – are amazing as well.

Looking at the songs, ‘Come And Get It’ is probably the Thrashiest opening track OverKill’s had in years. Their Black Sabbath-influenced habit of changing the song into something completely else halfway through is still there, the shifts are just a tad more Thrashy than before – save for the Doom bit in the middle of old school Metalfest that is ‘Electric Rattlesnake’ – and I can’t wait for the band to open their shows with ‘Come And Get It’.

But there’s more stuff I’d like to hear live. First of all: ‘Save Yourself’. Feel The Fucking Fire anyone? This is less than four minutes of NWOBHM-tinged old school Thrash Metal that fits nicely along ‘Blood And Iron’ and ‘Hammerhead’. Closing track ‘Good Night’ starts out with a breath taking tranquil intro with bass and guitar, but never turns into a ballad. In fact, it turns into a brutal Thrasher after about a minute. ‘All Over But The Shouting’ has this great accompanying lead guitar part building the tension and ’21st Century Man’ and ‘Drop The Hammer Down’ are killer Thrash tunes. In fact, there’s not a single filler in the bunch.

Over thirty years in their existence, OverKill still manages to churn out awesome albums. In fact, with both ‘Ironbound’ and ‘The Electric Age’, OverKill has entered a new highlight in their carreer and I hope it’ll last for many, many more years. The lineup of Ellsworth, Verni, Linsk, Tailer and Lipnicki is the best they’ve had so far. Can’t wait to see them in my former hometown of The Hague later this year!

Recommended tracks: ‘Save Yourself’, ‘Good Night’, ‘Come And Get It’, ‘All Over But The Shouting’

Album of the Week 11-2012: Angel Witch – As Above, So Below

Go ahead. Pretend like the last thirty years have never happened. Angel Witch did just that for their brand new album ‘As Above, So Below’ – only their fourth studio album in 35 years of existence – and I commend them for that. Even the production is pretty old-fashioned, with its warm analog sound and untriggered drums. Kevin Heybourne has finally gotten his shit back together after years of being plagued by record industry torture and as a result, he’s written a classic Heavy Metal record which sounds like it’s from the late seventies, when the schism between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal wasn’t all that strict.

That isn’t to say that Heybourne did a complete rewrite from the legendary self-titled debut from 1980. Gone are the Queen-ish choirs that decorated many of the choruses on that album and the songs on ‘As Above, So Below’ are remarkably less accessible than the majority of the songs on ‘Angel Witch’. However, Kevin Heybourne’s voice has aged very well and his riffs and melodies are just about as NWOBHM as it gets. This is solid Heavy Metal, the way it’s meant to be.

Opening the album is the downright brilliant ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. This song sets the bar for the rest of the album. Brilliant twin guitars, powerful riffs, moving vocals and the strong rhythm section consisting of bassist Will Palmer and drummer Andrew Prestidge make ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ a delight to any NWOBHM-fan. Heybourne’s vocals are an immediately recognizable factor; they have hardly changed since ‘Angel Witch’ and what he lacks in technique he makes up for in passion. His guitar solos aren’t of the finger blisteringly fast category, but they’re powerful and passionate, they fit the music as a whole.

Angel Witch hasn’t cut back on song lengths on this album; with no songs being shorter than five minutes and only three (‘Into The Dark’, ‘Ceburah’ and ‘Witching Hour’) under six, the music on ‘As Above, So Below’ is as epic as Kirk Windstein’s beard. Heybourne has obviously put a lot of effort in these songs, as all of them stay interesting throughout any second they last. In fact, had I not read that the marvellous closing track ‘Brainwashed’ was over seven minutes, I wouldn’t have noticed.

On the Metal Blade website, I read that four of the eight songs on the album date back to the early eighties and even the late seventies, among which ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ and the frantically galloping ‘Witching Hour’. However, these tracks don’t necessarily stand out on the album, as the basic style throughout the album is constant. Angel Witch has always been named in one breath with Iron Maiden and although I can hear the resemblance still, I can hear a lot of (mainly ‘The Eternal Idol’-era) Black Sabbath. The general structure and powerful outbursts on ‘The Horla’ even remind me of the title track of that album directly. But although these influences are there, Angel Witch definitely has a recognizable sound of its own that is melodic, epic and powerful.

For those of you who gave up on Angel Witch after their fantastic debut: they’re back. This album is a must for any NWOBHM-fan. Finally there’s a band that feeds both nostalgia and a lust for quality contemporary music. ‘As Above, So Below’ grants you both. I just hope their reign will be a little longer than it was back in their heyday this time. Go check this out when you have the chance!

Recommended tracks: ‘Brainwashed’, ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, ‘Witching Hour’

Interview Band Of Skulls in Gitarist

It’s actually been out for a while, but it’s still in stores now: the new edition of Gitarist with the interview I had with Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson of British Indierock band Band Of Skulls. A nice conversation about jamming and vintage gear.

Aside from my own contribution to this edition, there is an awesome special on slide guitar including exercises and a small article on the new project Primal Rock Rebellion with one of my first guitar and songwriting heroes: Adrian Smith. And if you’re a gearhead, be sure to check out the NAMM show of this year. There’s an interview with Steve Earl and many, many other interesting guitar stories.

I can’t think of a better way to spend your commute in public transportation or your coffee break, can you?