Posts Tagged ‘ Power Metal ’

Interview: Mardelas singer Marina Hebiishi: Back to basics


Mardelas is a Japanese super group. All the members of the band have won their spurs in other bands, but appear to have found their ultimate collaboration in Mardelas. The band’s new EP ‘Ground Zero’ was released recently. A perfect moment to catch up with singer Marina Hebiishi.

Hebiishi used to be the front woman of Destrose, possibly the band that spawned the largest number of spin-off groups in Japanese history. Contrary to many other former members of all-female bands, however, Hebiishi only works together with men in Mardelas. Guitarist Kikyo Oikawa and bassist Hisayuki Motoishi played together in Screaming Symphony (with current Jupiter singer Atsushi Kuze) and drummer Hideaki Yumida – Yumi for those close to him – used to be Light Bringer’s drummer.

The music of the quartet has its foundation in the hardrock and heavy metal that Screaming Symphony, for instance, plays as well. Yet, there is plenty of room for other influences. In the past, the band experimented with funky rhythms, J-pop melodies and other unexpected twists and turns. All of the three albums and five singles the band released in the years leading up to ‘Ground Zero’ therefore sound different from each other.

Basics

For ‘Ground Zero’, Mardelas notably turned to its hardrock and heavy metal roots more prominently than before, as the singer confirms. “On Mardelas I, II en III, you can see us grow as artists“, says Hebiishi. “Certain songs have influences from various other geres. After every release, new ideas come up from touring. And just growing as an artist.

‘Mardelas III’ was our most diverse album. And it also had the deepest concept. After the tour for the album we felt the passion to go back to basics with ‘Ground Zero’, but adding another element with our special guest keyboardist Mao (ex-Light Bringer). The songs for ‘Ground Zero’ were already composed prior to Mao coming on as a guest. He did, however, write the intro ‘Time Of Tribulation’. I would say he has been influential on the song arrangements. As artists, we write what we feel, so to us, it’s never really a challenge, but our way of life and how we feel like expressing ourselves.

Freedom

Kikyo and I are the main composers in Mardelas, with Kikyo arranging how it eventually sounds. When I start writing a song, I play chord progressions, which I eventually fit to the vocal melody I have in mind. After that, the band comes together and find other ways to arrange what is already written if necessary.

Most of my lyrical writing is about the reality of life. Pain, anger, but also happiness. Feelings that all of us have to live with and somehow overcome. I try not to sugarcoat anything in my lyrics and am pretty straightforward. My lyrics are in some ways a book of my life, but other times, I also try to put myself in someone else’s emotional position.

The main thing in Mardelas is the songwriting freedom that we have. What is great about this band is that although everyone is very technical and has amazing talent as a musician, they choose not to overshadow the main melodies of the songs. Everyone has the same opinion about the song being the most important thing, not showing off how great a guitarist or musician everyone is.

That freedom does not only exist in the compositions, but also in the way they are played. Hebiishi mentions the moment that Hisayuki Motoishi was brought in to replace former bassist hibiki (Saber Tiger, Alhambra, ex-Light Bringer and Silex) as an example. “Motoishi and hibiki are two completely different types of players“, says the singer. “We didn’t want to change Mo’s playing style. So instead of trying to copy hibiki’s style, we gave him the freedom to play the older songs his own way.

Natural

On Mardelas’ studio recordings, the band often goes for layered guitar arrangements. Something which seems difficult to replicate in the live setting, with only Kikyo Oikawa on stage. Hebiishi assures us not to worry: “Kikyo is such a talented guitarist, but he is also great at building his own sound equipment. Therefore, it is not so difficult for him to translate the sound we have in the studio to the stage. It is something which comes natural to him.

Although there are currently no touring plans outside of Japan – though Hebiishi resolutely states: “I wouldn’t say no” – the band has already had a taste of playing abroad. Mardelas played the Connichi anime convention in Germany two years ago and will be playing at Metal Matsuri in London on October 4th.

Chemistry

Historically speaking, super groups are not the most stable bands. Commercial interests are too big or the approaches the band members adapt just don’t fit together. Mardelas is a different story, Hebiishi assures us: “Kikyo and I were in the same band circle back in school. We built a chemistry early on. Our bass player Hisayuki Motoishi plays with Kikyo in his band Screaming Symphony. Yumi was introduced to us by our previous bass player hibiki. When we all played together in the studio, it just felt right.

As a result, it seems like Mardelas has quite the future ahead of itself. “Many cool thinks are being talked about right now“, Hebiishi promises. “Unfortunately, it is too soon to share anything about that. Please check our social media and websites often for upcoming news.

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Album of the Week 32-2019: Sex Machineguns – Barbe-Q★ Michael


A lot of people, myself included, consider Sex Machineguns’ first two albums superior to the rest of their discography. However, I do feel that their excellent third album ‘Barbe-Q★ Michael’ kind of gets lost in the shuffle because of that. There are plenty of excellent metal tracks to be found on the album and though the material is not quite as catchy as the better tracks on the first two records, the songwriting showcases a little more complexity in the guitar department especially. Despite its flaws, every Sex Machineguns album has a few, it is one of their better albums.

Not unlike ‘Made In Japan’ before it, ‘Barbe-Q★ Michael’ is essentially a speed metal album posing as something else. Nothing about the goofy artwork betrays the almost thrashy nature of the record and the first two tracks are kind of misleading, again not unlike ‘Progressive Oji-chan’ on ‘Made in Japan’. Here, we have ‘S.H.R. ~Sexy Hero Revolution~’, an oddball rocker that may have worked better if it was not opening the album, and ‘Midori No Oba-chan’, which would have been an amazing melodic hardrocker, had the verses and the main melody not been lifted note for note from Stryper’s ‘In God We Trust’.

From there, the album only gets better. Sure, there are a bunch of weird tracks like the death metal tribute or parody ‘Death’ and the inexplicably underproduced closer ‘Zenkoku Takai’, but at least those have a bunch of cool riffs going for them. On the other hand, the album also produced a number of justified live classics, such as the particularly intense, yet still melodic ‘Fire’ and the catchy stomper ‘Tabetai Nametai Kiken Chithi’, which is relatively subdued in tempo, but has a nice rock ‘n’ roll-ish groove along the heavy riffs and Anchang’s high-pitched vocals.

The lesser known material might even be superior. ‘Okami To Kirigisu’ combines a violent start-stop riff with some thrashy warp-speed gallops and a brooding pre-chorus, while ‘To-chan’ isn’t necessarily anything special, but it is evidence of how good mid-tempo thrash can be if you’re not trying too hard. The true unsung gems of ‘Barbe-Q★ Michael’, however, are ‘Aikoso Subete’ and ‘Pheromone’. The former contains the tightest, most vicious speed metal riffs of the album, a bunch of fantastic guitar solos and a fantastic understanding of how climaxes work, the latter is a relatively intricate thrasher that despite its complexity and moderately fast tempo manages to create an unsettling, almost doomy atmosphere. Both are incredble.

For all the flaws the record has – for some reason, Sex Machineguns’ humorous leanings often get in the way of creating a truly 100 percent consistent album – ‘Barbe-Q★ Michael’ is a superb piece of melodic thrash metal. In fact, the highlights of the album are some of the best thrash and speed metal released early this century. For all the odd moments and songs that just miss the mark, there is at least one incredible track. While ‘Barbe-Q★ Michael’ is not quite as essential as ‘Sex Machinegun’ and ‘Made In Japan’, it is definitely worth hearing if you like Sex Machineguns’ style.

Recommended tracks: ‘Aikoso Subete’, ‘Fire’, ‘Pheromone’, ‘Okami To Kirigisu’

Album of the Week 31-2019: Aria – Cheryez Vse Vremena


‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’ is the second album Aria recorded with their current – and best – singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov and in a way, it shows. Where its predecessor ‘Feniks’ had to reestablish them as the Iron Maiden-inspired heavy metal band they always were with their new singer, ‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’ shows the Russians branching out a little. It stays true to their formula enough to not alienate any fans, but it is also a tad experimental at times, justifying their relevance three decades after their inception. That may come across as inconsistent, but it is in fact one of the band’s best albums yet.

Admittedly, the album does come acress as slightly inconsistent initially, in the sense that the album is not non-stop classic heavy metal, the way the likes of ‘Geroy Asfalta’, ‘Krov Za Krov’ or even ‘Feniks’ played. This is partially caused by the early placement of ‘Bliki Solntsa Na Vodye’, which moves from an uncharacteristically groovy, almost Badlands-ish hardrock vibe to a distinct ‘Seventh Son’-like middle section and feels a bit odd when not given the time it deserves. But really, save for that song and the excellent power ballad ‘Tochka Nyevozvrata’, expertly sung by Zhitnyakov, ‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’ is an excellent contemporary metal album.

The contemporary edge the album has is mostly in the tracks guitarist Sergey Popov composed. Sure, the powerful ‘Angeli Nyeba’ is fairly traditional heavy metal – the main riff even bears a resemblance to ‘Two Minutes To Midnight’ – but the aggressive midtempo stomp of ‘Nye Schodi S Uma’ is quite modern, without sounding like a departure. His crowning achievement here, however, is ‘Gorod’, which manages to seamlessly make its way through multiple moods; subdued anger in the verses, danger in the bridge and melancholic catharsis in the wonderfully passionate chorus and the end of the solo section. Definitely one of the five greatest Aria songs to date.

During the moments when Aria sounds like one would expect them to, however, they sound just as convincing. The opening title track, for instance, combines bassist Vitaly Dubinin’s Iron Maiden influence with an almost speed metal approach, galloping viciously and ending up sounding faster and more energetic than Maiden ever did. The build-up towards the climactic chorus is genius as well. ‘Vremya Zatmyeniy’ is a powerful song built upon a propulsive triplet rhythm and ‘Ataka Myertvetsov’ a dynamic epic. Closing track ‘Begushiy Chelovek’ closes the album in driving, yet melodic eighties metal fashion.

Some bands find it difficult to stay inspired after a while. But whether it is working with a new singer or something else, Aria sounds just as inspired on ‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’ as they did on their classic material. It is an album that gets better through repeated plays, as some of the songs are actually quite cleverly arranged; there is more to some of these tracks than just a good melody and a memorable chorus. In addition, this is the album on which Popov started composing material that is just as good as Dubinin’s, effectively increasing the production of good songs. And it is sonically pleasing as well. Highly recommended to anyone who likes heavy metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gorod’, ‘Cheryez Vse Vremena’, ‘Angeli Nyeba’

Saber Tiger lyricist about ‘Obscure Diversity’


One thing that makes Saber Tiger stand out is the fact that their English lyrics are better than those of most Japanese bands. Starting with their 2011 release ‘Decisive’, the band has been extensively collaborating with lyricist Fubito Endo, who also wrote of all the lyrics for their new album ‘Obscure Diversity’.

Back in 2007, I came across a blog post from (founding guitarist) Akihito Kinoshita”, Endo explains. “Saber Tiger was at a low point in their career at the time. They had no record deal, no management, not even a singer. I had been a fan of Saber Tiger since junior high, when they hadn’t even released their major label debut yet. So when I saw on AK’s blog that he needed a lyricist, I decided to contact him. I was already a professional musician and producer at the time, so I hoped I could help him out.

I watch a lot of American and British movies and tv series. When I hear some cool words or phrases, I always write them down in my Saber Tiger memos. I have a long list of these phrases. When I receive demo tracks from the guys, I always check the memo and see if I can get a vision of what I want to talk about.

The basic concept of ‘Obscure Diversity’

For the previous trilogy of ‘Decisive’, ‘Messiah Complex’ and ‘Bystander Effect’, my lyrics were mostly about war, conflict, crime, life and death. I think I have written enough about these concepts, so I decided to write from a more personal perspective for this particular album. I never went to a war zone and I never pulled the trigger. I’ve never even seen someone die in front of me except for the natural deaths of my relatives. So these stories were all fictional for me. The basic concept of ‘Obscure Diversity’ was to write more about personal tragedies in our lives.

Daguerreotype Of Phineas Gage

This was the final song written for this album. ‘The Crowbar Case’ already existed and Takenori (Shimoyama, singer) came up with the idea to kick off the album with a kind of gothic choir. The vocal recording is actually a demo. We originally planned to hire professional opera singers to emulate the parts on the demo, but my demo recording went so well that we decided to keep the recording for the final product.

The title refers to one of the two silver prints that were left of Phineas Gage after his eye and part of his brain were taken out as part of a tragic accident. An iron rod pierced through his head. The fragmented Latin words don’t mean anything by themselves, but they are supposed to depict a fragmental image of what his life and death are all about.

The Crowbar Case

The story of Phineas Gage was really interesting for me. Before his accident, he was known as a very decent, hard-working man and a trustworthy boss. Then he had a tragic accident that made him lose part of his brain. Miraculously, he managed to survive, but when he recovered, he came back with a completely different personality. He was told to have become extremely violent and selfish. When I read this story, I began to think: which part of him made him the person he was? And who was the real Phineas Gage in the first place?

The Worst Enemy

“’The Worst Enemy’ was the very first song we wrote for this album. These lyrics set the basic concept for the whole album. Jealousy is our worst enemy. But if you’re human, you can’t live without it. No matter how decent you are, everybody suffers from jealousy. If you are faced with it, maybe you can control it or at least learn how to deal with it. But if you try to deny it, you will eventually be controlled by it.

Stain

Sometimes, people do things that never really go away. Even if you try to hide it or even erase them, these things will always leave a stain inside you. It is possible that everybody else forgets about it, but since you are the one who did it, you are never going to forget. You simply have to deal with it and learn to live with it. That is the basic concept of ‘Stain’.”

Beat Of The War Drums

When we went to Germany to mix ‘Decisive’ with Tommy Newton, Akihito had a stroke. He nearly died there. He had to be brought back to Japan on a stretcher in first class with a doctor present. Though he was super lucky to have survived, he has been suffering from pretty severe depression ever since. I wrote the lyrics to ‘Beat Of The War Drums’ to kind of cheer him up.

If people work too hard, it will eventually break their physical condition, after which it will break their minds. That’s when the war drums start beating in your head. That is the state of mind of hard-working people. I can relate to the feeling myself. When I was producing the vocals for ‘Paragraph IV’, I didn’t sleep anywhere near enough for two or three weeks. After that, I was sick for two months.

Distant Signals

“’Distant Signals’ is very different from the usual Saber Tiger style. It was a challenge to write these lyrics, because the music is so complicated, but I enjoyed it very much. This particular demo was the first song hibiki (bassist) wrote for Saber Tiger. It sounded so spacey! I felt like I was flying through space, from planet to planet. Therefore, the lyrics were inspired by the idea of quantum mechanics: we always take a shower in an immense amount of possibilities. Your actions will define the truth of the next moment.

For the previous albums, I always wrote about perfect despair. If you look deep into the abyss of despair, you will eventually find one small fragment of hope. I never wrote purely positive lyrics, but I wanted to write something really positive for this hibiki song, because I felt this positive energy from him. So I think the concept of believing in yourself and trusting your own actions really fits the song.

The Shade Of Holy Light

This is the very first ballad Machine (guitarist Yasuharu Tanaka) wrote for Saber Tiger. This is another story of a decent guy in an unfortunate situation. The guy in this song worked too hard covering for his colleagues and working overtime. One night, he works late and when he drives back home in the dark, during heavy rainfall, over the speed limit, he runs over somebody. He ends up in jail, where he reminisces his life. Nobody forced him to be nice; he decided by himself to help somebody out. That resulted in him killing someone. The idea is that the strongest light always creates the darkest shadows. Even if you are a good man. This happens all the time in our lives. The world is an unfair place.

Permanent Rage

Saber Tiger has had a long career and because they are such kind guys, they have often been hunted by predators. A lot of people show up to them, act all nice and end up ripping them off. They have lost a lot of money over the years simply because they are not businessmen, because they trust these people. They always tend to show up again though, because they think they will still be an easy prey. When that happens, you have to face them and say: I know what you are trying to do. Say that again and look me in the eye.

I have always loved the phrase ‘M.O.’. I’m a big fan of American legal dramas and often hear this phrase ‘same M.O.’ used by detectives or lawyers. I have always wanted to use it. When I heard the demo, there was a part where it just fit perfectly. That was the first idea for the song.

Seize Your Moment

Literally, ‘Seize Your Moment’ is very positive. This is your chance, your opportunity, so you have to grab it. Everything has two sides though. If somebody shows up and says: you have no problem, I will take care of everything for you, they might be trying to set you up.  If somebody really cares about you, they don’t always say nice things. Sometimes they say something that is difficult for you to hear. Seize Your Moment is about seeing both sides of everything.

Divide To Deny

Simply put, this one is about people who fear people with a different point of view. The reason why people attack others is fear. They fear something they don’t understand, so they try to attack it. But it’s impossible to understand everything. It’s only natural if there are things that you don’t understand. Being different is not a crime. You don’t have to understand it, but there is no need to attack anyone. You can just leave the people you don’t understand alone.

This idea is also reflected in the title ‘Obscure Diversity’. Diversity is kind of a trendy word these days. Everyone is talking about it, but a lot of people are simply talking about diversity because they are afraid to get attacked for being politically incorrect. The other extreme is trying to hide your actual incorrectness behind a screen or an anonymous handle. Living with something you don’t necessarily understand is true diversity.

Paradigm And Parody

As professional creators, we always suffer to create something original. On the other hand, it’s impossible to create something new, as most possibilities have already been done by someone at some point. All that we can do is change the combination or the color. That’s how you can leave your signature. We dedicate our whole life to these kinds of small changes, but some people have no problem being a copycat.

I don’t say that everything I create is completely original. Of course I have been influenced by my favorite artists and artists that I admire. But when I see people who just copy and paste, I always think: how can you sleep at night doing this as your profession?

My favorite lines from these lyrics are: you know there are ten thousand ways to be right / you know it’s so easy, a matter of pride / and what you want to be known for when you die. I don’t believe in life after death, so after I die, I only live in someone else’s memory. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who just stole or copied from other artists. At least I tried to create something to make people happy.

The Forever Throne

“’The Forever Throne’ was inspired by a real life incident. A few years ago, Tetsuya Komuro, a very famous Japanese music producer, was caught trying to sell the rights to songs he didn’t own. He was never prosecuted for fraud, because his label owner paid a lot of money to prevent that. However, he was already all over the news, so he had to talk about it. He said that the reason he did it was to make his wife happy until the day his fraud was discovered. He knew he was going to lose everything he created, but he took the risk to make his wife feel like a queen.

When I heard this story, the image of an empty throne came to mind. Spending a crazy amount of money on something meaningless. I feel in this story, Komuro kind of was the emperor in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It is impossible to own everything. Not even a millionaire can buy the sky or the sun. And happiness is not defined by how much you own. I really believe that everyone who experiences great happiness also has to face big sadness. At the end of the day, it’s all in balance.

Album of the Week 26-2019: Megadeth – The System Has Failed


Originally devised as a Dave Mustaine solo album, ‘The System Has Failed’ eventually became Megadeth’s comeback on multiple levels. Not only did it feature Mustaine returning to activity after an intense arm injury sidelined him for at least a year and a half; it is also more or less unequivocally seen as the first great Megadeth album since 1992’s ‘Countdown To Extinction’. Personally, I think that seriously sells ‘Cryptic Writings’ short, but it is a fact that ‘The System Has Failed’ is the best thing Mustaine had released in a long time and still stands as the best 21st century Megadeth record.

Despite bearing the Megadeth name, calling ‘The System Has Failed’ a Mustaine solo record is not a stretch. This is the first Megadeth album that does not feature bassist David Ellefson and all the compositions are solely credited to Mustaine. In addition, the album was recorded with a lot of session musicians, though there is a consistent core of bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas, Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and – perhaps most surprisingly – lead guitarist Chris Poland, who played on the first two Megadeth records. Mustaine being who he is, however, this sounds like a reinvigorated version of Megadeth, with a few exceptions.

In a way, ‘The System Has Failed’ sounds like an anthology of all of Mustaine’s songwriting tropes. The riffy opening track ‘Blackmail The Universe’ bears a passing resemblance to ‘Set The World Afire’, the intricate, yet aggressive speed metal of ‘Kick The Chair’ is highly reminiscent of ‘Take No Prisoners’ and the rocking ‘Something That I’m Not’ feels like an improved version of ‘Architecture Of Aggression’ at times. The nostalgic heavy metal of the surprisingly melodic ‘Back In The Day’ doesn’t necessarily sound like any previous Megadeth tracks, but does highlight Mustaine’s love for the NWOBHM movement prominently.

That does not mean that Mustaine is going through the motions here. ‘The Scorpion’ is one of his most experimental tracks to date, marrying the atmosphere of OverKill’s latter day midtempo tracks with a progressive, at times almost symphonic arrangement effectively. Even better is the following ‘Tears In A Vial’, an epic heavy metal track with a dramatic feel that has familiar sections, but also a bit of a fresh approach. The melancholic and melodic majesty in the chorus of ‘Die Dead Enough’ may be more controversial, as Megadeth’s hardcore fans prefer the band less chorus-driven, but it’s an extremely well-written song that works very well within the context of the album.

Ultimately, the only problem with ‘The System Has Failed’ is that it ends relatively weakly – like most Megadeth albums. ‘Of Mice And Men’ is good enough, though a bit preachy, and ‘Truth Be Told’ has a bunch of cool ideas that don’t really transition into each other all that well, but listeners will eventually mainly remember the album for its first eight tracks. Those feature all the tight riffs, wild lead guitar parts and snarling lead vocals one has come to expect from Mustaine. Compared to the rest of their discography, it would fit nicely between ‘Rust In Peace’ and ‘Countdown To Extinction’, as it is more streamlined than the former, but infinitely more metal than the latter.

Recommended tracks: ‘Kick The Chair’, ‘Tears In A Vial’, ‘The Scorpion’, ‘Back In The Day’

Album of the Week 25-2019: Savatage – Hall Of The Mountain King


Depending on the era, Savatage is either the most classy of the first generation US power metal bands or the vehicle for producer Paul O’Neill’s rock opera ambitions. The first album O’Neill produced for the Floridians, however, screams eighties power metal. Often literally. Everything worthwhile about American heavy metal in the eighties can be heard here. Jon Oliva combines high-pitched screams with raw, surprisingly theatrical vocals which fits the dramatic progressions of the music and the at times overblown lyrics perfectly. If you want to know what Savatage originally was all about, ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ is your record.

In retrospective interviews, O’Neill often pointed out that Savatage needed to be re-established as a heavy metal band before they could move forward. The band had just been pressured into pandering to the commercial rock market with the staggeringly weak ‘Fight For The Rock’ a year prior. It would not be their commercial breakthrough and alienated their fan base. ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’, by contrast, sounds like a more refined ‘Sirens’ or ‘The Dungeons Are Calling’. Criss Oliva’s Judas Priest-ish riff work and wild, mildly neoclassical soloing is all over the record, as are brother’s characteristic vocal histrionics.

Sure, the first seeds of O’Neill’s bombastic vision are sown here in the shape of ‘Prelude To Madness’, which features Criss Oliva interpreting the song from Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite that would eventually become the album title, but the majority of ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ is classic heavy metal. The title track in particular is about as perfect as USPM can get. Even past the standard talking points – Jon Oliva’s evil laughter and impassioned shrieks – there is still plenty to love. The main riff is perfect, as is the one in the middle section before the guitar solo and as heavy as it is, it’s also catchy as the flu.

Aside from that eternal classic, there is a lot to enjoy on ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’. Personally, I really like the idea of a jamming metal band on the end of ’24 Hrs. Ago’, especially after the tight aggression of the first half. ‘Legions’ is an easy to shout along midtempo metal anthem with some awesome riffing and the fast and aggressive ‘White Witch’ is borderline thrash. There are subtle shades of experimentalism here and there that make the songs just a tad better than the highlights on ‘Sirens’. The piano backing the main riff on ‘Devastation’ for instance, is almost unheard, but does give the whole thing an almost gothic vibe. The same goes for the keys on the dark monster ‘Beyond The Doors Of The Dark’.

Even during its most poppy moment, ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ convinces. The highly melodic ‘Strange Wings’ is a duet between Jon Oliva and Ray Gillen of Badlands and Black Sabbath fame. At first it may seem like Gillen was only brought in for the harmonies in the chorus, but his acrobatics in the climax are incredible. Combine these factors and you have a heavy metal record that is equal parts elegant, aggressive and memorable. It’s also relatively progressive at times, though it may seem a little primitive compared to what would follow with ‘Gutter Ballet’ (1989) and afterward. It is certainly some of the most well-written primitive stuff, however.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’, ‘Legions’, ‘Beyond The Doors Of The Dark, ‘Strange Wings’

Album of the Week 17-2019: Black Sabbath – Mob Rules


Black Sabbath completely reinvented itself when Ozzy Osbourne left and Ronnie James Dio took over. ‘Heaven And Hell’ turned out to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time and made Sabbath catch up with the blossoming NWOBHM scene with class and conviction. Its follow-up ‘Mob Rules’ is often seen as more of the same. But while the album still mostly relies on the perfect blend of Sabbath’s at the time unprecedented heaviness and Dio’s more melodic hardrock sensibilities, it’s also quite a bit heavier than ‘Heaven And Hell’. ‘Mob Rules’ is an excellent album in its own right.

Looking back, it does seem like remaining original members Tony Iommi (guitar) and Geezer Butler (bass) tried to inject some more of the slow, heavy doom metal (although it was not yet known as such) that Black Sabbath was renowned for in the Ozzy-era back into their sound. Though to be fair, the arrival of new drummer Vinny Appice probably contributed to that as well, as he is a more straightforward power hitter than Bill Ward. I have once seen the album described as Iommi and Dio trying to blow each other off the record and though that description is apt, it also suggests less cohesion than actually can be heard.

‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’ is far and away the longest and heaviest track on ‘Mob Rules’. It is built upon simple, but monstrous riffs that don’t contain a lot of notes, but wring everything out of those that are there. It also is the perfect rebuttal for the previous statement, as the band leaves plenty of room for Dio’s majestic voice in the verses. This also does wonders for the dynamics of the song. Following it, however, is ‘The Mob Rules’, which injects Sabbath’s music with the savage aggression of the punk era. In a way, ‘Mob Rules’ marries what were the best elements of past and present when the album came out in 1981.

One often heard complaint is that ‘Mob Rules’ follows the sequencing of ‘Heaven And Hell’ a little too closely, but that may originate from staunch critics of the band. Sure, ‘Turn Up The Night’ is stylistically similar to ‘Neon Knights’ – uptempo, powerful and romantic – and tracks like ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Country Girl’ reprise the loose, rocky vibe of the likes of ‘Lady Evil’, but the sound of ‘Mob Rules’ is so characteristic that nobody would mistake them for ‘Heaven And Hell’ tracks. In addition, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’ and ‘Over And Over’ don’t sound like anything Black Sabbath has done before or since. The latter is an impressive doom metal ballad, unlikely as that sounds, and the former an epic heavy metal track that would not sound out of place on one of Dio’s first two albums, had it not been for the main riff that just screams Iommi.

Ultimately, ‘Mob Rules’ does in deed fall somewhat short of ‘Heaven And Hell’. The interlude ‘E5150’ is much too long, especially considering its place on the album, and ‘Slipping Away’ isn’t exactly the most inspired Black Sabbath track to date. Give it some time, however, and the album will proof it has a lot of merit on its own. Some of the songs are quite unique entries into the Black Sabbath catalog and worthy of being heard. There is simply too much good stuff on this record to be dismissed as the lesser Black Sabbath album with Dio.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’, ‘Turn Up The Night’

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