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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Reviews: Cirith Ungol, Night Demon, Mythra, Midnight Messiah, Cloven Hoof (NWOBHM Mayhem)

Cirith Ungol: King Of The Dead (Metal Blade Records) [Review By Paul]

The decision by Metal Blade to release the ultimate version of the 1984 classic from Californian cult metal outfit Cirith Ungol prompted a quick reflection on an album that I played repeatedly when it first came out. I hadn’t listened to it for a long time and it brought back some excellent memories. Listening to it now with over 30 years’ additional music stuck in the head, the first thing that struck me was how inventive it was for the time. Massive doom soaked passages, crushing riffs and intricate guitar work combined with the unique vocals of Tim Baker, not to mention the stunning album cover which was another of Michael Moorcock’s Elric novel covers expertly created by Michael Whelan.

Tracks such as album opener Atom Smasher, the epic Master Of The Pit and the thrashy Death Of The Sun which has one of my all-time favourite riffs still hold their own with today’s current artists. The legendary line-up of Baker, guitarist Jerry Fogle (who sadly passed away almost 20 years ago), drummer Robert Garven and bassist Michael Vujea really laid down a classic. The latter two really excel on the Sabbath doom-fused Finger Of Scorn, a mighty slab of a tune. With the band back out on the gigging scene since 2015 dusting down this mighty opus was a real joy and one can only hope we get to see these US legends on UK soil sometime soon. 9/10

Night Demon: Darkness Remains (Steamhammer) [Review By Paul]

Having reviewed the routine and uninspiring latest release by NWOBHM veterans Cloven Hoof (Below-Ed), it was somewhat ironic to receive a copy of Darkness Remains from Californians Night Demon. Ironic because Night Demon are so steeped in the NWOBHM sound that you’d be forgiven for expecting them to be one of those bands that time forgot from 1982. Hell no, this power trio have only been up and running since 2011, with their first EP hitting the shelves a year later. A full release, Curse Of The Damned followed in 2015 and now their sophomore album, Darkness Remains has arrived.

What I really like about Night Demon is that they have recreated the honesty of the NWOBHM sound and added a bit of American muscle to it. It’s slick, extremely well put together and is thoroughly listenable from start to finish. With themes that stick to evil and the occult, it’s not going to win the Sunday School album of the week award any time soon. To be honest, Darkness Remains sounds like a NWOBHM album. It’s solid heavy metal. Songs such as Dawn Rider, Hallowed Ground and Flight Of The Manticore all deliver exactly what you want.

The band also has the audacity to chuck into two covers. The first is a mighty effort and a brave stab at the blistering Turn Up The Night, one of the Dio Era Sabbath’s most powerful tunes. Obviously, the limits are clear: Jarvis Leatherby is not RJD and Armand John Anthony is not Tony Iommi. Aside from that it’s a decent cover of one of my favourite all time heavy metal tracks with Anthony giving it a real go. The second is probably even more ambitious, with Queen’s We Will Rock You. I’m not sure this works as well, as Freddie and Co. are exceptionally difficult to cover. Still it’s not dreadful and it also provides a very powerful reminder of how fucking stunning early Queen really were. Fair play to Night Demon. An enjoyable release. Have a listen and transport back to 1983. Good times. 7/10

Mythra: Still Burning (High Roller Records) [Review By Paul]

So many NWOBHM bands have reformed in recent years, riding the wave of nostalgia which appears to have surfaced around bands of that era. South Shields based Mythra’s Still Burning is the latest to hit the decks at Musipedia Towers. Still Burning is a solid, clean and decent piece of classic British Heavy Metal. With three (I think?) members who were there when their Death & Destiny EP surfaced in 1979, the band can genuinely lay claim to being a proper NWOBHM band, unlike many of the ‘tribute’ outfits around today. Guitarist John Roach also did time in Fist, another familiar band from the same era and his guitar work, alongside Alex Perry is exemplary. Nothing fancy but all the bases covered with some slicing solos and powerhouse riffs. Vocalist Vince High has a gutsy style, slightly forced but fitting the music perfectly. The songs are short and to the point, anthemic and fast tempo, sufficient to get the head nodding.

Ride The Storm, A Call To All and Battle Cry are all examples of the tempo which heavy metal used to be played at. You can keep Sands Of Time mind, which is just bunk. Looking at the band’s Facebook page it’s clear that their fan base sits in mainland Europe, which is unsurprising given the never-ending thirst for hard rock bands that countries like Germany appear to have. Still Burning is a decent enough release, highlighting more than anything how much the genre of heavy metal has evolved since those heady days of 1979. Back then we lapped up everything that we could access. The diversity of metal today is astonishing by comparison. The availability of bands and music unlimited. You can’t fault the effort and dedication of Mythra. It’s just that we’ve moved on and they still sit in the 1979. 6/10

Midnight Messiah: Led Into Temptation (Cold Town Records) [Review By Matt]

We first encountered Midnight Messiah at Hard Rock Hell and highly rated their performance of meat and potatoes classic British metal reminiscent of Priest, Maiden and Saxon, due mostly to Paul Taylor being a vocal replica of Biff (hell he even looks a bit like him). Their 2013 debut album The Root Of All Evil got a few spins and now they have returned with their second record called Led Into Temptation, the band were formed out of the ashes of NWOBHM act Elixir and you can clearly hear the NWOBHM influence on this record.

It continues the band's form of subverting Christian dogma and terminology on it's head with Taylor casting himself as the sinner on The Sinner Must Die and  Hellbound. The songs are your typical NWOBHM fodder, enjoyable enough to listen too but nothing special, Taylor's vocal is impressive but the mix of this record lets it down massively, the drums are far too loud overwhelming the guitars and the vocals. I thought the band had called it a day, so it's good to see them back but they are far better live than on record. 5/10

Cloven Hoof: Who Mourns the Morning Star? (High Roller Records) [Review By Paul]

Metal fans of all ages will be fully aware of the burgeoning scene that erupted in the late 1970s in the UK. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal or NWOBHM delivered some of our most cherished bands such as Maiden and Saxon. It also spewed forth a right load of bollocks who were all riding the wave of optimism and enthusiasm. Most of those bands rightly crashed and burned. Ironically, the last few years has seen many of those bands return, encouraged by the enthusiasm born from nostalgia. Mainly middle aged males who look back on the halcyon days when they had hair, flat stomachs and the ability to stay up all night.

Cloven Hoof sat firmly in the middle of NWOBHM, alongside the occult sounding Demon, Angelwitch and Witchfinder. Originally from Wolverhampton, the band formed in 1979 and lasted until 1990 before original bassist Lee Payne reopened the can of worms and started again. With album number six, he remains the only original member and the rest of the band comprise jobbing musicians. Most notable is vocalist George Call, the American who has also done service with Omen. Unfortunately for George, despite his reputed five octave vocal range, his voice sounds awful on Who Mourns the Morning Star?

Although the band are competent and some of the songs have decent if pedestrian heavy metal, Call’s voice just destroys it. His falsetto strains to keep pace, and whilst he can hit a note, it’s all screaming high pitched horrible noise which I’m afraid detracts from opener Star Rider. It gets unbearable on the six-minute Morning Star where he’s all over the place. This is a shame because as I said, the musicianship isn’t bad at all. Morning Star has some very neat Maiden style guitar duels and Chris Goss and Luke Hatton’s fretwork is very neat throughout. The engine of Payne and drummer Danny White provides a solid platform. The Priest copy Time To Burn is possibly the best track on the release, a full out rocker with some powerful drumming and crunching riffs, albeit much of this is borrowed from the Midland giants (Painkiller and Grinder to name but two).

The problem with all the NWOBHM bands that are crawling back out into the light is that their writing was just not that good. A couple of decent tracks just doesn’t offer enough in today’s competitive field and whilst they offer a journey back to the days when we enjoyed anything that we could get our ears around, the world has changed. Cloven Hoof has updated their sound to an extent. Solid, uninspiring traditional heavy metal – listen to Go Tell The Spartans and be enthused or the “epic” Bannockburn which is just a Maiden tribute. Full marks for continuing to ply the trade. I have total admiration for that. It’s just not that good. 5/10

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