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Thursday 24 September 2020

Reviews: Slade, Raven, Fit For A King, Memories Of Old (Paul H, Rich, Liam & Simon)

 Slade: Cum On Feel The Hitz (BMG Records) [Paul Hutchings]

“I love Slade ... they wrote the catchiest songs around” - Alice Cooper
“Noddy Holder’s got one of the greatest voices in rock ever” - Ozzy Osbourne 

High praise from two of rock’s elder statesmen. There’s a story that I always tell about Slade. It was November 30th, 1983, and I was a 13-year-old shivering in the cold outside the Top Rank Club on Cardiff’s Queen Street. Slade had burst back into the public eye with some of their heaviest music in their history. The albums Til Deaf Us Do Part and the blistering Slade On Stage Live are lightweight by today’s standards but back then they were quite feisty. They promised a rip snorting evening. And then the world fell in as we got to the doors to find a sign saying that the gig had been cancelled as the band were performing My Oh My on Top Of The Pops. Fucking bastards. I’ve hated them ever since. Noddy Holder’s booming Black Country voice which could peel paint, their horrible glam image in the 1970s and Dave Hill’s haircuts that always made him look a bit ropey. To show what a professional I am, when this double disc greatest hits came around for review, I agreed to provide a balanced and measured review, without too many references to that hideous night. But to hell with it, I’m adept at carrying grudges for 37 years with ease so let’s take the plunge and pick apart 43 songs over 2.6 hours from those inconsiderate twats who let me and 2000 others down that winter’s evening.

Formed in Wolverhampton in 1966, Slade's were regulars in the chart over three decades. One of the biggest bands in the 1970s, they released six albums with three number one singles. Alongside Holder, bassist Jim Lea formed a song writing partnership which spawned a soundtrack to the glam generation. The figures speak for themselves. 17 consecutive Top 20 singles between 1971 and 1976. No other act of the period experienced such success. Or maybe it merely demonstrates that in the seventies people had no taste. The first salvo on this selection covers many of those top 20 hits. C’mon Feel The Noise, Take Me Back ‘Ome and Goodbye T’Jane proved that Slade could not only write rock pop hits, but were also rather fond of dropping a letter for no reason! When you listen to the raucous bubblegum style now, it’s hard to believe that Slade were ever cutting edge. And yet, some of these tracks retain their brilliance over 45 years later. C’Mon Feel The Noise for example, is an anthem that everyone can and does sing a long to and not just because of the Quiet Riot cover. You can’t help but sing along, even if it is through gritted teeth.

There are other moments of genius tucked away here. Lock Up Your Daughters got the metal fans a bit hot under the denim in 1981, yet it’s light as a feather in comparison to most hard rock. We took what we could back then, and despite the harmonies and rich melody, there was a stomp to this track that simply pulled you in. In a similar vein, the anthemic We’ll Bring The House Down always got the blood pumping with its terrace chanting appeal whilst their surging run in the charts with Ruby Red was also a favourite back then. Knuckle Sandwich Nancy retains its original charm, and the 1980s feel of Run Runaway with its Celtic jig conjures horrific yet fond memories of school discos where this was as good as it got, along with a bit of Quo. Remember kids, Slade had saved the day at Reading in 1980, stepping in to replace Blizzard of Ozz at the last minute and they also appeared midway through the 1981 Monsters Of Rock festival, sandwiched between Blackfoot and Blue Öyster Cult. Slade as a band finished in 1992 when the line-up of Holder, Lea, Hill, and drummer Don Powell split. There are several tracks on this album that show that this was a good idea as they were also responsible for some shockingly bad music. 7 Year Bitch, Do You Believe In Miracles, All Join Hands, Oh La La In LA (holy shit, this is awful) and the hideous My Oh My. Despite Hill and Powell continuing under the moniker of Slade II, no new music surfaced.

Trading on past glories ever since, Slade have long been a mere memory, irrelevant to several generations of rock fans. Until that it, you get to the beginning of November and that fucking song emerges. Originally written in 1973, Merry Xmas Everybody is the lowest of the low. A Christmas song that even now makes me want to vomit. Well, if that song floats your boat and gets you in “the mood”, whatever the hell that is these days, then you’ll find it here. Track 43, the finale to a compilation which provides a reasonably complete record of some of their best and worst compositions. Disappointingly, it misses out Rock ‘N’ Roll Preacher, perhaps their most fiery song and certainly one worth checking out on Slade On Stage. In fact, you would be much better off checking out that riotous album. It skips all the shite and captures the band in their pomp. But, if you are curious as to why a band could be so big in the 1970s, this is the album to check out. 6/10

Raven: Metal City (Steamhammer) [Rich Oliver]

Raven the self styled champions of ‘athletic rock’ are back with their 14th studio album the aptly titled Metal City. Formed in Newcastle in 1974, Raven have a long association with the NWOBHM movement with their debut album Rock Until You Drop at the movement's height in 1981 and are probably best known for their 1983 album All For One which is an out and out metal classic. Like any band that has been going for as long as Raven have they have a few clunkers in their back catalogue with attempts to break the mainstream US market in the mid 80’s and directionless meanderings in the mid to late 90’s but with classic metal now very much back and kicking arse Raven have seen a bit of a resurgence with 2010’s Walk Through Fire being a very enjoyable listen and their last album 2015’s ExtermiNation saw the band on absolute fire. So that brings us up to date and thankfully Raven are still riding this resurgence with Metal City seeing the band on blistering form.

The core of Raven and the two remaining original members are the Gallagher brothers (no not them) Mark on guitars and John on vocals and bass. Previous drummer Joe Hasselvander who had been playing with the band since the late 80’s had to retire due to ill health and so joining the band is drummer Mike Heller who certainly makes his mark with an absolutely furious performance. The band are firing on all cylinders from the word go with the blistering The Power kicking things off in an all out speed metal attack. This energy rarely lets up throughout the whole album with the band sounding like they are playing for their lives with high energy songs such as Top Of The Mountain, Battlescarred and Motorheadin’ lunging out of the speakers. Closing song When Worlds Collide is a bit of a slower and meatier number but still has that high energy feel to it. The performances are all killer with furious guitarwork, explosive drumming with the inclusion of some blastbeats at times and John’s vocals still sound as deranged as ever and certainly don’t sound like they come from a man in his 60’s. 

Metal City is another raging album from Raven and sees the band continue their purple patch. Whilst this is very meat and potatoes heavy/speed metal the energy levels on this album can’t fail to impress and very much had me grinning throughout. 8/10

Fit For A King: The Path (Solid State records) [Liam True]

On their sixth studio album Fit For A King have reignited the fire and drive that the Metalcore scene has been looking for for the past few years. That might be a bold claim but trust me, it’s a claim I'm standing by. With a revolving door of line up changes over the years it’s been hit and miss through the back catalogue of FFAK, but in 2020 they’ve hit the nail on the head. The Path is a journey through the Texan four piece have taken the recipe for a decent Metalcore record and made it a great record. The Path may be well-worn but it's worth taking all the same. FFAK don't do originality, but they write great songs and some of these cuts will be stuck in your head for days and it'll only take a couple of spins before the hooks are dug in deep. 

This is the refined sound we’ve been waiting for. The Face Of Hate & Breaking The Mirror are catchy and heavy in one and need no introduction as you have the riffs of guitarist Daniel Gailey, mashed together with the twin vocal tornado of Ryan Kirby & Ryan O’Leary, that echo throughout the record and make the catchiest songs stick in your mind for days on end. Annihilation & The Path blend together to create a glorious sound that would make an even better song with both tracks together. Prophet starts slow but works it’s way in to blow your mind as drummer (And only original member of the band) Jared Easterling uses his machine gum like abilities to set your mind on fire. 

God Of Fire with it’s unusual sounding techno beat at the beginning drops you into a sea of explosive Metal with Crystal Lake singer Ryo Kinoshita making an appearance to add more intensity to the fire. Stockholm & Vendetta are arguably the two best songs on the album as you can feel in rage bursting from the band as they end the album guns blazing. The Path is a beautifully crafted album produced amazingly by Drew Fulk, who has wrote and produced some talented bands previously, but none hit as hard as this. And aptly named, The Path will take FFAK on a new path to bigger stardom. 8/10

Memories Of Old: The Zeramin Game (Limb Music) [Simon Black]

When this one landed on my in-tray I was a little cautious. In a week that’s been chock full of parody music, the risk of having to listen to a conceptual bit of Symphonic/Power Metal that inadvertently achieved more in the parody stakes than those who were actually trying was nagging at me like a 70’s sitcom mother-in-law. I needn’t have worried, as this debut album from this British Symphonic /Power metal outfit (yes, you did read that correctly) has really made my Friday. OK, so they aren’t completely British – the vocals are supplied by Majestica Vocalist/Sabaton guitarist Tommy Johannson, so having an existing fan base to leverage is going to be a massive help.

This could be challenging uphill ground even with Johannson’s leg up, as it’s not as if this is the first album to take this stylistic and content approach (and the operatically inclined Italians definitely dominate), but these guys have managed it. Opting for both clichés of the Cheesy Scene Setting Spoken Word Introduction, and the instrumental Overture, the record avoids derision the moment the musicians open up. Stylistically this is definitely from the Rhapsody and Twilight Force school of delivery, but with Johannson on board any existing fans of Majestica are also not going to be disappointed. Technically these guys know their stuff. The interplay between instruments is tight, crisp and seamless with enough technical interplay and time adjustments to demonstrate skill, without showing off or detracting from the performance. Johannon’s voice takes a track or two to warm up, but his delivery is focussed and effortless, with an excellent range.

You certainly get your money’s worth with this release – the run time of an hour and nine minutes gives plenty of scope to play with and they use it well, with a lavishly produced sound – epic where it needs to be, focussed and punchy where not. There’s enough musical interplay to keep you interested when the vocals aren’t around and that remarkably doesn’t drag even though many of the tracks clock in well over the seven minute mark. Long songs can frequently kill bands dead than Deady McDeadface, especially live, but these guys manage what the likes of Dream Theater and latter day Iron Maiden also achieve – a lot of variety embedded in the length that doesn’t either drag, distract or deter – going in different directions without sounding like they’ve just bolted songs together to show off. Fowlen’s Revenge and the title track (all fourteen minutes of it) get this absolutely right and bring this album to an epic and well-structured close. Extra marks as well for avoiding neo-classical tropes in favour of more Progressive interaction between instruments as well.

The challenge I always have with complex and well-crafted piece is being able to do them justice on paper with the limited time I have to review. I just know listening to this, that this album is a grower, that I’m going to take time to unpick further with repeated listens and a growing appreciation of what they’ve blended into the mix, and on the grounds that doesn’t happen every month I feel confident in giving this a well-deserved 9/10

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