Classic Rock’s New Release Round-Up
Come inside for the verdict on the latest albums from Iron Maiden, The Union, Enuff Z’Nuff, Enforcer and Delain. Plus: reissues from the mighty Groundhogs, Greek progsters Aphrodite’s Child, NWOBHM legends Diamond Head… and the utterly mental Brainticket.
Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier (EMI) is a bold and startling leap into the unknown. It takes the band into so many new musical areas and bombards the listener with so many subtly peculiar touches, that it feels more like the beginning of a new chapter than a mere continuation of an ongoing saga. Of course, it’s the big, epic tracks that really illuminate the blazing fire at the heart of the band’s creative core. Best of all is the closing When The Wild Wind Blows, an 11-minute opus written by bassist Steve Harris alone, that brilliantly evokes the mundane horror of Raymond Briggs’ celebrated apocalypse tale with a series of grim but gripping twists and turns, delicate melodic gear-changes and enough atmosphere to sink one of Bruce Dickinson’s beloved jumbo jets. Far too densely-layered and substantial to be digested in one sitting, The Final Frontier is an Iron Maiden album that may test the resolve of the casual observer, but then Maiden have never needed such patronage. The faithful, in their millions, will adore every last second.
Those expecting a new Thunder album from that band’s guitarist and principal songwriter Luke Morley’s new band are going to be sorely disappointed. In the best possible way. The Union’s self-titled debut (Payola) is an entirely different prospect, and in teaming up with the ridiculously talented ex-Winterville man Peter Shoulder, Morley has seemingly found a perfect foil. On an album packed with treats, Come Rain Or Shine, with its sleepy slide riff, is wonderful. This Time Next Year (complete with its Band-esque gospel chorus backing) works similarly. Black Monday, on the other hand, is an entirely different prospect – an utter beast of a song. The Union is, quite simply, a stunning first album.
Few bands have ripped defeat from the jaws of victory as frequently and as spectacularly as Enuff Z’Nuff. Large portions of their quarter-century together have been a train wreck, yet the fragile and brilliant partnership between mainmen Chip Z’Nuff and Donnie Vie endures – and, on the evidence of new album Dissonance (Grind That Axe), flourishes. The pair has a glorious way with melody, taking heavy, psychedelic guitars and leavening them with wildly inventive harmonies. They also employ a lightness of touch that only the very best songwriters can call upon.
For those who love the whole notion of NWOBHM revisited, here’s perhaps the best band yet to emerge playing this style in the 21st Century. Sweden’s Enforcer have the edge on almost everyone else in this area, because not only do they write anthems which smell of the Music Machine at the end of the 1970s, but deliver these with the panache of those who appreciate what that long-gone era meant to metal. With Diamonds (Earache) this lot are up there with White Wizzard as the best of the new breed.
Fancy a dose of sumptuous symphonic metal? Of course you do – so why don’t you check out Delain’s Lucidity (Roadrunner), the predecessor to last year’s April Rain, which has just received a UK release. Delain was originally a studio project set up by ex-Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt using the services of European symphonic metal musos. The result is rather idiosyncratic given the various vocalists and guitarists bringing their own style, but main singer Charlotte Wessels’ delicate voice fortunately provides a much-needed and ethereal focal point. The only problem is the sedate pace and atmosphere – it sounds and feels like the impeccable soundtrack to a gothic romance. It might lack energy, but the quality of the musicianship is second to none.
So to a bunch of reissues. The Groundhogs’ Thanks Christ For The Groundhogs (EMI/Liberty) brings together the band’s first five albums. Even 40 years on, mainman Tony McPhee’s guitar sounds totally mental, and Split and Who Will Save The World? are particularly fine efforts. Stark and spare when their contemporaries were piling on the Moogs, Mellotrons and orchestras, the music here demonstrates admirably that the guitar/drums/bass dynamic can never really be wholly exhausted or discounted.
Greece’s own Aphrodite’s Child formed in 1967 and featured Vangelis (Chariots Of Fire) Papathanassiou on keyboards, Demis (Forever And Ever) Roussos on bass/vocals, Lucas Sideras on drums and Nana Mouskouri on spectacles (just kidding about the last one). Esoteric Recordings have just re-released the band’s End Of The World from ’68 and It’s Five O’Clock from ’69; neither has been available on CD in the UK before. The highlight of the psych-pop-tinged End Of… is Rain And Tears, inspired by Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale and based on a 17th century canon by German baroque composer Pachelbel. Despite its pretentious origins – and Roussos’ ridiculously quavering voice – the song sold over a million copies as a single. It’s Five… finds our Hellenic heroes in a more divergent mood, Wake Up resembling a folk-rock protest song and Funky Mary veering into jazz-rock territory. All told, not quite our slice of moussaka. Next around the corner, of course, was Aphrodite’s Child’s concept album, 666. As the lead-up to this masterwork, these two re-releases are never less than interesting.
Popularly described as a krautrock band, Brainticket were in fact founded by Belgian multi-instrumentalist Joel (take a deep breath now) Vandroogenbroeck in Basel, Switzerland in 1968. Those fine folks at Esoteric Recordings have reissued BT’s second and third albums, Psychonaut (’72) and Celestial Ocean (’74). The former is reminiscent of Quintessence crossed with Hawkwind; it’s full of endearingly aimless flute- and sitar-playing from the multi-syllabic Vandroogenbroeck and tribal drumbeats from the more prosaically named Barney Palm. The follow-up has more of a space-rock bent, although in truth it’s more Clangers than In Search Of Space. Having said that, Era Of Technology and To Another Universe are full of robotic voices and squeaks and bleeps, and sound remarkably like foreign students trying to master the Hawks’ Sonic Attack in a language lab.
Diamond Head‘s Live At The BBC (Universal) is a double CD of BBC recordings combining the following In Session and In Concert recordings: Friday Rock Show 1980, Reading Festival 1982, Paris Theatre 1982 and Milton Keynes Bowl 1993. The Friday Rock Show stuff is the best, with DH on irresistible form, proving it’s possible to bludgeon with intelligence on four choice tracks: Borrowed Time, Don’t You Ever Leave, Sweet And Innocent and Lightning To The Nations. By contrast, the Milton Keynes show is terrible. This, remember, is when Metallica invited the ’Head to open for them, and DH singer Sean Harris went on stage dressed as the Grim Reaper. Meanwhile, guitarist Brian Tatler was suffering from shingles. A less than ideal combination, we think you’ll agree.