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I think it’s fair to say that the Polish weren’t exactly a major contributor to the burgeoning global metal scene during the 1970’s & early 1980’s. But 1982 would see the roots of the local movement starting to sprout through a series of 7” singles from TSA who were the first Polish band to try their hand at a heavier form of hard rock. The following year would represent the true starting point for the local scene however following the release of the debut studio albums from both TSA & a five-piece outfit from Poznan known as Turbo. TSA would also put out an additional live album the same year & the two bands would go on to form the basis of the Polish heavy metal scene for decades to come along with over the top Katowice outfit KAT.
As was the case with the early TSA releases, I think it’s fair to say that Turbo’s debut album “Dorosłe dzieci” can’t exactly be classed as heavy metal in the true sense of the term. There’s a lot more 70’s hard rock on offer than there is genuine metal despite the extensive use of double kick & the occasional power chord here & there. I’d suggest that the band were drawing quite strongly from bands like Scorpions & Deep Purple for inspiration more than they were the likes of Black Sabbath but the NWOBHM has certainly played a part in the development of their sound. Turbo pay clear homage to the early works of Iron Maiden at times. Particularly through the continuous use of guitar harmonies which is a major element in the make-up of their sound. Bruce Dickinson-period Samson also springs to mind on occasion.
The three ballads are where the Scorpions influence is the most obvious as Turbo show themselves to be very proficient at creating a gentler form of hard rock without surrendering to the cheese gods. In fact, the band are clearly very accomplished musicians & I don’t find this all that surprising. All of the Polish heavy metal releases I’ve heard over the years tend to share the same attribute & (as is the case here) they’re all beautifully produced too. I put that down to the fact that it’s much harder for non-English speaking bands to break out of their local scenes so the ones that do generally tend to be a cut above the rest.
Wojciech Anioła’s drumming Is noticeably more exciting than your average early 80’s hard rock drummer was likely to attempt at the time & this is another factor in people often labelling “Dorosłe dzieci” as a metal release while the basslines of Piotr Przybylski have clearly been influenced by Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. The guitar harmonies & lead solos are the clear highlight of the album however as they’re beautifully composed & executed. Unfortunately I think the vocals of Grzegorz Kupczyk drop the ball a bit on occasion & they definitely represent the weaker element in Turbo’s makeup. Grzegorz often utilizes a spasmatic delivery style that doesn’t quite cut it against the classic metal front men of the time but he certainly seems better suited to the ballads where he can get in touch with his emotional side. He’s definitely no Klaus Meine though. I think the vocal hooks could have done with a bit more work on some songs too which is ultimately what leaves a few tracks sounding flat. In total I’d suggest that I enjoy roughly two thirds of the track listing but there’s nothing truly horrible included.
The strength of Turbo is in the skills of the instrumentalists however & this highlighted in no uncertain terms during the sole instrumental piece “W sobie” which is the clear album highlight. It features the stunning use of melody matched with impeccably executed guitar harmonies & I find it dominating my thoughts for days afterwards. The closing title track is also one of the stronger moments & represents the best of Turbo’s softer side.
Overall, I find “Dorosłe dzieci” to be an enjoyable & rewarding listen that’s not too dissimilar to TSA’s early works in terms of quality. If pushed, I’d suggest that I slightly favour Turbo’s debut over the two TSA albums from 1983 but that’s mainly on the strength of “W sobie” which really does stand out as a huge achievement for the band. Fans of heavy rock should find some enjoyment here as long as you can look past the Polish language lyrics. Turbo were already a class act & it’s not surprising that they’d go on to bigger & better things in the near future.
The third album from Newcastle’s black metal pioneers Venom (1984's “At War With Satan”) hadn’t exactly set the world on fire. Venom had played an almost unparalleled role in the creation of extreme metal with their first two records; 1981’s “Welcome To Hell” & “1982’s “Black Metal”. But a change of direction towards a more slightly cleaner & substantially more progressive approach hadn’t pleased their many fans & critics so the pressure was on for them to release something that was more in line with the public’s expectations. Personally, I very much enjoyed “At War With Satan”. In fact, I regard it as my favourite Venom album to that time so I can’t say that I would have agreed with the common consensus that the band should return to their roots but I guess I lost out in that argument because, on the evidence of 1985’s “Possessed” album, the band were listening to the market & delivered a product that they believed would alleviate the concerns of those disgruntled fans.
The cover artwork features a photograph of two young children sporting Venom singlets but it looks like they’ve just taken the negative of the photo which creates an eery & quite demonic looking result. The boy shown here is actually drummer Abaddon’s son while the girl is producer Keith Nichol’s niece & I think the image has the desired effect as it nicely ties in with the album title & the band’s evil image but doesn’t look too flashy. The record would again be released through Neat Records who front man Cronos had a strong affiliation with after working there for many years, & producer Nichols had been responsible for producing all of the Venom albums to date so it would have been a comfortable recording environment for the band.
But the result of the efforts would seem to be a strange outcome really. From the very first second of the opening track it becomes plainly obvious that Venom have returned to the dirtier, grimier sound of their first two outings, only this time they’d pushed the threshold a fair bit further as the production on “Possessed” could only be described as atrocious. The rhythm section is far too loud in the mix (particularly the drums) with Cronos seemingly struggling to find room for his vocals & Mantas’ fuzzy rhythm guitars being completely lost in the mix although his solos are often afforded far too much volume & come across as completely overpowering at times, despite the fact that there are no rhythm guitar tracks underneath them. All of this leaves a good portion of the tracklisting sounding like a complete mess with the unbalanced mix ensuring that Venom’s already fairly loose performances would struggle to obtain anything close to cohesion. But I don’t think that any of this was just bad luck mind you. I’d be very surprised if the band & their management hadn’t decided to employ as dirty a sound as possible in order to try to recoup some of their lost street cred following the failure of “At War With Satan” to fully capture acceptance from the underground metal market.
As with the production, the song-writing has returned to the shorter, simpler style of the band’s early material with 13 songs being included on the tracklisting. Fans would have felt that the combination of Motorhead styles rock ‘n’ rollers, up-tempo speed metal bangers & more traditional heavy metal numbers felt quite familiar as it was nothing new for Venom. Drummer Abaddon still can’t play his instrument with his excessive volume in the mix helping to further highlight his obvious technical deficiencies. Particularly in the double kick work. It’s pretty surprising that he hasn’t improved more over the four years since “Welcome To Hell” but perhaps that’s been contributed to by the minimal amount of live shows the band had taken part in by this point in time. I’m not sure it really matters though as these inadequacies are half the fun of a Venom record. But in saying that, the improvement in Mantas’ lead work is quite striking. His solos are now much more accomplished & he doesn’t shy away from showcasing his newly found chops. Unfortunately for him, I do think that his more refined & melodic approach does clash with Venom’s overall image a bit. Cronos on the other hand, is his usual charismatic self & his overall contribution is high quality. Particularly his powerful bass playing which sees him portraying a new level of confidence in his instrument that’s only enhanced by his excessive presence in the mix. Unfortunately his vocal performance is substantially nullified by the very same production flaw & this leaves Venom’s main attraction sounding noticeably muted.
“Possessed” would receive mixed reactions from fans & critics with even the many die-hard fans of Venom’s earlier works struggling to get onboard with the new material. The common consensus online seems to be that the band had lost their mojo as far as the song-writing goes but I disagree with this theory. I honestly don’t think the quality of the song-writing is anything majorly different to what we’ve heard from Venom before. It’s just that it’s not presented in an appropriate fashion with the hooks being lost in an inadequate lo-fi production job which highlights Venom’s weaknesses over their strengths. I mean a lot of this material was actually written before “At War With Satan” ever hit the shelves so you shouldn’t expect any major overhaul of their traditional style here.
Sadly, the failure of “Possessed” to make the commercial impact that the band had hoped would signal the end of Venom’s classic period & also erased any chance of them going on to be held in as high a regard as the thrash heavy weights they’d influenced. This was the critical moment for Venom’s careers & they blew it. It would appear that Mantas could see that because he left the band to pursue a solo career shortly afterwards but not before Venom could record one more studio album in the as-yet-unreleased “Deadline” record. Mantas would return to the fold a few years later but it’s well documented that he was unimpressed with the result of the “Possessed” record.
I was a reasonably big fan of the 1983 debut album “See You In Hell” from Worcestershire-based four-piece heavy metal outfit Grim Reaper. It was unfortunate that it came so late in the NWOBHM game really because the band had enormous potential. “See You In Hell” even reached number 73 on the US charts & went on to sell over a quarter of a million copies. But would Grim Reaper be able to capitalize on that early promise with their 1985 sophomore effort? Let’s find out, shall we?
The “Fear No Evil” album was once again recorded at the Ebony Records recording studio in Hull with label founder Darryl Johnston handling the production duties. Ebony was a fairly underground label & had cut its teeth through the release of albums such Savage’s “Loose ‘n Lethal” & Chateaux’s first couple of records. It was a very small operation so it’s no surprise that Johnston had also produced “See You In Hell” & “Loose ‘n Lethal” himself. But the releases I just mentioned all had a fairly raw & brutal NWOBHM production with a big rhythm guitar sound that offered a fair bit of appeal for an old metalhead like myself. “Fear No Evil” sees Johnston veering away from that a little with a more professional production that places more emphasis on the vocals whilst still maintaining that gritty edge that the New Wave had built its reputation on.
Unlike the striking image that adorned the debut, the “Fear No Evil” cover artwork is nothing to write home about as it portrays an awkward image of the grim reaper himself, riding a motorcycle through a plate glass window that’s presumably located in a church somewhere. It’s far more childish than it is intimidating.
Musically though, this is a very similar record to “See You In Hell” as it relies heavily on the same formula of simple, chuggy, mid-paced power-chord riffs & over-the-top falsetto-style vocals. It’s almost as if the band have intentionally limited themselves to a meticulously defined musical palate & in the process have sacrificed their artistic license for the sake of accessibility. This is about as meat-&-potatoes as heavy metal gets with straight-forward verse/chorus style song structures, simple bare-bones riff composition & a repetitive approach to the vocal hooks. Steve Grimmett’s vocal delivery is about as powerful as any you will find & I get the impression that Darryl Johnston knew full well thathe was only the only thing Grim Reaper had going for them because they really do milk him for all he’s worth here with the simply yet catchy choruses being repeated over & over again. Grimmett’s up to the task most of the time too although there are certainly moments when he can be overpowering & monotonous given that he’s often tasked with adding interest to an otherwise fairly generic musical landscape. And does he really have to sing the song title at the start of every song? Lyrically we see Grimmett swapping between darker occult themes & a Judas Priest party-time direction which isn’t half as interesting but seems to fit the band’s sound a little better as they’re not the most imposing of metal bands. I would love to hear what Grimmett could have done over a more professional backing track though.
Despite the fact that “Fear No Evil” is a slightly tighter & more polished record than “See You In Hell” was, the rest of the band still have limited technical skills to be brutally honest. Original drummer Lee Harris had recently been replaced with new boy Mark Simon but this hadn’t made a huge difference to the end result given that Simon was only marginally more talented. It would seem that guitarist Nick Bowcott had only just discovered Eddie Van Halen’s two-handed tapping technique because he goes to town on it on almost every solo here. Unfortunately for Nick, he’s just not a very good guitarist so it all sounds fairly tedious to my ears. But Grim Reaper seemed to know their strengths & that was in making a fairly derivative brand of heavy metal that all sounds relatively similar. They were very much the one-trick pony & it’s hard to argue against claims that a lot of this material was built around ideas that had been rehashed from the debut. Even if that wasn’t the case, you’re destined to feel that you’ve heard most of these riffs many times before. They’re just not that distinctive & Grim Reaper rely far too heavily on Grimmett to pull them out of the fire. Thankfully he’s up to it for the most part with a couple of noteable exceptions. Particularly the corny Twisted Sister-style hard rock number “Rock ‘n’ Roll Tonight” which is as generic as they come & features a blatant rip-off of the opening riff to Iron Maiden’s “2 Minutes To Midnight” at the start. The tacky horror movie intro to closing number “Final Scream” isn’t much better although it would strangely be ripped off by US death metallers Dying Fetus on their “Grotesque Impalement” EP fifteen years later.
Overall, “Fear No Evil” is an obvious step down from the debut as far as song-writing goes but it’s far from a disaster. It’s certainly a flawed piece of work but Grimmett’s talent & charisma is enough to keep me interested for the majority of the album. I’ve become a pretty big fan of his these days with his more unpolished work on “See You In Hell” & Chateaux’s “Chained & Desperate” albums having dug its teeth into me quite deeply. But there can be very little doubt that “Fear No Evil” suffers from not having differentiated itself enough from “See You In Hell”. It’s essentially a poor man’s version of that album so the band’s early fan base grew tired of it quite quickly & this was only exacerbated by the wealth of more exciting extreme metal that had exploded onto the scene in the time between records. Grim Reaper really couldn’t afford to come up with an inferior product if they were going to go with a package that sounds so familiar. But when taken on its own merits, “Fear No Evil” is certainly an enjoyable listen that should appeal to fans of Judas Priest, Dio & Twisted Sister. It’s just an inessential one if you’ve already got a copy of “See You In Hell” which does the same thing only slightly better.
We are all able to experience, to some small extent, the seemingly endless Siberian winter and it's snow and ice thanks to this impressive slice of russian atmo-black from duo Grima. Strong songs and nice pacing, with a couple of gentle interludes that end each of the album's two halves. Good stuff.
Up until 1984, South Yorkshire-based NWOBHM legends Saxon had released six full-length studio albums in as many years so fans would have felt pretty confident that they weren’t gonna go all Def Leppard on us & take five years mucking around in the studio before their seventh studio album would see the light of day. But having said that, the Def Leppard comparison would actually prove to be fairly apt in some ways. Possibly not the ones we're referring to here however.
Saxon & their management had made very little effort to hide the fact that they were aiming their last couple of records directly at the US market with 1983’s “Power & The Glory” & 1984’s “Crusader” both showcasing an increasingly strong focus on radio-friendly radio anthems. I felt that the former achieved this very well & it’s still my favourite Saxon album to this point in the game while “Crusader” took things a step further & almost missed the mark, only being propped up by a couple of very strong highlight tracks. I still have a fair bit of time for “Crusader” however there’s little doubt that it represented Saxon’s weakest & most divisive album since their 1979 self-titled debut. And that brings us to Saxon’s 1985 album “Innocence Is No Excuse” which features some pretty cheesy cover art that reeks of 70’s Scorpions with a close-up image of an attractive brunette seductively eating an apple.
Saxon’s management had been disappointed with the band’s French independent label Carrere Records following the failure of the “Crusader” album to make any real impact on the US market so “Innocence Is No Excuse” sees the band moving to major label EMI Records in the hope of reaching a greater level of exposure & there’s little doubt that they achieved that goal with the album going on to become the highest charting Saxon release ever in America. With the major label support came the inevitable increase in production budget & this is reflected in a fuller & clearer sounding album. Everything sounds a little bigger & more polished than Saxon have sounded before with the drum kit having been the recipient of plenty of reverb to give it that big stadium atmosphere. This record certainly sounds very much of its time & has much more of an American flavour than a NWOBHM one. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I think it’s been over-compressed which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider that it was producer Simon Hanhart’s first big record & he’d never worked with a metal band before. Saxon’s sound has long been a combination of AC/DC, Judas Priest & Van Halen but Simon’s production seems to have dropped the band’s AC/DC crunch & replaced it with a more accessible sheen that clearly brings to mind the sound that Def Leppard had been championing in recent years. It’s actually uncanny just how much all three of the singles from the album sound like Def Leppard & that has undoubtedly led to this record becoming an extremely divisive release with the band’s fanbase. Saxon’s manager was apparently a big fan of Def Leppard & it was him that was responsible for pushing the band towards a production that was big on vocal harmonies, keyboards & big snare drums.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a more metal album than “Crusader” was & I’d suggest that it sits at about a 60/40 ratio of hard rock to heavy metal but it’s still a much more commercial sounding album than anything from the band’s early 80’s heyday & there’s unquestionably a case for the production having watered down what could potentially have been a heavier Saxon record. It’s almost like Saxon’s management have taken an each-way bet to try to renew the efforts at cracking the US market while also attempting to win back some of the fans they’d lost with “Crusader”. But when you look at the song-writing, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a more consistent release than “Crusader” was. It may not have any obvious classics like the title track from “Crusader” was but there are far fewer failures here & for that reason it didn’t receive the same level of criticism as “Crusader” where fans claimed it was basically just two decent songs with the rest being filler. The song-writing is a little more memorable here despite the continued use of horribly cliched song-titles & lyrics. Bif Byford & the two guitarists have rarely sounded so potent & I’d argue that this might be Graham Oliver & Paul Quinn’s crowning achievement as soloists. There are a few ballads included of course which would provide further ammunition for those that wanted to ignore the stronger song-writing & focus on the glossy sheen of the album but they’re generally pretty well written & executed. Also, just like with “Crusader”, the record sports several blatant examples of Van Halen worship with songs like “Back On The Streets”, “Everybody Up” & the vey “Hot For Teacher”-esque “Give It Everything You’ve Got” obviously borrowing from the gods of US hard rock radio. The more metal numbers fall firmly in the 80’s Judas Priest camp though & are unsurprisingly my favourite tracks.
Interestingly, this would be the final Saxon record for original bass player & song-writer Steve Dawson who would be fired shortly afterwards. Steve had made his opinions felt with regards to the concept of using of a big name producer whose ears were completely shot for the next album & this didn’t go down well with Saxon’s management. Neither did the fact that he pushed for the song-writing credits to sit solely with the primary song-writers instead of being shared across the whole band as they had been up until this time which saw him & Bif receiving most of the royalties for “Innocence Is No Excuse”. Unfortunately Saxon would struggle to recover from the loss of Dawson for many years afterwards. And here’s a bit of a fun fact for you... Dawson was actually the inspiration for big moustache wearing Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls. Spinal Tap creator Harry Shearer apparently went on tour with Saxon prior to writing the film & the result sees Smalls strongly mimicking Dawson’s on-stage mannerisms & look. Unfortunately Dawson never went on to anything substantial after being axed from the band & subsequently becoming disillusioned with the music scene but this isn’t a bad swan-song. It’s not on the same level as Saxon’s classic trio of 1980 & ‘81 albums but it’s a good solid heavy rock record nonetheless.