Cloven Hoof - A Sultans Ransom (1989)Release ID: 8710

Cloven Hoof - A Sultans Ransom (1989) Cover
Daniel Daniel / September 22, 2023 / Comments 0 / 0

English heavy metal outfit Cloven Hoof have been floating about since way back in the very late 1970’s & are generally referred to as being a part of the NWOBHM even though their self-titled debut album didn’t hit the shelves until just after the movement had subsided in 1984. I’ve been aware of them for decades but didn’t give them much dedicated attention until I reviewed "Cloven Hoof" as a part of my research for the Metal Academy podcast back in the mid-2010’s. It certainly sounded like a NWOBHM record with its Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC & progressive rock influences being par for the course while their lyrics tended to veer towards the darker side. Vocalist David Potter opted for a masculine delivery rather than the operatic approach of a band like Iron Maiden too so Cloven Hoof sat very much in your classic heavy metal space. It wasn’t a bad record either but it suffered from some inconsistent song-writing & relied too heavily on its highlight tracks to carry it over the line. I’d not attempted another Cloven Hoof record up until now but have always been fascinated by the links I've seen being made with power metal as I don't recall much of that on the debut. In fact, Cloven Hoof's 1989 third album “A Sultan’s Ransom” has often been placed on somewhat of a pedestal by fans of the American variety of power metal which interests me significantly more than the European model so I finally decided to take the plunge this week & see what this record has to offer.

The impact of the change in style is immediate upon venturing into the first track “Astral Rider” with Cloven Hoof now sporting a much weightier sound. The production issues that plagued their debut have been overcome with a sound that’s still quite raw but possesses plenty of power & definition. The band were now with the Paul Birch-fronted FM Revolver Records label & recorded the album at Mad Hat Studios in their local town of Wolverhampton under the guidance of house studio engineer Mark Stuart who had some minor NWOBHM experience producing Dark Star’s “Reel to Reel” but wasn’t exactly heavy metal royalty. The result is much more agreeable though with “A Sultan’s Ransom” benefiting from an upfront & chunky yet still inherently raw guitar tone & a metal-as-fuck atmosphere. There’s an in-your-face, electric energy to Cloven Hoof’s sound here that sits much closer to the US power metal movement than it does to the band’s NWOBHM roots & this excited me.

It shouldn’t really be all that surprising that Cloven Hoof sound so different to how they did on their self-titled debut because the lineup had changed drastically with only bassist Lee Payne remaining from those sessions. Vocalist David Potter had left to join French heavy metallers H-Bomb immediately after the release of the debut while guitarist Steve Rounds & drummer Kevin Pountney had also disappeared prior to Cloven Hoof’s 1988 sophomore album “Dominator”. In their place they’d recruited two members of Welsh heavy metallers Tredegar in vocalist Russ North & guitarist Andy Wood as well as drummer Jon Brown, all who were still around for “A Sultan’s Ransom”. This has presumably resulted in Cloven Hoof taking an all-new direction for “Dominator” & from the sound of “A Sultan’s Ransom” I’d suggest that it was a good move too. The hard rock crunch of AC/DC is no longer evident with the band now taking a metal-at-all-costs direction that sees them playing in a similar space to US power metal acts like Liege Lord, Omen & Crimson Glory more than it does their NWOBHM roots, although the influence of Iron Maiden & Judas Priest are still the predominant figures looming overhead while Cloven Hoof power through a succession of melodic metal anthems.

Vocalist Russ North possesses a soaring, theatrical & operatic voice that sounds uncannily like Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson a lot of the time & it’s his presence as much as any that draws Cloven Hoof towards the power metal links. The other key power metal component is the muscular riff work & guitar tone of Andy Wood, particularly during the first half of the tracklisting. Opener “Astral Rider” is pure power metal while clear album highlight “Silver Surfer” reminds me heavily of “Painkiller”-era Judas Priest & is far too heavy for a mere heavy metal tag. The fast paced “D.V.R.” sees Cloven Hoof drawing upon speed metal as their vessel while the ambitious “1001 Nights” opts for more technicality & a progressive metal format. Despite this variation in genre, at least half of the album fits very comfortably under the more traditional heavy metal tag, particularly the back end of the tracklisting with songs like “Notre Dame” & “Highlander” being very much in line with classic Iron Maiden, particularly in the strong use of guitar harmonies. The short & simple "Mad, Mad World" reminds me of some of Judas Priest's more commercially accessible tracks like "Breaking The Law" & I'd imagine it was included for similar reasons too i.e. radio play.

Despite the clear potential I’ve mentioned above, “A Sultan’s Ransom” doesn’t end up delivering as much as I’d hoped & seems to me to be a touch overrated as a result. There aren’t any disasters but tracks like “Forgotten Heroes”, “D.V.R.”, “1001 Nights” & “Highlander” don’t do a lot for me to be honest, all suffering from some lackluster song-writing. Thankfully the wins outweigh the losses though & there are a couple of clear highlight tracks in “Silver Surfer” & high-quality heavy metal number “Jeckyl & Hyde” which ensure that “A Sultan’s Ransom” ends up being a predominantly positive experience. I certainly like it a little better than the self-titled album but there’s not a whole lot in it & I’m not so sure that I’ve found enough here to see me proceeding to investigate much further into Cloven Hoof’s remaining back catalogue in the future.


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A Sultans Ransom
The Guardians

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