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Archive: Sunday Old School Columns

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Sunday Old School: Remembering Bon Scott

Close your eyes and think of AC/DC. If you're like most people, the first thing that enters your mind is the image of Angus Young in his schoolboy suit doing his Chuck Berry on speed duckwalk across the stage. The second thing for most is the image of singer Brian Johnson, cap pulled down nearly to his eyes, letting loose with a powerdrill wail.

For 30 years, that's been the case — but it wasn't always so. There was a time when AC/DC's vocalist was every bit as outrageous and unpredictable as its pint-sized guitar god. With a boozy strut, and a wicked glint in his eye that bespoke propensities for violence when provoked and sex whenever (and wherever), Bon Scott commanded the stage in ways that only a few frontmen — Jagger, Plant and (just maybe) David Lee Roth — could match.

Scott is often spoken of as being “AC/DC's first singer,” but that's not the case. The band's first vocalist was Dave Evans, a much more glam-inspired singer. Of course, the band during Evans' tenure behind the microphone was a much more glam-inspired bunch, as the video clip for the first single “Can I Sit Next To You Girl” below shows (and dig Angus and Malcolm Young trading licks in a way you don't normally see in this band). But Angus Young and Evans didn't get along, and the band was looking for a new, rawer singer.

They didn't have to look far. At the time, Bon Scott was working for the band as its driver. Before that, though, Scott had been well-known in Australia as one of two lead vocalists in the bubblegum pop band the Valentines, and as the singer of the hippy-dippy outfit Fraternity (dig that recorder). Several accounts point to Scott being much more interested in singing hard rock in the bars after the gigs than he was in performing either of these types of music.

That, of course, made AC/DC the perfect fit for him. And if you thought Angus Young's schoolboy outfit was outrageous, check out Bon's schoolGIRL outfit in this early television appearance, in which the band plays its cover of “Baby Please Don't Go.”

Scott's first two albums with AC/DC, “High Voltage” and, especially “TNT” still form a big chunk of the modern AC/DC setlist. Tunes like “The Jack” allowed Bon to show off his talent for clever wordplay and his ability to quickly learn new instruments (he was also a fairly adept guitarist and an excellent drummer) came in handy on the bagpipe-enhanced “It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N Roll).”

Next up was 1976's “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” which emphasized boogie over blazing guitar work on tracks like “There's Gonna Be Some Rockin'.” The title track is a classic, but for me, the heart of the album is the slower, surprisingly introspective “Ride On,” which hints at the loneliness of life on the road.

“Let There Be Rock,” the band's 1977 classic album is, as Angus Young put it, “a fucking great guitar album.” It's the other Scott album that has taken up big chunks of the band's setlist to the present day, with songs like the title track and Scott's ode to a large Tasmanian woman he had the pleasure of knowing, “Whole Lotta Rosie.” With such blazing fretwork, it's small wonder that Angus' guitar amp once caught fire during the recording sessions.

The next year came “Powerage,” which is arguably the most underrated album of the Scott era, despite having fans that included Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. It's a surprisingly dark affair, with “What's Next to the Moon?” having not-so-veiled threats of murder against the object of the singer's affections. “Riff Raff” and “Sin City” both have gotten a fair amount of play on stage, and, more recently, the band resurrected “Rock 'n' Roll Damnation” on the “Live at the Circus Krone” DVD. The chief criticism of the album was that it seemed to be too much a continuation of “Let There Be Rock.” I say, what's wrong with that?

After 1978's live “If You Want Blood, You've Got It” came the high point, in terms of sales and recognition, of Scott's tenure with the band, 1979's “Highway to Hell.” The title track wasn't — as some would later claim — an ode to Satan, but rather a colorful description of life on the road, which had its origins in a quote from Angus Young to a reporter. “Shot Down in Flames” and “Girls Got Rhythm” have stayed in the AC/DC setlist, off and on, as has “Highway to Hell.”

And then, in 1980, it ended all too soon. Scott died of acute alcohol poisoning in a friend's car 30 years ago this week.

The band soldiered on with Brian Johnson taking his place on “Back In Black,” some of which had been written before Scott's passing. There exist demo recordings of a couple tracks (most notably “Have a Drink on Me”) with Scott on drums, but, to my knowledge, they've never been released even in bootleg form.

The band has paid tribute to Scott several times over the years, releasing the “'74 Jailbreak” EP in 1984 with some previously Australian-only releases, and the expansive “Bonfire” box set in 1997, which included studio rarities, the soundtrack to the “Let There Be Rock” concert film and more.

Last year, the band put out “Backtracks,” a box set that essentially cleared the decks of all the rest of the B-sides and Aussie-only tracks that had built up over the years. It's well worth buying for tracks like “Stick Around” and the itchy ode to body lice, “Crabsody In Blue.” But be prepared to shiver a little when Scott eerily foretells his own death in “Carry Me Home.”

So, let's raise our glass to one of rock's greatest. “Let There Be Rock,” shouted Bon Scott, and there was. And it was much more than good.

AC/DC — "Can I Sit Next To You Girl"
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Sunday Old School: 25 Years of Deliverance

In the mid-1980s, Jimmy P. Brown had a question: Could the style then being perfected by thrashers like Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer be made to do the Lord's work? Brown provided a definitive answer of “yes,” forming Deliverance.

Sure, Christian metal had been done before — most notably by the yellow-and-black-bedecked Stryper, but never quite as heavy. Deliverance's sound was righteously angry, as were the song titles and lyrics. Thanks in part to a video that got MTV play, the band was able to cross over and gain fans in the mainstream metal crowd.

The band's great influence on the Christian metal scene will be celebrated this year with “Temporary Insanity: A Salute To Deliverance,” a two-disc tribute album featuring contributions from members of bands including The Crucified, Vengeance Rising and Darkness Falls. The album will also include a new Deliverance recording.

Deliverance first made its appearance on a compilation album called “California Metal.” Their debut album didn't make many waves, but their second, 1990's “Weapons Of Our Warfare” did — even spawning a video that appeared on MTV.

The band's third album, “What A Joke,” was less successful, and the band then underwent a musical overhaul, becoming less of a thrash band and moving more toward a progressive direction. The result was the album “Stay Of Execution.” The band kept the progressive bent on their next disc, “Learn.”

Deliverance released “River Disturbance” in 1994 and “Camelot In Smithereens” in 1995.

“Assimilation” came out in 2001, followed by another long break. Brown, the group's only constant member, reformed Deliverance in 2006, with the result being 2007's “As Above – So Below.”

This year, the band will release “The Annals Of Subterfuge” through Retroactive Records.

Weapons Of Our Warfare
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Sunday Old School: Destruction

When thinking about the history of thrash metal, one usually always thinks of the Bay Area in the United States first, followed quickly by the thrash scene on the East Coast. But there was another scene in the 1980s that was just as important, namely the one in Germany. Much like America has it's "Big Four" of thrash (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer), Germany has it's "Three Kings" who consist of Sodom, Kreator and our featured band of the day, Destruction. Destruction were formed in the town of Weil am Rhein under the name of Knight Of Demon in 1982 but (wisely) decided to change their name to Destruction two years later. During this year they were able to release an EP entitled, "Sentance Of Death" through Steamhammer Records before releasing their debut full length album, "Infernal Overkill" in 1985. The band was originally a trio but added a second guitarist in the form of Harry Wilkens, with whom they recorded another two albums, a live record and an EP before lead singer and bass player Marcel "Schmier" Schirmer was asked to leave the band due to creative differences. He would respond by forming the band Headhunter.

After splitting with Schmier, the band found themselves going through a terrible period commercially, having lost their record label support in favour of grunge music, the band had to self- finance and self-release their new albums. Eventually, Schmier was asked back into the band and the reunited team of Schmier and guitarist Mike Hilfiger, along with drummer Sven Vormann, were able to secure a deal with Germany's Nuclear Blast Records, releasing several highly acclaimed studio albums ever since such as "All Hell Breaks Loose," "The Antichrist" and most recently, "D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N." Destruction still tour the world today, appearing at many of the big European festivals and heading out on headlining tours of their own. More...

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Sunday Old School: Scorpions

Given the sad news earlier today that the Scorpions would be breaking up, it seemed the most fitting time to take a look at one of the greatest bands that Germany ever produced. The Scorpions formed way back in 1965 by guitarist Rudolf Schenker as a band which had more of a beat influence until 1969 when Rudolf's brother Michael joined the band on lead guitar and they recruited lead singer Klause Meine. The band released their first album, "Lonesome Crow" in 1972 and promoted the release by touring as support to British hard rockers UFO. The band would split up briefly after this tour, due to Michael Schenker leaving to join UFO. Rudolf Schenker would join the band Dawn's Road with Uli Jon Roth afterwards and convinced Meine to join him. After a while, the band decided to resurrect the Scorpions name as it was well known in the German rock scene.

The new lineup recorded several successful albums such as "Fly To The Rainbow," "In Trance" and "Virgin Killer," the latter of which caused considerable controversy due to it's album cover. The band began to hit their critical peak when they released "Lovedrive" in 1979 which contained the excellent title track as well as "Is There Anybody There?" and "Holiday," which are considered classics of the band's catalogue. The band released two more albums, "Animal Magnetism" and "Blackout" before cementing their place as hard rock superstars with the "Love At First Sting" album, which featured "Rock You Like A Hurricane," perhaps the band's most well known song.

Since then, the Scorpions has released several more acclaimed albums and gone on to sell over 75 million records worldwide. Their song "Winds Of Change" was hailed as an anthem during the end of the Cold War and were the second hard rock band to perform in Russia under Soviet rule (the first being Uriah Heep.) They are regarded as one of the best live groups from the so-called "classic" heavy metal bands and are also considered pioneers of the heavy metal ballad style. They will be releasing their final studio album, "Sting In The Tail" later this year with a worldwide farewell tour to follow.

Scorpions - "Rock You Like A Hurricane"
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Sunday Old School: Bolt Thrower

Bolt Thrower is seemingly one of the more forgotten bands when it comes to looking at the history of the British death metal and grindcore scene. They were formed in the city of Coventry in September 1986 and went on to release their debut album, "In Battle There Is No Law," in 1988 through Vinyl Solution Records. Unsatisfied with their record deal, the band moved over to Earache Records, which housed many of their contemporaries such as Napalm Death and Cathedral. Bolt Thrower struck up a deal with British model store Games Workshop and the chain store's main artist, with the band giving away a free record with the store's magazine, White Dwarf. In return, Games Workshop did the band's artwork for free for their next album, "Realm Of Chaos."

Since then, Bolt Thrower has continued to perform live and record new albums, although some speculate that the band may never record another album again, given how satisfied they were with their latest album, "Those Once Loyal." The band stated that they always planned to stop releasing albums once they felt they had recorded the "perfect Bolt Thrower album," a feeling they seemed to have secured with "Those Once Loyal." Bolt Thrower remains a big influence on modern death metal and deathcore, with German deathcore act Heaven Shall Burn naming their debut EP "In Battle There Is No Law" after the band's first album.

Bolt Thrower - "The IVth Crusade"
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Sunday Old School: Thin Lizzy

On January 4th 1986, the world of hard rock lost one of it's greatest figures and heavy metal lost one of it's biggest influences in the form of Phillip Parris Lynott, the lead vocalist and bass player of Thin Lizzy, when he passed away from multiple organ failure at the age of thirty six. Lynott has since been remembered for being one of, if not the best, lyricist in heavy music, drawing much inspiration from poetry and Irish folklore and is constantly mentioned as one of the best frontmen of all time, easily contending for the title along with Bon Scott, Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger. You only have to listen to "Live And Dangerous", a classic in the field of live albums, to hear how well Lynott could work the audience. The line "Is there anybody here with a bit of Irish in them? ... Is there any girls out there who'd like a bit more Irish in them?" from this record has gone down as one of the most memorable quotes in music history. He was well known for living the rock and roll lifestyle which included drink, drugs and sex as main ingredients, so much so that after he passed away, a doctor reportedly said "He died from a lifestyle." Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll may have been a song by Ian Dury, but no-one personified it quite like Phil Lynott.

Phil Lynott joined Thin Lizzy in December 1969, along with his friend Brian Downey. The two performed together as part of the band Orphanage and were spotted by organ player Eric Wrixon and guitarist Eric Bell, who were previously members of the famous band Them, fronted by the legendary Van Morrison. Bell and Wrixon approached Lynott and Downey after Orphanage finished playing their set and suggested they form a band together, which was agreed on the condition that Lynott also play bass guitar and that they would perform some of his own compositions. This lineup would release only one record, a single entitled "The Farmer" through EMI. The single only sold 283 copies and has since become a rare collectors item. Following from this commercial failure, Wrixon left Thin lizzy to return to Them, leaving the band as a three piece. Thin Lizzy soldiered on and signed to Decca Records in 1970, releasing their self-titled debut album the next year. The album sold fairly well and the band followed with the much more Celtic orientated album, "Shades Of A Blue Orphanage" in March of 1972. Neither of the bands first two albums found a place in the charts but they received a high profile support slot when they were invited to tour with the hugely popular Slade and Suzi Quatro later that year.

The band tasted their first chart success soon afterwards when Decca Records, against the band's wishes, released their cover of the Irish ballad "Whiskey In The Jar." The single topped the Irish charts and entered the U.K. charts at number six, leading to their first appearance on the revered show, Top Of The Pops. The band were not quite as succesful with their next singles which only entered the Irish charts. More...

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Sunday Old School: Cathedral

A few weeks ago, we took a look at British grindcore legends Napalm Death and saw that several bands related to them have become legends in their own right. This week we take a look at one of these bands, in the form of Lee Dorrian's legendary doom metal outfit Cathedral. Cathedral were formed in Coventry, in the Midlands area of England in 1989 but had already earned a degree of underground fame as the bands lead vocalist Lee Dorrian had been the singer of Napalm Death beforehand and guitarist Garry Jennings was previously a member of British thrash metal outfit Acid Reign, who had reached the number ten spot on the U.K. Indie album charts with their debut album, "The Fear." The band were much different from their associated acts and were more inspired from the slower metal bands such as The Obsessed and Black Sabbath than Motorhead and Kreator. After recruiting bass player Mark Griffiths (a Carcass roadie) and drummer Mike Smail, the band recorded their first album, "Forest Of Equilibrium" which is now regarded as a classic in the genre of doom metal. The album featured extremely slow and long songs, which took fans of the British underground scene by complete surprise at the time and left the band with a mixed reception when they performed shows with the likes of Entombed, Carcass and Confessor.

The band followed this impressive debut with "The Ethereal Mirror" (which had a number of working titles including "Decadence and Journey Into Jade) in 1993 and once again received critical acclaim, with some media refering to the band as "the next big thing in metal." The album also saw the band experiment more with their sound, fusing a stoner rock influence with their doom laden grind. The album also produced two music videos in the shape of "Ride" and "Midnight Mountain" which received some negative feedback from fans as they were quite light hearted in nature. The band took on two new members after this release, with bass player Leo Smee and drummer Brian Dixon and released yet another outstanding album on September 26th 1995 in the form of "The Carnival Bizzare." The album featured the song, "Hopkins (Witchfinder General)" which has become one of the bands best known songs and a staple of their live set. The song also received a music video that included clips from the Vincent Price movie "Witchfinder General" as well as the band performing in a tongue in cheek fasion. The album also boasted a guest guitar solo from Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi on the song, "Utopian Blaster."

Cathedral have continued to tour the world and record albums ever since and have cemented their place as true legends in the field of doom and stoner metal by releasing more well received albums such as "Caravan Beyond Redemption" and "The VIIth Coming." Fans of the band are expecting 2010 to be another great year for Cathedral when they release a new studio album entitled, "The Guessing Game" in March, which likely include a world tour to help promote the record. Doom on! More...

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Sunday Old School: Kyuss

In 1989, four young men who enjoyed playing Dungeons And Dragons would form a band that has since gone one to become a huge influence on thousands upon thousands of musicians, particularly in the doom and stoner areas of metal. Vocalist John Garcia, guitarist Josh Homme, bass player Chris Cockrell and drummer Brant Bjork formed the band with the original name of Sons Of Kyuss and released their debut EP of the same name in 1989. This would be the bands only release with Cockrell, as he was replaced by Nick Oliveri soon afterwards. The band shortened their name to Kyuss and developed a large following in their home state of California, where they would perform regularly at parties in isolated areas of southern California. These would become known as "generator parties" and included the use of gasoline-powered generators to provide electricity for the equipment.

The band released their first full length album, "Wretch" in 1991 after signing with Dali Records. Several of these songs wre re-recorded versions of songs from the "Sons Of Kyuss" EP that was released two years previous. Many felt the album was a poor showing of the band, owing to the lack of money and production skills. The band were able achieve critical acclaim with their next album however, when they released "Blues For The Red Sun" in June 1992. The success of the album allowed the band to tour as support to Metallica (who had just released the mainstream smash hit Black Album at the time) and perform with other notable bands such as The Obsessed. Nick Oliveri was not part of the touring cycle however, after he left the band shortly following the albums completion, being replaced by Scott Reeder. Kyuss continued their success by signing with major label, Elektra and releasing the classic "Welcome To Sky Valley" album (the album is self-titled, but fans refer to the record by this name.)

Kyuss would suffer the loss of another band member after this album was released, when original drummer Brant Bjork quit the band, citing bad relations between band members and a hatred for touring. Alfredo Hernández stepped in as his replacement and this incarnation of the band recorded their fourth and sadly final album, "...And The Circus Leaves Town," in 1995. The album was once again seen as a masterpiece from critics, particularly the outstanding cover of the Yawning Man song, "Catamaran," but failed to become as commericially successful as the bands previous release. In October of that year, Kyuss decided to call it a day. Ever since their demise, the band has been offered on numerous occassions to reform, although it seems highly unlikely due to the success of guitarist Homme's post-Kyuss band, Queens Of The Stone Age (which also featured Nick Oliveri for a time.) More...

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Sunday Old School: Napalm Death

Having been credited with the creation of the grindcore genre, many people will claim that Napalm Death are among the most influential bands in the world of extreme metal and some people will go so far as to say they were the last band from Great Britain to have a signifficant impact on the world of metal. Like many great British metal bands such as Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, Napalm Death were formed in the Midlands area of England, starting up in 1981 in the village of Meriden, just outside of Birmingham. The band recorded a four song demo in 1982 and continued to perform regularly until towards the end of 1983 when they imposed a hiatus of sorts, with only one concert being performed in 1984 (a benefit show for the striking mine workers.) The band would return permanently in 1985 and performed many shows at their local pub The Murmaid, which was known to host hardcore matinees on the weekend. The band achieved a stable line up when drummer Mick Harris joined the group, complimenting the guitar sounds of Justin Broadrick and bass player/vocalist Nic Bullen. This lineup of the band recorded the first half of the now classic album, "Scum" in 1986, however before they could record the B-side to the album, both Broadrick and Bullen left the band. Harris recruited Bill Steer (later of Carcass fame) on guitar, bass player Jim Whitely and friend of the band, Lee Dorrian to join as the groups new singer, even though he had never sang before. This lineup recorded the second half of "Scum," completing what is now regarded as a classic in the field of extreme metal. The band replaced Whitely with bass player Shane Embury and recorded their second album, "From Enslavement To Obliteration" which was released in October of 1988 before Steer left the band to focus on Carcass full time and Dorrian quit to form the now legendary doom metal band, Cathedral.

The band recruited vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway, of the British death metal outfit Benediction and their first international members in the form of Mexican guitarist Jesse Pintado, who had previously been known as the guitarist and founding member of Terrorizer and second guitarist Mitch Harris (who is from the United States of America) after touring with Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Morbid Angel. This lineup of the band recorded only one album, "Harmony Corruption" before Mick Harris decided to leave the band to form Scorn, leaving no members of the "Scum" lineup left. Napalm Death replaced him with American drummer Danny Herrera. These band members would then continue throughout the the 1990's recording eight albums together (Greenway was briefly fired from the band in 1996 and replaced with Extreme Noise Terror vocalist Phil Vane and while Vane never recorded with Napalm Death, Greenway recorded vocals for the Extreme Noise Terror album, "Damage 381" before returning to Napalm Death following the dismissal of Vane.)

In 2004, Jesse Pintado left the band and Napalm Death has since continued as a four-piece, releasing a string of critically acclaimed albums in the form of "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code," "Smear Campaign" and most recently, "Time Waits For No Slave." Jesse Pintado sadly passed away in a hospital in Holland in 2006, after suffering from a liver failure. Napalm Death are a unique band because not only are they themselves regarded as hugely influential, but so are practically every band related to them. Lee Dorrian's Cathedral have become known as one of the best doom metal bands of all time and Bill Steer's Carcass has similarly been recognised as one of the greatest death metal bands in history. Justin Broadrick's bands Godflesh and Jesu have become recognised as influential and groundbreaking and even bands that only had small links to the band such as Extreme Noise Terror and Terrorizer have since become known as legends in the field of grindcore. While Napalm Death are often imitated, they are, as they say, never duplicated. More...

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Sunday Old School: Death

A few weeks ago I was in the metal section of my local HMV branch, when I heard some kids mention a name. "Oooh! Death! What a great band name! Honestly, who would buy an album from a band with such a stupid name? I bet they suck!" All I could think to myself as they wandered away with their copies of the latest Slipknot and Panic! At The Disco albums was, "If you only knew, kids...." Quite honestly, Death's name is about the only thing anyone could ever have a problem with. Everything else about them is pure magic. Death is responsible for some of the best songs, album covers, song titles and musicianship in the celebrated history of extreme metal.

Death was formed in 1983 by vocalist/guitarist Chuck Schuldiner in the city of Orlando, Florida. They released their first album, "Scream Bloody Gore," four years later and quickly established themselves as one of the pioneers of death metal along with bands such as Possessed and Obituary. Their next album, "Leprosy" followed on where "Scream Bloody Gore" left off lyrically, focusing on violence, blood and guts, but the band changed to writing about more social and political issues on their next album, "Spiritual Healing." This album also featured alot more in the way of melodies and musical progression than the previous two albums. The band continued with their progression into the technical side of death metal when they released the album "Human" in 1991, which featured Schuldiner as well as Sadus bassist Steve DiGorgio and Cynic members Sean Reinhert and Paul Masvidal. "Human" also featured the band's first song to be given the music video treatment, "Lack Of Comprehension." More...

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Sunday Old School: Ronnie James Dio

Since my first “real” news posting had to do with the unfortunate news of Ronnie James Dio's stomach cancer, I thought it might make some karmic sense if my first Sunday Old School posting had something to do with the the remarkable frontman.

I suspect a lot of people my age (36 years young) are like me in that the first time they ever heard of Dio was in seeing the phrase “OZZY RULES! DIO DROOLS!” scrawled on a wooden desk in junior high or high school. That's naturally a reference to the fact that Dio had replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the singer for Black Sabbath, following Ozzy's firing in 1979.

Dio would serve as Sabbath's lead vocalist on the seminal albums “Heaven & Hell,” “Mob Rules” and “Live Evil” before parting ways with Sabbath until 1991 when he rejoined the band for “Dehumanizer.” Another parting of the ways lasted until 2006, when his version of Sabbath reformed under the moniker Heaven & Hell and recorded new tracks for a greatest hits CD, as well as “Live from Radio City Music Hall” in 2007, and a new studio album, “The Devil You Know” in 2009.

Beginning with 1983's “Holy Diver,” he racked up plenty of album sales and accolades with his own band, Dio.

But there's an important chapter of Dio's professional career that seems to get at best a cursory glance among a lot of metalheads I know, which is unfortunate, because it seems to me to be very much a transformative time for one of metal's most powerful vocalists.

I am, of course, talking about his time in Rainbow, the post-Deep Purple band formed by guitar-god Ritchie Blackmore in the mid-1970s.

Blackmore had departed Deep Purple after arguments about the more “funky” direction that singer David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes were taking the band in. In search of a new singer and band, he didn't have to look far.

Elf, which featured Dio on vocals, had been touring as a supporting act for Deep Purple. Blackmore essentially grafted himself into the band, renaming it and collaborating with Dio to write the tracks for the appropriately named “Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow.”

The song most everyone remembers from that 1975 album is “Man on the Silver Mountain,” with its son-of-“Smoke on the Water” riff and powerful delivery by Dio declaring himself a medieval metal prophet. It's become such a staple in the Dio arsenal that it's easy to forget how much of a milestone it is for the singer. Compare the supernatural lyrics with the somewhat more pedestrian (if equally well-performed) lyrics of tracks like Elf's “Carolina County Ball,” and you'll see what I mean.

That's hardly the only great one, though. The album also features “16th Century Greensleeves,” which would seem to be a precursor to Blackmore's later career, as well as the superb Quartermass cover “Black Sheep of the Family.”

By Rainbow's next album, 1976's “Rising,” Blackmore had fired everyone but Dio from the band and, if you ask me, the replacement keyboardist, Tony Carey and bassist Jimmy Bain (who'd later play with Dio in the 1980s) aren't completely up to snuff. It's this incarnation of Rainbow's weakest album, though tracks like the opener, “Tarot Woman” and the huge 8-minute closer “Stargazer” still hold up well.

The band had a return to glory with 1978's “Long Live Rock 'n' Roll,” which featured bass contributions from future Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath bassist Bob Daisley. The disc, which does feature some of the medieval and experimental sounds featured on the previous two studio albums (a live album, “On Stage,” was released in 1977), there's a surprising amount of pure blues-rock stomp this go-round, especially on the title track. “L.A. Connection” reminds me a bit of the bluesier side of the Doors, while “Sensitive to Light” is just a good-time rocker of the finest sort. Meanwhile, the darker lyrical themes Dio would go on to explore in Sabbath are on full display in the creepy Middle Eastern-sounding “Gates of Babylon.” The album's finest hour, though, comes with the speedy “Kill the King.”

Dio left the band in 1979 following a dispute with Blackmore over the guitarist's desire to take the band in a more “commercial” direction, which he ultimately did with vocalists like Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnet.

If you ask me, though, the Dio era is a golden era for Rainbow, as well as the moment that one of metal's finest discovered his true voice and calling. As I and other metal fans await news of the ailing singer's condition, I take some measure of comfort in his “Man on the Silver Mountain” declaration that “You'll never stop me burning.”

May it be so.

Carolina County Ball (with Elf)
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Sunday Old School: Judas Priest

To some people, the Midlands born five-piece Judas Priest were the first heavy metal band, being as they were the first band to actually embrace the term "heavy metal." Whether you agree or not, they are certainly one of the most important bands in the history of metal. No other band has had the longevity of Judas Priest and arguably no other band has had the heart and passion that Priest have had with them since 1969. The band first consisted of guitarist KK Downing, bass player Ian Hill, lead vocalist Al Atkins and drummer John Ellis and went on to support the likes of Thin Lizzy, Budgie and Trapeze under this lineup. Eventually, Hill brought in his girlfriend's brother Rob Halford to replace Atkins and Ellis was replaced with John Hinch. The band once again toured supporting Budgie and developed such a following that they were able to headline shows in other countries such as Norway and Germany. Once the band signed to Gull Records, the label suggested they add another musician and the band chose guitarist Glen Tipton to become one of the pioneers of the twin guitar sound along with bands like Wishbone Ash. After the recording of their first album, "Rocka Rolla," the band would use a series of session drummers for their next albums, "Sad Wings Of Destiny" and "Sin After Sin" and settled on drummer Les Binks after touring in support of the latter record.

The band went on to record "Stained Class" and "Killing Machine" (known in North America as "Hell Bent For Leather") with Les Binks before he left the band and was replaced with drummer Dave Holland, who would stay with the band for their next six studio albums and one live record. The band struck gold in 1980 when they released "British Steel," which is considered one of, if not the greatest, heavy metal album of all time. The album contained the hit singles, "Breaking The Law," "Living After Midnight" and "United" and helped the band to achieve worldwide rock stardom. The band would continue their success with a series of critically acclaimed albums such as "Point Of Entry," "Screaming For Vengeance" and "Defenders Of The Faith." Their next album, "Turbo" was met with mixed reviews due to its use of synthesisers and the record after that, "Ram It Down" was considered to be a small step up from "Turbo," though the band's popularity began to wane at this point. However, after replacing Dave Holland with former Racer X drummer Scott Travis, the band reclaimed their spot at the top of the heavy metal pile with the outstanding, "Painkiller."

Despite the success of the album, frontman Rob Halford would leave the band after a dispute with the band's record label and formed the band Fight, before going to form the industrial metal outfit 2wo and the heavy metal band Halford. Judas Priest themselves took a long break before recruiting vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens, who was previously the lead singer of a Judas Priest tribute band. With Owens, the band released the albums "Jugulator" and "Demolition" which were met with mixed reviews. In 2003, Rob Halford returned to the band and Owens replaced Matt Barlow as the lead vocalist of American power metal band Iced Earth. With Halford back on board, the band recorded the critically acclaimed "Angel Of Retribution" album and toured the world extensively before releasing the ambitious, 2-CD concept album, "Nostradamus" in 2008. Without a doubt, Judas Priest are as creative, passionate and dedicated today as they were fourty years ago and they've shown no signs of stopping this trend. All hail the Metal Gods! More...

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Sunday Old School: Mercyful Fate

Few bands can claim that they have had a profound influence on a variety of sub-genres in metal, from thrash to progressive and from black metal to power, Mercyful Fate can proudly and honestly say that they are one of those bands. The group formed in Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark in 1981 from the ashes of the bands Brats and Black Rose and became well known for their dark and Satanic themes both in their music and stage act. They recorded two classic albums in the form of "Melissa" (named after the human skull lead vocalist King Diamond would use on stage) and "Don't Break The Oath," which were released in 1983 and 1984 respectively. After their first tour of the United States, King Diamond decided to leave the band due to creative differences and took band members Timi Hansen and Michael Denner with him. Instead of continuing under the Mercyful Fate banner, remaining band member Hank Shermann formed a band simply named Fate which followed a more mainstream rock direction.

Mercyful Fate reunited in July of 1992 (though King Diamond would continue to release albums under his own moniker throughout this period) and recorded several more records thoughout the '90s, concluding with 1999's "9" album. Whilst the band has been more or less inactive since the record's release, King Diamond has promised fans that they haven't heard the last of Mercyful Fate and that the band will definitely return at some point in time with a new album and tour.

When looking at the band, one can see how they influenced the black metal genre with their satanic lyrics and imagery but after listening to the band themselves, it becomes apparant that they became so influential in a broad spectrum because they were outstanding musicians. King Diamond can be considered as the master story-teller of heavy metal and knew perfectly how to capture the listeners interest with his unique, haunting stories and lyrics. Add to this his one of a kind vocal delivery which could reach the highest of highs and lowest of lows and the end result is one of the greatest frontmen in the history of metal. The band themselves also proved time and time again that they were extremely talented when it came to their instruments and song writing and orchestrated some of the most complex and intricate metal songs of the time. Still to this day, bands cite Mercyful Fate as an influence in their music and they are perhaps remembered as the biggest and best metal band to ever come from Denmark. More...

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Sunday Old School: Celtic Frost

Celtic Frost may very well be one of the most creative and artistic bands in the vast world of metal. They formed from the ashes of the band Hellhammer in 1984 and released their first studio album, "Morbid Tales" in the same year. The album was met with strong acclaim from music critics and the metal underground alike, which led to the band releasing an EP entitled, "Emperor's Return." The band once again released an influential album in the form of "To Mega Therion" in 1985 that did not feature bass player Martin Eric Ain, though he would return to the band after the record's release. Celtic Frost would release the next in a trilogy of acclaimed and classic albums in 1987 when they released, "Into The Pandemonium," one of the most ambitious and experimental albums in the history of underground metal. The record included a sound of an avant-garde nature and featured unlikely covers of the songs "Mexican Radio" by New Wave artists Wall Of Voodoo and "In The Chapel In The Moonlight," which has been performed by artists such as Dean Martin, Kitty Kallen and The Bachelors.

However internal struggle became a massive problem for the band with financial troubles and personal tensions causing the band to briefly break up before frontman Thomas Fischer revived the group with former drummer Stephen Priestly and new members in the shape of guitarist Oliver Amberg and bass player Curt Victor Bryant. The resulting album, "Cold Lake," proved less than well-received by the band's fanbase with some labelling the bands as sell outs. "Cold Lake" featured a much more mainstream sound that seemed to be more influenced by bands such as Motley Crue than Venom. Fischer would later claim that the musical style on the album was due to his lack of interest in the creative output of the band. Martin Eric Ain would rejoin the band and they recorded the album, "Vanity/Nemesis" which was more in the vein of thrash metal than it's previous releases, which allowed the group to regain some of the credibility they had lost with "Cold Lake." The band planned to follow this record with a double album entitled, "Under Apollyon's Sun" but decided to split up before they entered the studio. During the split Martin Eric Ain would find success as a businessman, becoming the owner of a number of bars and nightclubs, while singer/guitarist Tom Fischer founded the industrial metal outfit Apollyon Sun and wrote a book about the history of Celtic Frost entitled, "Are You Morbid?"

After working together on the re-issue of several Celtic Frost albums, Fischer and Ain began writing music together under the Celtic Frost banner once again, along with guitarist Erol Unala and drummer Franco Sesa. They released a demo named, "Prototype" which featured ten new songs, before releasing their comeback album, "Monotheist" in 2006. The album received a huge amount of positive feedback and was labelled the darkest album they had ever written and was accompanied by the band's most ambitious tour yet, touring in countries they had never performed in before and headlining festivals such as Wacken Open Air. However the reunion did not last for as long as many had hoped, when Fischer decided to leave the band in April of 2008, leading to the band's demise once again. Celtic Frost will now go down in the history books of metal as one of the most influential, creative and darkest bands the world had ever seen.

Celtic Frost - "Circle Of The Tyrants"
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Sunday Old School: Diamond Head

Following on from last weeks article where we looked at Venom, a hugely influential band from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, we're continuing the trend this week by looking at one of their fellow N.W.O.B.H.M. acts, Diamond Head. Diamond Head is considered in this day and age one of the most influential acts of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and have been championed by numerous big name bands such as Exodus, Megadeth and Metallica to name a few. Diamond Head was the hot tip at the time to follow Iron Maiden in becoming not just another band from the movement, but a major act themselves. Unfortunately, although signed to a major label, the band never got the success and fame many expected they would achieve. In some cases today they are a band heard in name only, many knowing of their existence but less are aware of the actual music with the exception of cover versions bigger acts have done.

The band was formed in 1976 in the town of Stourbridge in England's Midlands region and continued for several years to hunt for success. The group took their name from an album by Phil Manzanera, the former lead guitarist of Roxy Music. The band would often refuse to perform cover songs, eventually making the exception for the Black Sabbath classic, "Paranoid." Though they self-financed many demos and released them independently, they struggled to find record label interest, though they were able to attract the attention of popular rock and metal artists of the time and secure support slots with the likes of AC/DC and Iron Maiden.

The band released their first album, which is often reffered to as "Lightning To The Nations" (though it never officially had a title) in 1980 through their own record label, Happy Face Records and received much critical acclaim for the record. This led to the band signing to MCA Records the following year and releasing their next album, "Borrowed Time." The album hit the number 24 mark in the British album charts and enabled the band to venture on their own headlining tour of the United Kingdom.

Diamond Head suffered from several line up changes and break-ups over the years and today guitarist Brian Tatler remains the sole original member of the band. Since their most recent reformation in 2000, the band has released two studio albums with the new line-up entitled "All Will Be Revealed" and "What's In Your Head?" with plans to record another album well underway.

Diamond Head - "Am I Evil?"
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Sunday Old School: Venom

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal produced dozens of new acts, some of which have gone down in history as legends of heavy metal and hard rock music, but of all these bands, none were as extreme, as over the top, as exciting, as Venom. The band was formed in the early '80s in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England and released their first album, "Welcome To Hell," in 1981. They gained an underground, cult following in the United Kingdom as well as in the European and North American metal underground, yet they didn't perform a proper live concert until after the release of their second album in 1982. "Black Metal" would go down in history as one of the most influential metal records of all time, and the band's first show took place at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon.

During interviews, Venom would invent numerous tags to describe themselves in order to set them apart from other heavy metal bands of the time. Almost all of these tags went on to become actual sub-genres such as "black metal," "thrash metal," "death metal" and "doom metal." Venom claim they wanted to stand out from the other bands of the time because they felt metal wasn't being represented as well as it should have been. The final straw for Venom came, surprisingly, after Michael Jackson entered the British heavy metal charts with the song, "Beat It" because it featured a guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen.

Over the years, the band released several more albums and experienced several lineup changes, which some might say led to the somewhat unfair reactions to strong albums that didn't feature certain original members. Although they might seem ridiculous when looked upon, Venom is one of the most influential metal bands ever to enter a recording studio and is without question responsible for the likes of thrash, death and of course, black metal. They helped American bands like Slayer, Exodus and even Metallica find fans in Europe by taking them out on tour and their original sound can be heard on many albums from other thrash metal bands such as Metallica's "Kill 'em All" or Slayer's "Show No Mercy." Venom is still going today, with singer/bass player Conrad "Cronos" Lant remaining as the band's sole original member and they are currently working on a brand new album. For Venom, it wasn't quality or quantity that counted, it was standing out from their peers and creating something new, and no-one can deny they did just that.

Venom - "Bloodlust"
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Sunday Old School: At The Gates

This week in Sunday Old School we return to the 90's, having revisited the late 1960's and early 70's with Black Sabbath, Budgie, and Blue Cheer. While the 90's are less than twenty years ago, can you imagine a time before melodic death metal and even metalcore cannibalized the same melodeath riffs over and over ad nauseum? Enough said. Nearly twenty years ago, Swedish band At The Gates formed and soon helped popularized a new sound called melodic death metal, which was largely associated with Gothenburg scene due to the efforts of In Flames and Dark Tranquillity around the same time. The imitators have been many and in recent years the line between melodic death metal and melodic metalcore has blurred so much that it is often difficult to tell the difference between the two.

At the Gates did not remain together for even a decade, but their impact on the metal landscape has been enormous. The band remained entrenched in the underground as their first few albums suffered from 80's quality (read: low) production. It was not until 1996's "Slaughter of the Soul" that had significantly better production and was released by Earache Records that the band started to break into the mainstream a little more. After their breakup, drummer Adrian Erlandsson, bassist Jonas Björler, and guitarist Anders Björler went on to form The Haunted, while Lindberg has been in bands such as The Crown, Lock Up, Nightrage, The Great Deceiver and Disfear.

Newer metalheads can check out At The Gates to see where so many modern bands have drawn their influences from.

The video below is a live track lifted from the 2008 reissue of the classic album "Slaughter Of The Soul" that comes with a bonus DVD. The DVD features a recently unearthed live show filmed in Krakow Poland in 1995. More videos follow after the jump.

At The Gates Live In Poland 1995
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Sunday Old School: Blue Cheer

Given that Blue Cheer frontman Dickie Peterson sadly passed away last Monday, it seemed only fitting that this week's edition of Sunday Old School take a look at the band. Blue Cheer began in 1966 and took their name from a brand of LSD which was promoted by former Grateful Dead frontman, Owsley Stanley. The band was managed by a former Hell's Angel. Blue Cheer scored a hit single with their cover of the Eddie Cochran classic, "Summertime Blues," which peaked at number 14 on the Billboard singles chart. The debut album, "Vincebus Eruptus" from which the song was from, also entered the Billboard album charts at number 11.

Over the years the band split up and reformed several times, but left a lasting influence on rock and metal music and have been cited by many as one of the inspirations behind punk rock, stoner rock, doom metal and grunge. You can check out some videos below of Blue Cheer, the band that was described by The Doors frontman Jim Morrison as "The single most powerful band I've ever seen."

Blue Cheer - "Summertime Blues"
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Sunday Old School: Budgie

Continuing on from last week's edition of Sunday Old School, which focused on Black Sabbath, this week's column takes a look at another band from the very first wave of heavy metal, in this case, Welsh rockers Budgie. Budgie is perhaps best known for their song, "Breadfan" because Metallica frequently covered the song during live performances (Metallica has also covered another Budgie song, "Crash Course In Brain Surgery.") Metallica isn't the only big name band to have covered Budgie either. Iron Maiden covered the song, "I Can't See My Feelings," Van Halen covered the title track from the 1974 album, "In For The Kill," and Soundgarden recorded a cover of "Homicidal Suicidal," which comes from Budgie's self-titled debut.

Many people, myself included, feel that Budgie never really got the full recognition they deserved and when comparing the two bands, one could state that Budgie was, "the RUSH that didn't quite make it." However, their influence on heavy metal remains to this day, with the band still holding a large fan base in Poland, an to a lesser extent, Australia and the United Kingdom. More...

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Sunday Old School: Black Sabbath, circa 1970

This week we're going really old school, from the early days of one of the forefathers of heavy metal, Black Sabbath. Until Black Sabbath reunited to headline Ozzfest for several years, many younger/newer metal heads had yet to see the band's original lineup perform. Even in light of the recent reunions, it's interesting to see the band in their old form, and in today's column, we present a number of live video clips of Black Sabbath circa 1970. You can watch "War Pigs" live in Paris from 1970 below, with bonus videos after the jump.

Black Sabbath - "War Pigs" (Live in Paris 1970)
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