RECORD STORE TALES MkII:
Getting More Tale
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RECORD STORE TALES #957: Star Wars at the Mall 1981
Cast your minds back to a time before the internet. Before DVD players. Before we all had VCRs. Prior to the advent of on-demand TV. If you wanted to watch Star Wars…you couldn’t!
There isn’t much more to be said than that. We had our records, to listen to the soundtracks, and “The Story Of…” discs. We had novels and comic books. We had our action figures. If we wanted to watch Star Wars, we had to use the ol’ imagination and memories.
Given that lots of kids would love to watch Star Wars at any given moment, there was a demand. And nature decrees that a vacuum must be filled. I remember that there was a Star Wars play at the mall. A few actors, maybe six or seven total, wearing budget costumes, and doing the best job they could. I remember it being really bad, but I found a photograph that indicates it might not have been as terrible as I thought.
We can only guess who the actors were. Students? A travelling troupe, adventuring from mall to mall? All to sell toys! Kenner was king! Kids flocked to the toy sections, begging mom for a Bossk figure. Why not have a Star Wars play to promote it? Perhaps kids can be the harshest critics and this play wasn’t as terrible as I recall….
We only snapped the one picture; film was expensive. But the costumes don’t appear all that bad. Sure, it looks like Chewbacca is wearing a sweater. I don’t remember Princess Leia having gold trim on her gown. Is that Old Ben Kenobi on the far left? It’s a shame we didn’t get a picture of Luke or Han, but Vader’s helmet does not look bad, nor Chewie’s head. At least not from this angle. Could we have taken a worse picture? You have to give Leia some credit for the nailing the hairstyle, and a killer pair of boots!
The wall behind looks like the barriers that go up when a store is being renovated. You can also see some litter on the ground. Consensus seems to be that this was Stanley Park Mall, due to the familiar flooring.
Rush weren’t really known as a “cash grab” kind of band. That’s why the Christmas 2009 release of Working Men was so surprising to fans.
12 tracks, all but one previously released on live Rush albums of recent vintage. It is not difficult to figure out that this disc was created to keep Rush product on the shelves while the band was on break during the Christmas season. While the music is excellent (obviously), it is hard to imagine a Rush fan that would play this single-disc album before listening to the actual live albums that the tracks were sourced from. This is Rush’s version of You Wanted The Best by Kiss, but with only one unreleased recording instead of four.
Here’s a tracklist, and a breakdown of where these tracks were lifted from:
1. “Limelight” (From Snakes & Arrows Live)
2. “The Spirit of Radio” (From R30)
3. “2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx (From Rush in Rio)
4. “Freewill” (From Snakes & Arrows Live)
5. “Dreamline” (From R30)
6. “Far Cry” (From Snakes & Arrows Live)
7. “Subdivisions” (From R30)
8. “One Little Victory” (From the R30 tour) (Previously Unreleased)
9. “Closer to the Heart” (From Rush in Rio)
10. “Tom Sawyer” (From Snakes & Arrows Live)
11. “Working Man” (From R30)
12. “YYZ” (From Rush in Rio)
“One Little Victory”, a stormy firecracker of a version, is the lone previously unreleased song. Is that one song worth your $15? You decide. Unfortunately “One Little Victory” is basically all you’re going to get for your money. There is no booklet and there are no liner notes to speak of. The cover art, once again by Hugh Syme, is quite nice, hinting at past works.
The songs fade-in and fade-out, rather than flow as a seamless listen. The selections lean heavily on oldies as opposed to newer tracks, which does not really reflect what a Rush concert was about at that time. Clearly, this was to entice consumers who wanted songs they have heard frequently on the radio. At least the running order is well sequenced for maximum firepower.
This release is not particularly for anybody except completists and Rush diehards. Everyone else would be well advised to spend their money on Rush In Rio, R30, or Snakes & Arrows Live.
2/5 stars, not for the music, but just because it’s a bit of a Christmas cashgrab.
With an actual new studio album, The Zealot Gene, due in 2022, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is no longer the final record by the storied band! It is however the last one with Martin Barre, putting a (night)cap on the largest part of Tull’s discography. Although it’s a seasonal album, it is very Tull and would not have been a bad farewell if it was indeed the last record (as we all thought it would be). 16 tracks, over an hour in length…but how Christmas-y is it?
With a blast of flute, “Birthday Card at Christmas” addresses those whose birthdays fall during the holiday. A fine acoustic Tull tune (as they all are), it doesn’t sound particularly seasonal. Which will suit many of us just fine. Flute acrobatics stun the senses, trickling out the speakers like little blasts of hail. Moving on to “Holly Herald”, this instrumental medley has more of the Christmas flavour. Recognizable carols, with the flute providing the main melody. Andrew Giddings’ accordion is a lovely touch. Pure winter delight!
“A Christmas Song” is a Tull original, a re-recording of a 1968 B-side. It has always been an intriguing song, sparse and stark. Mandolin and acoustics ring true with the march of a drum behind. It is logically followed by a re-recorded sequel tune, “Another Christmas Song”, which has its own modern flavour based on keys, flute and electric guitar. This soft ballad is like the sound of a clean snow on Christmas day, though the lyrics offer more depth.
A jazzy instrumental “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”, led by flute, reminds of the old Mr. Bean sketch where he conducts the Christmas band, and goes all jazzy. Barre’s guitar here is sublime. When Tull get jazzy, they never disappoint. Just dig it and get down, in the snow! It’s impossible not to like, especially if you love instrumental acrobatics. The bass work by Jonathan Noyce just rolls. Next is the re-recorded “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow”, a 1982 original B-side. A little less direct, a little more progressive. A very Tull-sounding “Last Man at the Party” is another acoustic original. The lyrics relay images of a traditional Christmas party even if the music is just Tull being Tull. Bouncing flute, speeding acoustics.
“Weathercock” is a new version of the closing track from Heavy Horses. It’s more about traditional country living, but with winter imagery. Not an immediate song by any means, but fitting the vibe of the album. Moving on to “Pavane” composed by Gabriel Fauré, this lovely tune has exotic, smooth and challenging sections, but it’s not very Christmas-y. The original was a piano work, but this version balances the spotlight between players. More seasonal sounding is “First Snow on Brooklyn”. “I could cut my cold breath with a knife,” sings Ian. A beautiful string section backs this original song, somewhat epic, warming the soul like a hot coffee at Christmas.
You’ll love “Greensleeved” (a take on “Greensleeves”). It’s an instrumental version of the traditional classic. Its ties with Christmas go back to 1686 so it is not out of place here. But man does it swing! This is just fun, with monstrous instrumental mastery. Get up and dance to this brilliant little tune. Then it’s a remake of Tull’s “Fire at Midnight”, one of their most memorable Songs from the Wood. This take is more laid back, but is unmistakable as the Tull mainstay. Somewhat obviously, “We Five Kings” is Jethro’s version of “We Three Kings”, once again rendered in a laid back jazzy instrumental vibe. Challenging to play, easy to listen to. Check out Barre’s acoustic guitar solo work.
The excellent single “Ring Out Solstice Bell” conveys that Christmas joy. It’s likely the most Christmas-y of all the music on this album. Anderson has an occasional knack for a universal melody and “Ring Out Solstice Bell” lets them float in the cold winter air. A magical seasonal tune for anybody, even the Scrooges or Grinches on your list. If there’s only one tune you need on this album, making it “Solstice Bell”. It is, of course, an update of the original on side one of Songs from the Wood. (The 2004 single from this album had two exclusive B-sides as well.)
One of Tull’s greatest instrumentals in their long illustrious history was J.S. Bach’s “Bourée”. There is a new version on the Christmas Album. It’s different. Less swing, more relaxed. Still Tull but not repeating the exact same track from the past.
Finally the album closes on a rare Martin Barre original called “A Winter Snowscape”. Quiet, gentle, yet determined. Barre’s acoustic work is shadowed by Ian Anderson on flute. It is a perfectly understated closer to a unique Tull album.
Of course, like anything else, this album was reissued later on with a bonus live album called Christmas at St. Bride’s 2008. As a live album it deserves its own standalone review, but it’s unfortunate that to get it, some will have to buy the album twice. Not very Christmas-y…or perhaps the pinnacle of modern Christmas tradition?
On it’s own, this is a pleasant seasonal album to play while wrapping your gifts or celebrating with friends.
Part One of the Def Leppard Review Series
No matter how I do this, I’m doing something out of order. So here goes. Hi! Welcome to the DEF LEPPARD REVIEW SERIES where we will attempt to cover in some way everything Def Leppard here at LeBrain HQ. Some of these articles will be re-reviews. Some will be beefed up, some will be streamlined.
What about order? Deciding to start with The Early Years box set, we could go in two ways. We could run through Discs One through Five, starting with On Through the Night. Or, we could go chronologically and begin on Disc Four, Too Many Jitterbugs, which has the first EP and early demos pre-dating the album. Obviously, we’ve decided to to go in disc order, and worry about chronology later. So let’s get, let’s get, let’s get, let’s get rocked.
Original review: On Through the Night (1980)
The obscenely young quintet from Sheffield were starstruck. Drummer Rick Allen was just 16 years of age. There Def Leppard were in Tittenhurst Park, Ringo Starr’s home formerly owned by John Lennon, with Judas Priest producer Tom Allom, laying down tracks for their debut LP. Signed to Vertigo, the band was filled with awe to be on the same label as their heroes Thin Lizzy. Recording nine songs from their live set and two newly written tracks, the band took just three weeks to get the job done. Unfortunately, so much time was spent on Steve Clark and Pete Willis’ guitar overdubs, that Joe Elliott only had two days left to record all his vocals. This can be heard on the final product. At least Joe got to sleep in Lennon’s bedroom for the duration of the recording!
On Through the Night is a beefy 11 tracks, written mostly by Clark and Elliott with seven Rick Savage co-writes and seven by Pete Willis. It showcases ambition, promise, and raw talent. In a word: potential. One of its major strengths is the dual guitar team of Clark and Willis. Clark tends to be thoughtful and compositional in his solos, while Willis effectively jumps on the wah-wah.
“Rock Brigade” wastes no time getting cranked, 16 year old drummer Rick Allen going wild on the big tom rolls. An adrenalized band gets to work on a serious riff, while Clark and Willis dart in and out with curt fills. The handclaps sound lifted from a Judas Priest anthem, but this song burns it up. Joe’s vocals are set back in the mix a bit more than we’re used to, but there are hints of the kind of backing vocals that Def Leppard would endevour for in the future. In short, “Rock Brigade” kicks ass.
A strange layered vocal mix fails to hit the mark that Leppard would do with regularity later on, but it does serve to introduce “Hello America” uniquely. This naive rocker even has a little bit of synth to accent the sugary chorus, but otherwise sticks to the driving riff. Clark comes in with a wicked solo, showing off some of the creative technique he’d be famous for. A strange video clip for “Hello America” was filmed, with the drum kit featured at the front of the stage and everybody else behind. Rick Savage got stuck at the very back.
The acoustic guitars are out for “Sorrow is a Woman”, too heavy to be called a power ballad. The choruses rock heavy as anything else, though the verses remain quiet. This is one of the tunes that Joe could have used some more time refining. For fans of the early solo work of Clark and Willis, get ready for some pretty epic guitar constructions. They tell their own stories within the song.
One of the two songs written in the studio was “It Could Be You”: Fast choppy metal, with a Priest-like riff and unusually high Elliott vocals. Cool riff but more refinement time needed. Its energy is remarkable and as with all the tracks on On Through the Night, Rick Allen burns it up on the drums as a supernovic ball of nuclear combustion.
Taking it back to a metallic city groove, “Satellite” is the first use of one of Joe’s favourite astronomical objects in a Def Leppard song. This is a great car tune. Cool and classy staccato guitar picking on the second verse. Takes an unexpected acoustic detour midway, showing the ambition and ability that these five kids had in their blood. Then it breaks into another unique guitar section after the Willis guitar solo. Clearly, not the commercial techniques later employed by the band, but more an effort to emulate some of their heroes like Page and Lynott, as best they could.
Talking of ambition, “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down” closes side one with nothing but. A pretentious Joe Elliott monologue introduces the track cheesily enough.
In the first day of the first month, in some distant year,
The whole sky froze gold.
Some said it was the aftermath of the Radium bomb,
And others told of a final retribution.
A terrible revenge, from the gods.
The post-apocalyptic settings is a metal niche unto itself, launched by Black Sabbath and maintained by Aerosmith, Queensryche and Judas Priest. This is not one of Def Leppard’s more successful attempts at getting serious, but you have to marvel at their cohones for trying.
The “Wasted” riff, a Steve Clark creation, is one of Leppard’s most legendary. This simple steamer is pure power set to music. That riff, what a riff! Just a few chugs and then a unified resolution. But what a riff! No wonder the band had to resurrect it in recent years. The fans wouldn’t let it stay buried. “Wasted” is a centerpiece gem, and itself contains a certerpiece of a guitar solo by Clark, skillfully constructed by the young protege.
“Rocks Off” contains the annoying crowd noise overdubs, clearly artificial, but you can’t stop this little one from launching. Once again it’s all about the riff, and the Clark era of Def Leppard do not get enough recognition for their riffs. The song is disrupted by a solo section that harshly pans the guitars from right to left in distracting fashion.
The other song that was written in the studio is the surprisingly strong “It Don’t Matter”. Some very rich guitars, properly spaced in the mix, make for some cool riffs and licks. There’s a laid back chorus and good backing vocals. The cowbell is also effective except it’s not a cowbell. The band didn’t have one so they used the house tea kettle for which they were properly scolded by the housekeeper Ruth. Thing is — it sounds OK!
Moving on to the penultimate track, “Answer To the Master” has a verse that is stronger than its chorus, which is really more about the riff. Rick Allen gets the spotlight for a brief moment before the band break into an AeroZeppelin-like funk. “Whole Lotta Walk”? Then there’s a startling guitar solo section more influenced by the likes of Lizzy.
Finally Leppard decided to go with a big epic as their album closer, “Overture”, which also closed their debut EP (which is on Disc Four of The Early Years). It’s another post-apocalyptic soundtrack, a multi-parted manufacture. Some truly great guitar parts are buried within, but this track is an example of overreach. The kind of truly epic recording they were striving for could not be achieved in the time they had, but you can hear frequent shots of brilliance. Each riff and lick has its own unique hook.
On Through the Night went to #15 in the UK but failed to crack the top 50 in the US, charting at #51. It did not go Platinum until 1989, well after Hysteria made Def Leppard into demigods. If anything it planted the seed and made the band more focused on what they wanted to achieve when they had a second chance. And it wouldn’t be long before fate hooked them up with Robert John “Mutt” Lange, which would alter their course forever. On Through the Night stands today as a Polaroid of an innocent past, when Def Leppard caked on riff after riff in an effort to reach the heights of the bands they adored. It lacks focus, both within the songs and on Leppard’s collective strengths. Focus that they would soon gain in spades, and later in excess!
An innocent but earnest beginning.
Next: The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
First of all, to call this strictly a “review series” is a misnomer. Much like the previous Kiss series, the story of Def Leppard will be enhanced by Record Store Tales and reviews alike. We’ll also stray off the Leppard track ever so slightly to look at a side project or two. But here it comes, like hell in the night, the all-new Mike Ladano Reviews Def Leppard Series! I can already tell you, it’s going to be good.
The trick for me was this. I’ve already reviewed a number of Def Leppard releases, particularly singles. Many of them are quite old and easily improved upon. Others are already comprehensively detailed and don’t need to be changed. In the interests of being complete, every Def Leppard album will be looked at in depth, including re-reviews. In cases where previous reviews are already sufficiently detailed, we’ll look at the album in a different slant. Previously reviewed singles will be folded into reviews of box sets. We’ll always link back to the older reviews so you get the complete picture no matter what.
It may look like we’ve already reviewed a lot, but there are plenty of albums we never touched before. Numerous live albums, singles, EPs, box sets, compilations, and studio records like Euphoria, Yeah! and Def Leppard 2018.
Beginning with The Early Years box set, the plan is to give you a serving of Leppard every week until we’re at the present day. That would be the 2021 set The Collection: Volume Three at present. The emphasis will be on audio releases, to the backdrop of the incredible story of Def Leppard. It’s a monumental project and we get started Monday November 29 at MikeLadano.com!
List of Previous Def Leppard Content
RECORD STORE TALES #956: MY ENEMY
It started in second grade, and for no reason that anyone knows. There was a kid in my class named Steve. My enemy. A born bully, he had his radar locked onto me the very first year we met. Because he was the classic bully, needing to project strength to the other kids, he sensed that I was the only one he could go after and wouldn’t fight back. That’s how bullies operate. Picking on me in class, in the school yard, in gym. He always had someone else nearby, and I was always alone. The teachers did not care. Catholic school was the worst, because the teachers preferred to ignore these things or blame both parties. They thought that teaming me up with Steve in gym was a way to make us get along. Teaming up the abused with abuser. Real smart. We had to do stretches together and support each other as we stretched back and forth. The thought of touching that bastard’s skin made me feel sick. Needless to say, I hated him just as much afterwards as before. Well done, Catholic school teachers!
The torment went on for a couple years until I finally had enough. In grade four he went one step too far and I fought him at recess one day — our first actual fight. I lost it and pummeled him. He later claimed that I broke his tooth, which I doubt, but I took it as bragging rights. I remember a bigger kid lifting me up off of Steve and dragging me away. “He started it!” I screamed. “He started it!” As usual, the victim got in as much shit as the perpetrator. That’s just how bullying works. We both had to go to the library for detention after school, but I don’t think either of us actually went and I don’t think any teachers noticed. I could care less — I knew I was in the right. When you push someone relentlessly eventually they push back. Half of the thrill for the bully is finding out how much they have to push to get to that breaking point. It took him two years. Shithead Steve got what he deserved that time, and there was no way I was accepting a punishment for it.
Steve wasn’t in my class for grade five which was a reprieve. It was not to last. Grade six was bad. He was back at it, but I had an idea. The Catholic and public schools had March break on different weeks, and when Shithead was going at me hard that month, I asked my friend Bob to show up at school to intimidate him. Bob was off for the break, was two years older, and towered over everyone else. He didn’t show up on the Wednesday, and the bullying intensified that afternoon. When he did come on the Thursday, I introduced him to Steve, who fell over backwards in fear. It was awesome. Bob didn’t have to do anything. He did just stood there and smiled. His imposing size did the rest and Shithead left me alone for a while again. But not forever.
Grade eight was the worst year for bullying. It was the year of the Mount Mary retreat. But it was also the year I got Steven off my back, permanently.
In September ’85 he started at me right away, and I wasn’t taking it. Bob was trying to teach me to stand up for myself. So, this was going to end. I was done taking his shit. I challenged him to fight and finish this. After he no-showed the first appointed date, I insisted — absolutely insisted — that we do this on my turf. No unfair advantages for him. So we met at the baseball diamond at Stanley Park School. He brought a bunch of his friends. All I had was Ian Johnson and Kevin Kirby, who weren’t really my friends at all. They sure didn’t seem like they were on my side. They made it clear they just there for the show. I was saddened but not surprised that my “backup” was just there to watch a fight.
We tangled. A lot of me chasing him around. I landed a punch in to the head — I’d never hit someone in the head with my fist before. I dragged him down on the ground and just beat the piss out of him. Then he got up and started running in circles. I nailed a few painful kicks on him, grabbed his shirt and got him on the ground again. I didn’t want to injure him. Just wanted him to cry. I stayed away from the head and face and laid a beating on his upper body. My watch broke, a fragile Transformers watch that I wish I still had. Steve cried and screamed. His scream was ungodly, but the truth is, like a sadist, I savoured every one. I wanted more. Heinous? Then this is my confessional. Over the last seven years, how many times did that bastard make me cry? He had this coming — and far more than I was willing to deliver. I just wanted to hear him scream again.
I let him up and then he started running around again, taunting me. This went on several times. Me getting him on the ground for a beating until he cried, then I’d let him up and he’d start running around again. He grabbed my hair a lot but I don’t remember him landing any hits.
Finally I’d had it with him. He obviously wasn’t going to concede, and I wasn’t going to damage his face. I decided to bring the evening to an close with a final humiliation. One more time, I got the little bastard on the ground and gave him a sound beating. Then I got up and gave my speech. It was a verbal tirade on the Art of Being a Loser. As he lay in the dirt, I declared Steven to be nothing more than a malodorous piece of shit, and the absolute loser of the day. It was pretty epic; I just improvised but it was Shakespearean thunder to me. I ended my little speech by proclaiming that everyone already knew that he was a loser.
“That’s all you are, and that’s all you’ll always be.”
I got on my bike and rode off alone, to the deafening silence behind me.
Home again, I went into the kitchen and told my mom I broke my watch in a fight. I burst into tears because I thought she’d be so disappointed in me.
I was also worried what the reaction would be the next day at school. After all, I declared myself the winner and departed alone on my bike. Would Shithead accept his defeat? Apparently so. He left me alone for the rest of the year. Either Kevin or Ian came up to talk to me later. “I was thinking about what you said about Steve. You were totally right. He IS a loser, and he’s always going to be one.” The validation didn’t matter as much to me as the fact that Shithead Steve was scared off. And he was. He kept his distance from then on.
At the end of the year he made some half-hearted comments about a rematch, but it was not to be. I caught Mono and was home sick for the rest of the school year. And that was the end of my enemy. He tried to make a comeback in grade nine, but his bullying powers were gone.
A loser for life. My predictions were correct. Today he is a pathetic antivaxxer, an angry drunk, and still a total piece of shit. He lived up to the full potential that we all saw that night on the baseball diamond in 1985. Well done.
Went out for five minutes to get Jen a coffee. Came back to this thanks to an accident on Highway 8. This is the spilloff traffic.
RECORD STORE TALES #955: Music Enjoyed Alone
I’ve always had a solitary side. Music is a fascinating hobby because it unites introverts and extroverts alike. Everyone has their own preferred environments to enjoy music. Whether you like to go out and rock it at a show with your buds, or whether you like to listen to a record alone with the headphones on, music unites us.
There is a certain amount of joy in both ways of life. Ultimately, most people experience music in a mixture of both settings.
Some of my happiest memories were spent with music, by myself, with nothing but my thoughts and feelings. When I’d get a new album, typically the first thing I’d do was go up to my room, close the door, and rip off the cellophane. Hit “play”! I’d read the lyrics, the liner notes, and study the artwork. Then, after a heavy dose of rocking, I’d emerge to tell anyone who’d listen how awesome the album was. That would often be my sister (usually uninterested). Or, if it was a special occasion like Christmas, and the album was a gift, I would go downstairs to tell my gift-giver how much I loved it. That’s how many first listens went down in my house.
I liked to keep my brain occupied while listening to music. If I wasn’t studying the lyrics or artwork, perhaps I was reading a book. Or doing homework. Or drawing. Or going through my growing stack of Hit Parader magazines, looking for pictures and info.
I’d allow myself a few minutes of air guitar when a favourite song came on. Just drop what I was doing, and hit those air-strings. Give it my all; burn off some energy. Or perhaps I’d pretend I was Bruce Dickinson, fronting Iron Maiden at Long Beach Arena.
I was generally left alone. Sometimes my sister would have a comment about the music blasting from behind my closed door. “There was one really good song,” she might say if I was playing Poison or Warrant. If it were Priest or Maiden she’d complain, “All I could hear is screaming”.
In 1988 I got my first guitar. Periodically I would attempt to pick along to songs, but that was a futile endeavour. I may as well have been playing air guitar. A few years later, my sister got a pair of drum sticks with her VHS copy of Wayne’s World. I would steal them and attempt to drum along to albums. Poorly.
The kind of experiences that I had with music in solitude in my room were rarely equalled in a group setting. My best friend Bob and I would play music and discuss it, while drawing pictures or writing stories. That was the kind of thing I enjoyed most. “Listen to this cool part, I wonder how he does that,” one of us would say mid-song. “What did he say there?” was one common remark. “I have no idea,” was usually the answer.
Treasured memories. But a lot of that time with Bob was actually enhanced by our separate listening times alone. When we met up on weekends, we were ready to show each other something cool we had heard, or had drawn. Perhaps I had some new theories about Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son concept that I had to share with him. The times we spent alone in our bedrooms listening to albums prepared us for the times listening together. We had specific things we liked and wanted to share. It was always nice when one of us got the other into a band. He got me into so many, the last of which was probably Extreme.
When the CD began supplanting the cassette in my life, I added another activity to my solo listening sessions. I still liked to have a cassette copy for portability once I started buying CDs. So I made cassette copies of all my CDs, so I could listen to them in the car or on a Walkman. (I did not get a Discman for quite a few years, as I did not trust them to keep my discs unscratched.) Many happy hours were spent making cassette covers for my CD dubs. I got better and better at it over the years, but sometimes making the cover was as simple as sketching a logo and neatly writing all the song titles down.
While I have had some amazing times singing at the top of my lungs gathered with best friends and associated buddies, some of the best times were spent listening alone!
By Thunder Blackmore
In the world of metal, there is no short list of underrated bands from every corner and country of the world. Specially with long-standing bands that are still going strong to this day. Would it be bands like E-Z-O from Japan, Pretty Maids from Denmark, Thor from Canada, or Helloween from Germany, everyone regardless of nationality has a favorite band, who did well for themselves, but could’ve, would’ve and should’ve gone big. And while my choice for most underrated metal band ever would go to my fellow countrymen Pretty Maids (national bias has its moments), Japanese metal legends Anthem earns the runner-up spot, easily.
The band, led by bassist Naoto Shibata, who are perhaps more famous for his work with Loudness and Crush 40 in the 90’s, had a tough time in the 80’s with success in their homeland and even a small US tour in ’87, but also with internal struggles which prevented the band to go beyond like their fellow and more successful countrymen, Loudness. Ultimately the band would be disbanded in 1992 until they reunited in 2001 and have been going strong since then. A band considered by many to be part of the big four of Japanese Metal (with X Japan, Loudness and Flatbacker/E-Z-O) with mostly consistent excellent releases throughout the years, who just now are getting released to the west on streaming services and (hopefully) physically by Nuclear Blast. So far, there’s two options for getting into Anthem’s discography, which just so happen to be compilations. For their new era, there is Nucleus, released by the aforementioned Nuclear Blast. But as for their classic period, the import to buy is this one. Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years.
Japanese releases has a reputation of not being a very cheap options, so getting this compilation is definitely a good starter point. It collects songs from the band’s initial 80’s era, starting with the self-titled debut and ending with their final album before their hiatus, Domestic Booty (you’ll be the judge for the supposed meaning of “booty”). Given that the compilation is split into two cd’s, it also reflects the times with the singers Eizo Sakamoto and Yukio Morikawa representing disc 1 and 2, respectively. This decision, coupled with the track list being in chronological order, can be difficult at first listen. Not necessarily with the tracks themselves but more with the unevenness with the production, as the first Anthem albums sound pretty rough. Granted, that’s not a problem exclusive to the band, but that also means that you’ll have to skip to track 13, “Bound to Break”, if you are somewhat put off by the roughness.
If you can hang with it, you are in for 2 hours of kickass catchy melodic metal majesty from glorious Nippon with no noteworthy duds. Even with my nitpicky desire to swap out some tracks for others, I’m still absolutely happy with this purchase. Standouts have to be “Venom Strike”, “Shadow Walk”, “Bound to Break”, “Hunting Time”, “Night After Night” and “Show Must Go On”. The latter being their first original song with English lyrics (courtesy of the late Chris Tsangarides) and being their first to be featured in the Anime OVA, Devilman.
Until Anthem can finally release their back-catalog on physical media for a much more affordable price (CD, vinyl or otherwise), this one will do wonders in the meantime.
Thanks to Thunder Blackmore for this awesome review.
SUICIDE STAR – “The Day that Christmas Comes” (2021)
Suicide Star recorded a Christmas song? Then you know it’s going to rock heavy! To make it even more interesting, this is not some overplayed Christmas pop hit from years past. It’s a brand new original song, and the first new single since their excellent debut album Isolation. Let’s celebrate!
As soon as singer Rob Barton opens his mouth, you know it’s Suicide Star. He makes the band easy to identify even on shuffle. Anchored by a melodic guitar line from Les Serran, “The Day that Christmas Comes” relays the bright hopeful feeling of the Christmas season.
There will be presents underneath the tree…
But the only thing I need, is you and me.
Lyrically the song captures the spirit and magic of Christmas. Most importantly, the melodic tune (complete with jingle bells) makes it a delight to rock out to. Production is stellar – up there with the album or even exceeding it. There is even a fun and hilarious music video that really nails the Christmas vibe. Well done, Suicide Star, and may your trees be overloaded with joy this Christmas!
Get in on yer iTunes or Spotify!