2012 will go down in metal history as the year of the reissues. One of the, ahem, issues I have with reissues is that generally speaking, the item is still available. Sometimes a reissue comes less than a year after the initial release of an album, sometimes they give you a DVD of content that could have been included initially, or you get one bonus track, etc. Sometimes the reissues are massive undertakings, with 3 extra discs of bonus material, a DVD of rare live shows, and maybe even a t-shirt or replica tour poster. The kicker, of course, is that most fans already will have the original album and you can’t buy the bonus material separately. These are the things that, as a music fan and album hoarder, drive me nuts. I don’t want to be ripped off and neither do the other, less jaded, folks but there is obviously still a market for these reissues or labels wouldn’t bother putting money into them. One label that is doing things right, as far as I am concerned, is The End Records. Recently they acquired the rights to the catalogue of Music For Nations, an excellent British label which closed its doors in 2004. When the label folded into Zomba Music, which was owned by BMG which is now owned by Universal, many of the ‘smaller’ releases were discontinued or lost. The End Records has jumped in and brought many of these releases back to North America, some for the first time as domestic releases. Since there are so many of these, I’m going to break them up into a few different articles (hope you don’t mind) and keep the reviews relatively short.
The first of these reissues came out at the end of January this year, it was a 12 pack mixed bag giving North American hard rock and metal fans a quick overview of some of the material they’d be able to pick up at a reasonable, domestic, price.
Another Way To Shine is the second album from Michael Amott (Carcass, Arch Enemy) and his band of 70’s hard rockers. The album kicks off with a cowbell intro which is definitely telling all on its own! Another Way To Shine mixes southern boogie with the groovy blues-metal of lead singer Spice’s voice, and swirly psychedelic guitars. This isn’t exactly what you’d expect from Amott which is one of the best aspects of this album. It’s a slow burning 70’s nodder album for sure; your neck will be safe.
Mantra III kicks off with an instrumental bossa nova track…which is cool but definitely makes you wonder if you’ve put in the right album! It’s obvious on this, the bands third album, that they are looking for a bit of a change, the swirly psychedelics are lessened, organ/mellotron are added in to the musical mix and made a more prominent feature and Spice changes his vocals a little, going for less metal and more blues rock this time around. Mantra III is a great mid-point record for the band, showcasing the direction that they would later embrace more fully.
Ad Astra is a heavier, groovier and crisper affair than the previous albums and may be the most energetic of the bunch. Right off the bat ‘Left Brain Ambassadors’ tells you that Spiritual Beggars have found their heavy groove and are sticking with it. Spice brings back a little more gruff to his vocals on this album and Per Werberg really brings the keyboards forth on this album. While there is no discounting the earlier work, Ad Astra would be a great starting point for anyone getting into the band or into 70’s influenced ‘stoner’ type rock as well.
On Fire sees a change in the personnel with Spice leaving and Janne ‘JB’ Christoffersson (Grand Magus) taking over on vocals. While the change isn’t exactly drastic, JB certainly has a cleaner singing style, which somehow makes the band sound a little tougher. While the hard rock that has built over the previous records is firmly in place here, there is a certain ‘laying back’ in portions which does slow the album down a little. Again, it doesn’t detract at all from the song writing or enjoyment of the album. Like Ad Astra, On Fire is a solid listen beginning to end.
Bad Sneakers and a Pina Colada is often considered the Swedish sleaze rockers debut album, however this album actually contains re-recordings of the band’s first album and a few new tracks. Taking their musical cue from the sleazier elements of the Sunset Strip circa 1987 and mixing it with a little New York punk from the 70’s, Hardcore Superstar write catchy, pop infused hair metal with plenty of sing along choruses and smudged mascara. Check out ‘Someone Special’ and ‘Rock N Roll Song’ to find out what the band is all about.
Thank You (For Letting Us Be Ourselves) eschews the punk rock of Bad Sneakers and moves into a more straight ahead rock album. Jocke Berg’s vocals are a little stronger this time around and there is an attempt to give the songs a little more originality and maturity, without making them any less fun. ‘Summer’s Season’s Gone’ and ‘Significant Other’ may be a lot slower, but they definitely raise the bar for 80’s revivalists.
No Regrets brings the punk back into the fold but continues right where the previous two albums left off. There is plenty of sleaze, plenty of fun and a lot of catchy, sing along choruses. If you dug either of the first two records, this one will fit nicely into your collection.
Originally released in 2000 Firebird (both the band and the album) started off as a bit of a curiosity, an English blues rock power trio featuring Bill Steer of Napalm Death and Carcass fame had to be a joke. Right? Wrong, this is 70’s style blues rock at its finest, done without the slightest nod toward Steer’s other bands. Firebird is much more laid back and groovy than either of Steer’s bands, though Spiritual Beggars drummer Ludwig Witt and Cathedral’s Leo Smee on bass make absolute sense when you take a listen to tracks like ‘Fat Cat Groan’ and ‘Torn Down’.
Keeping the same personnel as Firebird, Deluxe doesn’t change much else other than the songs. The laid back, 70’s stoner vibe is still intact, and the comparisons to bands such as Blue Cheer are definitely not unfair. Deluxe may actually be a little more fun than the self titled album with the harmonica laden ‘Slow Blues’ and the slide guitar of ‘Sad Man’s Quarter’ giving it a little more blues touch than before.
Lost Horizon were pretty bold with Awakening The World, claiming they were coming to save the world, not just the world of progressive power metal, but the world itself, with their music. Considering they didn’t have a label or album recorded prior to making these claims…well, that’s ballsy and takes some backing up. Thankfully for Lost Horizon, their music could cash the cheques their mouths were writing. The music harkens back to the heyday of German power metal (although Lost Horizon are Swedish) and tracks like ‘Perfect Warrior’ and ‘The Kingdom of My Will’ show why these guys were so cocky.
A Flame To The Ground Beneath really pushes Daniel Heiman’s vocals, which were excellent on Awakening the World, but he steps it up a notch here. In fact, Heiman outshines the technical prowess of his band members here, and even outstrips the song writing. The album suffers only marginally from this but it probably marked the end for the band since this was their final release. ‘Highlander’ is an absolutely massive song, and ‘Pure’ gives you a good listen to the band, not just the vocals. Less ‘preachy’ than their first record but still ballsy A Flame To The Ground Beneath is a fitting requiem for a band that aimed to change the world.
Symphony for The Devil was originally released in 2001, and was the third release for Witchery. The first two albums were very death metal oriented thrash with a little bit of ‘wink and nudge’ in the song titles and lyrics. This trend continues on Symphony for The Devil but with more black metal atmospherics than before. The album is moodier and maybe just a little slower in places, though the opening track ‘The Storm’ and ‘Shallow Grave’ move along at a rapid pace. Adding to the more adventurousness of this album is the addition of Martin Axe of Opeth on drums which adds a little different swing to the songs.