Ninety-Two Minutes to Midnight, Part 2

Despite having developed into one of the most successful Heavy Metal bands on the planet during the 1980s, Iron Maiden entered the 90s in a state of crisis. The musical climate was changing around them; most notably, Americs’a ‘Big Four’ Thrash Metal bands had erupted from the underground and were making serious inroads into the Metal universe, threatening the Maiden throne. The key to Iron Maiden’s massive global success in their first decade was their blend of 70s Prog rock and Punk-inspired Heavy Metal, and the band closed out the 80s with increasingly prog-leaning albums like ‘Somewhere in Time’ and ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’… Enter the young, angry upstarts from across the pond to ‘smash it up’ and destroy the status quo. Those who know their music history will find plenty of Iron-y (heh) here.

Steve Harris made some decisions. The music on Maiden’s eighth album would be simpler, stripped-down and more direct, closer to the band’s earlier sound. The change in direction was so drastic that Adrian Smith left the band during pre-production. The resultant album, ‘No Prayer for the Dying’, was a near-complete regression back to the street-level, headbanging vibe of Maiden’s early years. The lyrics covered real-world concerns such as oppression, religion and politics, all sung by Bruce Dickinson in a rougher, raspier voice. Even the artwork reflected the ‘new’ direction, depicting Eddie (sans lobotomy bolt and cyborg augmentation) smashing out of his tomb to strangle a hapless gravedigger, a far cry from Eddie the reality-bending cosmic existentialist from the previous album.

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‘Prayer’ rejects ‘Arry’s progressive tendencies and just gets on with it. Not one of the album’s 10 tracks breaks the 6-minute mark, and the whole record runs at a tight (for Maiden) 43:42, almost 10 minutes shorter than both ‘Powerslave’ and ‘Somewhere in Time’. But Harris couldn’t completely resist his Prog compulsion; the album’s closer, ‘Mother Russia’, contains several progressive elements, although it’s multiple movements and ambitious historical sweep are constrained to a mere 5:30. Still, ‘Mother’ feels like an awkward edit of a 10-minute ‘Arry epic, and sounds out of place on an album of much more concise and immediate material.

So Iron Maiden had forced themselves back to square one, denying the Prog beast within and returning to their roots to do battle with Metal’s next wave. Did the change in direction work? In the UK, ‘Prayer’ reached #2 and the album’s second single was Iron Maiden’s first-ever UK #1. In the States, the album held it’s own, but the the Thrash Metal movement was in it’s heyday, and Metallica now dominated the Metal conversation. ‘No Prayer for the Dying’ went Gold in the US, but it would be the last Iron Maiden album ever to do so. Maiden’s return to their roots was perhaps too little, too late.

What to try next, then? How about… everything! On ‘Fear of the Dark’, Maiden’s 9th album, confusion reigns. It’s the first Maiden album not produced by Martin Birch; it’s also the first Maiden record not adorned with the artwork of Derek Riggs. The music within reveals a band struggling for direction, identity and relevance, featuring full-on Metal, a power ballad, and yes, the (welcome?) return of Steve Harris’ beloved Prog. And with the return of progressive elements to Maiden’s music came expanding song lengths: two of ‘Arry’s contributions stretch past 6 minutes, and the total record was the longest ever in Iron Maiden’s history, at 57:58, just shy of an hour.

Regardless of their length, it’s the Harris-penned tunes on ‘Fear of the Dark’ that sound most like classic Maiden. ‘Arry’s ‘Afraid to Shoot Strangers’ and the album’s title track are standouts; both creep past 6 minutes and reach back to the expansive, indulgent sound of just a few years previous. While overall it’s an uneven listen, ‘Fear’ topped the UK charts, giving Maiden their first-ever UK No. 1 album, and charted higher in the US than ‘Prayer’. Hmmm… Maybe re-asserting Steve Harris’ Prog side was the way to go next…

GAAHHHHH! On Maiden’s tenth album, ‘The X Factor’, Harris unleashes the Prog beast, and it runs rampant over this 70-minute disaster. Opening with the 11-minute slog ‘Sign of the Cross’ sets the stage for a looooong, mid-paced trudge through the tortured landscape of Steve Harris’ psyche. The bassist was dealing with a difficult divorce while writing the album, and his name is on 10 of the 11 songs here; only ‘Man on the Edge’, written by new singer Blaze Bayley and guitarist Janick Gers, trots along at a proper Maiden-esque pace. ‘Edge’ is the shortest tune on a record where half the songs move well past the 6-minute mark, and every track feels like a 10-minute epic. Maiden had shown in the past that they could ably hold the listener’s interest through songs of extended lengths… here they fail spectacularly.

It’s interesting to note that that three songs were recorded for the album, ‘Justice of the Peace’, ‘I Live My Way’, and ‘Judgement Day’, but were not included on the finished product. All three clock in between 3:33 and 4:04, significantly shorter than anything that made the final cut, and all three are up-tempo rockers sporting tight, concise arrangements that hearken back to Maiden’s glory years. This would indicate that building an album comprised of over-long, melodramatic downers was an artistic choice. ‘Arry’s head space has been called into question during critical examinations of ‘X’; obviously Steve Harris was in a very dark place during the creation of this record.

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It’s amazing that Maiden survived the ‘X Factor’ debacle, and a testament to their iconic status and bullet-proof reputation that the album reached #8 in the UK. In the US, however, the record peaked at a dismal #147, where ‘Fear of the Dark’ had climbed to #12 just three years previous. Dickinson’s absence was a factor, as was the album’s repulsive cover art. But 70 minutes of poisonous Prog metal sealed the deal: ‘The X Factor’ was a deal-breaker for many US fans, who walked away from the band for good.

In 1996, Maiden released a non-lp single to promote an compilation album. ‘Virus’ was 6 minutes and 14 seconds of classic ‘Arry Prog indulgence, and it solidified a pattern that would become a template for several (too many) Maiden songs to come: an extended intro featuring whispered vocals, moody synth backdrops and delicately played guitars, kicking into a classic Maiden gallop with harmony guitars on top. The trouble is, the quiet, slow-moving introduction lasts for 2:20, which is 40% of the song. An edit of ‘Virus’ was released to radio, which removed the intro completely, slamming immediately in with the classic Maiden sound of yore. There was a lesson to be learned here; trim the fat, cut the excess, strive for maximum impact… ‘Arry was having none of it.

Maiden’s next, ‘Virtual XI,’ was almost 20-minutes shorter than ‘X’; however, the Prog bloat persisted. The album features 3 extended pieces, one at 8:11, the other two at 9:51 and 9:06, all written solely by (surprise!) Steve Harris. Oddly, the album’s longest song, ‘The Angel and the Gambler’, was chosen as the first single. At over 9 minutes, the song had no chance at commercial radio, so an edit was also released, running at 6:05… also too long for commercial radio. The questionable choice for lead-off single was compounded by the song’s arrangement: the chorus of “Don’t you think I’m a savior? Don’t you think I could save you? Don’t you think I could save your life?” is repeated so many times that it makes me want to stab myself in the eye. Even the edited version sends me searching for sharp objects.

The Blaze era was an artistic and commercial failure when compared to what had come before. Take a second to remember the urgency and immediacy of their early work; a catchy guitar riff, the band kicks in seconds later, and we’re off to the races! Now it seemed that every other song started with an extended atmospheric intro. Grandiose epics had become commonplace, which minimized their impact and strained our patience, when in the early years, longer songs like ‘Phantom’ and ‘Mariner’ were anomalies that felt special and exciting. Without Bruce interpreting his material and Adrian Smith’s pop sensibilities reigning in the songwriting excess, ‘Arry’s progressive streak was barreling out of control and the SS Maiden was sinking under the epic weight of their bassist’s ever-expanding vision.

Someone needed to put the Prog genie back in the bottle. Surely the return of ‘Arry’s old writing partners would right the ship and Iron Maiden would pick up just where they left off with ‘Seventh Son’! Well… Kinda. But not really. Bayley departs, Dickinson and Smith return… but Gers stays put. As if to highlight Harris’ ‘more is more’ philosophy, the band itself expanded to six members. Now armed with three guitarists, was there any chance of more economical song lengths, any hope of more compact arrangements, with three guitarists jockeying for solo spots in every song? Or would the addition of two members from Maiden’s most successful period temper the excess and impose some moderation onto the proceedings?

Alas, the Prog continued it’s expansion, unabated. Album total run times ballooned with each release:
‘Brave New World’ 66:57
‘Dance of Death’ 67:57
‘A Matter of Life and Death’ 71:53
‘The Final Frontier’ 76:34

Which brings us to 2015 and ‘The Book of Souls’.

While I understand the mindset that says ‘there’s a 4 or 5-year gap between albums so let’s give ’em as much music as we can’, the total length of each album isn’t the only reason that Maiden albums have become so… unwieldy. Nowadays, Maiden songs that run 5 minutes or less are now the anomalies; on ‘The Book of Souls’, there are three songs that sail past the 10-minute mark, and the album contains their longest-ever song, ‘Empire of the Clouds’, an 18-minute super-mega-epic about… zeppelins. ‘Arry’s ‘The Red and the Black’, at `13:33, would be a fitting final tour de force to close any of Maiden’s previous albums; on ‘Souls’, it’s only Track #4 of 11… And the song never ends! Just when you think it’s winding up, it changes up and keeps rolling on… and on… and on…

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While I believe ‘Souls’ to be the best of the last five Maiden releases, my assessment is based on a single listen. Why? It took me days to get all the way through ‘The Book of Souls’ in its entirety. With each visit, I’d inevitably find myself losing focus, especially in the longer songs, as my mind drifted while the music blended with the wallpaper. The monstrous length of the album and most of the songs on it are just too much for me. I’ve considered giving the ‘Souls’ CD(s) a second spin, but always decide against it; the prospect feels too daunting, too massive an undertaking, too much of an investment of time and attention. I liked what I heard the first time through, but it will be a long time before I climb that mountain again.

Yes’ ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’, a polarizing progressive rock milestone notorious for its overwhelming length and complexity, has become a symbol of overblown Prog excess. ‘The Book of Souls’ is 10 minutes longer. The needle on Iron Maiden’s progometer has been ‘in the red’ for about 20 years now, and with ‘Souls’, their progressive readings are off the charts. It’s as if Steve Harris has been steadily working to emulate his favorite piece of music: the 23-minute ‘Supper’s Ready’ by Genesis. Enough, already! News Flash: ‘Run to the Hills’, ‘Sanctuary’, ‘The Trooper’, ‘Wrathchild’, ‘Aces High’, ‘The Evil That Men Do’… All classics… all under 5 minutes! Message to ‘Arry: Every song can’t be ‘Supper’s Eddie’!

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Ninety-Two Minutes to Midnight, Part 1

When Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris stated in a 2015 interview that ‘Supper’s Ready’, the early Prog Rock epic that takes up all of Side Two of Genesis’ ‘Foxtrot’ album, was his favorite piece of music of all time, it shouldn’t have raised many eyebrows. Harris has made no secret of his love of classic Prog, and there’s ample proof in the grooves; Maiden has covered songs by Prog giants like Jethro Tull and Nektar, just to name a few. But the fact that ‘Supper’s Ready’ clocks in at over 23 minutes hints at a troubling trend in Iron Maiden’s music… You see, for decades, ‘Arry has been suffering with a severe case of the Creeping Epics.

It should also come as no surprize that, as a young Prog fan, ‘Arry hated Punk Rock, but his band (and the entire NWOBHM) absorbed it’s furious energy and in-your-face aggression and channeled it into their own music. It was Iron Maiden’s potent mix of Punk and Prog what set them apart from most of their peers; while most of the Punk-inspired NWOBHM movement was mining the catalogues of Thin Lizzy, UFO, Judas Priest and their ilk for inspiration, Steve Harris was reaching beyond mere rock and metal and toward the expansive creativity and technical complexity of his beloved Prog heroes: ELP, Yes, King Crimson, Focus, and of course the aforementioned Jethro Tull and Genesis.

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The undeniable Punk attack of Maiden’s 1980 debut album is accented by several elements borrowed from Progressive Rock: elevated technical skill, complex arrangements, and fantastical subject matter. The clearest example of this unique formula is the mini-epic ‘Phantom of the Opera’. After it’s cryptic opening, ‘Phantom’ blazes across several different movements, twisting and turning through seven minutes and two seconds of neck-breaking tempo changes and intricate instrumental passages. While a song of this length was a bold move for a debut album, Maiden packed more excitement into the 7:02 of ‘Phantom’ than most BHM bands could muster for an entire album, ensuring that the song never overstays its welcome. ‘Phantom’s extended length works to make it the album’s grand statement, ground zero in Maiden’s punk/prog presentation.

The obvious Prog moment on Maiden’s second album ‘Killers’ was ‘Prodigal Son’, a lush, acoustic guitar-laden tune that stands out from the rest of the record with its breezy Wishbone Ash feel and plaintive lyric. As with ‘Phantom’, the song with the strongest Prog influence is also the longest on the record, at 6:05. Maiden would continue to balance creative finesse and snarling aggression on ‘The Number of the Beast’, but by this point, the band’s Punk edge had begun to fade. Their Prog leanings remained, evident in the melodramatic sprawl of album closer ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’. Another mini-epic, ‘Hallowed’ was, at 7:08, longest song the band had ever recorded… Although a few more albums down the line, 7:08 run-times would be commonplace.

On ‘Piece of Mind’, the band’s progressive side was clearly gaining strength, as nearly every song includes that extra bit of complexity, depth and flair, culminating in the final track ‘To Tame a Land’. ‘Land’ is a work of art, miles outside of conventional NWOBHM songwriting standard, snaking through exotic sonic territories as yet unexplored by Maiden. Here, for the first time, Iron Maiden have stepped squarely into the land of Progressive Metal. There were other signs related to ‘Piece’ as well; Jethro Tull’s ‘Cross-Eyed Mary’ was recorded for a B-side, and Bruce Dickinson’s ‘Revelations’ speaks for itself. Several songs on ‘Piece of Mind’ passed the 6-minute mark; ‘Tame’ tipped the scales at 7:28 to become the new Longest Maiden Song Ever. ‘Piece of Mind’ was also the Longest Maiden Album Yet, at 45:18.

Are we seeing the trend? As the Prog in Maiden’s music becomes more evident, so do the song lengths expand…

On ‘Powerslave’, Maiden strike the perfect balance of NWOBHM attack and adventurous songcraft. Top-notch writing and spirited performances easily obscure the Prog-creep, with 2 songs at 6 minutes-plus, and one at 7:12… That is, until the mammoth final track, Harris’ adaptation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’. Worry not, for ‘Rhyme’ is a Maiden Masterpiece. While the adapted lyrics might be a little over-stuffed, the underlying arrangement is exceedingly well-constructed. ‘Arry was approaching ‘Supper’s Ready’ territory with ‘Rhyme’s 13:45 run time, but the cinematic sweep of it’s middle sections renders any question of ‘prog excess’ moot. After somehow squeezing another 2 songs onto Side Two, ‘Powerslave’ was the Longest Maiden Album So Far, pushing the limits of vinyl mastering with its 51:12 run time.

‘Somewhere In Time’ is a major mis-step. Steve Harris also wrote three of the 8 tunes on ‘SIT’ himself, and his prog mojo is in full effect here, though this time it doesn’t quite work. Each Harris composition is needlessly long and overwritten; the album’s lead-off track runs 7:22, immediately signaling that something’s up, and there’s really no reason why a straightforward tune like ‘Heaven Can Wait’ should last for 7:24. It must also be said that ‘Arry’s ‘Alexander the Great’ is a failure; at 8:35, it’s an uncharacteristically tough slog through ancient history. These three over-long excursions push the total run-time of the album to 51:18, six seconds longer than ‘Powerslave’, and Maiden’s new Longest Maiden Album. The guitar synths that adorn the album push the Prog Metal envelope even further… or reveal a desire to hide the fact that the band are struggling for inspiration.

Maiden’s average song length had almost doubled over the course of six albums; on ‘Killers’ it was around 3.72 minutes; on both ‘Powerslave’ and ‘Somewhere’ it was 6.37. Album lengths had steadily expanded from the admittedly short 37:35 of their debut to ‘Somewhere in Time’s 51:18. Ironically, Maiden would make some wise adjustments to the excess on their next album, restraining their tendency for epic sprawl while, at the same time, raising the stakes thematically.

Iron Maiden’s seventh album, ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’, is quite a rebound. IMHO, It’s their last great album, and a Prog Metal masterwork. The songwriting this time out was a much more collaborative effort, with Bruce Dickinson garnering several credits, where on ‘Somewhere’ he wrote contributed nada. It’s a concept album (how Prog is that?) that succeeds both musically and thematically. The music still contains plenty of fire & brimstone, and there’s a feeling that the band is once again firing on all cylinders. Song lengths had been paired down to more concise lengths, with one exception: the excellent Harris-penned title track, which works as the centerpiece of the album at a whopping 9:52.

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Fans of the early NWOBHM-era Maiden bemoaned the use of synths, the commercial-sounding first single (‘Can I Play With Madness?’) and the slick production. But Steve Harris said, in Mick Wall’s band bio, “I thought it was the best album we did since ‘Piece of Mind’. I loved it because it was more progressive… ‘cause that’s the influences I grew up with.’ Like it or not, the axe-wielding, Thatcher-stabbing, Devil-beheading Iron Maiden was long gone; Eddie was no longer a shadowy figure lurking in dark alleys, he was a time travelling clairvoyant cyborg… Maiden had gone Full Prog. Where to go next?

The average length of a Maiden song had grown by almost 3 minutes, album capacities were being stretched to the limits of manufacturing standards, the epics on each record had gotten even more …epic, the lyrical themes more grandiose. But so far, Iron Maiden had more or less successfully balanced Steve Harris’ Prog Rock tendencies with their NWOBHM roots to become the biggest Metal band on the planet. That delicate balance is the defining element of classic-era Iron Maiden. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll look at how (if?) that balance is maintained during the 1990s and beyond…

Re-master of Reality

AC/DC OFFICIAL NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT

BIGGEST ROCK BAND IN WORLD TO RETIRE ON TOP: AC/DC CALLS IT QUITS   January 28 2009

Hot on the heels of their most successful release ever, fifteenth studio album ‘Black Ice’ (Sony), Australian hard rock band AC/DC have decided to end the band after touring in support of what will now be their final record. The band feels strongly that it would be impossible to top the worldwide success of ‘Black Ice’, and would rather wind up their career on a high note. Despite the fact that Black Ice was released exclusively in physical formats, and only through Walmart in North America, ‘Black Ice’ peaked at No. 1 in 29 countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The record shipped 6 million copies worldwide by December. “This is gonna be tough to beat,” says guitarist Angus Young. “You gotta know when to end it, right? This seems like a pretty good time to call it a day, before we embarrass ourselves!.” Expect AC/DC’s farewell tour to wrap up in 2010, after which the band will enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AEROSMITH DISBANDS, CITES INABILITY TO WRITE SONGS WHILE SOBER   September 4th, 1986/Framingham, MA

Boston-based Hard Rock band AEROSMITH have announced they are disbanding. After attending rehabs and declaring themselves 100% sober, the band has discovered they are utterly incapable of writing Aerosmith music. Last year’s mediocre ‘Done With Mirrors’ was written while the band tried to appear sober; writing the next record completely without the aid of illicit substances has yielded disappointing results. Manager Tim Collins and Geffen Records A&R John Kalodner enlisted an army of ‘song doctors’ to help write a follow-up, but the band flatly rejected the idea. “Now that I’m straight all the time, I just don’t feel like a badass anymore. We just aren’t Aerosmith without the drugs”, said guitarist Joe Perry. “It’s been a great ride, but I guess it’s over,” added vocalist Steven Tyler. “We’re clean and sober now, but our mojo ain’t workin’. Consider us all on permanent vacation.”

BULLETIN: DATELINE 6 NOV 1978

KISS ANOUNCES RETIREMENT, FRANCHISE PLANS

Legendary theatrical rock group KISS will retire from writing and performing early next year, inside sources say. The infamous shock rock quartet plan to expand KISS-related activities in other avenues. All four band members have signed on to star in a Saturday morning children’s variety show called ‘The Rockin’ Adventures of KISS!’, which is slated to debut in June of next year on. KISS will also enter the franchise market, with different musicians from across the country donning the costumes and make-up, allowing different versions of KISS to operate in different regions (KISS Vegas, KISS LA, etc). KISS has also signed an agreement with Disney to present nightly KISS concerts using animatronic versions of KISS in both theme park locations. Says Gene Simmons, “While there will be no more KISS records, the brand will continue and expand. Because it’s all about the brand. And the fans, right. The brand and the fans.”

June 12 1984 Hollywood CA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GUITARIST TONY IOMMI ANNOUNCES NEW GROUP ‘THE END’

Former Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has put together a new band, The End. “Doing my solo album (‘Seventh Star’) was great fun, but I want to get back to a band situation. I’m happy to be working with Geezer again, and excited to see what kind of music comes of it.” Joining Iommi in The End will be former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan and ex-ELO/Move drummer Bev Bevan. “Geezer and I talked about having Bill Ward in, but we thought the better of it. The record companies would probably try to slap the old Sabbath name on it, and after Ozzy died in that horrible plane incident, there will never be another Black Sabbath record. Besides, Bill’s in rehab.” The new group is planning an album for the spring of next year, tentatively titled ‘Born Again’.

BULLETIN / BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND DEC 18 1985

JUDAS PRIEST ABANDON NEW ALBUM SESSIONS, HALFORD ENTERS REHAB

Judas Priest lead vocalist Rob Halford has entered a rehab in Van Nuys, California to address an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. A spokesman for the singer states that Halford ‘…has taken the steps necessary to get himself together and will return to the band early in the new year.’ This move has halted recording sessions for the follow-up to Priest’s highly successful ‘Defenders of the Faith’ album. The band began recording material for a double album, tentatively titled ‘Twin Turbos’, but bassist Ian Hill says the band will “probably scrap everything and start over when Rob is back.” Hill continued, “We’re going to take this time to reassess where we are right now. There’s a lot of change happening in heavy music right now, and we want to be sure not to get caught up in the current trends or fads or what have you. We have to stay true to ourselves and our fans, and make sure we are honoring what Priest is really all about.”

7 April 1998 Huddersfield, UK / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

STEVE HARRIS REPORTS: IRON MAIDEN GUITARIST SITUATION SORTED

JUST ANNOUNCED: Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers has decided to leave the band. In a statement released today, Gers stated “I had heard that Bruce (Dickinson) was coming back, everybody knew it would happen, but I wasn’t aware that they’d been talking to Adrian (Smith) as well. Maiden’s not a 3-guitar band, it’s a little much, isn’t it? I thought ‘If I step down, then it will be a proper reunion, won’t it?’ I don’t want to be the one standing in the way of that, you know.” Despite the fact that Gers’ tenure in the band included what some would say were Maiden’s weakest records, Harris has nothing but respect for the guitarist. Harris: “Janick feels he is doing the right thing, and we support him 100%. We thank him for the years he gave to Maiden and wish him all the best.” Harris has also dismisses claims that Gers was ‘forced out’ to accommodate Smith “Nonsense. I would have done with 3 guitars, ’cause it was a difficult situation and firing anybody wouldn’t have been right,  but Janick stepped up of his own accord and saved us from having to do that.”  Gers is reportedly planning to re-form White Spirit.

May the 13th, 1996/Via New Musical Express

Ex-Lizzy Man to Honor Mother’s Wishes; Lizzy-Without-Lynott Will Not Happen

American guitarist Scott Gorham wishes it to be known that he no longer intends ‘re-activate’ beloved rock group ‘Thin Lizzy’, as he had stated earlier this year in several music papers. Gorham’s change of heart comes soon after Philomena Lynott, the mother of Thin Lizzy frontman Phillip Lynott, made several public pleas for Gorham and fellow ex-Lizzy member John Sykes to “stop this madness before it starts”, and to “respect my son, who you have called your brother” (see NME March 26). Gorham reportedly met with Mrs. Lynott at her home in Howth some weeks ago, and finally made a public announcement yesterday. “We have all agreed to honor Philomena’s wishes.” said Gorham, during a short press conference on MTv UK. “She actually made us swear to it… We all took a vow and swore to let the legend of Thin Lizzy rest in peace.”

24 January 2010 HANOVER, GERMANY / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SCORPIONS ANNOUNCE 3 FINAL ALBUMS AND 6 FAREWELL TOURS!

German hard rockers SCORPIONS have decided that their upcoming album, titled ‘Sting in the Tail’, will be their last. The band will then launch their final world tour to promote the album and to thank their loyal fans for supporting them for almost 50 years. SCORPIONS will then release another final album, called ‘Comeblack’, and embark on yet another farewell tour. This tour will be filmed for release on DVD, to be entitled ‘Get Your Sting’, and will showcase the SCORPIONS last-ever concert performances. Next up is another DVD, ‘Unplugged in Athens’, filmed on either the fifteenth or sixteenth leg of the band’s last tour ever. SCORPIONS final final album, to be called ‘Return to Forever’, will follow, followed by another string of final farewell world tours. SCORPIONS fans can expect the band to continue breaking up well into 2016, six years after first announcing their retirement.

September 1986, SOUNDS: “What’s Next for Purple People?”

After conquering the hard rock world with their one-off reunion album, ‘Perfect Strangers’, the members of Deep Purple are weighing their options. The first Deep Purple MkII album in 11 years went Top 20 in 9 countries, and has been certified Gold or Platinum in 6 countries, while the US leg of the Perfect Strangers tour was the 2nd highest-grossing tour of 1985. But no one seems to feel much like celebrating. “I have no idea what I’m going to do next, but I have to tell you I’m glad this Purple thing is finally over. Again.” The singer won’t confirm, but rumors of a post-show punch-up between Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after their final Wembley show are circulating, and none of the other members are talking. Bassist Roger Glover: “Well, all I can say about that is there’s always been sort of a volatile chemistry within this band, and I think we were wise when we all agreed to limit this to one album. Anything more than that and it just wouldn’t work.” Jon Lord agrees. “Of course, I’m very proud of this album. We all are. But let’s leave it be, shall we? Time to move on to other things.”

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT October 31, 1986   Metallica HQ, San Rafael, CA

METALLICA BREAK UP AFTER TRAGIC LOSS OF BASS PLAYER

Following the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton, the remaining members of pioneering thrash metal band Metallica have decided to call it quits. “Cliff is irreplaceable”, said drummer Lars Ulrich. “Trying to do so would be ridiculous. We’re going to what Zeppelin did; just end it. Honestly, we were running out of Dave Mustaine riffs anyway.” The pair plan to break the news to Kirk Hammett “pretty soon”. Ulrich plans to spend his free time learning how to play the drums. Frontman James Hetfield is rumored to be planning an as-yet-untitled 2-part country music concept album, centered around his gun collection. Dave Mustaine could not be reached for comment.

MUSICNEWS.COM: MAY 19 1996

VAN HALEN REVEAL IDENTITY OF NEW LEAD SINGER

The VAN HALEN NEWS DESK (http://www.vhnd.com) announced this morning that storied hard rockers VAN HALEN have hired a new lead singer. Despite rumors of auditioning several ‘big names’ over the past 5 months (Meatloaf, Iggy Pop, Regis Philbin, Elmer Fudd), the VH brothers have instead decided on a virtual unknown with no experience or ability, but with one important qualification: Malcom Van Halen is drummer Alex Van Halen’s son. On hiring his nephew, a professional photographer without any sort of musical track record, Eddie Van Halen remarked, “So what? He’s family. Besides, who cares? Roth sucked last time around and we still sold tickets. No one listens to this band for the vocals. And if Mal doesn’t work out, there’s always my nephew Aric.”

SQUATNEY, LONDON, UK

FOR ALL MEDIA-22/05/2016

HEAVY METAL LEGENDS SPINAL TAP TO RE-REUNITE, TOUR IMMINENT

Veteran British rockers SPINAL TAP have reunited once again. The band will launch a world tour on July 1st, weather permitting. The crowd-funded ‘Where Are We Now?’ tour will feature the band’s ‘smallest production yet’, and each show will include the classic album ‘Shark Sandwich’ (Polymer, 1977) played in its entirety. Select shows ‘may’ ‘perhaps’ ‘possibly’ be recorded for a live album. The band are currently auditioning drummers (interested parties should contact eatonhoggprod@tap.com.uk, must be able to play the drums by July 1). Support on the ‘Where Are We Now?’ tour will be UFO and Blue Oyster Cult. #gofundyourself/taptour

 

Volume 50: The End is Nigh!

As I sit and write this, my 50th post for MayoNoise, the metallic corners of the internet are all a-buzz with the announcement that Black Sabbath will embark on their final world tour. This final trek has been officially dubbed ‘The End’, and it was announced via a striking advert that reads “THE FINAL TOUR BY THE GREATEST HEAVY METAL BAND OF ALL TIME”. Listed just under that pronouncement are the names OZZY OSBOURNE, TONY IOMMI, and GEEZER BUTLER. Bill Ward’s name is conspicuous in its absence.

If you read my blog, you know this already. You also know why Ward’s name isn’t on the poster. It’s early yet; maybe they will wrap the tour in Birmingham and have Ward play that set, or a short set at the end of the show(s)… Hopefully they will do the right thing; I sincerely hope everyone involved can find a way to do end Black Sabbath that will include Bill Ward. But regardless; Black Sabbath have announced ‘The End’, and after The End, for me, Metal is over.

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Two days previous to announcing ‘The End’, Lemmy ended a Motorhead set in Austin, Texas after just three songs, saying “I can’t do it” and walking off the stage. Cancelled gigs and postponed tours have become commonplace for Motorhead since 2013, when a plethora of health issues began to plague their fearless leader. Lemmy has stated that he’ll probably die on stage, and, looking back over the last 7 days, it looks like Lem meant what he said and said what he meant. As ever. “I don’t wanna live forever!” indeed. Still, how sad was it to see Lemmy, who turns 70 in December, hobble off stage, with the aid of a cane, after apologizing to the Texas crowd. Lemmy: We love you. Go home and take it easy. Job done.

Bruce Dickinson and Tony Iommi have had recent cancer scares; Malcom Young succumbed to dementia. Bun E. Carlos and Bill Ward have both had to watch their bands carry on without them due to diminished physical capabilities brought on by aging (and, in the case of Ward, likely compounded by years of substance abuse). Craig Gruber, AJ Pero, Allen Lanier, Trevor Bolder, and RJD… It’s as if the Grim Reaper stepped out of one of the gazillion album covers he adorns and began stalking our heroes, ending their lives and/or careers. Who will be the Figure in Black’s next Chosen One? Motorhead resumed the tour in St. Louis a few days after the Texas walk-off… but how much longer can he soldier on?

Ronnie James Dio’s death was a wake up call for me. I have been listening to Heavy Metal seriously since 1976. After forty years of music from these guys, you kind of get used to having them around. These bands and the people in them become part of your life. My favorite bands: AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Motorhead, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Rush… these bands have been with me for 4 decades. Like good friends, they have always been there when I needed them, during good times and bad. It’s a unique relationship; Metal fans are more passionate about their music and the musicians that make it than fans of any other genre of music. And with Dio’s passing, I realized that if The Man on the Silver Mountain could die, then all of my heroes were really just men; men who will grow old. Men who will eventually die. My Favorite Bands of All Time are dancing perilously close to the edge…

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Some of them are growing old gracefully: Rush are acknowledging that playing such physically demanding music gets tougher with the passage of each year, and are tailoring their final years to accommodate this reality. If ‘Clockwork Angels’ is the last Rush album, I’m ok with that. And how long can Iron Maiden continue to perform at their standard level of intensity? Their current strategy of staging shorter tours with longer breaks will buy them a few years, but cancer has already intervened once… As far as their current music, I don’t know what to make of IM’s latest 92-minute opus; it will probably take me the next five years to absorb it. Motorhead may now have no choice in the matter, but if they are in fact all done, they’ve left us with a real scorcher of an album in ‘Bad Magic’, with music full of piss and vinegar, and lyrics filled with thinly veiled goodbyes.

Now would be an excellent time to end it. I mean right now. Deep Purple’s ‘Now What?!’ album is one of their very best records, but the band are planning to do another. Don’t! End your 40+ year career on a high note! Don’t wind the band up with another ‘Bananas’! And I really don’t want to live in a world where a Cheap Trick album exists that does NOT include Bun E. Carlos on the drums. Their last record, ‘The Latest’, was strong; in fact, all of their albums since ‘going indie’ in 1996 have been strong… But a Bun-less CT album will be unwelcome in my home. AC/DC may have hung around for one album too many; ‘Black Ice’ broke records across the globe, but ‘Rock or Bust’ wasn’t quite the global phenomenon expected, and, while I like the album a lot, an AC/DC album without any contributions from Malcom Young needs to be considered carefully… Also, Angus Young, everybody’s favorite naughty schoolboy, is now 60 years old… Class Dismissed!

Lo, ‘The End’ will surely be the end. When the Pantheon of Old Gods is gone, who will be the New Gods? Slayer released a new album this week; just after a much-publicized spat between guitarist Kerry King and Mayhem Festival organizer Kevin Lyman. Lyman was bitching about low attendance during this year’s tour. While Lyman blamed the ‘metal scene’ in general, his issue was clearly with his aging headliners:

“The bands at the top all demand a certain level of fee to be on a tour. Unlike punk rock, metal never knows how to take a step back to move the whole scene forward…What happened was metal chased girls away because what happened was metal aged. Metal got gray, bald and fat.”

King came back with a statement calling Lyman’s remarks ‘business suicide’, and he was right: The 2015 Mayhem run was the last. But Lyman failed to acknowledge the lack of young bands developing into headliners over the past 20 years. During the eight year existence of his festival, which launched in 2008, the festival organizer soon found himself resorting to adding ‘older’ bands to key positions on the bill. Lyman wouldn’t have to resort to costly ‘grey, bald and fat’ bands if there were younger bands capable of filling arenas. When the old guard is gone, who’s gonna sell tickets?

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It saddens me to think that, in our lifetimes, we will live in a world with no Lemmy, no Alice Cooper or Ozzy, no Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Rob Halford… No Schenkers, no Youngs… No larger-than-life characters, no living legends, no more heroes. Of course we’ll still have Dave Grohl, but he’ll have no one to jam with! Slash, maybe? Kiss will still be around though. I’m willing to bet that Gene Simmons has been grooming his son Nick for years to take over as Bat Lizard 2.0. The inevitable reality TV show to find the next Starchild will surprise no one.

Most of my favorite bands originated in the 1970s. That they survived the MTV ’80s and the alternative ’90s is nothing short of a miracle. I am grateful that they’ve been able to continue their careers so far beyond their original expiration dates. Back in 1978, no one would have guessed that any of these bands would still be touring and releasing viable music in 2015. I value everything they have given us over the last three or four decades, both good and bad, and I truly wish it could go on forever, that all of my heroes were immortal. But when Sabbath reaches the end of ‘The End’, it will likely be 2017. By then, my friends, the glory days will be well and truly over. How perfect that the band that started it all will be the band that presides over the funeral services.

Blaze and Ripper’s Excellent Adventure

August 1991. The Metal God pops the clutch on his massive Harley and rolls forward into the fog shrouded darkness. Gliding the beast forward with only the roar of the crowd to guide him, he is unaware that a hydraulic stairway has only partially descended, and smashes into it face first, breaking the bridge of his nose and tumbling off the bike beneath the gigantic stage set. He lies unconscious and bleeding for three minutes before he is found. ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ is performed for the first and only time without lead vocals.

It was the dawn of the 1990s, and a difficult time for Heavy Metal; especially for Metal bands from the ’70s and ’80s trying to stay relevant. Judas Priest had never been afraid to ‘adjust’ their sound to better suit the ever-changing Metal landscape; ‘Turbo’ and ‘Painkiller’ were both concessions to prevailing trends (hair metal and thrash metal, respectively). Both records were successful, but it had been difficult for many to watch Priest, one of Heavy Metal’s most important pioneers, chasing trends rather than setting them. And now the ’90s were presenting new challenges: Metallica had abdicated their throne, and Grunge, Alternative Metal, and Nu Metal were all about to make life difficult for several iconic bands from HM’s glory days. For Rob Halford, the writing was on the wall.

Within 24 hours of bashing his face in, Halford was back home in Phoenix AZ formulating a plan. He wanted things both ways; to work a solo project for ‘three to four years’, and to then return to the band and resume his position. For the rest of Judas Priest, this was ridiculous. Sit around for 3 or 4 years doing nothing, while we wait for their singer to decide to come back? IF he decided to come back at all? No way. Once Halford’s new band Fight was announced in 1992, Judas Priest cut the cord, and the inevitable war of words began. Hey, that might be a good title for an album…

Meanwhile, Iron Maiden were weathering the early 1990s fairly well. Their stripped-down response to the Big Four, ‘No Prayer for the Dying’, hit #2 in the UK, and the album’s (awful) single ‘Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter’ hit #1. The follow-up album, 1992’s ‘Fear of the Dark’ also hit #1. But singer Bruce Dickinson was bored, bored, bored. A solo album and tour in 1990 hadn’t been enough to calm the singer’s restless spirit, and while working on a second solo record during the ‘Fear’ tour, Bruce decided to leave the band. The final legs of the ‘Fear’ jaunt became Bruce’s ‘farewell tour’, which wrapped with a televised performance in August of ’93. The show was broadcast live as a pay-per-view event; magician Simon Drake performed magic and illusions during breaks in Maiden’s set. Drake’s final trick: making Bruce Dickinson disappear.

The Metal God and The Air Raid Siren were gone. Halford and Dickinson’s departures left gaping holes in each of their former bands. Square in the middle of the metal-unfriendly ’90s, both bands would have to establish themselves all over again in an inhospitable landscape ruled by Soundgardens, Nirvanas and Faith No Mores; to prove themselves to a brand new generation of Metalheads raised on the Big Four, Pantera and the emerging Death Metal genre. But there was so much more at stake here than just the fate of two legendary Heavy Metal bands; the fate of Heavy Metal itself hung in the balance. Would Metal survive the ’90s without Judas Priest and Iron Maiden? Twilight of the Gods, indeed.

For a while, it appeared as if Judas Priest were honoring Halford’s request for ‘three to four years’ off. Not much was heard from the JP camp until 1996, when their new lead vocalist was announced: Ohio native Tim Owens. Dubbed ‘Ripper’ by guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, Owens was a virtual unknown who fronted two small-time bands: Winter’s Bane and British Steel. While the former was an all-original metal band, the latter was a JP tribute. The two bands were usually booked together, with Owens fronting both. When a videotape of a British Steel performance somehow made its way to Priest, Owens shot ahead of shortlisted candidates like Ralph Scheepers (Gamma Ray) and Sebastian Bach. Four days later, Owens was in the UK auditioning for the band; after singing one song, ‘Victim of Changes’, Tipton offered him the gig.

Steve Harris wasted no time reaching out to Blaze Bayley of Wolfsbane, who had supported Maiden on the NPftD tour just a few years earlier. Bayley politely declined. Woflsbane had done three albums, an E.P. and a few singles, and were ready to re-enter the studio for album #4; both parties chalked it up to bad timing, and Harris moved on. ‘Arry and the rest of Maiden then slogged through thousands of tapes, CDs and videos sent in by hopefuls from all over the globe… and got nowhere. But by the time Bayley was to enter the studio to begin his band’s fourth album, he had changed his mind, deciding that Wolfsbane had run its course. Bayley soon found himself facing off against Doogie White (just a few years away from joining Rainbow) for the Maiden job. Bayley won.

Priest had perhaps found the one man up to the task of recreating Rob Halford’s histrionic vocal stylings. But in losing Halford, JP lost a lot more than a voice; they lost an attitude, a swagger, and a particular lyrical voice. Halford’s acting background was apparent in his delivery; he could (and regularly did) deliver ludicrous lyrics in a convincing manner, with an air of melodrama and just the right amount of camp. Tim Owens had the pipes but none of Rob Halford’s charisma. Blaze Bayley (real name: Bayley Cook) was blessed with a deep, resonant voice capable of conveying a strong sense of the dramatic. However, Bayley often sang one full octave below his predecessor, delivering Harris’ overstuffed lyrics with an oppressive air of doom and gloom. After 12 years of Bruce Dickinson, an almost super-human vocalist with a flair for the dramatic, even operatic, it’s hard to understand exactly why Steve Harris felt that Blaze Bayley’s voice was the right fit for Maiden.

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Iron Maiden’s tenth album, ‘The X-Factor’, hit in 1995, just two years after Bruce ‘disappeared’. It’s a difficult album. The opening song, ‘Sign of the Cross’, clocks in at over 11 minutes, and quickly sets the tone for the next 70. Every song begins with a quiet, delicately-played intro, and then plods along for far too long. The ghost of Steve Harris’ marriage hovers over this album, in both the dour, overwrought lyrics and in the music’s downbeat vibe (the album’s lone ‘fast number’ was written by Bayley/Gers). Bayley’s heavy, brooding presence prevents even the more energetic moments from ever fully taking flight; the man can sing but brings none of the spirit and spark that characterized Dickinson’s better performances. It should also be pointed out that longtime producer Martin Birch was not on board for this album… And the cover is hideous.

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Priest’s first post-Halford album is truly awful. 1997’s ‘Jugulator’ is a train-wreck of harsh, over-processed guitars, anguished vocals, terrible lyrics, and haphazard production. Tipton and Downing wrote all of the music, and several concessions to current trends are immediately evident: down-tuned guitars, atonal guitar solos, and Death Metal-worthy titles like ‘Dead Meat’, ‘Decapitate’, Blood Stained’ and ‘Death Row’. Ugh. Tipton himself wrote all of the album’s relentlessly negative lyrics. Each song begins with a short, atmospheric intro tacked on, with creepy guitars, dialogue or sound effects, adding nothing to the proceedings. The guitars are heavy as hell, but without the wit and irony that Halford’s presence always unfailingly provided, it’s a grim, abrasive hour of music.

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After the much-maligned ‘The X Factor’, Iron Maiden included a new track, entitled ‘Virus’, on the 1996 compilation ‘Best of the Beast’. Dodgy sound notwithstanding, this energetic and interesting song established that Maiden had indeed awakened from their coma, and the album that followed, 1998’s ‘Virtual XI’, impressed with a lighter tone and brighter sound than its predecessor. As for the songwriting, however, chief writer Steve Harris had clearly lapsed into formula, and each song on VXI sounds remarkably like the song before it. While VXI does contain the Blaze era’s lone classic: ‘The Clansman’, the album’s first single, ‘The Angel and the Gambler’, repeats it’s chorus so many times, you’ll feel the need to check your turntable to make sure your needle isn’t stuck… even if you’re listening via mp3. The single clocks in at 6:05, edited down from the 9:56 album version. Martin Birch, where are you?

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Priest’s second stab at establishing a post-Halford credibility was 2001’s ‘Demolition’. Again, it’s Tipton’s record, and again he demonstrates his inability to grasp just what made Priest so special. This record is a little more well-rounded than ‘Jugulator’, but also suffers from trying to be all things to all people; Nu Metal, Rap, and Industrial Metal, as well as elements of ’80s Priest all feature here, and absolutely none of it works. There is, however, a melody or two to be found here, unlike the band’s previous disaster. Imagine Judas Priest at their absolute heaviest, then imagine them pushing even harder, but without the irony; without the campy panache or the flair for the melodramatic that informed their best work.

For Heavy Metal, the Bayley/Owens era was a near-death experience. When viewed against Priest and Maiden’s previous body of work, all four of these records were colossal artistic and commercial failures, and in the battle for the survival of Heavy Metal, they did more damage than good. Without these two massive flagship franchises to help hold Metal’s fan base together, the genre continued to splinter and fragment into fractious sub-genres. Heavy Metal survived the ’90s by blowing itself to bits and continuing forward as an amalgam of separate and distinct pieces of a disparately unified whole. As solo artists, Halford and Dickinson released some decidedly un-Metal music, but each eventually returned to classic Heavy Metal with records that beat their old bands at their own game, and positioned both vocalists for their eventual (and inevitable) return. A revitalized Priest & Maiden helped establish yet another (and perhaps the most important) HM sub-genre: Legacy Metal.

Cheers to Blaze Bayley and Tim Owens for ushering two of our favorite bands through Metal’s darkest days. Coulda been worse… Sebastian Bach?? Doogie White??

NWOBHM: Year One

Punk Rock was the best thing that ever happened to Heavy Metal. Like the comet that struck the earth killed off the dinosaurs, Punk’s impact destroyed the status quo and wiped the slate clean for rock music to reinvent itself. Punk slayed the arena gods of the 70’s, and demanded that you didn’t have to be a musical genius to express yourself musically; anyone could form a band, and everyone should form a band.

Ultimately, Punk rock’s success doomed it to failure, as it eventually assimilated into the very thing it was programmed to destroy: the mainstream. Of course, during Punk’s brief reign, the Metalheads were still out there, both fans and bands, biding their time, awaiting their moment. Punk didn’t kill Heavy Metal; it just drove it underground. In one such underground haven, a hall called The Bandwagon, Metal had found a place to weather the Punk rock storm. Attached to the side of the Prince of Wales Pub at Kingsbury Circle, London, this unlikely setting would become Ground Zero for the Rebirth of Heavy Metal.

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Neal Kay was a true believer. As the DJ at the Bandwagon, he created and cultivated a haven for Metalheads, giving them a place to gather and listen to the music they loved through one of the loudest PA systems in London. The Bandwagon was always packed to the rafters, and Kay knew he could make it even more popular with the support of the press. So Kay began calling Sounds writer Geoff Barton, the paper’s resident hard-rocker, and inviting him down to cover the bandwagon.

Barton finally paid the Bandwagon a visit, and was stunned by what he saw. Heavy Metal was alive and kicking in at least one place in Punk-ravaged Britain. He wrote a piece on the scene called ‘Wednesday Night Fever’ which ran in the August 19, 1978 issue of Sounds, one of the UK’s leading music papers. Kay also convinced the weekly to publish a Heavy Metal chart, solely based on requests the DJ received from the regulars at the Bandwagon. Most of what appeared on the chart was music by bands from the pre-Punk era: UFO, Priest, Rush, Scorpions, Rainbow. Suddenly the Bandwagon, and Heavy Metal in general, was receiving coverage by one of the most important music papers in the country.

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It can’t be a coincidence then, that in November of ’78, the BBC began airing the Friday Rock Show. Hosted by Tommy Vance, The Friday Rock Show would do basically the same thing that Kay was doing at the Bandwagon, but on a much larger scale: give the metal masses a destination to hear their music. Vance played current HM singles and album cuts, but also plundered the BBC archives for songs recorded exclusively for the Beeb. Archival recordings by Cream, Hendrix, Deep Purple, UFO, Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin, and many more featured regularly on Vance’s show. Metal was now receiving regular national exposure through two of the nation’s biggest media outlets. But thus far, no new metal bands had arrived on the scene…

In London’s East End, a band called Iron Maiden was struggling to secure gigs outside of their own neighborhood. The band hoped that recording a demo would help them widen their reach. Four songs were laid down on New Year’s Eve, 1978 at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge. The members of the band were Bandwagon regulars, and eventually they handed a copy of the tape to Neal Kay, not in the hopes that he’ll play it, but hoping it might help them get gigs in the area. Kay is floored by the tape, and begins playing the track ‘Prowler’ regularly. The Bandwagon regulars eat it up. ‘Prowler’ debuts on the Sounds HM chart at #23, but by April 21st, the song tops the chart. Iron Maiden receive national exposure for the first time.

Underground Heavy Metal bands all across the UK take notice. This new breed of Metal band adopts an important element of Punk Rock’s DIY ethos: they make their own records and sell them at gigs or via mail order. Even the music is influenced by Punk, with shorter, more immediate songs and a brash, in-your-face intensity. During the 12 months between Maiden’s appearance on Kay’s chart and their debut album’s entry into the UK charts in April of 1980, British Metal gradually emerges from exile and evolves into a true musical movement. ‘Ere’s ‘ow it ‘appened:

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April 1979: Iron Maiden’s ‘Prowler’ demo tops the Bandwagon HM Soundhouse chart in Sounds. The band play their first gig at the Bandwagon.

May 1979: Neal Kay books the three biggest bands from the emerging scene: Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, and Samson, for a gig at the Music Machine. Angel Witch opens; Samson headlines. Geoff Barton covers the show for Sounds with a double-page spread titled ‘If You Want Blood (and flashbombs and dry ice and confetti) You’ve Got It’. The article’s subtitle, ‘The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal: first in an occasional series by Deaf Barton’, contains the first known use of the term “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal”.
Def Leppard release a self-financed EP on their own record label. BBC DJ John Peel gives the track ‘Getcha Rocks Off’ repeated airings, and the 7″ sells well enough for legit labels to take notice.

August 1979: Def Leppard’s gig at the Paris Theatre in London is recorded and Broadcast over BBC Radio.
The Tygers of Pan Tang release their own self-produced EP on Neat Records. It is the fledgling label’s third release, and its first Metal record. Important singles from White Spirit, Raven, Venom and Blitzkrieg would follow in the next few months. Neat emerges as the most important independent label of the NWOBHM era.

September 1979: The still un-signed Def Leppard open for Sammy Hagar at the Hammersmith Odeon.

October 1979: Def Leppard record an in-studio session for Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show. Def Lep also secure the opening slot on the UK leg of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ tour. Leppard are now widely regarded as the NWOBHM’s ‘next big thing’.
Iron Maiden appear on the cover of Sounds; the band begin negotiating with EMI days later.
Trespass release the self-produced single ‘One of These Days/Bloody Moon’; Praying Mantis Release their self-produced ‘Captured City/Johnny Cool’ single, and appear on Vance’s Friday Rock Show.

November 1979: Samson record an in-studio session for The Friday Rock Show.
Iron Maiden, still in the process of closing a deal with EMI, press three songs from their demo tape onto 7″ vinyl, and release ‘The Soundhouse Tapes’, named for Neal Kay’s Bandwagon. The EP is available via mail order only; the band sell through 5,000 copies in just a few weeks.
Def Leppard sign with Phonogram. The UK leg of the AC/DC tour ends in November, with four nights at the Hammersmith Odeon; Rick Allen celebrates his 16th birthday on stage at the Hammy O. Leppard release 2 demo recordings as their first single for Phonogram, ‘Wasted’/Hello America”. It peaks at #61.

December 1979: Iron Maiden record an in-studio session for The Friday Rock Show. They finalize and sign their EMI deal.
Sounds publish their annual year-end issue, which features a comprehensive round-up of NWOBHM bands.

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February 1980: Iron Maiden release their first single, ‘Runnin’ Free/Burning Ambition’. The sleeve art marks the first appearance of Eddie; the single peaks at #34.
Neal Kay assembles a compilation of bands he has championed called ‘Metal for Muthas’; the album is released through EMI and features 2 Iron Maiden songs. Angel Witch, Samson, Praying Mantis, and others also appear. Several notable NWOBHM bands (Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang, Def Leppard) are not featured on the record, as all are already signed to or in the process of signing deals with other labels. A 3-week ‘Metal for Muthas’ tour follows, featuring Maiden, Diamondhead, Praying Mantis, and Raven.
Def Lep releases their second single, ‘Hello America’/Good Morning Freedom’. This one hits the Top 40 (#34).
Iron Maiden support Judas Priest on the UK leg of their ‘British Steel’ tour.

March 1980: Diamond Head releases their self-produced single ‘Shoot Out the Lights/Helpless’.
Angel Witch record an in-studio session for the Friday Rock Show.
Def Leppard release their debut album ‘On Through the Night’, on March 14, making Leppard the first NWOBHM band to release an album. The album debuts on the UK charts at #15.

April 1980: Iron Maiden release their self-titles debut album; it enters the UK charts at #4.

Heavy Metal was back with a vengeance. With two NWOBHM debuts in the UK Top 20, the inevitable major label feeding frenzy soon followed. Metal bands begin regularly appearing on BBC TV’s ‘Top of the Pops’. Sounds launched Kerrang!, a monthly magazine that covered only HM. The rising Metal tide lifted all boats, and stalwart bands like UFO, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, and all 3 Deep Purple offshoots were rewarded with revitalized careers and Top Twenty albums.

The magic lasted until around 1982, making the NWOBHM’s brief lifespan about as long as Punk’s. Metal had by then become mainstream in the UK, and several successful NWOBHM bands set their sights on the lucrative US market, where money changes everything. But that first year of the NWOBHM, from April of ’79 to April of ’80, when a new breed of Metalhead applied the DIY ethic and independent spirit of Punk rock to their own genre, was one of most important years in the history of the genre. It was the year that Heavy Metal was reborn.

See? Punk Rock was good for something after all.

Martin Birch: Engineering History

I’ve got books on my shelves about Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, Rush, and Judas Priest. About The Ramones, Blue Oyster Cult, and Cheap Trick. Books about classic albums like Led Zeppelin IV, ‘Master of Reality’, and ‘Deep Purple In Rock’. I have bios written by Gillan, Iommi and Lemmy. One each by Steven Tyler and by Joe Perry. By all 4 members of KISS. The rock books in my personal library range from trashy tell-alls to insightful and historically accurate journalism. The career arcs of my heroes and critical analysis of their works is something I study with great interest. The one book I don’t have, and the book I am most anxious to read, is one that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been written yet.

Martin Birch: Write your bloody book already.

The name ‘Martin Birch’ appears on several of the most important hard rock/heavy metal albums of all time. At the end of this post, I’ve included a list of just some of Birch’s production credits. This gentleman has produced/engineered/mixed the soundtracks to our youths He has worked with many of our musical heroes for extensive periods of time; he could probably fill a book with his experiences with Deep Purple alone (seven studio albums), and make his work with Iron Maiden (eight) his Volume II… And still not even scratch the surface of his experience.

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You know he’s got stories to tell. Working with Ritchie Blackmore in the studio on a whopping 10 records… Witnessing the sad disintegration of legends like Bill Ward, Tommy Bolin, and Michael Schenker… And being present at the creation of new legends like Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie Dio. Dude was hand-picked to rebuild the stature of a born again Black Sabbath, and of a floundering Blue Oyster Cult. This guy was the first to record the harmonizing guitars of Wishbone Ash’s Andy Powell and Ted Turner, and the first to capture the harmonizing voices of Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale. Birch was behind the board in Munich as Ritchie Blackmore’s solo single became a solo album, and helmed the Rolling Stones’ mobile studio outside Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan in August of 1972… not just witnessing history being made, but recording it… And not merely recording history, but taking part in it; shaping it.

Birch was often credited as producer/engineer as well as for mixing, meaning he was solely responsible for the overall sound of his projects. This often meant getting workable performances from drug addicts, volatile personalities, and in some cases, people with very little talent. In other cases, it meant recording under extremely difficult circumstances, including sessions held in a barn in Steve Harris’ backyard (No Prayer for the Dying’), and in the freezing cold hallways of empty hotel in Switzerland (‘Machine Head’). Ya, this guy’s got stories.

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And nicknames! Birch appears in album/single credits with various band-bestowed nicknames sandwiched between his first and last names, such as Black Night, Sir Larry, Basher, Big Ears, Court Jester, Doc, The Farmer, The Wasp, Headmaster, Jah, Live Animal, Masa, Mummy’s Curse, Plan B, Pool Bully, The Bishop, The Juggler, The Ninja, and my two favorites: Martin ‘Phantom of the Jolly Cricketers’ Birch, as he’s credited on the Iron Maiden Single ‘Run to the Hills’ (Live)/’Phantom of the Opera’ (Live), and Martin ‘Disappearing Armchair’ Birch, as credited on Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ lp. Note: This is not a complete list. A guy with this many nicknames has some great life experiences to share.

But what is it about this man that put him in the same room with these musicians time and again? What does he bring to the table that sets him apart from his peers? I would love to read his own take on why he was the go-to guy for so many iconic bands. Clearly the man has an excellent set of ears, but also must possess an extraordinary talent for inspiring and motivating artistic people. Deep Purple MkII dedicated a song to him on ‘Deep Purple In Rock’ (‘Hard Lovin’ Man’) and called him ‘a catalyst’ in the liner notes; high praise coming from one of the more creative and progressive heavy bands of the era. There is a compelling, historically significant story here: how one man helped mold and shape an entire genre for more than 2 decades.

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Is there a ‘Martin Birch Sound’? Birch’s productions do all share a similar overall ‘presence’; it’s all about sonic space, and balance within that space; much of it happens in the mix, and (as you’re noticing as you read this), it’s very difficult to describe. To my own ears, Birch creates a space where every instrument can clearly be heard perfectly, and where every element has exactly the ‘right’ shape and presence in the mix, and works together to create an almost solid, 3-dimensional sound. I would suggest Rainbow’s ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’, Iron Maiden’s ‘Piece of Mind’, and Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell’ as prime examples of what a Martin Birch production/mix sounds like. Three very different bands with three vastly different sounds; one consistent sonic presentation.

After Whitesnake’s ‘Slide it In’ in 1984, Birch was commandeered to work exclusively for Iron Maiden. Some have called him Iron Maiden’s ‘Fifth Member’. Wouldn’t Eddie be the fifth? That would make Birch the sixth member, unless you acknowledge Janick Gers, which I don’t… But I digress. Martin Birch retired permanently in 1992, after his umpteenth album with Maiden, ‘Fear of the Dark’. Drastic changes in recording technology led to subtle changes in Martin Birch’s signature presentation, evident in Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son…’ and ‘Somewhere in Time’ albums, and perhaps Birch knew that his era was drawing to a close. He was a mere 42 years old when he walked away from the business; today, he’s a bit past his mid-60’s… Mr. Birch, we suggest you add ‘The Author’ to your impressive collection of nicknames.

martinbirchsteveharris

Deep Purple: Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball, Machine Head, Made in Japan, Who Do we Think we Are?, Burn, Stormbringer, Made in Europe, Come Taste the Band, Last Concert in Japan

Black Sabbath: Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules

Rainbow: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Rising, On Stage, Long Live Rock and Roll

Whitesnake: Lovehunter, Ready an’ Willing, Live in the Heart of the City, Come an’ Get it, Saints an’ Sinners, Slide it In

Blue Oyster Cult: Cultosaurus Erectus, Fire of Unknown Origin

Michael Schenker Group: Assault Attack

Iron Maiden: Killers, The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, etc etc etc.

Wishbone Ash: Wishbone Ash, Pilgrimage, Argus