Holy Diver is nothing less than a shatteringly powerful solo debut for Ronnie James Dio. He took the success he had achieved with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, and through this album transformed himself into a Heavy Metal God and Legend. He also pilfered Sabbath’s excellent Drummer Vinnie Appice for the crack Metal band he put together for this album, which also included the virtuosic Guitarist Vivian Campbell. Holy Diver is a truly excellent and powerful heavy metal album full of finely crafted, very heavy songs, snarling Guitars, heavy Drums and Dio’s utterly awesome singing. The title track is a masterpiece. Rainbow In The Dark is one of the greatest Heavy Metal songs of all time. And Stand Up And Shout is an incredible Metal anthem Holy Diver is a true landmark among Metal albums from the 1980s and of all time. Five perfect stars. —Karl
From its chrome dome cover down through a production job as dry as a sun baked skeleton, Judas Priest’s “Stained Class” is a tight-fisted onslaught of gleaming metal riffs overlaid with Rob Halford’s villainous vocals and earsplitting screams. With the buzzsaw guitars of “Tipton and Downing” sending blue sparks of electricity through the rallying cry “Exciter,” other-worldly attackers of “Invader,” and burnt human cinders littering “Stained Class,” the album is both a frowning indictment and energizing call to rock without reservation. The band’s Spooky Tooth cover, “Better by You, Better Than Me” is an instantly infectious groover, while on the other end of the spectrum lies morbid suicide solution, “Beyond the Realms of Death.” Another bulletproof set from the masters in their prime. Fall to your knees and repent if you please! –Ben
Fans of the MTV Scorpions from the 80’s are in for a shock; Lonesome Crow has no pop hooks, no rocking us like a hurricane, and no cheesy love ballads. The lyrics and melodies are Avant Garde and the instruments are mostly in odd time. Generic hair metal fans of the “Love At First Sting” era will have their heads explode.
The album is a mix of psychedelic sounds, fusion, free-form jazz progressive rock and Krautrock influences. Also the bass playing is almost at Jaco Pastorius-like levels, melodically running up and down the jazz minor scales and popping out hundreds of incredible bass fills. “In Search of the Peace of Mind” has these beautiful haunting acoustic guitars in it that I’ve never heard anywhere else. Or how about those haunting wind sounds in “Leave Me”, where Meine cries out “Womaaaaaan…leave my mind!” Also this is the only record where Mikey is a full time band member and he is already a God, having hundreds of solos spread all over this album. Rudolf is more of less in the background with little Michael stealing the show with his jazz/proto metal solos. The title track is a 13 minute headphone trip, sounding like a soundtrack to a underground art film. Lonesome Crow is a musical masterpiece! —Ultra Magnus
Replacing a lead singer is the kiss of death in Metal. As the new singer, you must be comfortable with the knowledge that no matter how hard you wail, how tight your pants are, how BAD-ASS you are, you will never be as good as the first guy. This was the harsh reality Ronnie James Dio stepped into when he joined Black Sabbath upon Ozzy Osbourne’s departure. Even though the band had been running on fumes for some time at the point Dio came on, Ozzy was still an iconic frontman, and the pressure of replacing him might have gotten to a lesser deity. Ronnie may have been a small guy, but he had the swagger and persistence of the Devil himself, and wasted no time proving it on “Heaven and Hell,” which was the band’s best-selling record in years, and it’s even-better follow-up, “Mob Rules”.
Dio changed the dynamic of the band completely, with a style as far removed from Ozzy’s as can be. His vocals were soaring and melodic – a far cry from the Oz-man’s base mono-syllabic chanting. “Mob Rules” also featured another significant line-up change, as it was the first without drummer Bill Ward, who had issues with Dio. I’m as big a Bill fan as they come, but listening to this record, it’s Vinny Appice who inarguably helps elevate things to the next level. Bill Ward’s primitive swing was one of the trademarks of the Sabbath sound, and his successor is wise enough not to toy with this foundation. Appice has the edge though when it comes to pure chops; he’s just got more tools in his box than Ward, and the added technical prowess opens up new dark corridors for the band. You get the feeling that Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler had been waiting to flex like this for awhile, and the inventiveness of the riffs and arrangements on this record reflect the re-newed hunger of a band reborn, while laying the groundwork for the more technical, anthemic groups that would come to epitomize Metal in the ’80’s and beyond. —Jon Treneff
Continuing the dulling of the blade that was British Steel, Point of Entry is an alternately sizzling and fizzling collection of tunes from Judas Priest, well enough crafted and delivered, but tinged with the uneasy understanding that these guys are compromising at best – more like skillfully selling out to a wider, dumber audience. Point of Entry delivers enough highlights, gear-shifters like “Heading Out to the Highway” and the Turbo-prescient moto-metal of “Desert Plains,” dim-witted but harmless entries “You Say Yes” and “Hot Rockin’,” and the plodding starbound “Solar Angels” all being convincing if not entirely inspiring rockers. “Turning Circles” stands as a catchy diversion but elsewhere the commercial “Troubleshooter” and party-down “All the Way” are flat-out embarrassments, the album limply galloping across the finish line with “On the Run.” From another band, a simple, effective piece of early-80’s metal marketing here, but from Priest Point of Entry only earns a grudgingly-issued pass, the boys playing the game and winning with little of the finesse and imagination of old. —Ben
Deep Purple’s 1971 and 1972 releases were a true one two punch of Deep Purple’s Metallic might at the very height of their prowess. The first, 1971’s Fireball was, outside of Black Sabbath’s first three albums, the heaviest thing on the planet at that time. Fireball’s songs are towering, crunching, Proto-Metal monsters of the highest order. The album is built around one of the greatest songs of Heavy Metal’s original Era, the invincible Demon’s Eye. It’s kind of difficult to discuss the individual musical performance of Fireball because they are all so good. Deep Purple Mark II was a super tight cohesive unit at this point, and everyone in the band is at their individual apex. The Mule is simply incredible. Fools cooks. No One Came is astoundingly good. Anyone’s Daughter is pure fun. And No No No is fantastic. Five utterly perfect stars. —Karl
Hearing Black Sabbath for the first time was like dusting off and cracking open some ancient tome of infernal knowledge, with a nefarious collection of witches, warlocks, and Lucifer himself lurking around the corners of songs like “N.I.B.,” “The Wizard,” the chilling paralysis of “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” eerie acoustic drift “Sleeping Village,” and of course “Black Sabbath,” it’s diabolus in musica riff cracking open the egg on this thing called heavy metal. Hiding behind that hazy, creepy cover shot was a suite like arrangement of songs almost entirely devoted to exploring supernatural fears, rife with horror-themed imagery and the threat of unseen evil, delivered with a crushing blow rendered in stark, black and white production. Though the album drifts in it’s second act, with the extended workout on Retaliation’s “Warning” and a primitive Crow cover, “Evil Woman,” appearing on UK issues, US audiences were treated to the superior, stoned rumblings of “Wicked World.” Castle’s 1996 CD contains both tracks, though missing in action on this and subsequent Sabbath reissues are subtitles like “Wasp,” “Bassically” and “A Bit of Finger,” originally appended to the US release to pull in more publishing royalties to the band, but just adding another layer of enigma for those of us already lost in the forest, with nowhere to run as the figure in black drew closer. —Ben
When asked about music in England in the late 70’s, most anyone will reply with Punk. The images of the Sex Pistols decked out in Vivienne Westwood gear, Ian Curtis on stage in the fits of a seizure, and the classic Kings Road punks with safety pins through their cheeks. The media sensation around the scene was such a whirlwind it seized that little chunk of pop cultural time and handed it over to the punks. Fair enough. But while all that ink has been spilled about punk and its mutant offshoots, there was another, equally as important scene running parallel around the same time, and in the same place. Kids who grew up on the hard rocking sounds of Black Sabbath, Budgie, early Judas Priest, Zep, UFO, Deep Purple, Rush and Thin Lizzy. Working class youth who did not necessarily connect with the politics and fashion of punk. They remained loyal to the no-nonsense rock they were weaned on and did not cut their hair short in the summer of ’76. These kids had no time for the lofty art school pretension of the punk movement, yet they were too close to the impact of it to not be affected the anger, brevity and do it yourself ethos. When those elements of early punk were applied to the already fossilizing hard rock scene, a new and brilliant sound was born. The old form was trimmed of its excess fat, given a facelift and a new sleeveless denim jacket. As this fresh and revitalized take on hard rock and early metal was forged in England, the bands springing up in its wake went on to not only define classic Heavy Metal, in sound and look, but to change and shape rock in the long run just as much as the punks. This sound was christened…The New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
As this new scene took shape, younger bands like Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Raven, Samson, Angel Witch and Saxon were gaining quite a devoted following of headbangers. The mainstream music press largely laughed it off, as it was in sharp contrast to the tepid new wave that was selling so well at the time. The die hard fans had created a demand for vinyl though, and independent labels, often run by fans with a true emotional investment in the music began to dot the landscape. Labels like Neat, Guardian and Heavy Metal Records were quick to meet the demand and began releasing single after killer single. Compilations served as an excellent way to showcase these new and numerous bands and these began to flood the import bins of record stores on the other side of the pond, and America too had developed a taste for NWOBHM. Neat Records from Newcastle is arguably the biggest label in the scene and released some of the most coveted and important records of the genre. The god-like Venom being the most well known. Interestingly, while punks mentality was one of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ the reverent NWOBHM fans stuck with their old favorites too and bands like Budgie and especially Judas Priest and Black Sabbath saw quite a resurgence during this phase. Countless fresh faced new metal bands were energized and began releasing LP’s and 45’s, touring consistently and influencing thousands of young kids around the globe to pick up guitars and give it a go. The ensuing international underground metal scene owes a giant debt to these bands. Metallica, Slayer, Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate etc. all were formed out of a passion for these early British sounds. These bands ramped up the speed, aggression and image, helping lay the foundations for Thrash, Death and Black Metal a few years down the road. None of this would have been possible without NWOBHM bands like Venom, Blitzkrieg and Holocaust laying the rock solid foundation in the U.K. years prior.
New Wave of British Heavy Metal is so vast and varied in sound its impossible for me to list all of my favorites. So I will suggest a few LP’s and compilations to give a decent overview. The movement was given a blanket name, but the bands range in sound from the melodic AOR hard rock of Praying Mantis and Dark Star to the punky proto-hardcore assault of Venom and Jaguar, to the doomy stoned Sabbath worship of Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General. So here is a few of my favorites, but this is by no means a definitive list. Just a small torch to guide you through the ruins of this ancient and magnificent castle…
1. Diamond Head Lightning to the Nations (Happy Face, 1981) Unsurpassed masterpiece of the genre, and on a larger scale, all of rock itself. Perfect mix of fast and mid-paced hard rockers with one foot firmly in the 70’s and one foot in present, or 1980 in this case. Sean Harris delivers some of the best vocals ever laid down while Brian Tatlers riffs are poured out like thick but still liquid concrete into a steel foundation. Impassioned, intense and with astounding production, this band should be as renown as Sab, Zep and Lizzy. Most of my generation was turned onto them via Metallica’s covers of Am I Evil on the rerelease of Kill ’em All or Helpless on the Garage Days Revisted record in 1987 which blew my 10 year old mind in half. Fault Lars Ulrich all you want, the guys choice of cover material was top shelf back in 1987. Essential.
2. Roxsnax/Roxcalibur Compilations (Guardian Records, 1980-1982) These are two label showcase LP’s recorded in ’80 and ’82 respectively, put out by the consistently excellent Guardian records. Absolutely amazing tracks from lesser known acts like Samurai, Hollow Ground, Saracen, Battleaxe, Marauder, Satan etc. Highly recommended for those of you looking for some of the most honest and true Heavy Metal from England at the time. Right down to the layout, song titles and band choices, these compilations embody the movement in my opinion. Follow these two comps up with the third in the series, ‘Pure Overkill’ from ’83 (featuring the amazing Spartan Warrior) for a birds eye view of what was going on at the time. A great starting point for those curious about the grittier underbelly of the dragon.
3. Iron Maiden Iron Maiden (EMI, 1980) The longest running and best known band to emerge from the NWOBHM, Iron Maiden’s first 2 LP’s feature Paul Dianno on vocals. Later replaced by the equally great Bruce Dickinson, Paul had way less range, but makes up for it in spades with his gruff, raspy and street sounding voice. Even on their first full length they are polished beyond belief, and playing with that accomplished fire and precision tightness that they are infamous for. Eddie on the cover looks like Paul sounds on the mic. The way they juggle scholarly technique with an almost amateur, punk sensibility and intensity is, and always will be, second to none. They became a legendary band for a reason and this record was the first major step in an unrelenting urge to run free and ahead of the pack.
4. Venom Black Metal (Neat, 1982) An obvious choice indeed, but Venom changed the entire landscape of music with this beast. The punk production and extremely occult atmosphere not only started the entire black metal movement but gave it a name and a plan of attack. Venom speaks with a harsh tongue, and those of us lucky enough to understand their dialect will forever be rewarded. Unlike anything before it and continually inspirational to this day. Neat Records made many wise choices. This may have been the wisest.
5. Legend Death in the Nursery (Workshop, 1981)
Their 2nd LP, and my favorite (although the self titled LP released prior is as good) Legend played a sophisticated and refined style that retained the flair and showmanship of the 70’s hard rock bands (think Stray etc.) but had all of the stripped down intensity and drive of the moment. Opening song ‘Choices’ might be one of my top picks of the entire era. Peter Haworth’s soloing and riffing on this record is punishing, lyrical and relentless. I would liken the power of ‘Death in the Nursery’ to that of a bulldozer, made out of an ultra lightweight compound that does not exist anywhere on the periodic table. If there was any justice in the world bands like this would be on the soundtracks to films like ‘300’ and ‘Clash of the Titans.’
6. Holocaust The Nightcomers (Phoenix, 1981)
Brutal and tough Scottish NWOBHM played by one of the most unpretentious and committed sounding bands I have ever heard. Their previous 12″ single for Heavy Metal Mania is mindblowing as is the followup single for Smokin’ Valves but their first full length LP The Nightcomers is a truly complete statement. The mid-tempo riffing and rough production is a killer combination, as the the crushing weight of the songs is really emphasized by not playing them too fast. True heavy metal with attention to melody and nuance, yet still managing to unleash the most primal urges. Listen to the song Death or Glory, or better yet look up footage of them on youtube playing it in a club in Edinburgh in the early 80’s and try to not bang your head until it falls off. I dare you.
7. Lead Weight Compilation (Neat, 1981) A Neat Records sampler that is quite common even today (a great start for any NWOBHM collection and can be picked up on ebay for around 10-15 dollars) and features the classic Neat roster in peak form. Tracks from Raven, White Spirit, Venom, Axe, Blitzkrieg, Aragorn, Fist, Axis, Bitches Sin, Warrior and Satan’s Empire.
Further Listening: Seeing as the New Wave of British Metal was driven by demo cassettes, live gigs and (often) self released 7″s, the scene was so vast you could spend years unearthing new bands and still have not scratched the surface. Lars Ulrich compiled an excellent 3 CD set called ‘Lightning the Nations’ which features almost 60 tracks of top shelf NWOBHM. A great place to check out some lesser knowns and then decide if you want to explore their catalog deeper. Of course, there are more well known groups who did not make the above list but are stone cold classic and I left off due to space constraints, Angel Witch, Jaguar, Gaskin, Saxon, Samson, Raven, Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General etc. are all well worth investigating. Label compilations are always a great starting point and Heavy Metal records did the Heavy Metal Heroes series which I highly suggest too. New labels are reissuing classic titles and demos at an alarming rate and Iron Maiden is still touring. Being between a rock and hard place is good for once. —Gary Abernathy
Wishbone Ash’s self-titled debut album is a triumph of early seventies rock. It successfully merges elements of hard, folk and progressive rock to form an original compound. The album starts with the rocking but somehow stuttering “Blind Eye”. The effect is almost teasing. Next up is the harder, more progressive “Whiskey Lady”. This particular track is like Atomic Rooster in some ways: the singing, some tasty, catchy, heavy riffs, longish instrumental sections and great soloing. But then it’s not as dark as most Atomic Rooster and doesn’t feature Vincent Crane’s Hammond organ. Still, it’s an excellent track and one of my favorites from these guys. This is followed by another progressive piece, “Errors of my Way”. This is altogether much gentler with harmony singing giving it a distinctly folky feel. It’s a lovely track, and another favorite.
The second half is devoted to just two tracks. “Handy” is an almost completely instrumental track at over 11 minutes ling. It hints at some of their beautiful, gentle compositions that were to appear on the next album. This is followed by “Phoenix” another long track (over 10 minutes). This again is an almost all instrumental track. Some of the guitar playing here reminds me of early Fleetwood Mac.
“Wishbone Ash” is a great achievement for 1970. —Jim
This is Heavy Metal before the genre had all of the Rock & Roll stripped away from it. Because it still has those roots, the album is refreshingly soulful and full of rich textures. Not to worry, though, it’s still plenty fast and heavy. “Invaders” crawls under your skin and sticks with you longer than the written-to-be-catchy chorus of the album’s big hit, “Run for the Hills.” Said hit is also a stellar track, however, as is the haunting “Children of the Damned.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but “Number of the Beast” rules! If you think that Iron Maiden is hokey, dated or “Satanic,” and you haven’t actually taken to time to listen to their work, then you are doing yourself a great disservice. Don’t confuse this classic with the throwaway nostalgia that was released by scores of imitators a few years later. Intricate, pounding, powerful and creative – if those are words that describe good music to you, then look no further than “Number of the Beast.” –Lucas
Loaded with no less than four primal Purple classics, Machine Head has gone on to be the general favorite studio slab from the esteemed MKII lineup, and with good reason, as among the empty corridors of Montreux’s Grand Hotel the band and producer Martin Birch laid to tape a set that pushed the heaviness of In Rock into a focused and accessible framework. The most enduring cuts here are synonymous with Deep Purple, the open highway insanity of “Highway Star” featuring a vintage Jon Lord classical workout and Richie wailing in high harmony with himself, while the King Kong sized riff of “Smoke on the Water” melds perfectly with Gillan’s clever, autobiographical lyrics. Elsewhere there’s the extended instrumental intro to the boogiein’ “Lazy” and rocket-propelled “Space Truckin’,” while lesser renowned entries hold their own, the studly “Maybe I’m a Leo” and “Never Before” clues to the band’s funky future, “Pictures of Home” chugging along to a melancholy gallop. Again, the sound of the band from their lead booted bottom end to the warm distortion of Lord’s Hammond and Blackmore’s Strat-wrangling works it’s magic on Machine Head, birthing an enduring, steel-plated standard for all hard lovin’ rock libraries. —Ben
In 1975 the Scottish Hard Rock band Nazareth released their masterpiece, and what is one of the greatest Hard Rock albums ever recorded, Hair Of The Dog. This album is simply amazing from first to last and doesn’t have anything resembling a weak song on it. What it does have is one hard hitting earth shaking song right after another. And they are all perfectly balanced by Danny McCafferty menacing, growly Vocals and Manny Charlton snarling searing Guitars.
This album stands tall as one of the greatest Hard Rock icon albums of the 1970’s and of all time. –Karl