Friday, September 6, 2013

NWOBHM Singles

I have always enjoyed New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) singles for a variety of reasons. One, they are amazing. But that is just a personal judgment. A more substantial attachment is rooted in the style’s bridge between the mainstream and the development of underground heavy metal. While NWOBHM was a very grassroots movement, combining the ferocity of punk and the attitude of heavy metal, the style was still a part of mainstream accessibility -- or at least, a variation of it. When investigating NWOBHM, one will encounter a plethora of 7 inch singles. For whatever reason, NWOBHM was driven by singles. Whether or not people thought this style had the potential to sell single songs as massive hits is unknown. Perhaps the decade prior of heavy metal appeal led others to believe the singles market would dominate a new decade of heavy metal. It did not, and most legendary NWOBHM material survives in full length form. The singles market, however, is far from dead -- at least with the commercial 80's.

 Because of its niche appeal, there are some who are dedicated to collecting NWOBHM singles. These are people who are super into buying records and have found excitement in the limited availability and attention for this music. Additionally, the single as an entity is interesting within the confines of heavy metal. As a format, these two or three songs usually act as the band’s resume to make themselves well-known among all of the other bands putting out the same type of sound. Much like garage in the 70’s, there existed for a couple of year a wave of similar sounding material that was all pretty amazing. Again, personal judgment. Below are twenty amazing NWOBHM singles chosen by myself and Tape Wyrm’s veteran guest, Deathofthesun. I expect you to have us both over so we can look through your crates of records.


After Dark - Evil Woman(1981)

Where are we starting? With some organ and a slight 70’s hard rock hangover? After Dark may not sound like the proto typical NWOBHM but once that twin guitar hits, there will be no question of its reason for being here. The band members from After Dark did absolutely nothing following two singles and a debut release. None of them even went on to join any other bands except for Michael Hare who played guitars in the lesser known Iron Heart in the late 80’s. Wait, the band sort of got back together in the mid 90's. Wait, nevermind. Just this single.

Demon - Liar(1980)

Fuck yes, Demon. If you are not aware of this band’s first two albums, Night of the Demon and The Unexpected Guest leave now to go purchase any remaining vinyl copies. Aside from Demon shaking the earth with solid hard rock, the band’s early work is entirely centered around the occult. Well, except for their bluesy first single, which is more of a beer fueled bitch fest about unfaithful women. Whether fascination or devotion, Demon’s darkness drapes quite nicely over electric riffs and gang vocals. Personally, I think their work matured in The Unexpected Guest but their debut single is more than enough to earn them a gold NWOBHM star. Just don't do Demon wrong.


Bashful Alley - My My My (1982)

Out of all of the NWOBHM singles, Bashful Alley may be one of the more popular selections. Along with Traitors Gate, the singles from this Lichfield trio is revisited with great intensity. “My My My” was the b-side to "Running Blind" and, for all intents and purposes, is a better song. Though “Running Blind" has a great guitar lead, the intensity in "My My My" is far better, and without the simple verse chorus hook of its A-Side. It has an unhinged 70's heavy metal fever that courses through its veins. The cover is great as well. I want their faces on a baseball tee in 1983. Someone needs to invent a time machine right fucking now.


Hell - Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us (1983)

Hell is strange. Hell is strange because they just released their first record two years ago. They were just working up to it. Calm down. If you listened to Human Remains, Hell’s original demos, then you pretty much know what to expect since they followed the same format. By that I mean it sort of sounded the same in every way, minus the lead vocals. Original vocalist Dave G. Halliday committed suicide in 1986 following the collapse of Hell’s first debut and dissolution of the band. This is the backdrop to Hell, which seems to be doing quite nice at the moment. Preserved in a handful of demos, the wailing wild vocals of Halliday are like a punk rouge musical, which take way more time to get used to than most. After about 20 listens, however, they start to become amazing. Until then however, you should see your face.


Traitors Gate - Devil Takes the High Road(1985)

(Windscape) Traitors Gate’s single came out in 1985, which is really pushing it in terms of the traditional / NWOBHM border. I assume that Traitors Gate would be axed from this NWOBHM discussion if this single was any less than damn awesome. Wait. It is so it stays. No. Fuck you. Devil Takes the High Road follows two demos of lesser quality. The 84 demo is still decent with songs like “ Take a Chance on the Night” but nothing comes close to Devil Takes the High Road. Traitor's Gate is a band that could have made an amazing debut if this was their warm up. Now let us check what the band did after this. Oh, look at that. Absolutely nothing. Don’t be a wimp and take the low road, listen to more Traitor's Gate.


High Treason - Saturday Night Special(1980)

I really like High Treason for very selfish reasons. Oh shit. Listen to those guitars. If anything, High Treason remains one of my favorite NWOBHM singles for their simple and effective use of harmonized guitars, which can now be heard in video game cover bands everywhere. I cannot speak of anything they did after that, which was nothing until their 2006 hard rock / blues album Radio Will Find Me, which is hilariously more obscure than their NWOBHM output, which is exactly this single. Do not hope for much with High Treason, or any other band on this list, after these singles. They did not go on to have long healthy lives. For now, however, enjoy the razor sharp double dragon-esque sounds of "Saturday Night Special."


Salem - Cold as Steel (1981)

From the band’s aptly named 1981 Demo, to be followed by 1982 Single, and then finally concluded in 1983 Demo and 1983 Demo #2. I only make fun because this whole process seemed very mechanical and seemed to be working up to an album that never happened. All that remains from Salem is a neatly organized compilation, artless demos, and a small legacy of heavy metal that makes great accompaniment to drinking with friends. Seriously. I will buy Salem a drink next time I see them.


Mendes Prey - On to the Borderline (1982)

Oh shit, is this same guy who sang in the earlier NWOBHM band Trespass? Yes? Awesome. No? Nothing? I wonder when I will get to the bands that started with singles and then had a healthy career after. Mendes Prey has exactly two singles with a total of 4 songs to their name. This is one of them and it is awesome. Despite it sounding very similar to, well everything else, Mendes Prey has the charm that makes their two metal songs memorable enough to at least to put in a NWOBHM article. Oh yeah, they totally jumped ship after this single to make more synth heavy pop. Also their "Wonderland" single has a cover that will get your ass kicked if you bring it out in public. Just saying.


Quartz - Satan’s Serenade

Quartz is another interesting case as their short 3 song single, Satan’s Serenade, comes in the middle of their catalog. If you have not heard me rave about this band’s 1977 self titled debut then we need to hang out more. Quartz has always done the same thing and they were just standing around when NWOBHM hit. Because they already fit the right sound and they lived down the street, Satan’s Serenade got caught up in the street sweeper. This should not be an excuse to not listen to Quartz. I mean look at that album cover. Listen to the guitar cut like razors. Fuck, go out and get their debut. I love Quartz more than Demon and Mendes Prey's "Wonderland" single.


Radium - Making Changes(1982)

Fuck it, I admit it. I just pulled this band because of their name. Who names their band Radium? And on a record label named Isotope?!? That is awesome! Oh dear lord this sounds terrible. Fuck it, I want a shirt. This rocks. You know what, aside from the terrible production this could be awesome. I already bought a shirt so I am justifying it.


Satan - Kiss of Death (recorded 1981/released 1982)

The first four song demo Satan set to tape wound up going to two sources - "Oppression" and "The Executioner" landed on the Roxcalibur compilation, while "Kiss of Death" and "Heads Will Roll" were released as this 7" single. A lot rougher around the edges than what was to come on the '83 classic Court in the Act full-length, at this point Satan had yet to one out from underneath its influences, namely early Maiden and Motörhead, with a little Sabbath thrown in for measure. Original singer Trevor Robinson's delivery was vicious and feral compared to future frontman Brian Ross' smooth midrange and falsetto flights, and guitar duo Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey were still working their way up to the sunning performances they'd soon unleash. Which isn't to say this material is somehow lacking - it still puts to shame a lot of their contemporaries, and it's only a testament to the strength of their songwriting that none of the first four songs (great as they were) would wind up making the cut for Court. Even at this early stage the band's grasp on dynamics was impressive, especially on "Heads Will Roll," and the single is a nice portent of things to come.


Trespass - One of These Days(1979)

One of the most puzzling "How the hell did this band not rocket to stardom?!" cases in the entire NWOBHM, Trespass had songs that should've conquered the world. A-side "One of These Days" opens with a slow, haunting lead that soon gives way to a driving, powerful feel. Heartfelt, morose vocals matched by a lot of top-notch guitar playing - it's basically "747 (Strangers in the Night)," only a few years earlier. They'd re-record it the following year for the Metal For Muthas II comp, but this is the better version. (Their other song on the comp, "Stormchild," is just as incredible.) B-side "Bloody Moon" ratchets up the guitar harmonies and comes off like Schenker-era UFO with a really depressed Phil Mogg at the helm. And make no mistake, their songs were so well written they wouldn't have seemed out of place on Lights Out or No Heavy Petting. There are two copies of this single on Discogs right now for $15 each, and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest to say the content would be worth paying a hundred times that price.


Aragorn - Black Ice (1981)

Mostly remembered for being the originator of the vicious guitar tone faithfully cloned by one Tom G. Warrior, the music on Aragorn's lone single is pretty damn worthy of remembrance as well. They weren't quite Venom-level filthy in concept and execution, but this is still some pretty scuzzed-out stuff. The intro of A-side "Black Ice" goes through some baffling changes (alternately presaging Black Metal's title track and sounding like an AOR band trying out Warrior's guitar rig) before the song finally takes shape, while B-side "Noonday" kicks off with a hilariously misleading mellow intro before diming the raunch knob. Solid, raucous, rockin' stuff.


Virtue - We Stand to Fight (1985)

Arriving near the tail end of the movement was one of its brightest moments. A-side "We Stand to Fight" tends to get the glory, but B-side "High Treason" is moodier and, well, just plain better. "We Stand to Fight" sets its sights squarely on Maiden with a soaring twin-guitar intro followed by verse and chorus riffs straight out of the Harris handbook. The more dynamic B-side sits closer to Satan and Priest, sealing the deal with a dark ending that far outshines the overlong guitar exercise that closes out "We Stand to Fight." Apart from this single, before splitting for good Virtue also managed the Fool's Gold demo in '87 - almost as good and just as highly recommended.


Black Axe - Highway Rider (1980)

Gorgeously crafted and soaringly melodic, Black Axe (and later as Wolf) were one of the movement's standout bands on the lighter side of things. A-side "Highway Rider" and uptempo B-side "Red Lights" both showcase a knack for disgustingly good vocal melodies along with musicianship seldom rivaled by their contemporaries. Thankfully this was still when technicality was a means rather than the end, so it all ends up wonderfully serving the songs. Imagine if Dark Star had more than one song on the level of "Lady of Mars" - that'd be Black Axe. After a name-change to Wolf, the band would manage another single in '82 and the End of the World full-length (featuring re- recordings of both songs from this single) in '84- both top notch and highly, highly recommended.


Hollow Ground - Warlord (1980)

The A-side of this EP alone could earn it a spot on any best-of list for NWOBHM. Putting their best foot forward, Hollow Ground commence to smashing your skull in with the power and epic melodicism of "Flying High," which wouldn't be out of place on an album like Battle Cry or Crystal Logic. Follow-up "Warlord" keeps the pace but swaps the feel for pure Diamond Head magic, right down to the killer note runs Brian Tatler was so fond of. The B-side cools thing off a bit with the midtempo hard rocker "Rock On" (not bad, but definitely the weakest song here) before closing things off with "Don't Chase the Dragon," a heavier take on the Tatler-y riffing heard earlier backed with great drumming. A high-price rarity in its original form, if I'm not mistaken an official version of the bootleg discography LP from five or six years ago should be out shortly.


Crucifixion - Take it Or Leave It (1982)

For once, forget the A-side. It's okay. The hellish scream at the beginning rules, but apart from that it gets massively overshadowed by B-side "On the Run." Determined to ride one chord progression into the ground from start to finish, "On the Run" offers up a killer guitar harmony and irrepressible gang-shouted chorus, neither of which is likely to ever leave your head after the first listen. All credit due to revivalists Züül for extending the song by about a minute and a half on their cover version - it could be four times as long and no one would complain.


Scarab - Poltergeist (1982)

Like a garage-y version of Maiden's earliest epics, Scarab's "Poltergeist" combines a flair for the dramatic with some appropriately creepy atmosphere ... and I could swear Entombed swiped one of the riff endings for the "Defiled is the cross hanging around your neck" part in "Living Dead." It's rough around the edges, but definitely in a good way. B-side "Hell on Wheels" follows similar suit, somewhat reminiscent of Hell's off- kilter tendencies in places. While most of it didn't surface at the time, these guys had a lot of top-shelf material - the Rolling Like Thunder 2CD or 2LP+7" collection of their '80s recordings can't be recommended enough, and their crushingly heavy comeback EP A Soul For a Soul remains one of the absolute highlights released in the last 15 years.


Arc - War of the Ring (1981)

You're just going to have to get past the off-key wail that kneecaps the end of the A-side 's opening lyric. The tale of Lord of the Rings set to fittingly triumphant music, apart from that one moment, "War of the Ring" is epic doom through and through ... pretty much the birth of the style, since it wouldn't be heard again until Candlemass showed up and gave the style a proper name. B-side "Ice Cream Theme" isn't as goofy as the name would imply, though it also pales pretty mightily next to the A-side. On the plus side, instead you can always listen to "War of the Ring" again. And again. And again, and again, and ..


Persian Risk - Calling For You (1981)

One more from the lighter side. With the hooks and potential to match early Tokyo Blade, Persian Risk managed two great singles before falling off mightily on subsequent efforts. A pre-Motörhead Phil Campbell douses the A-side in great leads, taking flight at every opportunity and showing off a airy grace that thankfully hasn't come within a mile of appearing on any Motörhead recording to date. B-side "Chase the Dragon" stands defiantly in the face of Hollow Ground's warning, but is really only noteworthy for Campbell putting a thinly-disguised version of riff to much better use in Motörhead's "Make My Day." With originals impossibly expensive, the good news is the same recording of the A-side can be found on the essential Heavy Metal Heroes vol. 2 comp, which goes for about one-tenth of the price and also features a lot of other great stuff.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In Defense of Metal Elitism

This is Tape Wyrm 50. 49 columns ago, this feature was started to allow me to write about metal, so I would stop submitting "these damnedable" articles to Pinpoint. I think it has gone well. Over the course of these 49 articles and the past two years, I feel that we have explored a lot -- often through reviews that act as recommendations. Well, a lot of recommendation articles. Most of Tape Wyrm's columns have followed the same  format with recommendations listed one after another. I think it has worked out wonderfully for 49 articles. This is why we are not going to do this today. In lieu of new releases or an investigation of a certain time period, I wanted to share some of my notes on a subject dear to my heart, metal elitism.

Elitism can be defined as the belief that certain persons, classes, or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority. This superiority could be connected to social status, wealth, or knowledge. Over these two years, I have become increasingly interested in the concept of elitism and how it relates to music. While elitism can be seen throughout history as a source of political conflict, musical elitism comes at lesser stakes but still with the same amount of intensity. Somewhere between music and a person experiencing music, there exists a source of conflict. Not between person and music, but rather person and other people listening to the same music  This is where we encounter the strange and complicated world of elitism.

Musical elitism is apart of a larger cliché of hipsterism. Beliefs about hipsters include the embrace of  cultural authenticity and a rejection of mainstream commodification. The image of the urban hipster began in the 1940's with the beatniks but did not become its modern image until the 1990's with the rise of college radio and independent rock. In recent years, hipster has become a derogatory term to denote a sense of privileged delusion perpetuated by a sense of cultural superiority.  Rather than progressive or knowledgeable in the arts, hipsters have gained negative traits including an air of lofty lunacy depending on the amount of caricature involved. Something along the lines of "you never heard it before." Hipster is now a place holder to denote the point in which one can go too far in judgment and appreciation.  To start defending musical elitism, one must eradicate the notion of hipsters and start at a love for music.      

[Attitude and Recreation]

Musical elitism stems from knowledge.  It is important to point out that we are discussing the elitism within a field of hobbies and recreation. Unequal academic knowledge, ardent beliefs, and unwavering judgments within the fields of math, science, and anything that possesses an objective component do not come with any claims of snobbery or elitism. It is not as common to find snobs of science or elitist mathematicians, rather just those that know more about a given subject than others.  This is where we can detach elitism from just knowledge and deal with it as it relates to the hobbies.

Claims of elitism are found in more abundance in areas of the arts and hobbies because the relationship with the object is more subjective and possibly comes with a sense of recreation. Further, the more accessible a subject is the more egregious the claims of elitism. I do not think everyone knows about particle physics, only some know about Bayesian statistics, but for the most part, everyone knows music -- or at least can form an opinion on it. The problem is formed then when people assume all opinions are equal and should be treated as equals. Everything was fine when we were discussing Paleobotany but now everything has changed when talking about Kanye West. 

One possible problem with elitism is attitude.  At the basic level there appears to be complaints regarding snobs and their tact when discussing shared interest with newcomers or even people with a casual relationship in the same subject.  If this were the case, however, then this whole subject would really just be about people being assholes to each other. One person being an asshole is simple. They are just an asshole. This is of course solvable by not associating with assholes or not caring about what assholes think about anything. Why would you? They are just assholes.  It is my belief however this issue goes deeper than people being assholes to others. I feel regardless of attitude, a sense of tension and conflict exists between the ones that know and the ones that do not. Knowing more and caring deeply for something does not make one an asshole, but can make them perceivably look that way to ones that know or care less. It is this sense of inequality which begins the narrative of elitism.


Getting into new things can be nerve racking. There is excitement in doing new things but also the desire to do things correctly. There is also a innate desire to organize new information. When approaching a new subject, an over-abundance of information is encountered very quickly. While this is of course exciting, it can also be daunting to organize and understand. At times, everything can become frustrating. To give an example within heavy metal, this whole idea relates to people's compliments about subgenres.

Do we really need all of that? If one of your more adventuresome friends asks for metal albums, you might be inclined to recommend Emperor, Grave, or even Candlemass.  If, instead, your recommendation referred to each of them as Norwegian black metal, OSDM/Swedish death, and epic doom, as opposed to simple names, it may crush any excitement your now ex-friend would have with the genre. Why? Because at that moment, that amount of information had no place and made little sense to them. It came off as pretentious, showy, and needless to put so much organization into a genre. To your now upset friend, the genre was formless and was not ready for that hyper transformation. In our hypothetical situation you would be a shitty friend.

If these classifications are meaningless and an obstacle to many trying to get in to the genre, the question is, do we really need them?  The short answer is, yes we do. These specific genres just mentioned exist and do make sense for those that delve deeper into the genre. Jargon and detailed language are used by people to further delineate information and break things into smaller groups. Norwegian black, Swedish death, and epic doom all are very different from each other and can be identified by others with even an intermediate knowledge in the subject. This is why, in heavy metal, things like USBM, OSDM, DSBM, NSBM, NWOBHM, USPM, and NWOOSDM may seem ludicrous on the surface but still exist without irony and are useful to those that know more about the subject. Jargon and detailed language may not be useful to newcomers, but this does not invalidate their existence nor does it make it needless to those more experienced.

At some point, there is a momentary decision by frustrated newcomers that whatever is known is fine and any perceived needless knowledge is too much. This attitude is compounded by the fact that whatever is being enjoyed is for fun and recreation and in the grand scheme of things no one needs to know that much. To continue our discussion on metal, if your one friend would say "there is no need for all of that, metal is metal,"  he would be wrong since there exists, outside of his arena of knowledge, a system of knowledge that easily categorizes specific details of the genre that others can make sense of. Despite your friend's refusal to travel any further does not negate the fact that this information exists and is useful to those that need those definitions to express exactly what they mean.  Your friend would then be making judgments and parsing out what is useful for them as what is useful for everyone.  At this point, he would be the shitty friend.

[In Defense of Elitism]

After much time spent in a subject, elitism is natural. While this sounds elitist, this idea is just a  progression of taste. Elitism can be thought of as the refinement of taste and an overall judgment of experiences and history with those experiences. After much time spent with a hobby or field, one will develop judgments regarding what is superior and what is inferior. While this judgment is in not entirely objective, experience with a subject can not be overlooked. I fail to see the logic in not heeding recommendations by ones more familiar. Food and beverage critics have judgments regarding their favorite meals. This does not negate your own love for Burger King but just because you enjoy onion rings does not mean the critic is taking things so seriously. This also does not negate the fact that the food critic probably knows other perhaps more delicious places to eat depending on your love for fried bread and meat. People seem to get upset when others continue with a hobby past their range of knowledge or even scope of interest.

Experience is measurable when quality is not. It is difficult to say, with objectivity, this is good and that is not. While it sounds like this is contradictory to elitism,  individual and cultural opinions are different than affixed qualities. There is no inherent good or bad, rather quality measured by culture and experience.  While you can not measure an object's innate quality, you can make summations based on its place within a culture. A film critic's Top Ten list does not make those 10 films good, rather are chosen by someone who has seen many films and makes judgments on cinema. Since there is no definitive formula for quality, elitism can distinguish an object's place within culture. It weeds out the ordinary and highlights things of possible interest. Elitism is not the creation of good and bad rather cultivation of merit.  Recommendations from the knowledgeable are not pretentious and showy, but rather a decent guide from people with a long time spent in one subject area.

With experience comes the ability to define differences.  These differences are what separates the favorable and unfavorable. To bring back heavy metal, a seasoned veteran would be able to delineate between shrieks, growls, grunts, gurgles, and rasps, where others just hear screaming. Both summations on the music are not equal since one is based on experience while the other is lack of experience. It is this experience that can help people find subtle appreciation where more immediate pleasures once dominated. While one can certainly enjoy a subject without any knowledge at all, higher comprehension will change opinion, allowing things once met with opposition to be seen as favorable. Hobbies with large ranges of knowledge are transformative experiences that are often, at least in my experience,  interesting when not left static.

This does not have to be personal. One of the most difficult things to do is divorce oneself from their tastes when being criticized. Since there is much emotional investment made in enjoyable hobbies and the search for new things, criticism will ultimately feel like heartbreak. It feels good when ones tastes are validated and shitty when they are not. While one could certainly become irate and say "metal is metal, why do we need all that," or "what is this techno-viking-speedcore," others can take a more mature and sensible route. One can and should search for new things without any preconceptions or emotional involvement when they are told things they do not want to hear. The quest for knowledge beyond the fray is filled with uncertainty and those who chose to go a little bit further than everyone are not trying to show off rather see how far this interest goes.

[Fly Fishing]

Elitism is useful. It helps one to classify nuances of a subject and easily categorize it based on experience. Elitism also opens up a myriad of nuances where formless enjoyment once thrived. Elitism allows one to become confident in a field. Refining tastes and developing new opinions in an area can enhance ones experience with an object, making elitism in the subject only natural.

True elitism does not pertain to a feeling of superiority rather the mastery of one subject. Mastery over a subject also includes an understanding of the structure and ways to scaffold it for others based on inquisitions. It also means not being an asshole -- to anyone. Your shitty friend who tried to impress you with his heavy metal words was an asshole but so were you for dismissing knowledge that rightfully existed. You are both terrible people and I do not know why I invited you here. A true friend would portion out the history of metal depending on level of interest and start with possible introductions before more advanced selections. True elitism is not the hording of knowledge but the ability to share and convey excitement with the intensity of when first acquired.

You could also do none of this. Everything I just said you could discard and go about your business listening to whatever you wanted and chasing onion rings with fountain sodas. This is fine because who am I to tell you what to do? Why are we even talking?  People get confused with elitism because they think it is something they should do rather than something they could do. One could also not really care about music but know a fuck ton of things about fly fishing. I think this is great and if ever the time comes when I want to get away on vacation and cast a rod in the great outdoors, I'll know who to talk to. Why? Because I know shit about fly fishing and do not pretend that my opinion is equal to the guy with the homemade lures in his tackle box.