paint splat
paint splat

4 April 2023

Well, I didn’t see that coming!

Well, I didn’t see that coming!

It’s an expression of rarity in the rock world when listening to the veteran artists who often get locked into the album/tour/album cycle for decades on end. How many bands can we name where their glory days seem aeons ago and live it’s like a setlist from the seventies ?

But then every now and again a band switches label, refocuses their sound, adds a new member or clicks with the right (and often younger) producer who reminds them of who they are and what they can do and there is an explosive burst of talent and creativity.

We’re not saying all veteran bands fall into this, far from it – Maiden and Clutch have been knocking out back to back classics for the last twenty years to name but two – but you get where we’re coming from. It fills the long term fan with a sense of pride and validation and there is no better feeling than reconnecting with an old friend who has made wise choices and excelled in your absence. Maybe Aerosmith and Metallica could do with stepping up to that challenge, eh?

Here’s some great albums that we think no one saw coming.

Pyromania Def Leppard

Leppard had wanted to write big-sounding anthems on their previous records, but Pyromania was where the band really went for it. The songs on Pyromania are driven by catchy, shiny melodic hooks with the heavy guitar riffs relegated to second place. This new focus on melody and songwriting, along with “Mutt” Lange’s polished production, set the tone for much of the melodic hard rock that followed. On “Photograph” the guitars are big and polished, while the vocals combine to create a truly inescapable, infectious rock anthem. They would revisit this formula later on songs like “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Armageddon It.” With a little help from MTV, Pyromania was a massive success and the catalyst for the ’80s pop-metal movement.

Sonic Boom Kiss

It was 11 years since their last album and in a shocking move Paul and Gene handed Ace and Peter’s characters over to newbies Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. Unlike previous album Psycho Circus, Sonic Boom captures the spirit of the original group through simple, good time, macho songs that could have appeared on any of their classic albums. Closing track “Say Yeah” is a sure fan pleaser, falling somewhere between “Black Diamond” and “Nothin’ to Lose.” Dumb, sexist, gaudy? Maybe, but the Kiss Army had waited over two decades for something this solid and fun.

13 Black Sabbath

One can only imagine the pressure of being the creators of heavy metal as we know it, and agreeing to a near full reunion of the band (minus drummer Bill Ward). Well the Rick Rubin-produced 13 comes close to recapturing the metal magic of those first classic Sabbath records. Many of the album’s eight tracks stretch past the seven-minute mark, full of compositional changes and signature sense of dread. Standout track “God Is Dead?” features sharp tempo changes and heavy drop-tuned metal riffs like a lot of the best early tracks. Sabbath rose to the challenge of turning in something that rediscovers the strengths of their younger days.

Saints of Los Angeles  Mötley Crüe

The Dirt was the band’s tell-all autobiography and the impetus behind Saints of Los Angeles, the first record to feature the group’s original lineup since Generation Swine, and it’s a welcome return to form. Its Crüe doing what they do best i.e. mining punk-infused, mid-’80s Sunset Strip, chest-thumping, glam metal. Opening cut “Face Down in the Dirt,” complete with a Shout at the Devil-era, “In the Beginning”-inspired intro, and  “Down at the Whisky,” which echoes the of Girls, Girls, Girls, are standout tracks. Suddenly all those second-rate live albums, “greatest-hits” collections and the 90’s are forgotten. Well done lads.

Sol Invictus Faith No More

Faith No More called it quits in 1998 after the poorly received King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime and Album of the Year. After regrouping for live work in 2011, 2015’s Sol Invictus captures the “anything goes” spirit of their best work.  Jon Hudson’s guitar work adds attack to the album, the songs have an ambitious melodic structures but still hit hard, while bassist Bill Gould and drummer Mike Bordin bring precision and muscle. Mike Patton confirms he has the chops and the vision to lead the band into strange but remarkable places. “Separation Anxiety”, “Sunny Side Up”, “Cone of Shame” and “From the Dead” all demonstrate this admirably. Sol Invictus is their best and most compelling work since Angel Dust.

The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead  Megadeth

The return to form that began on 2016’s Dystopia continues with The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead!. The six years that passed between the last record and this one stand as the longest time between new material in the band’s nearly 40-year history. Not normally a good sign. However, Dave Mustaine and his bandmates focus on precision thrash, turning in a tighter, more focused and streamlined bunch of tracks.

Mustaine had been treated for throat cancer and co-founder/bassist David Ellefson had left the band due to his involvement in a sex scandal. These tough times are echoed in the songs, which are, for the most part, no-nonsense ragers marked by the kind of technical perfection the band made their name on in the ’80s and ’90s. “Life in Hell,” exemplifies this perfectly. The six-and-a-half-minute “Night Stalkers” is a swarm of riffs mini-epic. The bile is thick on sinister blasters like “We’ll Be Back” and “Celebutante.” This album re-affirms the band’s status as Metal Gods who are still operating on a level of excellence.

Sonic Temple The Cult

Sonic Temple finds the Cult trying several different musical styles, from crunchy Electric-era ’70s grooves and the fuzzy, noisy psychedelia of Love, to mellow ballads and commercial ’80s hard rock. Starting the album in a haze of feedback drone and hissing  cymbals, “Sun King” builds in slow, sure fashion, a fine example of the Cult’s ability at balancing control and sheer frenzy. It shows how the band had firmly set its sights on a neo-metal direction; Duffy’s explosive midsong solo proves that. Producer Bob Rock commercializes the Cult’s sound too. It became a hit all over hard rock radio and also staked the Cult’s claim as the only band loved by Metalheads and Goths alike.

Imaginos Blue Oyster Cult

This ambitious work, concerning a mysterious 19th century figure who turns up at key moments in history, came out just as BÖC were entering post peak. The idea for this concept album had been around since Secret Treaties and the recording took place over a six-year period. Despite that, its BÖC’s most consistent album, with none of their usual nods to pop accessibility. Its also the closest thing to a heavy-metal statement from a band that never quite fit that description. Prog-tinged epic Astronomy is one of the most legendary songs in the Blue Öyster Cult canon and was always conceived to be part of Imaginos.

Spooky organ chords, electric guitar flourishes and Eric Bloom’s intense vocal delivery blend and build into a high-powered finale of instrumental fireworks, This is a slicker 1980s-sounding version of the original. Metallica were s impressed, they did a hard-hitting version for their Garage, Inc. covers album. Blue Öyster Cult went out with a bang as a major-label recording act on their 14th and last new Columbia album, Imaginos.

Blizzard of Ozz Ozzy Osbourne

Upon its release, there was considerable doubt that Ozzy could go it alone. Despite that, this album is a masterpiece of neo-classical metal that, along with Van Halen’s first album, became a cornerstone of ’80s metal guitar. Randy Rhoads’ application of classical guitar techniques and scales rewrote the rulebook, while his ambitious compositions and arrangements created a sense of epic doom. The music is a great match for Ozzy’s lyrical obsession with the dark side and the singer stamps his personality all over the album, clearly delighted to be back.

“Crazy Train” is a showcase for Rhoads’ technique and the riff is a classic. Osbourne himself pleads for sanity in a destructive world and delivers one of the greatest performances of his solo career. ”Mr. Crowley” is among heavy metal’s most melodic offerings, and a primary example of Ozzy Osbourne’s first-rate musical sensibilities. Blizzard of Ozz made Ozzy a star and it set new standards for musical virtuosity in Metal.

Lovedrive Scorpions

In 1979, change was afoot. Lead guitarist, Uli Jon Roth, had left the Scorpions and the rock genre was rapidly changing. With this in mind, the band dramatically changed their style to sound more like Van Halen, using three guitarists (Rudolf Schenker, Michael Schenker, Matthias Jabs) to do it. Lyrics and melodies are better written too, with many Scorpions’ best songs, such as “Loving You Sunday Morning,” “Holiday,” and “Coast to Coast” all found here.

The Formation of Damnation Testament

Bandmembers coming and going, label switches and a battle against cancer. Testament had been through the mill. To say “Fuck that” and to celebrate their 25th year anniversary, four-fifths of the group’s definitive lineup reunited for their first studio album in 16 years. And the classic Testament thrash sound was alive and well on the title track,  Henchmen Ride and The Persecuted Won’t Forget. As one of the ’80s-era thrash bands who never strayed far from their original path, they actually got heavier and better as the years progressed. Still killed it live, too.

Through the Ashes of Empires Machine Head

The band’s debut was a master piece but would, alas, give way to undercooked repetition and decline within the span of seven short years, with little hope for redemption.  But against all odds, this was summarily dismissed by the group’s stunning fifth album.  On it, they rediscover their roots while reuniting bandleader Robb Flynn with guitarist Phil Demmel.

Colossal first track “Imperium” single-handedly eclipses the previous two and a half albums, while simultaneously recapturing the dark majesty and crushing authority of “Davidian”. Ensuing headbangers “Bite the Bullet,” “Left Unfinished,” the epic “In the Presence of My Enemies”  and rousing final number “Descend the Shades of Night,” all maintain the quality. A herculean effort.

Lionheart Saxon

Original members Biff Byford (vocals) and Paul Quinn (guitar) have survived countless lineup shakeups and have stumbled a few time along the way, but on this album, heads are held high as they headbang merrily along.

Lionheart is a pure Metal album, the type that Saxon old-timers know and love. Album-opener “Witchfinder General” and “Man and Machine” would not sound out of place on early classic Denim & Leather. It helped the band reconnect with their aging supporters, go from strength to strength in Europe, tour extensively and command decent paychecks at the summer festivals. That’s proper, that is.