Κυριακή 27 Δεκεμβρίου 2020

Metal Nerdism Vol. 9: Top-10 (+1) greatest metal singers you don't see in the lists with the "greatest singers"

Very often (very often) there are lists about the "greatest" singers in magazines and (mostly) online media. These lists are always similar not only because the "greatest" singers are objectively known but mostly because you "can't" make such a list without a few specific names. Name them Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, Eric Adams, Geoff Tate etc. These are legendary voices that should be in such lists for many reasons. If they are "objectively" the best, this is something that's always debated even among professionals, but they're definitely among the greatest.

While those lists are always similar, there will always be singers that never got their share of "greatness" in those lists but a few of them are singers of songs that match the quality of many of those you already know from those lists mentioned above. In the end, a song is not just about the instruments and how "correct" they're performed, or how a voice reaches specific "standards". The greatest pieces of art, sometimes are those who offered something new, something out-of-the-box, something with a passionate and unique performance, something that doesn't follow specific standards. "Critics-professionals-teachers" don't always understand them but the audience does. With that said, we can understand why Blizzard of Ozz or Metallica have sold millions of copies. These are perfect albums and everyone related to these albums can be in such "lists".

Besides all those singers that we use to see in these lists that are many times debatable according to personal tastes or because you can't understand the uniqueness, or talent, or you just don't like the person, there are many more that could be in every of those lists. So here you have the greatest metal singers you don't see in the lists with the "greatest singers".

written by Andreas Andreou

1. Jon Oliva

The Mountain King, the voice of Savatage, one of the best US metal bands. A unique voice with character and passion. From his early performances and his iconic yell in "Sirens" up less known tracks like "The Price You Pay" he was always a character but when he was singing personal lyrics, an unmatchable feeling was dominating each track. During 1989-1991 almost each performance was magnificent, something not very common, even for the greatest singers that use a specific "singing template". "When the Crowds Are Gone", "Hounds", "Summer's Rain", "If I Go Away", Jon Oliva was always unpredictable, a legend on his own.

PERFORMANCE: Tonight He Grins Again (Streets, 1991)

Check also: Russ North (Cloven Hoof)

2. Tony Martin

Tony Martin has a long story as an artist, even if he is mainly known as one of the Black Sabbath singers. Actually, he is the second longest serving singer of the first heavy metal band after Ozzy Osbourne. From The Alliance years up to replacing Ray Gillen in Tony Iommi's Black Sabbath version he was a singer with a talent that just needed the right people. And even if in The Eternal Idol (1987) he just followed Gillen's vocal lines, in Headless Cross (1989), Tyr (1990) and Cross Purposes (1994) he was an important element for one of the better heavy metal styles we love to listen. A solid singer with a huge voice. When he also started writing lyrics during Headless Cross he had the talent to find the most suitable words and phrasing that could perfectly fit with his vocal lines.

PERFORMANCE: When Death Calls (Headless Cross, 1989)

Check also: Russell Allen (Symphony X)

3. Blackie Lawless

In the '90s, the music world was changing despite the fact that there were still a few bands coming from the '80s that expanded their commercial success and fame. But there was also something new, especially in the United States of America, where everything that W.A.S.P. was representing, became "old" and outdated. It was that point where Blackie Lawless started presenting a different, mature face miles away from the '80s party style of the band and the years where they were targeted by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) along with bands like Twisted Sister. Still though, Blackie  was always different even if his live performance is known for pre-recorded parts. From simple lines like "I'm a wild child, come and love me", to controversial lines like "I got pictures of naked ladies" up to "where is the love to shelter me", Blackie always had this huge emotional voice that made every line sound true even if his self has rapidly change over the years.

PERFORMANCE: The Idol (The Crimson Idol, 1992)

Check also: David Wayne (Metal Church)

4. Robert Lowe

Few bands with more than 5 albums can claim that each one of them is at least great, and one of them is Solitude Aeturnus. The Epic Doom Metal legend from Texas is the greatest band of its kind along with Candlemass and an important element of this (true) statement is Robert Lowe's vocal prowess. A cathartic voice that leads tο redemption while at the same time it is mournful leading to ultimate sorrow.

PERFORMANCE: Mirror of Sorrow (Into the Depths of Sorrow, 1991)

Check also: Simen "ICS Vortex" Hestnæs (Lamented Souls, Arcturus)

5. Steve Benito

While his legacy is limited to Heir Apparent's One Small Voice (1989) and a few more recordings here and there, Steve Benito had an extremely elastic voice that was very different from all those Geoff Tate clones that despite their excellent abilities were nothing new and all sounded alike. However, he didn't make any career in music because of his character since despite being a talented person, he was also extremely brash, offensive, very opinionated and always used to getting his way, leading Heir Apparent to the end after the release of One Small Voice, illegally taking the name and putting founder Terry Gorle out of the band. Still though, from the rehearsal recordings of the Triad release up to the second Heir Apparent album and the available live shows on the web, Steve Benito is an undeniable talented and intelligent singer.

PERFORMANCE: Cry for Rome (live session 1988)

Check also: Vittorio Ballerio (Adramelch)

6. Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton's story is a story that could be larger than the man himself and his band, Saviour Machine. A life of wounds and scars, each one of them present in each song and each performance. The scars in the soul of Eric Clayton were created from deep artistic and emotional wounds and after chasing monsters for a lifetime he finally found love and redemption. His songs are his legacy and within them, you can feel the wounds, the pain, the feelings, his revelation and his art. An emotional baritone with a unique ability to transfer his inner feelings and soul to the listener.

PERFORMANCE: The Night (Legend Part I, 1997)

Check also: Eric Wagner (Trouble)

7. J.D. Kimball

Born John David Kimball in March 12th of 1958, died by cancer in October 3rd of 2003, the voice of bravery can be heard in Battle Cry (1984), Warning of Danger (1985), The Curse (1986) and Nightmares EP (1987) of Omen, one of the greatest US underground metal bands of the '80s. "Nothing worthwhile is easy, the path isn't always clear", Kimball sang in "At All Cost" and his life was indeed unclear and difficult but his legacy will remain.

PERFORMANCE: Don't Fear the Night (Warning of Danger, 1985)

Check also: David DeFeis (Virgin Steele)

8. Devon Graves (Buddy Lackey)

A haunting and hypnotic voice that  transforms every single line into an image. There are very few singers that can catch the exact mood of the music and lyrics; Buddy Lackey (later Devon Graves) is one of them. Dreams, pain, anxiety, fear, life, society and a wider abstract philosophy around them finds the perfect voice to transform words into images through a unique performance that cannot be easily copied. From "Hangin' on a String" riding on an endless carousel of wishes, hopes and dreams up to the Deadsoul Tribe, the voice that whispers in our ears speaks in words that come from inside, crashing the waves upon the shore. Pure art.

PERFORMANCE: I Remember (A Social Grace, 1990)

Check also: John Arch (Fates Warning, Arch/Matheos)

9. Mike Baker

The voice of the first five albums of Shadow Gallery left the mortal world on October 29th of 2008 by heart attack but he marked our lives forever. Despite the fact that he wasn't a composer or lyricist and even most of the vocal lines were written by others (mostly Carl Cadden-James) his performance was an important element in the music of Shadow Gallery and truth to be told, Shadow Gallery's vocal lines are like songs within the songs, and among the best ones in metal music. Baker's emotionally trembled voice had a specific feeling in most of the songs adding a further uniqueness.

PERFORMANCE: Hope for Us? (Tyranny, 1998)

Check also: Alan Tecchio (Hades, WatchTower)

10. Dee Snider

There is also another kind of voice, the "life" voices. The confident singers who put their voice's uniqueness and character on top of their lyrics, mainly talking about life, like they already lived what they're talking about. It can't get more real than that and Dee Snider has one of the most powerful voices that grabs you at once no matter how many better singers you can easily think off. Recognizable from the first second, Snider might very well also be the greatest metal frontman ever walked the stage.

PERFORMANCE: The Fire Still Burns (Come Out and Play, 1985)

Check also: Biff Byford (Saxon)

+1: Jutta Weinhold

Those lists are male-dominated in all media, probably just because heavy metal also looks like. However, we can't act alike so here is our pick: Jutta Weinhold, the German singer mostly known from Zed Yago and Velvet Viper but she also had a solo career in the '70s.

I saw live Jutta in Germany at the Keep It True Festival in 2015. Born in 1947, she was 68 (!) years old that day. She didn't look more than 50 and she didn't sound more than 40. That was a legendary performance for a person that's nearly 70 years old. Bring in your mind someone at that age and then imagine that one on stage performing "Zed Yago", "The Spell from Over Yonder" and "Revenge". Unbelievable. Jutta nailed everyone, and EVERY man close to her age.

PERFORMANCE: Zed Yago (From Over Yonder, 1988)

Check also: Leather Leone (Chastain, Leather, Malibu Barbi)

Κυριακή 20 Δεκεμβρίου 2020

Metal Nerdism Vol. 8: Top 10 (+1) drum sounds in metal music.

How many times have you listened to an album and besides each one's widely or personal reception, you recognize a specific element that sounds great? We don't want to write again about "great" singers or albums with the "best" guitars or the "best" solos, since there are probably many out there in magazines or the internet.

We're always trying to aim for something different, so this time we will present you a Top-10 (+1) of the greatest drum sounds in metal music according to Crystal Logic. A few of them can also be identified as albums you can also see in different "top" lists but note that we're not talking about best albums but about the best drum sound.

Still though, it is important to mention that besides the fact that a few of them were already in my mind as the "best", I revisited them again and in each album you can see the audio reference. What is most important is that these albums can only be listened in the physical format in order to feel and get the true magnificence of each one, and not in YouTube (even if we will add a link for a "glimpse") or torrents. After all, we need to mention that we're not taking seriously deep discussions about similar articles when the person in front of us is listening to music only through YouTube. It sounds elitistic but that's the truth, sorry.

written by Andreas Andreou

1. Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas (1994)

Produced by Pytten. Drums performed and co-produced by Hellhammer. Mixed by Pytten, Hellhammer and Euronymous.

Besides its historical importance, Mayhem's first full-length album has a phenomenal and huge drum sound that is perfected by Hellhammer's supernatural performance. Grieghallen (Grieg Hall) is a concert hall located in Bergen, Norway and named after the composer Edvart Grieg. That facility also had recording rooms and a studio. Pytten’s "Grieghallen sound" is the analogue sound of Black Metal and he understood the "chaos" of those young musicians and what they had in mind. Hellhammer’s drums for De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas were recorded on the main stage of the concert hall in order to catch that huge sound.

Read about the story of Black Metal and what led to the creation of De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Deathlike Silence 2020 pressing). In this anniversary vinyl box set, you can also find a book with all the recording information and the saga of the album.

2. King Diamond - Abigail (1987)

Produced by King Diamond. Assisted by Mikkey Dee and Michael Denner. Engineered by Roberto Falcao. Mixed by King Diamond, Andy La Rocque and Roberto Falcao. Drums performed by Mikkey Dee.

A bold and massive sound riding on reverb. Mikkey Dee's performance in Abigail can be identified as one of the greatest in heavy metal history and he recorded most of the album with just a specific part of the music so he could control what he wanted to put on with the less possible interference. Complex and at the same time exactly into-the-point, Mikkey's drumming and sound, added a huge part in the visionaire aura of Abigail, an album that is heavy metal, power metal, progressive metal, horror metal and everything in-between.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Roadrunner 1987 pressing), CD (Roadrunner 2005 deluxe edition), vinyl (Music On Vinyl 2014 pressing).

3. Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind (1983)

Produced, mixed and engineered by Martin Birch. Drums performed by Nicko McBrain.

While someone can say that Iron Maiden is the most iconic '80s heavy metal band, Martin Birch is also the ultimate metal producer of the '80s. Starting with Killers in 1981, he connected his name with the "Maiden-sound" and the greatest albums in the catalogue of the British legend. Piece of Mind, one of the albums that can be identified among the most important cornerstones of influence for what followed (including a huge part of US Power Metal), is heavily connected with THE metal drum sound. Similar to the previous and the next Iron Maiden albums, that sound is the essence of '80s heavy metal drum sound.

Audio reference: Vinyl (EMI 1983 pressing).

4. Omen - The Curse (1986)

Produced by Bill Metoyer and Omen. Engineered by Bill Metoyer. Drums performed by Steve Wittig.

The budget Omen used for most of their albums so far wasn't even close to the budget they had for the drums' recording only, of The Curse. And while Escape to Nowhere will always be an exception in their catalogue for many reasons (recording, too) in 1986 with Bill Metoyer on the sound, Kenny Powell and company recorded their best sounding album with that huge drum sound we surely miss nowadays with all those "same" modern metal triggered productions.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Metal Blade/Enigma 1986 pressing), CD (Metal Blade 1996 pressing w/Nightmares EP), vinyl (Metal Blade 2017 pressing).

5. Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

Recorded in Thunderload Studios, produced by Candlemass. Engineered and co-produced by Ragne Wahlquist. Drums performed by Mats Ekström.

"Heavy Load's rehearsal room/studio was filthy, remote and cold", Leif Edling wrote in the liner notes for the 2011 CD reissue adding, "but we chose it because Trilogy's and Yngwie Malmsteen's demos sounded just great". In the Behind the Wall of Doom massive 3CD+2DVD compilation, there is a 92-page book written by Per-Ola Nilsson including many interesting stories and facts about the recording of the greatest Epic Doom Metal album, and that's all you need to read. Sounding wise, the drum sound of Candlemass' iconic debut is a grand element of the album, a drum sound that is overlooked and lost over the years because of better productions. Still though, every time I am listening to this album, I can't ignore the fact that this sound is exactly what the greatest Doom Metal album ever needed.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Black Dragon 1986 pressing), CD (Peaceville 2011 pressing).

6. Savatage - Gutter Ballet (1989)

Produced by Paul O'Neill. Engineered by James A. Ball. Drums performed by Steve Wacholz.

What Paul O'Neill did for Savatage and how the band evolved through ups and downs, is one of the greatest chapters in metal music. And while you can read HERE a few interesting bits of this story, that huge and fat drum sound was probably something already set by O'Neill while he was experimenting with the Oliva brothers for the songwriting and performance. Still though, that (probably) easy set up of the drum sound within the Sava-camp remains an example of audio magnificence for most of their albums.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Atlantic 1989 pressing), CD (Atlantic 1989 pressing).

7. Queensrÿche - Empire (1990)

Produced by Peter Collins. Recorded and mixed by James Barton. Drums performed by Scott Rockenfield.

The multi-platinum album of Queensrÿche is the pinnacle of their commercial success but at the same time, it is one of those albums that can combine the commercial sound with artistic elegance. Scott Rockenfield's drumming is one of the elements that added uniqueness and character in 'rÿche's intelligent metal up to Promised Land. From the early years of "Queen of the Reich" up to 1990's "Another Rainy Night (Without You)" the sound of 'rÿche was evolving and changing adding more catchy parts and songs, losing its heaviness in some moments but never its quality, leading to the band's most self-confident album. Without being the band's best album, the production of Empire helped the album's songs and kept Queensrÿche's name high in the charts and the hard rock & metal scene during a period where '80s metal started sounding "outdated" according to media and trends.

Audio reference: Vinyl (EMI 1990 pressing), CD (EMI 1990 pressing).

8. Fates Warning - Parallels (1991)

Produced, recorded and mixed by Terry Brown. Drums and percussion by Mark Zonder.

While audio experts and engineers, producers and drummers have many different opinions, those always come from the professional's side. On the other side, the only thing that probably matters is the sound coming out of your speakers, so if the listener enjoys what he listens to, it doesn’t matter how it was created. With that said, many modern productions might lack the organic, natural and analogue sound of the past (let's say that the "past" is the '70s, '80s, early '90s) still though the sound coming from your speakers can be massive. Or different. What Fates Warning really did with Parallels was something different but don't they always do?

Mark Zonder was always an unpredictable drummer with a unique approach and dynamic that drives against the "classic" heavy metal route. Parallels' production is perfect and Zonder's multi-rhythmic performance is like little songs within the songs but yet, everything is song-oriented and not complex for the listener while he also used electronic drums adding a variety of sounds in the album.

Audio reference: CD (Metal Blade 1991 pressing).

9. Dream Theater - Awake (1994)

Produced, mixed and engineered by John Purdell and Duane Baron. Drums and percussion by Mike Portnoy.

Following the success of Images and Words, one of the albums that changed metal music during the '90s, the decade of experimentation and new subgenres, Awake is free of the triggered snare Dave Prater (producer of Images and Words) used and more or less the "holy trinity" of progressive metal is represented in this list with iconic early '90s albums that shaped the genre, created a new generation of fans and inspiring up to this day with their music, performance and sound.

Audio reference: CD (EastWest 1994 pressing)

10. Armored Saint - Win Hands Down (2015)

Produced by Joey Vera. Mixed by Jay Ruston. Drums performed by Gonzo Sandoval. Drums engineered by Josh Newall and Jay Ruston.

Let's add a modern album, shall we? Not exactly "modern" but how heavy metal should sound in the modern era; Refreshing. I remember playing all the time Win Hands Down at the No Remorse Records' store in Athens, Greece, upon its release. One of those days in 2015, there was Fotis Benardo at the store, drummer of bands like Septicflesh and Nightfall, and also audio engineer and producer. While talking about a project we were working with, I noticed that he was distracted by the music coming from the speakers and he just said, "That's a great drum sound, what is this?" This is Win Hands Down, the album with one of the best sounding drums in traditional heavy metal over the last years. And Armored Saint did it again in the latest album, Punching the Sky.

Audio reference: CD (Metal Blade 2015 pressing)

+1. Metallica - Metallica (aka Black Album) (1991)

I guess that this is an album that can't be missing from any similar list, whether we like it or not. Produced by Bob Rock with James Hetfield and Lars Ulirch, the multi-platinum album of Metallica, one of the biggest selling albums in the history of hard rock and metal music, was recorded over a few months, over many takes, different mixes and a final budget of one million US dollars. We all know what followed and the sound of that album influenced countless releases from Xentrix (Kin) to Paradise Lost (Draconian Times) and beyond.


So, what's your favourite drum sound?

Δευτέρα 19 Οκτωβρίου 2020

Behind a thin disguise: Savatage in the '80s & the Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne connection; Jon Oliva remembers.

A view in the '80s era of Savatage, the albums, the events and the record companies. A clear view in the Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne connection with Savatage, the influence upon Jon and Criss Oliva and a new exclusive interview with Jon Oliva remembering Black Sabbath, his meeting with Ozzy and the Black Sabbath audition that never happened.

written by Andreas Andreou

Starting in bands like Tower and Alien, and recording the obscure Metropolis (also known as Metropolis USA) 7" single Let's Get Rowdy / Take Off With The Crowd, it was the year 1979 when brothers Jon (Johnathan Nicholas) and Criss (Christopher Michael) Oliva ended with the band name Avatar. When Avatar released City Beneath the Surface 7" EP (including the same-titled track, "The Whip" and "Sirens") with the line-up of Jon Oliva (vocals), Criss Oliva (guitar), Keith Collins (bass) and Steve Wacholz (drums), there were already a few other bands claiming the rights to the name so they changed to Savatage, something unique that no one would claim since no one knew what it really is! Jon, Criss and Criss' longtime girlfriend Dawn Hopkins (later Dawn Oliva) just came up with it one day playing with words... Avatar - Savatar - Savatage!


Dan Johnson of Par Records, a short-lived record label of the early '80s in Florida, already had signed the band for a brief record deal. The first two Savatage releases, the album Sirens and the mini-album The Dungeons Are Calling, were recorded at the same session that took place in one and a half days at the Morrisound Recording Studio. Produced by Dan Johnson and engineered by Jim Morris, those recordings were finally split in two and released in different years.

During that period in the United States, with the huge commercial success of European acts like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne, who also influenced the current (then) American metal scene, even a few major labels started looking for heavy metal bands. Among those bands that joined a major label, was Savatage. While there were already a few labels that became interested in Savatage, the band signed with Atlantic for a multi-album deal.

Joining Atlantic Records, was the first career-defining moment and as it happened many times in the '80s, a representative of a label saw that band on stage or just heard about their energy on stage. In the case of Savatage, a show supporting Zebra after the release of Sirens with their energy, the performance, the songs and of course the crowd's reaction was the key; a key element for all the A&R's - "if the crowd likes them, we like them". And that was it. Most of the time it was like that. If you couldn't deliver live and impress those A&R rep's that visited (sometimes incognito) those shows, you probably wouldn't join a major label. American bands like Armored Saint and Twisted Sister are another example. And both are in the top list of the very best US metal bands on stage.

The Morrisound Recording Studio In Tampa, Florida, the birthplace of Savatage, became one of the most iconic studios in the history of metal music in the coming years, with a huge list of recording artists in a wider metal field (death metal included). But during those early years, and after joining Atlantic Records, that "one and a half day" recording session of Sirens / The Dungeons Are Calling seemed like a pre-production procedure. Personally, I love that raw sound of those early releases and cuts like "Sirens", "Scream Murder", "The Dungeons Are Calling" and "By the Grace of the Witch", but when Atlantic let the band record a few demos for the upcoming album at Morrisound, they didn't really like the quality. Those demos included tracks like "Washed Out", "Fighting for Love" "No More Saturday Nights" and "Stuck on You", produced by Rick Derringer. However, Savatage were already in deal with Par Records but Dan Johnson "traded" the release of The Dungeons Are Calling and Savatage were allowed to record those demos for Atlantic.

Savatage and Metallica

It is widely known, and also mentioned in many interviews, that Jon Oliva (besides The Beatles) was a huge Black Sabbath fan. He was even performing Sabbath covers like "Iron Man" and "War Pigs" in his early years. On the other hand, Criss Oliva was heavily inspired by the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums and Randy Rhoads. In the October 1993 issue of the Guitar for the Practicing Musician magazine, Criss Oliva mentions his dream band line-up. Of course, Randy Rhoads is his favourite guitarist, while he also adds Don Airey on keyboards for an extra flavor of Ozzy's early albums' influence.

The irony is that on October 17th of 1993 (the month when that magazine came out), Criss passed away and it's a pity that up to that point he wasn't mentioned in most of the famous guitar magazines.

Criss Oliva and his wife Dawn were driving north on their way to the Fourth Annual Livestock Festival held in Zephyrhills, Florida. An oncoming car of a drunk driver crossed the median and struck Oliva's car. Dawn survived the crash but Criss was killed instantly. The drunk driver survived with minor injuries and was later found guilty of "driving under the influence" manslaughter, serious injury and vehicular homicide. He served only 18 months in prison of a five-year sentence.

Criss Oliva is one of the greatest guitarists in heavy metal music with a unique and recognizable sound, unmatchable tone and feeling. A truly devoted musician and at the same time, the most underrated in the metal universe.

Back in 1985, Atlantic didn't really like the production quality of the Savatage demos recorded by Rick Derringer and the band was joined with producer Max Norman for the recordings of Power of the Night. A producer known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne and albums like Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. Criss must have felt very happy recording with Max Norman, the producer of his favourite guitar player and the early Ozzy albums, that heavily influenced him in his early recording years, something that is more than obvious in songs like "Out on the Streets" or that cool orchestration in "Unusual".

No matter how we mostly (probably) prefer Sirens / The Dungeons Are Calling over Power of the Night, Oliva brothers sometimes refer to Power of the Night as their first proper album, since they had the time to record it as they wish and not in a "one and a half day" recording session. With a budget of 100,000 USD and staying in a "haunted" house during the recordings, Jon, Criss, Keith and Steve were living for a few weeks somewhere between a house full of weird things and Bearsville Recording Studios in New York, completing the album Atlantic wanted to present as "the first real Savatage album".

In the album, most of the songs are credited to Criss and Jon Oliva with the contribution of bassist Keith Collins to a few of them and while Criss was inspired and influenced by Randy Rhoads and Ozzy, in the lyrical part, Jon stated (taken from Clay Marshall's liner notes for the album's CD reissue of 2002): "I've always had an infatuation with the dark. At that time, I was very into Sabbath, and into the dark side". Also at that time, before the recordings of Power of the Night, bassist Johnny Lee Middleton was asked to join Savatage but he declined, staying in a Florida bar band with a fixed fee, performing Journey and Bryan Adams covers.

With a new album in a major label, Savatage joined the international music industry, attorneys, booking agents, managers and the Monsters of the Universe Tour, all of them leading to 1986 and the period of the Fight for the Rock album. Savatage had an international record deal and Johnny Lee Middleton was still playing covers in bars but the second time he was asked, he decided to join Savatage and after a few weeks' rehearsals, the band flew to England to record the new album. However, the band felt in a difficult spot and Atlantic had a different idea wanting the Sava-boys to follow a commercial path, leading to an artistic disaster. Even including two covers, "Wishing Well" of The Free and Badfinger's "Day After Day", the children of the metal movement felt in a trap where the supposed heavy metal songs didn't sound metal at all and the commercial tracks sounded like a different band.

The tour that followed the album's release and the post Chernobyl disaster wasn’t disastrous at all, since they joined Ted Nugent and Motörhead on the road and their performance was always on the edge. The sales though were poor and the band was somehow dropped by Atlantic. They almost broke up and thought the end was near... 


When Black Sabbath's Born Again Tour was completed in 1984, Sabbath were on the edge of nothingness and Tony Iommi started working on his first solo album Seventh Star. During an era where record companies were more powerful than you can imagine nowadays, it was said to Tony Iommi that according to his contract, he owed the record company another one Black Sabbath album and they wanted this one. And so it happened. Record label executives and managers wanted to name it "Black Sabbath" no matter how it was recorded and who performed. Seventh Star was released in January 1986 under the name Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi, with Tony alone on the cover sleeve; exactly as a solo project. When touring started, there were times when singer Glenn Hughes was unable to perform, so after just a week of touring as Black Sabbath  (he also didn't like performing Sabbath songs since this wasn't supposed to be Black Sabbath), Hughes was replaced by Ray Gillen and the tour was a commercial failure while many shows were even cancelled. Tony Iommi couldn't do something else, so he continued using the name "Black Sabbath" without any other member of the classic line-up(s). The record company's decision to release his solo album under the Black Sabbath moniker served as a continuation for the rest of Sabbath/Iommi's 80s course, something that probably would't happen eitherwise.

Managers and executives were the people of the music industry that suggested ideas or just took decisions that had different kinds of impact to the artists related. Negative or positive. And there was also a huge amount of ideas that were never materialized.

When Atlantic technically dropped Savatage because of the poor sales of Fight for the Rock, Jon Oliva had the chance to claim the position of Black Sabbath's lead singer. There are many rumours over the years but we have the answers and the truth directly from Jon Oliva himself, since he was kind enough to clear the situation. "It was somebody from the management office for Black Sabbath that approached me", the Mountain King said. It would be interesting to know the songs he was supposed to learn for that audition, so Jon was asked and replied: "I did have a set list of songs that I would have to sing at the audition, "War Pigs", "Paranoid", "Sweet Leaf", "Symptom of the Universe", "Iron Man" and the"Black Sabbath" song."

However, that audition never happened and I don't think there would ever be a possibility that Jon Oliva would end as the singer of Black Sabbath during 1986-1987, no matter how interesting that could be. Having Jon Oliva on board for this article, we asked a few more things.

CL: I am sure that a Black Sabbath album with Jon Oliva would be great. But having in mind that period, would it be easy for you to work under the command of Tony Iommi? And having in mind your addictions in the mid to late '80s, would you escape the "dark side" even if you would enter in the dark side's band, Black Sabbath?

Jon Oliva: "I would have loved to do an album with Black Sabbath. I think my voice would have fit them very well and it wouldn't bother me that Tony Iommi was in charge because he is the riff master. What you're going to say... I would have just sang my ass off but again, you know, the '80s were very weird for me. I did have a lot of problems but it is what it is and I'm glad that Savatage was able to continue."

CL: Have you ever met Ozzy Osbourne or Tony Iommi in person? And what can you recall?

Jon Oliva: "Yes, I have met Ozzy Osbourne. I actually had dinner with him at the Lakeland Civic Center here in Florida. I doubt he remembers because he was totally wasted... It was very interesting and very funny. I was with a group of people who won a radio contest and that's what the prize was, to have dinner with Ozzy. I remember he came out in an evening dress and was totally wasted, one of the funniest things I've ever seen and it didn't last very long."

"I met Tony Iommi in Spain when we were all doing a festival and they were called Heaven and Hell with Ronnie. I met him backstage and got to talk to him for a little while. He was a very nice guy, he was one of my heroes."

CL: I wonder if you and Criss Oliva ever saw live Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne in your early years and what do you remember?

Jon Oliva: "I saw Black Sabbath at the California Jam in 1974 and it changed my life. I saw them again at the San Diego Sports Arena for the Sabotage Tour. Criss never saw Black Sabbath but we did see Ozzy with Randy Rhoads and that was awesome. We ended up working with Max Norman for the Power of the Night album and he produced the first three Ozzy albums so it was very cool."

CL: I've read that Paul O' Neill was a friend of Tony Iommi and Paul even let Iommi listen sometime in the 80s his main idea of "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" but told him something like "the world is not ready yet for this song". Is it true, and did Paul had this huge thing that followed in both later Savatage records and mainly Trans-Siberian Orchestra already by the mid '80s?

Jon Oliva: "I know Paul knew Tony Iommi but I'm not sure if he ever let him listen to "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)". As far as I remember that song was put together during the writing for our "Dead Winter Dead" album and I was the one who put the drums and the heavy power chords to it. At first I didn't like it and Paul asked me if I could make it Savatage and that's my memory of things. I demoed up some drum parts and some guitar parts and then we worked on it together and finished it with Al Pitrelli."


On the edge of darkness, Savatage were lucky enough to meet Paul O'Neill, the "x-factor" that took them by the hand and led them to a brighter future. Paul encouraged Criss and Jon Oliva to start writing new material and so they did. This time, the band composed without any label or management interference and once the material was ready, Savatage entered the studio and completed the album with Paul O'Neill. As Johnny Lee Middleton has mentioned to Crystal Logic, "Never give up on what you believe in and do not be afraid to struggle and suffer through the tough times because quitters never win and winners never quit".

In the beginning, Paul was approached by the same Atlantic A&R rep who signed Savatage to the record company, to consider helping them return in full form. Paul went to see one of their last shows during the 1986 tour without even listening to Fight for the Rock. Paul O'Neill couldn't believe how such a great band almost reached the end. He knew they shouldn't, he knew he wouldn't let them and he only needed to take their hand and lead them through their metal roots, to the future. Paul convinced Jon and Criss Oliva that they're not "fucked-up" because of that one last album and because the management made them change their sound. Paul already had a budget so he paid their pending bills and more or less, told them only to focus on writing new music with him producing, while they also changed management. Paul O'Neill cared for them and that was probably the first time something like that happened so powerful and with such a passion and vision for the future. Paul, already an established professional in the New York music scene, was also a visionary with ideas and manuscripts that served as a template for future Savatage songs.

Hall of the Mountain King, released on September 28th of 1987,  is one of the best heavy metal albums ever, from one of the greatest metal bands ever. An ageless masterpiece with top notch musicianship. Raw, insane, solid and emotional at the same time. Two music video clips were shot, one for "Hall of the Mountain King" and one for "24 Hrs. Ago" with the same titled track getting a lot of airplay at Headbanger's Ball TV show, something that was very important at the pre-internet era and helped the sales and band's exposure.

There is one special guest at that album, singer Ray Gillen, brought in by Paul O'Neill who was his manager at the time because he needed another kind of voice and harmony to serve as an instrument in the chorus of "Strange Wings". That was one of the first recordings of Gillen who previously had performed even punk rock before entering the hard rock and metal scene. During that period, Ray Gillen had replaced Glenn Hughes in Black Sabbath and recorded vocals for The Eternal Idol album, before they were also replaced by Tony Martin's voice in the final release. Paul O'Neill produced (and helped write) the debut album of Badlands, fronted by Ray Gillen with ex-Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee but also Eric Singer who among others also performed with Black Sabbath. Bob Kinkel, a keyboardist and music engineer, a regular partner of Paul O'Neill, also helped in the debut album of Badlands that was released in 1989 but most important, he was introduced to Savatage during the recordings of Hall of the Mountain King with additional keyboards. Kinkel will be a key person in the following years of Savatage and the formation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

During 1988, with a major label supporting the band, Hall of the Mountain King had become Savatage's best-selling album and a world tour followed, including support shows with Megadeth and Dio. At that point and after O'Neill's suggestion, Savatage added a second guitar for the live shows to keep the rhythm playing during Criss' leads. Criss had a few thoughts about it in the beginning but in the end, they did it and Chris Caffery stepped in. The tour started with power and success despite being the opening act. Dave Mustaine even thought about the possibility of Criss Oliva joining Megadeth according to Sava-sources. However, Jon Oliva went a "little too far" during that tour, living the "rock n' roll life" just like one of his idols, Ozzy Osbourne and it took no long until he entered a chemical rehabilitation program. This situation stopped the band since they had to cancel a scheduled tour, including the European dates. The future was different for the band and it took them a few more years for a big commercial success, under a different line-up...


When Jon Oliva completed the rehabilitation program, he started immediately writing new songs with Criss. He already had a few lyrics written in rehab, so they completed tracks like "Target", "Living on the Edge of Time", "Metalhead", "Stranger in the Dark" and "Before I Hang" but none of them made it to the next album... Those five demo songs surfaced as bonus tracks to the 2002 silver anniversary collectors edition reissues of Sirens and Dungeons Are Calling from Metal Blade Records. When the Oliva brothers met Paul O'Neill again and started writing the follow-up album to Hall of the Mountain King, it was like writing again from scratch even if few ideas were reworked.

In every Savatage album including O'Neill, there is an element of progression; a step further exploring the talent of Jon and Criss. There was always a piano in young Olivas house since their father was a piano player so Jon was always messing with that. There was also a few keyboards moments in previous Savalbums and songs like "In the Dream" and "Lady in Disguise" but this time, Paul wanted to explore Jon's talent deeper.

When Savatage started writing the songs of the next album, one of their idols was about to enter rehab but he already released his album titled No Rest for the Wicked. During those recording sessions, there was also a track named "The Liar" that made it only in the 12" single version of "Miracle Man". That Ozzy Osbourne track, somehow foretold the future of Savatage but sounded out-of-place for that Ozzy record. Savatage kept that direction in the next album that was finally named Gutter Ballet.

It is said that in the Record Plant Studios where Gutter Ballet was recorded, there was the piano where John Lennon recorded "Imagine" and that was extremely inspiring for Jon Oliva. At the same time, O'Neill, like a master of psychology who knew how to bring on the surface and explore each musician's talent, took Jon Oliva to the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera. These were key elements in the writing procedure of Gutter Ballet and when the album was completed and recorded in the summer of 1989, the result was something really progressive and experimental for the metal world of the late '80s. Inspired by one of O'Neill's manuscripts written a decade ago, the title Gutter Ballet was supposed to be for a different and complete play but it was adopted for that album, giving also a glimpse of the musical direction of the future and the next album. 

The tracks "Gutter Ballet", "Temptation Revelation" (one of the alternative titles of the album), "When the Crowds Are Gone" and "Silk and Steel" are something like the albums "first act" while the rest, are somehow like the "second act" that was closer to the Savatage known style. However, they decided to move the song "Of Rage and War" as the opening track and what we call as the "first act" completed the vinyl's first side. What made it so unique that "first act" and especially a song like Gutter Ballet, is the Jon-piano Vs Criss-guitar duel that is something genius and unique, equal to the greatest moments in music ever. "Gutter Ballet" and "When the Crowds Are Gone" served as the album's leading tracks and music videos were shot for both of them. That album is a pure masterpiece including also tracks like "Summer's Rain" with one of Criss' best guitar solos and also the Black Sabbath-inspired "Hounds". As it is mentioned in Clay Marshall's liner notes in the Gutter Ballet 2002 reissue in the words of Paul O'Neill, "On certain influences, Jon and I come from different places", O'Neill explains. "I have way more classical and Broadway influences and Jon, on the other hand, has more Beatles influence than you'd ever believe. But by certain things, we're both influenced, and one of those was Black Sabbath. We both have an attraction to that side and you see it on the 'Hounds'".

A funny thing is that among the other album's tracks, there is also "The Unholy" with lyrics written by Jon Oliva but Paul didn't like them, so they weren't included in the booklet of the album's first pressings. O'Neill started penning a big part of the lyrics in a very different style than Jon, so he probably thought that lyrics like "before the birth of Christ lived a race trapped in soul" wouldn't really fit next to something like "when the crowds are gone and I'm all alone, playing the saddest song, now that the lights are gone".

Most of the live shows supporting Gutter Ballet took place in 1990 and among them, there was a part supporting King Diamond along with Candlemass and another one supporting Testament along with Nuclear Assault. In this kind of tour, Savatage needed to bring on stage some of their heavier stuff but that was never a problem since the band's material at that time was diverse but could fit in any occasion.

The '80s ended successfully for Savatage, establishing a respectful name and releasing albums like Hall of the Mountain King and Gutter Ballet that became future classics. The '90s and the future were different and yet so close but that's another chapter in the play...

Κυριακή 27 Σεπτεμβρίου 2020

Metal Nerdism Vol. 7: Top-10 metal albums that are not albums.


... or compilations of recordings that are not exactly an "album" and definitely they are not a "best of" album. In a few cases they are demo recordings that the bands would love to have released as an album when they were recording them (no matter if they don't really believe it now) or compilation releases of specific recordings that mostly didn't make it to any official album or just represent each artist at the moment.

Some of those albums presented herein are considered as "compilations" (and that's correct) while others are considered as "albums" (might not be exactly correct) and one of them was an "album" sometime in the past but not now... Confusing? Might be. But it is also funny.

We don't include:

- "Best of", "Greatest Hits", "The Story So Far" etc. collections - compilations, even if they have an unreleased track or two. For example, Black Sabbath's We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll and Iron Maiden's Best of the Beast.

- Re-recorded full albums. For example, Manowar's Battle Hymns MMXI and Twisted Sister's Still Hungry.

- Regular live albums recorded during touring, and live album compilations. For example Judas Priest's Priest... Live! and Saxon's The Eagle Has Landed.

- Unplugged, acoustic and orchestral albums or compilations. For example Blind Guardian's The Forgotten Tales.

- Albums including only cover songs from other artists. For example, Ozzy Osbourne's Under Cover and Six Feet Under's Graveyard Classics.

- Tape/Cassette-albums that were also released on CD and/or vinyl format in later years. For example Apollo Ra's Ra Pariah and Axis' No Man's Land. [There is going to be a feature for similar cases in the future]

In every case, there are people who consider that the specific releases of Warlord or Sorcerer listed below, as their best "albums". In a few of those cases, I am among those people. 

written by Andreas Andreou

1. VENOM - The Singles 80-86

If someone will ask me to offer three albums of what Venom were and what made them what they are, I would definitely offer Welcome to Hell, Black Metal and The Singles 80-86. A few of the very best songs of Newcastle's blasphemy appeared in singles only and you have them all here including "Warhead", "Seven Gates of Hell" and "Manitou".

Truth to be told, Venom is probably the metal band with the most compilations ever; we even can write an article like "Top-10 Venom Compilations" and there would be even more! They had already released the double record From Hell to the Unknown... in 1985 including the debut album on disc 1 and a collection of other tracks on disc 2, plus the famous ... Assault releases but the live releases and compilations that followed were so many! I still love a few of them and give them a spin over the years, mostly...

Check also: VENOM - In Memorium
Probably my favourite compilation album ever, including demo recordings, a few "best of" songs, single tracks, alternative versions and unreleased tracks that were first introduced to this release in 1991. The last (new, then) tracks with Tony Dolan on vocals ("If You Wanna War", "Surgery") are massive and never made it to a later album.

2. WARLORD - And the Cannons of Destruction Have Begun...

What a rare case of an album! The '80s recordings of Warlord were always confusing people, starting with Deliver Us. The debut mini LP that had the same running time with Saxon's debut album and more than Bathory's debut, still though, it was always advertised and considered as a mini-LP back then but nowadays most people consider it an EP. [Read more about Albums Vs Mini Albums Vs EPs].

And the Cannons of Destruction Have Begun... is a very special case that was originally considered as a "live" album even if the band didn't perform any live shows in the '80s. The album included an intro, four songs from the debut mini LP and four new songs with two of them released as a single just a few months before ("Lost and Lonely Days", "Aliens").

In 2011, Crystal Logic presented the first interview of Bill Tsamis' return (even if he didn't really know it at that time) followed by the reissue of the Warlord and Lordian Guard catalogue, the new album The Holy Empire and live shows. In that interview, Bill Tsamis explains: "And the Cannons of Destruction was recorded in the studio and then presented as a live Warlord show (a showcase). Unfortunately, a couple of the cameras weren't working. We had the UCLA film school doing the filming as part of a school project. The vocals on the video were lip synced - there was no way Rick Cunningham could have pulled off that vocal performance live."

3. SORCERER - Sorcerer

The band was formed in Sweden in 1988 and recorded the demo tapes Sorcerer (1989), The Inquisition (1992) and then disbanded when bassist Johnny Hagel left to join Tiamat. It took three years until the moment when John Perez of Solitude Aeturnus formed BrainTicket Records and the first release of his label was a CD including nearly all of the demo recordings of Sorcerer. Those demo recordings remain until today as one of the greatest achievements underground epic doom metal ever offered, and those years  it was the closest thing to Candlemass' debut album.

Sorcerer's fame in the underground metal scene was highly respected thanks to that CD "album" (that's been re-released a couple of times) and during the '90s and '00s you could see their name mentioned every time someone would speak about the greatest bands of epic doom metal. The Swedish band was reformed a few years later with a different line-up, joined Metal Blade Records and kept releasing albums. The songs from the Sorcerer release were never re-recorded so far and never appeared in any of the Sorcerer albums.

4. REVEREND BIZARRE - Death Is Glory... Now

The album compilation to end all compilations is a collection of all the split, singles, EP recordings of the '00s masters of doom besides their three official albums and the two "EP-albums" (Harbinger of Metal, Return to the Rectory). Taking its place next to the albums, Death Is Glory... Now is a glorious release that a certain member of the band considers as Reverend's greatest release. A must-have release for all fans of doom metal, at least equally with many of the genre's greatest albums. The Finnish doom-an'-gloom mongers along with a few others, served as the gatekeepers of (true) doom metal in a period where the rites of Black Sabbath were claimed by the stoner-desert-sludge heavy music that ruled the media and festivals. In the end, Reverend Bizarre's life and death is a huge part of doom metal's soul.

5. SLAUTER XSTROYES - Free the Beast

Released for the first time in 1998 and widely considered as Slauter Xstroyes' second "album", this is actually a release including the recordings of the second Xstroyes' album that was supposed to be released in 1987, but the sessions were left incomplete. The Free the Beast release includes six tracks of that supposed second album and six more tracks recorded during 1981-1984. Chicago's underground metal legend was a unique band with a sick character and technical over-the-top songwriting and performance ahead of its time. When Free the Beast saw the light of day after a decade hidden in the catacombs, everything was changed. Still though and after all these years, the name of Slauter Xstroyes is always mentioned in conversations that will include bands from the '80s like WatchTower up to the bands of today, like Sacral Rage.

Check also: ENERGY VAMPIRES - Energy Vampires

6. JACOBS DREAM - Jacobs Dream

Nowadays known as Demo '96 or Demo, Jacobs Dream first release in 1996 was spread in the world of underground metal as a self-financed private album. There were already a few different pressings in 1996 since its impact was huge in the underground metal scene, and the one with the cover pictured here had also "Jacobs Dream Records" written in the back, bought from the author of this blog directly from the band those days. Four years later, Jacobs Dream joined Metal Blade Records releasing a self-titled album (the band's second release) and that was presented as the "first" album, so the previous release was "downgraded" to a demo and remained like this since then, even if we knew it in the late '90s, as an "album".

The 2000 Metal Blade release (the debut album as it is now considered) had only one song from the debut release but both of them stand among the best US power metal releases of their time and even more.

Check also: THYNN ICE - Thynn Ice

7. VIRGIN STEELE - The Book of Burning

Despite their iconic '80s albums like Guardians of the Flame (1983) and Noble Savage (1985), after the release of the melodic metal album Life Among the Ruins in 1993, started a period where Virgin Steele became one of the epic heavy metal rulers. After the two parts of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Invictus and the two acts of The House of Atreus, David DeFeis released The Book of Burning in 2002. Until then, he had already re-released Noble Savage and Age of Consent including new recorded songs enough for another album and few of them were better than the songs of the old albums. That's how good he was during the '90s but what about The Book of Burning? Well, it's considered as an album by many people but it is not really an "album". It includes a few new recordings of classic songs from the first two Virgin Steele albums when Jack Starr was the axeman but most important, you can find here the compositions DeFeis and Starr wrote together during a session in 1997  that didn't lead anywhere. Songs like "Rain of Fire", "Hellfire Woman" and "The Chosen Ones", plus a few more, everything re-arranged in order to make a proper sequence that can be presented as a "new album".

8. STEEL ASSASSIN - From the Vaults

While the first official album of Steel Assassin was released in 2007 under the title War of the Eight Saints, it was the From the Vaults compilation album that brought that name back in the underground metal fans' attention in 1997. The "Executioner" song was known from its appearance in the Metal Massacre VI compilation of Metal Blade Records released in 1985 but the name of Steel Assassin remained to obscurity. Rising from the vaults, this compilation album of Steel Assassin is the true spirit of the underground US epic power metal scene. Recorded in the first half of the '80s, that line-up also includes the steel lungs of Doni Escolas and it can only be matched by bands like Tyrant and Omen those years.

Check also: AXEHAMMER - Lord of the Realm

9. RAGE - Lingua Mortis

or Lingua Mortis - Rage and the Symphonic Orchestra Prague, since in 2013 there was also an album using the "band-performers" name Lingua Mortis Orchestra. The difference is that the 2013 release was produced and mostly written and arranged by guitarist Victor Smolski, consisting of new material, while the 1996 release presented here, consists of existing Rage compositions re-arranged with orchestra. It was a matter of time someone doing a metal album with orchestra and Rage managed to be written in the books of history as the first metal band that did it, in 1996. Lingua Mortis is mostly considered as an album and it definitely gave a breath of fresh air for a while, but talking for a release that actually has a "re-arrangement" of previously released songs, it might be something different.

10. MERCYFUL FATE - Return of the Vampire

Originally released in 1992, one year before the release of Mercyful Fate's reunion album In the Shadows, Return of the Vampire is an official release of early '80s demo material that has been bootlegged so much over the years. A few songs were lately re-worked and appeared in the albums, others less ("Curse of the Pharaohs"), others more ("Death Kiss" that became "A Dangerous Meeting), others remained to obscurity ("Burning the Cross"). A few of the sessions were from Michael Denner's band named Danger Zone, where King Diamond and Hank Shermann were helping and led Denner joining Mercyful Fate, along with bassist Timi Hansen and drummer "Old" Nick Smith who was later replaced by Kim Ruzz. The "Return of the Vampire" track was also re-worked and appeared in the 1993 reunion album with Lars Ulrich of Metallica performing drum duties.

Check also: SILVER MOUNTAIN - Before the Storm

What's your favourite "album" that's not really an "album"?

Τετάρτη 23 Σεπτεμβρίου 2020

Heavy Metal, Caviar and Meths: The formation of Judas Priest - Interview with Al Atkins.

The roots of Heavy Metal go deep somewhere around 1970. Maybe earlier, maybe later but if we must name just one band as the starting point, it has to be Black Sabbath. As it was written somewhere once and many people keep repeating it, "Black Sabbath created heavy and Judas Priest added metal", so next to Black Sabbath, there is Judas Priest. And if there are a few people that will have a debate between those two bands, in the end, it all comes back to Birmingham in England; the birthplace of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, the birthplace of Heavy Metal.

Located in the West Midlands, Birmingham, the City of a Thousand Trades, was a part of the industrial revolution and suffered a heavy bombing during World War II. During the mid to late '60s, Birmingham had a very important music scene with bands like The Moody Blues, Traffic and The Spencer Davis Group and when the '70s entered, there were already Electric Light Orchestra and Black Sabbath. Among those bands and people, there was a singer named Al Atkins who formed a band called Judas Priest. The story of Judas Priest is widely known but their roots are not so much...

Al Atkins never reached the top and Billboard charts, didn't headline major open air festivals and didn't sell millions of records. As he wrote in his book "Dawn of the Metal Gods", "at this point of my life, I never will, but I gave it a bloody good go". His story with Judas Priest started with the long road in pubs and clubs but ended the hard way. Maybe it was just meant to be, but Al Atkins was kind enough to offer an interview about those early years since we're celebrating 50 years of Judas Priest but you won't read many often about those early years. 

written by Andreas Andreou

In my opinion, there are actually two different Judas Priest bands. Let me be clear: the first one was your band (1969-1970) and the second  was the band formed by Kenneth Downing (guitar) and Ian Hill (bass) with John Ellis on drums, joined by you who also brought the name. What's your personal view in the formation of Judas Priest?

Al: Well I was in the 1969-70 and 1970-73 line-ups... and we got through four drummers in four years, so I think the link is there with me and they were both my bands. I was the main spokesman, singer and songwriter after all. The name Judas Priest is the main thing no matter who comes and goes along the way but in my opinion I think now, after 50 years together, it has nearly run it's course and if Rob (Halford) left again that would be the end of the story. The band first started in 1969 but with lots of bad luck like losing our record contract with Immediate Records and firing the drummer, our bass player Bruno Stapenhill decided to leave us for another band and to tour around Denmark... so that was that.


What's the origin of the "Judas Priest" name?

Al: Bruno, the bass player, came up with it. He took it from a song called "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" from the album John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan.


Who registered the name?

Al: Our friend and manager David Corke at the time had it registered.


Kenny Downing also auditioned for "your" first Judas Priest, what was your first thought for each member of Judas Priest the first time you met them?

Al: Yes, Kenny (K.K.) came to the guitar auditions in 1969 after our first guitarist John Perry commited suicide at the age of 18. Kenny was very inexperienced at the time but had the looks with his long blonde hair. But at that point we decided to give the job to Ernie Chataway from Birmingham.

Sometime after the 1969-70 line-up split, I went looking for another band and listened in on a group who were rehearsing and it was K.K. who had formed a three piece with Ian Hill (bass) and John Ellis (drums). I don't remember what song they were playing, I think they were just jamming together but it sounded really good and I asked them if they wanted a vocalist and they said yes. I didn't like what they were called, which was Freight and suggested they use my old band's name "Judas Priest" and they all agreed so JP MK2 was born. They were a great bunch of guys and listened to what they told them, I was four years older than them and had a lot of experience playing through the '60s with various bands, They were very enthusiastic and couldn't wait to hit the road.


Later John Ellis left the band and was replaced by Alan Moore who in turn was replaced by Chris "Congo" Campbell. During that period did you write any original material and what kind of songs did you play in live shows?

Al: John Ellis had a breakdown so we hired Alan Moore who later left and joined a country type rock band for a much easier life because we were now playing any place anywhere doing over 150 gigs in 1972 alone. We played alongside some great bands at that time including Slade, Spirit, Status Quo and Thin Lizzy just to name a few. Drummer Chris "Congo" Campbell took Alan's place and I was writing all the songs which K.K. contributed too, songs like "Winter", "Never Satisfied", "Caviar and Meths", "Morpheus" and "Whiskey Woman" which eventually was called "Victim of Changes"... K.K. came up with his first song called "Run of the Mill" and many of these songs ended up on their first two albums. Alan Moore rejoined later to play on Sad Wings of Destiny.


Did Judas Priest ever cross ways with Black Sabbath during your years?

Al: I had met and spoke to Ozzy in a music store in town but no we never really crossed paths with Sabbath.


Do you really believe that Judas Priest was a "heavy metal" band in your years or just hard rock?

Al: We were all hard rock or progressive rock, the name "heavy metal" hadn't been invented back then not until a few years later.


At some time you also performed with Trapeze in 1972. What do you remember of your meeting with Glen Hughes and Dave Holland who later joined Judas Priest?

Al: I remember it well ,it was at Henry's Blues House in town. It was a very famous little venue with a reputation like  Liverpool's Cavern. You could go and see Robert Plant jamming with some band or other and Black Sabbath played there frequently too in their early days. Trapeze were a great little three piece rock/funk band who were a great bunch of guys.


Do you want to share your personal opinion on Dave Holland since you were friends, the accusations and his death?

Al: Well I couldn't believe or didn't want to believe in what happened to Dave... such a nice guy and great drummer. He played on my Victim of Changes solo album which took off with big sales and we decided to stay together and record another one. We had meetings in London with various record companies and things were looking up for us and then the bombshell... He spoke to me on the telephone saying he was being stitched up and not to talk to the press... I never saw him again. He got 10 years prison and court costs of around £10,000... Shame because after serving his time, he moved to northern Spain and died with cancer.


When did you leave the band and how did they continue using the Judas Priest name? Have you ever met Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton during that period?

Al: I left the band in May 1973. I was the only one married and now with a small child to feed, I decided to get a 9 to 5 job and support my family because we just couldn't get that big record deal we so wanted to give us some financial backing and although we were getting bigger, we had more overheads to go with it. Norman Hood at the agency helped me out sometimes with some cash but it wasn't enough.

A few months after leaving the band, K.K. and Ian came knocking on my door and asked me if they could use the name Judas Priest and if they could have the songs too and I said yes and best of luck... They said they had found a new vocalist to take my place, named Robert Halford, who I had never heard of but his band Hiroshima had been on our agency books too. They hit the road pretty soon and toured the UK and Europe and the following year they added Birmingham guitarist Glenn Tipton from The Flying Hat Band who were also in the same agency and we both played on the same bill together once at the Plaza Ballroom, B'ham. So now Judas Priest were a five piece for the first time.


In your years, Judas Priest were somehow managed by Norman Hood and Dave Corke, both of them related to Black Sabbath. However, we're already in 1973, Black Sabbath have released 5 studio albums and probably you don't have material ready even for an album. Do you believe there was any "missed chance", you just didn't have the proper material or contract, or it just happened this way?

Al: Tony Iommi  had formed an agency in Birmingham for up and coming bands and we signed a contract with them in early 1973 and that was the first time we had met Tony who was a really nice guy. Norman and Dave both worked for him in the agency and they started booking us into bigger venues and trying to secure us with a record deal. We had deals offered us but they were only small independent labels and I turned them down. We were good enough, no doubt, and we had enough material which I said earlier that some of my songs ended up on Priest's first two albums but it just never happened...  Don't forget The Beatles were turned down by every record label in Britain and look what happened to them... Sometimes it's just about the right time at the right place.


So, since you and K.K. Downing were obviously the writing team those early years, how did you feel when a few of your ideas ended in the first two Judas Priest albums that were already something different as a band by then?

Al: The only difference in both bands was the added guitar of Glenn Tipton which was a great idea by the independent label they eventually signed with (Gull Records). Dave Corke had left the agency in Birmingham and went to work for Gull in London and pushed the label to sign them but David Howells who owned the label, said only if they will add another guitarist like one of their other bands, Wishbone Ash and it worked brilliantly. Dave Corke worked tirelessly for the band, even getting them a spot  on the popular music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test and the band started to get bigger, especially after their second album Sad Wings of Destiny and top labels had eventually started to take an interest too.


And what was your last thought for each member the moment you were off the band?

Al: Everyone was great to work with over the years and I have remained friends with them all.


I am sure you've seen a couple of times Judas Priest live over the years. How was the feeling the first time and how was the last time?

Al: It was strange seeing Rob singing my songs after I had left them and I didn't like his high range vocal style at first but he got older and his voice matured. He was incredible especially during the eighties... really wicked.  I last saw them a few years back at Wolverhampton Civic Hall and they played a great set but I missed K.K. on guitar although Ritchie is a good guitarist.

I went to see K.K.,  Tim Owens and Les Binks last year at his new venue The Steel Mill and the band was just amazing. It was great to meet them all back stage later.


But life in heavy metal continued. And Al Atkins is still active.

Al: I have recorded six solo albums, one album with Holy Rage album and have played live all over including Florida, New York to California... Check out my new venture with guitarist Paul May, the Atkins / May Project, we have recorded four albums now and the latest is The Final Cut but will it be the final cut?  Who knows which way the wind blows. I will keep rocking as long as I can but I have had a great time and life no matter what. 


Al Atkins and Paul May

Photos provided by Al Atkins.

Σάββατο 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2020

"Oh won't you come with me?" – 30 years in Annihilator’s Never, Neverland.

30 years since the release of the best Annihilator album. 30 years of a room full of toys and things. "Toys and things" that are here forever: Jeff Waters' unmistakable guitar performance, THE songwriting, Coburn Pharr’s voice, THE songs, THE album; Never, Neverland.

written by Andreas Andreou


It was obvious in the late '80s, the decade where heavy metal took its final shape that things were going to change in the '90s. And when the late Warrel Dane was preaching "so ends a decade now what will the nineties hold" in Sanctuary's "Future Tense" that was released a few months before Annihilator's second album, another decade would turn the page to new things. New toys and things.

We're on the edge of things that ended and new things that begun. Annihilator stand somewhere in-between, faithful to the core of heavy metal music but with a talented guitarist-composer that presented something new in thrash metal. Or heavy-thrash metal if you prefer. I don't really know if Jeff Waters has taken the credit he deserves as a guitarist, mainly because his style isn't as influential as other major guitarists but he definitely is better than many of those "others".

...on a second thought, he is somehow influential, both as a guitarist and songwriter but you don't really "hear" that influence in traditional heavy and thrash metal bands. However, you can find this influence in later American bands, mostly the kind of bands that are more known in the United States or bands that the regular resident of Ozzfest might have seen a couple of times.

Born on February 13th of 1966 in Canada, Jeff Waters formed Annihilator in the year of Judas Priest's Defenders of the Faith, Iron Maiden's Powerslave, Slayer's Haunting the Chapel, Voivod's War and Pain and Van Halen's 1984. It took him years of practice, demo tapes, macaroni and cheddar cheese, a few parties and the meeting with John Bates, until the moment where an album was released in the April of 1989 with an acoustic intro leading to that terrific track with the massive guitars… Isn't it frightening?

"Sitting in the corner, you are naked and alone. No one listened to your fears, you've created me"… and he never looked back. Alice in Hell was a huge success. A debut album that came out of nowhere and became an instant classic that remained in the halls of eternity.

Jeff Waters already had songs written during the former years and the next album didn't take long and was released just a few days before Megadeth would unleash Rust in Peace with their new line-up including Marty Friedman. However, before Friedman joined Megadeth, Both Dave's were fans of Alice in Hell and Jeff Waters was even offered the guitarist position in Megadeth. And we're back on that "second thought" above: Jeff Waters is an influential guitarist and songwriter!


Jeff Waters, the man who knew the material better than anyone, co-produced Never, Neverland with Glen Robinson who also engineered and mixed the album that was recorded during February - April of 1990. Never, Neverland is a goldmine of amazing riffs and solos, harmonized guitar wizardry, memorable and catchy melodies and at the same time, it is fierce, black and wicked. Not in a Manowar way, but as an insane voyage to new territories for thrash metal.

Coburn Pharr's vocals offered a classic heavy and power metal touch to the songs that was very different from previous singer Randy Rampage's approach in Alice in Hell and probably better than Aaron Randall's nasally performance in the next album, Set the World on Fire. That was also a cool (heavy) metal album but in many moments it seemed that Aaron was fighting with the "s" letter. Coburn Pharr's performance in Never, Neverland is solid and I can't imagine this album with any other singer. He definitely deserves his own credit to the album’s timelessness.

The album's production is clear and clean. It lacks roughness and perhaps a random '80s German thrash metal fan might find it very polished for a thrash album, but you can hear everything perfectly... and that's perfect! I remember being in the high school sometime before the release of Annihilator's third album when a friend of mine that was deep in the Pearl Jam debut album and the first two Alice in Chains albums that were released in the same era, asked me to give him "thrash metal" to have a listen. I gave him the cassette version of Never, Neverland and just the next morning he told me, "I asked for thrash metal, this is lighter than Dirt". Oh well… "It’s definitely not dirt-y", I responded and the next day I gave him Bonded by Blood. He didn’t like Exodus but in the end he became a fan of Annihilator.

The songs? Oh my… Lyrically, you can find weird, mental and psychological issues ("The Fun Palace", "Never, Neverland", "Phantasmagoria"), man's greed and nature's poisoning ("Stonewall"), the fear of annihilation ("Imperiled Eyes"), even a macaroni and cheese dinner ("Kraf Dinner"). Jeff Waters used to get inspired by everything at every time. A certain mood, a walk in nature, the news, a dinner…

As for the music, I grew up listening to the cassette version, later the vinyl and from some moment and on, the CD version. I revisited the "analogue" formats while writing this article and somehow, with the album split in "Side A" and "Side B" it hit me like a maniac. Side A is more melodic, catchy and diverse with songs like the awesome opening of "The Fun Palace" with its panic riffage, the crystal clear bass and Pharr's "psychic house of horroaars!" line, "Stonewall" (a "sell-out" according to a few thrash metal fans back in the day), "Sixes and Sevens" and the same-titled track, while on Side B lies the glory of thrash metal with the technical thrash majesty of "Phantasmagoria" (one of the greatest Annihilator tracks ever) and the closing of "Reduced to Ash" and "I Am in Command", a pure thrashy holocaust.

Just like Melissa or Don’t Break the Oath? Crimson Glory or Transcendence? Alice in Hell or Never, Neverland is one of those difficult dilemmas in the history of metal music, even if the author of this blog prefers the second in all of these cases.


Back in those days, every great album must have an extended supporting tour and Annihilator were lucky enough to join one of those legendary tours. At the release of Never, Neverland, Annihilator already started touring in Europe during September, and from October until the end of 1990, Never, Neverland Tour was moved in the United States for an estimated number of 50 shows in total.

Then, just when 1991 entered, Annihilator joined Judas Priest in their Painkiller Tour in Europe, along with Pantera for an estimated number of 50 more shows, with a small break in the end of February to visit themselves alone Athens, Greece. Nearly 100 dates supporting Never, Neverland, and they played all over the United States and Europe. Half of the shows with Judas Priest and Pantera, meaning you have the bands that released Painkiller, Never, Neverland and Cowboys from Hell the same year, sharing the same stage.

I can’t imagine a better scenario for a new band, with a great new album just released and a label like Roadrunner supporting them. So, what happened?

Well, the '90s happened… verging on the edge of an age. And also, too many line-up changes in the Annihilator camp. Jeff Waters released a few more great albums over the years like King of the Kill and Carnival Diablos, he kept touring all over the world and then he built his Watersound Studios in Durham, UK.

Thirty (30) years later, Never, Neverland still remains the ultimate Annihilator album, a "once-in-a-lifetime record". Jeff Waters still remains as one of the greatest thrash metal guitarists and a dominator on stage; a guitarist-frontman.

You can visit the official Annihilator website HERE.