Δευτέρα, 19 Απριλίου 2021

The Chronicles of the Sword: A study in the early years and the debut albums of DOMINE and DOOMSWORD.

by Andreas Andreou

You were called by the Gods, their powers to wield. Guard well the Secret of Steel...

...it was the year MCMLXXXIII when Manowar unleashed upon humanity the album Into Glory Ride and the quest for the Secret of Steel started in the world of heavy metal. For the brothers Enrico and Riccardo Paoli, the journey began exactly that year in Piombino in Italy. Enrico on guitar and Riccardo on bass, were joined by Stefano Mazzella on vocals, Agostino Carpo on guitar and Carlo Funaioli on drums. School kids at that moment, they started rehearsing but actually, in the very beginning, they mostly started learning how to play. The passion was there, something that became more serious when they decided to quit playing cover songs and started composing their own original material, leading to the year 1986 when under the name Domine, they recorded their first demo, sometimes referred as Domine, others as Demo 1986, including the songs "Lords of War", "Let the Lightning Strike", "King of All the Kings" and "Eyes of Medusa".

During their early school years, bands like Black Sabbath, Saxon, Kiss, Thin Lizzy and Queen were the ones they were listening to, but Enrico Paoli was also influenced by sword 'n' sorcery novels, horror and authors like Michael Moorcock, H.P. Lovecraft, Paul Anderson, J.R.R. Tolkien, even the Homeric epics and mythology, leading to the epic side of heavy music and the glorious bands of the era like Manowar, Virgin Steele, Cirith Ungol and Warlord. And while band names like Destroyer (inspired by the album of Kiss) and Bloodlust were also used, Domine was the final name they chose, establishing a complete epic aesthetic for the music, lyrics and art. What most people don't know is that the origins of the name come from Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" song but in Latin the word "Domine" definitely sounds epic and perfectly suitable for the band's music.

Enrico Paoli, seeing Manowar live in 1986 and Ozzy Osbourne with Jake E. Lee, believed that the band should be stronger on stage and Domine performed a few live shows supporting bands from Italy like Dark Quarterer who had released their same-titled debut album in 1987 and The Etruscan Prophecy in 1988, and were also based in the same area. In April of 1989, Domine decided to record a professional demo at Much More Studio in Florence, where Italian bands like Sabotage and Death SS were using, since Enrico Paoli never really liked the 1986 demo. Named Champion Eternal, the new demo included "The Mightiest War", "Doomed Lord Dreaming", "Stormbringer, the Black Sword", "May the Rainbow Shine on You", "The Eternal Champion" (a suite in 7 parts) and "Kings in Darkness". Performing a few more shows in Italy and spreading the demo in a few countries like their homeland, Greece and Germany, Domine started building a small underground fan base.

One more demo was recorded in 1991 but this time, Domine didn't travel to Florence for the recordings so the result was a very rough output, mostly recorded live without a proper mixing procedure. Named Bearer of the Sword, the third demo included the tracks "Introduction", "Dark Emperor",  "Midnight Meat Train", "Ghosts, a Poem", "The Ship of the Lost Souls", "Blood Brothers' Fight" and "Uriel, the Flame of God".

At that point, with the Champion Eternal and Bearer of the Sword demo tapes, Domine already had their own style. They didn't sound like the European heavy / power metal bands but they also didn't sound like the heavy / power metal bands from the United States. Maybe you could find a few similarities with bands like Virgin Steele but Domine's epic heavy metal was something different, a league on their own, that was based in songs  composed in a way that could highlight and expand the storytelling, something that was very important for Enrico Paoli, the main composer.

Lyrically, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné series is the key influence but Paoli definitely added more stories in the songs, like "Midnight Meat Train'' that is based on Clive Barker's horror story from the first part of Books of Blood collection. For those interested, there is a same-titled film directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (check also his film Versus) in 2008 with (the now famous) Bradley Cooper in one of his first roles, and Vinnie Jones. Paoli himself is a huge fan of horror movies.

The purpose behind the low-budget recording of Bearer of the Sword demo (in a period where recording didn't have the digital and social media world's convenience) was mainly to save money in order to have a properly recorded official release, a 7" single, or a split mini LP , but it didn't happen. Actually, the following period didn't go as Domine probably wanted since a record deal never came but instead, the departure of singer Stefano Mazzella in 1992 and guitarist Agostino Carpo later, is what followed. Despite some negative reviews over the years, Mazzella was a close friend of Paoli and he always believed that he would be improved. Mazzella didn't really want to move on a professional level and that was always Paoli's goal. From that point on, Enrico remained as the only guitarist and the new singer was Simone Gazzola. That line-up recorded the Demo '94 including the tracks "Intro", "The Mass of Chaos", "Rising from the Flames", "Freedom Flight" and "Army of the Dead". Even if this demo is often considered "official", it was a recording that wasn't spread or sold like the previous ones. Gazzola's vocals didn't satisfy the band who kept those recordings as a preview of songs that wanted to properly record for the debut album. However, they already sent a few copies to friends, just to listen to the songs and that's how that demo was spread in the tape-trading years.

The singer's spot was many times what a few reviews found as the weakest part of those demo tapes, something that Paoli has also stated in the past. Gazzola didn't last but drummer and founding member Carlo Funaioli also left Domine, and then the Paoli brothers moved to Florence (they were born there before moving to Piombino). When Paoli started looking for members in Florence, drummer Mimmo Palmiotta joined them, already known from Death SS since he performed in their albums ...in Death of Steve Sylvester (1988) and Black Mass (1989), he was a personal friend of Enrico and they knew each other from the underground metal scene and also played together in the short-lived Italian band, Masterstroke. And then, they were lucky enough to have Morby (born Adolfo Morviducci) joining them as the lead singer after refusing the first time he was asked, when Mazzella left. Previously known as the singer of Sabotage, Morby also sang in Time Machine's Shades of Time EP and we already have reached 1997, the year that Domine's debut album Champion Eternal was finally released.

For better luck, when Enrico Paoli moved to Florence, he started working for Audioglobe, a major distribution record company in Italy and then he founded Dragonheart Records, a division of Audioglobe, and Domine's debut album was released by his own label.

Recorded at Planet Sound Studios in Florence, with songs that were already written during the previous years, Champion Eternal starts with "Hymn", the intro to Domine's world and then... Legions of black cloaks are gathering to "The Mass of Chaos", a song inspired by the horrors of Lovecraft and similar minds, speaking about a sect that summons a Demon God of another dimension through a sacrificial ritual. "The Chronicles of the Black Sword" starts with a small instrumental part named "Doomed Lord Dreaming" and the narration "My name is Elric and I bear the Black Sword" is the beginning of the main part called "Stormbringer (The Black Sword)", an epic and dramatic song about Elric of Melniboné and the sword that drinks the souls of his enemies. "The Freedom Flight" starts with the screams of Michelle Pfeiffer's character named Isabeau in Richard Donner's noble fantasy film Ladyhawke (1985), while she falls off a tower and transforms into a hawk. That epic song about freedom and hope, leads to the "Army of the Dead", a dark epic suite in 5 parts, inspired by sword 'n' sorcery stories, where a city of immortals becomes a city of the army of the dead.

What Domine have managed to do and what separates them from the majority of epic heavy metal bands, is that their stories build the songs. The storytelling becomes the song. An intro that set the mood, a riff that becomes the character, a melodic passage that becomes the character's feelings, the performance, the vocal lines and the way Morby sings, the bass guitar that's always there like the shadow of the guitar that has its own ghostly character, the drums and every beat that could be a clash of swords, marching of warriors, and in the end a redemption or just a dark fate.

"The Proclamation" is a narrated part introducing the "Dark Emperor", a J.R.R. Tolkien inspired story. All narrations of the album are courtesy of Richard J. Burton, an old friend of the band who also narrated in the demo years, while Steve Sylvester of Death SS offers a few backing vocals. There are certain moments where keyboards are really important for the atmosphere and in "Dark Emperor" this is more than obvious since there is a ritualistic aura of terror. "Rising from the Flames" starts with a doomy Sabbathian riff to become another epic that's often overlooked. Being mainly an epic heavy metal band so far, the horror element is very strong in the early Domine years. We've seen it in previous songs of Champion Eternal but in "The Midnight Meat Train" that element is a prowler who few people find slightly out-of-place since it brings terror in the modern era and New York's subway. Still though, who can ignore that deadly riff, Palmiota's speedy pounding and Riccardo's maniacal bass? And finally, the storytelling we mentioned before finds its true essence in "The Eternal Champion", a suite in 7 parts, an iconic epic metal song, an immortal tale, a heroic saga.

The rest of the Domine albums also came out by Dragonheart Records, a few of the older songs of the demo years appeared in them and Domine more or less became a power metal band keeping also the "epic metal" element. There aren't many European epic and power metal bands with such a strong discography but that debut album always has a special place in the heart of those who lived the later demo years and were expecting that album to finally be released. I still remember the day I bought it upon its release and I still remember the first moment I listened to it. And since then, I never stopped following the 8-arrowed symbol of Chaos and what Domine's music represents.

This sword is the backbone of the life that I know...

...listen to the wind, it tells the story. The same year Champion Eternal was released, another band was forming in Gallarate, in Italy, using the name DoomSword. Actually, the idea of forming the band, came when the guitarist of the extreme metal band Agarthi (known as Vali) met Maurizio Chiarello, the owner of the Underground Symphony record label, during a visit in a record store in Milan and everything begun during a conversation about Cirith Ungol. Vali said that he wanted to form an epic metal band inspired by Warlord, Medieval Steel, Cirith Ungol and similar acts, and Maurizio told him that if he does it, he will release the album.

Vali called Avenir, his fellow guitarist from Agarthi and started completing what he said, immediately. Inspired by the cover art of Warlord's Deliver Us MLP, Vali became Deathmaster handling vocals too, and Avenir became Guardian Angel, handling drum duties too. With the addition of Soldier of Fortune (they all used pseudonyms) on bass, Sacred Metal demo was written in a few days and recorded in a few hours, including the tracks "Swords of Doom", "Sacred Metal", "Foredoomed", "Warbringers" and "On the March".

150 copies of that demo were supposed to be pressed but actually 150 covers were made and the manual copying of the tapes stopped after 30-40 copies because the band lost a whole bunch of covers. During the tape-trading circuit, hundreds more were spread-copied to underground metal fans building immediately a strong fan-base. Just like the Domine demo tapes, I remember myself trading (copying) demo tapes of Greek metal bands and getting a tape having the DoomSword demo and a few more goodies of that era.

Prior to DoomSword, there is a brief story lost in time, when Deathmaster was in another band with Guardian Angel and Mario Degiovanni. Formed in 1993, the short-lived band of Warhammer recorded just a few demo tracks and split because Mario wanted to follow a path devoted to Manowar while Deathmaster wanted to add more elements and follow a path devoted to the Asatru period of Bathory. Mario joined Wotan in 1998 and while the third DoomSword album Let Battle Commence (2003) is the most Bathory-inspired album of the band, Deathmaster (using the name Vali) formed Gjallarhorn releasing the album Nordheim in 2005 keeping there all his Nordic and Viking music elements that were closer to Quorthon's music, so DoomSword would never lose their own identity.

Epic metal was very strong in the Mediterranean where Greece was always the leading force of fans back in the '90s, followed by Italy, even if the "epic metal" term in Greece was spread already by a specific editor of Metal Hammer magazine. It doesn't matter if the term was probably occasionally there, it was spread by the articles of that magazine helping building a foundation of underground metal fans that later distance themselves from the mainstream press. Looking back in history, nowadays "epic metal" definitely can be seen as a subgenre and not just a set of mood because of the lyrics. Sometimes it is epic heavy metal, sometimes epic power metal, sometimes epic doom metal but the same-titled debut album of DoomSword is one perfect example of a pure epic metal album.

Recorded at Alex Studio in July-August 1998, the line-up was Deathmaster on guitar and vocals, Guardian Angel on drums and guitar, Dark Omen on bass and Nightcomer on lead vocals. Guitar solos were performed by Deathmaster, Guardian Angel and also guests Gianluca Ferro, Paco Trotta and Alex Festa. The band never performed live with that line-up or during the period of the debut album but singer Gabriele Grilli (Nightcomer) joined DoomSword on stage during their show at Keep It True Festival in 2008. DoomSword's same-titled debut album was released in March 1999 by Underground Symphony.

Opening with "Sacred Metal", the album sets the epic metal mood at once. You know what's going to follow; stories of glory, steel and legends of the past. The chanting of Deathmaster on the intro passes the torch to lead singer Nightcomer and the most natural epic metal feeling one can imagine dominates the album. After the anthemic opening track, they raise the banners higher with the sword-wieldin' metal of "Warbringers" and with "Helms Deep" the battle is raging. Along with writers like Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien, the lyrics of DoomSword were also inspired by the writing of Quorthon and Mark Shelton, building small stories within the songs. After the Tolkien-inspired "Helms Deep", in "One Eyed God" DoomSword speak about the Asgardian All-Father and in "Return to Imrryr", the dragon with the black sword, Elric of Melniboné. The songs are epic and melancholic but they don't have yet the barbaric wrath and the dramatic storytelling of the following albums.

In the next albums, DoomSword presented more solid lyrics about mythology, legends, medieval themes, Viking saga and Celtic legacy. Deathmaster also is going to handle all lead vocals from the next album Resound the Horn (2002) where the band had already finalized their epic metal style. But the debut album is a pure and passionate release, an album inspired by specific bands and records and Deathmaster knew that he wasn't ready yet.

DoomSword offered an album by fans for fans. One of the most important releases of the underground metal scene of its time. So important that it was a scene-defining album for epic metal. True and original like very few, just like the excellent version of  "Nadsokor", a Cirith Ungol cover taken from the One Foot in Hell album of 1986. This album is a rare case that stands on its own and it doesn't matter where one will place it in the band's catalogue. "We're the ones, the chosen to wield the swords of doom", they continue at "Swords of Doom" and indeed, DoomSword knew that the SWORD will guide their heart and that was just the beginning; the SWORD was forged.

Closing with "On the March", we're getting a glimpse of the future and the following albums. That song brings upfront the dark epic side of DoomSword, the epic doom metal element that was also present in the future and lyrical themes of siege, vengeance and death.

The marching just began.

Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent painting of Henry Fuseli (German: Johann Heinrich Füssli) that is used as the cover art of the DoomSword debut album. In 1790, Fuseli became a full Academician, presenting that painting as his diploma work.

The author of this blog and Deathmaster, Anno Domini MMX (Up The Hammers Festival 2010), agreed that Hammerheart is the greatest Bathory album. 

Πέμπτη, 25 Μαρτίου 2021

Judas Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny: The story and the influences.

Recorded during November - December of 1975 and released on March 23rd of 1976 by Gull Records, the second studio album of Judas Priest is one of the blueprints of heavy metal.

by Andreas Andreou

Having the same business arrangements just like the first album Rocka Rolla (a recording budget of £2,000), the band entered the Rockfield Studios in Wales, with producers Jeffrey Calvert and Max West, while Chris Tsangarides was listed as co-engineer. The band was very happy when Rodger Bain was brought to produce Rocka Rolla in June - July 1974, because they were fans of Black Sabbath and having the producer of their first albums was something important for them. However, the result didn't meet their expectations but it was an eye-opening learning experience. At that point, the recording line-up was Rob Halford (vocals), K.K. Downing (guitar), Glenn Tipton (guitar, piano), Ian Hill (bass), Alan Moore (drums) and the band were listed as "co-producers" convincing the producers to add in the new album tracks that were previously rejected by Bain.

Things were ready for the next level and there was going to be a departure from the Rocka Rolla sound but those years, where music terms were abstract, they didn't really want to be labelled as a "heavy band". "We don't like to be called heavy. We'd rather be thought of as a dramatic band", Glenn Tipton said to Sounds magazine in May of 1976.

Before the recordings of one of the most important albums of their catalogue (and the last one for Gull), the band visited former singer Al Atkins to sign a contract so they will include parts he wrote in the album. Those parts were added in "Victim of Changes" and "Dreamer Deceiver". However, Atkins doesn't really remember which part was included in "Dreamer Deceiver" (and if any was used) so in a few later pressings of the album his credit is discarded. "Victim of Changes", a song with a heavy influenced Black Sabbath riff, is a combination of the older "Whiskey Woman" track written by Atkins and Downing, and Halford's "Red Light Lady".

Read about the formation of Judas Priest.

"Victim of Changes" is by far the most-times performed-live song of the album, followed by "The Ripper". Sad Wings of Destiny is heavily influenced by Black Sabbath (who already had released 6 albums at that point) since a few Priest members were listening to Sabbath even during the writing and the recordings of the album. From the riffing of "Victim of Changes" up to more melodic arrangements, even lyrics themselves, and from the "Children of the Grave"-influenced riff of "Deceiver" (with a touch of "Under the Sun"), just like Rocka Rolla, this album is also dominated by Black Sabbath, mainly from the albums after Master of Reality. The heavy, progressive and diverse vibe of albums like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is all over Priest.

The late Chris Tsangarides has told Martin Popoff, "They (Judas Priest) started writing lyrics that kind of set the way forward for most of metal, doom, gloom, that kind of thing, the odd demon here or there, but it was mainly that. They loved the Sabbath. In fact, they (Black Sabbath) were recording in the next studio to us and we would talk with them and go in there, listen to a couple of hours and whatnot." Chris Tsangarides, who worked again with Judas Priest for the Painkiller album, added, "Definitely Black Sabbath was the band that they liked and loved very much".

But it wasn't just Black Sabbath. This was the key influence, but there was also Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Queen. Queen and Freddie Mercury had the biggest impact on Halford who was impressed when he saw them live at the Birmingham Town Hall before Priest recorded the debut album, and when an early manager tried to nickname him, he gave him the awkward, Rob "The Queen" Halford, something that didn't last for a minute.

"Purple, Sabbath, Zeppelin, I was a fun of those bands'', Tipton noted, while Downing wrote in his autobiography, "As proud as I was of Sad Wings of Destiny, I could see  the influence of other bands slowly creeping into our songwriting on what was a very important album" and he is very correct. An album blueprint for heavy metal, is actually a masterpiece that's balancing between their influences and the search of their personal style. A turning point where Judas Priest were still searching for their own identity and vision, even if it is considered nowadays as one of their best albums. For example the strong Queen influence that is all over Sad Wings of Destiny wasn't really present in the albums that followed.

From that point on though, Sad Wings of Destiny took the torch and influenced more people and bands, leading to the next albums where Judas Priest finalized their own unique heavy metal style. Added to that, the huge leap from Rocka Rolla (a Bottom-5 Priest album) to Sad Wings of Destiny (a Top-5 Priest album) is probably one of the biggest gaps in the catalogue of all major bands.

The album wasn't an instant success. Actually, it took a few years to be recognized and that's why its influence wasn't instantly, just like Black Sabbath's albums.

The original track list was
Side A:
1. Prelude
2. Tyrant
3. Genocide
4. Epitaph
5. Island of Domination
Side B:
1. Victim of Changes
2. The Ripper
3. Dreamer Deceiver
4. Deceiver

but Gull Records pressed the vinyl by putting side B before side A, even if in the back cover of the first pressing it was written as intended to be. Actually, the original idea makes more sense (who would put a "Prelude" track in the middle?) but that mistake is how we learned the album and what's considered correct in the history of Judas Priest. After all, the history of music itself has many stories of mistakes which later considered as the "normal" because that's what was presented by the labels or the artists or the press.

There is a diversity that might be considered as a flaw in the track list and the final recordings, something like the track list of Black Sabbath's Vol. 4 or Sabotage, where it is uneasy for someone that listened to those albums for the first time having in mind what followed. "Prelude" probably makes no sense before "Tyrant" and it was scrapped from a few later album repressings, while "Dreamer Deceiver" and "Deceiver" sound better as one track with the first part being the "dream" ("followed the dreamer through the purple hazy clouds") and the second part being the "deception" ("all is lost, doomed and tossed").  For some people "Epitaph" sounds out of place and equally different in the flow just like Sabbath's "Changes". K.K. Downing felt the same and didn't like the song but it ended in the album as a Tipton composition and a homage to Queen who Halford loved.

And finally, you have the fade-in at "Victim of Changes", a criminally editing decision that's corrected in the live versions of the track where you listen to the twin guitar harmony of the intro in its full glory. The intro of "Victim of Changes" had many incarnations, from the early stages of "Whiskey Woman" up to the unreleased track "Mother Sun" whose beginning was also considered. But let's remember that Judas Priest were experimenting those years, looking for their identity between their influences and their raw talent, shaping the foundations of heavy metal.

The "Fallen Angel" cover art was commissioned for the album by Dave Howells of Gull and created by Patrick Woodroffe, also known for his work on Budgie's Bandolier, Pallas' The Sentinel and Stratovarius' Fright Night. Around the angel's neck, we will see the Devil's Cross, a symbol adopted by Judas Priest, while the band's gothic-style logo was used one more time in the next album Sin After Sin before it would be replaced by the band logo on Stained Class. The iconic cover art is an undeniable link to the lyrical, dramatic and mournful side of Sad Wings of Destiny.

Speaking of Sin After Sin, the cover of "Diamonds & Rust" song (originally written and performed by Joan Baez) was supposed to be included in Sad Wings of Destiny after Gull Records's suggestion (a version of the track was already recorded in those sessions) but finally ended in Sin After Sin. At that point, Judas Priest broke the contract with Gull, losing all the rights of those two albums, and joined CBS. They became full professional musicians and quit their daily jobs. Judas Priest also had the opportunity to fill the gap other major British acts created after Deep Purple's disbandment in 1976 and Black Sabbath's inner problems after Technical Ecstasy. It was a period where everything worked in favour of the band and they grabed every chance creating the albums that helped shaping heavy metal music.

Just like a few more Priest albums, there is not a track with the album title, that is mostly used as a statement for the content and the aura of the music and lyrics. In the album Winter Ethereal of Arch / Matheos (released in 2019), there is the track "Wanderlust" with the line "so whimsical and she'll be no angel falling, sad wings of destiny won't carry her away" that sounds like a beautiful and poetic reference.

Sad Wings of Destiny is one of the most important heavy metal albums and one of the best Judas Priest releases. Decades later, its influence is a huge part of the metal history that led to Priest's iconic style.


Κυριακή, 28 Φεβρουαρίου 2021

Gary Moore's Dirty Fingers: The early years and the story of the outcast album

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 4th of 1952, Gary Moore started his music journey when he joined the Dublin-based Skid Row band at the age of 16. In Skid Row, he also met Phil Lynott who was the band's singer and a long friendship started between them. Even if Gary wasn't a founding member of the Irish band and left Skid Row in the end of 1971, it was he who sold the rights of the "Skid Row" name for 35000 USD to Jon Bon Jovi for the American hard rock/heavy metal band fronted by Sebastian Bach when they joined Atlantic Records, since Bon Jovi owned part of their publishing rights.

During the time with Skid Row, they supported Fleetwood Mac and Moore was heavily influenced by guitarist Peter Green who also helped them to sign with CBS records, releasing the albums Skid (1970) and 34 Hours (1971). A few months previously to Skid, they released Skid Row but CBS withdrew it from circulation when it was decided to re-record certain songs and add new material for Skid, presenting it as the proper debut album.

Skid and 34 Hours were performed by the power trio of Gary Moore (guitar, vocals), Brush Shiels (lead vocals, bass) and Noel Bridgeman (drums), while Phil Lynnot had already formed Thin Lizzy learning also the bass guitar and releasing in 1971 the Thin Lizzy debut album... but the best was yet to come. Meanwhile, Gary Moore believed that the Skid Row members weren't an equal match to his abilities, there was also confusion on his musical direction, and he decided to leave the band and start a solo career. Gary Moore's album Grinding Stone was released in 1973 as The Gary Moore Band but it was also confusing and then he briefly joined Thin Lizzy; he was a guest in Nightlife (1974) while he also recorded Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979) with them.

The '70s was a confusing period for Gary Moore and he wasn't sure for his musical direction. During that decade he was in jazz fusion, blues, rock and hard rock, performed and/or recorded with Skid Row, Thin Lizzy, Colosseum II, Cozy Powell and besides Grinding Stone, in 1978 he released his first solo album as "Gary Moore" under the title Back on the Streets including the classic track "Parisienne Walkways". Phil Lynott, Don Airey and drummer Simon Phillips were among the recording musicians but again he wasn't sure. He was confused and he also had a lack of focus even if he wouldn't agree with that. After all, "you don't fuck with Gary Moore, he didn't have those scars for fun", according to Glenn Hughes.

While touring with Thin Lizzy in the USA, he left the band trying to establish his solo career forming G-Force and recorded the same-titled album in Los Angeles, released in 1980 by Jet Records, and then toured with Whitesnake. Still though, that band was also short-lived but it seemed that Moore was more certain for his musical direction, so he decided to record under his name the next albums starting with Dirty Fingers.  

Dirty Fingers is the heaviest solo album of Gary Moore recorded with the all-star line up of Gary Moore (guitar, vocals), Charlie Huhn (lead vocals) of Ted Nugent, Jimmy Bain (bass) of Rainbow and Wild Horses, Tommy Aldridge (drums) of Black Oak Arkansas and Pat Travers Band, and Don Airey (organ, keyboards) of Colosseum II, Rainbow and Ozzy Osbourne.

Dirty Fingers was recorded for Jet Records around the same period with G-Force and one of the regular producers working with Jet Records was Chris Tsangarides. Dirty Fingers is a raw album for its time. Restless and straight, hard with a sharp heavy metal edge; it's a dirty album. Gary Moore didn't really like that raw sharpness and Tsangarides' production, it was too heavy and hard for him and he wasn't happy with it and the mixing. Gary Moore's few years with Jet Records was a period the artist wasn't happy at all, and he never hide it. The recording period of this album is debatable though, it is said that the album was recorded during 1980 but there is a possibility that it was actually recorded in January 1981.

Back to the album, "Hiroshima" is a heavy metal favourite for many metal fans that don't really follow Gary Moore. "Nuclear Attack" is a track Moore really liked and Airey's input in this track is iconic and inspiring. While "Nuclear Attack" is about an apocalyptic warning, Moore always had themes and lyrics about destruction coming from men in his rockin' albums, but he also had lyrics about daily life, society and love, and he drew inspiration from anything that could get his attention. "Bad News" is also a cut with a hard and raw edge, "Really Gonna Rock Tonight" is also close but then, those are the opposite to "Kidnapped" that's a commercial radio-friendly track something closer to what followed. Gary Moore also recorded a cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" that is mostly famous by The Animals even if the first version was by Nina Simone. Still though, besides "Hiroshima" and "Nuclear Attack" there are two more of the best tracks Gary Moore ever written in Dirty Fingers, "Lonely Nights" (also mentioned as "Lonely Night") and "Rest in Peace" that served as a template for Moore's '80s ballads.

Dirty Fingers was an uncompromised and raw album written and recorded in a confusing period for Gary Moore. In the end, it was scrapped and Gary Moore recorded Corridors of Power with a new line up, a new record label (Virgin) and producer Jeff Glixman. "Nuclear Attack" was one of the songs Virgin listened to and decided to sign Gary Moore, and that was also the only track they bought the rights from Jet Records and Gary Moore kept performing for a while. When Gary Moore briefly joined Greg Lake's band, "Nuclear Attack" was also included in Greg Lake's same-titled album released in 1981.

Gary Moore decided that he wanted a polished and more commercial hard rock approach something that was more obvious in later '80s albums like Run for Cover (1985) and Wild Frontier (1987) while in the end of the '80s he offered us his last hard rockin' album, After the War before he will return to the blues. Maybe his heart was always in the blues until the moment it stopped on February 6th of 2011.

Dirty Fingers was finally released for the first time in Japan in 1983 and one year later it was released internationally. Often considered as Gary Moore's third solo studio album, it is actually the second. The same period, Jet Records also released the live album Live at the Marquee, mostly to cash in on Gary Moore's success after the release of Corridors of Power.

The Japanese version of Dirty Fingers has the OBI strip on the top of the cover sleeve instead of the left side, and it is one of the very few Japanese records that was originally sealed since most of the Japanese version weren't sealed in the pressing plants.

Gary Moore, one of the greatest guitarists ever, wasn't included in "The 100 wildest guitar heroes" feature of Classic Rock magazine (issue 104, April 2007) along with obvious picks like Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Randy Rhoads, up to Buckethead, Kerry King, Daron Malakian, Joan Jett, Kurt Cobain, Mick Mars and The Great Kat...

Τετάρτη, 20 Ιανουαρίου 2021

Joe Lynn Turner: Always shining, through Sun & Storm

In March of 2018, it was posted in Crystal Logic the article "Morality and inexplicable changes in the music industry". That article was reposted many times and there was even plagiarism from online media. It was something new, a different view, stating changes in the music industry, mainly focused in metal music.

The general idea was how a few bands continue performing and releasing new music, and keeping the "brand name". There is definitely controversy behind those acts and different views.

The "older" artist that can't perform or compose music as good as before, his retirement or replacement by another artist (most of the times younger), a change in the "rights holder", and the thrust to perpetuate the presence of the "old brand" that is more safe than risk with something new. Even if that "older" artist was the founder or the primary songwriter. It doesn't matter anymore in the music industry and at that point we reach the morality issue.

The same questions that were originally posted in that article still stand for the future of music and they look more relevant from time to time. What will happen when all these old and major acts will retire? Is the music personified or just music matters even if the "persons" are not there? Is there a morality issue? Or is it just music after all? Or simply, everything about major acts will be just business, like there is a businessman that has bought a big band (or bands) and hired managers to handle his investments, no matter who is in the band? This is what was written back in March of 2018.

Joe Lynn Turner, one of the most soulful and expressive vocalists of rock, hard rock and AOR, started his career in the '70s with Fandango. His fame reached the sky when he replaced Graham Bonnet in Rainbow, performing in the albums Difficult to Cure (1981), Straight Between the Eyes (1982) and Bent Out of Shape (1983). After Rainbow's break-up and the Deep Purple reunion, Turner released his classic solo album Rescue You (1985) and later he joined Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force performing in the album Odyssey (1988).

Turner's career never stopped since then. He briefly joined Deep Purple recording the album Slaves and Masters (1990), he kept releasing solo albums, he worked with Glenn Hughes in the Hughes Turner Project, he had many guest appearances and was part of a few more bands. At some point, Joe Lynn Turner formed Sunstorm and the debut album was released by Frontiers Records in 2006.

Forward to December of 2020:

And then, Joe Lynn Turner made an announcement:

Few weeks later, a new line-up and story was revealed by Frontiers Records:

Frontiers Records is a label that has released countless projects in the wider field of hard rock and AOR, including respectful artists and a few of the greatest ones. So, besides brand names and classic bands like Journey and Whitesnake, among Frontiers' catalogue you will see many familiar names participating in new bands-projects. Most of those projects were an idea of the label that also used a specific songwriting team and similar productions. A few of those albums were really great, others didn't really work, but mostly there was a specific standard and sound.

We already have reached the moment where a label is actually the "band". The label forms the band and the name, has the rights, sets the course and how the "band" should sound. The artists performing are actually the employees and the label is the boss who even guides the "artistic vision".

Was Sunstorm one of those projects owned by the label? Is Joe Lynn Turner another "random guy" performing in one of those projects?

Sunstorm moves on without Joe Lynn Turner and any of the members that performed in the first albums but what's more disturbing is how the music industry  treats a legendary name like Joe Lynn Turner. Actually, they're just erasing him presenting Sunstorm as a label project whose members don't really matter and the name is above everyone. And here we're reaching again the morality issue and the questions mentioned in the beginning.

There aren't easy answers. And if there are, those will change over the years, just like how the music industry is changing. Actually, there are many different answers depending on the person. Musicians, people working in the music industry, promoters, fans. Everyone might have a different perspective. Some musicians might not be able to keep performing and the "brand name" will continue without them in a mutual agreement (and a contractual agreement depending on the name). Some fans will just say that they prefer other (replacement) musicians as long as the music is "better" performed, no matter if there won't be any original member left. Record labels and managers might become the new "rights holders" and keep those "brand names" they way they want, and in the end, the music industry can change so much that at some points, music won't be personified at all. It won't matter who was previously in the band and who formed it, even if he was Joe Lynn Turner. It doesn't even matter the name. THEY say.

But what Joe Lynn Turner has to say?

Is Joe Lynn Turner another "random guy" performing in one of those projects that doesn't really matter mentioning his name? Just after Frontiers' statement, Ronnie Romero, the new singer of Sunstorm wrote:

How did Sunstorm really start in the end?

It seems that in the end, the music industry is so powerful that nothing else really matters. They can even change history and the past, they can even set the future.

The author of this blog works in this industry for many years and has seen many things, but in the end, RESPECT is not just a random word. This is something you always must keep in mind. And Joe Lynn Turner isn't also a random guy or the nameless "former singer". Always respect the true history and the past and don't let "edits" change it.

Feel the music. Respect those who offered you moments that shaped your music life, and wrote the real history.

Κυριακή, 3 Ιανουαρίου 2021

The albums we enjoyed most in 2020... And a review of the year's releases.

The usual prologue would be that no one can say that they have listened to almost everything that was released during 2020. Everyone who claims that is wrong, so we will speak just for our favourite releases and the albums we enjoyed mostly in 2020. The "best" albums of 2020 according to Crystal Logic, and a wider review of the covid-year in metal (mainly) music.

Everything you will read below, are releases that can be found in physical format. "Releases" that were available only digitally, are not included. You will read more words and comments, even full new written reviews and opinions related to the music industry that will probably disappoint a few people that can't handle the truth.

2020 was a hard year but at the same time, it was a year with a LOT of music. It was a year with many diverse releases. Epic heavy metal, US power metal, Lovecraftian black metal, retro hard rock, progressive metal, technical death metal, comeback albums of classic '80s bands and anything else you can imagine and we listened to, while we revisited the Rush, Van Halen, UFO, Quiet Riot, Power Trip, Iron Age and Uriah Heep albums when we mourned the passing of Neil Peart, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Way, Frankie Banali, Riley Gale, Wade Allison, Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley.

Actually, I think that in almost every year we write "... was a difficult year" but honestly, 2020 was probably the shitiest gloryhole someone can force you in, so let's forget for a while everything else and remember the music. And don't forget to read Rob Halford's Confess and Snowy Shaw's The Book of Heavy Metal.

Written by Andreas Andreou

1. ETERNAL CHAMPION - Ravening Iron (No Remorse)

It's been a while since the TOP album of a year was so obvious. Eternal Champion's sophomore album is a force d'être modern traditional metal classic reaching both artistic and commercial success that breaks the boundaries of underground and epic heavy metal, reaching the second position of the 2020 best albums according to Decibel magazine in the USA, the third position of the 2020 best albums according to Metal Archives, and many top lists of media around the globe.

Jason Tarpey, Arthur Rizk and Co. grow so fast that even the 4-year period that separates the new album from the (already) classic debut The Armor of Ire didn't affect anything, just helped the band to raise the metal banners higher. Being the truest, hardest and best of their kind, the legion of Eternal Champion offered a colossal album that just like the debut will grow to a legendary status in the years to come. A grower that with every listen will reveal layered details that are much more than the legacy of the olde.

From the first moment the "Ravening Iron" track was unleashed, many talked about the Warlord vibe (that actually is Lordian Guard/Lordian Winds) but beneath of that touch lies a huge inspiration from Greek music that influenced the band during their visit in Greece with Arthur Rizk staying for more days, visiting different places. Meanwhile, in "Worms of the Earth" you can locate a Mystification-era Manilla Road vibe, in "Banners of Arhai" they revisit "Shade Gate" (the closing instrumental of the debut album) and the "NOW DIE!" part could be a stand-out moment even in the greatest epic heavy metal albums ever.

At the same time, despite being a solid offering of 8 tracks, fans over the world have different preferences revealing a diversity that many won't recognize from the beginning. American fans love mostly the opening cut ("A Face in the Glare'') while in Europe fans mostly prefer other tracks like "Ravening Iron" and "Worms of the Earth''. Production wise, the wizardry of Arthur Rizk, the most important new musician according to the author of this blog, is perfect for the genre and already has established a sound of his own, influencing a huge part of the scene. But what really makes Eternal Champion a groundbreaking band is not only the fact that they have their own distinguished sound, they are the "heavy metal" band that many fans of different (extreme) genres listen, without actually being "metal fans", and we're talking about the crossover and hardcore scene of the United States. "You will be an outcast if you're living in Texas and don't listen to Eternal Champion", could be written in an engraved iron inscription close to Austin, while there could be another similar one somewhere in Philly.

As for the controversial cover art, an album like this needed a legend to visually represent it and the one who was reached is no other than Ken Kelly (Kiss, Rainbow, Manowar). After a few months of work and in close cooperation with the label's executives and band, Kelly managed to capture everything the band wanted (also based in singer's and lyricist's Jason Tarpey story, The Godblade) adding all the elements that made his art recognizable and at the same time representing what sword-and-sorcery visual art was (and is) about over the years.

Eternal Champion's Ravening Iron is history in the making. Be part of it.

Check also: While Eternal Champion raised their banner higher than everyone, IRONSWORD with Servants of Steel confused most of the lists since their album has "2019" written on the CD format but it was available mainly in the first days of 2020. In 2020 though, the year of great comeback albums, CIRITH UNGOL's Forever Black got a huge anticipated exposure. Some people loved it, others expected more but with a total duration less than 40 minutes Forever Black has a nice flow including excellent tracks like "Stormbringer" while the band tried to capture vibes from all of their albums.

An enjoyable album we loved listening to, is definitely THRONE OF IRON's Adventure One. Real victims of Covid-19, they were trapped in the air, flying from the United States to Greece in order to perform at the last-minute postponed Up the Hammers festival. Their first adventure is a dungeons-and-dragons metal album created with pure passion and fun with the video of "Lichspire" makes you just wanna love them. Do you lift?

2. HITTMAN - Destroy All Humans (No Remorse)

Hittman managed to come full circle returning to the days of great songwriting and sounded fresh at the same time. Catchy, melodic, powerful and inspired, with 8 tracks in the spirit of the best albums of US metal, the guitar duo of Jim Bacchi and John Inglima offers everything that their same titled debut album also did 32 years ago. Singer Dirk Kennedy sounds better than ever in the comeback album that starts with the Savatage -"The Dungeons Are Calling"- similar opening track (using a similar skull-cover), moving to the total US power metal riffing worship of "Breathe", the melodic "The Ledge" and closing with the Queensrÿche vibes of "Love, The Assassin" and those excellent guitar solo parts. How many times have you listened to a new album with excellent guitar solo parts? They're getting less over the years but this is not the case; Destroy All Humans is an album full of inspired and greatly performed guitar parts. The best comeback album of 2020 by a band that returned and is here to stay with more new music and not moving on as a legacy act.

More classic US metal to check: What a refreshing heavy metal sound ARMORED SAINT have in Punching the Sky! And they definitely have one of the best drum sounds you can get out there today. Armored Saint is one of the most confident and solid heavy metal bands, a monster on stage and in the latest album you still get "punches" of great heavy metal. Working again with producer Bill Metoyer, TYRANT added Robert Lowe in vocals and returned with Hereafter, a magnificent album including killer tracks like "Dancing on Graves" and "Pieces of Mine".

3. PSYCHOTIC WALTZ - The God-Shaped Void (InsideOut)

It's like not a day passed since Bleeding, the fourth album of Psychotic Waltz, released in 1996. Just like pure artists, Devon Graves, Brian McAlpin, Dan Rock, Ward Evans and Norm Leggio, didn't try to recreate what they did with A Social Grace or Into the Everflow. The latest album is a progressive metal redemption full with exceptional melodies, one of the best guitar performances of 2020, a singer that deserves a place among the greatest ones and the best lyrics of any album during that year. You just have to FEEL the album in its entirety.

The modern-age social-media passion of "stuck like flies, this web worldwide will swallow, make hollow" is an important element of the album. How the world has been evolved with each individual self-committed to digital institution through his cell-phone and the world-wide-web, just like a few of the patients of Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest film, that could leave at any time, but are too afraid to do so. Addiction is the disguised fear of the modern world, where each individual has a different presence in reality (looks afraid) and another one in the digital world (looks dominant).

The actual songwriting and performance is not complex and poly-rhythmic, you still get vibes from Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and the early Ozzy years plus everything the band members have done since 1996. The melodies are addictive and songs like "Sisters of the Dawn" stand at the top of 2020. And if you will FEEL the album, you will get answers to unanswered questions while at the same time, you will have questions even for simple things like, why "Sisters of the Dawn" got that title and not "Fathers of Creation", "Children of the Fallen", or "Children of the One"? In the end, we're just spellbound by that album and that word never sounded better.

Check also: LEVIATHAN Words Waging War.

4. LORD OF LIGHT - Morningstar (No Remorse)

In the end of 2019, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Nicklas Kirkevall from Sweden uploaded his music on a few digital platforms introducing Morningstar and not later than a few days, it reached a few record labels and fans with an enormous positive response. A multi-record deal was offered and Morningstar was officially released a few months later in 2020 getting excellent reviews. With the idea to continue as a full band, Lord of Light's music is heavy metal, it is progressive metal, it is prog power and everything in-between having a strong melodic approach. It will bring in mind '90s prog metal, late-Savatage, even Royal Hunt, and yet you can feel that there are elements that have a certain uniqueness. "I think there is much to be done within the world of metal that hasn’t been done already", Nicklas said to Crystal Logic. "Sometimes it can feel like there aren’t any more uncharted waters to explore, but I sincerely hope we get the opportunity to prove otherwise in the coming years. I know we’re not the only ones, but I think we have the chance to contribute something really meaningful." Just listen to this beautiful album.

Check also: MASTER MASSIVE Black Feathers on Their Graves.

5. FATES WARNING - Long Day Good Night (Metal Blade)

How can they ever fail? It just can't happen. Fates Warning's music is like an old friend that grows with us and even if at the first listen Ray Alder's voice sounded "tired" to our poor ears, we just didn't properly listen to what he said, or we mistakenly tried to compare the album with past FW releases. Alder is not tired, he is just performing sad and bittersweet lyrics in a very mature way. Home, changes, regrets and sorrow. The rain and the sun, scars, new beginnings and altered pages.

Fates Warning's music is a huge book where every album is a chapter that's re-written over the years, while we revisit every album in a different age and era. Most of the reviews written in just a few days (even hours for unprofessional "critics") after a new FW album fail to catch the essence of it. Albums like Long Day Good Night are albums we're going to stay with for a long, long time.

Jim Matheos wanted to leave behind all of the pages with a handful of doubts but we're still following him even if he asked us not to, three decades ago. We never kept that distance. Thank you Fates Warning for always being there, and through the change we still remain after the rain, because deep inside we know YOU wait for us under the sun.


6. ERIC CLAYTON - A Thousand Scars (Independent)

What a story! Eric Clayton's life is a life full of scars and those scars are the wounds that have been finally healed. This album is his confession, his revelation, his scars. Eric Clayton and the Nine create melancholic and spiritual music based on the scars of a man who found again his soul through music and love. A deeply personal album, a narrative where you can't really personally relate with just like other albums but you can FEEL it just like watching an emotional film if you will give your full attention. An album, a story and a spiritual journey that deserves your attention.

In the music industry part, a part that has left a few scars in Eric Clayton's life, Eric Clayton and the Nine decided to release A Thousand Scars independently starting a fund campaign with an overpriced album pre-order many months before its release. Fans that wanted to support directly the artists pre-ordered and pre-paid for music that wasn't even recorded; a sign of the times. However, not all pre-orders were finally delivered including the author of this blog. There might be scars from the music industry but sometimes the industry knows better how to handle a release.  

In the end, this is Eric's redemption and maybe this is the only thing that matters for the man but also the people that were always supporting and thinking of him even when he was lost between the darkness and the night. We embraced his return and now we are waiting for the future.

Check also: If Saviour Machine's Legend (unfinished) trilogy is the soundtrack to the Apocalypse, ANAAL NATHRAKH's Endarkenment is the soundtrack to the sickest ending of the world. An experimental pig hybrid with cocks in its eyes, industrial metal in its heart, black metal in its soul, grindcore in its mind and a diverse vocal delivery. It has nothing to do with A Thousand Scars but its wound is always open because every listen is a razor coming back to flesh.

7. SACRED OUTCRY - Damned for All Time (No Remorse)

The best power metal album of Europe for 2020 came from Greece and has a long history behind it. 20 years ago, Sacred Outcry was formed with influences vast and passion great, inspired by artists like Manowar, Warlord, Domine and Basil Poledouris. The first recordings took place in 2001-2003 but not a voice was heard since then. Still though, that album never left the mind of the band members, especially bassist's George Apalodimas who never gave up his dream to finally see that album finished and released. The recordings were completed between 2015-2018, orchestral arrangements were added, editing, mixing and mastering was finished in 2019 and Sacred Outcry finally presented us the first chapter in The Sacred Chronicles under the title Damned for All Time.

Every instrument sounds crystal clear, the bass sound is beyond awesome, guest vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos (ex-Wardrum, Beast in Black) is at the top of his game and every detail seems to have been perfectly arranged in order to complete an album that will be a modern reference for its style. Songs like "Where Ancient Gods Are Still Hailed" and "Damned For All Time" are up there, in the top of the best European power metal tracks of this millennium.

Check also: It seems that Greece and Cyprus did it very well in 2020. DEXTER WARD returned in the days of Epic Metal with the third full-length album simply entitled III, a massive statement of pure epic heavy metal worship from fans for fans. In the same attitude, SOLITARY SABRED released By Fire & Brimstone the best US power metal album that hasn't been released by an American US power metal since Solitary Sabred's previous offering to the altar of the metal gods.

8. WYTCH HAZEL - III: Pentecost (Bad Omen)

Colin Hendra and Co. did it again, just two years after the magnificent II: Sojourn. An album like this one can only come from England and Ireland, nowhere else. No one can write and perform this kind of epic hard rock better than the places of Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy.

Do you believe that this would sound better with a singer that has a wider range? Do you find a few of the lyrics cringy? Well, lines like "Why should that demon have all the glory? He was only Archangel at the start of the story" lack the depth of "the Gods are crying bombs" and what Psychotic Waltz did, while they are probably closer to Stryper's "Jesus makes me want to sing" since Wytch Hazel are devoted to the Light and Christianity. And if these are disadvantages, at the same time these are advantages since the "better" vocalist couldn't perform better in those songs. This is not a comparison as strong as Ozzy's vocals are in his songs since no "better" singer can replace him but you know what I mean. As for the lyrics, Wytch Hazel's music sounds very positive, so simple and catchy lines like "Spirit and fire show me the way" is all that is needed in this feel-good daddy-rock that's beautiful and catchy, sounds honest and humble and at the same time as epic as it needs with medieval themes, and inspiration from the British music legends.

In the next mixtape you're going to make, add "Sonata" after Fates Warning's "Under the Sun".

Check also: HIGH SPIRITS' Hard to Stop is probably their best album since 2011's Another Night and one of the most feel-good and enjoyable albums of 2020. Let your spirit shine!

9. OPIUM WARLORDS - Nembutal (Svart)

There aren't (true) doom metal fans who don't know who Sami Albert Hynninen is. The Witchfinder of many diverse projects and bands returned in the roots of Reverend Bizarre's doom metal with the nearly 20-minute opening track of Nembutal entitled "A Heavy Heart" but other than that and the closing track "Xanadu", everything in-between is abstract and disturbing. In the end, the complete album is nothing else than a droned apocalyptic offering of a "yellow jacket'd" hypnotic memoir about death.

This not-easy accessible and grotesque album demands your full attention, just like many forms of art. Each side of the vinyl version is a separate entity and in the end they all make sense, even if in the beginning I was listening only to Side A until I moved forward... in Hell. When Sami sings "The silent pilot comes at last: death!" you get that heavy Thomas Gabriel Fischer vibe; an artist who built his career in the meaning of death, and total darkness where there is no hope and everything ceases to exist. From the first cut's line "there is cancer in the wind" to the closing's cut line "breathe / breathe / breath / death", the lungs are filled with the smoke of wisdom and death at the same time.

Check also: ATRAMENTUS' Stygian is a haunted album created from misery, anger and anxiety. It dwells in bad mentality and depression, drowning in an infinite void, having also one of the best cover arts for 2020.

10. OZZY OSBOURNE - Ordinary Man (Epic)

Anything you will say about this not-so-ordinary-man will never justify his real personality, his persona, the music, his legacy and his acts. He is anything you believe for him and everything you don't know about him. Right or wrong, Ozzy's music will always remain in eternity while all opinions will fade like footsteps in the sand. And that's the most important and only thing that really matters.

When Tony Iommi and Bill Ward reached the guy who put that famous advert, "Ozzy Zig requires gig, owns his own PA", things didn't even look good. Later Ozzy and Geezer Butler visited Bill Ward asking him to join them in a new band but Bill wanted to stick with Tony. Then, they all decided to try to work together. That's how it all began and more or less, you all know a part of the story that followed; the story those four created. Together. No one crossed the other's way by luck. Fact.

While history roller-coasters on, Ozzy started his successful solo career using his talent to find the most talented partners and new musicians in the likes of Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde that became legendary after working with Oz. With the music industry adding its hand, the madness and talent surrounding Ozzy's band in the '80s, created a heavy metal prototype as iconic as the other four-or-five most important acts of metal music.

When the '90s entered, Ozzy kept the '80s flame with No More Tears, a multi-platinum commercial success while other metal monsters were lost under the new era. And from that point on, with the exception of Ozzmosis, one of his most personal albums, Ozzy was laid completely in the hands of the industry. When we reached 2020, Ozzy returned to an early era of "everything can happen just for music". Ordinary Man is an album created because Ozzy just wanted to perform again without any rush or forced to offer something "specific". He just happened to be in the studio with good company and respected musicians (not new talents he found), including friends and people who respect him from different generations, like Andrew Watt (producer and guitarist), Duff McKagan (bass), Chad Smith (drums) and guests like Slash, even Sir Elton John, creating a few beautiful songs like "Under the Graveyard" and "Ordinary Man", songs we're going to listen more often than songs from better records released the covid-year.

In the end, Ordinary Man is an emotional album of an "old-man" that grabs his harmonica again, joined by people of different ages, generations and genres, feeling again just like a boy but at the same moment he understands time goes by. "Don't forget me as the colours fade". How could we, Ozzάκλα μου?

Check also (the legends): AC/DC returned with Power Up (or PWR/UP), recorded in mid 2018 to early 2019, paying tribute to Malcolm Young and bringing back those rhythms that make you shake your body and feel like a kid again. At the same time, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, the boss of American classic rock writes a Letter to You, a sad and gray album, an emotional reflection of the past.

11. GLACIER - The Passing of Time (No Remorse)

This is actually the first full-length of Glacier and it is as close to the band's underground classic same-titled 1985 EP, as close was the 8-track demo tape that followed in 1988. In the end, Glacier is a name of many people who used it over the years with one common result: Awesome Metal. In The Passing of Time you will find singer Michael Podrybau of the 1985 EP along with new musicians who know very well their craft and also original members of the band adding their contribution connecting Glacier with their past and all eras, offering an album that balances between US and European heavy / power metal.

Check also: FIREWIND Firewind, SATAN'S FALL Final Day.

12. STYGIAN CROWN - Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur)

Doom Metal suffered in 2020. Very few releases and even fewer that deserved our attention but the debut album of the US-based pact of Stygian Crown came forth offering salvation to our doomed souls.

Check also: BLACK REVELATION Demon, BRITON RITES Occulte Fantastique, GODTHRYMM Reflections.

13. ESOCTRILIHUM - Eternity of Shaog (I, Voidhanger)

Esoctrilihum's mastermind, Asthâghul, did it again. This is an intense black metal album with a variety of influences, from obvious ones (death metal) to a diversity of soundscapes (psychedelia, prog-rock, folk) that complete the Lovecraftian soundtrack of god Shaog who is imprisoned in a parallel universe.

2020 Black Metal highlights: ABIGOR Totschläger (A Saintslayer's Songbook), AKHLYS Melinoë, HAVUKRUUNU Uinuos Syömein Sota, HORN Mohngang, ODRAZA Rzeczom, STORMKEEP Galdrum, UADA Djinn.

14. CREATURE - Ex Cathedra (I, Voidhanger)

Raphaël Fournier is the closest thing to a genius I can think for 2020. Ex Cathedra is an ambitious and thrilling album of progressive black metal with a completely out-of-the-box songwriting that is a combination of early Covenant music with a Dødheimsgard approach (in lack of a better description).

Check also: ULCERATE's Stare into Death and Be Still will probably dominate many TOP lists for 2020 just like the album of Eternal Champion and this diversity in various TOP lists is an example that there are many different listeners all over the world, and a few of those albums can change the face of the current scene. Unlistenable for a few, unpredictable for others, Ulcerate is here to destroy the norm. However, you can't even imagine what you're going to hear in NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM's Éons.

15. HAIL SPIRIT NOIR - Eden in Reverse (Agonia)

Hail Spirit Noir's evolution (progress) is mesmerizing and you don't know what to expect with every album. The black metal themes are nearly audible in the latest album that has the futuristic sound of the past. Are you confused? Just imagine the Blade Runner movie that was filmed in 1982 with a plot based in 2019 but in the real-life-2020, it is now a (retro) film in the past with a (retro) futuristic world that has nothing to do with the current reality. Sharp creativity in reverse with a surrealistic aura.

Check also: HUNTSMEN's Mandala of Fear is a post-whatever-metal-sludge-thing with a post-apocalyptic concept, an ol' prog touch and Hulk-strength riffing. Excellent!

16. WHITE CRONE - The Poisoner (Independent)

There are always times when out of nowhere appears a heavy metal album that sounds fresh, inspired and addictive, with excellent songwriting and performance. White Crone’s debut album is one of those, composed and arranged by the super talented Lisa Mann. Inspired by '80s Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, combined with Lisa's musical background, Bruce Dickinson-like female vocals, excellent dual guitar parts and ideas, prog elements, a powerful rhythm section with bass guitar dominating the record, a doom-y and mystical aura, a short visit at the Seven Gates of Hell and a guest appearance of legendary drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio), make this album one of the most refreshing traditional metal releases of 2020.

Check also: We've missed Ol' Rusty even if we had his Hermit alter ego offering music we never stopped to listen. THE WIZAR'D's Subterranean Exile is a magnificent piece of Arcane Metal that is labeled as heavy or doom or Pagan Altar-inspired by many others.

Breaking the borders of black metal, MALOKARPATAN from Slovakia released Krupinské Ohne mixing Master's Hammer, Bathory, "proto-black" and heavy riffing, acoustic parts and stories from forgotten woodlands.

17. KING WITCH - Body of Light (Listenable)

Mix Black Sabbath, ol' blues and an ol' Motörhead vibe, the heaviest of heavy metal, British and early US doom metal when Doom Metal wasn't even a name for the genre, adding a powerful female voice and you have the Body of Light; A perfect blend of Sabbathian heavy and doom metal. Obey the Riff.

Check also: WOLFTOOTH's Valhalla is the last album of the Sabbathian pact before entering a major label and we will just wait for what's next. Meanwhile, as we wrote again two years ago for the tattooed bearded Richmond wolves: this is too groovy for the regressive doom metal fan, too epic for the stoner fan, too awesome for the rest.

18. SPIRIT ADRIFT - Enlightened in Eternity (Century Media)

You gotta love Nate Garrett. Nate loves heavy metal. And Spirit Adrift's latest album is a pure love for all-things-heavy-metal; The doom-y heavy metal. And "Astral Levitation" is the best tribute you can offer to '80s Black Sabbath.

Check also: LORD VIGO's Danse de Noir, the fourth album of the German doom metal band, is a step forward. And just like Spirit Adrift, "At the Verge of Time" is another great track-tribute to '80s Black Sabbath. We all love '80s Sabbath, don't we?

19. BIFF BYFORD - School of Hard Knocks (Silver Lining)

It's Biff. There is only one Biff. Of course and there are many moments that bring to mind Saxon. It could be a late '80s - early '90s Saxon album and there is nothing wrong with this. Because it's Biff. We love Biff. We love Saxon. And you can't really beat nostalgia and a feel-good album.

Check also: Trevor William Church's HAUNT released two albums in 2020. In the vein of the early '80s heavy metal bands, both Mind Freeze and Flashback sound fresh with the same-titled track of each album being a hit reminding glorious '80s Ozzy commercial moments.

20. ECCLESIA - De Ecclesiae Universalis (Aural)

This heavy / power metal album with those doom metal vibes brings upfront the aura of Tad Morose and Swedish power power metal, plus the power metal moments of doom bands like Candlemass and Memory Garden. Enjoyable and heavy, with a great sound and a pure power metal voice that's extremely suitable, it reminded me that we need a new Fvneral Fvkk album, since their carnal confessions are the true dark gospels of the church.

Check also: SORCERER returned with Lamenting of the Innocent, remembering once again the Tony-Martin-Sabbath-era and adding neoclassical guitar solos in their happier-than-others epic doom metal.

Best EP of 2020:

BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK - March of the Damned (No Remorse)

At last. One of the most cult and obscure acts of underground epic metal finally made it to an official release... Even if it is a 4-track EP. We've been waiting for many years, so I guess it's better than nothing! Despite the obvious Warlord / Lordian Guard worship that is stated in every review I've read, the band with one of the most cult epic metal names offers the most addictive music you're going to listen in 2020 and yes, behind Bill Tsamis' influence, I personally can locate a spectacular and distinguished style that is just BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK. March of the Damned could be the best underground metal release of 2020.

About EPs: From the music industry side, an EP is a kind of release that most record labels avoid in the recent years. A record label will pay the same amount of money for a CD or vinyl, either it is 15 minutes long, or 45 minutes long, but they definitely can't easily sell the EP with the same price as an album. And if they will (because they actually paid the same manufacturing cost, let aside any additional royalties), a few fans will complain for the price, adding many more marketing, promotional and distribution issues, a regular fan can't understand.

A band might say that EPs are "rounded well" and that's not always a lie, but mostly if you want to sell one hundred copies to your friends and a specific underground circle of fans, and get a few reviews from specific online media that's also running from people you're familiar with. Under these circumstances, you can easily release it on your own or find a one-person label that's running his business from his home. But that will never take a band to the next level, unless the band just wants to keep moving like this.

Quality is always better than quantity but since there are people who complain for 35-minute albums, I can't imagine what they will think of EPs, especially when retail prices are close. The music will always reach those who will like it and if a band wants to release music just for a few people it is OK to do it through EPs if their artistic expression is limited to 15 minutes. But if a band wants to keep moving and reach the "next" level, it would be better to present a full album and maybe they will escape the "15 minutes of fame" in a specific underground metal scene. It might take longer to complete it but it will be for the better. For everyone: The band, the record company, the fans.

Off to more albums now, since they were so many in 2020, and there is a huge list of notable mentions.

Best Live Album of 2020:

TRIPTYKON with the Metropole Orkest - Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) (Century Media)

Risen from the ashes of Celtic Frost, Thomas Gabriel Fischer comes full circle releasing Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) including "Rex Irae (Requiem, Chapter One: Overture)", "Grave Eternal (Requiem, Chapter Two: Transition)" and "Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale)". Celtic Frost's requiem was originally begun in autumn of 1986 and its first part, "Rex Irae", originally appeared on Into the Pandemonium album. "Winter" originally appeared on Monotheist album and Fischer started writing it in 2001. It was supposed that the requiem should be concluded once Celtic Frost recorded the second part but in the end, requiem was presented in its entirety by Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest.

The Best, the Rest and More - 2020 Unmasked

The Heavy, the Epic, the Power [and a touch of Prog], the Speed Metal Rites:

AMBUSH Infidel, BLACK SOUL HORDE Land of Demise, BLAZING RUST Line of Danger, CLOVEN HOOF Age of Steel, DARK FOREST Oak, Ash & Thorn, DEATH DEALER Conquered Lands, ECHOSOUL The End of Darkness, FORTRESS UNDER SIEGE Atlantis, FURY The Grand Prize, GREYHAWK Keepers of the Flame, HROM Legends of Powerheart: Part II, IRONFLAME Blood Red Victory, KRAMP Gods of Death, MEGATON SWORD Blood Hails Steel - Steel Hails Fire, OLD MOTHER HELL Lord of Demise, POSSESSED STEEL Aedris, RAVEN Metal City, ROADWOLF Unchain the Wolf, SHOK PARIS Full Metal Jacket, SÖLICITÖR Spectral Devastation, STÄLKER Black Majik Terror, TRAVELER Termination Shock, WHITE MAGICIAN Dealers of Divinity, WOLF Feeding the Machine.

Melodic, rockin', hard 'n' heavy metal:

ALCATRAZZ Born Innocent, ARCHON ANGEL Fallen, BADD KHARMA On Fire, BLUE ÖYSTER CULT The Symbol Remains, STAN BUSH Dare to Dream, FM Synchronized, H.E.A.T. II, MAGNUM The Serpent Rings, NORTHWIND History, PERFECT PLAN Time for a Miracle, PRIDE OF LIONS Lion Heart.

and retro heavy rockin' attitude from the heart of the olde:

DEAD LORD Surrender, FREEWAYS True Bearings, LUCIFER III, NIGHT High Tides - Distant Skies, REZN Chaotic Divine, SPELL Opulent Decay, VESTAL CLARET Vestal Claret.

Under the Sabbathian Spell and the Iommic Magick:

ANCHORITE Further from Eternity, MOUNTAIN WITCH Extinct Cults, PALE DIVINE Consequence of Time, PALLBEARER Forgotten Days.

The "Black Sabbath" of 2020: V.A. Vol. 4 (Redux), V.A. Best of Black Sabbath (Redux), ZAKK SABBATH Vertigo.

Magnetic Eye Records' redux series gathered a pact of Sabbathian artists including EARTHLESS, HIPPIE DEATH CULT, THOU, GREEN LUNG, SPIRIT ADRIFT, THE OBSESSED, HIGH REEPER and more, covering Black Sabbath, while Zakk Wylde with ZAKK SABBATH covered the album that started everything in its entirety, celebrating Black Sabbath's debut album 50th anniversary.

Thrashing maniacs and screams from beyond:

BÜTCHER 666 Goats Carry My Chariot, DEATH COURIER Necrotic Verses, EVILDEAD United $tate$ of Anarchy, EXARSIS Sentenced to Life, HEATHEN Empire of the Blind, HELLSPIKE Lords of War, INCANTATION Sect of Vile Divinities, MIDNIGHT Rebirth by Blasphemy, NAPALM DEATH Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, NECROPHOBIC Dawn of the Damned, SODOM Genesis XIX, TEMPLE OF VOID The World That Was, TESTAMENT Titans of Creation.

The rest, the ethereal, the prog, the black, the sick, the soul of the outcast:

ARS MAGNA UMBRAE Apotheosis, AT THE ALTAR OF THE HORNED GOD Through Doors of Moonlight , EMYN MUIL Afar Angathfark, ENSLAVED Utgard, MY DYING BRIDE The Ghost of Orion, MYSTRAS Castles Conquered and Reclaimed, ORANSSI PAZUZU Mestarin Kynsi, HENRIK PALM Poverty Metal, PANZERFAUST The Suns of Perdition - Chapter II: Render unto Eden, PARADISE LOST Obsidian, PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS Viscerals, EMMA RUTH RUNDLE & THOU May Our Chambers Be Full, KARI RUESLATTEN Sørgekåpe, THY CATAFALQUE Naiv, WAYFARER A Romance With Violence.