Friday, 2 December 2016

DECADES APART: 5 Albums 5 Different Decades, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010

By: Aaron Pickford, Victor Van Ommen

& Phil Weller

Decades Apart

The idea of Decades Apart is pretty simple. I’ll choose 5 different albums from 5 different decades and I’ll share a little information about them and hopefully you’ll check them out if you haven’t already.   Today is 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010.  Whilst some these albums may not all be considered classics, they’re certainly amazing records.  So be sure to check it out.    

Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath” (1970)

An argument may still remain whether Black Sabbath truly invented heavy metal , however what is true to say, is that Black Sabbath impact and influence on heavy metal music remains unequalled.  Famously recorded in one day, Sabbath’s debut was released on Friday February 13, 1970.  The foreboding title track and “N.I.B” are perhaps the bands most potent examples of Sabbath’s fundamental power.  Indeed if you ask the question, what is doom?  Well you only have to refer to the title track and there you have your answer.  If satan had an anthem, “Black Sabbath” would be that song. Elsewhere on the album are traces of blues and psychedelia. Early reviews of the album according to Tony Iommi’s were “awful”. But in America, “Black Sabbath” sold a million. In the UK, it made the Top 10. And over time it would be acknowledged as a landmark album in the evolution of heavy metal.

The year proceeding would see the band develop further still morphing from the dark masters of  seemingly occult music to a respected hard rock band, who would help create the emerging genre of heavy metal.   Seemingly doing the impossible by today’s standard, the four brummies recorded not one but two classic albums in the 1970, with “Paranoid” following a mere 4 months later, an album that would cause further a tectonic shift in the rock world.   By the time “Paranoid” emerged, clearly Sabbath has developed greater compositional range to their music and their performances on their second album were further step up. 

To give some context to what Sabbath would go onto achieve, in 1968, bassist Geezer Butler and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne were in a band called Rare Breed when a certain unknown guitarist Tony Iommi invited them to form a blues rock group with drummer Bill Ward. This new band would settle on the name Earth, following the recording of some initial demos and some subsequent positive feedback, the momentum of the band was stunted slightly following Iommi’s brief dalliance with Jethro Tull. Iommi would soon return and the group reunited in 1969, deciding upon the new name of Black Sabbath.  In the Autumn 1969, the group was signed to Philips Records and entered the studio with producer Rodger Bain.

“Black Sabbath” was recorded live on the floor in the studio with very few overdubs added ad if you don’t already know the story, due to the loss of a few fingertips, Iommi down tuned his guitar for easier playing, with this new tone giving that synonymous “doomy” effect.

Having been turned on to Black Sabbath by my own Father, listening to this self-titled 1970 is arguably the definitive debut heavy metal record. In terms of a general concept “heavy metal” and it’s development of the genre was moulded not only tone of the music, but because of the band underlying lyrical themes, with Sabbath’s devotion to darker themes that others perhaps  had not dared undertake.  The band’s environment, in terms of living in poverty and career choices being limited to factory worker or petty criminality, Black Sabbath were far removed from hedonism hippie music that was popular when the band formed in 1968, considering themselves a blues band. Instead it is said that Tony Iommi observed the lines that formed at the local movie theatre whenever it showed horror films and remarked that if people were so willing to pay to be scared, perhaps they should try playing evil-sounding music. So with that in mind, they took their name from a Boris Karloff film.  Indeed the title track to “Black Sabbath” capture the essence of horror, with Iommi playing a slow, ominous riff based on the “devil’s tritone,”. The sluggish pacing of the track is truly something to behold and perhaps personifies what is indeed heavy, with the slow and ominous motif becoming the primary influence of the doom metal genre.  There is no filler on this record, “The Wizard” with their inspired use of harmonica, ably backed up by Geezer on bass and a masterful performance from drummer Bill Ward. “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” inspired by psychological horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. N.I.B.” a Sabbath song for bass-lovers, man that Butler solo and with Osbourne at his mercurial best. 

Sabbath’s cover of “Evil Woman” by Crow was their first single from the album, a straightforward blues rocker and arguably the most accessible song on the record, Sabbath truly but their own stamp on it, particularly with Iommi’s riffs replacing the brass of the original. 

The title of “Sleeping Village” speaks for itself, a sombre dirge with Osbourne crooning over the top of Iommi’s acoustic guitar from the outset. With dramatic shifts in tone throughout, from a 60s inspired jam to the rigid structure of an menacing, plodding riff. “Evil Woman”is up next into another cover, this time in the form of “Warning” originally by The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, clocking in at an immense 10m30s, and taking up most of the album’s second side. This track was the least accessible on the album with “Wicked World” completing the album with politically charged lyrics, A politician’s job they say is very high, For he has to choose who’s got to go and die, They can put a man on the moon quite easy, While people here on Earth are dying of old diseases catchy riffs, booming bass guitar and a master class of intricate drumbeats from Ward.  Black Sabbath made music that personified their environment, dealing with the harsher realities of life in their lyrics, married with dark and sinister tone of the guitar and the flawless display by Geezer and Ward.  Sabbath truly have no equal and the next time someone asks you what heavy metal is, reach for your copy of “Black Sabbath” and utter not a word, because this album speaks for itself. 

Diamond Head – “Lightning To The Nations” (1980)

“Lightning to the Nations” also known as “The White Album” is the debut album by British heavy metal band Diamond Head. The album was recorded in 1979 and released on the 3rd October 1980 through their own label Happy Face Records.  The album stands in history as possibility one of the most influential heavy metal records of all time. Speaking as a Metallica fan, the band first came to my attention, due to their cover of “Am I Evil?” which featured on the “Lighting to the Nations” album.  One can not be certain whether Diamond Head’s  would have remained in heavy metal shadows without their association with Metallica , however this union certainly helped gain the band more widespread attention, given Metallica  covered no fewer than 5 of the 7 songs from the album. To put it bluntly if Metallica fans thought these tracks were cool, the same fans would check out Diamond Head.  Conversely and perhaps unfortunately so, Diamond Head's were associated more as the inspiration to Metallica rather than composing one of the best heavy metal records of all time.  "Lightning to the Nations" combines great guitar-driven elements with epic sounding vocals and a sound unique to them and whilst Diamond Head never reached the heady heights that Metallica would achieve 10 years later, they deserve enormous praise from creating a legendary record, one that would go on to inspire the biggest heavy metal band of all time. 

Megadeth – “Rust in Peace” (1990)

Rust In Peace” is the fourth album by Megadeth, released on September 24th 1990.  It feels poignant and only fitting to be discussing this album, given the tragic loss of drummer Nick Menza earlier this year, appropriate then that he be remembered for playing a pivotal role in the creation of perhaps the greatest thrash metal album of them all.  It is safe to say, Megadeth was never the most stable band, disgruntlement of an ousted guitarist from Metallica, which perhaps Mustaine would never recover from, coupled with drug addiction, tragedy and a revolving line up, Megadeth were always on the cusp of creating something huge, but up until this point, the band never quite reached their peak.  Following the release of their 1988 album, “So Far, So Good, So What” drummer Chuck Behler and guitarist Jeff Young would leave the band, to be replaced by Nick Menza and an emerging guitar virtuoso, Marty Friedman, who was known as one half of the speed metal band Cacophony, who also featured Jason Becker, indeed it was the release of Friedman’s debut solo album “Dragon’s Kiss” that piqued Mustaine’s attention, remarking in his biography and I paraphrase that Mustaine was so intimidated by Friedman, it created some anxiety, that he was hiring someone technically superior to him.    Irrespective of this apparent tension, “Rust In Peace” is one of the most technically brilliant thrash albums, indeed it is the sheer technical complexity of the album that would truly define Megadeth and perhaps set a new benchmark for thrash metal standards.

“Hangar 18” and “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due”, with their continuous tempo changes, elegant neo classical inspired solos, along with Mustaine at his magnificent songwriting peak, these two songs would set the tone for the album and inspire it to go down in history as Megadeth’s apex in terms of album output.   Thematically “Rust In Peace” is centered around politics, nuclear warfare, religion, UFOs, and personal issues such as drug and alcohol addiction. “Rust In Peace” is a) an album written by Mustaine at his creative, b) it was performed by members with the technical capabilities of Menza and Freidman members, it is little surprise then that “Rust In Peace” is one of the greatest heavy metal album of all time and the best Megadeth album ever. 

Queens of the Stone Age – “Rated R” (2000)

The year 2000 was a turning point for the stoner rock genre and this had a lot to do with Josh Homme’s band Queens of the Stone Age. Referred too as trance robot music for ladies, the conception of the band was to make the desert sound more widely known and to make something that women could dance to. If you take these two goals and prop them up against QOTSA’s 2000 sophomore album “Rated R,” then there’s no denying that even this early in the band’s career, Homme could already mark this as his second greatest musical accomplishment, the first of course being Kyuss.

Homme was able to turn heads and grab attention. At the time, “Rated R” was something new for the mainstream, while for the heavy underground, those involved felt like they were finally getting recognition. That’s not to say the underground wanted this recognition, but QOTSA was arguably the catalyst for many bands like Red Fang, Mastodon, and Truckfighters to spread the stoner rock gospel and influence a generation of their own.

It’s interesting to note that the year 2000 also saw the release of Limp Bizkit’sChocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water,” a record that went on to sell millions and was at the time regarded as a would-be classic. In the meantime, that album has faded from our memory, but “Rated R” continues to mature like a fine wine. So what was it that made QOTSA a band to notice?

The album is 11 songs long and ranges from stoned riffing to catchy grooving. “Rated R” leaned in the direction of experimental rock music without neglecting the need for a strong hook. Different instruments were used and the songs were structured in such a way that they could stand alone as a hit single while simultaneously being an integral part of the album as a whole. The album’s lyrical content was for mature audiences, but that didn’t stop radio stations from playing “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” regardless of the season. And to top it all off, Homme invited several friends from the desert – amongst which Dave Catching, Chris Goss, Mark Lanegan, and Pete Stahl – to contribute to this masterpiece. With all of these creative minds who came from the same scene, it’s no wonder “Rated R” turned out to be a template for the burgeoning stoner scene which has since then exploded.

Ghost – ‘Opus Eponymous’ (2010)

First impressions are pivotal and from the moment the eerie, mysterious swelling organ chimes of ‘Opus Eponymous’, Ghost have had thousands captivated. Their anonymity, a driving factor in their success, is pure theatre, the cold, occultish feel of Black Sabbath and the horror loving, hip swinging charisma and humour of Alice Cooper potent flavours on this hors d'oeuvre. Yet, where dark, 70s rock whetted the appetite of so many, they juxtaposed all that with the kind of melodies that made ABBA so irresistible. From the human sacrificing stadium rock of ‘Ritual’ to the poetically haunting ‘Elizabeth’ and the beguiling, lofty sounds of ‘Satan Prayer’, while it may not stand as a classic album – especially when compared to the ever increasing quality of their later releases – ‘Opus Eponymous’ provides us with a thrilling first encounter. With the gift of retrospect we can hear their naivety in some ways, this is a band still developing, still laying down the building blocks for a sound that has, today, become truly irresistible.