The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Columnus Metallicus

Up Axe! Polish Helmet! March's Metal Reviews Column Is A Saxon Special
Toby Cook , March 29th, 2010 11:23

Toby Cook finds the latest set of a Saxon Reissues unsatisfying in a column that also features Neurosis, The Breathing Process, The Smoking Hearts, Nihill, XodiacK, Achilles and High On Fire

So, yeah, March. Erm, to be blunt, it's a bit of a nothing month, really. If you're a hare, apparently you go mad and get a lot of sex (well, a hare or Tiger Woods snigger), and if you've got a mother you have to send her a mint condition copy of Black Metal and pretend that you thought she would like it, before you offer to return it and actually keep it for yourself. (Sorry mum!)

Apparently the name March comes from ancient Roman times, when Martius (after Mars, the god of war) was the first month of the year. Personally though, as fuck all happens in March, if we are ever to do the sensible thing and adopt metric-time and a metric calendar, March would definitely be the month I'd campaign to remove (that and November... I fucking hate November).

By the way, if you're ever round you mum's playing Trivial Pursuit – because you want to apologise for not getting her anything except some Venom Vinyl for mothers day – the Saxon word for March is Lentmonart (yeah, see what I did there!)

Saxon Innocence Is No Excuse, Rock The Nations, Destiny (Reissues) EMI

So, Saxon. You either love 'em, or you laugh at them, but still love 'em. Part three of the reissue series, it's fair to say, doesn't perhaps showcase the Barnsley NWOBHM-ers at the top of their game, rather it charts their brief slump in quality at the expense of a desire to shift more units and conquer America (which in fairness was a symptom that blighted many a British metal band in the late 80s).

1985's Innocence... is poor, let's not arse around the bush, it is. OK, so it's probably better than the album which preceded it – 84's Crusader – but only just. Lacking the out and out riffage of their output from the first half of the Decade, tracks like opener 'Rockin' Again' and 'Rock N' Roll Gypsy' show touches of the Saxon we want to remember, but it's too slow, too melodic and at the risk of using a tired pun, there's ...No Excuse. On the plus side completeists will get a kick out of the bonus material; a collection of B-Sides, medleys and a rather stunning version of 'Back On The Streets', live from Hammersmith Apollo circa 1985.

Less than a year later though Rock The Nations Appeared. By no means a vast improvement, the band at least remembered that if you're going to make a metal album of any description, you need riffs (like, duuuh!). Sadly, they're not very good riffs, and although they may have titled a track 'We Came Here To Rock' it doesn't very much sound like they did. There is of course plenty of iron-shod guitar wankery, songs about axe wielding warriors having sex with teenage girls on motorbikes - this is Saxon after all. While 'You Aint No Angel' would be the perfect tune to spin in a medieval strip club, it's all a bit hollow, and enlisting Elton John's services on 'Party 'Til You Puke' and 'Northern Lady' doesn't help (how did Alice In Chains not learn from this?). Even more alarming here is that the 'Bonus' material (and I use the term lightly) seems to be hastily put together tosh from a Reading Festival appearance and some gig in Madrid.

Come 1988, clearly a change was needed. Deciding to change by trying to sound a little bit like Def Leppard was perhaps the wrong decision, and opening your album with a cover, albeit a spirited one, of Christopher Cross's 'Ride Like The Wind' was hardly a master stroke either. Shunning any rawness and grit that may have been left in the wake of Rock The Nations, Destiny might best be describes as a 'radio-friendly unit shifter' (except that it didn't really shift many units). To this day it's still almost impossible not to crank up the volume on 'For Whom The Bell Tolls', and 'Jericho Siren' at least entices you to revisit material from their early 80s heyday. But what about the bonus tracks? I hear you yelp... Culled from the same Hammersmith and Madrid shows, I'm afraid. (And honestly, what the fuck is the point of putting live versions of songs that appear on the previous album? Case in point: 'Rock The Nations').

There's an old saying that you can't polish a turd, but fuck me, you can at least improve it by, I don't know, serving it on a bed of caviar with a glass Romanée-Conti next to picture of Scarlet Johansson wearing no-very-much. Sadly these reissues do neither. Again, Saxon completeists will no doubt covet these glossy new pressings and faun over the 'bonus' material, but if you're just discovering the mighty Saxon, please, for the love of Biff, start with Denim And Leather and work backwards.

Neurosis/Tribes Of Neurot Times Of Grace/Grace (reissues) Neurot

Thankfully, not all reissues are record company time fillers, and I for one cried small black tears when I first hear that, finally, Times Of Grace, and companion album Grace, were to be reissued as a complete set. Far better scribes than me have written lengthy and eloquent passages extolling the virtues of both Times... and Grace, ad nauseum, but the fact is: you just need to buy this! Playing the two simultaneously is positively revelatory, and for me, surpasses the seemingly unsurpassable Through Silver In Blood... No! Wait, stop!! Wider metal community, put down that big stick!

The Breathing Process Odyssey (Un)dead S.O.A.R

Were I to award albums marks out of 10, five would probably be the worst I could give. A five say's, "hey, it's no Reign In Blood, but it's not exactly Vanilla Ice's nu-metal abortion Hard To Swallow either." Five is snorting Ketamine off a hookers thy, then going home to watch Last Of The Summer Wine. And yet, a five is exactly what Odyssey... the sophomore effort from Connecticut's The Breathing Process deserves. It's a sort of metal Purgatory, where if you like Emperor and Dimmu Borgir, you'll be satisfied, but if you like Emperor and Dimmu Borgir, you'll find most of Odyssey... unlistenable. Vultures typifies any listeners impending dilemma: pummelling drums, nosebleed inducing guitar work, epic yet sorrowful vocal harmonies melded with piano passages and yet still uninspired, derivative and five-ish.

The Smoking Hearts Pride Of Nowhere Self-released

Jesus fucking-microphone-hurling-amp-smashing-whiskey-pissing Christ, if UK hardcore is not in the best shape it's been in for a long fucking time right now then, erm, well, it is alright, it just is. Of course what should have happened when Gallows infected the mainstream was that we should have seen a raft of scene-ster kids who have a couple of Black Flag t-shirts and a Discharge LP, suffocating the genre with their shitty bands. Thankfully, this failed to transpire, and instead we've got The Smoking Hearts. Although by no means the finished article, they somehow manage to meld the acerbity of Gallows with the rock 'n' roll leanings of The Ghost Of A Thousand and the d-beat pummellings of early Motörhead. Extra points for actually calling a track 'ThrashB4Gash' too.

Nihill Ground Hydra Head

Are you one of those perennially cheerful, smug bastards that smiles incessantly at strangers on the tube, has nice teeth and shits rainbows? Ok, you're reading this, so probably not, but we all know someone like that, right? Try punching them in the cock with a copy of this then (actually, just force them to listen to it instead), for the four tracks on ground are about as nauseating a listening experience as you could wish one too hear. At once doom, drone, industrial and black, black, black metal, Nihill's second part of a supposedly already completed trilogy (the first being 2007's similarly up-lifting Krach) just about makes Sunn O))) look as chipper as Timmy Mallet, and makes Timmy Mallet want commit suicide.

XodiacK Shinra Bansho -Setsuri- Gan-Shin

If you have an unhealthy obsession with semi-popular children's T.V. shows – namely The Biker Mice From Mars and the criminally unappreciated Bravestarr – XodiacK probably won't seem that silly. Of course what's more likely is that they'll make you laugh until you shoot part of your brain stem out of your nose, amongst cries of: "What the fuck? They look like Liberace's biker gang!" They're not, of course, but what they are is Japanese, and actually rather serious about their 'galaxy metal' stylings. All of which means that basically they're J-rock, turned up to 11, with a deluge of chugging guitars and an immensely talented vocalist in The Absolute Eros (no, really, that's his name) who effortlessly glides between bestial roars, epic harmonising and banshee-esque howls.

Achilles Slittin' Each Others Throats Dead Vibrations

Come on, you remember Achilles, sure you do. They were those hardcore kids that sounded a bit like Botch. Well, now their young adults that sound a bit like... actually, not as much like Botch as you might think. Ok, so they still sound a little bit like Botch, but honestly, you'd be hard pushed to find a hardcore band that don't sound even a smidgen like Botch, being as Botch were possibly the greatest hardcore band to ever have existed. Amongst largely generic, suitably chaotic songs, Achilles manage to pull off the rather nifty trick of appearing to pen quite complex material, that is actually about as complex as a toilet brush.

High On Fire Snakes For The Divine Century Media

Ignore the fact that – as Matt Pike himself revealed to The Quietus recently - Snakes For The Divine is largely influenced by the work of Grandstand anchor turned new age conspiracy theorist David Icke, because it kicks ass, plain and simple. A rhythm section like a woolly Mammoth's bowel movements and riffs you'd sell your cannabis factory for.