Κυριακή, 1 Οκτωβρίου 2017

Ozzy Osbourne - No Rest For The Wicked

Listening and celebrating the heavier Ozzy solo album, originally released on September 28th of 1988.
Let's remember...

After two great albums with Jake E. Lee on guitars, that were both of them more commercially successful (at that time, not now) than Ozzy's first two albums with Randy Rhoads, Ozzy parted ways with Lee by mid-1987. After being fired from Ozzy, Lee formed Badlands with singer Ray Gillen, but after that he didn't do much and will mainly remembered as "one of Ozzy's great guitarists". But unquestionably, he was the perfect guitarist for Ozzy during mid-80s and a significant part of Ozzy's success.
Zakk Wylde (21 years old at that time) was Ozzy's new guitarist, and until today, his longest solo band member. According to Ozzy, Wylde is a great character, he works easily with him and he can play almost everything. After a while, Dio also got a younger guitarist (Rowan Robertson, 17 at that time) and released "Lock Up The Wolves" (1990) but that was a much inferior album than "No Rest For The Wicked" and another small vistory to the supposed old conflict between Ozzy and Dio, and even if Robertson wrote a big part of the album along with Dio, he was forgotten. On the other hand, and after many albums with Black Label Society and other solo works, today Zakk Wylde is considered a very successful guitarist.
With a recording line up including Bob Daisley (bass), Randy Castillo (drums) and John Sinclair (keyboards), the band entered studio with producer Roy Thomas Baker but Ozzy was not satisfied because Baker coudn't understand his ideas and both parties continuing to disagree. After a while, Keith Olsen was brought in to continue and complete the album, but even after that, there is still something "strange" with the total result, especially the drum sound. However, this is the sound we learned and loved on this album. 
More powerful (not better) than "The Ultimate Sin", "No Rest For The Wicked" is a goldmine of riffs and the most riff-driven solo album Ozzy ever recorded. Actually, this is the closest album to the Black Sabbath legacy and the heavy riffing has lot to do with this; just check songs like "Bloodbath In Paradise" and "Breaking All The Rules". Some different highlights include the epic "Fire In The Sky" with its great arrangment, and "Hero", a semi bonus track. Speaking of bonus tracks, there is also another song from these sessions, "The Liar"; a song that could fit in Savatage's "Gutter Ballet", recorded before "Gutter Ballet". Of course, you have a filler like "Crazy Babies", but fillers like this are just guilty pleasures, while on the "Demon Alcohol" Ozzy speaks for his addiction bringing echoes of the past singing "Don't speak of suicide solutions, you took my hand, I'm here to stay".
However, these demons dominated Ozzy those years.  As usual, Daisley was gone / let gone after the recordings (just to return and leave again for one last time later) and Geezer Butler entered the band for the tour. The tour was successful and a mini live EP followed ("Just Say Ozzy") along with a dark period for Ozzy. In August 1989, Ozzy returned home drunk after performing (ironically) at the peace festival in Moscow and announced to his wife and manager, Sharon, "I’ve decided you have to go" before trying to strangle her. Sharon didn't press charges and after that, Ozzy spends three months in rehab. Two years later, he returns sober with his most commercially successful album at that time, introducing him to a new generation of fans.
Tracklist: 1. Miracle Man, 2. Devil's Daughter (Holy War), 3. Crazy Babies, 4. Breaking All The Rules, 5. Bloodbath In Paradise, 6. Fire In The Sky, 7. Tattooed Dancer, 8. Demon Alcohol, 9. Hero


Τετάρτη, 27 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

Savatage - Hall of the Mountain King

There are moments when some artists reach bottom (artistic or commercial) or they just were misguided to the "wrong" direction from labels-managers- executives. In few occasions, some artists return in full glory. "Hall of the Mountain King", originally released exactly 30 years ago, on September 28th of 1987, is the perfect example.

Let's remember...

(with a contribution - epilogue by Johnny Lee Middleton)

Atlantic Records signed Savatage in 1984 and the band had already released "Sirens" (1983) and "The Dungeons Are Calling" (1984) that were both recorded at the same session. "Power of the Night" (1985) was the first major-label album and one year later "Fight for the Rock" was the release that nearly killed the band. A wrong album for a wrong band. It is not bad, but it is wrong. Forward after the release and the tour; Enter Paul O'Neill.

The band almost broke up and thought the end is near. Paul O'Neill is the "x-factor" that took them by the hand and lead them to a brighter future. He encouraged Criss and Jon Oliva to start writing new material and so they did. This time, the band compose without any label or management interfere, and once the material was ready, Savatage entered studio and complete the album with Paul O'Neill. As Johnny Lee Middleton has said, "
Never give up on what you believe in and do not be afraid to struggle and suffer through the tough times because quitters never win and winners never quit". 

Besides production, O'Neill gets some credits on songs, too. Later, he will take care of all lyrics also, giving to the band an extra maturity, but from this time and on, he is the only one that will guide the band and he also became a key piece of the Savatage songwriting formula.

While Jon Oliva is inspired and loves The Beatles, Black Sabbath and Ozzy in general, Criss Oliva is mainly inspired by the songwriting of the first two Ozzy albums and Randy Rhoads, and that's very clear to the first songs the brothers composed and recorded in their early years, and how those songs evolved after 1983. Jon has stated that "There's no one heavier than Sabbath; they have surprise songs and different arrangements that you don't expect". For him "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is one of the greatest albums ever. While recording "Gutter Ballet", Paul O'Neill has said "I have way more classical and Broadway influences; Jon, on the other hand, has more Beatles influence. But we're both influenced by Black Sabbath". This is one of the main reasons why Savatage sound so different from most of the US metal bands. While most of those bands are influenced by Iron Maiden (and Queensryche), you can barely listen to any Iron Maiden influence on Savatage... If you will add the uniqueness of both Oliva brothers and the later addition of O'Neill, you have SAVATAGE.

[There are many trivia and connections between Savatage and Black Sabbath-Ozzy, but this needs to be another chapter in the play. If I will find some time, I might come with something in the future.]

During 1988, with a major label supporting the band, "Hall of the Mountain King" had become Savatage's best-selling album and a world tour followed, including support shows with Megadeth and Dio. However, Jon Oliva went a "little too far" and entered a chemical rehabilitation program. This situation stopped the band since they had to cancel a scheduled tour, including the European dates. The future was different for the band and it took them few more years for a big commercial success, under a different line-up...

"Hall of the Mountain King" is one of the best metal albums ever, from one of the greatest metal bands ever. An ageless masterpiece with top notch musicianship. Raw, insane, solid and emotional at the same time. 

Criss Oliva is probably one of the best guitarists in metal music, with a unique and recognizable sound, unmatchable tone and feeling, and personally, I always had him in my Top-5 list. But I have to add, that Jon Oliva is also one of the most unique and emotional singers out there. I love his voice and his performance, and I don't understand why he is not mentioned among the greatest ones.

When I posted this synopsis on my personal facebook account, Johnny Lee Middleton came up to my post with this amazing text about the writing and recordings of "Hall of the Mountain King":

"We wrote the songs for this album in a warehouse area of a strip mall on US 19 in Palm Harbor, FL. It was a storage area for a company called Cage Maid that sold plastic bird mess catchers that were placed under a bird cage. The guy who rented the place named Reggie was a friend of the band and he let us use his storage area for free. We could only work at night when the businesses in the strip mall were closed but we had a small monitor/PA system and all night to work on songs. We never invited anyone to rehearsals as we had work to do and did not want to perform for friends. After we had a bunch of songs in the can Paul came down and we got into the final arrangement mode and tightening things up. After a few weeks of working with Paul we were ready for the studio to record this. We flew to NYC and went to work at the legendary Record Plant Studio. All of us stayed in a 2 bed seedy and smelly hotel room I think was called the Times Square Motor Lodge. We took turns sleeping on a bed or floor, lived on Peanut butter and jelly as well as Rays pizza and soup. I think I made $25.00 a day and that was barely enough to survive in NYC but we made it work and did not complain as this is what we believed in and we wanted it to be a record that was ours and something to be proud of. I was born and raised in Florida and living in the Hells Kitchen area of NYC in the mid eighties was nothing like the beach where I grew up and to say I was scared would be an understatement. 16 hour days and sleeping on a floor were the norm in our world and many times I slept in the vocal booth of the studio because I was afraid to go to the hotel at 4 AM. As the recording process progressed our relationship with Paul grew stronger and we finally felt we had a leader and a friend that believed in us. It was a tough time in our lives and we sacrificed everything to make this record and with the grace of God and a bit of luck we got something we could believe in. Never give up on what you believe in and do not be afraid to struggle and suffer through the tough times because quitters never win and winners never quit".

Madness Reigns.

Tracklist: 1. 24 Hours Ago, 2. Beyond the Doors of the Dark, 3. Legions, 4. Strane Wings, 5. Prelude to Madness, 6. Hall of the Mountain King, 7. The Price You Pay. 8. White Witch, 9. Last Dawn.

Savatage: Jon Oliva (lead vocals, piano), Criss Oliva (guitars), Johnny Lee Middleton (bass guitar), Steve Wacholz (drums).

Additional musicians: Robert Kinkel (keyboards), Ray Gillen (backing vocals).

Produced by Paul O'Neill.

Album cover by Gary Smith.

Κυριακή, 17 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

Ozzy Osbourne - No More Tears

On this day (September 17th of 1991) "No More Tears", Ozzy Osbourne's sixth studio album was released.

With a recording line-up of Ozzy, Zakk Wylde (guitars), Bob Daisley (bass), Randy Castillo (drums) and John Sinclair (keyboards), "No More Tears" is one of Ozzy's favorite albums and it also marks a new era free of heavy alcohol and drugs use. While the 80s had been a turmoil for Ozzy, there are no weird myths or drama behind this album.

Song writting and recording sessions were very easy for this one. It was produced by Duane Baron and John Purdell, Ozzy was sober and Zakk Wylde came up with some great ideas. Daisley had some lyrics but finally they weren't used and at this point Lemmy (Motorhead) came up with lyrics and ideas for some songs. Ten songs were recorded for the album and while Ozzy was auditioning the tracks, Mike Inez came up with a random bass line (Daisley recorded the album but he wasn't part of the band). Ozzy's magic ear heard that line and they built one more song around it. This one was "No More Tears"... so they entered studio again, recorded one more song, the album got a title and the world got another classic hit.

The following tour was named "No More Tours" and it was supposed to be the last huge Ozzy tour according to the management but Ozzy himself had serious doubts about it later. Even during the tour he was mentioning to the audience that he won't stop. And he didn't.

At this time, Ozzy's fame surpassed by far Black Sabbath and he is established as the most successful solo artist in metal music. It will take few more years for Sabbath to be recognized by all (especially with their influence in the 90s and other genres besides metal, like grunge and stoner) even if their impact in metal music was already undeniable. In the early 90s, three albums by Metallica ("Black Album"), Ozzy ("No More Tears") and Queensryche ("Empire") were by far the most successful heavy metal releases in United States and these specific albums gain multi-platinum status with millions of sales, keeping some of the highest positions even until today. Keep in mind that bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest don't have any album reaching these sales in the States.

"No More Tears" stood the test of time. Even if upon its release wasn't received very well by few Ozz die-hards in Europe. This album gave to Ozzy's career a new big burst and introduced him to a new generation of fans (mainly in the United States). However, the angel wings on the cover is also a change from the past... Ozzy is no more the "prince of darkness" and even if there is a strong metal edge on "No More Tears", the 80s sound starts to fade over the next years.

Track list:  1. Mr. Tinkertrain, 2. I Don't Want To Change The World, 3. Mama, I'm Coming Home, 4. Desire, 5. No More Tears, 6. S.I.N., 7. Hellraiser, 8. Time After Time, 9. Zombie Stomp, 10. A.V.H., 11. Road To Nowhere

Τρίτη, 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz

Ozzy Osbourne's first solo album, "Blizzard of Ozz" was released on September 20th of 1980. Let's remember...

Black Sabbath no more. Ozzy is on the edge of the abyss. 1979. Enter Sharon. A blizzard is coming.

"Blizzard of Ozz" is a monumental release for heavy metal music and one of the albums that inspired what we love in metal during the glorious 80s. This wouldn't be possible without the proper team that included phenomenal guitarist Randy Rhoads, bass player and lyricist Bob Daisley, drummer Lee Kerslake and Don Airey on keyboards. The album was recorded between March to April of 1980, it was produced by the band and engineered by Max Norman. Most likely it was produced by Max Norman but he wasn't the one who started to work on the album from the beginning... However we will speak soon for his complete work at next Ozz albums where he takes full credits.

Now, keep in mind that we are still in 1980, when Iron Maiden and Angel Witch just had their debut albums released, Saxon just started riding on wheels of steel, NWoBHM was all over with countless new bands (some great, some average, most of them with few songs and lot of rock attitude and sound), Motorhead were doing their thing, and just a handful of groups were trying to play heavy metal with the "SOUND" it is meant to be and not with just some distortion or just few (actual) metal songs in hard rock or rock-driven albums. In fact, two other albums that were the bridge from 70s to the 80s metal sound were also released in 1980, and defined-unlocked the "SOUND". These are "Heaven and Hell" and "British Steel". Of course, Judas Priest was already the second greatest metal pioneer (after Black Sabbath) with their 70s metal albums but the production of Tom Allom in "British Steel" and Martin Birch in "Heaven and Hell" is the turning point for what followed. From that year and on , heavy metal already had the "SOUND" and the structure. It wasn't "hard-rock-ish", "rock-driven" or "proto-metal" (funny term of the last years, if you want my opinion), or whatever; it is pure Heavy Metal now, in all terms, and that is more than obvious in the 80s, despite that thunder during February the 13th of 1970. There was heavy metal in the 70s of course, but from 1980 there is a real explosion and "Blizzard of Ozz" is among the albums that settled the template for 80s heavy metal.

Back in "Blizzard of Ozz". Its production is not such a defining moment as the two albums mentioned above but there are some monumental songs in this album; no doubt about it. There are parts that inspired a generation of metal fans, among them musicians that created bands and albums we love. Ozzy, Randy and Daisley were putting most of the music together. Usually Ozzy had a song title, some lines and a vocal melody. He was singing the vocal melody with random words, Randy came up with most of music and Daisley with the majority of the lyrics and some music, with most of the songs completed by the end of 1979 - early 1980. None of those songs was laid on paper or partitures and they were created on jamming and countless rehearsals, by ear and mutual approval.

Randy Rhoads was free to play and compose on classical scales and arrangements. Since 1979 you could hear "this" in some hard rock guitar players and songs but he was probably the first heavy metal artist using classical phrasing. Guitarists like Blackmore, Schenker and Van Halen were a revelation for countless young musicians, but now we are in 1980 and a 100% heavy metal album sets new standards. Also, according to Ozzy, "one day Randy came to me and said that most heavy metal songs are written in an A to E chord structure. Randy said, 'let's try to change that', so we made a rule that almost every number that we recorded on an album was never played in the same key". Just imagine how things would evolve if Randy was still with us. Most likely he would surpass guitarists that are now considered "greatest". 

Ozzy still gives the greatest credits to Randy and he always remembers him. According to Ozzy, Randy was the first one that gave him time and had the patience and time to hear his ideas and work with them. Randy Rhoads (who surprisingly didn't like Black Sabbath) admired guitarists like Leslie West (Mountain), Glen Buxton (Alice Cooper Band) and Jeff Beck, and he was a fan of David Bowie's music but his playing was mainly a result of classical study; a unique revelation that inspired many guitarists like James Murphy, Joey Tafolla, Criss Oliva and Phillip Sandoval, just to name few, besides the indirect inspiration to countless more.

However, Ozzy's first choice for his solo band was Gary Moore, but this didn't happen because Gary wanted to start his own band. The Randy Rhoads audition story says that Randy was tuning up, doing some arpeggios and Ozzy stopped him and said, "you got the job". Of course this is a lovely myth (or half of the truth, if you prefer) and a couple of days later, Ozzy auditioned Randy again because he wanted to make sure that it would all work out in a band situation. Frankie Banali played drums and Dana Strum was the bass player in those early auditions that took place in Los Angeles. When Ozzy returned to UK, the label and management (Jet Records and D.Arden) wanted to keep Ozzy's new band all British, so Bob Daisley entered the band and finally they accepted Randy because Ozzy wanted him without any further discussion.

The first song written for "Blizzard of Ozz" was "Goodbye to Romance", a farewell to Black Sabbath and a commitment to the future, with Ozzy writing and singing "I've been the king, I've been the clown, still broken wings can't hold me down, I'm free again".
"Mr. Crowley" is a neo-classical heavy metal piece of art in the true essence of this description, before the term "neo-classical" start to appear in metal music. "Revelation (Mother Earth)" is a milestone of lyrical heavy metal before the term "lyrical" accompany the music of some beloved underground US metal acts in the years to come. No need to mention the heartbreaking performance of Ozzy in this song...

1980. Heavy metal is already here. Complete as we know it. In form, stracture and sound, stronger than ever before. The doors are opened.

"Blizzard of Ozz" is a true groundbreaking album that has sold over 6,000,000 copies worldwide and has been certified 4 times Platinum in the United States.

Track list: 1. I Don't Know, 2. Crazy Train, 3. Goodbye To Romance, 4. Dee, 5. Suicide Solution, 6. Mr. Crowley, 7. No Bone Movies, 8 Revelation (Mother Earth), 9. Steal Away (The Night)

Κυριακή, 11 Ιουνίου 2017

Up The Hammers Festival 2017: The Might of Chaos Descends

Now the dust has settled. The might of Chaos was unleashed upon the (decadent since ages)  cradle of civilization, on May 27th, of 2017. 

Up The Hammers festival (Athens, Greece) started from small basements, growing every year with hard work from the right people and associates, and on its XII edition, it moved to the best venue of its history. On May 26th and 27th, the 2-days underground metal festival took place at Gagarin 205 club with a line-up that was mainly dominated by the headline acts of Ross The Boss (performing Manowar) and Cirith Ungol. The strong support of metalheads around the world over the last years, helped Up The Hammers to move to the next logical step, that is a bigger venue. That wouldn't happen without the support of the metal hordes and friends coming from Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Sweden, Norway, even United States or Australia and many many more places... Manolis Karazeris (promoter of the festival, along with Dimitris Papanastasiou of Music Box Prod.) thinking most of the times as a fan, had the right thoughts and ideas about the line-up of the festival, depending on its budget, and managed to establish it as one of the best underground metal festivals of our times, that was expanded with the support of the fans.

This year's edition was dominated by the performance of Cirith Ungol, one of the last two and most wanted reunions in traditional heavy metal; the other one is Heavy Load. Behind the Cirith Ungol reunion lies a fairytale gone right. Many people tried over the years, but finally it happened thanks to few individuals with most notable Jarvis Leatherby (founder of Night Demon and promoter of Frost And Fire festival), and of course the will of the band members. Cirith Ungol is hailed as an underground metal band and not a famous, maistream or established act, but I have to say that this specific reunion is one of the most professional and successful ever happened. Everything was organized slowly, correct and beyond our wildest dreams. The present line-up includes all the right members, with both Greg Lindstrom (he played guitar on the first CU album "Frost And Fire") and Jim Barraza (he played guitar on the last CU album "Paradise Lost"), since Jerry Fogle (guitar on first three albums) left this mortal world one August day of 1998. Tim Baker (vocals) and Robert Garven (drums) are of course here, and Jarvis Leatherby handles bass duties, since Flint isn't part of this reunion. Jarvis is also the manager of the band and another crucial thing is that Metal Blade Records (the best metal label in my book) is supporting Cirith Ungol with great reissues of their albums, among other things. Important label stuff are also supporting the band in person, and travelling in the Cirith Ungol shows, promoting and helping them. If we will add that at this period of time "old" metal is somehow back in the rails, this was the perfect timing for such a reunion. Traditional metal is not mainstream in terms of older times, but for sure it has more exposure in magazines (the ones left), many small festivals appear here and there, countless reunions of old bands (even ones with just an album) happen, and I can't even mention the hundreds reissues... And all these in a period where the music industry is a living dead entity, but still, things happen despite the low physical sales and the minimal support and of the younger generation, if we will compare them with the years that all these bands were active. On the other hand, when these bands were active back in the 80s, most of them were really underground and nowadays they play to wider audience. So this reunion really matters and deserves every success, and a new album is probably scheduled somewhere at the end of 2018.

When Cirith Ungol walked the stage, on their third show after the reunion, everything we saw before was forgotten and the might of Chaos was unleashed upon us. Each band member performed with passion and it was obvious that they had many rehearsals before. The Cirith Ungol music is not 100% the best festival soundtrack, but it was exactly what the people of Up The Hammers wanted to hear. This was one of the best shows in the history of Up The Hammers festival.

The night before, Ross The Boss with a killer line-up including Rhino (ex-Manowar, Burning Starr) on drums, Mike LePond (Symphony X, Heathen's Rage, Silent Assassins) on bass and Marc Lopez (ex-Meliah Rage) on vocals, performed a special Manowar setlist with songs from his Manowar-era. You cannot fail when you play eternal hymns like "Thor" or "Blood Of My Enemies". These songs are so powerfull and unique, and this was a great festival addition, with guaranteed satisfaction for this specific crowd. I cannot even imagine what would happened if we would witness the real deal in this venue...

The only disadvantage of this festival, is that these two performances - names were by far superior than anything else we saw. There were more great acts and shows, but there was a significant difference between the headliners and the rest billing of the festival. Night Demon were amazing, though. These guys live and breath metal, and their shows are always full of energy. Probably one of the three or five best bands of the so called "new wave of traditional heavy metal". Other new bands should watch them and learn how to "work". When you play countless shows over the world and already have 2 great full-length albums in a period of three years, you are doing something right. 

Attacker was another cool addition and this kind of US metal is needed in these festivals. Especially when the band members perform with passion, and you have songs like "(Call On) The Attacker"! US metal was represented also by Thrust who tried to kill the posers, Tyrant who killed our ears, and Resistance who was indeed a Metal Machine.

Myhtra was the surprise of the festival. It is always great to see some old bands performing with the passion of their youth. That was great, and also a NWOBHM band is always needed in this kind of festival. Lord Vigo from Germany was the second big surprise of the festival. Their paranormal doom metal was performed flawless and their stage performance was also special. Monasterium was the other doom metal band of the festival, and the Polish act was closer to the traditional epic doom style of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus, but both bands played in front of few people as opening acts of both days. Blizzen were just ok in their traditional metal style and Holy Martyr was a perfect addition even if I believe that the doom elements on their new album don't fit in the character of the band. However, none of us can tell to a musician how to play and I really enjoyed their "classic" tunes. Diviner and InnerWish were the Greek bands of the festival and both of them were professionals. Lot of people enjoyed their shows, some "old-school" metalheads didn't enjoy so much Diviner and many others would prefer a better setlist from InnerWish, since they supported mainly their last album. Fans from Greece are already familiar with them and have their opinion, but I am sure they gained some fans from abroad, even if they were different from the "true underground metal" character that few individuals have for a festival like Up The Hammers. At this point, with bands like InnerWish, I will have to mention that the sound was also very good at the venue. 

Top - 10 artists of UTH:

10. Vince High: A performer with a  complete NWOBHM feeling.

9. Rhino: The triumph of steel. A metal machine.

8. Bobby Lucas: The leather lungs of US metal.

7. Ross The Boss: THAT guitar tune!

6. Mike LePond: A true unsung legendary musician.

5. Greg Lindstrom: The silent force (aka: the man who wrote "Frost And Fire")

4. Robert Garven: The atom smasher. The master of the pit.

3. Jarvis Leatherby: The demon of the stage.

2. Tim Baker: The voice of Chaos.

1. Jim Barraza: A true guitar master. An Idol.

The first bands of Up The Hammers 2018 are already announced and tickets are already on sale. You can reserve your ticket HERE and trust me, this will be something you don't want to miss.