Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hair Metal: The Unforgiven

In Sam Dunn's Metal Evolution TV series, the presenter covers every type of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal you can think of, plus a few you can't. He shows enthusiasm for almost all of them: Power Metal, Progressive Metal, Shock Rock, even Grunge. All apart from one. At the start of the episode of Hair Metal he confesses that it's a form of Metal that we was never able to warm to. And he's not alone.

The first I heard of what would come to be Hair Metal was 1981 or so when Tommy Vance played songs from an album called Too Fast For Love by some American band called Motley Crue on his Friday Rock Show. They had been getting mentions for a while in Kerrang! and this must have been one of the first times they were played on the radio in the UK. God almighty, I thought to myself, this'll never catch on.

The thing is, I should have liked Hair Metal. After all, I was a fan of most of the genre's major influences. I loved the 70s Alice Cooper and Kiss records. (still do). I also liked Van Halen and Aerosmith. So, yes, I should have been a fan really. So why did I end up hating the bloody thing?

I think the main reason was the sound. Hair Metal records sounded really terrible with all that compression. Those thudding snares. Those squawking lead guitars. Perhaps the records were mastered to sound effective on FM radio (or on MTV), but there's something cold and shrill about them. And they don't sound any better thirty years on either. I've become quite forgiving about a lot of 80s music these days (I even own a copy of Rio by Duran Duran). But Hair Metal leaves me as cold today as it did back in the day.

Of course, the irony is I became a fan by proxy. So many of my friends became fans of these bands in the mid 80s that it was pretty much impossible not to become familiar with the latest David Lee Roth, Poison and Cinderella releases. I knew them all. And of course if you listen to any genre enough you'll find something you like. so the track below is from the only Hair Metal album I've heard that I think is really any good, Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation. To me, it's a collection of good songs that are strong enough to withstand Bruce Fairbairn's 80s production. the follow-up Pump was pretty good too, though after that I lost interest.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I regularly listen to the free CDs that come with Classic Rock magazine. It normally doesn't take me long, as I find myself changing tracks after a minute or so; there's a lot of new bands out there, and they mostly make records that sound like ones by the old bands that I already own. One thing I'm noticing is that the interesting stuff tends to be tucked away at the end, so you only get to it after you've waded through rubbish like Black Motorcycle Bourbon and Albatroth. Last month's CD had a song called Words by the Swedish band Goat tucked away in the cheap seats. It's wonderful, it sounds like Jefferson Airplane soundchecking with Venom's In League with Satan.

I've since downloaded their albums from eMusic and I'm hooked. The Guardian describes their music as "weaving together rock, Afrobeat, funk, chants and tribal drums into an intoxicating, psychedelic stew", but then The Guardian would. Actually, it's a fair description, though it makes them sound a bit dry and earnest. Which they're not, as you can probably guess from the picture above. I reckon they  look like what you imagine Slipknot would if they came from Brighton. 

The new album Commune is full of catchy riffs, chanted singing and time signatures that Frank Zappa probably had on his To Do list. Some of the songs have lyrics that could fit on a King Size Rizla, which may make sense as it's probably what they were written down on in the first place. The album is 38 minutes long and fairly flies by: Talk to God and Words kick things off in style, and To Travel the Path Unknown slows things down nicely Planet Caravan-style. There's a slight mid-album lull, before the wonderful Hide from the Sun gives the album its second wind and carries us to the end. It's great fun.