Judas Priest – “Hero, Hero” (1981)

Record labels have been screwing over both artists and consumers for about as long as there have been record labels.  The 1981 Judas Priest release Hero, Hero, is one example of this, though to be fair it retains a certain amount of interest for fans.

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I’m not going to pretend to have any new info about Hero, Hero, so we’ll stick with what has been reported just about everywhere this album is discussed online.  It was put out by the band’s former label, Gull Records, and included all the songs from Rocka Rolla, a good chunk of those on Sad Wings Of Destiny, and a cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds & Rust” that appeared on The Best Of Judas Priest in 1978.  So you’d think that if you had those three albums already you’d have no need for Hero, Hero.  However… for whatever reason the label remixed the Rocka Rolla tracks as well as the Baez cover.  From what I see online from Priest fans some of the differences are subtle but others are more significant, including re-ordering lyrics in at least one case.  So if you’re a Priest completist, you clearly need this album.  Plus that cover – that cover!  I almost had to buy it for the cover alone.

I’m definitely more of a “greatest hits” fan when it comes to Priest.  Why that is, I have no idea… for whatever reason I just never got around to buying any of their stuff back in the day other than Defenders of the Faith, which I bought at the time exclusively because I thought “Love Bites” was a bad-ass song. (♠)  In the last few years I added a vinyl copy of Point of Entry, but that’s been it.  And I still don’t know why, because every time I hear Priest I like it.

Case in point:  Hero, Hero.  I’m digging this album.  A lot of these jams are pretty groovy and even a bit spacey, though there are some heavier moments on tracks like “Victim of Changes”.  But even these have a bit of funk in them.  I’ve had this record in my hand any number of times over the last few years, but finally find one in the right combination of condition and price to warrant pulling the trigger.  And since all these songs are pretty much new to me, all the better.  I doubt I’ll ever be familiar enough with the original Rocka Rolla versions to be able to do a meaningful comparison, but that’s OK – I like these mixes just fine.

(♠) A fact that remains true to this day. 

Blóðmör – “Líkþorn” (2019)

I first connected with Haukur Valdimarsson on Facebook back in 2017.  The thing that an Icelandic teenager and a guy from Seattle on a collision course with turning 50 had in common was our mutual love for the metal band HAM. (♠)  We are HAM!  We’ve stayed in touch both via Facebook and on Discogs over the last few years, generally to commiserate about Icelandic metal and punk, particularly favorites like HAM and Skálmöld.

Then out of the blue a few months back I see Haukur tagged in an article about the 2019 winners of Músíktilraunir, a.k.a. Icelandic Music Experiments, a.k.a. Iceland’s Battle of the Bands.  Could this be the same Haukur?  Did I even know he played guitar?  It was, and he does, and his metal band Blóðmör took home this year’s top prize.  Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, Haukur was also recognized as the event’s top guitarist.  Damn!  I mean sure, if there was an award for the most valuable Microsoft-Excel-user-guy at my company I’d have an outside shot of winning (♣), but to be named the best young axe-wielder in an entire country?  That’s pretty great.

Blóðmör (named after Icelandic blood sausage) just put out a five-song digital EP on Bandcamp (HERE) back in June, and I have to say it’s some damn good stuff.  I strongly encourage you to head over there, download it, and kick the kids a few bucks – yes, they’re offering it up for free, but I’d be willing to bet any cash they get will be spent on gear, studio time, and other music related stuff, so help ’em out.

I of course took full advantage of my relationship with Haukur and asked if he’d do an interview for Life in the Vinyl Lane, and he readily agreed.

Haurkur, you and I originally connected due to our mutual love of HAM. What metal bands drove your passion for the genre?

My biggest inspirations for writing songs for Blóðmör have been all kinds of bands. Mostly Icelandic but also bands from other countries. HAM has obviously had a massive impact. Then I would have to say the Megadeth has affected me a lot as well. Icelandic punk bands from the 80’s have had an impact on my writing. That would be bands like Purrkur Pillnikk, Fræbbblarnir and Þeyr.

How did Blóðmör come together as a band?

Blóðmör started right after another band I was in called it quits. This was in the fall of 2016. We just wanted to make punk music but we struggled a lot and quit after just a few months. Then in 2018 we got a new drummer and started playing again. Soon we played our first concert and have been in the scene since.

Blóðmör recently won Músíktilraunir, and you were recognized as the best guitarist.  What was that experience like, both preparing for it and ultimately winning the competition?

We prepared for Músíktilraunir by rehearsing the songs we were going to play over and over.  Even when we knew them 100% we just pushed them even more until they sounded perfect. When we made it to the finals we were so happy but after winning the whole competition we were left speechless. It was an amazing experience.

Your new five-song EP Líkþorn came out in June. How was the experience of recording that album?

Recordings of our EP started in October last year. We went to the studio very inexperienced and basically just didn’t know anything what we were doing. It took a few months to finish the recording, they were over in February this year. After that our friend Biggi from Alchemia started mixing the album and after that Oculus mastered it. Then on June 14. it finally got released.

How were you able to get Óttarr Proppé to join the band on “Frumskógurinn”?  How was it working with one of your idols?

I’ve known Óttarr for some time now for a few reasons. So it was easy for me to contact him. He was very open for the idea so he came. It was an amazing experience having him in the studio with us. When I heard him sing to our song for the first time I just couldn’t stop smiling.

What’s next for Blóðmör?

Our next step would be writing enough new material to record a full length album. We have almost 3 new songs ready at the moment, 2 of which we play live already. But I think we will not go to the studio again until we have at least 8-10 songs ready. We will take as much time we will need. I think it’s better to wait rather than doing this in a hurry.

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blodmorI was intrigued when Haurkur mentioned Purrkur Pillnikk and Fræbbblarnir as influences, because even at first glance there’s more than a bit at punk at play with Blóðmör – after all, the longest song on Líkþorn clocks in at a very un-metal-like 3:04, definitely a departure from the ambitious lengths of so many metal tracks these days.  Stylistically there are punk elements as well, though make no mistake – this is guitar-driven metal through-and-through.  Right from the opening of the title track “Líkþorn” we’re treated to driving riffs, followed by growled vocals, then right into a classic metal instrumental interlude before reversing course and taking us to the finish line in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee.  But lest you be afraid the guys are going to stay in this zone for the next 12 minutes, au contraire mon frère, because “Klósettið” is a pure rocker, its vocals cadenced in pop punk fashion and slightly at odds with the brief metallic solo burst in the song’s second half.  “Skuggalegir Menn” takes us in a doom direction, the vocals going lower and more primal, the rhythm section pulsating with plodding weight, a HAM-esque crusher that still maintains a dose of youthful enthusiasm.

The first time I heard “Frumskógurinn” I stopped dead in my tracks and said out loud to no one in particular (I was home alone at the time), “wait, that’s Óttarr Proppé“, the one and only vocalist for HAM and Dr. Spock!  And I have to say he fits perfectly into this track, probably the most punk jam on Líkþorn, one reminiscent of some of the finest first wave Scandinavian punk bands.  Óttarr takes the middle of the song in a raspy, accusatory direction before the guys bring it back home perfectly, picking up right where they left off before his vocal interlude.  The album closes with “Barnaníðingur”, another rocker characterized by a driving rhythm, though one that picks up speed along the way like a car with no breaks heading down a hill, going faster and faster until the collision at the end that brings the whole thing to a sudden and jarring stop.

I suspect that we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from Blóðmör in the coming years, and hopefully they’ll land a few shows during Airwaves this year so that I can check them out live.

(♠) And the English language, because mercifully for me Haukur’s English is probably better than mine.

(♣) OK, maybe I’d be in the top three… or maybe the top five… but spreadsheets are cool, dammit!

Black Sabbath – “Paranoid” (1970)

As the compact disc rose to ascendancy in the second half of the 1980s it appeared that vinyl was headed to the dustbin of history to hang out with Betamax tapes, rotary telephones, and disco.  Cassettes hung on for a bit, but it wasn’t long before the Walkman was replaced by the Discman and the CD completed its domination, having crushed all before it.  There were things we lost as part of this transition.  Music recorded specifically for digital fell victim to its own hubris, the loudness wars reducing sonic range.  Album art became less important with the smaller format. And, most importantly in my opinion, we lost the concept of the “album side”.

Having distinct album sides gave artists options in laying out their albums, providing a natural break between two groups of songs (or four if it was a double album).  Often this held little if any significance other than the leading singles generally occupying side A.  But occasionally the separation was like a line in the sand.  Side B of Black Flag’s My War was a complete departure from the band’s sound, a move that pissed off their fan base something fierce.  In 1968 Iron Butterfly gave over the B side of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to a 17-minute version of the title track, one that took the entire side and became the litmus test of both heavy psych and, to some extent, self-indulgence.  Of course Blue Öyster Cult threw a curve ball at the whole thing with Imaginos, a concept album with a linear storyline but with the songs appearing in non-linear order, which is bizarre on a lot of levels.  But I digress.  The other thing albums sides do is give us the ability to break down an album into smaller parts.  Sure, we can talk about the greatest albums of all time.  But we can also talk about the greatest album sides of all time, the best four for five (or three… or six…) songs in a row, sides that force you to listen to them all the way through because they’re so perfect.  The kinds of sides that you play from start to finish, meaning you had maybe 15-20 minutes before you’d have to get up and put something else on the turntable.

Which brings me to Paranoid.  Side A of Paranoid is one of the all-time great album sides.  And I do mean all-time greats.

  • War Pigs
  • Paranoid
  • Planet Caravan
  • Iron Man

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Black Sabbath are one of the originators of truly heavy metal, revered by just about everyone and producing a list of hits as long as your arm.  And yet arguably three of their biggest all-time most popular songs appear on the four-song side A of their second album, Paranoid.  The anti-war “War Pigs” combines weight, shredding guitars, and completely music free stretches in which Ozzy basically sings a cappella.  Politicians hide themselves away / They only started the war / Why should they go out to fight / They leave that role for the poor.  “Paranoid” was written as a last-minute filler, a throw-away song that immediately caught on with it’s matter-of-fact depiction of mental health struggles.  I tell you to enjoy life / I wish I could but it’s too late.  And that brings us to the criminally underrated “Planet Caravan”, a psych trip of spacey grooviness, an acid-soaked journey through the inner space of the mind, the guitar work sounding more like something by Santana than by Sabbath.  Which brings us to “Iron Man”, a truly strange song both in structure and story.  The opening metronome-like kick drum followed by the tuned down distorted guitar, then launching into the heaviest and most plodding jam ever. The entire time you’re waiting for the pace to increase and it doesn’t; it stays relentlessly heavy and in time, never breaking free, like nails being pounded into your head.  He was turned to steel / In the great magnetic field.  A song about alienation and revenge.  Nobody wants him / They just turned their heads / Nobody helps him / Now he has his revenge.  It’s a comic book story come to life, only without a hero to come and save the day in the last 10 pages.  No.  This time there are no heroes.  Only revenge.

Four songs.  The powerful.  The fast.  The slow.  The heavy.  All excellent in their own rights, and fitting perfectly together across 21 minutes of grooved vinyl.

The B side of Paranoid is no slouch in its own right.  “Electric Funeral” is the love-child of “Planet Caravan” and “Iron Man”, all dense psych and great riffs, and all four of the flip side tracks are solid.  But that A side, that sweet, sweet A side, is a masterpiece and definitely one of the all-time greats.

Dark Ages – “Medieval Sorcery” (1987)

darkagesmedievalI like the obscure stuff, especially when I can track down someone who was part of it and ask them some questions for the blog.  So when I found this late-1980s private press metal album from Seattle band Dark Ages I figured I had some good blog fodder.  But I was stymied by the use of pseudonyms, lack of memory, and likely one death.  At some point too-common names led me to either dead ends or so many possible hits that I all I’m left with is four songs on black wax.  I hope no one asks me to turn in my copy of The Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook.

Medieval Sorcery isn’t typical metal.  The female-fronted Dark Ages do something a bit rawer and a bit less refined than often found in uber-intricate and/or uber-fast late 80s metal, bringing a touch of riot-grrrl-like sensibility paired with some sort of Dark-Ages-esque heavy folk influences.  “Auric Slumbers / Ophelia” opens grunge-like before bursting into a thrash pace overlaid with vocals of fluctuating speed, the whole thing a disorienting array of sonic elements and shredding riffs.  It may be the song that best defines the four-track record.

It’s too bad this is all we got from Dark ages, and that I couldn’t track down vocalist Erin Jean.  If I ever do find her though, you’ll hear about it right here on Life in the Vinyl Lane.

Boss – “Step On It” (1984)

Hard rock from Down Under, it’s kind of surprising that Boss only managed one album because their sound fit perfectly with what was happening in 1984.  Some poking around on the internet indicates they did OK in Germany and Japan and were certainly a live attraction in their native Australia, but Step On It remains their only full-length.  That plus three 7″ singles (two of which were comprised exclusively of material from Step On It) were all the band left behind.

All the classic rock tropes are here.  Songs about rock ‘n’ roll (“Kick Ass (Rock N’ Roll)”), songs about women (“That Woman”), and lots of apostrophes in the titles are to be found on Step On It‘s 10 tracks.  But you know, like so much rock from the era it’s still pretty decent.  This probably says as much about when I grew up as it does about the actual quality of the band, but I like what I’m hearing from Boss.  It’s entertaining and easy to get into.  There are unconfirmed reports that the band actually used a drum machine on the album, and if that’s true it kind of makes it a bit more interesting because no self-respecting rock band of that era would admit to such a thing.  And there is something kind of mechanical about the drumming… though who knows if I’d think the same thing if I hadn’t read that tidbit before listening to Step On It for the first time.