||SCOTT ADAMS: TERROR AUSTRALIS
NOISE RECORDS BEST-OF COMPILATIONS: HELLOWEEN, GRAVE DIGGER, KREATOR
Release Date: 6th May 2016
'Ride The Sky – The Very Best Of 1985-1998'
Hamburg proto-thrashers Helloween were a big deal when I and many like me were growing up. As progenitors of the Euro Power Metal scene they still stand alongside Accept as probably the most influential German Metal band of all time, so it's timely that their former label Noise (via the good offices, one suspects, more of parent Label BMG than anyone originally involved with the Noise imprint) has decided to release a large retrospective of the band's formative – and many would say best, including your not-so-humble reviewer – years.
I say large, because this two CD compilation is far from exhaustive. The 28 tracks on offer cover nine releases, from the band's first appearance on the now-treasured Noise compilation 'Death Metal' (1985) through the classic 'Keeper...' records to their 'Better Than Raw' album for Castle Communications from 1998, which is a lot of ground.
That said, and acknowledging that those compiling this record were under obligation to feature something from every release, it's hard to see how their 1988 breakthrough single, 'Dr Stein' and it's excellent B-Side, 'Savage', could have been ignored in favour of tracks from the band's infinitely shakier later work.
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Still, these sort of compilations always start up this kind of debate and in the circumstances it's probably best to try and accentuate the positives, which are at least many. Early classics like 'Oernst Of Life', 'Starlight' and 'Gorgar' are all here, though the eternal Metal anthem 'Heavy Metal (Is The Law)' seems to have unthinkably missed the cut; The two 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys' albums are understandably well represented, though again personal faves like 'Twilight Of The Gods' are missing and the awful video edit of 'Halloween' is featured, presumably due to constraints of space, whilst the not-quite-as-good 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys' is here in full... all thirteen and a half minutes of it!
The band went into something of a creative dip at this point, coinciding with the departure of guitarist/sometime vocalist Kai Hansen, so it's no surprise that the "fallow" albums don't feature so heavily here; 1991s 'Pink Bubbles Go Ape' is represented only by 'Kids Of The Century' (what? no 'Heavy Metal Hamsters'?) and 'Back On The Streets', whilst the even less-liked 'Chameleon' also features sparsely with just two tracks, one of which, 'Get Me Out Of Here', wasn't even on the original edition of the album.
The arrival of Pink Cream 69 vocalist Andy Deris for 1994s 'Master Of The Rings' saw the band return to a more Keeper-esque sound, and consequently fans and critics alike flocked back to the Helloween banner at this time; These happy days are represented by the quite excellent 'Mr Ego', 'Where The Rain Grows' and 'Why', whilst the similarly solid – and satisfyingly heavy – 'The Time Of The Oath' is also represented by such incredibly strong selections as 'Steel Tormentor' and 'Wake Up The Mountain', amongst others.
'Hey Lord!', 'Time' and 'I Can' from 1998s 'Better Than Raw' close proceedings, not as strong as the few cuts that precede them but not at all bad in themselves; And there you have it. Helloween, as noted, are one of the most important bands of the thrash era, and whittling their material down to a concise two-CD compendium was never going to be an easy task; And whilst this isn't always to my taste, as an entry-level introduction to the Helloween story it'll do.
'Let Your Heads Roll - The Very Best Of The Noise Years 1984-1987'
Grave Digger, of course, were not quite so auspicious... outside of Germany and one or two Eastern European markets, they've never meant very much, which is a shame because they've always had something to offer, as evidenced by this compilation.
Calling it "the very best of" is a bit of a misnomer, as at 28 tracks covering four albums (from debut 'Heavy Metal Breakdown' to 'Stronger Than Ever', which wasn't even released under the Grave Digger monicker in 1986), there's a lot of space to fill, meaning that all bar two of 'Heavy Metal Breakdown''s tracks feature here. And they ain't all classic, let me tell you...
Still, tracks like 'Headbanging Man' and 'Back From The War' do get the juices running still, 32 years after their first appearance on the Metal scene, whilst guitarist Peter Masson contributes some beguiling riffage on the excellent 'Tyrant'.
'Shoot Her Down', which appeared on American versions of the album bridges the debut and second effort 'Witch Hunter', highlighting vocalist Chris Boltendahl at his most eccentric. Undeniably a Heavy Metal man to the core, to say Boltendahl's vocals are an acquired taste would be an understatement. Here, sounding like a demented Udo Dirkschneider, he really comes into his own.
'Witch Hunter', released in March 1985 reflects the time of its release, being altogether more thrashy and indeed accomplished than its predecessor, and consequently to the thirty years removed ear these songs sound, if not more sophisticated, then certainly slicker and less clunky. 'Get Ready For Power' wears its Raven influences proudly on its sleeve, whilst slightly chortlesome power ballad 'Love Is A Game' carries an Accept-approved chorus but not much else to write home about.
'Get Away', on the other hand, is a marvellous piece of not-to-be-missed eighties Teutonic speed Metal, Boltendahl's unhinged wailing being backed by more effective Masson riffwork and some tidy drumming from the admirable Albert Eckardt whilst the final track from 'Witch Hunter', 'Here I Stand' offers some straight-ahead, meat and potatoes Metal of the sort this band really did excel at in the mid eighties.
'Don't Kill The Children' was recorded at the same time as 'Witch Hunter' but didn't make the final running order; would it be cruel to suggest that listening to it now leads one to believe the band were right to allow it's omission?
'War Games', from 1986, was heavier still; I remember seeing the band at the time in support of this album on the bottom of a bill that also included fellow Noise compadres Celtic Frost and Helloween, both of whom effortlessly out-heavied GD and there's certainly a sense here that maybe the band were running before they could really walk in an effort to stay up with the times.
That said, 'Keep On Rockin'' is a pretty storming track, full pelt headbanging fare that has aged well it has to be said. However the band sounds infinitely more comfortable on the riffmongous 'Heaven Can Wait', where the spectre of Accept looms large again but won't stop the listener enjoying its open-hearted Heavy Metal brilliance. Easily my favourite Grave Digger track, it took some beating back in the day and, I'm pleased to report, still sounds pretty good in 2016.
1986s 'Stronger Than Ever' was initially released with the band calling themselves Digger; Masson had left, to be replaced by the flashier Uwe Lulis and the band moved into a sort of proto-hair Metal stance that confused, bewildered and outraged many fans, who just weren't ready for the band to start pretending they were Krokus.
That said, tracks like 'Don't Leave Me Lonely' (replete with some strutting bass from CF Brank) and the cod-AOR of 'Stronger Than Ever' weren't actually that bad, all things considered, even if they did effectively end the first phase of Grave Digger's career with a bad taste in the mouth and some clunking riffs in the ears.
Keyboard tingling and brightly-coloured spandex strides proved to be an unmitigated failure however, and by the time the band returned under the Grave Digger banner again for 1993s 'The Reaper' normal service was resumed – but that's another story for another day...
'Love Us Or Hate Us – The Very Best Of The Noise Years 1985-1992'
The last of this set of Noise's eighties/nineties compilations finds us saddled with the task of sifting through the back catalogue of Essen extremists Kreator. With most compilations that present themselves in chronological order, its often fun to listen to the progression an artist makes from release to release, from year to year. Not so Kreator.
Y'see, this band emerged from the womb as a fully-functioning, six legged purveyor of aural brutality; so much so that it's hard to denote any real progress from first album 'Endless Pain', which landed in 1985, to 1989s 'Extreme Aggression'.
That's not to say this period is no good – far from it. In fact most Kreator purists will tell you that this is the heyday of the band, and who really can argue with that? Not me, although I do enjoy much of the band's twenty first century output too.
This compilation features twenty tracks from that period, amongst them such stone Kreator klassics as 'Endless Pain' and 'Flag Of Hate' from that debut album, 'Pleasure To Kill', 'Riot Of Violence' and 'Ripping Corpse' from 1986s 'Pleasure To Kill'; 'Terrible Certainty', 'Toxic Trace' and 'Storming Menace' (all lifted from 1987s 'Terrible Certainty') and the title track from 'Extreme Aggression'.
That's half a set of absolute prime Teutonic thrash Metal right there, all pulled foetid and febrile from the brains of Kreator stalwarts Mille Petrozza (grr, vrr) and Jürgen "Ventor" Reil (drr, vrr); But even long term fans would have agreed at the time that maybe a little variation was required if the band was going to flourish in the nineties, and that came in the shape of 1990s excellent 'Coma Of Souls'.
This is Kreator we're talking about, remember, so that's variation with a small "v"; However the excellent 'Terror Zone', the title track and 'When The Sun Burns Red' (all featured here, natch, or else I wouldn't be holding them up for perusal) all offered enough to suggest that here, indeed, amongst all the sturm und drang, was a band that could break out of the thrash ghetto into pastures slightly more progressive.
Next release, 'Renewal' (1992) was to be their breakout album, the album that saw them barrelling headlong out of the thrash realms and into... well, temporary obscurity, actually.
The band's last album for Noise saw them embracing a harsher, more mechanical (they said "industrial" at the time but modern ears will struggle to hear anything save for some clanking electronic percussion that could really be identified with industrial music in 2016) sound and the fans really didn't like it.
When the band returned three years later they'd returned to the thrash sound but I for one, contrary bugger that I am, loved 'Renewal' then and coming back to these tracks now only affirms the fact that I was, as usual, correct.
'Winter Martyrium', the title track and especially the storming 'Europe After The Rain' are all grade A slices of extreme Metal, Petrozza's hoarser, less rasping bellow presaging what we'd come to accept as modern death/thrash vocalising a good ten years ahead of its time.
'Renewal' was a great album and the tracks offered here stand proudly alongside the band's early canon as some of the best, most accessibly brutal music to have come out of Germany in the last thirty years. If you're not familiar with Kreator, (a) – why not? But more importantly (b) – this compilation is a magnificent way to get better acquainted with the band.
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