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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Old School Strikes Back - Tales From the Underground Pt.1: Battleaxe (UK)

"The Old School Strikes Back - Tales From the Underground" is series of short stories about eighties heavy metal bands, which never hit big into the fame in the eighties, and disappeared afterwards of making music, but have recently returned in the business with either a new EP or full-length album. The meaning of the series is to bring the word about bands reformation into metal fans knowledge. I will try my best to pick reliable information of the bands (internet sources, and books such as Malc Macmillan's N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia, combined with my personal opinions), but if you (especially, if you're a member of the band and know the facts for sure) find any errors in the information provided by me which bother you, please let me know and e-mail correction to dungeoncall@gmail.com!




In part one we take a look into English band Battleaxe:

Battleaxe was formed in Wearside, northeast England (Sunderland, to be precise, if the information in Metal-Archives.com is correct) around 1980. Their first known line-up consisted of:
Dave King (v), Steve Hardy (g), Brian Smith (b), and Ian Thompson (d).

Battleaxe played rather traditional heavy metal at the time, belonging to the N.W.O.B.H.M (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) scene (whether it's considered as style or "wave/era" isn't the issue to debate at lengthily this article). I would place them to be a mid/late era N.W.O.B.H.M. -band, since they weren't formed quite amongst the first ones of the wave, such as Angel Witch, Tygers Of Pan Tang, or Def Leppard, but a few years later. It also took Battleaxe a couple of years to come out with any officially released material. The wave itself lasted from 1979 to 1983. Even to '84 or '85, depending of whether we count some of the late-comers in, who's releases sound just as if the music was released before '84's England. Many of N.W.O.B.H.M. era influenced bands, who released their albums right after '83, might've been writing the songs year or few before, but didn't get their material out until '84 or '85. If we consider N.W.O.B.H.M. "a style", then I would personally count some of the 84-85 albums in the wave, but if it's "an era", then probably not.

Back to Battleaxe: In my opinion their early 80s material (up to 1983's release "Burn This Town") drew influences from classic heavy metal such as Motörhead, Judas Priest, as well as slightly from punk, which was the case with many other N.W.O.B.H.M. -genres bands at the time. Since Battleaxe wasn't amongst the very "first comers" of the wave, they may have also drawn influences of some of the earliest bands of the wave. The early material by Battleaxe has some similarities to the Filth Hounds -era Tank, and the fans of Tank would probably enjoy early Battleaxe. By similarities, I mean in terms of  "rawness" in the band's sound, as well as straight-forward approach with riffs, compared to Tank and Motörhead, but featuring perhaps bit lighter, more rocking edge to their music (Malc Macmillan's book N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia also mentions Raven as one of Battleaxe's influences, although, it wasn't one of the first to come to my mind, personally).


(Burn This Town 7" single (1982))

After being formed around 1980, Battleaxe got an opportunity to play in a radio session on their local radio station called "Radio Tees". It might've affected to their reputation positively, and been part of the reason why they were signed and offered a spot to appear on "Roxcalibur" heavy metal compilation (cat#: GRC 130) few years later by Guardian Records, in 1982. They picked two (2) songs, "Battleaxe" and "Burn This Town" to appear in the compilation, which also featured bands such as "Satan" and "Black Rose". The two aforementioned songs were released on a stand-alone 7" single (cat#: GRC 132) later in the same year by Guardian Records, limited to 1000 copies (according to Metal-Archives.com).

For whatever the reason, Battleaxe swapped a record company and signed up with Music For Nations in 1983 to record their first full-length release. The album was named after another of the tracks featured in "Roxcalibur" compilation a year earlier - "Burn This Town", featuring the aforementioned album's title track as well as the band's self-titled track "Battleaxe", along with another eight (8) fresh new tracks unreleased previously. The line-up remained the same than before. The material was very consistent style-wise throughout the whole album, though, someone would perhaps argue it to be "no-frills" in similar fashion than your typical Motörhead -record. Surely enough, there's no complex shredding and the most versatile solos to be found here, but personally, I rank "Burn This Town" very high in my books, with it's enjoyable raw straight-forward riffs, energetic performance by the band (especially the catchy drumming), rough-ish pub-ready vocals, combined with rocking attitude. It's just pure fun and joy to listen to - a blast. The album is certainly recommended to fans of early Motörhead and Tank. Songs such as "Burn This Town", "Ready To Deliver", and "Running Out of Time" being my personal favorites (note: I've reviewed "Burn This Town" back in 2011 at kultmetal.com with score of 90/100 (awesome)).



Later in 1983, Battleaxe appeared in "Friday Rock Show" (BBC broadcast session at the time), 13th May 1983, playing the oldies "Running Out Of Time" and "Ready To Deliver", as well as two (2) yet unreleased tracks "Shout It Out" and "Mean Machine", of which the first mentioned would appear on an upcoming full-length release the next year, and the latter wouldn't appear on any officially released record, ever. At the time of the broadcast, line-up would had changed so that the former drummer Ian Thompson had just left to join Dark Heart, and the newcomer Ian McCormack would join in from Satan to play in the session. "Small circles", one would say, as it was common in the era for members of N.W.O.B.H.M. bands to swap from similar band to another (just look at the past line-ups in bands such as Satan, Blitzkrieg, Avenger, Tysondog). According to the Macmillan's N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia, "Burn This Town" was sufficiently good seller of an album, and Battleaxe toured later in 1983 along with bands such as Saxon (rather big name in fields of heavy metal at the time), which was surely a positive thing to gain some fame among hungry heavy metal fans. One of the major shows was a festival held in Leeds in 1983 featuring Girlschool, Anvil, Saxon, and Twisted Sister.


(Battleaxe - Burn This Town (1983))

Decently well sold debut album and the touring with "bigger names" in 1983 had probably a positive factor on granting the band an opportunity to enter the studio to record a second full-length album under Music For Nations label. The album was called "Power from The Universe" and was released in 1984 along with the new drummer Ian McCormack (ex-Satan), line-up remaining otherwise the same. Personally, I tend to think that the second album aimed bit more into pursuing more commercial success, than "Burn This Town". "Commercial" in means of heavy metal radius, not commercial like in popular music, of course. "Power from The Universe" had more hard rock oriented sound, being less raw than on their speedier N.W.O.B.H.M. era debut album. The general pace and tempo in the album was certainly slower and the atmosphere more "relaxed", laid back, a bit like an added dose of AC/DC put into the mix, but still featured decently heavy moments, keeping the fair amount of their previous heavy metal influences intact. While musically not "a sell-out" by any means, and being a decently enjoyable album to listen to throughout, the album didn't sell well (according to the Macmillan's book), and Battleaxe was dropped from Music From Nations label. A shame, since the songs such as more vicious "Chopper Attack", fast hard rocker "Power From The Universe", and catchy "License to Rock" showed that the band still had a lot to offer.



Now without a record label, the band focused on touring and writing new material for their third full-length release (probably without the plans how to ever release the record, at this point), which, according to Macmillan's. Macmillan's book N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia was to be released under the name of "Metal Edge", supposedly later in 1985. In 1984-1985 Battleaxe toured and played their new non-released material along with the older songs. There's actually independently released (without a record label) live album from UK tour of 1985 by Battleaxe existing featuring many unreleased songs played live, including "Bad Luck Struck", "Forged Futureproof", "Demon Queen", "Dead End Street", "Can There Be a Light", "Mean Machine" and "Out In The Night". These were probably amongst the songs, which were planned to be released on the third full-length album. It's also stated in the Macmillan's book N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia, that the band demoed new material worth a whole full-length album in 1985 (although I cannot find information of this demo anywhere else).

For whatever the reason, the final recordings for the third full-length release never took a place. Didn't Battleaxe manage to get a new record deal for the album, were the issues personal and the band fell apart at the time, or were they let down by the fans response to the new songs and decided not to go for it? The reasons are unknown, for me, at least. Things didn't probably seem too bright at this point, anyway. N.W.O.B.H.M. wave the band initially belonged to was already pretty much over, plus their attempts to aim towards more hard rock oriented audience hadn't been too successful with "Power from The Universe" (even though there wasn't problem with the album's quality, by itself). Battleaxe didn't go "all out" towards hard rock direction, anyway, but kept their heavy metal influences on their side, which probably wasn't optimal for the hard rock audience. The new wave of extreme metal was striking big at the moment: thrash metal bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, and Exodus, which wasn't something which direction Battleaxe was heading to. Whatever the reason, the third album was never released and the band went "dormant" for couple of years. The main guitarist (and the only one at the time) Steve Hardy seem to have left the band in or after 1985. Let the times of struggle begin!



King, Smith, and McCormack were still trying to revive the band in 1988 when the band recorded a four-track EP called "Nightmare Zone". The EP wasn't released actually until 2005, so at the time the band was still struggling without a record deal. Strangely enough, all previously written material for the planned third full-length release ("Metal Edge") was dropped off not being featured in the EP, in exception of "Out in The Night", of which the band picked a live version to the EP. King & the company also recruited two new members to play in the EP as a replacement for the departed guitarist Steve Hardy. The replacements were John Stormont (ex-Spartan Warrior) and Mick Percy, both guitarist. The EP now featured double-guitar attack with the two new guitarists (as the previous recordings only featured one guitarist). "Nightmare Zone" featured a mix and match of the more speedy heavy metal moments featured in the great title track, accompanied with more laid back AC/DC-ish hard rock moments of... well... rest of the EP's songs ("Radio Thunder", "Love's On Fire", and "Out In The Night (live)"), which continue along the lines of  "Power of The Universe"'s slower paced songs. King also tried cleaner (nasal) singing style on the EP. The title track showed some fine promise (definitely my favorite out of the EP's songs), although I don't think that rest of the songs really stood out in their favor (enjoyable and average, but nothing groundbreaking).


(Battleaxe - Killer Woman 1988))

After recording "Nightmare Zone" EP in 1988 (and at the time being unable to get a record deal to push out either the EP or the planned third full-length album "Metal Edge"), Battleaxe seemed to call their quits as a band. McCormack went on to join Pariah (mostly consisting of ex-members of Satan), and rest of the members pretty much disappeared of heavy metal scene. No information of known demos exist after that, and although I have no knowledge whether the band continued to tour afterwards, there certainly wasn't anything "major" going on for almost two and a half decades...

The shattered "new era" for the band started at 2007, when the band put up a new music video of their old classic "Chopper Attack", an opener from "Power From The Universe" album. But according to battleaxemetal.com there was some personal issues between the band members and no big plans for a new album took place at the moment.

In 2010 the band played a live show at Headbangers Open Air festival in Germany, one major heavy metal festival. It was this performance and the events, that eventually spiraled the band into making a new, third full-length album. I remember reading news by Battleaxe, that they would be returning to the scene and record a new album called "Heavy Metal Sanctuary" around that period of time, somewhere between 2010 and 2012. I can't remember an exact year when the initial news about the upcoming album came out, but as I recall the process from the initial news to the final release of their third full-length album took quite a bit of time (was there problems pursuing a record deal?). There were one or two tracks of the upcoming album shared by the band itself quite a bit earlier, before the actual album hit the stores and was finally released in 2014 by Steamhammer records. Steamhammer is a major heavy metal record label, who has recently released albums of bands such as Virgin Steele, Sodom, and Saxon, so the record deal with them is probably a major thing for band such as Battleaxe.



The new line-up changes from "Nightmare Zone" EP to "Heavy Metal Sanctuary" (obviously there were some after 25 years of silence!) saw another of the guitarist from "Nightmare Zone" EP (recorded in 1988), Stormont, missing from the line-up. and the previous drummer Ian McCormack had been replaced by a newcomer Paul Atkinson (who probably joined already at 2007). Other than that, Battleaxe had three members left from the previous "Nightmare Zone" EP line-up: Dave King (v), Mick Percy (g), and Brian Smith (b) - of which King and Smith have been there since the initial formation of the band.

Many old school heavy metal bands of the eighties have been reuniting and returning to the scene with a new record, lately. Some of them with more, some with less success (record-quality-wise, not record-sale-wise), but it's always cool and exciting to give them a listen, even if they're not at their strongest anymore. So, what could be said about Battleaxe's return after 25 years of silence?

Well, "Heavy Metal Sanctuary" might well be their strongest album since "Burn This Town". I still find it hard for them to pass the superior energy and rawness of their debut, but "Heavy Metal Sanctuary" in my opinion is probably stronger than their enjoyable "Power From The Universe". With "Heavy Metal Sanctuary" the band has updated their sound to the new millennium in a way which should please old school heavy metal fans - true and honest pure heavy metal to it's core. Their updated sound is probably heaviest and gutsiest this far, and there's more speed in "Heavy Metal Sanctuary", than there was in "Power From The Universe", and the new album is more heavy metal at it's heart, too (and bit less hard rock-ish). It's still technically straight-forward, but Percy's guitar playing is precise and powerful, and the solos are probably better than on their "early material". The updated heavier, traditional heavy metal sound is leaning towards Judas Priest and Accept/UDO-like riff-fest (or even German Grave Digger, just listen at "Spirits of The Fallen"), which is certainly welcomed and appreciated thing. No-frills? Maybe a bit. Ass-kicking? Yeah. Mosh-worthy? Hell yeah. Take heavy hitters such as "Heavy Metal Sanctuary", "Shock and Awe", or "Rebel With a Cause" from the new album and crank it up! You should be at least quite pleased with the result.


(Battleaxe - Heavy Metal Sanctuary (2014))

I for one think, that we can except more good things to come in the future by this old school heavy metal band. There may be more potential to fulfill, even, but certainly this is a return which a heavy metal fan should take a notice to. Surely one of the better returns of the old school bands of the recent years. The old school has stricken... part one.


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Additional notes: "Burn This Town" and "Power From The Universe" have recently been re-released on CD format as 30th anniversary celebration releases by Steamhammer. Check them out!

Sources: The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia by Malc Macmillan, third edition february 2012; Metal-Archives (www.metal-archives.com); Battleaxe - Heavy Metal Sanctuary: the Story Behind The Album (http://paulcamera3.wix.com/battleaxe-metal-uk).

Read also: REVIEW: Battleaxe (UK) - Burn This Town (1983) by kultmetal.com (Thursday, June 30, 2011).




-www.kultmetal.com | Tane Norther







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