If you are a frequent visitor to Heavy Metal Time Machine, or even if you are a long-standing fan of classic heavy metal and/or the N.W.O.B.H.M. scene, then you don't need me to preach the important role that the U.K. played in the development of heavy metal. The United Kingdom has long been fertile ground for all things loud and proud and Salem, who are also known as Salem U.K. in order to differentiate them from far too many similarly named groups, has been there since day one. Or at least day one as in 1981 which is when their first demo was released. It's been a long and winding road since then and yet, in grand style (and in similar fashion to other classic U.K band's like Hell for example), Salem are back with a brand new album and enough contagious energy to keep the fires of heavy metal burning for a very long time! The same Salem that made the limited-edition, 1982 single, "Cold As Steel/Reach For Eternity", (which has sold for nearly $1000 on the secondary market!), such a classic number has soldiered on making "Forgotten Dreams" one of 2013's best heavy metal albums! It's also the best "comeback" album that I've heard this year and an absolute MUST OWN for fans of straight-up heavy metal and N.W.O.B.H.M.! Now, this past March I had the privilege of covering Salem's much heralded "X-Rated" EP and, truth be told, the four tracks present on that EP are also on Salem's new full-length album. Those tracks, which were "When Love's In Your Heart", "X-Rated", "Ask The Lonely" and "Reach to Eternity" (2013 Version), have been re-mixed and re-mastered though, breathing new life into each and every one of them. With that said, let's take a brief look at what makes "Forgotten Dreams" such a strong contender for the "Comeback Album Of the Year" award and why bands like Salem are the past, present and future of heavy metal! Right up front it's worth noting that vocalist Simon Saxby sounds phenomenon on this release! As the album kicks in with the title track, which is a strong number that lies somewhere between traditional heavy metal and epic heavy metal, Simon's vocals simply soar! Not only is (track number 1) "Forgotten Dreams" one cool-ass track, with guitarists Paul Macnamara and Mark Allison laying down riffs that are one-part classic rock and one-part heavy metal, but it's also the perfect way to open up an album! From there we move on to another new cut (track number 2) called "High Stakes". This one was an instant- fave of mine as the wicked guitar parts give off this almost Twilight Zone vibe with it's nightmarish riffs coming across as if they are also inspired by classic rock. The band, which also features bass player Ade Jenkinson and Paul Mendham, has manged to take all of their various influences and turn them into a distinct, hard-driving style, that marries melody and metal madness. It's a perfect union as evident here. Alright, to make this review a little easier on the eyes I'm going to take things track by tracks, but with breaks into the sentences. Of course you are quite welcome!
Track 3) "When Loves In Your Heart"-I loved this number on the "X-Rated" EP and I love it here. This almost sleazy, hard rock number sounds more modern then anything and (again) features some simply smashing guitar playing. It also shows of the killer ability of drummer Paul Mendham who does so much more then simply keep the beat going!
Track 4) "This Heart Is Mine"-Two songs in a row with "heart" in the title? Yes, and so what? This has a real charm to it and, as odd and off the wall as this may sound, it merges 80's metal, 80's rock and 90's melodic hard rock into one little number that is actually quite good.
Track 5) "Kazakafnu"-There is an interesting story about this one. Bassist Ade filled me in: "Kaza-Kafnu is the name of a 12-day trek from Kaza to Kafnu in the Indian Himalayas. Paul's daughter did the trek and when she came back she told us all about her experiences, so we kinda bastardized the name of the trek and made it into more of a place". Cool. Did I mention that it is also one of my favorite tracks on this album? No? Well, it is and frankly it doesn't get much better then this one. Throughout their new album Salem showcases how everyone from Thin Lizzy to Black Sabbath has allowed Salem's sound to evolve into this beautiful creature all it's own. The group's influences are really just about as varied as this album is. Wishbone Ash, Rush, Kansas, Rainbow and Deep Purple are just a few acts that have influenced the members of Salem and when it's played to utmost extreme (like on "Kazakafnu") it's just something that's going to stick with you for a long time!
Track 6) "The Answer"-Short and sweet this one is really solid hard and heavy rock.
Track 7) "Reach For Eternity"-This updated version of an old Salem has hints of Deep Purple and Rainbow while it also carries itself in a fashion that says "Yes, I do think I can stand toe-to-toe with the modern rock radio movement and I'll prove it!".
Track 8) "The Best Is Yet To Come"-Take the classic rock/AOR of bands like REO Speedwagon and Kansas (hear me out) and suddenly turn it into something mellow and marvelous that just screams out to be one of the album's singles!
Track 9) "X-Rated"-Another number that I loved on the band's previous EP and I love it here. Straight-up modern heavy rock having a make out session with 80's melodic heavy metal. What's not to like?
Track 10) "Break the Chains"-For some reason this one made me envision Styx and Ozzy's early (solo) band collaborating on a N.W.O.B.H.M. project!
Track 11) "Ask The Lonely"-From the previous EP and a subtle yet effective merger of classic hard rock and the light side of the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement (Praying Mantis, Bronz and White Spirit)
Track 12) "Aftershock"-A slower, almost doom take on Rainbow and Dio? Classic
Track 13) "Retribution"-Likely only to appear on the Japanese version of "Forgotten Dreams", which of course will serve as an incentive for fans to hunt down the Japanese version of "Forgotten Dreams", this one is really interesting. Reminiscent of the early L.A. hard rock scene, this one features some crafty guitar work that, in another time and place, sure as hell sounds as if it could have been a hit for some hair metal rockers. Of course that's only if the number was fluffed up horribly as in Salem's hands it's way more reflective of a band that knows a thing or two about the virtues of classic heavy metal!
Alright, so there you have it. A track-by-track breakdown of what just might be the comeback album of the year as well as one of my top 10 albums of the year! With the album's offer of variety, it's well-fashioned and technically savvy approach to song-writing, the epic skill-level of each and every member involved with the new album and a production (courtesy of bassist Abe) that highlights the classic appeal of U.K. heavy metal, "Forgotten Dreams" is an album that I've give a "A+" rating to and recommend for anyone and everyone reading this!