Saturday, January 25, 2014

Picture-Eternal Dark + Heavy Metal Ears (2014 CD Re-Issue)

Tribunal Records/Divebomb Records

Having just reviewed the other Picture CD re-release on Wednesday of this week I will know turn my attention to "Eternal Dark + Heavy Metal Ears". Up front let's clear up one thing. The cover album is not a  proper reflection of the album artwork for this re-issue. Instead it's the same deal. It's only posted to highlight the fact that these two albums, which were released in 1983 and 1981 ("Eternal Dark" and "Heavy Metal Ears" respectively), appear on this one CD. Now, someone (on the side) asked me about bonus material. No, there is not any bonus material on either of these sets. Instead the "bonus" features that are attached to these two separate sets, which can be picked up at the link below, include: 1) Improved sound 2) A fabulous booklet with bio, (what are most likely to be exclusive) pictures and lyrics and 3) They are being made available on CD for the first time ever in North American! Tack on the fact that they are reasonably priced at $15.00 a set and you could actually stretch that out to 4(!) bonus features folks! For someone like me, for whom the previous CD re-issues are wildly out of reach (price-wise) and, as a result, have (admittedly) only had the (slight) comfort of second-hand burned copies, the previously mentioned items are bonus enough! Especially when hearing "Eternal Dark" (for what seemed like the first time despite having this one in my possession for well over 10 years!!!) is all of it's crystal-clear, heavy metal glory! But, we are getting a little ahead of ourselves so we will get to that aspect in a few as, unlike last time around, I'm going to cover "Heavy Metal Ears" first. On the CD said album is actually on the tail end of "Eternal Dark" which means that these particular numbers run 11-19. Still, giving the huge jump (style-wise and sound-wise) between 1981-era Picture and 1983-era Picture it's probably best to cover "Heavy Metal Ears" and then move forward. In hindsight, having "Diamond Dreamer" to break up the flow and all (what with it's Ronnie James Dio fronting Judas Priest-like vibe), "Eternal Dark" was probably a (somewhat) logical step style-wise. But, "Heavy Metal Ears" (which, although being released back in 1981, still remains a relevant release/modern source of inspiration as bands such as Serpent and Spikes have covered it's title-track!) sees this legendary Dutch heavy metal act not only hearing the battle cry that came from Saxon's 1979 debut, but also acting upon it a if following the same path that lead their British comrades from an album like "Saxon" all the way to "Denim and Leather"! It shouldn't be seen as all that much of a surprise then that Picture actually toured Europe with Saxon in 1981! Opening with the classic title cut, "Heavy Metal Ears" moves effortlessly through numbers like "Spend the Night with You" and "Unemployed" (a surprisingly heavy cut even for an album like this!) before truly hitting it all out of the park with cuts like "Night Tiger" and "No No No"! By the time the album's closer comes calling (the 7+ minute epic "Rock & Roll / Under Your Spell") you've been treated to Saxon-style rockers like "I'm Just A Simple Man" (Motörhead and AC/DC influences anyone?) and even the oddity of a track like "Funky Town" (No, it's not a cover song!)! For classic heavy metal and N.W.O.B.H.M. fanatics Picture's "Heavy Metal Ears" should be a given! So, what of "Eternal Dark" then? By 1983 Picture was leaning on yet another new lead vocalist Pete Lovell. On the plus side this one would stay the course and even appears on 2012's excellent exceptional "Warhorse". The downside though would seem fairly obvious to anyone paying attention to the band dynamics of Picture during those early eighties years. With Pete Lovell the band was on the third lead singer in as many albums. Not only that, but guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist Jan Bechtum, whose distinct style of playing had anchored the previous three albums, was suddenly gone as well! In his place came Henry van Manen and Chris van Jaarsveid. Two guitarists to replace the one lone guitarist/keyboardist who had made Picture into the band they were? It could never work right? And yet it did! Maybe it's not as well-loved and worshiped as "Diamond Dreamer", but in it's own right it's a damn fine heavy metal platter especially for when it was released! While the early Saxon-vibe can still be found on album number four with two guitarists in the fold the band went all in! Along with the Saxon (and Judas Priest/Dio experimentation of "Diamond Dreamer"!) the band's latest sound seemed ripped straight from the pages of N.W.O.B.H.M. 101! Listening to "Eternal Dark" now, with more then a few years of musical experience behind me*, I can pick up on the Blitzkrieg elements as well as how bands like Chariot and Chateaux influenced Picture's new direction. Toss in the likes of Dio-lead Black Sabbath, Manowar, solo-Ozzy, Accept, (early) Mötley Crüe, Iron Maiden and some cult bands of the day like Faithful Breath (try on "Hard Breath" and "Gold 'n' Glory" if you are looking for new titles to add to your eighties hard rock/heavy metal collection), Heavy Load and Dark Wizard (who actually came about, or at least released their first, highly-recommended mind you, EP, "Devil's Victim", in 1984!) and you've got a decent idea of what "Eternal Dark" has to offer! Of course it wasn't just the band's style that changed with album number four or even their line-up. With "Eternal Dark" the band dove head first into fantasy/Dungeons and Dragons territory as evident by "Griffins Guard The Gold", "Battle For The Universe" and "Flying In Time"! No doubt there were more then a few of the Picture faithful who were scratching their heads when this album was released! For 1983 though it's fairly typical theme-wise. Music-wise it is also fairly typical as this was the dawning of eighties metal (stylized by all things Priest/Maiden in nature) when bands were suddenly applying dual lead guitar solos and the distinct "galloping" song-structures that made for many a great classic!  Still, "Eternal Dark" seems to be the one early Picture release that people either love or loathe. While the band gets (unfairly in my mind) knocked for the sudden change by a lot of modern day metal fans I've always had a soft spot for this album and, as a stand-alone piece, I find it charming. It's heavy when it needs to be (the soul crushing "The Blade") while it also features great Iron Maiden/Dio-like like rockers in "Flying In Time" and "Into The Underworld" and "Tell No Lies". Meanwhile that (early) Mötley Crüe reference point (as well as the solo-Ozzy bit and Accept mention) shines through in the likes of "Power Of Evil" and "Make You Burn". Listening to the album again (as I type this review) brings up another "interesting" reference point that I never noticed until now (and yes, I'm well aware of how crazy this one sounds!). Could there be a little bit of the punk-vibe of (early, as in first two full-length albums with Paul at the helm) Iron Maiden and even a bit of the sleazy/street-wise attitude of early-Twisted Sister running wild through "Eternal Dark"? Quite possibly yes! All of which means that album number four in Picture's back catalog needs to be heard to be fully appreciated for what it has to offer! Again, I simply cannot express how refreshing it is to hear these early Picture releases presented like this. With improved sound (and the bonus of a killer booklet with bio, pictures and lyrics!) both "Eternal Dark" and "Heavy Metal Ears" come off as fresh and vibrant! For fans of this killer Dutch heavy metal outfit I cannot think of a better way to celebrate these early albums than with this set as well as the "Diamond Dreamer + Picture 1" offering! Samples to both sets can be found by going through the Tribunal link below and it is worth noting that, while supplies last as there were only 100 of these made available, if you buy both sets at the same time you can receive a rather nifty Picture logo magnet! Of course that is only while supplies last and, seeing as there were only 100 of these made and all, I can't imagine they'll last long!      .

Review of "Diamond Dreamer + Picture 1" Set:

*When I first heard "Eternal Dark" some 13 years back I was in my late twenties and had not yet rediscovered the joys of the N.W.O.B.H.M. scene. I had a young daughter and a job, working in a (now-closed) screen printing shop, that required long, tiring hours. Many early hour mornings (three or four AM) were spent (working by myself in the screen-prep area) listening to this album and marveling at it's raw, early eighties metal appeal and it's fantasy elements. As I worked with the motto of "Do it for her", with the her being my (then) young daughter Haley, "Eternal Dark" allowed me a measure of escape from a job that I had found broke my spirit as much as my body!

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