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2 Records by the name of Pyromania and Kill ‘Em All had messed things up already in both rock and metal scenes for good or bad, by the time this record came out. NWOBHM groups started scoring certain commercial success by the mid-80’s and it didn’t take long for major record labels to try making cash from these young, naïve musicians. To some extent, the British invasion had embraced commercial, poppy values like persistent choruses and occasionally minimalist instrumental bases before, but it definitely got out of hand when Def Leppard sold out in 1981. On the contrary, we had the admirable integrity and disturbing imagery of bands like Witchfynde, Hell, Pagan Altar & friends, who had certainly been watching cool Cushing, Lee, Reed & co. horror films. Cloven Hoof unashamedly picked up elements from those distinct trends, mixing them on their homonym debut – making a pretty versatile album.
Tracks like “Cloven Hoof” and “Return Of The Passover” are a fascinating display of clearly progressive heavy metal, during which the band surprisingly and effortlessly manages to put together a bunch of choleric, nearly thrashy riffage with lower-tuned, weightier hooks that define a constantly-changing atmosphere – making use of fat, intense lines, with other more flexible accompanied by a feverish pace. On “Return Of The Passover” in particular, their melodic tendencies are exposed with imagination and instinct, emphasizing the more sophisticated texture of those driving harmonies, creating a proper climax for those evocating vocals with fluidity and class. A large number of effective arrangements is added to the formula, from which triplets, beat shifts, recurrent twin-guitar fills and even a frightening nasal choir must be highlighted. The other side of the coin is “Laying Down The Law” and most definitely “Crack The Whip”, which seem to deny the complication and serious effort on the rest of tunes, focusing much more on choruses than instrumental sequences – actually providing pretty brainless verses and pedestrian riffs of undeniable simplicity. Certainly on those 2, Cloven Hoof’s music is aimed at the alienating commercial-edge of Elliot & co., sort of Canterbury meets Crusader Side-B as well, ruining the atmosphere they created previously. “The Gates Of Gehenna” and “Nightstalker” don’t obey such lazy methodology, rather avoiding the fetishist lyrical issues thank God, to bring back more of the Angel Witch-like verses, offering still some direct, straight-up hard rockin’ lines, however. Instrumental sections are less extended, briefer on those – reaching in total 5 minutes instead of 8, yet featuring a nice variety of smooth harmonies, proficiently-varied riffs and some convincing pickin’, without escaping from insistent catchphrases (like fusing the homonym track with “Laying Down The Law”, with good results but not matching completely the quality standards of the opening cut).
The depth and creativity of the song-writing is generally remarkable, at times breath-taking – by 1984, how many British metal acts you knew that could do convoluted 8-minute tracks with actually fresh verses like these? These guys were also good performers, much more talented than Avenger or Blood Money for instance, showing as well an exquisite taste when it comes to enriching their music with a reasonable amount of melody and fluffy harmonies without getting extremely mellow – respecting very much the feel and philosophy of the lyrics. They inherited the trademark Thin Lizzy twin-guitar sound, the predilection for harmonies of the pioneers from Wishbone Ash and The Allman Brothers Band, plus the progression of Deep Purple's live stuff and the evil imagery of Black Widow. At times they also show devotion to AC/DC’s metallic, blues rock standards. So they overall sound undoubtedly European, but also American on certain tracks, sticking to a truly versatile formula. They sound very secure and comfortable on overextended instrumental passages specially, though not so refreshing and eloquent when it comes to making radio-friendly, poppy stuff. While Tokyo Blade seemed undecided between 2 different musical styles (glam and speed metal), Cloven Hoof’s music wasn’t lacking that much direction or form, in general relying on more difficult song-structure patterns, dirtier riffs and more inspired occult lyrics from their compatriots. Even though “Crack The Whip” sounds pretty much like a bad joke and “Laying Down The Law” abuses of the same catchphrase blatantly, pieces like “Return Of The Passover” easily matched the epic and hugeness of bigger bands at the time (Powerslave, eat your heart out). Next question is: By 1984, how many British metal acts you knew that delivered such distinct lines like “Sinners scream from tormented fate redemption but a dream too late” and “Touch it, taste it, feel it now – Ya know how it fits so tight” in the same album?
Pyromania ruined the once-bright future of the NWOBHM, but fortunately there were a few exceptions to be found and honest albums being made during the darkest hour for the British movement in the mid-80’s (though Leppard fans will indeed enjoy a couple of titles here). No wonder Cloven Hoof became with the years one of the most respected, obscure bands of the early-80’s British wave, they were once capable of doing something special (at least more original than most of their pals at the time), a small collection of distinct songs on this record which made together an odd, yet unexpectedly cohesive fusion of different influences and styles. They also had the guts to play shitty cock rock on this album and enjoy it…yet a little more integrity and decision would suit them much better.
Cloven Hoof are one of those few bands that changes in style and still stays good; they even switch singers, and though very different from each other, both men are some of the best at what they do. Before I jump into the actual musical description, first I feel I must really address an important aspect of this album: it’s second-generation NWOBHM. What does that mean, exactly? Well, on the surface it obviously means that this is a band that came after the progenitors of the genre, who kicked things off back around 1980; I’m talking of course about Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Iron Maiden, and Saxon (others too, but those are the big four). Those four bands were all groundbreaking in slightly different areas; Angel Witch focused on the occult feel that Mercyful Fate and the French heavy metal scene would pick up a few years later, while Saxon was more straight-ahead blue collar rock, which Swedish bands would add an epic flair to, and so on. Anyway, the second generation of NWOBHM started where the earlier bands left off, and often expanded somewhat upon their predecessors’ work; they weren’t nearly as far removed from the originals as most of the other scenes of the mid-80s, but still these second generation bands were often markedly heavier, more complex, and more focused than their predecessors. Avenger would be a quintessential example of a second-generation NWOBHM band; catchy and consistent, unspectacular but solid. They and similar bands had seen enough of the older generation to know what was a good direction and what was a dead end; even though the original inspiration that sparked the creative explosion was dying out, there was still some refinement going on.
A major problem with the metal scene, however, is its blatant ancestor-worship; bands that were innovative or influential are often elevated to a godhood they don’t deserve, and as such their usually very real innovation and influence, not to mention quality, get blown way out of proportion. It is very important for us metalheads to attempt to view this sort of band with a skeptical eye, and stop glossing over their flaws and simplifying their scenes to such a degree that it seems these “gods” are the entire extent of them, rather than just a part. NWOBHM is easily one of the most important metal scenes of all time, right up there with bay area thrash and Norwegian black metal, yet the average metalhead can probably only name Iron Maiden, if he even knows what NWOBHM really is in the first place. (As a quick aside, people always seem to love pointing out Iron Maiden influence in 80s heavy/power/speed metal bands, as if it’s some stunning revelation; never mind the fact that most often these later bands take that influence and use the compositional elements to make something with a completely different mood and atmosphere. Identifying that influence is about as useful to getting a handle on a band’s sound as saying a car was influenced by whatever caveman invented the wheel, and this is even ignoring the many other NWOBHM bands that were also influential, which may easily have had more of an impact on certain bands.) Now, I’m no Iron Maiden detractor, and I’ll be the first to admit they’re a great and highly influential band, but they don’t deserve nearly the acclaim they get; I wouldn’t even call them the best NWOBHM had to offer. Influence alone is in no way necessarily indicative of quality, and just because a band is more influential than another does not at all mean it’s better (the oft-imitated Helloween is a good example of a shitty yet influential band). In short, just because Cloven Hoof didn’t drastically shape the NWOBHM landscape and inspire countless imitators should not adversely affect your opinion of this album. The sooner metal gets away from this ignorant ancestor-worshipping bullshit and historical oversimplification the better.
With that editorial over with, I’ll get on with the review. Cloven Hoof take the occult feel of Angel Witch and combine it with a more muscular, aggressive approach; think Satan on steroids (the fallen angel, not the band), or maybe a more complex Sweet Savage. The songs and riffs especially are also light-years ahead of the first-generation stuff, both in terms of complexity and heaviness. With a few exceptions, the rock influence has also been scaled back in favor of a purer metal feel. David Potter, in direct contrast with Hoof’s later frontman Russ North, is a quintessential NWOBHM-style bellower. He’s also in my opinion the very best at the style; his energy and charisma are just unmatched, and the ragged edge to his voice just makes him all the better. Where North is clearly the master of the more epic, power metal style stuff complete with frequent multi-tracked harmonization, and his rendition of “Road of Eagles” is far superior to the original, Potter is indisputably the king of the occult. I couldn’t imagine the title track to this album with any other singer, and he totally steals the show with his vigorous entreaties to Satan (not the NWOBHM Satan). The double-guitar leads are some of the best in all of NWOBHM, and deftly avoid going on for too long, a trap the technique is prone to. Two things which obviously set Cloven Hoof’s debut apart from many of its fellows is its penchant for longer songs and their use of backing choirs in certain sections, both with great result. The guitars have a slightly twangy, tinny tone to them, but rather than being detrimental, it totally enhances the atmosphere to such an extent that I cannot imagine them any other way. The mix is great, with the guitars right up front; Potter and the drums are clearly audible but not overbearing (whatever the fuck happened to the production on Dominator didn’t happen here, thank Satan, and I don’t mean the band). In fact, the only fault I can find with this album is a bit of inconsistency in the songs; “Nightstalker” and “Laying Down the Law” are solid, but don’t live up to the longer numbers, and “Crack the Whip” is probably a single attempt. It’s not horrible, and manages to be catchy, but is only barely worth the time it takes to listen to.
Of course, the real meat of the album lies in the longer songs, the first of which is the title track. This is, simply put, one of the greatest songs to ever come out of the NWOBHM scene. It’s a fucking monster, just dripping with joyous blasphemy and evil glee; the song describes the ritual performed to summon Satan (no, not the band), and captures the atmosphere perfectly. After a bit of a drum intro and an unusual, punkish opening riff (which never reappears), the main riff charges out with Potter’s proclamation of sacrilege riding on top. “THE HOUSE OF GOD HAS BEEN…VIOLATED!” Surely that’s one of the absolute best album-opening lines in all of metal. “CROSS UPTURNED, ALTAR…DESECRATED!” Sorry, I’ll stop now. Then comes a little interlude complete with spoken invocation, and the song builds up again with the choirs I mentioned earlier enhancing the evil atmosphere wonderfully. More chanting follows (that “eko eko” part is actually a “real” incantation called the Witch’s Rune), and after a heavy bit another interlude with more choral parts; finally the song builds back up into a massive crushing finish, in which the summoning is successful and the summoner carried off to hell. Did I mention the riffs? They’re all great, except maybe that slightly weird opening one, but it’s not bad and easily forgivable. Oh, and the whole thing is musically structured along with the narrative, which totally works.
“March of the Damned” is a little instrumental which leads into “The Gates of Gehenna”, another epic in the same vein as the title track; not quite as good, though Potter does bust out a rare falsetto and multi-track harmony to great effect. The mood of this one is slightly different from the title track, in that it’s more of a Dante’s Inferno than a Faust. Still works incredibly well, though, and has a similarly non-recursive song structure (though some riffs and motifs do return). Also, choir + harmonized guitar lead = great. Cloven Hoof were one of the few metal bands who totally nailed the right way to use a background choir (early Manowar and Dark Wizard were two others). That means not just using a choir as some background harmonic layer of fluff to artificially enlarge the sound on the choruses (or all over the place, as some bands do), but actually giving it a good melody and making it an element essential to the composition.
“Return of Passover” is the third and final epic monster of the album, and I’d rate it second behind the title track, but ahead of “The Gates of Gehenna”. It’s also by far the longest, clocking in at nine and a half minutes; you might think it would get dull or boring, but you’d be dead fucking wrong. We’re talking “Satan’s Fall” level of greatness here, or (dare I say?) even slightly better, as “Satan’s Fall” has that somewhat boring section in the middle which “Return of Passover” thankfully lacks. It also has what’s probably the best double-guitar lead of the whole album; right smack in the middle of the song, that ascending one is just great. God, and that final section where the great riff is then overlaid by the great solo, which builds into the great double-guitar lead, which is then backed by the great choir…the way it starts out simple and builds in complexity and atmosphere until the grand finale is just, well, great! For a style as usually unsubtle as NWOBHM is, being able to build tension so well for a whole two minutes without changing the riff is just jaw-dropping; it brings to mind that fantastic section in “Phantom of the Opera” (you know the one), and I couldn’t think of a better way to end the album.
A quick aside in regards to the bonus tracks: skip ‘em. It’s just extra versions of the two worst tracks of the album, and “Road of Eagles”, which is good, but Potter’s rendition simply isn’t one-tenth the song Russ North’s is on Dominator. It just doesn’t fit his style at all, not to mention between then and 1988 they polish up a lot of other aspects (check my review of Dominator for more info).
Anyway, this album is only slightly held back by a few weaker tracks, and in my opinion is a tiny bit better than Dominator, mostly because that album has such a horrendous production. Still, Cloven Hoof is a second-generation NWOBHM masterpiece, right up there with Gypsy Roller from the underrated Chasar and Court in the Act by Satan (and I don’t mean the band…oh wait, I do).
Sit back, clear your mind and prepare to be overcome by the Hoof. With just a few listens you will be hooked, your mind will surrender to the sound of dark, satanic themes.
As titled, do not overlook this album! Sure it will seem average within a couple listens but allow it to sink in and you have yourself something here.
Apparently Cloven Hoof are black metal, however from my understanding black metal sounds like death metal. This is by far to that extreme. You can expect a mixture of speed, power, themes of Satan, corruption and not too mention a touch of epic metal.
David Potter’s vocal range is quite impressive, his unique styles and changes in tone and pitch really bring out the talent in some of the tracks. He even manages to pull off sounding like the current AC/DC front man.
Onto my favourite track; the self titled one. I love the intro because there’s nothing like the sway of drums to start a track off. Then the madness begins, 6 minutes and 50 seconds of absolute wizardry. David Potter really outdoes himself on this track as he manages to carry his vocals thru changes whilst keeping up with the theme of the song. I will forevermore appreciate the ritual part of the song, some of the lyrics delivered are extremely intense and dark. Enough about the first, ok well maybe I’ll also mention that some of the solo’s are so monumental you wonder why this group hasn’t entered the same hallway of fame from the likes of Manowar, Overkill, Exodus and Helloween as they have produced some equally memorable work.
Onto nightslalker, this is quite the weakest of all the tracks. Don’t get me wrong its actually ok once you hear it a few times, but I cant honestly say I’d listen to it until my ears bled.
March of the Damned is an instrumental, have I mentioned I’m not that fond of instrumentals?
Well aside from Orion I will never really get into them, lyrics will always define a song in my opinion.
The Gates of Gehenna is another epic type track that really takes off where the first track left off. I love the solo towards the end, yet again it sends shivers down my neck hearing it over and over.
Crack the whip is another brilliant track, this time however we are introduced to a whole different Cloven Hoof act. They transform from power/epic metal to a regular hard rock AC/DC type act. You could almost sing this one to the tune of “You shook me all night long”. Once again David Potter proves his vocal patterns and flexes a note here and there to become Bon Scott. Brilliant!
Laying down the law is the second last and it certainly doesn’t lower itself to the previous highlights of the album. This song is about gangsters and corruption, look out for the killer riff that starts it off. Quite possibly the best riff of the album!
Finally we come to an end with Return of the Passover. A verse like no other put together with such lyrics as “He come forth, spanning starways” like whoa that’s some serious acid and/or sinister thought put into this album.
I must stress if this album is ever purchased ensure you get the 3 bonus tracks. The last bonus track is called Road of Eagles and I recommend this be included on it when purchased, otherwise you’ll be defiantly missing out.
I'm giving this an 86 because there is only one song on the album that isnt absolutely brilliant. That being Crack of the Whip. its just a typical rock song, like something Ac/Dc would have done. Except this song is better than AcDc. The reason the song doesnt bother me is because I understand the context in which it was written. FOr a NWOBHM band to make it big, they had to sell themselves to the record companies...who unfortunately wanted them to write radio friendly rock songs. So they gave the record producers their one song....and probably only played it once for the album. The rest of the album is totally unlike that song. In fact I'd have to say out of all the songs of the NWOBHM movement. Two songs in my top five are contained on this album.
Cloven Hoof - The title track. Oh lord it begins. At first it sounds like just another NWOBHM song. But then David Potter's one time unique voice, which has now become so popular in bands like Blind GUardian, and Grave Digger, comes in and from the first line you know its gonna be good "The House of God has been violated" FUCK YEAH!. ITs heavy and brooding and calls to mind everything that heavy metal should sound like...especially NWOBHM. It has that dark doomy quality that characterized so many of the early british bands. The highlight of the song is the towards the end when the break down kicks in..right before the solo. David Potter produces some of the most awesome heavy metal vocal lines in history as a precursor to one of the most glorious solos of all time. Lee Payne is a riff master, and his solos are so well thought out that it makes me ashamed to not be as good as him. There is soo much awesome riffing. Truly a heavy metal gem. This song will forever be in my top five. Its a combination of glorious soloing, and some really fuckin rockin epic darkness.
Nightstalker - This is another great song. Less complicated than the tiltle track, but effective none the less. It contains an essential element that is lacking in modern heavy metal...and that is rock, glorious rocking. It truly is a lost art, and Cloven Hoof was damned good at it. One of the many admirable qualities of this band is some of the progressive yet doomy riffing that crops up a lot. There is a decidedly gloomy feel, but only when the band wants it. THe rocking could start up again at any time. Great track. Again David Potter makes the song for me. His vocals have soo much attitude, much needed attitude. I think he used it all up and thats why modern vocalists have none, thats why they have to turn to ball wrenching high notes.
March of the Damned (Instrumental) - Great instrumental. Very reminisent of something Blind Guardian would do. Its all here, the neo classical minstrel like flare. The idea of an intro or instrumental isnt new, but I have to say its done very very well. The guitar intricacies are commendable.
The Gate of Gehenna - Now if you're suprised that a band called Cloven Hoof named a song the gate of gehenna then your sperm probably swims away from the egg. Another great driving NWOBHM anthem. It has pretty standard riffing by modern standars, but back then it was pretty fresh. Again David Potter steals the show. Of course the guitars compliment him perfectly. ANother dark brooding heavy metal goldmine. Great guitar playing. Very classy never treading water in wankery. Some might find it boring, but for those who can truly appreciate whats being done here, hats off to you. Friends of Hammerfall and Edguy wont like it because there is no mindless double bass, fairy vocals, or super polished production. Just pure rockin' glory. Again this song ends with some of my favorite guitar playing of all time. The Payne/Potter interplay is simply masterful. The ending is so very epic that it leaves me speechless every time. All I can do is sit and listen
Crack of the Whip - you're typical AcDc rock fair. I already discussed this song at the beginning. If you're into this type of rocking , then you'll like this song. hell I like it. Its the worst on the album but still a great tune to rock to.
Layin Down the Law - OH FUCK YEAH!! This was probably their hit single that the record companies didnt want to release. This song is so fucking rockingly catchy....i'm not sure if I can say that, but I'll leave it. It so totally fits this song. The chorus is probably the catchiest thing I've ever heard. Great vocals, great riffs. This song rocks so fucking hard...that my band Harbinger had to cover it....we just had to. It would have been a mortal heavy metal sin not to. They should call the song heavy metal buffet. There are enough tasty chops here to satisfy even the hungriest heavy metal glutton. The solo is simply brilliant....not just the solo itself but the solo backing riffs. This song is so much fun to play. It'll keep your foot tapping long after all the Hammerfall fans are done chanting Legacy of Kings. THere is some truly great classic rock riffing featured here. Warning, fans of bad metal will not appreciate this...you know who you are....and even if you dont, I do.
Return of the Passover - This song, coupled with Break Free from Satan's debut Court in the Act, are quite possibly the two greatest heavy metal songs ever written......I should throw 100 MPH by Cirith Ungol in there too. But it must be understood the sheer greatness encapsuled in this song. It opens with a very eery spacey intro and some weird bass thumps that remind me of space ships docking. Now the verse riffing is pretty standard, again David Potter saves the day with his awesome vocals. Once the first run of versing ends you are treated to one of the most delightfully awesome leads ever....it kind of floats through you with harmonized greatness. The type of verse riffing has been abused countless times, but again CLoven Hoof shows you how its supposed to be done. The lyrics are so Dark and Doomy, brilliant. The only problem I have with this song is the verses are a little long so I can see how some people would get impatient with the song. But if you stick around you will come to love every part of this song. Again there is some very proggy, dare I say spacey harmonized leads that bring a smile to my face every time. Its this type of innovative song writing that was not so prevalent in the NWOBHM...and has gotten even worse now a days. The art of suspensful song writing has been lost. There is so much awesome soloing in this song....goddamn....gimme a second it just got really good.......ok, wait.....ok now. Damn that was awesome. The middle of the song has a really great break down before they go back into the verses a couple of more times. But once you get through to the titular lines of the song....oh man its heavy metal glory time. Prepare for rocking like you've never heard before. PREPARE!! IT COMES!!! My favorite solo of all time excluding Break Free's solo. This is the big one. SOOO FUCKING AWESOME. No solo will ever be as epic as this solo. The lead at the end right before the chanting starts....no lead has ever made me feel the way this one does. By the end of the song I'm so exhausted that I can't listen to another album...unless its A Sultan's Ranson....by CLoven Hoof.
Ok I need a break this is too much for me, time and time again this song brings me to the heights of heavy metal glory. If you havent heard of this band, then you really need to check them out. You're heavy metal education depends on it. No metal head should be without this release.
This really isn't an amazing album in any way, especially considering that it is 1984, not 1980, but what it does, it does well. It's similar to Diamond Head's seminal "Lightning to the Nations", and fans of that album should certainly enjoy this one as well. Both have a combination of more rockish and more epic-classical numbers, and the mix of the two is effective on here, possibly even more so than on Lightning, as this one doesn't have anything as overtly AC/DC-bent as "Sweet and Innocent"...
What does it have? One nifty opener, to set things alight with a crash - slightly suffuse, trebly guitar tone that is par for the course for the early 1980s, combined with a textbook NWOBHM vocal approach... bellowing, without any overt high notes - projecting power and melody at the same time. Again, there isn't anything really unexpected about anything to be found here, but what it does, it does well. For 1981, this would be groundbreaking. Here, it's sort of middle-of-the-pack, and a bit late on the ball chronologically, but not in any way BAD. It's classic heavy metal... lots of solos, identifiable proto-power riffs, NWOBHM at its most average is not that much differentiable from NWOBHM at its finest, and that is a good thing.
Nightstalker opens with a riff vaguely reminiscent of some of the more melodic DH (Borrowed Time, to be specific), though here the riff is in full distortion from the beginning, and the song then explodes into a typical power-metal structure. A bit of an interlude leads into the more epic second-half (last two thirds?) of the album, with the march of the damned leading into the march-like Gates of Gehenna, with the one obligatory falsetto refrain... then another shorter, hit single styled number - Crack the Whip, but again this is more Sucking My Love than Shoot Out the Lights.
Finally, the absolute highlight of the album - the last two songs. Cloven Hoof and Return of Passover... both of these are long, epic, and the final moments of the last song are a complete bow to standard classical music, with the outro bit simultaneously invoking The Prince and Screaming for Vengeance... pure fucking heavy metal - let us march forth into battle and rule! I have a vinyl rip, and the extra touch of distortion on the rhythm guitar while the lead wails away is just fucking perfect. Then throw in the extra Green Manalishi vocals... these guys did their research, and did it well.
Do you like it heavy? Do you love it mean? Do you hate shitcore? This is the album for you. One of many.