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Although they ought to need no introduction, the sad fact is that they often probably do, and this is one of the main reasons behind Cloven Hoof's decision to release this collection of re-recorded classics. One of the absolute finest bands of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, they managed only a few releases in the 80s before a variety of internal and legal troubles caused them to fold in 1990.
Returning to activity a few years ago with a completely new line-up surrounding ever-present bassist and songwriter Lee Payne, they released 'Eye of the sun', which received what I now concede was an overly-harsh review from yours truly on this site.
Since then however, the squad has been completely rotated again, with 'Hoof Mk II' members Jon Brown and Russ North thankfully returning to the fold with a pair of new guitarists in Mick Powell and Ben Read, and it is this line-up that recorded 'The definitive part one'. More than just an intro to the band for prospective new fans, it is a chance to listen to North – easily the best Hoof vocalist - lend his distinctive voice to the songs recorded before and after his first stint in the band, and also to hear some classic songs that sadly suffered from budget-dictated production deficiencies sound so generally crisp and heavy. A few minor tweaks here and there sees the inclusion of a few new atmospheric intros (Powell also functions as the band's keyboard player, and adds some rich but tasteful textures to the songs), and some guitar solos have also been spiced up and extended along the way.
Recorded in a similar fashion – though thankfully with better results – to Anthrax's 'Better of two evils', almost everything was recorded live in the studio, with only the solos and vocals dubbed in later. There are a few moments where things could sound a little tighter, and the bass is occasionally a little high in the mix, but the unusual recording style generally doesn't hamper the songs, and, 'Eye of the sun' aside, this is probably the best-sounding CD they have produced to date.
The songs have been well chosen to give a good idea of the various stages of Cloven Hoof's career, with an even spread from each release to date. "Laying down the law" is a brilliant slice of hard-rockin' attitude from their 's/t' full-length debut, while "Gates of gehenna" and "Return of the passover" are epic NWOBMH classics that show the depth and complexity they had even in those early days. For experienced fans of the band it is also great fun to hear these older tunes sung in Russ North's operatic tones as compared to the rough-and-ready style of original frontman David Potter.
Similarly, the songs reworked from 'Eye of the sun' show how much better they could have been originally with the right man behind the mic. The main problem I had with that CD was that the vocalist Matt Moreton was a completely inappropriate fit for Cloven Hoof. North's more traditional manner lends a new angle to the thrashy "Inquisitor" and particularly to "Kiss of evil", a song of moody brilliance that I now can't believe eluded me the first time around.
The middle period in the band's history that saw them shift towards more of a power metal sound is also well represented, with 3 songs from 'Dominator' and 2 from 'A sultan's ransom' present. "Reach for the sky" is in my opinion, simply one of the best power metal songs ever written, from its superb harmonized intro/outro through the legendary chorus and blazing solo section, and is worth the price of the CD on its own. Also present are "Road of eagles" and fan favourite "Mistress of the forest" - 2 different types of metal epic, with the latter showing just how far Cloven Hoof were taking their sound before their premature end.
As an added bonus, there is also a sole new song called "Mutilator" showcased in order to whet the appetite before the next full-length CD. Another thrash-bothering song in the vein of "Inquisitor", (and let's be honest, the intro harmony is almost identical to that on Slayer's "South of heaven") it gives hope that Cloven Hoof still have plenty to offer now they have the right line-up in place. Probably the heaviest song Payne has ever written, it lacks the complexity and subtle progression of their classic works, but is still a worthy song to add to the catalogue.
While not a perfect CD – improved as they are the new songs still don't match up to their illustrious forebears – 'The definitive part one' is certainly a worthy addition to any power metal fan's collection. With another of these retrospectives – 'Part two' - just around the corner, it may be a while yet before the next CD of new material, but since most of Cloven Hoof's earlier work is still consigned to out-of-print hell, this release and the one that follows should be good enough for new listeners to get started, and also give the old fans something to hold them over until they finally get to hear Russ North sing on some new material.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)