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Come Hear Bruce's 'Other' Debut - 72%

DeathRiderDoom, December 17th, 2009

After their opus ‘Shock Tactics’, released only a year later (you gotta love the output these guys had in their early days) ‘Head On’ is regarded by most as the other important album by one-time NWOBHM scene leaders Samson. Although this one is the official debut of vocalist Bruce Dickinson (and therefore worth getting as opposed to the Nicky Moore albums), nerds know that certain issues of the 1979 album ‘Survivors’ (another decent work) are actually available with re-recorded tracks featuring Dickinson on vocals) – so yeah, kind of a grey area. Anyway, on this official debut for Bruce – his performance is great of course, and Paul and co’s sound is more developed and with better recording/mastering quality throughout – we have a strong, classic NWOBHM album. It’s definitely a runner-up to the more polished ‘Shock Tactics’ but this album offers some great cuts, and that fun, good-timey vibe that Samson was known for, in this early phase. Recommended NWOBHM, and one of their best – this one shouldn’t disappoint.

Highlights for me include the less than typical ‘Vice Versa’ a nice slow paced cut, which showcases some strong Bruce Bruce vocals. Drums are nice and reverby - totally 80s tom sound! And bass sounds strong and well-rounded; the recording quality really shines through on this head-nodding, crisp track. The simple, strummed guitars phrase excellently with the passionate vocal performance, with Bruce executing his trademark, slicing nasty notes. A very cool track – surprising for a slower one, and very straightforward. Of course the interesting little slice of history that is ‘Thunderburst’ is an interesting listen. For those of you who don’t know why – it’s a slightly different incarnation of ‘Ides of March’ from Maiden’s ‘Killers’ album. Certainly sounds great given the production on the album, and serves as a great interlude before the relative onslaught that is ‘Hammerhead’. Your opener ‘Fighting Man’ has been a fan favourite for decades and it is a pretty decent track. In my opinion it doesn’t stack up to some of the singles/well known cuts from the next albums sessions, but it has a certain charm. Straight forward, decently paced NWOBHM here.

‘Manwatcher’ is a pretty run-of-the-mill track – not really too exciting, and with kind of a 70’s pop rock flavour brought about by the plain chorus, and uninventive, non-threatening guitars and drums. A bit boring. For all it’s potential ‘Take Me to Your Leader’ fails to capitalize a bit. The drum tone is a bit off, with the snare sounding light and hollow, seemingly a bit different than other tracks on the album. Also, the lyrics on this track seem a bit silly and childish. Saxon’s ‘Watching the Skies’ is a better attempt at very similar themes. However, this one has a some good points. The guitar at the end really finish the song off well – Samson showing why he was the driving force behind on of the more successful NWOBHM bands for several decades. The progressively tinged ‘Walking Out on You’ is quite strong, and memorable. There’s quite a lot of 70’s rock in the DNA; check the first guitar lead and especially the preceding vocal section, but also a bit of traditional doom. I really enjoy the depth of feeling Samson himself is able to put into the guitar solo too, quite 70’s rock sounding, but powerful and moody. At 6: 35 or thereabouts this is a slow and low, doomy depressive epic, reminding one of perhaps 70’s Judas Priest’s songs in a similar vein.

Altogether an enjoyable album. It’s not the most consistent, with one or two weak tracks in there that fail to excite, but there’s enough strong ones to balance it out. Interestingly, in this album Samson seems to be at their strength when they hit the slower numbers. Guitarist Paul works out nice melodies in these tracks, even in the rather silly-lyriced ‘Hunted’, but especially in the awesome ‘Vice Versa’ and the albums closer. There’s a few very traditional/ typical NWOBHM tracks (‘Take it Like a Man’, ‘Too Close to Rock’) that rock in that straightforward, awesome way –dirty riffs and the like, balanced out by good slower numbers. Admittedly, it’s no match for the follow-up, but it’s almost there. One of the three Samson full-lengths worth owning, and a decent addition to any collection of NWOBHM records. Come hear Bruce Bruce’s other debut album!

-DeathRiderDoom