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I've been interested in Samson for quite some time, but I haven't got around to listening to the band until these last couple of years. I think that the first thing I heard about them in the Swedish press was that Paul Samson had passed away, all the way back in 2002. I also knew early on that this was one of Bruce Dickinson's bands before joining Maiden.
So this has led me to seek out their discography and discover this band that was active for 20+ years but never seemed to make a big name for themselves. I thought I'd try my hand at reviewing their albums.
The first effort, Survivors, is basically a hard rock/NWOBHM. The players attack their instruments with the gusto felt in NWOBHM releases, but I find myself thinking of rock music when hearing the songs - I don't find the galloping riffs or tempos normally associated with NWOBHM here.
That doesn't, fortunately, mean that there are no good songs here, because there are. "It's not as Easy at it seems" is a suitably energetic opener, but the main attractions of this album are two of the longer, calmer songs: "Tomorrow and Yesterday" and "Wrong Side of Time" are both emotional, kind of nostalgic songs played with enough panache to make them compelling listens. Another cool song is the instrumental track "Koz", which sees virtually everyone in the band firing on all cylinders.
Speaking of the band, Samson (the man) can really play both hard and emotional, sometimes within the same track. As a vocalist, Samson sounds not unlike other early NWOBHM singers; he's clearly got the passion even if he lacks some skill and range to his singing. Chris Aylmer's (and John McCoy who's credited as session player) bass really stands out; aggressive and loud beneath and alongside the guitar. Thunderstick's drumming is so-so. I'm not a drummer, but my feeling is that he's there to keep the beat.
Some of the other track come off as fairly standard. They're not bad by any means, but I can't help but thinking filler when I hear them. "I Wish I was the Saddle on a Schoolgirl's Bike" is one example. Aside from the song's title (and I really can't say if it's a horrible title or total genius) I barely remember anything from this song when I've listened through the album. The same really happens with "Six Feet Under" and "Inside Out" as well, even though I like them when I hear them, they're very forgettable.
All in all, certainly not a bad album. It's bland in places, but some tracks really do stand the test of time.
This is early NWOBHM, in fact Samson were one of the few successful enough ‘NWOBHM’ bands at this time to be able to really put out an album in 1979 – the year of the major explosion of the movement, when most denim-clad London students were still rushing to the nearest empty garage to their fist band rehearsal – a year or so away from releasing their first singles or full-lengths. Anyway, as a result of this albums earliness, we have both shitter recording quality (than the rather well-done ‘Head On’ follow up, or it’s successor ‘Shock Tactics’, and of course an earlier sound, still rotted very much in 70’s boogie/hard rock. Additionally, this album features driving force and namesake Paul Samson (R.I.P.) on vocals – something that wouldn’t become too commonplace after his recruitment of the legendary Bruce Dickinson (fresh from his debut single with Speed). Paul does a decent enough job – better than the oft loathed Nicky Moore, but admittedly, he’s no Bruce Bruce. Not a brilliant album, but somewhat collectable due to the fact that it’s early NWOBHM, it’s their debut, and it of course, is available in re-releases with Bruce singing in 5 re-recorded version of the tracks – neat, huh?
Let’s kick off – not unsurprisingly, the sound of Samson in this early outing, bears some significant likeness to other early NWOBHM pioneers – I’m thinking Quartz, Budgie, even Tranzzam and Marseille. There’s an air of progressive 70’s rock in there, and more than a little wannabe Deep Purple, which isn’t a surprise. ‘Six Foot Under’ surprisingly given the name, is an upbeat number, a boogie-rock track, with a little of the aforementioned Deep Purple/Uriah Heep sound in there. There’s the typical playful bass riffs, and plenty of keys driving it along. It’s an odd number, but pretty chipper and enjoyable. Those keys don’t relent either, and are indeed a mainstay of the album (this wouldn’t be quite so prominent in latter full-lengths) with the following track ‘Inside Out’ while a little lackluster in terms of lyrics and vocals (not horrible) featuring some pretty enjoyable keys. Anyway, tracks like these two very much reflect the date of the offering. Pretty much next to nil real heavy metal feel, mostly kinda slow, unenergetic, but slightly interesting rock. A different sound to the majority of the NWOBHM.
Some of these slow, 70’s rock tracks on offer do shine more than others, however. ‘Wrong Side of Time’ with it’s far-out subject matter has a nice, soothing feel – reminding me of Yes, with it’s slow rumbling bass, passionately delivered vocals, and progressive themes. One of the stronger tracks (from the original 8) in my opinion – this is slow 70’s rock done well. One of Paul’s stronger performances on the vocals, and his penchant for skillful, slow guitar melodies comes through too (he would go on to continue this theme with some success in ‘Head On’). The standout though, is probably the epic ‘Tomorrow or Yesterday’ – a brilliantly crafted piece, with strong vocals, and some heavy riffs – sorrowful and reflective. Pianos are used to great effect here – infact I can’t think of a NWOBHM track where keys were used to such great effect. Of the more conventional ones ‘It’s Not as Easy as it Seems’ is pretty good, with a more rockin’, dirty feeling riff tone, and more attitude. Sad to say though, but the bonus version with Bruce on vocals is a lot stronger – not just his vocals, but the whole recording quality sounds a lot better. The hilariously titled ‘Saddle’ is a bit more of a conventional hard rock themed track, with somewhat of an enjoyable (yet thoroughly 70s boogie rock) sounding chorus. It kicks a bit of butt and lives large though.
Well, since the Bruce versions of tracks (available on several different re-releases) aren’t part of the original album, I won’t review them here. Suffice to say though, they’re better. The recording quality of those cuts is superior, and Bruce always done a great job for Samson as a vocalist. Needless to say, unless you’re an avid rare-ist collector, go after either the 5-bonus track version, (the one I have) or the whole-hog, two whole album one. That’s killer value for money, and us nerds get a kick out of hearing and comparing the different versions of the tracks. Not really a metal album per se, but some decent moments of boogie/hard rock to be found – in that NWOBHM vein as such acts like E.F. Band et al. Mostly advisable to see where the band came from, to hear Paul’s vocals, and as an oddity that has re-recorded versions of stuff on it. Samson were at one time (namely the early 80s) premier heavy metal property in the UK, along with fellow Londoners Iron Maiden and Angel Witch. This is an album that undoubtedly sold a few copies and helped propel the band to stardom. Unique enough in sound, but not exactly metal.