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April 16th > Sleepwalking > Reviews
April 16th - Sleepwalking

Retro metal before retro metal was a thing. - 80%

hells_unicorn, June 5th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1988, 12" vinyl, High Dragon

There was a fair degree of disappointment in the latter half of the 80s with the direction that the NWOBHM was headed, with bands like Saxon, Tygers Of Pan Tang and several others moving into more of a radio focused, arena rock oriented approach to music that had in common musically with the New York glam and L.A. sleaze scenes than the roots of the style. Some even went so far to express that disappointment and a longing for the old days by forming bands and sticking to the old format even though there was little support for it at the time, especially in the style's original birthplace of the UK. A few years following the switch in style that Iron Maiden made when taking on Bruce Dickinson as lead vocalist and only a year after Thin Lizzy folded their tents, a short-lived project called April 16th reared its head out of the streets of London and managed to put together a rather impressive manifesto of partying like it's 1981 in Sleepwalking.

If one were to picture a perfectly even blend of the harmonic inclinations of the aforementioned principle influences of Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy with the atmosphere and attitude that defined many of the transitional bands that either pioneered or influenced the NWOBHM, that is right where this album lands. It tends to exude that happy-go-lucky feel that typified the likes of UFO and Deep Purple, but the riff work and tone of the guitars is just a tad bit to crunchy and aggressive to be put in the hard rock boxed. Likewise, the lead guitar work that pops in at key points in these songs is all but a dead ringer for the flashy blues-tinged goodness that Tony Iommi was churning out on Heaven And Hell. Curiously enough, this album's lone semi-ballad and longer effort "Clapham Wood" has all the makings of a Dio-era Black Sabbath emulation if one focuses in on the guitar work and pacing of the rhythm section, though vocalist Dave Russell's generally crooning and mid-ranged voice has little comparability to Ronnie James Dio, sounding more like a classic Phil Lynott emulation.

A curious thing about this album in relation to most of the original NWOBHM classic releases of six to eight years prior is that it is more of a grower than a shower. The first half of this album starts out largely in conventional heavy rocking territory with a handful of upper mid-paced rockers that focus mostly on predictable formats and generally groove more than outright move. Following the change in feel that occurs with "Clapham Wood", things start to take a noticeable uptick towards the harder side of the early 80s coin with "Illusion", which features a lead guitar display that gets a bit closer to Diamond Head's seminal proto-thrash offering "Am I Evil?" and goes a bit further down the guitar solo rabbit hole to incorporate a bit more flash. Likewise, "Rattlesnake" picks up the tempo into early speed metal territory, while "Thursday's Child" gets a bit heavier and sees Russell putting a little more grit into his vocal display. To sum it up in a single statement, the first half of this album rocks pretty hard, while the second half is full on NWOBHM power and poise.

In recent years the renewed interest in retro-sounding heavy metal may well have provided a ready medium for this band to have a break through, but circa 1988, aka the age of Twisted Sister's Love Is For Suckers and Saxon's Destiny, this was clearly swimming against the tide. This is underscored by the fact that this was treated by a passe affair even by the fairly reputable and traditionally oriented Black Dragon Records, whom saw fit to put this out on an off-shoot label with a similar name rather than included among their late 80s roster, which included the likes of Liege Lord and Manilla Road (ergo hardly fodder for the arena oriented crowd). One way to look at this might be as a group of wannabe old school types who got to the scene too late to make an impact, but I personally prefer to look at this album as an early strike against the ongoing softening of heavy metal that wasn't part of the speed/thrash scene. But no matter how one slices it, this is an offering that could stand to have a few more listeners.