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Modern with a fine edge of thrash and power - 85%

autothrall, May 9th, 2009

Cloven Hoof were one of the most underrated bands of the NWOBHM explosion in the early to mid-80s, notably because of their heavier and catchier take on the style than many of their peers. Albums like 'Cloven Hoof' and 'Dominator' are classics in their own right, but I was quite surprised when this comeback album was put together by bassist Lee Payne and a slew of new musicians (since its release, most of the session members have moved on and been replaced by various Cloven Hoof alumni). 'Eye of the Storm' has an edge of thrash and power metal to it, essentially a modern take on the band's earlier work, but it kicks ass none the less, and if it has inspired the re-ignition of this excellent and overlooked band into the metallic bloodstream then so be it.

"Inquisitor" is a punishing, infectious metal track with its chorus just as authorative as its subject matter: vocalist Matt Moreton spins a nice sneer on his lines which remind one of the best of Vicious Rumors or Helstar. "Eye of the Sun" dials back the pace to a catchy and fist pumping riff, Moreton's vocals soaring across the verse until the pure NWOBHM power of its chorus. "Cyberworld" (lol at every reformed or older metal band having a 'Cyber-something' song title) has a flowing, hard rocking melody through the verse. "Kiss of Evil" begins with a bluesy burning lead and proceeds to fist pump through another killer hook. Great vocals here. "Eye of the Zombie" introduces a little low end groove, reminscent of Zakk Wylde or Alice in Chains and sadly not one of the better tracks (though it doesn't suck). "Absolute Power" returns to a pumping slower thrash riff and "Whore of Babylon" is simply one of the best tracks here with its curvy hooks. "Golgotha" erupts from an acoustic lead-in, into searing power metal. "King for a Day" is bluesy and groovy but again, balls-out metal beneath Moreton's shining tone. The album ends with "Angels in Hell", featuring a great symphonic/acoustic intro and some sick riffing and biblical apocalyptic lyrics.

The mix is superb, all tones are bright, audible bass, great drumming and leads, but the real star is the vocal performance. I'm hoping the musicians who recorded this but didn't remain with the band will put something together, because they definitely rose to the challenge of helping resurrect this band. 'Eye of the Sun' kicks some ass of its own accord, and I hope the band can produce a few more like it rather than disappear again.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

Reformed and deformed - 60%

Corimngul, June 20th, 2007

Science is still trying to explain how and why this could happen, but it’s clear that any such theory must include a comeback-related improbability factor. Without there’s no way to fully clarify this reformation. Or, to be exact, reformations.

First one has to realize that the name ‘Cloven Hoof’ isn’t just any name, it really means something. The bands that can compare are easily counted on a fingerless hand and the bands that can offer anything even approaching any of the qualities this act ever excelled in during their ever-changing but so prematurely ended career aren’t exactly numerous either. A few more artists have the same kind of gaps between how successful they’ve been and how successful they ought to have been. Most of those artists have another sign in front of the difference though.

Thus a reformation under the sign of the Cloven Hoof was more than welcome when it happened – 15 years after the apex of NWOBHM – A Sultan’s Ransom. At the same time it was announced that the line-up should be drastically reformed too. There was no need to worry though, since they had done that before, coming out even stronger than before. The last two such changes also brought a reformed sound, always more epic than the one before. The difference is just that this time it was deformed.

Even though the band motor and only original member (in fact the only member who was in the band before this reformation – well, he’s been that before, just wanted to point that out) Lee Payne does his best to reconnect to the old “heyyears” (a decade to be exact), even making use of the old, magnificent, epic live favourite ‘Eye of the Sun’ again – even as the title track, this just isn’t hasn’t worked as well as the past changes.

Sure, after Ross North it was at best hard to upgrade vocalist, but Matt Moreton is simply too much of a downgrade. That’s extra apparent since there’s an earlier version of the title track on Fighting Back, sung live by Rob Hendrick – another vocal master who does the song more than justice. So Moreton was in an unfortunate situation, but didn’t really care and did his best – which just isn’t satisfactory. He hasn’t got that kind of range that Cloven Hoof’s old vocalists had and that the classic Hoof tunes require.

His voice fits much better to mid-range, mid-pace uncomplicated modern metal. Something that’s far from what we’ve come to associate this band with. However, that’s just what makes up the majority of this album. Toughened and sped up at times, atmospherized in others. Incidentally where this happens are the ones that do work and can stay in the same room as the rest of the Hoof discography without dying from hormone imbalances caused by deep shame. They also happen to be the opening and closing songs, which isn’t really classic song positioning but never mind that. It gives a more positive view of the album, since these are the moments one memorizes.

The mid songs – from ‘Cyberworld’ to ‘Whore of Babylon’ are, equally incidentally, the indifferent, unmoving middle ground tracks that no one cares for. Even though the songs are quite bad, just attempts that even end up quite pathetic at times, they are quickly forgotten – which just proves that Cloven Hoof at their worst still aren’t capable of writing really bad songs. And that’s quite a feat when you try but fail at semi-rapping or do a song which sound like a combination of contemporary Crimson Glory (minus the horrendous vocals and the lack of ideas) and the type of rock which likes to call itself alternative but really isn’t, in chill-out mixes.

It’s a bit sad really, that a band whose other albums are top of the game (with the exceptions of Opening Ritual, which doesn’t really sound ready, and Fighting Back, which is plagued by too many ballads) loses everything that makes them special. Specifically, I’m referring to their ability to combine melody, power and general awesomeness in every little detail to something that’s beyond the traditional definition of awesomeness. The little power there is now, wouldn’t survive a minute in an urban area without the production backing it up.

Their epic qualities have been peeled off, the melodies cut down, arrangements and compositions devalued. There are bands that manage quite well with this kind of music, but they certainly aren’t as willing to slow down and then keep that pace. Yet, Cloven Hoof somehow manage to make this an overall enjoyable listen. If it was released by any debuting band it would be deemed above average, but compared to their old stuff it lacks too much. The good news is that after this album the band announced that they would reform again, and go back a bit. That’ll be a lot more interesting.

Cloven Hoof - Eye of the sun - 50%

Radagast, November 14th, 2006

As far as reunion albums go, "Eye of the sun" makes a bit of a mockery of the concept – of the four primary musicians that recorded the album, only bass player Lee Payne has previously been part of Cloven Hoof, the semi-legendary English band last sighted in 1989 with "A sultan's ransom." That album was an epic slice of power metal from a band that had worked hard through the eighties with minimal recognition that only really received the praise it deserved several years after its release.

After listening to "Eye of the sun," one has to wonder why Payne bothered to revive the Hoof name after so many years only to record a style of music very distant from what the old version of the band made their name with. Rather than continue in the style of "A sultan's ransom," what we have here is a collection of mostly-midtempo hard rockers. New vocalist Matt Moreton has a very different style to his 'predecessor' Russ North. The soaring falsetto of their previous albums has been replaced by a very American-sounding midrange that I don't think is very well suited to a heavy metal band. Moreton is a capable vocalist with a strong voice, but the fact that he often reminds me of Jason Perry of the unremittingly awful UK rock/punk/nu metal/whatever's-popular-at-the-time band A is telling.

Despite an overall old-school feel to proceedings, there are a few cringe worthy moments of modern tough guy attitude seeping from a few tracks. Payne himself throws in some awful shouty vocals from time to time, and the pseudo-rapped intro to 'Absolute power' would be hilarious if it weren't so embarrassing.

So far it may sound like I'm giving the album a bad write-up, but on the whole it is a fairly enjoyable listen. As noted above, what we have here is essentially an old school metal album with modern crunch in the guitar department. There are a few occasions where the pace is picked up notably – opener 'Inquisitor,' despite slowing down for the chorus, tears out of the traps with a quasi-thrash riff and the overall album highlight 'Golgotha' features a terrific out-of-nowhere break in the middle almost in the style of classic New York bands like Overkill and Nuclear Assault.

On the whole however, 'Eye of the sun' tends to chug along at the same pace for its duration. This presents the biggest problem with the album – the lack of variety. Too many songs feature a chorus that is just the title being repeated again and again. Sometimes this works – the previously-mentioned ' Golgotha' is extremely atmospheric and opens a closing trio of songs that are probably the best on the album, finishing with 'Angels in hell,' a genuine epic with a fist-pumping chorus.

Other than a few instances of contrived posturing, the only track that really stands out as 'bad' is 'Cyberworld,' which is laid-back, and dare I say it, sunny enough to be mistaken for a radio rock track. Moreton's modern vocal style does little to shake this notion and the track leaves me feel almost uncomfortable. Otherwise , 'Eye of the sun' is collection of solid but fairly homgeneous traditional metal tracks that would have served as a fairly promising debut for a new band - but for an album carrying the name and thus expectations attached to a Cloven Hoof 'reunion' it all comes across as somewhat lacking.

Only a few weeks ago from the time this review was written, it was announced that Russ North and two other Hoof members of years gone by would be rejoining for the next album, which will apparently be more in the style of 'A sultan's ransom' – all of which makes you wonder what the point in releasing this album was, exactly. Normally at this stage of a review like this one I'd be saying that with any luck the band could iron out the problems on the album and build on the promising aspects – when three quarters of the line-up have been discarded and a complete change in direction has been promised, its blatantly obvious that Payne has no intention of doing so.

If Cloven Hoof keep on producing albums for a few years, this one will sit as something of an oddity in their discography – the album that launched their comeback with what was effectively a different band picking up the slack. It should be appreciated for what it is; a reasonable but rather inconsequential offering of classic metal with no real place in the grand scheme of things – exactly the way it was intended to be, apparently.

2.5/5

(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com)