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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.