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The Catch-22 Of The NWOBHM - 87%

CHAIRTHROWER, July 17th, 2017

Just like Col. Al Kilgore of Full Metal Jacket loves the smell of napalm in the morning, nothing turns my crank at the crack of dawn like a healthy dose of Tank, thanks to its MASH-like military humour and bojangling brand of hard driving blues riffs to the tune of heavy metal's very own "Yossarian" in front man/ bassist Algy Ward. Fun, ribald and at times, downright cheeky (i.e. T.W.D.A.M.O.), Tank's full-length debut from 1982, Filth Hounds Of Hades, was no pyrrhic victory as many claim. Indeed, following its landmark (not "landmine") explosion amidst the outer fringes of the NWOBHM (and heavy rock in general) the London based monster wasted no time unleashing its decadence and wrath on an unsuspecting public with a string of equally memorable albums, made up of Power Of The Hunter (also from 1982), 1983's This Means War and plat-du-jour, 1984's Honour & Blood (emphasis on the ampersand). While not as jarring as the howling, yowling Filth Hounds, the latter remains forever etched in my psyche, thanks to intelligently construed, rampaging cuts such as "When All Hell Freezes Over", "Honour & Blood" proper and the no punch pulling "Kill".

I'll forge ahead with my sole critique first so we can revel in some of Honour & Blood's finer refinement (i.e. the above tracks). Tank is 0 for 2 so far as openers go, what with "Shellshock" (from FHs) not fully doing it for me in terms of sheer tear-jerking glee and excitement, nor does "The War Drags Ever On" assuage my militaristic metal yearnings as much as it should. While still making for an apropos introduction, it lags far behind the epic glory of its successor, the ethereally anthemic "When All Hell Freezes Over" which, granted, would have made a better closer than pick-me-up second (track). Nevertheless, Algy and the boys rock with aplomb on what could best be described as a cautionary tale cum ballad turned on its head judging from lines such as "Can they still love me with their heads blown away" (X2) and perhaps the most memorable Tank catch phrase ever, bearing "Turn Your Head Around" of course, "So the only chance you'll get to steal my thunder... Is when all hell freezes over, when all hell freezes over!". The way Algy holds down the fort, toning down his gruff demeanour in order to placate even the most hardened hearts and heads before majestically forcing his way to the front again after the bridge...to borrow Ozzy's much-loved quip, all I can say is "Oh Lord yeah!"

Although Peter Brabbs' replacements (yes, there's two guitarists this time around as opposed to one) Mick Tucker and Cliff Evans fail to match his free-wheeling explorations rhythm wise- the songs here are much more linear as Algy's bass and the newfound guitar duo adhere to a simpler formula and foundation riff wise - the solos stand on their own two feet, suitably complementing the album's overtly anthemic tone. In other words, the seven tracks on offer are ALL anthems - including the bamboozling Aretha Franklin cover, "Chain Of Fools" - as opposed to unrestrained jams (see FH's "Struck By Lightning", "Run Like Hell" and "That's What Dreams Are Made Of") yet for the most part retain a flavourful appeal perfect for all-around knuckleheaded, shit faced camaraderie. In other words, Honour & Blood is more than likely a hit with anyone named "Chet" (i.e. Weird Science).

Jests aside, some of the material here is very good. Namely, the title track and epically grandiose closer, the deceptively titled "Kill". The former starts off with a slick - albeit simple - merry-go-round of a riff before breaking into a futuristic sounding "pirate" metal shuffle (a la Running Wild) and Algy's fiery, fist-pumping shouting:

"Are those ours, over head
Why can't they shoot the enemy instead
We took the King's shilling for killing the Hun

Over there, they must be blind
They think we're singing songs to pass time
Walking through land mines ain't really much fun

Seeing those blue skies reminds me of home
They seem to forget we're made of flesh, blood and bone
But we didn't come here to die on our own
To be remembered in a tower of stone"

Hell yeah!

Tucker and Evans steal the spotlight here with their towering and at times piercing pentatonic wizardry to the backdrop of Algy's punchy bass line and drummer Graeme "Crash" Crallan's - (R.I.P.) - stoic and relentless pummelling. "Kill" possesses the same song structure and layout as "Honour & Blood" (the track), yet serves up some pretty vitriolic and violent verses, even by Tank standards. It's got a cool Led Zep/ "Rock N' Roll" riff meshed within its breadth but it's really the lead playing which tops all so far. It's so eloquently delivered, building up to a crescendo of splintering blues chops alongside some of Crallan's most innovative and varied drumming - definitely a highlight!

While I'm not very impressed with the upbeat (yet placid) and mildly radio-friendly "Too Tired To Wait For Love" (along with "The War Drags Ever On", it's Honour & Blood's weak link; I won't say "weakest" as the other tracks are far from weak!") I'm quite fond of "W.M.L.A. - Wasting My Life Away". This strangely gripping rock n' roll lullaby highly resonates with me - especially its chorus - as I first heard it as a teenager when my growing pains were in full swing. I can't blame your average metal head if it rings falsely with them because admittedly, it is a weak track all told. To me however, it's one for the ages!

Obviously, if you're new to the NWOBHM/ heavy rock monolith which is Tank, you'll probably want to start with its strongest, ballsiest release, Filth Hounds Of Hades and work your way down from there. I can't comment on anything beyond the belatedly self-titled release from 1987 as I haven't listened to later releases but I can confidently confirm anything up to then as solid and worthy of perusal. On a related (and parting) note I was thrilled this morning when a fellow I just introduced this old school powerhouse to marched right up to me, shook my head and thanked me profusely. Good times!

“…exploding prawn rolls the size of French loaves" - 87%

Nightlock, May 24th, 2008

“A war is raging that we don’t understand…”

While reading some of Algy Ward’s personal notes on the experience during and surrounding Tank’s forth studio venture I can’t help becoming enthralled in the tales told like a cat drawn to a faster small prey. Around a year hiatus after Tank’s 1983 classic This Means War (which is really quite a while considering Tank released the previous three albums within an 18 month period) Tank return in a slightly revaluated form. Dropping Brabbs brother Peter and Mark due to internal person conflict, filling shoes are former White Spirit skinman Graham Crallan and Cliff Evans taking second man guitar duties. Considering the changes the chemistry is still very strong not seeming to have much of an effect on the songwriting.

The Music like usual is that fine mix of rough with finer points of melody. After almost completely finding their own sound and distancing from the Motörhead comparisons with This Means War. Tank continue to reinforce and progress into more mature minded territory. Honour and Blood seems to be made and arranged in a very similar way to its predecessor, but when you’ve got hold of a great formula why change it? The musicians themselves are all in great shape. Algy’s vocals being perhaps the best in their career showing a wide range of different dynamics from his traditional semi drunk sounding guttural falsetto. There’s definitely some killer guitar battle solos in vein of ’83 – ‘84 era Priest compliments of Mick Tucker/Chris Evans probably the strongest Tank guitar duo to this day.

The War Drags Ever On starts the 12” off in similar epic war fashion to the predecessor’s Just Like Something From Hell synth intro and all, Though not quite as sharp toothed as Just Like Something From Hell. The first noticeable musical change is the back-street style choir added for dramatic impact on the three war epics on the album. I think the harsh realization of war and what it actually is and means for soldiers involved is captured in a more captivating way this time around. W.M.L.A. (Wasting My Life Away) is probably the most impressive song if discussing exploring new avenues. A comtempory, melancholy sounding 5 minute piece showing a lighter side of Algy’s wind-pipes with the gruffness of his usual throaty bellow dropped in favour of a more down to earth look at the virtues and desperations of searching for love. Trying to be as objective as possible it’s not my favourite Tank song, I enjoy songs about war and kicking arse as much as the next guy. But you really have to sit back and enjoy the quiet resonance not often achieved. There’s a human being inside the war-torn veteran, it’s not all Blood, Guts And Beer. Too Tired to Wait For Love is the only other song on the album with the same contempory ideas explored. However straight after W.M.L.A. it almost seems like a “We haven’t gone completely soft” statement, with it’s more superficial view towards love. It’s almost like two different viewpoint songs about love have been written, funny in an ironic way.

Apart from a hit or miss cover of Don Covay’s Chain of Fools (originally made famous by “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin) Honour and Blood is one of Tank’s most consistent efforts showing some of the most diverse material produced by the band to date. It could almost be considered Tank’s best effort with it’s stellar production qualities and perfected song writing. The unfortunate truth is it just doesn’t quite hold up there against the amount of 5 star material on Tank’s predecessor This Means War but is a close runner-up.

“…And I doubt that we can”