HELLION – ‘To Hellion And Back’ (Hear No Evil/Cherry Red)
Although Hellion vocalist’s Ann Boleyn’s New Renaissance label has made available much of her band’s back catalogue over the years (together with some great live recordings) ‘To Hellion And Back’ is both the first time a ‘best of’ has appeared on this side of the Atlantic as well as a long-overdue re-appraisal of the career of one of the greatest cult bands of the Eighties and a trail-blazer for female-fronted metal bands. Twenty-plus tracks on two CDs round up Hellion’s history, and a new song serves as a taster for the band’s upcoming album, the first new Hellion release since 2003’s ‘‘Will Not Go Quietly’.
The first disc combines five of the tracks from the debut self-titled six-track EP issued by Music For Nations in 1983 (the party-hardy ‘Lookin’ For A Good Time’ is the casualty) with a healthy chunk of the 1987 ‘Screams In The Night’ album (including personal favourite ‘Bad Attitude’). The middle order is where most interest will lie though, with the inclusion of the 1984 demo produced by Ronnie James Dio, a singer who was a major influence on Ann Boleyn. “In the early 1980s I was still playing Hammond organ, and had not yet become a lead singer,” she told me in a recent interview. “Ronnie James Dio advised me to stop playing keyboards and to focus on singing; we discussed how bands like Judas Priest had changed the sound of heavy music and that the sound of the Hammond organ reminded people of the Sixties and Seventies. We also discussed how, with singers like Rob Halford being successful, that the time would come when female singers would also be accepted in heavy music – which at that time they weren’t.” Both tracks from that demo are included: ‘Run For Your Life’ – unquestionably one of the band’s best songs – appeared on the ’12 Commandments In Metal’ compilation and was later re-recorded for the ‘Postcards In The Asylum’ EP, while the ‘Children Of the Sea’-ish ‘Get Ready’ has lain in the ‘lost but not forgotten’ file for far too long. ‘Witching Hour’ from the demos which led to the ‘Screams…’ album completes the running order.
Disc Two takes the other three tracks from the ‘Postcards From The Asylum’ EP (including the frenetic ‘Nevermore’ and the massive thrashalong cover of ‘Exciter’), five off the wonderful ‘The Black Book’ album from 1990 (I’ve lived with the album for nearly twenty-five years and the traded solos in the title track still push all my buttons) and a clutch from the aforementioned ‘Will Not Go Quietly’. Things are rounded off by a new track recorded by the new line-up which features alongside Ann drummer Simon Wright, keyboard player Scott Warren, bassist Bjorn Englen and guitarist Maxxxwell Carlisle: ‘Hell Has No Fury’ is a chip off the riff-driven ‘Nevermore’ block, in-your-face and unapologetic about it too.
Quibbles? Well, it would have been interesting to have included ‘Fire’ or the misspelled cover of Deep Purple’s ‘Black Knight’ from the band’s early days; but you can’t include ’em all, and if you’re not overly familiar with either cut this just gives you a good excuse to hunt them down.
© John Tucker February 2014