“I’ve got heavy metal music in my blood,” goes the anthemic chorus in the title track for this six-disc compilation, “and I’d like to get it to you if I could.”
The clause is so politely put that I can’t help but smile every time I hear it. For a band with such an unpleasant and ominous name, Holocaust can’t help but to be a bunch of saps sometimes, and honestly that’s what I found so charming about this NWOBHM band – that’s ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ to you. But for all their cringeworthy lyrics – which we’ll discuss later – Holocaust are, at heart, very serious about playing heavy metal.
Heavy Metal Mania: Complete Recordings, Vol.1 1980-1984 – if you want to hear the full mouthful of this box set’s title – has been newly released by HNE Recordings, another Cherry Red imprint, like Esoteric. The end product isn’t quite as polished as you’d expect from their sister imprint – the booklet in particular, leaves a lot to be desired, such as album personnel details, but the card sleeves make for decent facsimiles of the original albums, if a little on the pixelated side.
Incredibly, this six-disc set only includes two studio albums by the band, which seems inconceivable somehow. If I had been in charge, I would have chosen to start proceedings with Disc Six, which contains the contents of the four EPs the band made from 1980 to 1982. John Tucker’s liner notes even mention the siren wail that introduced audiences to the band at the beginning of their original version of Heavy Metal Mania (that is different to the version heard on their debut album, The Nightcomers). More direct than the noodly guitar solos and authentically heavy, their original EP would have been the best way to start.
No matter though, as The Nightcomers kicks off this collection with one of the band’s best anthems, Smokin’ Valves, a rocking and rollocking good time. Death or Glory continues the fun with an anarchic streak – although I doubt singer Gary Lettice really has “murder on [his] mind” – but the band hit a mid-album slump until much later with the re-recorded version of Heavy Metal Mania – replete with a new lengthy guitar solo as an intro. The specific timbre of the distorted guitars, trashy drums and muted bass can feel extremely monotonous at times, especially if you’re used to the varied instrumentation of prog rock, but it shows that the band were singular in their desire to ‘get it to you if they could’.
The band closes out their debut with their most interesting song, the title track of the album and the longest at over six minutes. More dark and nightmarish than the comparatively lightweight songs that preceded it, The Nightcomers shows the band stepping outside of their comfort zone to make something much more unique, shrouded in a doom atmosphere with sound effects between the verses, before finishing with a droning, modulated guitar note that stops abruptly. The heaviest track in the collection by far, it’s such a shame that the band didn’t write more tracks like this, as they could have really stood out from the crowd more had they done so.
Disc Two brings the first of two live albums, and it took me a while to figure out what was actually happening, because the packaging is all over the place. The slipcase title reads Live from the Raw Loud n’ Live Tour, but the back of the clamshell box says Live (Hot Curry & Wine), which is the same as Disc Four. It turns out that these are two separate entities, but related. The band were filmed for one of their shows in 1981 and the subsequent VHS – I was surprised to learn that VHS even existed in those days – was retailed at the rather exorbitant price of £29.95, which I’m assured by the press release is more than £100 in today’s money. I’m not quite sure which young heavy metal moshers the studio expected to purchase this video, but it certainly doesn’t feel very rock n’ roll to extract so much moolah from your fans. Suffice to say, it didn’t sell very well, but the soundtrack from that video is presented here for fans to enjoy again. The video was apparently re-released as a DVD in 2004, and it’s certainly a cryin’ shame that Cherry Red couldn’t find a way to include this footage alongside the audio material for a truly complete experience.
If The Nightcomers was an introduction to the band’s style, the video soundtrack is where I truly learned about the band’s personality. The stereotype of heavy metal fans being very antisocial is mostly false; in fact they’ve been some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. Nevertheless, Lettice’s patter between songs seems to play right into that stereotype, that their fans just want to mosh the night away. And maybe that’s fine; it’s an escape from the drudgery of real life, after all, but there’s something insincere about the delivery, that they’re only heavy for the sake of it.
Also, their playthroughs of these songs are really quite atrocious. I’m used to live prog albums where it’s a technical marvel that everything sounded as good as it did and no mistakes were made – except for that last live album I reviewed. It’s quite the culture shock to hear the band actually lean into the sound of trashy chaos, Lettice making no effort to stay in tune. My reservations aside, the audience seems to lap it up, so they must be doing something right.
The live experience certainly helps to solidify the foundation built by The Nightcomers, as you get to hear the songs from that album (and a few others from their EPs and some that weren’t recorded in a studio, such as The Small Hours, later covered effectively by Metallica) in a more natural format, and it’s hard not to sing along to the more anthemic tracks Smokin’ Valves and Heavy Metal Mania. At the same time, it feels only appropriate to cringe at the lyrics of Out My Book, which deal with a jilted lover who complains about his hurt feelings. This sort of teenage whinging hardly screams ‘bravado’ and ‘heavy metal’.
Disc Three brings something entirely different. No really, it’s not even a Holocaust album. Steal the Stars is the lone album by Hologram, an offshoot of the band formed by guitarist Ed Dudley after the band effectively disintegrated. Those expecting Hologram to sound anything like Holocaust would be sorely mistaken as they move sharply away from the NWOBHM sound towards American AOR; perhaps that’s why this Scottish album features a New York skyline as the album cover. Truthfully, I can’t think what else would have influenced the cover, a picture of the World Trade Center that has been arranged as a jigsaw; today, images of the twin towers evoke strong emotions within people, but in the 1980s this would have been completely innocuous, pointless even.
The production is really not great, with Dudley’s guitar seemingly swimming in a pool of echo while Gordon Band’s faux-American accent floats on top. Nelson – he’s just credited as Nelson on the packaging – provides decent fuzzy bass while Ray Marciano does his absolute best to provide interesting rhythms to these thoroughly mediocre songs, and all this effort is marred by the muddy mix. Very often, there are moments of technical genius and innovation, but the whole thing ends up being forgettable; I’d list Vigilante Man as my favourite track of the album as the chorus is so over the top.
Disc Four is the live album that was supposedly mixed from the video (according to the album’s liner notes), but actually features clips from other concerts. At any rate, the sound quality is much better here, and the shortened setlist features only their best songs, without all of the filler material included in the video. Heavy Metal Mania supposedly segues into The Nightcomers at the end of the record, but the fast-paced five-minute instrumental barely has any resemblance to that track. It’s a stunning finale, nevertheless.
With the band having completely disintegrated, it’s a wonder that a new Holocaust LP, No Man’s Land, was released in 1984, having been solely recorded by founding member John Mortimer, with Steve Cowen on drums. With a highly pared-down sound, this sounds completely different once again, closer to the NWOBHM of The Nightcomers but with only a fraction of the energy. It’s a remarkable achievement by Mortimer, but unfortunately a completely forgettable album.
The aforementioned Disc Six harks back to the band’s glory days, and provides another chance to hear some of their classics in a different setting. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Heavy Metal Mania and Smokin’ Valves. The live EP does feature tracks already heard before, but if they’re included for completeness’ sake, I suppose I’ll allow it. If Out My Book seemed like a lyrical low point for the group, it’s outstripped by Friend or Foe with its chorus “Be my friend, be my friend, be my friend, don’t turn me away. / Be my friend, be my friend, be my friend, you need them these days.” I didn’t think any lyrics about friendship could be worse than Rush’s Take a Friend, but by gosh, Holocaust has done it!
As I said before, the booklet leaves a lot to be desired, but thankfully John Tucker’s essay is informative enough for newcomers to the band to get a feel for this Scottish group. Perhaps he had no access to the original members, but Tucker seems to have gotten most of his information from research into the band’s history rather than through interviews with the band themselves. He’ll often draw on articles, and that does make the story feel incomplete at times. Quite why the band was reshuffled between The Nightcomers and Steal the Stars to become Hologram was never made more clear than ‘factionalism within the ranks’.
What I found mainly entertaining about the booklet was its showing of receipts, scans of the contemporary reviews that Tucker notes gave the band an “undeserved kicking”. Almost entirely negative, it’s great to see the band embrace the criticism and wear it as a badge of honour; it’s probably the most metal thing I’ve seen about this group. Tucker’s criticism and over analysing of the specifics of these reviews in his liner notes is thoroughly unnecessary and sends the message that the band are still sore about it, which I hope they aren’t. Most hilariously, contemporary Sounds writer Philip Bell wrote a scornful 2½-star review of The Nightcomers before being posted by his editors up to Scotland to interview the group, presumably because he had become the person who knew the most about them, by that point. Both features are included, and Bell’s writing style is certainly humorous, although the longer article is difficult to read because of how small and pixelated the recreated scan is. Nevertheless, I plan on trying to decipher it for my own reading pleasure, as I can only imagine how awkward it was for Holocaust to meet their main critic, and vice versa.
John Mortimer has remained in Holocaust ever since, even if the line-up has changed many times since then, and the group’s ninth studio album Elder Gods was released in 2019. Listening to this box set, there’s something quaint about hearing these young rockers in their heyday, often singing about how fun it is to be young and in a metal band. It’s so innocent and pure, even when they’re trying to be dark and heavy, that you can’t help but be charmed by them. While there’s a lot of fun to be had with their earlier songs, there’s also a lot of really forgettable mush that goes with it. Still, you do get some variety between albums, especially considering the lone Hologram album included with the set. It’s incredible that only two of the six discs are studio albums, but that points to just how messy the group’s history was. Since this box set has ‘Vol.1’ in the title, I’m hoping that more volumes will follow so that I can pick up the group’s story from there. If you’re more metal-oriented and are looking for a blast from the past, Heavy Metal Mania could be your next fascinating journey to explore.
DISC ONE: The Nightcomers (1981)
01. Smokin’ Valves (3:43)
02. Death or Glory (3:37)
03. Come on Back (3:06)
04. Mavrock (5:24)
05. It Don’t Matter to Me (3:15)
06. Cryin’ Shame (3:11)
07. Heavy Metal Mania [Album Version] (4:51)
08. Push it Around (4:01)
09. The Nightcomers (6:12)
Time – 37:13
DISC TWO: Live from the Raw Loud N’ Live Tour (Video Soundtrack) (1983)
01. No Nonsense (4:30)
02. Push it Around (3:55)
03. Death or Glory (3:34)
04. Bridge of Impressions (4:11)
05. Out My Book (4:12)
06. Jirmakenyerut (4:53)
07. Heavy Metal Mania (5:34)
08. The Small Hours (7:56)
09. Forcedown Breakdown (4:31)
10. Lovin’ Feelin’ Danger (4:46)
11. Crying Shame (3:52)
12. The Nightcomers (10:32)
13. Smokin’ Valves (5:32)
14. Long the Bell Will Toll (5:47)
15. It Don’t Matter to Me (5:35)
Time – 79:15
DISC THREE: Steal the Stars (1983) by Hologram
01. Can’t Live Without You Anymore (3:53)
02. 17 (4:05)
03. Expected To (3:28)
04. Together Again (4:04)
05. Shoot the Moon (4:06)
06. African (4:19)
07. Lost in Love (4:02)
08. Vigilante Man (4:12)
09. Desolation Island (4:50)
10. Cliché Pastiche (1:14)
Time – 38:07
DISC FOUR: Live (Hot Curry & Wine) (1983)
01. No Nonsense (3:58)
02. Smokin’ Valves (4:30)
03. Long the Bell Will Toll (5:01)
04. Jirmakenyerut (3:55)
05. The Small Hours (6:16)
06. Forcedown Breakdown (3:57)
07. Heavy Metal Mania / The Nightcomers (9:38)
Time – 37:12
DISC FIVE: No Man’s Land (1984)
01. No Man’s Land (2:23)
02. We Will Rock and We Will Roll (2:14)
03. No Time Left (3:12)
04. Let’s Go (3:10)
05. On the Ropes (2:54)
06. Satellite City (3:37)
07. Power Play (0:54)
08. By the Waterside (4:06)
09. Missing Presumed Dead (3:06)
10. Alone (2:51)
11. Here Comes the Good Times (4:03)
Time – 32:24
DISC SIX: Heavy Metal Mania (The Singles 1980-1982)
01. Heavy Metal Mania (4:06)
02. Love’s Power (3:10)
03. Only as Young as You Feel (4:06)
04. Smokin’ Valves (3:44)
05. Friend or Foe (2:55)
06. Out My Book (3:43)
07. Lovin’ Feelin’ Danger (4:40)
08. No Nonsense (3:47)
09. Death or Glory (3:27)
10. Forcedown Breakdown (4:02)
11. Coming Through (3:41)
12. Don’t Wanna Be (A Loser) (3:34)
13. Good Thing (4:12)
Time – 48:59
Total Time – 4:33:10
Holocaust (Discs 1,2,4 & 6)
John Mortimer – Guitars
Robin Begg – Bass
Ed Dudley – Guitars
Gary Lettice -Vocals
Paul Collins – Drums (Disc 1; Disc 6, tracks 1-6)
Nicky Arkless – Drums (Discs 2 & 4; Disc 6, tracks 7-10)
Raymond Marciano – Drums (Disc 6, tracks 11-13)
Hologram (Disc 3)
Gordon Band – Vocals
Ed Dudley – Guitar
Nelson – Bass
Ray Marciano – Drums
Holocaust (Disc 5)
John Mortimer – Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Steve Cowen – Drums
Record Label: HNE Recordings Ltd. | Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 27th January 2023