Wednesday, November 1, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1068: Omen

There was a lot of good heavy metal going on in California in the mid-eighties. Back on October 3 I reviewed Cirith Ungol’s 1984 album “King of the Dead” and now, less than a month later I find myself revisiting California’s heavy metal scene, with another album released the same year.

Disc 1068 is…Battle Cry
Artist: Omen

Year of Release: 1984

What’s up with the Cover? Carnage. More specifically, a band of skull-faced dudes are slaughtering a bunch of other dudes. In the upper left corner Omen attempts a cool band logo, with the “O” in their name being a snake. Ssssscary!

How I Came To Know It: Back in 1984 my brother and I were really into heavy metal. Unlike me, he had a job as a commercial fisherman back then, and he’d come in from fishing flush with cash and buy a whole whack of metal albums all at once. I used to borrow the records and “Battle Cry” was one that caught my ear. Years later, I discovered this album had been reissued on CD and snapped it up.

How It Stacks Up:  Omen has released seven albums over the years, but I only have this one so it can’t really stack up.

Ratings: 3 stars

Heavy metal is not a subtle genre of music, and Omen’s “Battle Cry” is not a subtle album. It is epic, deliberately grandiose crotch-driven glory. When I first heard it I was a teenager and I liked it a whole lot. 33 years later I still do.

Omen is very much traditional heavy metal, pounding out power chords in furious tempo, and taking no prisoners. Singer J.D. Kimball belts out every tune with a screeching fury that clearly did his vocal chords no favours. Kenny Powell’s guitar lays down a basic riff and sticks with it faithfully, and the bassist’s job is to play the same chords as the guitar, only lower. Complicated prog rock it isn’t.

When you play simple metal music you need good riffs, solid solos and the band has to play tight, and Omen deliver on all fronts. They pound away with a fury that never diminishes from the opening shriek of “Death Rider” to the last drum beat of “In the Arena” which comes an all-too-soon 36 minutes later.

As for lyrics, these songs are positively medieval. No, I’m not being metaphorical – these guys sing about things associated with the dark ages. Raiders, dragons, wenches and ancient battles are all approached with hyperbolic glee. “The Axeman” begins with a spoken word section of some creepy guy saying:

“In days of old, men feared not the sword or the lance
Nor did he fear the beast of fire.
He feared….THE AXEMAN!!!!”

Yeah, baby! A song about public beheadings conducted by the Axeman aka “hooded figure of mortal fear.” This song is chock-full of glorious lyrics to please the heart of any teenage fantasy enthusiast (guilty). My only quibble is that the intro suggests men didn’t fear battles and dragons but then the album’s other two great songs are about those exact things.

The title track is all about battles, and features such visceral violence as:

“The smell of death lingers in the air
Bloodstained bodies scattered everywhere”

And on “Dragon’s Breath” “the beast has taken many/the ashes tell the tale” as our titular monster flies about burning people to death. All this violence and death bring the best out of Omen, who seem to relish the shock value of it all as they shred guitar solos and pound out 4/4 time with gusto.

When the band isn’t singing about blood and fire, they aren’t nearly as compelling. Both “Be My Wench” and “Bring Out the Beast” are awkward, tone deaf songs that have not aged well. Note that there is no beast in “Bring Out the Beast” and lines like “I will deliver the hardness” make it pretty clear this is a song about getting a boner.

The record suffers from eighties production that take away some of the oomph, although it is not as bad as some other albums from this time. The tinny “we recorded this in a steel culvert under an LA freeway overpass” sound gives a harsh metallic edge to the music that even helps on some tracks.

This album is fast, furious and full of little flaws, but the little flaws made me love it even more. I want my metal to be full of energy and if the songs can be about swords and monsters, all the better. “Battle Cry” delivers on this front, and if it feels a little anachronistic by modern standards, that just adds to the charm of the experience.

Best tracks: Death Rider, The Axeman, Dragon’s Breath, Battle Cry

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