Salem, if you didn't know, are another one of the bands to come out of the ridiculously named NWOBHM movement back in the late 1970s. Formed from the remnants of Ethel The Frog in Hull in 1979, the band had a double A-side single released in 1982 but that was about as far as it got as they folded the following year.
That was until 2010 when their original recordings were re-released and as a result the band got back together again and following two limited edition EP's and countless gigs here and in Europe, the band now have a fully-fledged album out.
So now you have a brief background, it is time to see where it all fits musically. As much as I grew up with a lot of the NWOBHM bands, the problem is that too many of them still have that exact 'same sound' now which is all very well apart from the fact that musical development should happen in the space of 30 years.
So, before I confuse you any further, let's get down to business and see what Ged and co have produced musically.
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The good news is that Salem have developed musically, whilst still retaining the essence of their original sound. As if to prove a point the first track 'Forgotten Dreams' has its roots in the old era but the sound is a lot more modern.
It all kicks off with crunching riff and then the vocals of Simon Saxby comes in with some great melody on the verse. His voice has stood the test of time very well and has a lot of power in it without ever going over the top. The drums adding a lot more power, galloping, dragging the track with it leaving room for a very cool bass line.
The guitar solo is a little more interesting than the standard fayre as well, drifting over to a Middle Eastern progression early on before it all goes back to the catchy melodies and there is even room for some singalong chorus backings a la Bon Jovi – now there is a sign of progression from the NWOBHM days when that sort of thing was frowned upon (along with everything else that was slightly adventurous). A good opener, full of life and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Next up is 'High Stakes', a track you may have heard before from their EP. Powerful drums, twin guitars working well together with some interesting harmonic exchanges and traces of that Middle Eastern sound. Saxby's vocals again standing out in the clean mix – another well constructed song built around strong six string and larynx activities.
'When Love Is In Your Heart' owes more to the original NWOBHM sound than the previous two offerings, especially the riff and pounding rhythm section, the guitars especially grabbing this one by its dangly bits. But proving the old style can coexist quite happily with melody is the main achievement of this track, the vocals and faster, louder guitar fitting as perfectly together as Coldplay and a firing squad.
'This Heart Is Mine' starts off a little more sedately, well a lot more sedately, a little reminiscent in its first few bars of The Scorpions' 'Send Me An Angel' but that swiftly morphs into a classic rock riff, the second guitar coming in over the top, its strings sending out a passion filled melody, combining to give real feeling to the music. Saxby sings: "Lately I've been going nowhere" so clearly this one was written on the M25 on a Friday afternoon.
That aside, he again delivers a delicious vocal melody most noticeably on the chorus and the backing vocals, sparingly used, compliment it very well. This has a balladic feel to it although it is a very rocky number, delving into the root of all that is good towards the end, a touch of blues rock. This and the previous track are almost poles apart as far their origins but both are pulled off (steady on with your minds) equally well.
The interestingly named 'Kazakafnu' is next in line and features a very interesting guitar intro, one that keeps on going subtly behind the main riff. This heads off in a different direction entirely to anything on the album so far and has a harder more menacing edge to it.
More than anything, there is an evident melting pot of influences present on this one, Sabbath especially present throughout, and it does stand out because of the different structure and musically it is very well crafted, not the simplest of songs and at some points in the track you get the sense of the time signature changing. A good track and does well as a change in feel before the second half of the album and a definite sign of musical maturity since the days of…well, you know what.
'The Answer' is next, although I'm not totally sure of the question. But musically it is a nifty number, a good old fashioned rocker fuelled by the drumming, its pounding beat and rapid fills grabbing the ear. Vocally, Saxby gets a chance to show that he has quite a range to his voice on a straightforward but well executed song.
'Reach For Eternity' is a reworking of an old Salem number from way back in 1982 and features no nonsense guitar work with a riff that is about as straight to the point as you can get. The vocals are the driving force behind this one and in feel it is a little Dio like – think of the likes of 'We Rock'. The guitar solo in the middle is a very extravagant and ranging affair, a good reworking bringing a old song up to date very effectively.
'The Best Is Yet To Come' goes back to more quiet AOR beginnings, electro acoustic guitar but very up-tempo, vocals sitting neatly on top. Surprisingly in a way it works very well and is at ease with the heavier offerings on the album. The success of the song is in no small way down to its ability to stop short of descending into an archetypal self parody of this sort of track (If it was WASP, they would all be sat round a campfire and producing an epic fail) and Salem are comfortable enough with themselves now to be able to do the track justice.
'X-Rated' is the next f****ing song. Oh wait, that isn't an instruction to the reviewer. We are back to the heavier crunchier side of things with this one, the darkness to the light of the previous one. Owing a lot to the more post NWOBHM sound, some of the progressions give rise to memories of Rainbow in the days before Mr Blackmore started a relationship with the fairies in his garden and the result is good, plenty for the avid head shaker to get the teeth (or curling tongs) into.
'Break The Chains' has some soft rock beginning and is a well crafted song and one that builds but it isn't always sure which direction it should be going in. Don't get me wrong it has merits, the vocals standing out above anything else, but it is waiting for that spark to push it over the top and get matters really moving.
'Ask The Lonely' is nothing to do with Journey (surprising eh?) but it is a rocker, not the heaviest on the album but a rocker never the less. Featuring some guitar and drum interplay at the beginning before the vocals come in over the top, this one unlike the previous track really gets going. If you need comparisons you can detect some Sabbath/Ozzy influences in this one and some eighties classic rock feel.
So to the closer, 'Aftershock' which has a different feel to it even after the lengthy intro – again it rocks especially just after the one minute mark, Saxby's tone sounding a little like TNT's Tony Harnell and is a good if not spectacular way to finish things off.
So that is 'Forgotten Dreams' and it is a very good album, especially well mixed and packed full of well written songs. And as if to prove my earlier point, its success is down to the fact that they haven't just regurgitated the tried and tested NWOBHM recipes.
Whilst the movement played an important part in Rock music, many seem to forget that as well as the good, it produced more than its fair share of the bad and even a fair few of the downright ugly – ironically more than one of the bad actually made it big, and I mean huge... no names mentioned.
Salem's sound on this owes probably more to the classic rock end of things and they make very good use of the twin guitars who fit so well together. The drumming is very loud, very heavy and just damn good and with the bass makes a formidable rhythm section. The crowning glory though is the vocal input, versatile, varied, full of power, melody and passion and it is that which pushes it into the higher echelons.
Simon Saxby (vocals)
Paul Macnamara (guitar)
Mark Allison (guitar)
Adrian Jenkinson (bass)
Paul Mendham (drums)