Cloven Hoof - Who Mourns for the Morning Star? - (9/10)
Published on May 17, 2017
One small step for man,
One giant leap for metalkind!
What would you say is the greatest human achievement? The written word? The wheel? The microchip? The invention of heavy metal? As persuasive an argument as the last one is, many people would probably settle on the event from July 20th 1969, when NASA landed two astronauts on the Moon. Half a billion people watched live on television, which then represented about one seventh of the world’s population. And who can forget the words of Neil Armstrong, spoken as he set foot on the surface of our only celestial neighbour? “One small step for man…”
Apparently, Cloven Hoof were also unable to forget, which is why we are greeted with the extended quote sitting in the bridge of Who Mourns for the Mourning Star?‘s opener “Star Rider,” between explosive riffing and a fiery solo. The implications of using that quote are huge: perhaps one could simply say that it fits the theme of space travel, yet this isn’t fantasy space travel, but a bonafide endeavor that required the ultimate in technology, imagination, and passion to achieve. Cloven Hoof are on the same path in terms of passion and have dreamed big on this album. According to band leader Lee Payne, “All my life I had a vision in my head of what I wanted Cloven Hoof to sound like, but I was never 100% happy with the vocalist.” With the addition of new pipes in the form of George Call, Payne believes that the band have realized that vision and made their best album, which is a bold statement for a group that released the impressive A Sultan’s Ransom back in 1989.
Thankfully, the band’s confidence is met by truly impressive execution. Call is a consummate metal vocalist, mastering both the range of ‘80s singers and the more modern grit that he and guitarist Chris Coss use to charge songs like “I Talk to the Dead” with bruising power. However, Call’s more delicate contribution to the verses of “Song of Orpheus” is an unexpected bonus as well, even if his Bruce Dickinson impersonation in the chorus of “Bannockburn” draws a slight shadow over his credentials. It isn’t only the vocals that show a sympathy with both traditional and modern styles, since the two guitarists provide a wealth of riffs and melodies that range from more intricate dueling parts to classic galloping sections to weightier chugs and riffs that borrow from 21st century power metal. There are some stand-out moments for Payne too in the myriad twists and turns of “Song of Orpheus”, while he gives “Bannockburn” its backbone during the atmospheric opening, setting the scene for the infamous battle.
The difference between a good album and an inspired one is often a matter of decision-making as much as pure skill and there is evidence that Cloven Hoof had the brains as well as the brawn when putting Who Mourns together. The length of the album is just right for this style and the structuring of the 45 minute experience is designed to capture the listener as early as possible, not releasing them until the very end. The shorter, more direct, songs pack the first half, easing up for the clean introduction of “Morning Star”, upping the power again before ending on an epic note with tales of Sparta and Scotland that are less compelling for headbanging, though entertain nonetheless. The songs also range from those modest epics to all-guns-blazing metal numbers to the hard rock influences on “Neon Angels”, while the ideas are often familiar yet never too simplistic, interesting sidetracks turning up in several songs.
However, all this would be worthless without all nine songs pulling their weight, which they do without trouble. It’s difficult to detect a weak spot on “Star Rider” and “I Talk to the Dead” as they crusade forwards on swaggering riffs and pure conviction, while the issues that can be glimpsed in the less original “Go Tell the Spartans” and “Neon Angels” means that they only pale in comparison to the rest, not as a result of any serious deficit. The meaty yet warm production ensures that the refrain riff of “Time to Burn” smashes through the listener’s skull with every cycle, while the gorgeously frail notes that emit from the rasping “Morning Star” must go down as yet another highlight.
Who Mourns for the Morning Star? is very close to the full package, what with a bunch of great songs played by great musicians with great production and finished off with great cover art. Minor grumbles could be directed at one or two vocal moments that ape Iron Maiden songs “Aces High” (“Neon Angels”) and “Montsegur” (“Bannockburn”), but there are plenty of positives to focus on instead of worrying about those details. Cloven Hoof are galloping ahead of the pack.