Bart Gabriel’s Skol Records label has developed a reputation for high-quality traditional heavy metal releases, including both brand-new albums (Mythra, Savage Master, etc.) and reissues (S.A. Slayer, Jag Panzer, Burning Starr, Sad Iron, etc.). One particular niche where Skol has excelled is in the area of tribute albums. In the last couple of years, the label has released outstanding tribute albums to Riot and Exciter (among others), featuring outstanding rosters of contributing bands and killer song selection, with numerous exclusive tracks not available anywhere else. This summer, Skol Records opted for an intriguing variation on the tribute album theme. Instead of honoring one specific band, the concept with this release is to honor an entire movement, namely, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Obviously, the NWOBHM tag is so broad and the available source material so vast that Skol could have taken this project in any number of directions, so it is quite fascinating to see how it finally took shape.
Ultimately, Granbretan Invasion is characterized by the same sense of balance and equilibrium that marks Skol’s prior tribute albums. What do I mean by that? A few examples illustrate the point. The roster of contributing artists includes both well-known veterans (such as Twisted Tower Dire, Enforcer, Cauldron, and Avenger) and up’n’coming acts (like Ironflame, Gatekeeper, and Substratum). The selection of songs covered involves both fairly obvious “hits” (Saxon’s “Strong Arm of the Law,” Raven’s “Don’t Need Your Money,” and Savage’s “Let It Loose,” for example) and more obscure cuts (such as Tredegar’s “Richard III” and Satanic Rites’ “Cast My Spell”). A couple of these recordings are previously released (i.e., the Savage Master and Substratum songs), but most were either freshly recorded for this tribute album or unearthed from a metaphorical vault somewhere for inclusion here. Indeed, the Enforcer contribution dates back to 2005, before there was even a real Enforcer band; and the Cauldron tune was recorded in 2010, but (to the best of my knowledge) never saw the light of day until now. Both are historical gems. The end result is a 12-song, 46-minute effort that is by no means encyclopedic or comprehensive, but that celebrates everything we love about the magical NWOBHM era.
Another thing that Granbretan Invasion has in common with prior Skol Records tribute albums is that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Sure, you’ll naturally gravitate to some tracks over others, but there’s not a single skippable, subpar song. Everything on the album is eminently worthy of inclusion, and adds something of value to the final product. As for highlights, I simply adore Twisted Tower Dire’s brilliant take on “Calling for You” (originally by Persian Risk), in which they took a great song and made it truly their own; and Enforcer’s raw, fast interpretation of Savage’s classic “Let It Loose.” Other personal favorites worthy of mention include Gatekeeper’s epic metal rendition of “Richard III” (originally by Tredegar), Cauldron’s jammy, rockin’ run through “Free Country” (originally by Witchfinder General), Ironflame’s classy version of “Shoot Out the Lights” (Diamond Head) and Savage Master’s go-for-the-throat spin on “Death or Glory” (Holocaust). Just as this album was a labor of love for Bart Gabriel and Skol Records, so it plainly was for the participating artists as well. In the liner notes, band after band extols the virtues of the NWOBHM and its profound impact on their music. They took it seriously, and whereas many tribute albums suffer from bands half-assing their way through material, Granbretan Invasion finds the contributors diligently, proudly honoring music with which they feel a deep personal, artistic connection. It shows. I also really appreciate Gabriel’s decision to let the levels vary from song to song, without trying to buff and polish out the differences in the name of consistency. This effect gives the album a kind of “mix tape” feel that is most appropriate and accentuates the ambience and vibe brilliantly, even as you’re adjusting the volume knob with a smile from one track to the next.
Look, I know that tribute albums aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. But it’s hard to imagine anyone who enjoys the New Wave of British Heavy Metal or the original works of the contributing bands not digging the hell out of this. It’s a killer collection of songs that have stood the test of time for more than three decades, covered in a heartfelt manner by an exciting roster of artists representing some of the very best in underground traditional heavy metal today. What’s not to love?
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~