(No Remorse 2015)
As a general practice, I don’t review reissues or demo compilations. It’s not that these recordings are not worthy; to the contrary, there are some fantastic lost gems that labels like No Remorse, Divebomb, Karthago and Stormspell are unearthing for the world to appreciate. The problem is that these releases are often difficult to review because the recordings are of dodgy quality (due to poor production originally, the ravages of time to master tapes, or both), the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to compiling these discs means that the listener gets way too much music to sift through (including subpar songs that never needed to see the light of day), and the unevenness of it all can make for a frustrating listen. Nonetheless, for a variety of reasons, I’ve made an exception to policy to bring you this review of Mendes Prey’s ‘The Never Ending Road,” recently released by Greece’s No Remorse Records.
Mendes Prey were a New Wave of British Heavy Band from West Yorkshire who were active from 1979 through 1986. They never actually released an album; however, they recorded a variety of demo tapes and singles from which this 16-track compilation is culled. Mendes Prey adopted a variant of the NWoBHM that jettisoned the wild/heavy and tame/wimpy extremes of the movement in favor of a straight-up, middle-of-the-road sound that was very much in keeping with the hallmarks of the style. The vocals of Jih Seymour are expressive, charismatic and tuneful, and he was easily one of the finest singers of the style, for my money. The dual guitars are tasteful and melodic, recalling classic rock, early Scorpions, early Priest, Thin Lizzy and a little blues. The largely midtempo songs are simple and catchy. It’s a characteristic sound that aficionados of the NWoBHM will recognize and appreciate right away, and Mendes Prey nailed it.
‘The Never Ending Road’ manages to avoid some of the pitfalls from which these types of releases often suffer. For one thing, the production values and sonic quality are remarkably high for a bunch of demo tracks produced by the band (largely by themselves) more than three decades ago. For another, there are some truly fantastic songs on display here: “Lone Survivor” (my God, what a riff!), “What the Hell’s Going On?” (which garnered the band a Levi’s Jeans sponsorship in 1982) and “Cry for the World” are spellbinding examples of NWoBHM at its very best, and band and label alike have done a tremendous service to the metal community by rescuing these tracks from the dustbin of antiquity. Also, the 16-page booklet adds value to the package via a nice array of period photographs, lyrics, liner notes (captioned “Lingering Thoughts of a Long Time Ago”), and personal reflections of three band members (Seymour, guitarist Mark Sutcliffe, and bassist Tony Boulton). It’s a nice, well-rounded compilation. But it’s not perfect. There are some dips in quality on the back half of the disc, including two versions of the seven-minute ballad “Drifting,” which hasn’t aged so well with its ethereal vibe and lines lamenting “too much wine and the occasional song.” “Don’t Shine” is a slow bluesy number that thankfully picks up steam near the 3-minute mark. Three cuts from the 1985-1986 period (“Can You Believe It?” “Listen” and “Breakin’ My Heart”) are a bit torturous to sit through because of the overtly softer, slicker, radio-friendly approach, demonstrating that Mendes Prey (like so many of their colleagues) chose to smooth out the rough edges in search of a mass audience that never came.
Put it all together, and ‘The Never Ending Road’ is kind of a mixed bag. It’s essential for the first seven cuts plus “I Beg for Mercy” and “Flight to Moscow,” but everything else is more miss than hit. NWoBHM fiends should snap this up right away. As for me, I’m quite happy to have made Mendes Prey’s acquaintance on this disc. The good stuff on this compilation is amazing. The rest, ehhhhh, not so much.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~