Cloven Hoof - Age of Steel

Cloven Hoof Age of Steel cover
Cloven Hoof
Age of Steel
Pure Steel Records
While Cloven Hoof were one of the better bands to come out of the whole NWOBHM movement and their earlier albums seem to hold a special place in the hearts of fans of the genre. They’re one of the criminally underrated acts that could and should have been bigger, but mismanagement and disbanding on key points, as well as changing members multiple times, hasn’t helped one bit.
The band who reformed in the early 2000s with “Sultan’s Ransom” and vocalist Russ North, probably the best singer they ever had, went through several other singers, releasing decent albums, but never managing to complete a follow up with the aforementioned North, who was sacked unceremoniously in 2012 under mysterious circumstances. Ever since the band was almost a joke, hiring incapable vocalists and trying to go nu-metal on occasion, before hiring redneck Aska vocalist George Call, which sort of brought them back to the straight and narrow road of troo metal. With him came another moron, Aska drummer Danny White, who thought it wise to attack personally every person and medium that didn’t like the band’s previous album. He’s thankfully gone with Mark Bristow, formerly of Excalibur and East of Lyra, replacing him, also bringing his EOL guitar buddy Ash Baker on lead guitar along, to join long time rhythm guy Chris Coss. Call takes the band away from its British sound, but thankfully he’s above and beyond most of the guys the band tried to replace North with.
Opener “Bathory” sounds like the best track Iced Earth hasn’t written since their heyday – with Call channeling Matt Barlow, quite capably…
I dunno how to feel about “Alderley Edge”… as it borrows heavily from Iron Maiden “Seventh Son…” and Call tries hard to imitate Dickinson, only managing to expose his limits, with his voice coming close to breaking point and weakening due to some passages. Also the Sabatonian, square melodies elsewhere, without the proper instrumentation sound quite spartan.
“Apathy” is a more modern sounding tune, but following the blueprints of classic metal. It’s okay, I guess, with Call dialing down the impersonation factor, to sound like himself this time.
“Touch the Rainbow” feels like it’s scrapping the bottom of a well to find a title and it goes again, for the neo-IE sound, while it also seems to momentarily consider borrowing from “The Evil That Men Do”… gee, what’s next deciding to copy Metallica, oh wait, Stallion did it on their eponymous song! Yeah! It’s ok if you do it for a moment, as a tribute, but when not one but more songs make those references… it’s kinda lame.
“Bedlam” has Call trying to sound super theatrical, with some ultra-raspy highs, which sort of get the job done in something that sounds like a bouillabaisse that includes Iced Earth, Accept and what not in a weird whiny balladeering that climaxes nicely enough.
“Ascension” has a nice sticks intro and goes for a more straightforward approach, but the mid-tempo pace it decides to maintain doesn’t quite do it justice. Nice solo though.
It’s time for Joey DeMayonaise to sue these guys for borrowing his title “Gods of War” that might  along with “Bathory” be one of the better songs, but reason behind it is…. “March of Time” as the Hoofy ones seem partial to “borrowing” its chorus melody to appropriate as their own… gee…
“Victim of the Furies” – (changes anybody- no? Good...) has Call going for his Dickinsonian wailing on a song that doesn’t particularly seem to be ripping off any known tunes, but also ends up being rather not too memorable… being itself a victim of its own mediocrity. Again, the solo is neat, but doesn’t manage to singlehandedly un-suck the rest of the song from deep the dark khyber where it seems to dwell for most of its duration.
A title like “Judas” offers a wide variety of options/songs to borrow from, but the band seems to go for a relatively original tune. Well… relatively being the operative word. Call’s falsettos are kind of borderline, but he manages to keep it together, even harmonizing himself. Oh well, here’s thirty silver, you maniac.
Last but not least, comes the eponymous “Age of Steel”, a too troo metal title, which seems tailor made to placate the concert goers of all those “Steel, True, Iron – Battle, Fight, True, Metal sort of festivals. It’s decidedly mediocre, but not terrible… taking what’s cheesy about Priest and just sprinkling four more cheeses over it.
While the album improves certain areas, over its predecessor, “Who Cries for the Morning Star”, the numerous less than stellar moments and “references” to better known metal classics, on certain tracks, trim several points off. All things considered, the production is good and so is the somewhat generic troo cover that feels more like the mascot of some fest than anything else. Oh well… shadowlife is still a form of existence.