When one talks of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, several band names immediately come to mind: Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Venom - and, thanks to bands like Metallica, otherwise obscure groups like Diamond Head.
But one group that almost got left behind in the limelight was Samson, a band that otherwise is best known for singer Bruce Dickinson (who left them to join Iron Maiden). Oh, sure, occasionally you might have stumbled across one of their albums in the used record store, but chances are unless you grew up with their music providing the soundtrack of your life, you haven't paid them much attention.
Samson's backcatalog from when Dickinson (then known as "Bruce Bruce" - though I'll stick with his real name in this review) was in the band have been re-released, though the group's 1979 debut effort Survivors is a little bit disappointing. Guitarist/vocalist Paul Samson and crew knew they were on the cusp of something big - they just didn't quite know what to do with the music at that time.
If you pick this disc up expecting to hear Dickinson's banshee wails, you're going to be disappointed. Only occasionally did I hear anything that sounded remotely like Dickinson, and then they were only backup vocals. Fact is, according to All-Music Guide, Dickinson actually was not involved in these recordings, even though his name is on the credits. (So much for truth in advertising.) Make no mistake, at this time in the band's history, Samson himself was the star of the show - well, maybe a little of the spotlight also fell on drummer "Thunderstick," who was known for appearing in public wearing a rapists' mask.
Musically, Survivors really isn't heavy metal per se; instead, it's a heavier blues-rock mixture that is more reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult and early Black Sabbath. Tracks like "Tomorrow Or Yesterday" and the instrumental "Koz" all serve as evidence to back this up. And while the band was still struggling with just what to do with the music, repeat listens prove that sometimes they hit the target (even if it wasn't a bullseye).
Oh, there are mistakes on Survivors - like the tongue-in-cheek cutesiness of "I Wish I Was The Saddle Of A School Girls Bike". (The song itself is about as lame as the title - geez, you'd think that you were listening to Spinal Tap until you realize that this was a real band).Likewise, a good groove on "Big Brother" is almost ruined by Samson's idea of a guitar solo lick being the notes you hear when a clock chimes - egads!
Yet something kept me listening to Survivors over and over again (not hard to do, seeing the disc clocks in at under 40 minutes) - I had to be missing something. And sure enough - the more I listened to this disc, the more I realized that it deserves better treatment than to be swept under the living room rug.
Even with the one stupid guitar lick, "Big Brother" is a powerful track that suggested this band could be one to watch for future greatness. Other tracks like "Six Foot Under," "Inside Out" and the aforementioned "Koz" just add fuel to this fire.
Even with all the positives, Survivors is still very much an album of inconsistencies, but if you put some time into this one, it turns out to be a pleasant enough way to spend just over a half hour. With Dickinson in the limelight and Samson relegated to lead guitar/background vocal duties, the band would plow forward with Head On - but that's another story for another review.