Head On

Samson

Sanctuary Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/22/2000

I'm starting to wonder what all the fuss has been over Samson.

Sure, they were one of the bands that led the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, never mind the fact they're not one of the bands who leap into your mind when the phrase is mentioned. Sure, this is the band that gave Bruce Dickinson his first shot at the spotlight. Sure, the "hidden identity" of drummer Thunderstick was an interesting gimmick.

But then, there's the music. After the band's slightly above average debut Survivors, Dickinson (known at the time as "Bruce Bruce") came on board for Samson's sophomore release my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Head On. And after spending the better part of the day on this disc, it has to be said that after 20 years... well, the magic just ain't there.

Admittedly, Dickinson's vocals were an improvement over guitarist Paul Samson's; Samson fronted the band on Survivors. But when the material isn't the strongest, it really doesn't matter who is behind the microphone. Songs like "Hard Times," "Manwatcher" and "Too Close To Rock" all just seem to wander like lost sheep in a meadow.

I'm not unsympathetic to the fact that bands like Samson were plowing previously uncharted territory. But when I hear tempos shift almost uncontrollably (as they do on "Hard Times"), one has to wonder just how in control the band was at the time. And, I'm sorry to say, Dickinson shares in the blame, at least on this particular track.

There are some saving moments on Head On that make sure this disc isn't headed for the recycled bin. "Thunderburst" has more than a little similarity to Iron Maiden's "The Ides Of March" (not surprising, seeing this piece was co-written by one Steve Harris), while "Hammerhead" and "Take Me To Your Leader" surprise the listener with their freshness and strength, especially after over half an album of semi-mediocrity.

Regrettably, Head On ends weakly as well. "Hunted" has a good premise to start with, but it quickly fades into banality. What the hell is Dickinson singing in the chorus: "You [nailed] my brain to a tree"? What is that supposed to mean? "Walking Out On You," the album's closer, doesn't help matters much either, especially with the myriad of sound effects that punctuates the last minute or so of the song.

Head On was supposed to be a rebirth for Samson featuring their new, young, charismatic lead vocalist. Too bad they were working with the same old, tired, lackluster material. This is a disc that's for either the diehard fans or those studying the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal only.

Rating: C

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sanctuary Records, and is used for informational purposes only.