When someone exchanges musical opinions within the heavy metal circle, it is not uncommon to hear expressions like “too rough” or “too melodic”, and more recently “very old school” or with a positive spin “very refreshing”. So if an album had exactly the correct ratio of melodic and rough riffs and sounds refreshing even it was released in 1986, that would mean that it will top the charts and everyone would speak about it right?
Success doesn’t happen by chance. Instead it is a result of continuous hard work and meticulous planning and the strength of will to dismiss ideas that were thought “good enough” and start anew aiming for “perfection”. Reverse engineering Metalized proves exactly that and the result is a legendary Best Of Metal Album. That’s right, Metalized is a best-of album, not in terms of being a compilation, but an album that shows the best aspects of heavy metal music.
Starting with “F.T.W. (Follow The Wheels)” the album predisposes the listener for something larger than life. Blistering riffs and sharp vocals, spin together to form a headbanging tornado. Galloping metalized guitars build-up to an anthemic chorus, with overlapping motorcycle roarings, creating a -would-be- perfect soundtrack to a badass 80s movie. “Children of Heaven” follows the same path to musical greatness. The opening riff is a classic banger which is fueled with bombarding drums and cuts to a slower, melodic chorus.
The next track of Metalized is called “Stoned Again” and is a sleazier track, one of the most glam sounding of the album. The bass intro and the first carefree guitar notes create a hazy and intoxicated aesthetic which suited the song’s theme perfectly. Catchy and dancy the song was regularly featured on Canadian airwaves back in the 80’s. Bouncing and groovy, “Dare to Spit” is one of singer’s Rick Hughes highest points, who goes from high pitched screams to hoarse vocals in a matter of seconds while maintaining the aggressive motif of the song.
“Outta Control” is one of the album’s most aggressive tracks in which Rick Hughes lashes out again with his raspy soprano singing, as the song progresses towards a fast-paced melodic solo by Mike Plant. This song is like a heavy metal adrenaline injection, bound to unscrew your neck.
“The End of the Night is the first moment of the album that Sword make a profound declaration about their influences with this Iron Maiden meets Armored Saint-like american heavy metal. “Runaway” opens up with a speedy fretboard-fingerhoping melody followed by blast of metallic riffs and a commanding chorus. The song’s lyrics are about the uncompromising rock lifestyle. Conversely, the subsequent “Where to Hide” has an aura of success and accomplishment, which makes pretty obvious that the band was completely aware of the masterpiece they were creating and already had adopted the rockstar charm and persona. It’s like the found the metallic formula and just kept on writing according to plan. The intro riff of Stuck in Rock is one of the album’s heaviest, although while the song progresses it twist into a more “rock party” chorus before it evolves once again with the slow and melodic interlude.
And finally, one of the albums highest moments, the dark and almost Mercyful Fatesque “Evil Spell”, which also serves as the albums closing track. After 9 tracks of the highest quality, the band takes a risk and writes a totally different song than the rest and the risk was certainly worth it. This, along with “F.T.W” are the album’s highest points.
So as you see, we deal with an album that is as headbang-worthy, as it is melodic, has a riffing machine for a guitarist, a tight rhythm section and a vocalist which can scream, sing and act according to each songs lyrical style. It goes from fast paced melodic, to catchy choruses, to darker and heavier themes. From sleazy and partygoing to aggressive and cement heavy. These folks, are the best aspects of heavy metal music, and Metalized has everything.
Album rating: 95/100
Metalized proved successful with both critics and the audience, and as a result, the band got some very prestigious places in the billboards, supporting Metallica on their Master of Puppets tour as well as other acts like Metal Church and Alice Cooper. One of the band’s career highlights was supporting Motörhead during their Rock ‘n’ Roll tour in the UK, a venture that picked at London’s legendary Hammersmith Odeon and the result was the infamous Live Hammersmith recording, the band’s only official live release.
So after travelling the world and playing with the metal elite, the band returned to Quebec and got in the recordings of the sophomore album Sweet Dreams. So I have another question for you, why when referring to Sword, people often forget to mention the sequel?
Let’s start by establishing what Sweet Dreams is and what is not. As with Metalized, the answer is a very well thought out album, a product of careful and conscientious planning. The general aura of the album is modern and refined, by 1988 standards of course. Most people detest those words and even consider them derogatory, though the truth is that it’s simply a very natural artistic evolution. Sweet Dreams is not the speed/power metal roller coaster that the previous album was – it’s matured, slowed down, heavy metal, with lots of 70s proto-metal elements like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath to name a few. In order to understand this album, it is important to understand its chronological context and that in that time frame, the album would be considered a back to the roots release musically, with the said roots being the aforementioned 70s bands with a modern take in things like production and lyrics. Again, time perspective and context is important here when trying to understand what “modern” and “back to the roots” meant in 1988.
The ominous riff of the opening title track, with the equally sinister music progression, makes way for an ultra-speed solo, setting the stage for a great intro and painting a clear picture about what this album is about. The second track, called “ The Trouble Is”, on the other hand is a mid tempo, catchy metalized (no pun intended) hard rock song while the third track “Land of the Brave” is a song which could easily be included in the band’s debut, since it follows the same song progression and style. Back to the hard rock elements, “Back Off” and “Prepare to Die”, which follow immediately after, are great examples of what I mentioned in the prologue of this review: 70s hard rock compositions meet late 80s aesthetics.
“Caught in the Act” is one of the album’s heaviest songs which is highlighted by Rick Hughes’s performance and Mike Plant’s thrilling solo. “Until Death do us Part” is what I consider to be the only mediocre moment in these 2 albums by Sword, though it seems that the band wanted to experiment a bit while producing the album but the results turned out to be less than ideal. However, the outro links perfectly with “The Threat”, in which the experimentation works better, mainly because of the amazing riffwork.
“Life on the Edge” returns to this “partygoing” feeling that was abundant in band’s first album, and I can’t help but think that this is how you get to the same point that glam and hair metal bands get, though following the metal path instead, in a sense It’s like Accept’s Balls to the Walls.
To close it all out, Sword did the same trick again and put one of their best songs as the ending track of the album, “State of Shock” is one hell of a banger, a pumped up almost – Motörhead like song. It seems that no one meets Lemmy and stays unaffected.
This album suffers from a weird case of bad luck. It was released at a time that heavy metal was slowly fading from the spotlight, while it sounds modern enough to confuse the uninitiated, now that the 80s releases have become more easily accessible. I know that we tend to use the word “unappreciated” very lightly within the metal community, but Sweet Dreams fits the description perfectly, so do yourself a favor and check it out!
Album rating: 85/100
Interview with Rick Hughes
Marco: Take us back to the early steps of your career, how was the life for a rocker or a metalhead in Quebec in the 80s?
Rick: Well it was a cool time, but at the same time it was a rough time because my brother and I found Sword back in the early 80s and we lost our father who was a musician at a pretty young age – he was 29 years old- and my mom was a singer in his band. So my brother and I had to quit school pretty early in life so we could help our mom with everything. So that’s how I started music because I was 8, Dan was 10 so we quit school a couple of years after that to go to work. So our father when he died he left us some guitars, so I started playing when I was 14 years old, and at 15 we founded our first band and we started rehearsing in a house our mom had found for us in the woods of Quebec. So one day we met Mike Plant and Mike Larock, they were both like 17 – 18 years old and we offered them to come and jam with us with the woods (laughs) and they did, and the rest is history! We’ve been friends and brothers since.
Wow that’s an amazing story, I am sorry to hear about the early loss of your father…So what kind of music did he play? Was that also kinda rock oriented?
When we started playing we were doing only covers of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Deep Purple. That’s how I got my screams by the way. Lots of people are asking “how the hell do you hit those high notes” and I tell them “it’s because of my teacher – Ian Gillan” and they go “oh Ian Gillan that name sounds familiar” (laughs)
That’s awesome (laughs)
I was 16 and I had to belch out the notes like Ian Gillan, Brian Johnson, and Robert Plant, so what better teacher you can have than a strong will to sound like your idols (laughs)
Haha exactly, that will do it! So how was the transition from a cover band to a band that records their own albums?
I am going to talk about myself, but I think a lot of artists are gonna see themselves in what I am about to say. Lots of big inspiration comes from deep sufferance. So when you start in life and you have two strikes against you and you say “ No! I wanna be a rock star”, that’s what I want to do in life. Then fear leads you, then you become like a warrior. So as soon as the band became very tight and we start to have a following, i started to write songs on my own. Like a said, inspiration comes from deep suffering, so I started to write and tried to put it to the heads of my bandmates and told them “ if we really want to be like our idols, then we have to have our own material. (…) So around 1983-1984 Maiden came out and we really freaked out! Wow, we were really hooked on Maiden, on Sabbath and on everything these guys were doing, so that shaped the sound of Sword. So when metal became big we stopped playing at parties, and started writing our own material.
So we started recording songs for Metalized in 84-85, we got into the studio and we only had a few songs then and we paid with our own money, and it was a lot of money back then.and while we were at a studio, a guy – a rock and roll photographer- came and said there is a record company in Montreal that is looking for a band like you guys. So Aquarius Records came to the studio next day and offered us a deal.
That sounds very exciting, I think with Metalized you definitely achieved your goal there in sounding harder that your hard rock influences. So back in the early days do you recall your local scene that were up and comers in your area?
Well of course there was Voivod, we were close friends with them and we were doing the same shows, sometimes they would open for us and sometimes we open for them, depending on where we were in Quebec. But Voivod became more of a progressive metal band while Sword remained a traditional heavy metal band. So we did some shows together but as soon as they got their own sound and we got ours, we had to split because the crowd was different.
Yeah the line would make more sense that way. Do you recall any other bands that you enjoyed in your scene?
I think Sword and Voivod were the bands that “made it worldwide”. There were so many bands that I can’t recall their names.
Did you feel at that point you are transitioning to a new phase of your life as a musician?
Oh yeah! When we did Metalized, I was 24, my brother was 26, and we put everything we had into it.Even though we knew that we were influenced by Maiden and Black Sabbath, we wanted to be original, we were always looking for the “hook”. Take “F.T.W” for example, it’s traditional metal with a little bit of pop if you think about it. That’s what I love about old metal bands, that’s what we are still trying to do with the album we are working on right now, that hook that stays in your head. And there is always a message in every song that I try to write. I don’t want to be a preacher, but I know there are some people who are looking up to us so I want to make sure that I choose the right set of words in each song.
That totally makes sense. Metalized sounds perfect and it’s a timeless masterpiece. However, given your many years of experience since the first recordings, is there anything you would have done differently?
Hmm.You know back in those days, things were pretty hard; There was no internet so you could not do self promotion, you had to rely on record companies, and record companies are not artists, they are people who work in offices and who think about the money- and its ok, that’s their job. The artist’s job is to write a song that gonna touch people, that’s gonna be like a virus and spread around the world. So looking back I don’t think I would have changed a thing. Sword should have been bigger than it became, but back then, coming from Quebec it was really really hard. The bands that were getting all the attention were from either California or the UK, but for a Canadian band? Ooh man, that was hard to cross the frontiers back then. I think Sword is part of a myth:I talked with professional musicians in Heavy Montreal both in 2012 and 2018 when we played and people came to me and said” Man! You’re Rick Hughes! Metalized is one of my favorite all time albums! What are you doing here? – Well i said i am from Montreal so.. (laughs). I don’t want to sound pompous but we know that the album has this mysterious status, we only did two albums but both our albums were praised by the critics, we never got a bad critic on anything we did. When we do an album, we put everything and when we do a show its the same deal- when we go on stage we want to be 100% there for the fans. Let me tell you something, I’ve been recording music all my life and then i recorded plenty of other stuff. There is nothing like a metal fan, especially in traditional heavy metal..Man those guys are the best!
We absolutely agree with you Rick, and I don’t think you sound pompous at all, i think you should own it, here in Ride Into Glory we absolutely love Metalized and Sweet Dreams both albums are fantastic.
Thank you very much!
You talk about your live shows, thinking back fondly of playing for the fans, do you have any cool memories from live shows back in the day?
Well we toured with Metallica in their Master of Puppets tour! We were a bunch of guys who were enjoying our fame here in Quebec, everywhere we went everyone has heard of Metalized. So we were riding in our car and we had Master of Puppets blasting at 10, listening to the album on the loop, eating it like it was gourmet food (laughs), and then, one afternoon while we were rehearsing some new songs i get a phone call from the record company which said “ Rick are you sitting down?- I asked why- Cause we just got a call, Metallica are big fans of yours, and they want you to join their Master of Puppets tour” Can you Imagine?
So I said ”come again ?” and he said “ Listen, they are touring right now and they are listening to Metalized on the loop, i just talked with their manager” And that’s what we were doing in Quebec! We were listening to Master of Puppets, while they were listening to Metalized.
Imagine that! (laughs)
So how was the experience with Metallica?
It was amazing, because like I said, we became big fans of them with Master of Puppets. The first show we did with them, we were very excited, we were looking forward to meeting them, and to talk music, cause we were really passionate about music. So we were doing our soundcheck , we haven;t met them yet, I think we were doing “Where to Hide” and the guys from Metallica had just arrived and they are just walking towards the stage we were on, and they were standing there listening to us. So I look at the guys, and I stopped the song to go and meet them and James (Hetfield) screamed: “Finish the Song! Finish the Song(laughs). So i look back at the band and go “Three, Four” and we start playing from where we had left! So we finished the song and i said and the microphone “ End of soundcheck “(laugs). So we went with the guys in the dressing room, we talked about music for hours, and during the tour we became friends, those guys are the best, they truly are.
Let me tell you another story, when we toured with Lemmy. Remember when Motorhead released the album Rock and Roll?
We were on the same label back in the UK, so we did the UK tour with Motorhead- Lemmy was at his best man…That was like in ‘89. We became friends with Lemmy, he took us under his wing, so in between shows we would go and and hung out with him. So we’d be like in Scotland and he would go (imitates Lemmy’s voice) Hey guys, i know the best pub in Scotland, we would ask oh yeah Lemmy where? And then he went : After the show, after the show, i’ll take you after the show. Oh Man he was fucking amazing..Lemmy was the best…Then in 1992 i was in a convention where I met Dio and plenty of other artists, and i haven’t seen Lemmy in years. So there was some kind of commotion in the elevator, so I walked by to see what was happening, and it was Lemmy, coming out of the elevator and everybody wanted to talk to him. So he talked with all the guys in his left, then to his right and in front of him and then he sees me and he goes (imitates Lemmy’s voice) “Wait a minute, wait a minute” and he opens the crowd in front of him like Moses when he split the sea and he looks at me and everybody turns around to look at where he was looking and and everybody goes like “ who the hell is that” (laughs) and lemmy goes: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Rick Hughes, one of the best singers ever” I swear to god”, I almost cried when he said that..
Coming from Lemmy, that says a lot..
So he comes to me and he took me in his arms and i am thinking to myself “THAT is a real man”. One time i was in my dressing room with Lemmy and he says “ i like the lyrics of Stoned Again, i love when you say this and that” because you know everybody back then was doing drugs and getting drunk- well not all the time, and i say to him, “ My favorite song is Metropolis” he says “ what do you like about it “ and i told him this and that, and we discuss about the lyrics, so he goes back to his dressing room and comes back after 15 minutes later and he handed me the lyrics- he took a piece of paper and he wrote all the lyrics of Metropolis and then he says “ for Rick, from Lemmy”
Oh wow that’s amazing..
Yeah that’s amazing, he was a great guy.. He was the real deal.The made one like him and that’s it, he’s one in a billion.
So back in those days you played with Metallica, Motorhead, countless other bands, are you still in touch with those guys?
Well signed a deal with Combat records (owned by Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson) last year, and we started writing the songs for the long awaited third Sword album. We got offers from festival promoters from all around the world. It started to come in in 2010, we got offers to play in festivals in Germany, in Greece, in the States, so I called the guys who all god day jobs, and i said to them lets do these festivals and lets see afterwards what we want to do. So we did one festival in 2010, Heavy metal Montreal in 2012 and right after that we started to record some new songs. So last year, we were in the studio and we recorded 3 new songs with producer Glen Robinson (also a producer for Annihilator and Voivod) who is an academy award winner. A friend of mine who is a music critic said “ Man, this is better than anything you guys ever did, its fucking amazing” and he asked for our permission to give it to a friend of his to listen, and we said sure, and after 48 hours we got a record deal.
Wow you are definitely getting us excited for the third album.
It’s the same members- the same four guys and it’s the same sounds of Sword, its traditional heavy metal, with a little progressive touch here and there,the hooks are there,, the screams are there, Mike Plant’s guitarwork is totally amazing like it has always been, my brother Dan on the drums down to the beat, same thing with the bass and the rhythm section- it sounds truly amazing. Now because of the internet, we know that we have lots of fans out there and they got another thing coming, believe me, its the best sounds we ever written.
So are you guys thinking of playing more festivals abroad or domestically?
Yes. We want to release the album before the end of 2019, we recorded 3 songs, and we finished the pre-production of 4 more songs, so the album probably will come out in November or in December.
Some of the songs in your second album Sweet Dreams sound like Metalized, and some of the tracks took a bit of a different musical direction. How was songwriting or your second album compared to the first?
One thing that people don’t know about us is that we are big fans of Led Zeppelin. We all have different bands we love like Beatles or Alice Cooper or Motorhead but our no1 is Zeppelin. We grew up with them. If you think about Led Zeppelin’s I to Through the Out Door, they went through all kinds of music. They started as a heavy blues band, then in II became a heavy blues pop rock band, and in III you have songs like “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “Immigrant Song”. You see where i am getting at? For them music didn’t have a frontier. When they did Communication Breakdown they were flirting with heavy metal, and that was in 1969. And then they did “Stairway to Heaven” 5 years later, which is…like “Imagine” from John Lenon! The biggest song ever written. My point is we were influenced by them who did all kinds of music. That’s what we did with our second album, we followed the people we looked up to. Music evolves with time, and this is what will happen with the third Sword album. Ofcourse you’re gonna hear me sing and scream, but it will not sound like like the first two albums. Very few bands did the say thing album after album and worked for them.But these guys are the exception. If you think about it, all the bands who had a long career, their albums sound different. And it’s normal. As you age, your mind change, the way you speak change, so does your way of thinking. And this, as an artist, got to go into your work.
So how do you think you have changed in the last couple of decades, and how is that going to affect your new album?
I changed because I became a better man. I always was a good guy. But you know, the one thing that remains the same with all Sword albums is the drive. When we make a song we want to make an impact on people.When you write a song, you want to make sure it will sound good on the album as well as live because that’s where your fans meet you. We got so many messages from fans over the years,saying please come to Chicago, or Japan and now they know we have a third album on the way and probably a tour. Where the tour will take us?- I don’t know , we’ll see. One thing’s for sure- we will go where people want us.
What was the reason you decided to put Sword on hiatus?
We stopped at early 90s when metal became “too metal.”I have nothing against the people who love black, death, thrash metal, i mean, music is music. I love Johnny Cash and i love Ramstein. People expected from us to release a heavier album after Sweet Dreams. But like Zeppelin we were experimenting with a softer sound, but we knew that’s not what the fans wanted.That’s when decided to split, we didn’t want to become thrash or speed metal, so we stopped while we were on top. But because of the internet, the fans rekindled with us and we then we said life is a full circle and we are back where we were with the first album.
The internet has definitely been a game-changer, we see a lot of older bands coming back and a lot of interest in the old metal style. When did you start feeling interested in Sword and new interest in traditional styles?
When the internet became big, id say around 2006, we started getting requests here and there and we started check out stuff, we contacted record companies saying Do you want us? Cause we are getting a lot of mail.. (laughs) So they were like “come to the office and we will talk and so on, so if the fans are getting a third album, its mainly because of them. When we did a show in Montreal, it took one week to sold out. The place was on fire, everybody was singing the lyrics, everyone was freaking out so we said ”they really want a third album” (laughs). So we played 3 new songs on that show and we stayed afterwards and talked with the fans. We signed a couple of autographs and everyone was talking about the new songs.
So after the second Sword album, in the early 90s you had an album as Saints and Sinners which sounded a bit different than your previous material.
When Sword split, i was very active in Montreal because i was a “hired gun” for a lot of stuff.I did it all- TV shows, jingles- you name it. Like i said, Robert Plant was my idol and he’s one of the most versatile artists ever so that’s the way I run my career. I sung in blues bands, rock bands, french bands any kind of band.So a guy from the record company said “ Hey Rick, do you know that Aldo Nova is a fan of Sword? And I said wow i love him, and then he asks, do you want to meet him because he’d love to work with you and i said Yeah i want to meet him!. So the record company got me a meeting with Aldo Nova, we met, we wrote a couple of songs together and the record company heard that and said “ that’s amazing, let’s do an album. So Aldo Nova produced the album, we cowrote a song with Jon Bon Jovi so it was a great chance to work with him, so we released the album and we went on tour with Bon Jovi for a while but the grunge came along… So when grunge came along, it killed all the good hard rock bands in the planet, I don’t want to sound like that but it did, there is no other way to say it. So grunge became the sound of the man, and all hard rock bands put their cars in the garage and wait for the storm to pass, which did. But after the storm passed I was already doing something else, a TV show here in Quebec for 10 years which helped me to pay the rent and it was keeping my voice in good shape but when that stopped in 2010, I got to my brother and said we need to talk to Mike and Mike and do a couple of songs here and there and see what happens. So we offered the spot in Heavy Metal Monrteal and afterward other festival took and interest in us. So like in the 80s, I said to the guy “we will refuse all offers for festivals, because if we were to quit our jobs and travel the world we need a new album”, and that’s what we did.
So we mentioned the impact of the internet and the interest in the old school sounding heavy metal, and right now especially in the underground there’s the whole lots of bands that people are calling them NWOTHM, so how you would compare the period right now to the time you guys starting with Sword back in the 80s?
Well you know, music is music, there is only so much you can do. Like i said, i feel like the wheel has done a full circle right now, people are back to the roots. I mean my daughter and my son are in the 20s and they listen to Ozzy and Black Sabbath, to Maiden, to Sword! But they don’t listen to black dark metal, and like i said this is not a judgement, a lot of people do and thats perfect, but this generation of people are listening to mainstream heavy metal more than ever. So that help us going back to the studio and record new material, because if people were still into the dark,heavy,satanic metal, the car would still be in the garage (laughs).
So do you follow any newer bands?
Uhm i dont know what to say to that, i mean i am such a lover of music, in my hpne i got like 10000 songs and i play anything, from Frank Sinatra, new metal, old metal i love all types of music, i really do. Anything thats new and original, i like it. If there is a new heavy metal band that sounds like all the other bands, then i am gonna skip it. The same goes for hard rock bands. If there is a hard rock song with good vocals and a good hook ill listen to it,if its just another song that has no inspiration, then i am gonna skip it and apply that to all types of music.
Yeah i think originality always matters, no matter what genre your playing. So i think that wraps it up, thanks a lot for joining us and for your time Rick. Do you have anything else you want to say for all your fans out there?
I just want to say that I truly love them, and because of their love for us we are back! That’s the reason we are back, because they wanted us back. Because if they didn’t want us back we would never going to record a new album and I want to say thanks for that.