Thursday 22 September 2022

Nazareth - Surviving the Law (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 15 Apr 2022
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I've heard a lot of albums lately by bands who were important in the seventies. I've heard a lot of albums too by bands who weren't even born in the seventies but have been drawn back to that era of music, some even putting out material that sounds like it could have been released back then. I don't have to let you know that Nazareth were important in the seventies, with ten albums in nine years that included Razamanaz and Hair of the Dog, and many of the songs on this, their twenty-fifth studio album, feel like seventies songs, but it's also contemporary in feel, as if they've heard what AC/DC have done lately and channelled their own sound into that direction.

Pete Agnew is the sole surviving member from the fundamental core line-up that ran unchanged, only added to, from 1968 to 1990. He's the bassist and he's been with the band all the way through. Original drummer Darrell Sweet died in 1999 and original guitarist Manny Charlton this year. The highly recognisable original vocalist, Dan McCafferty, retired from the band in 2013 because of ill health, though he did release a solo album in 2019 called Last Testament that I happily reviewed.

Nowadays, the drummer is Lee Agnew, Pete's son, who took over when Sweet died, and he dishes out a solid beat, utterly reliable and agreeably high in the mix to bolster that contemporary edge. He works closely with his dad, with the beginning of Better Leave It Out a perfect example of how they're the bedrock of this band. The guitarist is Jimmy Murrison, as he's been since 1994, and his guitar is often simple but effective, Better Leave It Out a good example of him being a little more dynamic. Much of the time, he's bolstering the beat with a straightforward riff that refuses to be ignored, just like Angus Young's riffs for AC/DC.

Carl Sentance didn't replace McCafferty directly, because Linton Osborne held that spot down for a little while in 2014 and 2015, but he quickly established himself as the new voice of the band. As a massively experienced singer in both hard rock and heavy metal, singing for bands like Krokus and Persian Risk, he has all the chops needed to do the job. What he brings beyond that is character, an important aspect for Nazareth who don't only write good rock songs, they write characterful ones with surprising hooks from glam rock and even pop music.

As such, a song like You Gotta Pass It Around can have a driving hard rock back end and a powerful hard rock vocal but also a catchy as hell and rather dominant backing vocal that makes us picture the band in bellbottom jeans on Top of the Pops. Even more obviously, a song like Runaway brings them all the way back to the Sweet and the Ram Jam Band. This may not end up quite as iconic as Ballroom Blitz or Black Betty, but it does the same sort of job and deserves to be heard by a more mainstream audience who might baulk at hard rock but happily see chart glam rock as pop music.

And so it goes. As the fourteen songs ran past me, I found myself constantly reminded of how this band work in two completely different eras. Most of these songs are mid-pace, Runaway flurrying along at an atypically fast tempo, but they're agreeably heavy in that old Deep Purple way, with a mere four piece sounding much denser than they have any right to do. The bass is high in the mix, as an easily located instrument in the band's sound rather than a general thing with everything at the lower end amped up on the desk. This is a hard rock band of the old school who don't just want to be relevant, they want to be heavy in an era when there are a lot heavier sounds out there than hard rock. Most of them don't feel this loud.

Yet their melodies are paramount and ones that would have flown into the charts back in the glam rock era. And everything is melody, not just the choruses. Sentence finds a way to channel both his predecessor in the band, who could croon and belt in the same song, and Bruce Dickinson, perhaps most overtly on Let the Whiskey Flow. He takes the band firmly into heavy metal at points, but to old school glam rock and even pop music at points too. Ciggies and Booze feels like it ought to have been a mainstay on many a pub jukebox in the mid seventies.

And we can't forget the impact of Jimmy Murrison, who generates strong riffs, repetitive ones for sure but catchy ones that drill their way into our heads. He doesn't generate Diamond Head style riffs that keep on evolving majestically as songs progress; these are more like AC/DC riffs that do nothing fancy but establish themselves immediately and continue to bludgeon us until we simply can't not hum them on our way to the bathroom. After a single listen.

Most importantly for a metalhead in 2022 wondering if he should pick up an album by a hard rock band who were formed in 1968 before his parents were born, every track is in your face until You Made Me at the very tail end of the album and that's hardly a ballad. Sure, it's laid back, with the guitar taking a break so that the seventies organ can take over, but it's no ballad. Even when they get soft, Nazareth still kick ass and it's been four years now since their 50th Anniversary Tour.

This band is older than I am and I have an adult grandchild. They have no business being this strong and heavy but, damn, I'm so happy that they're still turning out quality material like this to show up a lot of the kids who think they have it all. Quite frankly, I wonder who has the balls to tour with them because it feels like they're going to blow anyone off stage right now. Now, let me turn this up again and blast the neighbourhood.

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