Produced & Recorded by Guy Forrester at Linden Studio in Cumbria, United Kingdom
Mixed by Guy Forrester & Hammerhead
Mastered by Patrick W. Engel' at Temple Of Disharmony
Album Artwork, Logo & Design © by Alexander von Wieding
Cumbria’s Hammerhead were one of the most talented outfits to evolve from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement of the late 1970s. They came together at the turn of the decade after the demise of various small-time acts such as Judas, Bitter Harvest and 8 Hertz.
After a few tentative appearances on the regional club scene in the early days, the group first came to public attention via a well-received demo tape. Although their signature tune “Time Will Tell” gathered some very encouraging local response, labels like Neat, Heavy Metal Records or Guardian never got in contact with the band. Instead Hammerhead opted to issue a self-financed 7” single on their own Linden Sounds label in 1981, pairing the already popular “Time Will Tell” with the more restrained “Lonely Man” on the flipside. However, not being able to secure that illusive record deal, the original band split up around 1986.
When Hammerhead reformed in 2005, they quickly issued their first studio album »Headonizm«, followed by the critically acclaimed »The Sin Eater« in 2015. The same line-up of Tony Steel on drums and percussion, Steven Woods (Pecker) on vocals, Steve Archer on bass, plus Brian Hodgson and Buzz Elliott on guitars has now recorded »Lords Of The Sun«. “It has been a long time in the making,” comments founding member Buzz Elliott, “and there are a number of reasons for that, which I will explain later. We began writing some of the material soon after the release of »The Sin Eater« album in 2015, initially it was Steve Archer bringing ideas to me and we would mess around with acoustic guitars and start to work out the arrangements etc. We concentrated on the title track ‘Lords Of The Sun’ to begin with. I was keen to get this song recorded but I made the mistake of booking us into the studio before we were ready and our first attempt just wasn’t good enough, so we had to scrap those recordings and start all over again.
It took a long time fine tuning all the segments of the song and fitting them together, so that it moved smoothly from one section to the next. The whole thing really began to take shape once our drummer Tony absorbed the arrangement of the various parts of the song. Once he knew what he intended to play in each section and how the sections would all flow into each other, it all began to gel together. His drumming throughout this track and the rest of the album is outstanding and just how I Steve and I imagined it, we couldn’t have asked for more to be honest.
We decided to complete the writing and recording of the title track from start to finish before moving on to the task of recording the three other shorter songs, which were still in their basic demo form at that point.”
“The album was recorded over several sporadic visits to ’Linden Studio’ which is run by our producer Guy Forrester,” continues Buzz. “The money we got from »The Sin Eater« (an anthology album released by High Roller Records in 2021) plus a handful of local gigs helped to keep the Hammerhead bank balance topped up to keep funding the project. Time kept passing, a few years in fact, but eventually we completed the whole song ’Lords Of The Sun’ and finalized the mixing of it. Eventually the time came to get enough material together to make up a full album. I was aware from talking to fans of the band on the internet that many people seemed to want shorter faster songs, so Steve and I made this our mission. With a 24 minute song already complete and ready, we needed at least three good shorter songs, the two that Steve brought to me were ‘Waiting For The Daisies’ and ‘Faithful Heart’, and I had ’Crimson Tide’ in its basic form. At this point our usual process is that Steve and I will sit down with acoustic guitars, and he will talk me through the structure he has in mind, he usually has most of the words done, but this time a lot of the lyrics on the album have been contributed by our singer Steve Woods who was keen to be involved with that side of things. While I am getting to grips with the idea of the songs sometimes things may change a little if I have an idea or a suggestion, between us Steve and I try to work out what’s the best arrangement for the song. Once Steve has gone, I then use my home studio to make a very basic demo of the song, these demos are then passed out to the band, so that everyone can now hear the full idea for the song. At this stage things can still change, ‘Pecker’ may have his own ideas for lyrical changes, and our drummer Tony will start to formulate what he is going to play throughout the different sections. Once everyone is familiar with the arrangement and has an idea of what they are going to contribute, the first rehearsals will take place and eventually the song will be honed into shape using everyone’s input. The rest of the band’s input during the whole of this project has made such a difference to the finished songs compared to the original ideas that Steve and I feel it is appropriate this time to include everyone’s names in the writing credits of all these songs because of how much they have evolved during the writing process.”
This all sounds very promising. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to hear that »Lords Of The Sun« was actually announced as the band’s farewell album. “I can’t see us doing another full album to be honest,” confirms the guitarist, “but nothing is set in stone and we do have a couple of other songs lying around. We have tried our hardest to make this album as good as it can be and hopefully better than »The Sin Eater« album. We have tried not to include any ‘album filler’ tracks on this one, each track being worthy of its place, and also because it could be our last one, we wanted to maintain a high standard in both the song writing and also the production values. I hope that we have managed to achieve that, it remains to be seen what the fans and the critics think about it.
I do hope that we can continue to play in some shape or form for a while yet, and personally I would like to get over to mainland Europe for some gigs. It’s always great fun in the recording studio, so that is something that I would continue to do, regardless of what happens with the band.”
Let’s come to the songs on »Lords Of The Sun« in more detail, the opening number “Waiting For The Daisies” is bona fide NWOBHM, the sound Hammerhead have always been known for, a fantastic number.” Steve Archer brought that song to the table almost complete,” explains Buzz Elliott. “There are a few quirky things behind the writing of that song. One thing that happened when we got together was that Steve was trying to explain to me how he wanted me to play a certain guitar part over the top of the riff. I completely misunderstood what he meant but played what I thought he meant (in the wrong place), by a twist of fate whatever I did sounded really cool, so we decided to leave it that way. The initial idea for the song sprang from Steve calling to see Brian early one morning, Brian was sitting in the garden, Steve said ‘what are you doing?’ and he replied ‘I’m waiting for the daisies to come up before I cut the grass’. Steve said ‘there’s a song in that statement’ and made a mental note of it. This became the inspiration for the lyrics which are a kind of metaphor, comparing the mundane routine task of cutting the lawn to a constant war or endless battle.”
The singing on this song is also great, very dynamic... “As a vocalist ‘Pecker’ has really come on in leaps and bounds (literally) over the years,” agrees Buzz, “to become a strong and confident singer. He’s also a very active front man, so seeing Hammerhead live with him at the helm is a much more enjoyable experience than how things were before he joined. He always has the audience in the palm of his hand, and then plies them with free Hammerhead whisky! You can’t help but like him … but it’s only a matter of time before he falls off a lighting rig or the PA columns; he’s had a few close calls already!”
The second number, however, is much more epic, we are talking about the title track “Lords Of The Sun” here, of which the Hammerhead main man says: ”Soon after the »The Sin Eater« album came out in 2015, Steve Archer and myself began getting together to write more material for another album. Steve had several song ideas already, but one song in particular, ‘Lords Of The Sun’, just kept growing and growing as we kept throwing more and more ideas into the mix. At some point we decided to try and make it just the right length to fill one side of a vinyl album which ideally is around 22 minutes, (although I think it ended up being nearer 24 minutes!). Despite being a long concept piece, it twists and turns through many musical styles, so hopefully it doesn’t become boring to the listener, that’s what we hope anyway!
It has been a very long process to write and record this particular song, and to get it to the standard that we wanted. We persevered over time, writing, tweaking, and practising the track ‘Lords Of The Sun’, until we felt confident enough to take on the task in the studio again. We also managed to try it out live a few times which definitely helped sort out the arrangement before returning to the studio to complete it all. It wasn’t easy but eventually it all came together very well.
Lyrically it is loosely based around ancient battles such as the Siege of Tyre, and the futility of how differing religious beliefs often seem to trigger these mindless wars, also the lies that are told to the poor souls who are forced to fight in these senseless battles from which they will almost certainly never return. Sadly it’s a theme that runs throughout history and still continues to this day.”
Were there any specific musical (or lyrical) influences for ‘Lords Of The Sun’? I think of Wishbone Ash’s ‘Argus’ for example, or ‘Heroes, Saints And Fools’ by Saracen? Elliott nods: “All the great classic rock bands throughout the ‘70s are influences, and just like them we try to focus on good melodies to keep the music accessible, but we also have our heavy moments and also a sprinkling of proggy elements in there too.
The lyrics throughout the whole of this album tend to have a war theme to them. I don’t know why that happens but it just seems to always work out that way. I guess those themes tend to suit heavy metal music in general, so even when we are singing about daisies, it’s still about war really (laughs). As far as our musical tastes are concerned, we all like lots of different styles. The two Steves are the rockers, Tony and Brian like all kinds of stuff, and I’m the total prog-head of the gang, so all these influences play a part in what we create as a band.”
“I’ve talked this through with Steve Archer and we both agree that this album is more of a team effort,” describes Buzz Elliott the main difference between the last album and »Lords Of The Sun«. “Everyone has contributed more and given their best. There were some good songs which we are very proud of on »The Sin Eater«, the title track and ‘Angels Fall’ for example. On a personal level I consider my quirky song ‘Psilocybin’ to be my most fulfilling moment as a song writer, even though it sounds nothing like Hammerhead, but on »Lords Of The Sun« we have tried to keep the bar high throughout with no weak spots, others may not agree but we think that this time we have achieved our goal and we are happy with the results.”
One thing that has definitely not changed is the guitar tone on the album, says the six-stringer: “Both Brian and myself try to get the best tone we can from our gear. At times we are very similar in style, but we can also be very different. Brian has always had the knack of getting a massive full sound out of anything he plugs into. I’m sure he could still get a great tone if he plugged into a biscuit tin!
Much of Brian’s lead playing sounds like it’s just rolled off the end of Dave Gilmour’s guitar neck, slow and soulful with a gorgeous tone and feel. A lot of his contributions to this album were improvised on the spot. I also like improvising but sometimes the solos need to be structured. When I was younger, I was influenced a great deal by Ritchie Blackmore. I loved things like ‘Highway Star’ because the solo has been thought about and has structure to it and melody. My solo in ‘The Sin Eater’ was written with these values in mind, and there are more examples of my same thought process on this new album. Most of my solos on this album have been written and would be played almost the same in a live situation, apart from ‘Crimson Tide’. Brian and I both play improvised solos on that one. This was an intentional decision, therefore each time we do it live, it will always be different to the studio version.”
There are some rather oriental-sounding guitar parts on the album as well, who was responsible for these? “Yes, that is my fault I’m afraid,” laughs Buzz. “I have a bit of a thing about those Middle Eastern style scales. I find them infectious and irresistible, and once again it comes from listening to Ritchie Blackmore for most of my life. Ritchie was the first person that I heard doing that kind of thing, blending Eastern scales with Western style rock music, songs like Rainbow’s ‘Gates Of Babylon’ and also Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. It all sounds mystical and magical to me, and it just seemed natural and appropriate for me to include some of that style of playing into »Lords Of The Sun«.”
Apart from shades of Rainbow and Led Zeppelin in the guitar department, »Lords Of The Sun« is sounding pretty dark in parts, with a certain Sabbath feel, and in other parts it’s quite dream-like, a bit Pink Floydish even. “Yes, I would say that is a fair synopsis,” says the guitarist. “Black Sabbath are probably our biggest influence. Especially if you hear us live, everything gets pretty loud and heavy compared to the records we make, but there is also the softer side of the band that can be more Floydian at times, especially when Brian is on form and starts to channel his inner Gilmour!”
Which brings us to the use of different keyboard sounds throughout the record, that’s a bit of a change for Hammerhead, isn’t it? “I’m glad you noticed that,” begins Buzz Elliott to bring the interview to an end. “If it was up to me, there would be even more use of keyboards, even solos. I dream of getting a keyboard solo one day, but the lads keep a tight leash on my where this is concerned, so I usually end up just adding a few bits and pieces here and there to hopefully enhance the atmosphere of the songs where it is needed. My early demos often feature more prominent keyboard sounds, and I’m quickly told ‘you can cut that out!’ (laughs). I don’t mind, Hammerhead is a team and we all respect each others wishes and opinions where possible. At the end of the day we are more of a dual guitar orientated band with a certain signature sound, so it’s probably best kept that way. Look what happened when I was let loose with ‘Psilocybin’. I went totally mental with Mellotron, Hammond, Piano, Synths, noise generators, musical box, and even Tubular Bells! Everything I could think of went into that one, and it sounded wonderful to me, but as I said earlier; nothing at all like Hammerhead. The lads raised their game and did a remarkable job helping me to create that one!”