Salem (sometimes also labeled Salem U.K. to distinguish themselves from the Israeli thrash band going by the same name) is a classic UK hard rock band that originally was considered to be part of the NWOBHM movement. But to me, they always were a bit more melodic compared to many of their contemporaries. In my opinion, the influences of Deep Purple and Rainbow shine through in the band’s current musical output whereas many of the NWOBHM drew a lot of influence and attitude from the punk movement. This special gift of writing a great hook or inventing an infectious vocal melody is something the band has always been equipped with. During the band’s first stint that lasted from the formative year of 1979 through to 1983, Salem recorded several demo tapes and one 7″ vinyl single in 1981. Salem has its origins in Kingston upon Hull (also home of the great Hair Metal Heaven festival by the way) on the east coast of England’s region of the Midlands. Originally the band was formed around the two Pauls, the former Ethel the Frog members, Paul Tognola (vocals and guitar) and Paul Conyers (drums) of which none remain in the band today. However, they soon recruited bass player Adrian Jenkinson and in early 1980 riff master Paul Macnamara joined the band – both which remain in the band today. In 1981 current singer Simon Saxby joined as a replacement for the stray Paul Tognola. Not long thereafter Paul Conyers also left and was replaced by another Paul (Mendham). There was still something missing in the Salem sound and the band added a second guitarist and (along with Paul Macnamara) chief songwriter in Mark Allison. The addition of Mark added depth and the twin harmonies to the sound.
The band gigged around the Hull area in particular and the UK in general, building a strong and loyal following. In March of 1983 Salem recorded its final demo tape which contained epic songs with their signature of powerful melodies – a legacy later carried on in the 21 st Century. Disillusioned with not getting enough label interest and/or a recording contract they went their separate ways. The saga could have ended there but fortunately, it does not. So when German label High Roller Records got in touch and asked if they could release all the joint recorded output on vinyl and CD in 2009 the band became aware that there was still a demand for Salem‘s music. All members had remained in the music business and played in different bands so the skill was still there. When Paul Macnamara uploaded the some of the band’s songs on Myspace the interest surprised him and the rest of the band. It was an easy decision to put the band back together again. The challenge was that now they were all living in different parts of the UK. The logistical challenge of songwriting, rehearsing and recording persists to this day with Paul in Bristol and Simon living in Kent.
After releasing two EPs on their own and making an appreciated appearance at Brofest in Newcastle in 2013, Salem got a deal with Pure Steel Records in Germany. Last year your Decibel Geek team attended a smoking performance at the pre-party of Brofest 2017 (read review here). They have put out two excellent albums in Forgotten Dreams (2013) and Dark Days (2015). Two albums with songs exceeding the former glory by far and promising a bright future. Having signed to Dissonance Records last year the third album after the reformation called Attrition is due on February 23rd. This is an appropriate album title and might be a sign of a band never giving up and continuing on despite not breaking big.
So does Attrition live up to the high expectations of yours truly? First of all, I have to say that the album is a natural development from the previous Dark Days into a slightly brighter future and this time the lyrical content seems to be a bit more positive compared to the heavy and sometimes depressing predecessor. You can instantly recognize that this is Salem as soon as you put the record into your CD player when Simon Saxby‘s signature vocals blast from the speakers. It strikes me after the first listening that the first part of the album is more melodic whereas the latter part is heavier and grittier. I don’t know if this is intentional but obvious to me from the very start. What stands out is the focused songwriting in songs such as “Black and White” and “I Am the One” which contain beautiful acoustic parts that progress into a heavy rock song. The slightly nasal voice of Simon Saxby blends with Paul‘s and Mark‘s riffs and together they were a match made in heaven. In the two songs mentioned above Simon puts on an impressive vocal performance hitting the higher notes that he too seldom does during the rest of the album.
All in all there is not one weak song on the album and honestly, it still is a mystery why the Frontiers Label still hasn’t secured these guys signature. It surely is melodic enough. It’s hard to get more melodic than this and the songwriting is top notch as mentioned before. There is a lot of diversity contained on this disc from the heavier songs on the album like the riff-monster that is “Warning Signs” or the more NWOBHM sounding “We R Godz” all the way to the AOR flavored chorus of “Taking Control”. We have not come so far into 2018 yet, but there is a great chance that this album will be in my top 10 albums of the year in the end. The performance from all musicians involved is nothing short of excellent. If I should say anything negative about it it would probably be that I have not yet found that infectious song that refuses to leave your head after spinning the album almost ten times. At least not yet at the same level as songs like “Forgotten Dreams”, “This Heart is Mine” or “Aftershock” from previous albums.
If you have not previously discovered Salem and are into classic British heavy rock with a melodic edge you should definitely pick up a copy of Attrition. I would rate the album to 8.5/10 Geeks and I hope to see the band out playing select festivals in the summer supporting Attrition. It’s a worthy addition to any metal fans collection. Get it!
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