Review Summary: Head On - apply directly to the CD player.
What's that you say? You want hard rock? You want the quintessential 80s sound? You want some damn fine instrumental performance? You want one of the best goddamn singers in the music world today giving a performance superior to what is considered by most to be his prime? You want some bastard who plays the drums with two sticks in each hand and stares at you frighteningly while wielding a hatchet on the album's cover?
With Samson's second album, Head On, you've got it.
This album is, essentially, Bruce Dickinson's first foray in to the serious world of music, and for all his freshman status, it doesn't show at all. Quite blatantly, Head On may even feature some of the greatest performances by "Bruce Bruce" throughout his career. Around a minute and a half into the final track of the album, "Kingsway Jam," he even manages to hit a note that seems to be gone from him by the time of Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" (spare, perhaps, some semblance of it towards the end of "Run to the Hills"). The album is filled with vocal sections that range from the straightforward and well expected but proficient to the hurried, fluctuating, and at times, almost out of place, as on "Kingsway Jam." But they are always, always interestingly, passionately, and energetically sung.
The overall sound of the album, as mentioned before, is rather cliche of the emerging hard rock and hair metal sound of the 80s. But somehow, in Samson, there just seems to be something more there. All of the choruses are catchy enough to hang in your mind for days, but not cheesy enough to make you scream "Get this crap out of here!"
Two tracks on the album also have a sort of interesting format in building a soundscape and larger, slower performance in order to immerse the listener - "Walking out on You" and "Kingsway Jam." While the latter, though fantastic through and through, seems to largely just be a fantastic almost 10 minute jam session (hence the name) recorded by the band and slapped onto the album, the former has a very rich, developed sound leading in with ghostly whispers to the sound of a thumping bass for about a solid minute until Thunderstick and Paul Samson boom in and Dickinson cries out "Walking out on you!" before delving back into the slow, steady groove and transitioning back into the quicker and slower paces creating a musical flux laced with emotion.
The rest of the tracks, ranging from pop-y to the border of metal territory, give the listener a varied, but enjoyable musical experience. "Hammerhead" feels like a precursor to a Power Metal epic, while tunes like "Angel With a Machine Gun" is a pure joy hard rock fantasy. But through and through, there simply isn't a losing track on this album. If there were to be any downfall to Head On, it would, possibly, be the fact that "Thunderburst" also happens to be the Iron Maiden song "The Ides of March." This is due to the track being cowritten by Paul Samson and Steve Harris, and yes, it works better as an opener than an interlude and sounds a lot better as performed by Iron Maiden (though I give Thunderstick the edge over Clive Burr on that track, personally).
Whether you're looking to re-examine your rock roots or if you're just looking for a great album to listen to around home, the office, or the car (this is GREAT driving music), Samson's Head On is for you.
Take it Like a Man
Angel With a Machine Gun