The Plague, Jan 2000
by Daniel Hinds
When the NWOBHM is mentioned, most people think of Diamond Head, Iron Maiden, Saxon or a slew of others, yet few think of Demon, one of England's finest rock acts of the 80s. Perhaps it was because their style never really fit with those other bands, particularly when they headed into uncharted prog-rock territory on their third album, The Plague (the inspiration for the name of this here 'zine, BTW!).
This 'best of' collection attempts to cover the band's entire career (which is still fully in progress, I might add), taking tracks from nine different albums that span 11 years. While I would question the wisdom of trying to encompass their entire career (noting especially the lack of certain vital tracks like "Fever in the City"), this is only volume one. So, many of the gaps will no doubt be filled with volume two (and maybe three...?)
Going in chronological order, we start off with arguably the two best songs from their debut ("Night of the Demon" and "Into the Nightmare"), followed by the three best tunes from The Unexpected Guest ("Don't Break the Circle," "The Spell" and "Sign of a Madman"). These two albums are good companion pieces, as they have a similar style and are markedly different from everything that came later on. The songs are based on pretty straight-forward, chugga-chugga metal riffs, but are given a great deal of character and depth thanks to Dave Hill's rich and unique vocals, not to mention some great lead work.
The third album, The Plague, is considered by many (well, me anyway) to be the pinnacle of their artistic achievement. A very sublime concept record, the band integrated a great deal more keyboards and progressive-rock elements into their sound. Every track on the album is a classic, with only "The Plague" and "Blackheath (parts 1 & 2)" appearing here. From here, the band managed to create another even more involved concept album, British Standard Approved, as their sound mellowed and expanded even more. Only one song (the excellent "Touching the Ice") appears here, showcasing the band's increasingly deft use of keyboards and melody. This was sadly the last album that main songwriter guitarist Mal Spooner would appear on, as he died a mere week after it was completed.
Fortunately, the band carried on, though perhaps in a slightly simpler, poppier direction. Heart of Our Time may not have been on the same level as the two previous records, but it still showed that Demon could deliver. Keyboardist Steve Watts took over Mal's songwriting duties and did an admirable job of it. Breakout, the next record, brought back some of the edge from The Plague days and two of its best cuts, "Life on the Wire" and "Hurricane" appearing here. Taking the World by Storm was a bit of a let-down as a follow-up to Breakout, but it did possess the beautiful nine-minute epic "Remembrance Day (A Song For Peace)," which was wisely chosen to represent the album here. Demon's music has always had a very distinctive British sound to it and that is particularly evident on this one.
I'm less familiar with the band's last two studio releases, Hold On To the Dream and Blow-Out, but the three final tracks taken from them show the band coming full circle. "No More Hell on Earth" follows a similar style to the other latter-day releases, while "The Lion's Share" features a great deal of the aggression and guitar pyrotechnics of the first two albums. "Visions of the Future II" has a somewhat spaced-out feel to it that is like a new chapter in the book of Demon. It has some of the prog-rock feel of the middle albums, but with a more involved arrangement and some of the heaviest guitar parts they've ever done.
It goes without saying that Demon is one of rock/metal's most underrated bands, but hopefully they will start getting their due now. Word has it that the entire back catalog will be remastered and reissued next Spring. Until then, grab a copy of this disc, figure out which era you like the most, and then go and buy the remasters when they are available.