Cloven Hoof – ‘Cloven Hoof’ (DISS060CDD)
Originally released on Neat Records, NEAT 1013, 1984
With a self-pressed EP ‘The Opening Ritual’ and an exciting session for Radio One’s ‘The Friday Rock Show’ already in the bag – bassist Lee Payne reckons it was hearing Tommy Vance broadcast the four tracks in June 1983 that interested Neat’s head honcho David Wood in the band – Cloven Hoof made the trek from their Midlands’ home to Tyne & Wear to record their debut album for Neat Records.
The quartet had already set themselves aside from the pack by adopting an elemental image and going under the stage names of Earth (Kevin Pountney – drums), Air (Lee Payne – bass), Fire (Steve Rounds – guitar) and Water (David Potter – vocals). Picking up on the outfits and a touch of Max Factor, many commentators assumed that Cloven Hoof were glamster hamsters, but in fact they were cut firmly from the NWOBHM cloth and heavy as a gravedigger’s lunchbox. Creating an image-based band had been Payne’s concept from the off. “I hit on the idea of the four elements personified by the band members in the first instance, because in witchcraft the magic circle is guarded by the spirits of the watch towers of the south, east, west, and north, and these all have an allotted element – fire, water, earth and air respectively. The sound of the instruments could also lend itself to this notion, the thunder of the bass, the earthquake of the drums, creative flowing melody of the vocals and red hot guitar playing. Everyone is born under a star sign and these have the elements attributed to them also. Strangely enough each of the band members at the time matched their zodiac glyphs perfectly. I was Gemini so I was Air, Steve was Sagittarius so he was Fire, Kevin was Taurus and that was Earth and Dave was Pisces – it was uncanny that everything seemed to fit perfectly! A logical conclusion to the concept lent itself perfectly to a comic book treatment. Each character would have suitable super powers and hold sway over the creatures associated with it. The scope seemed endless, and was a marketing dream. I even came up with a story line to suggest how four ordinary musicians came to acquire the power of the elements.”
The album took just one cut from the band’s debut EP – ‘The Gates Of Gehenna’ – as well as three favorites from the Tommy Vance session – ‘Crack The Whip’, ‘Laying Down The Law’ and the epic ‘Return Of The Passover’ which, re-recorded at Neat’s Impulse Studios, would make up the album’s second side. The band were impressed to be at Impulse – “that was where Venom and Raven had made their albums too” – but the Midlanders had a slight linguistic problem with producer Keith Nichol. “He had a thick Geordie accent, so we couldn’t understand a word he said,” Payne laughs. “We told him of all the strange supernatural stuff that had surrounded the band because of our title track ‘Cloven Hoof’. It contained an actual witch’s rune, and strange things had happened when we played that song. He said it was all a load of mumbo jumbo, and then the mixing desk refused to work along with other equipment and in the end the band had to go back home for a week while things were fixed. You’ve guessed it: the first track we were recording was ‘Cloven Hoof’!
“I guess we were amongst the pioneers of black metal,” Payne continues. “I was very interested in the occult and that kind of subject matter. But I have experienced enough spooky scenarios surrounding this band to say to any impressionable fans reading this here and now: leave the occult well alone!”
Cast the image to the four winds though and you’ll discover that ‘Cloven Hoof’ is a solid, strong, pure British metal thoroughbred. The band rarely used the familiar verse-chorus-solo-end pattern, relying instead on multiple time changes, belligerent riffs and florid soloing. Had a major picked them up – and Payne recalls that CBS had been interested – the world could have been their oyster. But thirty-five years after its release, ‘Cloven Hoof’ still stands its ground and, despite many line-up changes along the way, the band are still a hard-working outfit to this day.
“Cloven Hoof had outlandish costumes, but we had prodigious musical ability for mere eighteen-year-olds,” says Payne, “and an outrageous image did not cover up shoddy music either, as is the case for most bands of that ilk. Hoof songs were multi-time change tours-de-force and the European rock media understood that from day one. Some say you are never a prophet in your own land, and maybe that’s true, but we certainly had an amazing hardcore following throughout the rest of the world. Now we have a type of legendary status and that is humbling and very flattering to say the least.”
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