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Silver Mountain album reviews “Shakin’ Brains” and “Universe”

Silver Mountain band

Silver Mountain is often overlooked and almost forgotten, even though they are one of the great Scandinavian cult bands of the early 80’s.  They actually played a crucial role in the evolution of neo-classical metal, which later became popularized by artists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Marty Friedman, and Jason Becker.

Named after the famous song by Rainbow, Silver Mountain was formed in Malmö, Sweden in 1978 by Jonas Hansson (vocalist / guitarist) and a group of local musicians.   Different musicians came and went (including Yngwie Malmsteen, apparently) and it was not until around 1980 that the band had a semi-stable line-up that included bassist Per Stadin and the now-famous Johansson brothers, Jens (keyboards) and Anders (drums).   

In 1982 this line-up was signed by Dutch indie label Roadrunner Records.  In 1983 the band released their first album “Shakin’ Brains,” which despite its unpolished production was clearly a unique record and made the band plenty of fans in the metal underground at the time.  Instead of the then-typical American and British hard rock approach (i.e., blues-based, 2-note power chord riffs anchored by a root note), this album weaved classical song-structures with intricate, speedy NWOBHM riffs.  There were plenty of gloriously melodic, dueling guitar-and-keyboard passages that showed us just what this combination of styles was capable of within a context of heavy, virtuosic playing.

Metal Blade Records obtained the rights to distribute “Shakin’ Brains” in the U.S. market in 1984, when the underground classic metal scene was exploding, and thrash metal had not taken over yet.  I remember hearing this record and finding it very refreshing and unique, even though the vocals were rough and one of the songs (“Necrosexual Killer”) had the kind of disturbing lyrics and subject matter that were not yet common in metal.  But over the years I found myself returning to this album again, always marveling at how well the ideas were put together, and how memorable and interesting the songs were.  

There were other heavy metal bands & artists early on who used classical melodies in their music, from Deep Purple & Rainbow, Uli Jon Roth and Randy Rhoads to Europe, Accept, 220 Volt, Universe, and others  But based on my memories and research, almost none combined classical and metal with the kind of raw attitude and aggression that Silver Mountain did prior to and on “Shakin’ Brains,” at least until Yngwie Malmsteen showed up with Rising Force.  In that sense Silver Mountain was the true precursor to what later became known as neo-classical metal.

After “Shakin’ Brains,” Silver Mountain released 3 more albums before their first official break-up: “Universe” (1985), “Hibiya – Live In Japan” (1986), and “Roses & Champagne” (1988).  By the time they recorded “Universe,” the Johansson brothers had jumped ship to Yngwie’s Rising Force.  The band was now Hansson, Stadin, original drummer Mårten Hedener, keyboardist Erik Björn Nielsen, and a new singer and frontman, Christer Mentzer (Norden Light)

After “Roses & Champagne,” the band members went their separate ways, and engaged in other musical endeavors.  However, by 2001, all four members of the “classic” line-up from “Shakin’ Brains” got back together and recorded “Breakin’ Chains” (2001), a very worthy record.   They were heard from again in 2015 with the release of “Before The Storm,” a great collection of their early demos from 1980. 

“Shakin’ Brains” and “Universe” are widely considered to be Silver Mountain’s best works, and it is not hard to see why.  Beneath the sometimes-rough production are some fantastic songs and memorably melodic instrumental passages.  

“Shakin’ Brains” should interest anyone who appreciates neo-classical metal with good song-craft.  It is a musically remarkable record where classical passages merge effortlessly with riffs that at times verge on speed metal (“Aftermath” “Vikings,” and “Necrosexual Killer”).  There is a keen sense of Deep Purple, early Rainbow, and Uriah Heep in songs like “Destruction Song,” “Spring Maiden,” “Keep On Keepin’ On,” and “Looking For You.”  On the softer side, “King Of The Sea” is a baroque-sounding ballad with a soaring guitar solo.   Lyrically, we have often peculiar, sometimes cryptic tales of marauding Vikings, evil tyrants, violence, fantasy, life struggles, and love.   While not perfect, “Shakin’ Brains” nonetheless remains a vibrant, musically ambitious record to this day.

“Universe” is a more polished offering than “Shakin’ Brains,” and sees the band slowing down the tempo while still retaining that strong neo-classical flavor.   New vocalist Christer Mentzer has a smoother delivery than Jonas Hansson, but they do sound similar.   The material here is a bit more commercial and varied than on the previous record, while retaining the band’s penchant for strong melodies and songcraft.  One noticeable difference is that there are fewer guitar and keyboard duals than before.  This is likely due to the absence of Jens Johansson and the fact that his replacement Erik Björn Nielsen was a session player and not a full band member.   

There are still some beautiful keyboard passages, and at least 3 speedier numbers (“Call Of The Lords,“Help Me,” and instrumental “Niagara”).   The best songs here are Too Late,” “Help Me,” “Why,” “Handled Roughly,” and the title track.  Lyrically, the fantasy tales of Vikings and kings are gone, and in their place are more basic life-and-death struggles, questions about eternity and the afterlife, and at least one bizarre and perplexing “plea” to the devil.   Overall, “Universe” is a consistent album and is a worthy follow-up to “Shakin’ Brains,” despite its more refined approach.

As far as I can tell, neither of these reissues were remastered or remixed, although they sound fine as-is.  There may have been some touching up here or there, but they sound much as I remember them from decades ago.

One of the best qualities of Silver Mountain is their courageous and confident songwriting.  The songs never become just vehicles for instrumental showboating.  If you like 80’s neo-classical metal or just that classic Swedish heavy metal sound, these two albums should be considered highlights worth revisiting. 

Reviews by Banyon G.

Banyon’s rating: Shakin’ Brains – 9/10 — Universe – 8.25/10

SILVER MOUNTAIN Shakin Brains album

01 1789 4:02
02 Aftermath 4:12
03 Always 4:17
04 Necrosexual Killer 3:48
05 Destruction Song 3:28
06 Vikings 4:00
07 Looking For You 3:55
08 Spring Maiden 3:56
09 King Of The Sea 3:44
10 Keep On Keepin’ On 4:18

SILVER MOUNTAIN Universe

01 Shakin’ Brains 4:16
02 Universe 4:18
03 Call Of The Lords 3:30
04 Handled Roughly 6:53
05 Why 4:17
06 Help Me 3:05
07 Walking In The Shadow 3:26
08 Too Late 5:19
09 Niagara 1:46

MORE INFO:
www.helterskelterproductions.se
www.facebook.com/helterskelterproductions
www.regainrecords.bandcamp.com 

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