April 16th were a band squarely and 100% rooted in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene of the early ’80s. They liked to play hard, and they liked to play heavy. And on this evidence they were, bluntly speaking, bloody good at it.
Let me take a guess – you’ve never heard of April 16th? Right now 95% of people reading this have probably put up their hands, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. The ’70s in particular is littered with the corpses of bands who had the potential to be so much bigger, but just missed out for one reason or another (or often, several different ones), and April 16th are a prime example of the fact that the 1980s also produced its share of sadly overlooked talent. The aptly titled Epitaph contains all fourteen songs recorded by the band, so let’s have a look at it, and try to figure out what went wrong…
To begin with, April 16th were a band squarely and 100% rooted in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene of the early ’80s. They liked to play hard, and they liked to play heavy. And on this evidence they were, bluntly speaking, bloody good at it. Let me put their hugely exciting and enjoyable sound into context for a moment: if you were ever a metal fan who formed a band with some mates around that time, started rehearsing and maybe recorded a demo tape, you’ll remember The Moment – by which I mean the time in rehearsal when you ran through the material and just looked at each other in a shared acknowledgement of ‘That’s it! That’s the sound we were after!’, before wanting to play the stuff straight through again because it was just such a blast. If you could bottle the sound and the feeling of that moment, this CD would be as close as you would ever be likely to get to it. April 16th knew what they wanted to do and they did it. They had two guitars, ensuring a rock solid rhythm bed when the solo came in. They had bass and drums and a separate vocalist making up five. They didn’t have keyboards. They didn’t want acoustic guitars. Those things were fine in their place, and they probably loved a whole raft of bands using proggy keys, folk-influenced acoustic picking and the like. But they had no use for them in their own repertoire. They were April 16th, they rocked, and they were laser focused on that. Which is all part of what makes this such a great selection of stuff to listen to.
Ultimately, what might have done for the band was simple timing. Just like bands who appeared in 1972 playing psych-prog stuff that the Moody Blues were doing three years earlier found themselves in the kitchen at the metaphorical party, or bands who sprang up playing symphonic prog rock in 1976 couldn’t get a word written about them in the press, April 16th emerged on the scene in 1985. By that time seminal scene-defining albums such as Metal For Muthas were five years in the past, Maiden had got Bruce Dickinson in and had moved on to Powerslave and Egyptian epic metal, and Def Leppard had gone to America and begun taking a year to record an album. The exciting, raw. punk-metal ethos of the original NWOBHM had largely begun to burn out, and it was easy to become a victim of circumstance. Happily, the time is more ripe for the band’s material now as, at a remove of four decades, a few short years seems like nothing, and there are legions of fans who love the early albums by Maiden, Saxon, Angelwitch, Tygers Of Pan Tang or Diamond Head who will find this to be absolutely in their sonic wheelhouse – if they get to hear it, which they really should.
The 14 tracks here don’t contain a real clunker at all. Sure, you could probably pick four or five to lose and make a more streamlined, focused album, but that’s not what this is about. April 16th made one cassette album (a glorified demo, really), and one vinyl LP, and this collects all of that stuff, curated lovingly by the band’s guitarist Chris Harris (one of them, anyway, alongside the excellent Laurence Mills), and finally made available, as an ‘epitaph’ indeed, but one to celebrate. There are some real standouts here: Thursday’s Child, Midday Man, Clapham Wood, The Dealer and the band’s own ‘Free Bird’ of sorts, the riotous guitar showcase Survivor.
Listening to this album didn’t break down any musical barriers for me, and it certainly didn’t bring anything conceptually new to the table. But what it did do, in absolute spades, was to make me feel young again. Remember those ‘rock nights’ of the early ’80s, where the grand art of the air guitar was truly forged by people who loved that sort of thing without a hint of irony? Where the idea of a ‘floor filler’ was Highway Star, or Doctor Doctor, or Space Station Number 5? If you do, you’ll be transported back to those days in an instant from the moment the riff of the opening track She’s Mean grinds into view. Any of these tracks could have filled the dancefloor with embroidered denim jackets and Black Sabbath crosses – and the warm memory of those days puts a smile on my face, as does this album. I may be into my early sixties now, but listening to this I’m 21 again for an hour, and itching to form a band again. If you’re the wrong target audience this album will mean little to you – but if on the other hand you are one of those people with a slightly misspent youth full of denim. leather, electric guitars and a few pints, it might just make you very happy indeed.