With the mighty Cloven Hoof High Roller Records is proud to welcome another legendary N.W.O.B.H.M. band to its ever growing roster. Cloven Hoof carved their name into heavy metal history with their self-financed debut EP and the following first longplayer for Neat Records. The band is still going strong today and have taken festivals like Keep It True, Brit'sh Steel or Headbangers Open Air by storm several times. However, not all of the group's albums have received the same amount of attention. Take "A Sultan's Ransom" for example, in my book the record has remained an overlooked classic up until the present day. The album was originally released on FM Revolver Records (a subdivision of Heavy Metal Records) in 1989 and I think at the time the album was ignored more or less by the fans although it received some favorable reviews in the metal press of the day. It did have some fant'stic songs though. Bassist Lee Payne takes over the story: _'A Sultan's Ransom' got fant'stic reviews when it was released and Chris Welsh from Metal Hammer described it as 'a foaming flagon of astro-physical metal that flies on wings of steel.' Wow, cool or what?! It got four stars and was mentioned as one of the best Brit'sh metal albums of the year. The fans loved it too and it is probably the yard stick by which all our works are judged. Many people have said it is one of the albums which defines the power metal genre. Terrorizer magazine has it placed in the ten best power metal albums of all time and there are countless bands who have been influenced by it, so that is a great compliment. You are right about it being re-discovered by a lot of new fans though, we get countless requests to re release it. That is why High Roller is going to do just that because they understand the niche market and will do it justice.?
The late 1980's were a rough time for traditional heavy metal bands (like Cloven Hoof). Lee Payne experienced that first hand: _In heavy metal it is always a rough time and you have to battle for acceptance continually. You are always as good as your last album, so every track has to count. When you have a global record company and top management you have a cushion, and can bring out'sub standard material. The hype merchants in suits will always buy off the press and get good reviews, that is until the public get wise. Cloven Hoof are an underground people's band without any hype or artifice, so we exist purely on merit. We have to put up with the same crap today as we did then, nothing changes! We don_t play safe and have to progress and change with every album because I hate safe music. A by-product of this is we sometimes lose fans and gain new ones as we explore heavy metal boundaries. It makes me laugh when some so-called fan says 'Cloven Hoof is this or that' because we are ever changing. As long as music has quality and is not just the same tune rehashed, then it has value. The rest is down to personal t'ste, and most of our fan base stick with us no matter what. The truth is you can never know exactly what Cloven Hoof will do next musically, except that it is always true metal ... played from the heart! The essence of the Hoof sound is always there because of my writing, but the rule is we play for ourselves first, the fans second and the critics not at all. If some people don_t like us because we always adapt then fuck off and listen to some other band instead. Loyal metal fans move with us because they realize to stagnate is to die and we always push frontiers to keep things interesting. The group has undergone various line up changes as is customary with a band with a 30 year history of making uncompromising metal music. But I am very proud of most the ex band members, Russ North in particular. He delivered the perfect vocals for all the songs on 'Dominator' and 'A Sultan's Ransom'.?
Back then, in 1989, Cloven Hoof did support the album live: _Yes, we did every part of the UK but no European shows whatsoever. We did play in Europe with the previous line up. I guess the promoters were unaware we wanted to do foreign shows. Although we knew we were doing well in Germany, Greece, Italy and Sweden, it was a great pity really.?
This is how Lee views "A Sultan's Ransom" in comparison to the band's earlier efforts: _'A Sultans Ransom' was an eclectic mixture of songs celebrating our fusing of metal and varied musical styles, from Arabian influenced time signatures to hard hitting thrash. As a band we have always loved 'A Sultan's Ransom'. Every track holds up well today and is full of power and passion. The variety of song content and complexity of music structure show what potential the band had. The bandwidth on that album is huge and I am very proud of it. The self-titled debut album had a brooding doom laden menace, that echoed perfectly the occult leanings of my writing at the time. 'Dominator' fused prog rock with pure power, in a concept album that was a metaphor about the dangers inherent in genetic engineering. So 'A Sultan's Ransom' sits very well alongside these albums as a natural progression in metal exploration. Live we still play 'Highlander', 'Astral Rider', 'Mistress of the Forest', 'Forgotten Heroes' and 'Notre Dame' today. However, we don_t play all of them on the same night, we like to just mix them up from show to show to keep things interesting.?
After the release of _A Sultan's Ransom? it went pretty quiet in the Cloven Hoof camp but Lee says the band has never split up officially: _For the record, Cloven Hoof were never really disbanded as such, more put into suspended animation. This was due to the aforementioned legal hassles. Also, certain musical tabloids masquerading as heavy metal magazines had turned into a ?Smash Hits_ type publications. In the end it'seemed the only course of action was to ride out the dodgy contracts until we were free of all ties. It was heart breaking ... but necessary. Cloven Hoof was sadly for all intents and purposes in a process of suspended animation ... but one day the beast would rise again! Which brings us to the present day. The rock/metal music scene was changing in England, the UK was being heavily influenced by American grunge style bands and papers like Kerrang! sold out to hype and fashion trends. They abandoned the mood and movement of true heavy metal and turned into a pop fashion paper. A large number of good early metal bands broke up some even changed their style of music to suit the trend. We would never sell out or become something we would later regret.?
It'seemed to me that after the debut mini-album and the first album for Neat Records Cloven Hoof toned down their occult lyrics a little bit. Lee Payne sees it differently: _Neat didn_t tone us down, no one can tell the band what to do ever! Lol. I dropped Satanic themes for a while because I was worried about it having an adverse effect on the fans. There was a serial killer called 'the Night'stalker' in the Stat's around the time of our first album who killed in the same kind of way as our song suggested. I don't know if Ramirez was a fan of the band, but I didn't want to take any chances. But in time we decided it was back to our roots and no compromise. So it's back to doing what we love best, Satanic subjects whatever. Although to a certain extent you feel you should act as a role model for the impressionable young fans to look up to, after all to them you are a hero. I always try to live up to meet fans expectations, well hopefully anyway. The thing is people are individuals and as such have their own minds, and make their own decisions. You can_t be responsible for some crack pot with a twisted grip on reality. I was bothered that Ramirez called himself 'the Night'stalker' and killed exactly like the character in our song. I changed our focus from the occult to sci-fi for a time because it bothered me so much. I realize now that was silly because serial killers would commit murder anyway and they use music as an excuse to give lame justifications for their crimes. Even Charles Manson blamed the Beatles song 'Helter Skelter' for Christ's sake! So that is nothing new, heavy metal should never be blamed for psychos taking peoples lives. Although the media are quick to find reasons for dragging its good name through the mire.?
As you can gather from Lee's very knowledgeable words, unlike a lot of other colleagues from N.W.O.B.H.M. times, he's not living in the past. But is he really keeping an eye on the current occult rock/metal scene with new bands like Ghost, The Devil's Blood or Blood Ceremony, who all show a lot of Cloven Hoof influences? Lee Payne: _Excellent, I will check them out right away, I love occult metal bands. When they say we are an influence, then it makes me proud and honoured. I love it when bands do cover versions of that first album, it is good to hear another take on the songs. It injects a new lease of life to a lot of them. There are bands like Roxxcalibur, White Wizard and Harbinger who have done amazing jobs on our songs. I heard a thrash version of 'Night'stalker' that was brilliant too.?
As younger bands draw influences from Cloven Hoof, they must have had role models as well. In retrospect, it'seems a big mystery to me that'several groups (Cloven Hoof, Angel Witch, Witchfynde, Witchfinder General, Widow/Ritual) came out more or less simultaneously with a very similar concept. Lee sets it all into perspective: _We were going at the same time as Witchfynde and Angel Witch, so they were not an influence at all, although I really like those bands a lot. We were certainly influenced by Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Rush, my all time favourite bands. UFO, Deep Purple and Rainbow with the wonderful Ronnie James Dio were a great influence too. If anyone gets off on our music like I got off on Deep Purple and Black Sabbath then we have touched the sun! As a musician all you can wish for is that your songs connect with people on an emotional level. Our music has grown in popularity for over 25 years and longevity is the only way to judge if music is good or not, we had no hype whatsoever! Hoof songs have been spread by word of mouth and that makes us a people's band, and I would rather have genuine fans who love us and stay a cult group.?