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Buyer's Guide: Neat Records

Celebrating the NWOBHM legacy of Neat Records

Neat was launched from an office above a bingo hall in Wallsend by "Benny Hill lookalike" Dave Wood, who also operated the upstairs recording facility Impulse Studios. With the release in 1979 of Don't Touch Me There – debut single from local hopefuls Tygers Of Pan Tang – this humble enterprise bore witness to a game-changing North Eastern heavy metal revolution. By the time Impulse tape-op Conrad Lant – aka Cronos – got some free studio time for his own band Venom, Neat was already the hub of a vibrant regional scene, offering studio time and vinyl distribution to pioneering Geordie heroes like the Tygers, Fist, Janick Gers' first band White Spirit (all of whom promptly decamped to major labels) and the perennial Raven. After a few years of UK metal scene domination Neat's fortunes tailed off in the late '80s – despite worthy releases by the raucous likes of Atomkraft, Warfare and Artillery – but ripples from its initial impact can still be felt today.

ESSENTIAL: Classics

Venom – In League With Satan (7" 1981)
Virtually all Venom's Neat catalogue is essential, but the most groundbreaking cult artefact is surely their first ever release, the far-reaching epitome of Satanic extreme metal in April 1981. The slavering bark of Cronos, echoing occult litanies over the barbed-wire dirge of Mantas and the ugly tribal throb of Abaddon, was unlike anything metal's darkest imagination had yet coughed up, while the psycho nihilist fuck-you attitude of b-side Live Like An Angel (Die Like A Devil) confirmed Venom as the first band to really bang punk and metal heads together until the brains spilled out.

Raven – Rock Until You Drop (LP 1981)
Neat's first long-playing record still packs a mighty punch, the 'athletic rock' power trio rattling through OTT anthems like, um, Over The Top, Hell Patrol and white-knuckle single Don't Need Your Money. Although wildly frothing with hunger and passion, Raven's debut came after six years of paying dues in biker pubs, so the musicianship and arrangements are thrillingly nailed.

Fist – Name, Rank And Serial Number (7" 1980)
An all-time classic heavy metal anthem, launching like a Spitfire into a swooping attack riff, with dramatic vocals screaming lyrics straight out of a boy's war comic towards a thrilling singalong chorus, plus dogfighting solos over a speedy cowbell-and-handclap mid-section. Rollicking acrophobic b-side You'll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those is an even more propulsive headbanger, and the childishly literal sleeve art was drafted by Impulse Studios tape op Conrad Lant, aka Cronos, who's much better at fronting Venom than he is at drawing fists.

SUPERIOR: Reputation-cementing

Blitzkrieg – Blitzkrieg (7" 1981)
From Leicester but fronted by Newcastle scene lynchpin Brian Ross, Blitzkrieg's eponymous anthem was guaranteed the appreciation it deserved when Metallica covered it on their Creeping Death b-side. But Buried Alive is no slouch either, a murky pile-driving biker rumble with a surreal narrative thrust and killer metal shrieks. Months after its release Blitzkrieg split up, but were back together with an LP for Neat in 1985, touring and recording sporadically ever since.

Various Artists – Lead Weight (MC 1981)
Neat's first compilation – cassette-only for budget reasons – remains a genre-defining classic of the form. Amid an essential run-down of cuts from stalwarts like Venom, Fist, White Spirit and Blitzkrieg there's several red-hot exclusives, including Raven's outrageous Inquisitor, Warrior's frenetic Flying High, Bitches Sin's infectious, well-honed demo cut Down The Road and the occult prog-metal curio Soldiers Of War, an epic one-off by mysterious Dundee quartet Satan's Empire. Lead Weight was reissued on CD for the first time in 2002, confusingly featuring bonus tracks by two bands who were never on Neat.

Satan – Court In The Act (LP 1983)
Ironically licensed to Neat from Dutch label Roadrunner – the Geordie band had originally been turned down by the label due to their stridently controversial (and faintly cheesy) band name – Satan's debut was an early benchmark of rampaging, bloodthirsty British power metal. Fronted by the muscular pipes of Blitzkrieg vocal dynamo Brian Ross, Satan hack through breakneck twin-guitar slashers like Trial By Fire and Break Free like men possessed. Momentum stalled after a few personnel and name changes, but the classic line-up finally reunited to produce the excellent comeback album Life Sentence in 2013.

GOOD: Worth exploring

Jaguar – Power Games (LP 1983)
"If you are the elite headbanger who thrives on the fastest, hardest, heaviest and loudest power metal, then Jaguar's debut LP Power Games is for you," proclaimed a contemporary bio, explicitly placing this Bristolian frantic four at the forefront of metal's intensification. And despite the appalling sleeve art and cut-price production, this is a rampant and rabid assertion of incipient speed/thrash suffused with an atmosphere of beery, sweaty teenage fun. Things went wrong for Jaguar on a fatal second album of limp AOR, but the debut still wrecks necks.

Cloven Hoof – Cloven Hoof (LP 1984)
You gotta love the ambition and audacity of this fearless foursome, playing Midlands boozers dressed as mystical personifications of Air, Earth, Fire and Water. Bassist Lee Payne's formative goal was to become the biggest HM band in the world; alas Cloven Hoof didn't, but they displayed potential by the bucketload on this full-length debut. On savage occult gems like Gates Of Gehenna and the Hammer horror madness of their eponymous epic, Cloven Hoof's theatrical flamboyance and dusky complexity were tempered by the raw exuberance of youth and a satisfying surfeit of grit under the sonic fingernails.

Tygers Of Pan Tang – First Kill (1987)
Actually an archive collection of early demo material recorded circa 1978-80, First Kill is arguably the sainted Tygers' strongest Neat release. What it loses in honed songcraft it gains in raw hunger and youthful high spirits, with the fledgling Tyger cubs doing some heads-down bonding over blissful fuzzy heavy boogie jams.

AVOID

Janie McKenzie – One And Only Girl (7" 1979)
It seems cruel to pick on Janie, especially given that Neat's signing policy became hopelessly random and confused in the late '80s and produced several releases worth avoiding. However, this single is so diametrically removed from the bulk of the label's subsequent output that it demands a warning. Neat's second ever release was a cheap-and-cheerful '60s Phil Spector-style ditty sung by an 11-year-old girl, with fey male backing harmonies. So, yeah, avoid that.

John Tucker's book Neat And Tidy: The Story Of Neat Records is available now from Iron Pages.

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