Midlands outfit Cloven Hoof must rate as one of the most legendary bands of the entire New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement. The origins of the group go back to the year 1979, when they first formed under the name of Nightstalker. In 1981, however, the band switched to their new moniker: Cloven Hoof. Original vocalist David Potter, guitarist Steve Rounds, drummer Kevin Poutney and main man Lee Payne on bass adopted the stage characters of ‘Earth’, ‘Fire’, ‘Water’ and ‘Air’. A very interesting concept which was far ahead of its time. After recording demos of songs such as “Return Of The Passover” and “Nightstalker” Cloven Hoof issued their debut vinyl 12” EP »The Opening Ritual« on Elemental Music in 1982 (today a precious collector’s item). In 1984, the self-titled Cloven Hoof album was released, followed by »Fighting Back« (1986), »Dominator« (1988) and »A Sultan’s Ransom« (1989). After splitting up in the 1990s, Cloven Hoof returned with a new line up in the 2000s.
Up until now, the band’s strong »Eye Of The Sun« album has not been issued on vinyl. Songs such as “Eye Of The Zombie”, “Whore Of Babylon”, “Golgotha” or “Angels In Hell” are as good as Cloven Hoof’s classic 1980s material - if not better. By 2006, Cloven Hoof’s line up consisted of: Matt Moreton (vocals), Lee Payne (bass), Andy Shortland (guitars) and Lynch Radinsky (drums). »Eye Of The Sun« was originally released on Escape Music in 2006 and cemented the comeback of the band. In 2004, Cloven Hoof had already appeared live at the legendary Keep It True festival. “Yes, »Eye Of The Sun« was our comeback album,” remarks bassist Lee Payne. “And we knew it had to be good. Tom Galley, our producer, worked quite closely with the label and when they heard the final product, they immediately offered us a deal. The main criteria that Tom and I wanted the album to meet was it had to have crisp, heavy and tight production and keep the essence of Cloven Hoof's sound and style but with a modern twist. On reflection, I think the album captured that beautifully. It still sounds fresh and vital and every track has its own unique identity and dynamics. Tom was also instrumental for getting together an incredible line up of musicians to play on »Eye Of The Sun«. It was great to be free of all the legal ties that had dogged the band for so long and get into the studio with a bunch of fresh and talented musicians such as Matt Moreton, Andy Shortland and Lynch Radinsky. They delivered some remarkable personal performances. It was a real shame that I did a backward step and stayed loyal to an old line up because the »Eye Of The Sun« guys were far superior musicians and we would have torn Keep it True apart. After »A Sultan’s Ransom« and the aforementioned legal problems, the old singer Russ North turned his back on metal and went to live in Spain to sing rubbish pub and bar songs. I flew out there once and got him to demo up some of the »Eye Of The Sun« songs but it was just not happening. He just didn't sound like the same guy. He quite clearly had been doing commercial shit for too long and it had ruined his metal delivery, so you can imagine how relieved I was when Tom found Matt. I think his vocals on the album are the best Hoof vocals to date. He sang with power and passion and he really is a professional funny guy too. It was a joy to work with him. Russ eventually returned to England after failing to make any headway in Spain and asked to rejoin Hoof. Out of friendship I agreed. Andy Wood and Jon Brown were also gotten out of mothballs to play Keep it True which was a great experience but we were very unrehearsed.
Since 1989 the band had been put into suspended animation and we only got together one time to play the AN Club in Athens, Greece and then Keep it True, so I suppose it was an OK performance considering we only had one rehearsal.”
»Eye Of The Sun«featured numbers such as “Eye Of The Zombie”, “Whore Of Babylon”,“Golgotha” and “Angels In Hell”, which sounded as if they were dealing with religion in one way or the other. What was the lyrical concept behind the album »Eye Of The Sun«? Lee Payne states: “I guess, like a lot of people, I find religion an intriguing subject. Most cultures believe in the power of good over evil and religion is supposed to stand on the side of light over darkness. So how come so many people die in wars brought about by one faith over another? If God is good, why does he let so many people die and why is there so much evil in the world he has supposed to have created? The Supreme Being is supposed to care about us yet why is there so much misery in the world? If you believe in God, then there must be a devil and I was really fascinated by the Book of Revelations which inspired the song 'Angels In Hell'. It is one of my favourite Hoof songs of all time. 'Golgotha' was interesting too, staying on the religious theme. I wanted to deal with the notion - did Jesus have doubt in his own divinity shortly before crucifixion? Even though he was supposed to have walked on water, raised the dead and turned water into wine? Did he feel he was man not God after all? In any case, the quote ‘why hast thou forsaken me’ in the Bible was a very powerful statement. Even the supposed Son of God for a time felt abandoned by the all Father. I later went on to write the second part to this song called 'Deliverance', which is on the »Resist Or Serve« album. On »Eye Of The Sun« I wanted varied subject matter lyrically as opposed to a huge concept album such as »Dominator«. This was because I wanted to establish the full bandwidth of Cloven Hoof and re establish parameters. I have always been fascinated with the occult, science fiction, mythology and comic books, so the band will always remain true to these genres.”
Where would Lee Payne place »Eye Of The Sun« in the framework of Cloven Hoof? Was it sort of a transitional album connecting the original Cloven Hoof with the later Cloven Hoof? “An excellent question,” he states. “I have always thought that every Cloven Hoof album has its own unique identity. The debut album was epic and doom laden. »Dominator«had multi time changes and dealt with the dangers of genetic engineering where all the songs were a concept piece. »A Sultan’s Ransom« as an eclectic mix of individual movie-like tales.»Eye Of The Sun« was »A Sultan’s Ransom« but with a more up to date modern edge. We continued this theme with »Resist Or Serve«, so I see a very noticeable progression in taking inflections of what had gone before but expanding on them using evermore talented musicians. Cloven Hoof will never rest on its laurels and it will always keep on improving. I personally hate bands that get stuck in a rut and won't progress and move forward. In this band stagnation is not an option.
And which songs from the album do stand the test of time according to Lee? “'Inquisitor' was a fabulous opener and it is still included in the set to this day. It is full of blood, guts and it really kicks ass! 'Angels in Hell', as I said earlier, is a big personal favourite and we will be playing 'Whore of Babylon' and 'Golgotha' on the next tour because I know they are big favourites with the fans.”
The line up of Matt Moreton (vocals), Andy Shortland (guitars) and Lynch Radinsky (drums) consisted of basically all new guys in the band... Lee Payne explains: “I first saw Matt and Andy play live on a 'Fist Full Of Metal' tour. Also in the line up was Tony Martin (ex Black Sabbath) and Carl Sentance (ex Krokus). They were playing in England and Europe covering classic metal songs and I was really blown away by Andy's guitar and Matt's incredible powerful vocal delivery. You could see they were seasoned pros right from the off and they had both worked with Tom Galley on his ‘Phenomena’ albums.
Mr Galley only uses the best because Brian May, Scott Gorham and Glenn Hughes are the esteemed musicians he uses on his solo projects.
It was an honour and a privilege to work with Messrs Moreton, Shortland and Radinsky. Lynch Radinsky is without doubt the best drummer I have ever had the honour to play with although Jake Oseland comes a close second who drummed on the »Resist Or Serve« album.
Unfortunately, Cloven Hoof did not play live with »Eye Of The Sun« at all. “It was a tragedy really,” sighs Lee. “We were in the process of organising an appearance at Headbangers Open Air when Russ turned up on my doorstep asking to return. Hindsight always gives you 20/20 vision but I really wish I had kept that line up. We would have done some killer shows. I did however, ask Matt to sing on the »Throne of Damnation« EP but ill fate once again stopped Matt joining me on stage. Ill health meant that he couldn't play any live shows. He had a life threatening kidney problem.”
How was »Eye Of The Sun« received by press and by fans back in 2006? “We had some fantastic reviews,” answers Lee. “The critics really loved it, so that is very pleasing. Most of the fans loved it too and because it was a really important album, we knew we had to raise the bar after such a long lay off.
When a band has over a 30 year history it is certain to undergo line up changes. If you stay true to your music most fans will stay with you but I am sure we broke new ground with »Eye Of The Sun« because of the strength of the musical performances. It was surgically tight and the production was really well layered. As I said before, Cloven Hoof is always trying to develop and grow. Staying true to its roots but always reinventing itself. Along the way you will always come across people caught in a time war who don't like anything new, but as a musician you have to tell yourself, that was then this is now and keep pushing yourself to create better songs and better albums. There is no point being in this business unless you believe your best ever song lies ahead. It is a shame when some bands become a caricature of themselves and rehash the same old tired riffs and cliché ridden melodies. Hopefully we never disappoint and we always come back better, stronger with fresh and vital music… heavy of course.”
“I can't wait for »Eye Of The Sun« to be released on vinyl,” Lee gleams. “For the first time ever. There is a magic about having metal albums on vinyl. It has a real warm sound to it that gets lost sometimes with sterile CD. The cool thing with metal albums is, you can really get into the music by reading all of the sleeve notes and letting your imagination run wild with the cool cover art. I am so glad vinyl is making a comeback. At some point »Dominator«, »Fighting Back«, »Throne of Damnation« and »The Definitive Part One« will all get re-released by High Roller.”
And Is there going to be a »The Definitive Part 2« as well? Lee Payne affirms: “Yes, because now the new line up has the best ever musicians and vocalist so it would make good sense to re-record the classics. »The Definitive Part 2«' would be good because the early albums had production faults but a magic to them that the fans love. Playing back catalogue songs live is cool though because the songs have a life all of their own and you can improvise slightly without abandoning the main theme that made a track good in the first place. There is no reason why we can't bring out a live album of the old songs too in the future. We have a wealth of live
performances in our archives, so it would be good if they saw the light of day sometime for the fans to enjoy.”