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.
»Resist Or Serve« from 2014 is now followed by the band’s brand new studio album »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?«. Lee Payne added some new blood to the Cloven Hoof line-up with American citizens George Call (on lead vocals) and Danny White (on drums), both formerly playing with Aska, being the new guys. Lee Payne has the full story: ”I first met the guys when we were both on the bill to play ‘Keep Lt True’ festival in Germany. George and Danny were in a great band called Aska and they were on stage just before us. I had been doing interviews for most the morning so I thought there was just time to catch the group on just before us. Initially I wanted to hear what the sound out front was like but when I heard the vocalist, I was totally blown away! All my life I had a vision in my head what I wanted Cloven Hoof to sound like.
Musically we had come close but I was never 100% happy with the vocalist. In the past sure we had some great singers the best probably being Matt Moreton on reflection, but still I was after a certain Dio/Halford delivery. Imagine the shock I got hearing George in full voice looking great … and he was playing a mean rhythm guitar too! The drummer was excellent and he kept time like a human metronome, another problem area we had throughout the years. These two were the missing pieces to the jigsaw that I had been after all my career, but how could I entice them to play in my band? After I saw Mr Call and Mr White I would never be satisfied with the musicians I had at the time, they sounded very sub standard compared the the Aska musicians certainly. As coincidence would have it whilst getting changed for our set this guy came into our dressing room asking could he speak to Lee Payne? He said he was our biggest fan and he wanted some albums signed. It was none other than the killer singer I had just been watching! We hit it off right away! At the end of the festival we agreed one day we would work together when the time was right. Well, now that day has arrived at long
last and we are going to make the most of it!” Musically, »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?« carries on where »Resist Or Serve« has left off. According to Lee Payne, the 2014 album was well received: ”We got some fantastic reviews and the fans loved the album, but we became victims of our own success, I guess. Unbeknown to the rest of the band, Joe, the singer, had auditioned for that crummy TV show ‘The X-Factor’ and Judas Priest management decided that he should have a solo career away from playing heavy metal. I couldn’t understand that decision as Joe was metal through and through but they convinced him he would make more money. We played superb gigs with him in the band like ‘Sweden Rock’, however, with a big-time management company like that influencing him he decided to concentrate on a mainstream market along with our ex -drummer Jake. Luke, Chris and myself wish them all the luck in the world of course but we put heavy metal and Cloven Hoof first …always! To try and keep the unit together we even played as backing band for him, but it was a losing battle really. Joe was a simply awesome guitar player and he never really wanted to be the singer but he stepped up to the plate brilliantly. He raised the bar vocally on »Resist Or Serve« and only Matt came near his performance on that record. ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Brimstone And Fire’ were superb. Shame Joe ever got involved with that show and other people telling him what to do. Even though we lost two great musicians because of different agendas we all still remain great friends.” ”I think the addition of George and Danny has refined our sound and made it more polished and hard hitting,” remarks Lee Payne asked for the main differences between »Resist Or Serve« and »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?«. ”American bands do seem to be tighter and more professional than anywhere else in the world. European bands tend to be raw and more aggressive, so we have combined those elements with our Anglo-American unit. We have synthesised the best of both worlds and can now offer a product of truly world class status. »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?« combines all the best qualities of the trademark Cloven Hoof sound but it is played better and the vocal delivery is off the scale. The full band width of the band is explored and there are epic tracks next to more hard hitting numbers that build and cover a whole spectrum of moods and atmospheres. There is no pro
tools cheating involved either so it is a real band playing tight but loose. On »Resist Or Serve« we were very conscious of playing tight because other bands were using click tracks and triggered drums, but on the new album we said to hell with it and Danny sets the groove and tempo playing drums in the traditional way. We are back to basics playing from the heart and it shows. Every song is different and yet somehow fits together. We seems to show where we have come from musically and pave
the way for a future direction. It is a very exciting release and I’m positive the fans will agree it is our best ever album.” The opening track ”Star Rider” structurally and stylistically reminds me a bit of Priest’s ”Starbreaker” … Was that done intentionally? ”Wow that is a great compliment, my friend,” says Lee Payne. ”As long as we get compared to a brilliant band like Priest then we are doing something right. 'Star Rider' explores the X-files notion of 'are there aliens out there and are they amongst us now?' No one really knows for certain but it sure is fun to imagine they exist. Are people really abducted for experiments? Did they once build the pyramids back in antiquity? … the truth is out there! Cloven Hoof have always been some kind of atypical NWOBHM band. I think this continues on »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?« because the nine tracks show influences of epic metal, speed metal, melodic metal and even progressive metal … ”I agree we have dug deep explored all facets of our musical identity on »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?«,” explains Lee Payne. ”No one can ever say we keep on recycling the same three chord trick. Cloven Hoof is forever expanding its musical aspirations and no two songs will ever be the same, I promise. Hopefully there is something for everybody on our albums because stylistically we are a very broad church within a heavy metal framework.” The sound of the album is probably more European or American than
British … could that be true? ”A very good point,” beams Lee Payne. ”When we played ‘Hard Rock Hell’, a well respected writer said were were not strictly British sounding because our music was not blues based hard rock. We stood apart from many N.W.O.B.H.M bands because our sound is undiluted heavy metal fused with prog rock type multi time changes. Cloven Hoof originally hail from the West Midlands at the heart of England, a region that many say gave birth to heavy metal. Funny how some think the blues based hard rock approach sounds more British. Why is that? Sabbath are from the same neck of the woods where I grew up, so that location must infuse our music with a certain inherent sound. You cannot ignore your roots and the Black Country has produced some great musicians. I am proud to have been born there. Power metal is classed as primarily belonging to the European metal market. We seem to be pioneers in this genre because we play fast epic metal. Cloven Hoof have an aggressive raw edge to our sound that is favoured by American thrash bands so we fit in well with that genre too. So I completely understand your take on the aforementioned question. Cloven Hoof are now comprised of English and American band members, so we will sound even less quintessentially British, I suppose. But in truth heavy metal defies boundaries and nationalities anyway.”
A song such as ”Song Of Orpheus” would have probably not sounded out of place on a record by Crimson Glory … ”That too is a great compliment,” smiles Lee Payne, "because Crimson Glory were a brilliant band. I loved their debut album and »Transcendence«, Midnight, the singer, was reminiscent of Geoff Tate at times. They had a majestic delivery and are not a million miles from our sound. ‘Orpheus’ is a love song really, that has the hero willing to sacrifice any thing to get his beloved back. Even from the realm of death itself. This is the case in the Greek mythology legend too, love is an all consuming powerful emotion that will drive a human being to take any risk in its name. It has a great chorus that the fans will hopefully sing along when we play it live.”
Lyrically, I reckon the album once again deals with space, mysticism, occultism, paganism, but it’s not a concept album, or is it? ”No it’s not a concept album,” explains the Cloven Hoof main man. ”But you are right about the space, mysticism, occultism, paganism aspect. We have our own unique brand of metal music and it wouldn’t be a Hoof record without that particular subject matter, would it? I love all those genres they are so imaginative and evocative. Reality is such a boring mundane topic. I always thought fantasy provided the best scope for songs. I feel strangely disappointed with true life somehow. 'The world is not enough' as the saying goes and in an infinite cosmos, it is great to imagine somewhere out there in a galaxy far far away, seemingly impossible things could happen and exist!”
”I Talk To The Dead” sounds very haunting … ”It is one of my favourite tracks on the album,” confesses Lee Payne, ”about necromancy and reanimating corpses. What if the dead still had consciousness floating in the great beyond and necromancers could talk to the deceased. How incredible would it be, if they could bring a cadaver back to do their bidding? This notion made the hairs stand out on the back of my neck, so I had to put it down in a song. George does a brilliant Gandalf-type of voiceover near the end that is inspired. He takes an idea to the next level and makes everything sound believable. Mr Call acts out lyrics perfectly, he doesn't just sing a song ... he lives it!” ”Neon Angels” does feature different layers of background vocals ... I get the impression that the vocal performance on »Who Mourns For The Morning Star?« is central for the album. ”Yes, George has a world class voice and range,” states Lee Payne. ”And I want to utilise it fully with the scope of our music. It was integral that George joined the band to do the new songs justice. In fact everyone plays great on this record, Luke’s solo’s are amazing. Chris Coss is now officially the 2nd longest serving member of Cloven Hoof and I am very honoured and privileged to work with such talented musicians … they are great human beings too. So life is real good right now. ‘Neon Angels’ was written to be a bikers song, something you can play when heading down the highway and sing along with us at live shows. It makes me feel good every time I listen to it, and I play it in my car a hell of a lot.”
”Morning Star” itself is a rather soft song, maybe even a (semi) ballad? Cloven Hoof is one of the very few (NWOBHM) bands that attempt to write ”ballads”, and succeed in making them not sound wimpy ... There are two other bands possessing this rare gift: again, Judas Priest and the Scorpions (up until »Blackout«) … ”Priest and the Scorpions are masters of their craft,” agrees Lee Payne. ”To give light and shade to a song you must get the right balance so that a song builds. Soft passages can help create a certain atmosphere and makes the heavy part seem more dramatic and heavier when it eventually comes in. I love to do that and on tracks like ‘Mistress of the Forest’ for instance, it proves the right dynamics can enhance a song greatly. ‘Morning Star’ is a story with a beginning middle and an end so I have tried to reflect that with musical passages and movements. The story of Lucifer’s fall from grace after being God’s most exalted angel is a powerful one. Having an eye for the celestial top job as it were, is a human frailty. Many can identify and have empathy with that, but the all father deemed it punishable with everlasting banishment from heaven. A little harsh, don’t you think? No forgiveness for daring to be adored as the most beautiful angel? Is vanity the greatest crime in creation? Surely a supreme being could show compassion at some point … not so for Lucifer Morning Star, doomed to rule the worst place in the cosmos. I see the devil in all this as a jailer who has to meet out punishment, nothing more. There is something heroic in this hapless fate somehow. Throughout the track I am trying to tell the story from the devil's perspective of how he wants absolution and return to heaven to take his rightful place. When he doesn’t get it from a vengeful God he gives in and curses him. Hope everyone enjoys it!”
”Time To Burn” is much more up tempo and again sounds like classic Priest (circa »Screaming For Vengeance«) … ”A killer album that Rob Halford gave me when he invited me to a local radio station where he was doing an interview,” adds Lee Payne. ”It hadn’t been released at the time and I loved it from the second I put it on the turn table. I thought ‘Electric Eye’ sounded a bit like our ‘Reach For The Sky" that I played Rob from a demo tape we had recorded about a year before »Screaming For Vengeance« came out. Maybe our style is close because Priest, like Sabbath, are from the same area. Holy Joe’s is a rehearsal place that they used when they were starting out and we did too. We even have our stencilled logos on the same part of the wall. Rob helped us a lot getting us our first radio plays by taking in demo tapes. Robert Plant did the same thing for us and he too used to rehearse at Holy Joe’s back in the day. ‘Time To Burn’ is fast furious and apocalyptic, a natural set opener.
Good to play it live in Germany and Belgium later this year. Should get the crowd going crazy right from the start.
Is it true to say that ”Laying Down The Law” was Cloven Hoof’s biggest ”hit” so far? Were you ever tempted to re-visit the songwriting formula of ”Laying Down The Law”, in search for another signature song or ”hit”...? ”There is a danger of that when any song becomes more popular than others,” reflects Lee Payne. ”Managers and business people put pressure on you to go in search of a radio friendly hit. Some bands build a career playing 20 versions of the same song because they think it will make them more bucks. When a track naturally evolves and the hook line is catchy and makes you more accessible, then that is OK. But the truth is there is no magic formula really, no one really knows what the public will latch on to or everyone would be doing it. I prefer to not be contrived and never consciously try to make one song sound like another. ‘Laying Down The Law’ was always a crowd pleaser right from day one and many bands have covered it. It is commercial but still tough sounding, I was only 18 when I wrote that. Still sounds as good today as it did then, the proof of a good track.” ”Bannockburn” does seem to refer to Scotland, and Scottish history? Do you have a (personal) connection to Scotland at all? Being more than 7 minutes long, "Bannockburn” is closing off this mighty fine record in epic style! ”I do have family in Scotland a few uncles, aunts and cousins,” explains Lee Payne. ”I love the Scottish fans in particular and I wrote this especially for them. Jamie Bruce and a band of die hard metallers turned out to cheer us on at a venue one night and he said being as the song 'Road Of Eagles' was an epic about war, why don't you write one about the mighty Bruce. Robert the Bruce was one of the great heroes of Scotland. He defeated the English King Edward II at the famous battle of Bannockburn. Rising up from oppression is something I identify with and this subject matter seemed the perfect Cloven Hoof vehicle. I wanted it to be an anthem for Scotland and freedom. I hope the fans like it half as much as our drummer Danny, he loves that song big time.”