Note: This post is part of a collection of analyses based on the compilation New Wave of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited, an album put together by Lars Ulrich and Geoff Barton that is not only a significant account of a particularly important period in the history of heavy metal by two people who helped shape that scene, but may also be a revealing window into the influences and musical raw materials that Ulrich drew from when he founded what became the most successful metal band in history, Metallica.
Sweet Savage’s “Eye of the Storm” is the second track of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited compilation.1 According to the extensive and fairly reliable fan database Encyclopedia Metallum, “Eye of the Storm” was first released by the band in 1981 on Sweet Savage’s first demo tape.2 The version on the NWOBHM ’79 Revisited album doesn’t sound like a demo tape, and is from a live session Sweet Savage recorded for BBC Radio1 in 1981.3 Sweet Savage released a few singles in the ’80s, but they didn’t manage to put out a proper album until they had a reunion in 1996, too late to get the kind of fanbase or commercial success that landed bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in the history books.4
But Sweet Savage made some excellent music, even without a record deal. They had a tight ensemble and were ferociously good at their instruments, and they had a good sense of songwriting. There are tons of short, blazing-fast songs in metal music — a staple of the genre is the kind of fast-paced song that crams three verses and a guitar solo into a wild 3 minute adrenaline rush. But very few bands have managed to make a song that rockets forward through that three minutes like Sweet Savage’s “Eye of the Storm.”
One reason “Eye of the Storm” kicks so intensely is the way that Sweet Savage paces the Chorus sections. The first time we hear the Chorus, it is incomplete: the band moves on to the verse in the middle of the second statement of what I’ve labeled riff C, even before the singer has finished singing the title of the song. This is very special; the overwhelming majority of heavy metal songs do not fragment a riff like this, playing only the first half of it before moving on to a new section of the song. What’s more, most metal riffs have lengths that are powers of two (in other words, the length of 4, 8, or 16 quarter notes) and most songs play each riff twice, four times, or eight times before moving on to the next section. This is why playing only 12 quarter notes of music for the chorus sounds incomplete to me.5
The next chorus (starting at 1:38) is exactly the same. Many NWOBHM songs structure verse and chorus sections paired together in what Metallica scholar Glenn Pillsbury calls a “cycle of energy,”6 but each of these incomplete choruses puts off any sense of finishing or ending a cycle, keeping the song in motion and even adding momentum. The fourth chorus at 2:46 is similar the first and second choruses. Although it lasts a couple of beats longer by extending the last note in the guitar part, it is still shorter than a full sixteen quarter notes, and does not feel like a complete chorus.
The third chorus (starting at 2:00) is the odd one out in this song. After the first guitar solo, the band starts playing what I have labeled Riff D. This riff doesn’t have a whole lot of melodic motion or individuality, and it feels like a bridge, just a section transitioning out of the guitar solo. After four repetitions of Riff D without vocals, the chorus vocals start at 2:07, but it doesn’t really feel like a chorus because it is being played over Riff D. A little fragment of riff C comes in at the end of this third chorus, and the last note of this fragment is held out an extra half-note duration, and then there is an extra half-note of silence in the guitars. These extensions mean that the third chorus lasts a full sixteen quarter notes, even though we haven’t heard the full chorus riff, it feels like we’ve finally arrived on something. But to me, it doesn’t feel like we’ve heard a full chorus because most of the third chorus is sung over Riff D.
Finally, the fifth chorus (immediately on the heels of the fourth chorus)7 is the first (and only!) complete chorus in the whole song — it lasts a full sixteen quarter notes. A huge amount of momentum has built up by this point in the song, and it seems like the pent-up energy overflows the boundaries of the chorus, because the last note of the chorus in the bass and rhythm guitar continues right past the line where the chorus should end. After an explosive guitar flourish that blows off some of the excess energy, the storm is spent and the song finally shudders down to a G# and ends.
The way Sweet Savage deploys these partial choruses gives a powerful shape to the song as a whole. Sweet Savage also shapes their song “The Raid” using partial choruses, but not in “Killing Time,” a song covered by Metallica. Metallica has frequently been praised for their complex and innovative song forms, which go far beyond simple alternations of chorus and verse, and which use riffs organically without rigidly sticking to complete repetitions grouped in fours. I have to wonder if songs like “Eye of the Storm” inspired the members of Metallica to begin experimenting with more complex forms and larger shapes within their own songs.
"Eye of the Storm"
NWOBHM '79 Revisited
0.00 Drum fill, and cymbal roll with descending guitar flouirsh
0.06 A x4
0.15 B x4 without vocals
0.30 B x4 with Verse 1 vocals
0.45 A x4
0.53 B x4 with Verse 2 vocals
1.09 C x1+ with Chorus vocals
1.15 A x4
1.23 B x4 with Verse 3 vocals
1.38 C x1+ with Chorus vocals
1.44 B x4 with Guitar Solo
2.00 D x4 no vocals, x2 with Chorus vocals, then followed by the first four quarter notes of C, extended so that this section completes sixteen quarter notes. But this section almost feels like a Bridge between Guitar Solos, instead of a Chorus.
2.15 B x4 with Guitar Solo 2
2.30 B x4 with Verse 4 vocals
2.46 C x1++ with Chorus vocals, plus standing on the last note for an extra two quarter notes longer than earlier (still less duration than a full second statement of C)
2.53 C x2 with Chorus vocals (like the second to last Chorus, but standing longer on the last note so that the Chorus section is the length of two full statements of Riff C)
3.01 Guitar "Cadenza" over C# held over from the end of the Chorus, followed by ending power chords C#-B-C#-B-G#
- In the rest of this article, New Wave of British Heavy Metal is abbreviated NWOBHM. [↩]
- This 1981 demo tape also is the first appearance of “Killing Time,” a song Metallica covered on their 1998 album Garage, Inc. Apparently the title “’79 Revisited” doesn’t refer to the year 1979 specifically. [↩]
- This recording was released by the BBC the same year as part of a compilation of sessions from Radio1’s Friday Rock Show. http://www.discogs.com/Various-The-Friday-Rock-Show/release/1722530 [↩]
- Eduardio Rivadavia over at AMG music describes this compilation as including “relative unknowns such as Sweet Savage…” [↩]
- I’ve transcribed this first chorus to have a duration of 12 quarter notes, but there are other correct ways to transcribe these rhythms — for example, rescaling the rhythm by doubling all the note values so that the chorus is 12 half notes long. [↩]
- Pillsbury 2006, pp. 10-11 [↩]
- Repeating the chorus twice in a row at the end of the song is relatively common. Another track from NWOBHM ’79 Revisited featuring a double chorus is Diamond Head’s “It’s Electric”. [↩]