RETRO TUESDAYS: Brocas Helm – Black Death (1988)

Around 2004 the craziest shit happened while I was looking for poorly transferred, obscure NWOBHM singles to impress my idiot chatroom pals with: I discovered Dark Quarterer. Sure, discovering a strange epic doom metal band from Italy isn’t such a big deal; the country was full of straight up weird as fuck psychedelia and Hawkwind influenced metal out the ass in the 80’s and 90’s. It lead me down the path of discovering a personally mind-altering revelation in the works of Paul Chain, sure… But the reason it meant a lot to me was discovering Eat Metal Records‘ limited edition reissues, which included the first Dark Quarterer album. It wasn’t long before I’d discovered EMR’s release of Brocas Helm‘s ‘Defender of the Crown’ with it’s inspiring bass playing and world class heavy metal spirit. I’d found something nobody else knew about in my little online chatroom circle world and basically went nuts over how insane it was that nobody seemed to know, or even remember Brocas Helm.

If they’d only released ‘Into Battle‘ in 1984 and then disappeared the band would still deserve a mention alongside US heavy metal underground gods like Omen, Helstar, Manilla Road, and Cirith Ungol. The band’s debut was crafted as smartly as any Iron Maiden album, and surely with some influence, but their free-wheeling Thin Lizzy style often took over providing a unique intensity. I like think of the album as an American version of Blitzkrieg‘s ‘A Time of Changes’. That comparison doesn’t quite work anymore with Brocas Helm’s second record ‘Black Death’, one of my personal favorite heavy metal records of all time. From what I’ve gathered over the years ‘Black Death’ was more or less a demo they’d recorded in 1987 after ‘Into Battle’ left them screwed and used by their dealings with First Strike Records and Steamhammer. Without any success in generating label interest, they released it themselves.

From the band’s brief time as a 4 piece, they were typically a trio on recordings. The guy with the fantastic moustache and sword is Bobbie Wright, looking unusually normal!

The bold choice to simply start their own label and release their own music is a sign not only of the balls behind the music but a tribute to their undying love of their music. The riotous joy of heavy metal is perfectly encapsulated within the quasi-speed metal haunted house that is ‘Black Death’. The recording has the feeling of a garage band playing on a big stage; the rock-fueled energy of the band is amplified by the spookified vocal melodies and enormous presence of Bobbie Wright. Wright was torn from the same studded-leather cloth that gave us Bobby Liebling and Lemmy, he was crazy and you didn’t have to be told he was just by looking at him. It isn’t just another personality led grandpa metal album but his vocal melodies are unique and do carry some simpler tracks; many of the songs benefit from the band’s tight playing and I can’t say enough about the bassist and his contributions. It is painfully rare that I love the bass playing on an 80’s metal record and James Schumacher is highly underrated for his bopping style that is above and beyond the Steve Harris wannabes of the day.

In 2017 and without the sort of demo-level indoctrination that comes with listening to old heavy metal you might be better off spinning ‘Defender of the Crown’ for it’s fidelity and equally catchy tunes. Nostalgia and a love of the grimey hippy-ass hesher magic found on this record keep it secured as my favorite from their discography. The more you explore old heavy metal the sooner you’re going to find things you love, so get out there and dig into heavy metal’s past for inspiration.


Artist Brocas Helm
Type Album
Released 1988
Buy it on Amazon (US) Listen to the full album on YouTube

Captain, eat your beefheart out. 4.75/5.0