It is nigh-impossible to discuss the early days of heavy metal–especially in the U.K.–without at least mentioning the socio-economic conditions that allowed it to multiply like bacteria in a warm, damp Petri dish. From the smoggy bleakness of Birmingham that gave rise to the likes of Black Sabbath and later Judas Priest to the littered streets of London, where clubs like The Bandwagon helped expose hundreds of disaffected working class youth, with little to no prospects amongst the economic turmoil, to the likes of Iron Maiden and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. It was a time of drastic change and uncertainty for the country — Unions were disbanded, the pits in the North and the Docklands in East London were closed down, family-owned high street shops were replaced with privatized corporations and foreign interests.
North of London, Manchester was no different. England’s first industrialized municipality and home to the third-largest port in the country, the city suffered a massive blow in 1982 when the ports were finally shut down due to no longer being able to accommodate larger container ships. Manufacturing plummeted, leaving families who depended on the city’s industry for a living in dire straits. It was under these conditions that a small three-piece band was formed in 1980 by Gramie Dee (guitars/vocals), Dale Lee (bass), and a rotating cast of drummers. “[We] went through drummers like Spinal Tap,” jokes Gramie under an old gig photo on his Facebook page.
Between 1980 and 1984, the young band would record a pair of demos under the name Wolfbane, penning songs inspired by horror films, werewolves, and Moorcock fantasy that bore quite a bit of sonic resemblance to contemporaries Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General. Listening back now, the music is quite good, if fairly standard fare for the time period. Songs like “Leave Me” and “See You In Hell” retain that heavy-as-sin blues swagger carried over from the Sabbath days and the first two Priest albums, while “Wolfbane” and “Midnight Lady” have more of the NWOBHM bounce associated with the likes of Iron Maiden, Holocaust, and Tygers Of Pan Tang.
Despite showing promise, Wolfbane was a bit behind. As anyone who’s taken any time to explore the lesser known bands of the NWOBHM can tell you, by 1982, bands with this sort of sound already littered the English heavy metal scene. Groups like Venom, Raven, and Tank (heartfelt hails to Algy and his family) were playing faster and louder, with more attitude and aggression. With Gramie focusing on the guitar aspect of this newfound adrenaline and no longer wanting to handle vocal duties, he and Dale began to search for a singer: found in the mad wailings of spitfire Danny Foxx.
The re-imagined band began demoing songs for months in their rehearsal space on the seventh floor of Beehive Mill. Now regarded as a listed landmark of Manchester, the structure evolved from its beginnings as a late 19th century cotton mill to a coal yard and a later a soap factory. In the 80s, the decaying building was purchased by a pair of entrepreneurs who tested the repurposed industrial space’s musical potential by leasing it out to bands such as Blood Money, as well as Manchester legacies The Smiths and The Fall. In the 90’s, it would become home to the famous Sanky’s Soap Factory club. Named after the decrepit billboard advertising the long-since closed soap factory that once occupied the space, Sanky’s became a hub in the Madchester dance music explosion of the 90s and filming location for 24 Hour Party People.
According to the band, Beehive Mill, what is today listed as luxury workspaces, “smelled like piss” and had a temperamental lift (imagine hauling full gear up and down seven flights of stairs before and after a gig–total dedication!) It wasn’t until Gramie brought a song along called “N.Z.F.E.D.K.” (Nazi Zombie Flesh Eating Devil Killers) into the Beehive that the band would begin to find their direction. Influenced by the “video nasties” of the late 70s and 80s–slasher and exploitation films that, much like the punk and heavy metal at the time, bucked at the wave of cultural conservatism washing over the country with shocking and appalling imagery and themes, the song was worked and reworked, as the band harnessed the “buzzing bee” ethic of Manchester’s working class, playing the tune faster and faster every time until it felt right: a blitzkrieg of heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll with the subtly of a chainsaw to the face.
Blood Money was born.
Red, Raw And Bleeding! (1986)
Just saying the name “Blood Money,” particularly with a Manchester accent, evokes a streetwise feeling of dread and desperation–violence committed for a price. The title matches the raw, abrasive energy found on the demos the band sent to record labels — and was precisely why they struggled to find a label home. “Too fast. Not polished enough. Too raw. Too dirty.” reads the list of grievances on the inside flap of the 2015 digipack reissue of Red, Raw And Bleeding!.
Eventually, the band were picked up by the (in)famous Ebony Records, an imprint specializing in heavy metal that released a slew of now-classic records, including Savage’s Loose ‘n Lethal, Grim Reaper’s See You In Hell and Fear No Evil, and Nightmare’s Waiting For The Twilight. Blood Money hit Ebony Studios, located at Hemingbrough Hall in Selby, North Yorkshire, with the intent to record their debut album. However their current drummer was unable to keep up at the speeds at which they were playing. Only a cut of “Metalyzed” survived the sessions, and the band began to search for a new drummer, found in Brett Avok, a Southerner with the pistons to power the speed demons the band had become. Blood Money immediately returned to the studio, and, between partying in the historically preserved mid-19th century building and bashing each other with swords taken off the wall (“The bruises helped us play faster!” explained Gramie when the Ebony CEO asked just what in the hell they thought they were doing), they finally completed their 1986 debut album, Red, Raw, And Bleeding!.
Over the years, Red, Raw, And Bleeding! has been called a NWOBHM record, a thrash record, and a speed metal record. All three descriptors are precise, yet not one fully and accurately captures the dynamic of the album. It’s speedy NWOBHM, sure, but there’s an underlying grit that feels a lot more in line with Exciter’s Heavy Metal Manic or Metallica’s No Life Til Leather demo days coupled with soaring proto-power metal vocals that paint Blood Money as a bit of a Jag Panzer or Agent Steel, albeit with less sci-fi and fantasy sheen. Instead, Blood Money sound more at home lurking in the dim streetlights and seedy alleys behind grindhouse cinemas and ill-reputed bookstores on the streets of mid-80s Manchester.
The second “Metalyzed” hits, Gramie’s signature chainsaw guitar rips the record wide open, as though the band are hacking and slashing their way through the static for a welcoming brute force assault on the ears. Powered simply by a Gibson Les Paul through an Electro-Harmonix Screaming Tree Treble Booster and a Marshall stack (you’re welcome, gear nerds!), the tone sounds loud, noisy, rude, and violent as the band rip through their anthemic opener with whiplashing speed. Danny’s vocals wail in melodic service of the goddess of metal, his lyrics personifying the musical charge any fan of high-speed, power-evoking metal can relate to. He cries out,
“I feel the change running through my veins,
Her mighty power breaks through the chains,
Oh Metal Queen, you burn me alive, what have you done?
I feel so alive…
Absolute poetry, mates, albeit understood and appreciated by a chosen few. Sure, the recording is scrappy and haphazard. In fact, while recording, if any track took more than three takes to nail down, the band would simply strike the offending song from the album. The urgency is a strength; it sounds so loose, unhinged, chaotic, and fresh, even nearly forty years later. The title track plays out over Brett’s frantic drums, Dale’s pounding bass, and Gramie’s motörized guitar as Danny belts a statement of intent over a flurry of petrol burning speed that would give Belgium’s Acid a run for their (blood) money:
“Run for your lives,
We’re gonna leave you…
RED, RAW AND BLEEDIN’!”
Songs like “Lazarus” and “Deathstiny” highlight the subtle melodic touch and offer some variation of the band’s sound that keep the record from feeling like a one-trick pony. Still, the energy never relents — it’s no wonder so many labels searching for the next commercial success at the time failed to see the greatness in the band. This was music for the true maniacs — like the video nasties that birthed the initial inspiration from the band, this was not music for “polite” society! Banned from many shops, including the famous Our Price Records in London for its “graphic” cover art (almost laughable in a world that’s come to terms with Tomb Of The Mutilated), Red, Raw And Bleeding! represents an era where bands, filmmakers, and artists became “cult” not by conscious choice so much as having their art quietly shuffled away from any real public spotlight.
Listen to Red, Raw And Bleeding in its entirety here.
In 1986, Ebony Records put together a compilation under the name The Metal Collection–Volume 1, opening it with a cut of “Metalyzed.” It was on the power of this track that they were invited to a BBC Radio One Session with Tommy Vance for his Friday night rock show (eventually recorded May 1st, 1987). With the buzz building around Blood Money, the band approached Ebony with the intent of recording a second album. Surprised they already had an album’s worth of material ready, Ebony emphatically agreed.
Chock full of piss ‘n’ vinegar, Blood Money again entered Ebony Studios, and, sticking to their “no more than three takes” ethos (hell, most of the sophomore record was recorded in one take or live!), they had an album ready to go within two weeks, art and all, thanks to Gramie’s skills as a graphic designer. Titled Battlescarred as a reference to warborne post-traumatic stress (aka shellshock, aka combat fatigue), the album largely kept to the sound established on Red, Raw And Bleeding!, and leaning it a little closer to the thrash sound that was reigning over heavy metal at the time, instantly apparent on the opening title track. That opening riff is sinister, sounding more like a Slayer intro than that of a more melodic speed band. Popping up as a little bridge after each verse and repurposing itself as a thrashy little breakdown coupled with a blistering solo cranked to 11, it certainly has a lot more in common with Bay Area thrash or the evil death/thrash demos popping up at the time in neighboring France.
Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of the band. While they arrived late for the golden years of the NWOBHM, and, by worldwide standards, were a bit behind in pushing the extremities of thrash, they found a middle point on the bridge between the two. While the war themes would continue with the second track, “Wolfboat,” about German U-Boats during WWII, the band’s love of video nasty cinema still beats at the heart of songs like “Mutant,” a punkier number that feels not far removed from the metal punk of their English contemporaries in Warfare. “Charnal House (House Of Death),” carries a campy macabre theme (with lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place on a goregrind song) over a shuffling beat that flirts with flying off the rails at any given moment. The maniacal laugher at the song’s conclusion emphasizes the slasher madness even further!
To pull back the curtain a bit: While the band knew they wanted the sound of demented hysteria for the track, try as they might, they could not get a convincingly panicked laugh. They must have tried twice and gotten awful close to that final third take when Gramie’s girlfriend divulged to the rest of the band that he was, and I quote, “dead ticklish.” Out came the mics, and the band began torturously tickling their guitarist until they got the take they were satisfied with. It may sound silly, but as someone who is extremely ticklish, that shit is hell. Pure dedication, and nothing but respect to Gramie for taking one for Blood Money and getting the take.
While Red, Raw And Bleeding! offered few such touches, it’s clear Blood Money felt a little more confident in the studio for the Battlescarred sessions. “Shapeshifter,” perhaps being the heaviest, thrashiest, most extreme song penned by the band, features not only whiplashing, full-on thrash assault (again evoking early Slayer in its riff delivery), but also a demonic voice from beyond that goes from growling like a revving engine to a fiery demonic incantation. Heavy!
Don’t get it twisted, friends. Battlescarred is still Blood Money as raw and scrappy as they were on their debut recorded just a short time before. Songs like “Caligula” may have an upgrade in the songwriting that came with a few added months’ experience, but the riffs and delivery are just as endearing as the debut. Perhaps there’s something to that three-take rule — it’s not just recording the idea of the songs so much as it is capturing the feeling of a moment in time, a value I think many bands of today seeking to reclaim the glory days seem to lack when it’s easy to simply record parts from home in as many takes as needed and paste them together in a DAW.
It isn’t that folks didn’t get Blood Money. When Manowar played in Manchester (I reckon the gig at the Manchester Apollo on June 5th, 1987), they did a promotional radio spot on the Manchester Rock Show; they liked Battlescarred so much (and I quote from Eric Adams, “real men — not false metal”) that they took the station’s copy with them back to the States, leaving DJ Chris Tetley in the awkward position of asking the band for another copy for radio play. Meanwhile, Red, Raw And Bleeding! was climbing the French rock charts, securing a position at #5! The band excitedly began planning a European tour, ready to capitalize on their hard work and dedication when tragedy struck.
Danny Foxx, aside from being one wailer of a frontman, was also an avid martial arts enthusiast. Shortly after the release of Battlescarred he took a karate kick to the throat, disabling his ability to sing for some time and swiftly ending the momentum the band was starting to build. Blood Money dissolved, and its members went on to other musical interests — Foxx later in the progressive groove metal band China Beach (as well as auditioning for the mighty Iron Maiden in 1994), and Gramie with the death/doom band Xanthoma and the groove/thrash band Morgueazm, along with Blood Money alumni Dale Lee and Brett Avok, respectively.
Listen to Battlescarred in its entirety here.
Both Blood Money albums have built a cult following by true definition, and garnered the occasional repress over the years. Though Battlescarred was the last album Ebony Records released before rebranding away from metal, they did resurrect to re-release some classics in the early 2000s, a CD edition of the pair being one of them. Marquee Records out of Brazil put out a pair of simple but lovingly crafted digipacks in 2015 with liner notes from the band that helped weave this tale together. The following year, a licensed vinyl release was handled by the German maniacs at Heavy Forces Records.
2023 brings the next, and perhaps, definitive editions of Red, Raw & Bleeding! and Battlescarred at the hands of Finnish label Svart Records, known for the detail they put into curating and restoring cult classics. The August release is currently available for preorder as separate Red, Raw And Bleeding! and Battlescarred LPs and as a limited 3LP or 2CD box set–including the demos and BBC sessions–through the Svart Records website.
Collector nerd bullshit aside, Blood Money rules. Whether you buy the records or stream them from Gramie’s YouTube account, give ’em a listen when you need a swift kick of devil-may-care attitude. What makes them so special is hearing the band having a blast pushing the limits of speed and taste and making some damn infectious heavy metal albums in the process. Their influence may be small, but it is still felt today, be it through the occasional cover (see Roxxcalibur and Sadistik Ansietas)–or providing fuel to the flame of young upstarts like Vancouver, Canada’s Road Rash or Manchester’s own Heavy Sentence to walk the bridge between unbridled aggression and unchained rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
Blood Money’s short run, captured in this pair of albums, is truly a moment alive in time: It’s a moment all members still seem to hold dear to this day, a moment diehards cling to, and a moment new fans find continued appreciation of. As Lemmy defines it, it’s the power of living for the weekend, something that “tears the heart out of ’em and gives it back better.”
It’s been said already, but I’ll let Danny Foxx put the emphasis on the last words:
“I feel the change running through my veins,
Her mighty power breaks through the chains,
Oh Metal Queen, you burn me alive, what have you done?
I feel so alive…
You’re doing the (sweet dark) Lord’s work here, Ryan. A great article about a couple of killer releases – cheers! 100% #olddog approved. Can I just fanboy for a moment and say, ‘love your work’. Keep ’em comin’, mate.
Thanks Craig! Glad you enjoyed it, I’ll keep ‘em coming just for you!
Looking forward to the next ICWT!