Head On was released in 1980 and is the second album by NWOBHM band SAMSON. The cover art features the band’s masked drummer Thunderstick who disguised his identity by wearing S&M masks and played live in a steel cage. This is the first album with future IRON MAIDEN vocalist Bruce Dickinson singing, but going by the name Bruce Bruce at the time. The rest of the band was made up of Chris Aylmer on bass and guitarist and namesake of the band Paul Samson.
This remaster includes two bonus songs “Angel with a Machine Gun” and “Kingsway Jam”, has greatly improved sound and a sixteen page booklet with story of the album, sleeve-notes and rare photos and images from the period.
The sixth track on the album is an instrumental called “Thunderburst,” which was co-written by SAMSON and Steve Harris. With the close connection between both bands, IRON MAIDEN called the song “Ides of March” which is the first song on Killers, but when SAMSON recorded it in 1980, they called it “Thunderburst” and gave Harris credit.
There are a lot of late ’70s hard rock sounds emanating from this album than you might think from a band hyped as heavy metal, but the do a great job of playing and getting their love of music out there that it just pulls you in and you don’t want to let go. Opener “Hard Times” is a great hard rocking opener with Dickinson having more of a straight forward vocal on it than later on in Maiden, the guitar is fluid and there are great leads, very strong drumming and a chorus that will get you singing along to. “Take It Like a Man” has a faster and heavier sound, but still retains that hard rock vibe and another great chorus, plus a great air raid siren yell that Dickinson will be using later in his career. “Vice Versa” a nice slow-paced song that showcases the strong Dickinson vocals, the drumming and bass sounds strong and well-rounded, the guitar playing will get you rocking out and then bring you back down nice and mellow, and the recording quality really shines through on this head-nodding track. “Manwatcher” is a tasty and rugged sounding hard rock song that has a nice gritty sound and feel, and “Too Close to Rock” is a heavy track that really brings the metal out of the band and really gets your blood pumping with the fast paced drumming and deft guitar playing. “Thunderburst” is a great instrumental, but would have been better suited as an introduction to the album, rather than an interlude, but it’s still cool to hear how they did their version of this song. “Hammerhead” could very easily have been an early MAIDEN track, Dickinson’s wailing vocals, the driving drums, the inspired solo and leads and thick bass all give this song a classic power metal sound. “Hunted” uses a lot of echo on the vocals and has a nice sleazy sound that you just can’t get enough of, “Take Me to Your Leader” has classic Dickinson vocals all over it, but it really is a bit disjointed, going from metal to hard rock, back and forth, that it just doesn’t mesh together as well as the other songs on the album. “Walking Out on You” is what would now be classified as a doom track, heavy, a bit on the progressive side, but played with heart and soul and some fire in the guitar playing as well. “Angel with a Machine Gun” has nice gritty guitar playing, fat bass, punchy drumming and a great vocal from Dickinson, that made this a nice addition to the original album, and last track on the reissue and second of the bonus tracks “Kingsway Jam” is a great long jam track with the air raid vocals and great playing from the band that brings a smile to your face because you can hear just how much fun they were having in the studio.
A great early piece of NWOBHM and IRON MAIDEN history, plus the real debut of Bruce Dickinson, how can you go wrong? It’s great that albums like this are getting reissued and being made available to fans so you can get a chance to hear music that might be left in the bins of history. Go out and grab this, not just for the MAIDEN connections, but because it’s a great album that deserves to be in your collection, and play this mutha loud!