Various Artists

The Flame Burns On: The Best of Neat Records

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Despite, or perhaps because it was headquartered in the Northeast of England -- far removed from the movement's principal breeding grounds in London -- Neat Records became the definitive New Wave of British Heavy Metal label. Accumulating a rag-tag roster of flawed cast-offs, including flagships Venom and Raven, Neat and their namesake studios (originally Impulse Studios) in Wallsend, came to embody the N.W.O.B.H.M's rough and ready, do-it-yourself aesthetic, with often barely professional recordings, it must be said. Of course this made for very few actual success stories, but then, the entire N.W.O.B.H.M. only ever produced two world-level superstars in Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. Compiled and released in 2002, following the purchase of Neat's catalog by the Maiden-owned Sanctuary Group, the label-spanning collection The Flame Burns On: The Best of Neat Records boils it all down to a concise and revealing batch of singles, stretched over two CDs. Disc One delivers most of the heavyweights, bands like Blitzkrieg, Jaguar, and Hellanbach who, along with the aforementioned Venom and Raven, scored the greatest longevity and success for the company. It also unearths choice rarities by bands that weren't so lucky, including Cloven Hoof's mini-epic "Gates of Gehenna," White Spirit's Deep Purple-quoting "Cheetah," Steel's effervescent "All Systems Go," and perhaps best of all, Aragorn's raw classic "Black Ice." Disc Two begins in promising enough fashion as well, with the pairing of Raven and Accept shrieker Udo Dirkschneider crashing through Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," but it soon descends into a literal grab bag of no-hope talent and failed mainstream rock experiments. From here on out, occasional bright spots, like Warrior's tough-guy anthem "Dead When It Comes to Love," and Atomkraft's crudely brilliant "Future Warriors" share precious space with way-off-the-mark, synth-dominated stabs at AOR, such as Saracen's "We Have Arrived," Mantas' "Winds of Change," and Emerson's "Something Special" -- none of which are in any way 'special. Unable to diversify or even keep up with times, Neat Records was soon consigned, like many of the bands heard in this collection, to rock & roll oblivion. But whatever these bands lacked in commercial accomplishment, they more than made up for in terms of historical relevance in the minds of devoted heavy metal enthusiasts, marking The Flame Burns On as one of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal's most recommended summaries.

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