Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 19: Reach For the Sky

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

I received 100s of Heavy Metal promo albums in the 80s. It was obviously a great opportunity to discover new bands both for me and for my listeners. I got some new favorite bands and albums and I often felt like I was the only one in the world who was a fan of these. At least that was the case until the internet came along.

Picture of Cloven Hoof
Lee and Stig

As mentioned earlier, I got a promo for Cloven Hoof’s album Dominator when it was released in 1988. I played that on my first RUFF STUFF radio show. The band had released a self-titled studio album before that, which I wasn’t familiar with. It was recorded with a completely different line up and is now regarded as a NWOBHM classic. Dominator is a concept album with a sci-fi theme that leans more towards Power Metal. The sound production on the album is somehow different; some people would say straight out poor. According to Lee Payne the mastering wasn’t successful. The instruments make a wall of muddy sound topped with excellent high pitched vocals which gives the album uniqueness.

Some of the tracks were re-recorded about 25 years later on the The Definitive Part One album. To me the magic disappeared a bit with the new mix, so I stick with the originals. Well, the originals for some of the tracks are actually on the “live” album Fighting Back from 1986. It is called a live album, but the sound of the audience was obviously added in the studio. I didn’t get my greasy hands on that release until years later. The album is actually pretty cool and it is interesting to hear early versions of tracks that were already my favorites.

Anyway, band leader and songwriter Lee Payne did an outstanding job on the 8 tracks featured on the Dominator album. On top of that, vocalist Russ North delivered a smashing performance. Thanks to Metal Hammer’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Encyclopedia (my bible back then) it was brought to my attention that Russ used to sing with a band called Tredegar. Cloven Hoof guitarist Andy Wood was a member of that band as well. I obviously needed to check that out. It took quite some work and money to get a hold of that CD through mail order back then. When I finally got the CD I was very disappointed to find out that he only sang on one track. He had joined the band when the record was almost done. Thinking back on this I am so glad we have the internet now. It has definitely made things a bit easier.

Eye of the Sun – alternative cover

As soon as I got online I tried to find updated info about all my favorite bands, but it took some time for many of them to get a website up and running. All of a sudden one day a Cloven Hoof website appeared. I actually came home late from a pub that day and got quite sentimental (some of you know what it’s like) as I browsed through the website. I ended up writing a long email via the website about how much the band’s releases had meant to me. The day after I received a really nice reply from Lee Payne himself. We have kept contact ever since and done some interviews throughout the years, the first time in 2006, when Cloven Hoof released the tremendous comeback album Eye of the Sun.

For Eye of the Sun they had a completely new lineup and it sounds different, or more modern I guess, than the previous albums. Still, it was a killer album and I was happy to see the band getting back on the horse. The long hiatus was due to contractual problems with the old label. It’s a story told countless times unfortunately; great bands having to split because of stubborn and greedy record labels. You can hear Lee Payne talk about it in this interview:

The Dominator album could be found in second hand shops over the years. Some still had the in-lay sheet with the lyrics printed. That was a bonus. I must have bought at least 3 vinyl copies of the album. A friend of mine worked in a studio, and he made a CD-R copy of the album when that technology became available. The album has been released on CD a couple of times in the later years. There’s even a remastered version, but it didn’t sound that much different. It is still the way I like it. On the very first CD version I am quite sure I can hear the needle hit the vinyl before the first track, just like my own burned CD copy from many years before.

The coolest thing is that my name was found in the liner notes. That was a great honor after being such a big fan of the band and that particular album. I have been mentioned in most (if not all) of the album covers later. Lee really knows how to appreciate old fans of the band. He even sent me the CD personally along with some Cloven Hoof patches. When the remastered version of the album was released I ordered a copy from Germany. It’s funny that I had ordered the old version, that isn’t a remaster, by mistake, so I had to buy another copy to get the correct version. It is definitely the album I have bought most times ever. Yes, I told you it’s one of my all time favorites. When Dominator was finally released on CD for the first time, I set up an interview with Lee Payne.

A Sultan’s Ransom on cassette tape

The third album, A Sultan’s Ransom (1989), was another brilliant album by the same lineup. It had strong compositions and a cleaner production. I first bought that album on cassette and had to order it from England just to keep the shipping expenses down. Even Lee Payne doesn’t have that album on cassette. Well, to be completely honest I have the cover. I’m not sure where the cassette tape is anymore. I saw this album being ranked among the 50 best Power Metal albums ever on a website not long ago. I can’t argue with that.

Vocalist Russ North quit the band after A Sultan’s Ransom, but re-joined the band for a short time when they released the re-recordings of the old tracks The Definitive Part One. He still had his pipes in order. At that time Lee and Russ recorded a cool Guest DJ show for Metal Express Radio playing their most influential bands from back in the day. I believe it is time for an encore of that episode soon.

The band didn’t tour much after the comeback. In 2010 they were finally on the bill at Sweden Rock Festival. I messaged Lee that it was time to have that beer we’d been talking about so many times. He agreed and said he would dedicate my favorite song “Reach for the Sky” to me at their show. I thought maybe he meant in spirit, but I filmed the intro just in case and he actually did it! That was the best homage I could have ever asked for and most likely the first and last dedication I will ever get from any stage of a festival!

After the show I looked up the band backstage and congratulated them with a great performance. Lee and I went to the backstage bar for an interview and a beer. He is always a nice guy to interview. After the interview we had a few more beers and we shared a lot of stories which of course should have been in the interview, but not all of them were appropriate to share with the public though…

These days Cloven Hoof has a strong steady lineup that releases brilliant Heavy Metal albums and they tour a lot. I love to see my old favorite bands finally getting a chance to show themselves to the world. Lee sent me the following message not long ago:

“You were right at Sweden Rock when you said when we get the right singer like Uriah Heep did, we’ll take it to the next level, Stig. I never forgot that it gave me inspiration. You rule!”

Look out for a Cloven Hoof live DVD/CD recorded at Bang Your Head!!! coming out this fall!

It costs a lot to keep Metal Express Radio running. Let’s face it, we’re a grassroots web radio and we do this because we love Metal. Any contributions that helps keeping us afloat are highly welcomed. We gladly accept donations on our donate page.


  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

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