Originally released on the famed Neat Label in 1984, Cloven Hoof’s eponymous debut album is, I think, one of the great unsung albums of British metal from the period that immediately followed the fading of the NWoBHM movement. Like compatriots Tokyo Blade, Cloven Hoof were a fine band who paid the price career-wise for no more heinous a crime than simply missing the boat.

Hence CH is largely forgotten, despite reasonably frequent reissues, of which this by the doughty Dissonance imprint is the latest. It’s largely unadorned, save for three bonus tracks (which sound to me like they might be from a session for BBC Radio’s Friday Rock Show recorded in 1983, although no information accompanied the digital link I was sent for review purposes); What you see, or rather hear, is what you get and that is good, solid, meat and potatoes Brit metal with the odd yank (read: Manowar) influence thrown in to add a bit of colour.

Cloven Hoof the track opens proceedings, a doomy tale of Walpurgis Nacht and Witches chants, the guitars of Steve Rounds cutting through the ether nicely as do the surprisingly good vocals of David Potter. Many British bands from this era were blighted by weak vocals, but not so the ‘Hoof; Potter could pretty much handle everything thrown his way, his standout on this particular album being the galloping Gates of Gehenna. Elsewhere even material that reeks of Judas Priest (Crack the Whip and, to a lesser extent Night Stalker) holds no fears for Mr Potter, and it’s a shame that he didn’t make more of a name for himself, either in Cloven Hoof or elsewhere. Gates of Gehenna could easily have appeared on Manowar’s roughly contemporaneous Into Glory Ride album, such is it’s quality, which always begs the nagging question: Would Cloven Hoof have succeeded had they been American? I think they might well have done.

Especially had they released the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Halford radio-friendly monstrousness of Crack the Whip in the US. Surely an offcut from Screaming for Vengeance, this is prime Brit pop metal, bar none and features some great bass playing by stalwart member Lee Payne. Why wasn’t it a hit? So many questions – more questions than answers, that’s for sure, especially when they were able to back Crack… up with melodic metal of the quality of Laying Down the Law to little or no general acclaim. Perhaps it was the band’s insistence on dressing up in silly stage clothes that took the World’s notice away from the sheer, coruscating quality of the music… Really, who knows?

The 1984 version of the album ended with the epic, nine-minute long Return of the Passover, a quite superb exhibition of what we’d now call doom but back then was just plain old heavy metal, Rounds shines again with some quite splendid riffage, those Manowar influences coming through again in the form of Kevin Pountney’s drumming, and Potter delivering another commanding vocal. Venom and Satan aside, nobody in British metal at an ‘indy’ level could touch Cloven Hoof at this point.

The three session tracks – Laying Down the Law and Crack the Whip are reprised, whilst the elsewhere-unreleased Road of Eagles makes a bonus appearance – are not as good, production wise, which seems amazing to say about a release that came out on the perennially-cheap sounding Neat Records label, though they do show just how much the band had progressed in the short time between the two recordings. Things were not to be, however, and the band experienced a long series of travails, which hopefully will end now as they release an all new album this week, featuring band stalwart and bassist Lee Payne, the one surviving member from those eighties ‘glory’ days.

If you’ve never heard of Cloven Hoof before, or if you are exploring the time from 1983-95 which amounts to British underground metal’s dark ages, then this album is well worth a punt.