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Old 10-10-2021, 08:59 AM   #31 (permalink)
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Originally posted October 7 2012 in The Playlist of Life

Metallic Spheres --- The Orb featuring David Gilmour --- 2010 (Columbia)

Now this is a strange one! Electronic/dance band The Orb are not an artist I would have on any playlist, and I couldn't tell you the names of any of their albums nor their singles, but when I came across this odd collaboration I just had to hear what it was like. With vocals and (of course) guitar taken by the Pink Floyd legend, and with Gilmour co-writing all of the tracks, this looks like it could be very interesting. Or just weird. The album only contains two actual tracks, but each is broken into five separate pieces, and the whole thing still manages to clock in at a quite respectable forty-eight minutes. The two tracks are called “sides” - probably harking back to the times of vinyl LPs - and are called “Metallic side” and “Sphere side”, in that order.

And so “Metallic side” opens on a breathy, humming synth with some spacey sounds, quite Floydesque really, then that familiar crying guitar sound is heard, almost in the background, then getting stronger as what is basically the title track gets proceedings underway, but the unfortunate thing is that no matter where I look I can't get a breakdown of the tracks: every site has this as just having two tracks, and yet there are names for each of the ten “broken-down” tracks within both the, as they are referred to, sides. So I'll be guessing a little at where each stops and the next picks up. But “Metallic Spheres” at least appears to be completely instrumental, kind of Jean-Michel Jarre-like in its rhythm with busy synths and drum machines backing the keening guitar. As it runs on the synth and guitar kind of meld together, the drumbeat getting more pronounced and heavier, then really taking over as they come to the foreground.

Vocals begin to filter in as we hit the tenth minute, and this could be “Hymns to the Sun”, the second track of the “first side”, though to be sure I can't, er, be sure. What I do know is that “filter” is the correct word to use, as Gilmour's voice doesn't suddenly start singing, but kind of fades in, almost echoey as the music continues, his guitar dropping largely out of the music as the synths and drums take over, and then coming back in around the twelfth minute, accompanied by some quite jazzy piano, then some stuttery whistle sounds as the drums and synth lines die away and I would hazard we're into “Black Graham”, everything slowing down now, some muted whispers, little clangy strums of the guitar and some soft whizzing synthesisers, then Gilmour gets going on the acoustic guitar joined by choral synth vocals.

The tempo picks up a little now, sort of tapping along, quite blues/folky really, sort of growing organically into “Hiding in Plain View”, as the electric guitar comes back with moans and wails, low synth humming and swelling in the background, developing into a very ambient piece which probably might not be out of place on a Floyd record itself, and then things get funky with the closing track on the “Metallic side”, around three minutes of “Classified”, with a sort of Spanish/Mexican feel to the guitar and whooshing synthwork, the drum machines keeping a steady beat as the track goes along, taking us to the end of the first track, side, or whatever you wish to call it.

“Spheres side” starts with more spacey keyboards, a jangly guitar low in the background and some bass thumping slowly in, as “Es vedra” opens side two, and wind sounds and thunder accompany the synth melody as the guitar gets louder, drops away, gets louder, and those JMJ-style keys again fade up through the mix. Cheeky little snippet from “Comfortably Numb” thrown in there, then the drums get all powerful and marchy again and the synths ramp up, as indeed does Gilmour's guitar, still a little subsumed in the mix but definitely more audible than when the track began. Think I heard a snatch of the guitar melody from “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” there as well.

Handclap drumbeats then come in as I think the track may be in the process of changing to the next one along, which is entitled “Hymns to the Sun (Reprise)”. I'm not even sure if I correctly identified the original “Hymns to the Sun” on the first side, so I can't say whether or not this revisits its theme, but the guitar slips away and marimba-style keys slide in, the percussion again carrying the tune, and on a weird little chanting sound made I think on Gilmour's fretboard it looks like we cross over to “Olympic”, the same basic tune but with some hard-to-discern vocals now coming in too, faint and faraway. More funky guitar and African-style rhythms on the drums, Gilmour's vocal now easier to hear.

Tempo picks right up then as we head into “Chicago Dub”, with what sounds like a Jew's harp boing!ing all over the place, then sweeping synth coming in before heavy Gabrielesque drumming takes the whole thing up a further notch, adding a sense of drama and gravity to the piece, Gilmour's guitar fading in and screaming through the thing, fading back down to be supplanted by solid synths and then coming back in again as we head off into “Bold Knife Trophy”, the closing track, both of this “side” and of the album. On another heavy marching drumbeat and pulsing bass, it finishes on a rolling, almost strings-like synth with cinematic power, then fading down on spacey keys to the end.


Metallic side
1. Metallic Spheres
2. Hymns to the Sun
3. Black Graham
4. Hiding in Plain View
5. Classified

Spheres side

1. Es vedra
2. Hymns to the Sun (Reprise)
3. Olympic
4. Chicago Dub
5. Bold Knife Trophy

A strange project indeed. Nice and ambient, I must say, and there's the possibility I might want to look further into the work of The Orb. But Gilmour's guitar, though often quite prominent here, is not as dominant as I had expected it to be. Plus there are hardly any real vocal tracks, so crediting him with vocals is perhaps stretching it a little. But certainly enjoyable, if a little frustrating that I couldn't properly delineate the tracks. I guess that doesn't matter really though in the end.

Good music, excellent guitar as you'd always expect from David Gilmour, but ultimately I think I'd probably just have to file under “interesting”, and leave it at that.
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Old 10-12-2021, 02:10 PM   #32 (permalink)
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Originally posted October 1 2015 in The Playlist of Life, as part of Metal Month III

Come with me on a journey back to the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, when there was no such thing as High Definition TV, when you were lucky if you had a telephone at home (mobile? What's that?) and CDs were yet a dream of the future.

A time when men were real men, women were real women, and small blue furry things from Alpha Centauri were real small blue furry things from Alpha Centauri.

A time when then only way you could hear an album was to buy, or maybe borrow it.

A time before itunes, YouTube and Facebook.

A time when Trollheart was young. Yes, there was such a time.

And in that misted, forgotten, ancient time, I began my affair with Heavy Metal.

This is one of the albums that got me there.

Everyone has their favourite Black Sabbath album, and while many go for the early Ozzy period - and with good reason: there are some total classics in there, from the debut to Paranoid, Vol 4 and Master of Reality - and while I'm not saying this is definitively my own favourite, it is the one on which I first heard Ronnie James Dio (though I think prior to that I had heard his contributions to Rainbow on their compilation double album; it would be a little while yet before I bought Rising and realised what a true star he was) and realised there could be “another” Black Sabbath. I had been used to the dark, doomy, gothic feel of tracks like “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “War Pigs” and of course “Black Sabbath”, and even had We Sold Our Soul for Rock and Roll, which naturally, as it was compiled in 1975, contained only Ozzy releases. I was therefore totally blown away by the progressive direction Sabbath took on this, one of only three albums they ever recorded with the diminutive frontman who would go on to give us albums like Holy Diver and Killing the Dragon, and the different vocal style. It must in that case be very much counted as a very integral part of the Metal that made me.

Heaven and Hell - Black Sabbath - 1980 (Vertigo)

When I read about this album, it's in a way a minor miracle it was even made. Ozzy had just been fired from the band after leading them for ten years and eight albums, not all of them stellar but the larger percentage certainly were. Bill Ward was going through personal problems including losing both his parents while also battling his growing alcoholism, while Geezer Butler was in the midst of a divorce. Ward would in fact quit the band mid-tour, though he would return, and Butler only appears on the album because he came back to redo the bass parts that had been originally laid down by another bassist. With Martin Birch, who would later go on to become the legendary producer of Iron Maiden, taking control though things settled down, and Tony Iommi, who was basically holding things together prior to the arrival of Dio and even thinking about starting a new band, working closely with Ronnie, the band dynamic slowly returned and the album began to take shape.

It's a much shorter album, only eight tracks in total, and none of the longer epics that characterised some of the earlier albums are in evidence, with the title track being the longest at just under seven minutes, but there is almost no filler and just about every track is gold. It kicks off with “Neon Knights”, which demonstrates much of what Ronnie would later form into his own albums, particularly “Stand Up and Shout” from Holy Diver and “We Rock” from The Last in Line. His voice is immediately a focal point for the “new” Sabbath, and the lyrics contain more fantasy-themed and to a degree, lighter, fare, with much of Dio's material centred in the worlds of medieval lore and mythology. Iommi is again on fire, at his very best in some of the solos, and it's a great way to start the album, though by no means the best track.

There's a lot in this song that, reading between the lines, can be seen to, or supposed to be reassurance to the fans who, even before the real age of the internet and mass media, must have known about the departure of Ozzy and the problems the band were going through, and wondered if, after ten years, this could be it? When he sings the line ”Nothing's in the past, it always seems to come again” it certainly sounds like he's saying don't worry, it's not quite business as usual, but we're keeping this ship afloat, as again when he confirms ”Captain's at the helm”. And when he roars ”Cry out to legions of the brave” and ”Ride out, protectors of the realm” you can almost feel his pride and determination to ensure that Sabbath continue, grow and even prosper in the wake of the perhaps shock of Ozzy's leaving.

It's time to slow things down already though, and an acoustic guitar from Iommi opens the ballad “Children of the Sea” with a clear, perfect vocal from Dio, who sounds like a minstrel singing in some leafy glade back in the thirteenth century. Suddenly, snarling electric guitar joins thumping percussion as Ward batters his kit, and Butler's big thick bass adds its voice and the song acquires teeth, and if there's a definition of a metal power ballad, this is probably it. The true power of Dio's voice is evident here; you can't quite envisage Ozzy singing this song. There's perhaps a note of self-deprecating humour here, a realisation that ”We sailed across the air before we learned to fly/ We thought that it could never end” and there's a nice sort of vocal chorus thing going on too. Iommi's solo comes just at the right time, and ends before it outstays its welcome, taking us back to the acoustic that opened the song as it reprises for the big finish.

There's a nod to the Ozzy era then in “Lady Evil”, as Dio sings of a witch in the finest Sabbath tradition, but the music is not dark and doomy, rather uptempo rock and blues. If the album has a weak track - and I'm not saying it has, not at all - then I would pick this one. There's just something a little, I don't know, formulaic about it and it doesn't impress me. Which is not to say that it's not a good song, but it's just the rest of the tracks are so great that they make this very good song seem distinctly below par. Even the solo seems a little forced, almost as if Iommi is playing what he thinks he should play, and not what he wants to play. But if this is a weak track, it's the only one, as we run headlong into the easy standout of the album, which also happens to be the title track.

Surely there can't be a metalhead anywhere who doesn't know this song? It's gone on to become one of Sabbath's standards, easily recognisable by its slow, progressive intro running mostly on Geezer Butler's smoky bass, and it conjures up all sorts of images of dark halls and things waiting around corners, or as Pink Floyd would later put it, “hollow laughter in marble halls”. It's a slow, almost threatening, marching beat with a growled vocal from Dio, and flashes of guitar brilliance from Tony Iommi sparking around the edges of the tune like tongues of lightning. It's one of Dio's more philosophical lyrics, with lines like ”The ending is just the beginning/ The closer you get to the meaning/ The sooner you'll know that you're dreaming” and ”The Devil is never a maker/The less that you give you're a taker.” Some very, again, Floyd-like backing vocals with a superb guitar solo before we reach the midpoint and the song undergoes a total transformation, becoming a rocking colossus as it picks up speed on the back of a slowly descending guitar chord.

Flying along, we are treated to an even better Iommi solo before Dio comes in with the last verse, his vocal speed matching the tempo of the song and then leaves Iommi to it as he loses himself in a third solo, each one better than the last. It finally all comes down to earth on another descending chord and into a suitably acoustic ending that fades away.

From there on, Sabbath can do no wrong, as “Wishing Well” punches everything up a notch, trundling along with something of “Neon Knights” in it, allowing Iommi again to have his head, with at times Lizzyesque fervour, while Ward cracks on with a will, and Butler lays down the basslines with what certainly appears to be pride, despite his personal worries at the time. Another standout comes with “Die Young”, which was released as a single. Starting with an atmospheric, spacey synth, it gives way to a rising guitar line from Iommi before it breaks into a mad rush on Ward's thumping drums and Iommi's biting guitars. Dio acquits himself really well here in the vocal, taking complete command of the song as it hurtles along, perhaps echoing an axiom that has been the mission statement of so many teenage rebels: ”Live for today, tomorrow never comes! Die young!”

In the middle, the song slows right down on soft guitar and bass, with sighing keyboard behind it and a gentle vocal from Dio, before it all pumps back up on hard riffs from Tony, a swirling keys passage and punching drums, setting it all back up for the finale, as the band charge to the finish line on Iommi's smouldering frets, the whole thing fading out on another superb solo and bringing in a striding guitar line for “Walk Away”, in which I personally hear “Mystery” from Dio's second solo album, which would not be released for another four years. There's a great sense of pumping joy in this song, led as it is by Iommi's growling guitar lines, including a solo that Carlos Santana would be proud of. A big rousing grinder for the final track then, with “Lonely is the Word” riding on a powerful ringing riff while Ronnie squeezes every ounce of passion he can out of the song. An almost classical guitar interlude then in the second minute before Iommi kicks it up and smoke starts to pour from the frets as he works his magic. Reminds me of one of my heroes, Rory Gallagher, here. Perhaps interesting that this, the first Sabbath album with him at the helm, opens and closes as most if not all of his Dio albums would, with a fast rocker for the first track and a slower, more dark grinding track for the closer. Coincidence?


1. Neon Knights
2. Children of the Sea
3. Lady Evil
4. Heaven and Hell
5. Wishing Well
6. Die Young
7. Walk Away
8. Lonely is the Word

It probably wouldn't be fair to say that Ronnie James Dio reinvented Black Sabbath on this album - Tony Iommi did after all write most of the music and even tried out one of the tracks with Ozzy prior to his departure, so it's not like Ronnie came onboard with all these great new songs - but what cannot be denied is that he injected a new energy, a new purpose and a new sense of direction into a band who, following the disappointing Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! had been in something of a rut, contemplating their options and considering whether or not the band would even survive. Heaven and Hell didn't quite raise Sabbath's profile - everyone knew them from the time their debut burst like a wonderful dark cloud over music in 1970 - but it did update the band's sound, giving them something more of a progressive feel, an edge they would retain throughout most of the rest of their career, and which would help bring in new fans, new converts to their cause, while at the same time avoiding alienating the faithful.

Back in 1970 Black Sabbath may have sold their soul for rock and roll, and a very good deal it was too. But Ronnie James Dio renegotiated the terms of the contract, and we all benefitted from the new arrangement. That Sabbath not only survived the departure of their frontman and stayed together to release another album (and plenty more after that), but one that would go on to become such a classic and fundamentally redefine the sound of the original (doom) metal band, is nothing short of remarkable.

As is this album.
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Old 10-13-2021, 08:51 AM   #33 (permalink)
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Against everyone elses bitching and moaning about the 'new' line-up, that was one of my favorites. I had the album, but I also had the cassette to listen to on the go. I played that cassette to death, resuscitated it with a new tape head pressure pad, then killed it again and bought a new one.
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