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Old 06-15-2013, 09:55 AM   #311 (permalink)
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07. Judas Priest Sad Wings of Destiny 1976 (Gull)
Heavy Metal
Technical precision & operatic wails, metal is truly here!


Overview

So far I’ve seldom labelled albums as being ‘heavy metal’ save those for bands like Black Sabbath where the future characteristics of the genre had been laid or with a band like Sir Lord Baltimore that had relied on brute force over any type of finesse to get their sound across. Most other bands in one way or another had kept a blues aspect whether it was obvious or watered down and whether they procured a hard or melodic approach to their sound. Judas Priest by the time of their second album, would go in for rapid and potent sound that would soon become synonymous with everything that we now regard as being heavy metal. If Black Sabbath was the ‘father’ figure of heavy metal and the likes of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple his fearsome but different brothers, then Judas Priest were certainly the eldest son of that Black Sabbath father! Judas Priest would go on to rank as one of the most important bands in all metaldom, quite simply because they were there at its crucial point of inception around the middle period of the 1970s, where the last vestiges of the blues were being erased and the overall sound of what would soon characterize heavy metal was taking shape. This sound would now take on a more rapid tempo, have less syncopation, more brute force and have a greater overall metallic feel, along with offering a more theatrical vocal approach hence Rob Halford can be seen as the archetypal metal vocalist. On the Sad Wings of Destiny, Judas Priest would serve us up a slice of post-Black Sabbath metal and go onto spearhead the way for the future New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) which would explode on the scene in 1980 and firmly establish heavy metal once and for all! It wasn’t always this way for Judas Priest though, as on their first effort Rocka Rolla they had given us a fairly terrible interpretation of a Black Sabbath style sound in an unfocused mishmash of a debut album, it had also been produced by old Sabbath producer Roger Bain thus linking the two bands. In fact Judas Priest had another thing besides the style of the debut album in common with Black Sabbath and that was they also hailed from Birmingham and were another product like Black Sabbath of growing up in inner-city decline of a late 1960s Birmingham and in the process giving us Birmingham as the spiritual home of heavy metal. Another point of note too, was that Judas Priest would also give us the classic twin guitar attack of K.K Downing and Glenn Tipton, which despite not being overly new to the heavy genre, having already been delivered to us in the UK by the likes of Wishbone Ash, Stray and Thin Lizzy amongst others, it would quickly become a backbone of both the Judas Priest and future metal sound. Finally if anybody is not convinced of the importance of this album on metal, then just check out that album cover………. as it’s basically screaming metal at us, this was an album gave us metal signed and sealed!

Rob Halford- Vocals
K.K Downing- Guitar
Glenn Tipton- Guitar
Ian Hill- Bass
Alan Moore- Drums

Production- Jeffrey Calvert +

Album
Victim of Changes
- A near 8 minute metal classic with its tight-chugging riffs, the song starts off as a trademark metal classic to be and is dominated by the operatic overtones of Rob Halford, before the songs descends into a sludgy pounding middle section that matches Black Sabbath at their best, before embarking on a more mellow dominated vocal section and then onto another heavy section and some of Rob Halford’s best vocal work to date! The Ripper- A song full of concise riffing and another classic song in the making here about the infamous London serial killer, and we have some classic proto-speed metal on show here. Dream Deceiver- A ballad with proggy and space rock touches as the band slow things down a bit and they keep a steady beat throughout the song, and the song also gives Rob Halford a chance to broaden his vocal range on the album and a killer of a track. The song then leads into…. Deceiver- The pace picks up here and the song also borrows quite a bit from “The Ripper” along with sounding quite similar to Black Sabbath at times, before leaving us with an acoustic outro and is another strong song. Prelude- A 2 minute piano based instrumental written and performed by Glenn Tipton to start the second side of the album. Tyrant- Another pacey effort about not very pleasant dictators and again is highlighted with concise playing by the band. Genocide- Following on from the previous subject matter, but this time about atrocities rather than dictators and the voice section in the middle of the song does it no real favours. Epitaph- Another short track written Glenn Tipton and sounds more like a Queen song than anything else, it’s not bad but doesn’t really belong here. Island of Domination- A stellar workout by the band and one of the strongest tracks on the album to close the album down.

Verdict
So how does this landmark metal album really size up? Well from the word go the band had pulled out all the stops and were firmly looking to quickly subdue the listener, as all the key aspects of the band’s sound are in place from the opening song. The classic album opener “Victim of Changes” is based around what would be the band’s trademark tight-riffing, which would propel the song along and then give us an impressive change of pace within the song for an almost glorious eight minutes and of course the cherry on top is provided by Rob Halford’s operatic wail. The band’s soon to be much publicized infamous dark vocal overtones are quickly evident here as well on choicy cuts such as “The Ripper”. In fact songs like “The Ripper” and “Tyrant” with their speed and concise playing are certainly nods in the direction of the future NWOBHM, whilst the operatic vocals of Rob Halford on “Victim of Changes” and “Dream Deceiver” are early shouts in the direction of the future power metal movement. Now speaking of Rob Halford, the Sad Wings of Destiny album had ushered in a true heavyweight in the vocal arena and his multi-octave vocal style was born to sing this style of music. Whilst the likes of Robert Plant, Ian Gillan and say Phil Mogg were vocalists that would inspire future frontmen, Rob Halford could be seen as a vocalist that would inspire frontmen to sing metal and nothing else! Taking all the above points in mind, the Sad Wings of Destiny meets the criteria of being a true and vital early heavy metal listen. On the downside though the album falls short of being a classic, as it suffers from one serious flaw that plagues it and that is the album is somewhat top heavy in that its best material tends to come on the first half of the album and with a number of the later tracks falling short quality wise. Tracks such as “Tyrant” are using riffs already having been pushed earlier on the album, its follow-up track “Genocide” harks back to the lack of focus shown on their debut album and “Epitaph” was an experiment that should have been left off and it sounds more like a Queen song than anything else. Luckily the b-side is salvaged by its superb closer the “Island of Domination”. All in all and despite a few flaws here and there, the Sad Wings of Destiny is still lauded as one of the pivotal metal releases of the 1970s and is certainly a treasured album amongst old-school metalheads. Taken in the context of its time and the timeless appeal of its best tracks, the album is worthy of any record collection.

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Old 06-15-2013, 12:40 PM   #312 (permalink)
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I've never really understood why Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings Of Destiny are seen as such polar opposites. It's as if one is considered a total disaster and one is considered a metal classic.
Other than the song writing being a little better on Sad Wings I don't see an awful amount of difference between the two.
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Old 06-16-2013, 04:34 AM   #313 (permalink)
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I've never really understood why Rocka Rolla and Sad Wings Of Destiny are seen as such polar opposites. It's as if one is considered a total disaster and one is considered a metal classic.
Other than the song writing being a little better on Sad Wings I don't see an awful amount of difference between the two.
Musically the differences are not huge but the debut is an example of when a band has the sound but the whole thing ends up being totally unfocused and badly planned. I never remembered the album being any good either and when I listened to it prior to listening to the Sad Wings of Destiny for the review I almost fell asleep on at least two occasions, something I can't imagine doing with any other Judas Priest album.
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Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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Old 06-17-2013, 02:26 PM   #314 (permalink)
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06. Blue Oyster Cult Agents of Fortune 1976 (Columbia)
Hard Rock

Feelin' easy on the outside, but not so easy on the inside.


Overall

After the brilliance of their previous album Secret Treaties which marked the end of the band’s black and white period, the Blue Oyster Cult would then hit their commercial peak with their fourth studio album Agents of Fortune released two years later. Secret Treaties had been the band’s crowning achievement and had given us a cohesive monolith of the band’s trademark murky sound, and the band now felt that it was time to explore newer musical territory. The band would eject their ‘proto-metal’ leanings of their earlier albums and concentrate on recording an album that was deeper rooted in an ‘arena pop rock’ style sound and throwing much of their nihilistic overtones to the wayside as well. Despite the album’s overall up-tempo feel, BOC as always would still serve us up a multi-layered cake rich in design and taste, but below that bright icing sugar, nearly all the songs would be infused with their trademark dark subject matter from their first three studio albums. In many ways Agents of Fortune, was the band’s attempt to fuse the brilliance of Secret Treaties to the ‘red side’ of the Tyranny and Mutation album and give us a more commercial sounding piece of work in the process. The band knew that they hadn’t put out a studio album in 1975 and instead had released the contentious live album On Your Feet or On Your Knees (see album review) instead and they were now looking to top the charts with Agents of Fortune, a feat they achieved. This feat was largely achieved thanks to the album’s leading single the breathtaking “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” which of course would go onto become one of the most famous rock songs ever written and has graced more film soundtracks than I could ever remember! Long-time producers and sometimes band song writers Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman would still be on board, and they be joined this time by a third producer in David Lucas for the album’s production. Patti Smith the then partner of Allen Lainier would also make her biggest contribution with the band and she even features on the album singing vocals on one of the songs.

Eric Bloom- Guitar/Vocals
Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser- Guitar/Vocals
Allen Lainier- Rhythm/Keyboards/Vocals
Joe Bouchard- Bass/Vocals
Albert Bouchard- Drums/ Vocals

Production- Sandy Pearlman, Murray Krugman and David Lucas

Album
This Ain’t the Summer of Love
- With its punchy intro the song sets the pace for the rest of the album early on and it’s one of the rockier songs on the album. True Confessions- A somewhat unexpected second track, that actually sounds like something that the J.Geils Band would’ve done and the song is well fleshed out with keyboards. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper- One of the most amazing songs ever written about eternal love and a fatal love pact and Buck Dharma’s sole contribution on the album and also his sole vocal contribution as well. The song is essentially a throwback to the band’s early psychedelic roots and one of a kind, and has that unforgettable riff throughout! E.T.I (Extra Terrestial Intelligence)- A slow moving and plodding effort, also one of the heavier tracks on the album. The Revenge of Vera Gemini- With a spoken intro by Patti Smith, the vocals here are sung by drummer Albert Bouchard and the song is an accomplished effort overall. Sinful Love- With its strutting piano intro, I’m constantly reminded of the J.Geils Band yet again and here BOC demonstrate their superb songcraft in action and this is a song that has this in abundance and is the second effort sung by Albert Bouchard on the album. Tattoo Vampire- With its distinctive start it emerges into a frantic workout and again Eric Bloom is back on lead vocals. Morning Final- Bassist Joe Bouchard’s only writing and vocal contribution to the album and it’s well worth the wait. Tenderloin- The second song written by Allen Lainier and with Eric Bloom on vocals, this allows Allen Lainier to highlight the song with his flourishing keyboards. Debbie Denise- Sung by Albert Bouchard and co-written by Patti Smith and for such an atypical sounding BOC song, it actually fits in perfectly here on the album, but then again most of this album is anything but straightforward.

Verdict
Agents of Fortune was one of the first attempts for a predominantly hard rock band to try and incorporate a melodic hard rock sound into an arena pop backdrop, not an easy thing to do at the time and probably made even harder for a band like BOC thanks to their fairly staunch, hazy and often inaccessible sound. One of the first features to notice on Agents of Fortune, is the greater prominence of the rhythm section than on previous albums and this time rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Allen Lainier now sees his keyboards taking a much more prominent level across the album, as they take centre stage as often as the guitars in an effort to make the album more arena friendly. Agents of Fortune can really be seen as a true band effort, as all the band members provide a string of great cuts here such as “The Revenge of Vera Gemini” “Sinful Love” the gloriously named “Tattoo Vampire” the delightful “Morning Fall” with its great use of local sound effects and the catchy “Tenderloin” are all examples of BOC at their most accomplished. The heavier end of the spectrum is covered by songs like the album opener “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” and “E.T.I (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” which is actually one of the weaker tracks on the album and largely sounds like a lumbering uninspired effort, and is kind of the unofficial title track of the album, given the fact that the line ‘agents of fortune’ is used. Two of the previously mentioned tracks “Sinful Love” and “Tattoo Vampire” are also two songs where the band really do rock out on this album. The highlight of the album though, is surely the seminal "(Don’t Fear) The Reaper" which in many ways is the prime example of what the band were really looking for when it came to writing an ‘arena pop rock’ album and with its multi-textured soft rock feel, this was a song built to last, but it’s the quality of this song though that proves to be the rest of the album’s biggest failing! Agents of Fortune as an overall album, falls short of what it actually seeks to do and that is to give the band a much cleaner and more accessible sound, but it only manages to do this on one song "(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. The rest of the album for its merits has all the right components in place, such as the songs and Allen Lainier’s keyboards etc, but the problem is that most of the time, the melodies and pop hooks often get buried in the band’s trademark murky sound and for this reason the album suffers as a flowing melodic listen. On the positive side the actual song-writing and musical arrangements are all spot on and the album is indeed an accomplished effort, but the album as a showpiece falls behind the brilliance of both Secret Treaties and Tyranny and Mutation.

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Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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(Double Header- When two great albums were released by the same artist within the year, but due to my top 10 criteria I couldn’t fit both without eliminating somebody else. Main album first and the not so strong album second)

05. Kiss Destroyer 1976 (Casablanca)
Heavy Metal

I’m the lord of the wasteland & I command you to kneel!


Overview

The early 1980s was actually the first time that I’d heard of Kiss and from what I’d read I was determined to get an album of theirs and try them out. I also knew that around this time they had taken off their famed make-up as well! I was therefore determined to get an album with them wearing their facial makeup and theatrical costumes, and on going to my local record shop I saw the cover of Destroyer and instantly bought that album! It was an album that I loved from the first listen and still to this day I think it’s without doubt their finest work as a band. Hindsight now tells us, that this album had been planned with this in mind, which is no surprise considering that the band had just made their commercial breakthrough with the classic live double-set Alive and in the process had helped save the record label Casablanca’s bacon! The band knew both their limitations as musicians and the general confines of their basic sound, as they also knew that another big commercial success was needed for both them and the label to profit from Alive. The band knew that maestro producer Bob Ezrin was just the man they needed for this album, especially after his instrumental work in first turning Alice Cooper into a household name and also in his ability to infuse ideas into those artists that he had worked with (he was literally a band member at times with Alice Cooper) Bob Ezrin in return, also knew that Kiss now needed a big bombastic sound to go with their new found fame and larger than life image. Destroyer would be that album and was recorded over the 1975 to 1976 period at the Electric Lady Studios in New York, and the album would be just as much a Bob Ezrin album as it would be a Kiss album. Bob Ezrin co-writes on most of the songs and was behind the use of strings, a choir and the use of sound effects on the album, aspects all fairly alien to the band. The work ethic in the studio of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss had improved tenfold under Bob Ezrin, who as usual used outside musicians to boost parts of the album when he thought they were required. The album art was supplied by fantasy artist Ken Kelly, whose album art was so good that it actually inspired me to buy the album! As is often the case, the album was slammed by the critics of the day, but as always the album has since been seen as an essential heavy metal release of the 1970s and has topped various musical polls over the years. As a further point of interest, there is actually a 2012 remix of this classic album available as well and was remixed by Bob-Ezrin.

Paul Stanley- Rhythm/Vocals
Gene Simmons- Bass/Vocals
Ace Frehley- Guitar
Peter Criss- Drums/Vocals

Production- Bob Ezrin

Album
Detroit Rock City
- A sound effects intro, first has the sound of cutlery being washed along with a radio being played and then the reporting of a motor accident that will take place later in the song. Then there is the sound of somebody starting a sports car and listening to the Kiss song “Rock and Roll all Nite” the song then revs in with a powerful opening section with Paul Stanley on vocals, we then learn that the song is about this ill-fated guy on his way to a rock concert and the song then finishes with the actual car crash! King of the Night Time World- Paul Stanley then launches into the strong second track and again it has that sing-along vibe all over it. God of Thunder- A slow throbbing muscle track that benefits from the even heavier voice of Gene Simmons and hell this song always sounds so good especially when played extra loud! The song also has some interesting sound effects……. sadly the kid is not one of them! Great Expectations- Something of a surprise track here and in many ways the theatrical Bob Ezrin is extremely influential in its construction and the choir blends in well as well. Flaming Youth- A party sounding track that actually sounds more like a Kiss track from earlier albums, but it does have a slight Bob Ezrin feel to it as well. Sweet Pain- A typical album tracked penned and sung by Gene Simmons, and is highlighted by a Dick Wagner solo (Alice Cooper Band) where he replaced Ace Frehley for this track. Shout it Out Loud- The lead single off the album and sung by both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, and it’s a strong song without a doubt. Beth- A power ballad and the only song on the album sung by Peter Criss, and it’s the great success story of the album, and in many ways one of the reasons why the album ended up being so successful as a platinum seller. Do You Love Me?- This is the bombastic penultimate track and its powerfully and dominantly sung by Paul Stanley, and in many ways it’s a song that sums up the attitude of the band. Rock and Roll Party- Basically a short sound effects style instrumental to finish the album.

Verdict
The first thing to notice on Destroyer is the distinct sound that it has over the first three studio albums. Firstly the production is a world away from the almost back-room effort of the first three albums. The second aspect is the far greater musical accomplishments that the album has to offer, but most importantly the fun sounding rock and roll of the first three albums, has now by and large given way to a far more bombastic heavier sounding feel. The album strongly benefits from Bob Ezrin’s touch and he certainly encouraged the band to go for a big sound overall, whilst keeping the catchy vibes of the first three albums. The album is immediately highlighted by both its powerful and bombastic type anthem tracks, such as the opener “Detroit Rock City” the second track “King of the Night Time World” and the lead single “Shout it Out Loud” which is probably the best advert for a typical 1970s anthem style sounding track, but the best might just be the second to final track in the infectious “Do You Love Me?”. The real heavy metal classic on the album is “God of Thunder” which just sounds like a booming 1970s sludgy metal track! The power and loudness of the album is then brought down on a couple of occasions, firstly with the experimental “Great Expectations” and its use of a choir. On the second occasion it’s even more startling with the Peter Criss penned ballad “Beth” a beautiful song written by a band that probably weren’t expected to write such material. “Beth” is probably one of the earliest and best examples of what a power ballad is and even to this day it’s one of the very best ever written. The use of sound effects on the album, works far more often than it doesn’t and on songs like “Detroit Rock City” it makes superb use of these affects, but then one of the best songs on the album “God of Thunder” does lose some points by having an annoying kid shouting in certain parts of the song, but that’s a minimal gripe! In some ways the bombastic feel of this album was quite unique for its time and I can think of nothing around this time within the heavy genre that could match this for a bombastic blast, not at least until Meat Loaf released Bat Out of Hell a year later.



05. Kiss Rock and Roll Over 1976 (Casablanca)
Hard Rock

You’re such a jewel in the rough.

Paul Stanley- Rhythm/Vocals
Gene Simmons- Bass/Vocals
Ace Frehley- Guitar
Peter Criss- Drums/Vocals

Production- Eddie Kramer

Album
I Want You
- A punchy opener and the band sound like they’ve been doing this thing for years now with some great guitar by Ace Frehley. Take Me- The second Paul Stanley track in a row and the hooks are just flowing like a river now. Calling Dr.Love- With a slightly heavier pace and slower feel, the first Gene Simmon’s track on the album was one of the singles released from the album. The song was actually inspired by a Three Stooges episode called “Men in Black” and guess what as a Three Stooges fan I love that episode! Ladies Room- A heavy intro and again highlighted by a catchy hooks, whilst maintaining its steady rhythm throughout. Baby Driver- In stark contrast to “Beth” Peter Criss uses his hard rock sounding voice to saunter in and out this catchy number, and it’s just the type of song to have you buzzing for the rest of the day! Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em- A great anthem sounding track by Gene Simmons and an example of just how strong some of the later albums tracks are. Mr.Speed- Another gem and you get the feeling that these songs are just not going to run out. See You in Your Dreams- Gene Simmons has always proved that he can write catchy songs as good as Paul Stanley can and here’s an example of that. The song would go onto appear on his future solo album a few years later. Hard Luck Woman- A single written for Rod Stewart, but after the success of “Beth” the band decided to keep it themselves and it was the first leading single from the album. The problem when I hear this, is that I also hear “Maggie May” and not a Kiss song. Makin’ Love- A fairly frantic album closer to close a great album.

Verdict
It seemed that Kiss turned out to be a band with very much their own mind when it came to deciding what they wanted, especially after the mammoth success of the Destroyer album. The band could’ve continued with the expansionist sound of Destroyer as most people would’ve expected them to, but the band now decided to return to the rawer hard rock sound of the first three albums. It was a bold move by the band, but then again when you’re one of the biggest bands in the country these moves can often pay off and it seems that the band were determined to see justice done to the quality of their first three albums and get them recognized as the band’s true early sound. But of course things were different now, as they could now have the production values that they wanted for this album. They decided to bring in Eddie Kramer who had produced the Alive album and he was able to give them a raw sound but with a crystal clear production, that also had a buzzing live feel about it! The band put together a collection of ten catchy songs that were full of hooks with an in-your-face sound, which was guaranteed to get fans buying their back catalogue, as any of these songs on Rock and Roll Over could’ve been on those earlier albums. The album is highlighted by a string of catchy gems such as the album opener “I Want You” “Take Me” and the strutty “Mr.Speed” amongst others. Then of course there is the sleazy sounding hard rock of Gene Simmons on “Calling Dr.Love” and the catchy “Ladies Room” an easy choice of a single here, along with fan favourite “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em”. Drummer Peter Criss who was by now a recognized vocalist in the band had the great and bouncy infectious “Baby Diver”. The album also has a strong contribution from Sean Delaney almost a member of the band as their road manager and most importantly as their stage choreographer. Rock and Roll Over at just thirty three minutes is a superb slice of an-in your-face bubblegum style hard rock with hardly a minute wasted, excepting of course the terrible Rod Stewart sounding single “Hard Luck Woman”. Kiss would unsurprisingly be a huge inspiration on the future 1980s hair metal movement in the USA and it was common knowledge that most of those bands had listened fairly obsessively to the early Kiss discography, and if I had to hazard a guess on which of these early albums was the most influential on that movement, I might just pick Rock and Roll Over as being the most influential of them all.

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Metal Wars

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Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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(Double Header- When two great albums were released by the same artist within the year, but due to my top 10 criteria I couldn’t fit both without eliminating somebody else. Main album first and the not so strong album second)

04. Thin Lizzy Jailbreak 1976 (Vertigo)
Hard Rock

Me and the boys are back in town.

Overview
It was around this time that Thin Lizzy became one of the most recognizable bands on both UK radio and TV, largely due to their melodic muscle sound and their main focal point in frontman Phil Lynott ‘The Outlaw With a Broken Heart’ kind of guy, who just happened to be blessed with a soulful liquor-throated drawl to boot as well! Their previous album Fighting which finished at no.5 on last year’s list had certainly been their best album to date, but still fell short of being labelled a classic, but their sixth album Jailbreak would rectify that shortfall! There are not leaps and bounds between the quality of both Fighting and Jailbreak, but with its tighter song structures and more polished feel, this is where Jailbreak does come into its own. Instead of Thin Lizzy producing the album themselves, producer John Alcock was drafted in and the band cut Jailbreak, a melodic muscle record full of sheen in all the right places and it was without doubt the album that shot Thin Lizzy up to the stars! Like a lot of classic albums the recording sessions did have their problems, certainly with certain members of the band who saw the record label’s obsession for a commercial sounding album frustrating at times. One such example had Vertigo hiring an outside keyboardist in Tim Hinkley to play the keyboard parts on one of the proposed singles “Running Back” and guitarist Brian Robertson’s opinion said it all after his own piano work had been erased from the song "I took enormous offence to the song changes. I couldn't understand why they'd pay this guy a fortune just for playing what he did. Listen to it and tell me it's not bollocks." In 2011 Brian Robertson would actually re-record this song the way he wanted it to be done originally! Jailbreak might not be a concept album, but the vast majority of its tracks tend to focus on the wanderings and misdemeanours of an outlaw type persona, certainly mirroring Phil Lynott in many ways, because let’s face it he told these type of stories better than anybody else! The second part of this double-header features the band’s seventh album Johnny the Fox also released this year, surely in an effort to boost the band’s huge popularity. It’s not as tight an album as Jailbreak but it’s still one of the band’s best and has much in common with Jailbreak.

Phil Lynott- Bass/Vocals
Scott Gorham- Guitar
Brian Robertson- Guitar
Brian Downey- Drums

Production- Tom Alcock

Album
Jailbreak- The song starts with a crunchy guitar intro and its sinister verse, which then links into the song's triumphant chorus. The topical sound effects section of the song, then helps to re-account a prison break which is the subject fare of the song. This song just happens to be one of the most recognizable songs in the whole Thin Lizzy discography. Angel from the Coast- An accomplished melodic track that has a plucky sound and some good guitar work throughout and it's one of the songs that Brian Robertson co-wrote as well. Running Back- With its poppy intro as discussed previously, the song was destined to be a single and basically this is where Phil Lynott pays homage to Van Morrison in the song’s style and execution. Romeo and the Lonely Girl- Following straight on from the previous song in terms of style, the song unsurprisingly accounts the story of a wayward Romeo and the song is punctuated by some nice guitar work. Warriors- With Scott Gorham co-writing with Phil Lynott here, this is the second hard focused track on the first side of the album and it bookends it perfectly, especially when Phil Lynott offers us his cool sounding voice section which is accompanied by some punchy guitar work. The Boys Are Back in Town- The band put out a string of famous and classic singles, but this one was the biggest and the band’s most famous song, and it was always highlighted by the trademark Lizzy twin-guitar assault. The song could unofficially be called the band’s very own title track. Fight or Fall- A charming later album track that sounds like b-side material rather than a single, but then again a number of bands in the 1970s had b-sides that sounded just as good as their a-sides. Cowboy Song- Co-written with drummer Brian Downey and it’s basically the wild west brought to life by Thin Lizzy. The song was a long-time concert favourite over the years as well. Emerald- A song about marching men, their plunder and other ill gotten gains, this is probably the heaviest song on the album and has the guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson at their most potent, simply stunning!

Verdict
Upon listening to Jailbreak, the album basically sounds like an album that has pulled out all the cream from the band’s previous releases, something that is usually only possible when a band is on the top of their game, which Thin Lizzy surely were at this time! The appeal of Jailbreak is that it’s quite simply a hard rock record aimed at wider audience, whilst still keeping the band’s existing fanbase happy, not always an easy thing to do, as many artists world probably tell you. By dissecting Jailbreak we can see how Thin Lizzy were able to achieve this feat. The muscle of the album was provided by the twin guitar attack of both Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, which all seamlessly blends in with the rhythm section of both Phil Lynott and Brian Downey. The album opener and title track “Jailbreak” serves as the perfect example of this muscle approach by all the elements of the band and the triumphant melodic feel of that track, continues into the album's next track “Angel from the Coast”. The band then concentrate on up-tempo softer sounding tracks like “Running Back” “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” and its similar sounding “Cowboy Song” despite the fact that the “Cowboy Song” has heavier guitar interplay than the previous song, and these last three are songs that promote the band’s softer and commercial side. But it’s without doubt the album’s muscle bound numbers that really stand out, from the stunning title track to the band’s best known song “The Boys Are Back in Town” and then onto the excellent first side closer “Warriors” which as far as I’m concerned is one of the very best songs on the whole album, This song though is easily matched by the album closer “Emerald” probably the heaviest track on the whole album, where the guitars are allowed to run riot over much of the track making it a true classic in every sense! The album’s overall cohesiveness surely comes from Phil Lynott this time around, as he wrote the lion’s share of the album’s material, thus giving the other band members far less overall writing time in general. The resulting album gives us a pure hard rocker, with no flaws in both its song structure and execution. Jailbreak is basically melodic rock by gritty rockers who aren’t afraid to appeal to a wider audience.


04. Thin Lizzy Johnny the Fox 1976 (Vertigo)
Hard Rock

Come on Johnny throw the dice.

Phil Lynott- Bass/Vocals
Scott Gorham- Guitar
Brian Robertson- Guitar
Brian Downey- Drums

Production- Tom Alcock

Album
Johnny- A powerful display by the band and the song basically sounds like a force of nature rolling in, the final guitar outro is almost legendary here. Rocky- As the name suggests this is well errr a rocky sounding song and follows on perfectly from the album opener. Borderline- A slow-burning track, which has more than a trace of southern rock about it and an obvious single choice from the album. Don’t Believe a Word- One of the band’s crowning achievements and the song is a delight on the ear, and unsurprisingly was a hit single for the band. Fool’s Gold- There is a storytelling introduction to the song, before the song picks up and maintains itself at a similar pace for the rest of the track. Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed- A kind of title track that is largely an unfocused effort that reminds me of earlier Thin Lizzy, it’s not terrible but it’s certainly not great either. Old Flame- A strong late album track, that has Phil Lynott’s writing style all over it. Massacre- The strongest track on the b-side of the album by far, with its infectious and jittery feel, another delight. Sweet Marie- A slower and melodic number, that probably suffers from being buried deep away on the b-side of the album to get too much notice. Boogie Woogie Dance- It’s heavy and not much else, a poor album closer!

Verdict
Much of Johnny the Fox would be written by Phil Lynott from his hospital bed, after having contracted hepatitis mid-way through the band’s “Jailbreak UK Tour” but luckily he had his acoustic guitar with him in hospital and was able to compose the songs for Johnny the Fox. Like its predecessor Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox would have its recording issues and according to producer John Alcock, the band didn’t select the best ten songs that they had at their disposal, also Phil Lynott had also decided to use a couple of extra musicians in the recording of the album, which didn’t go down well with the rest of the band, a certain Phil Collins (hell it’s true) featured on the album! Johnny the Fox as an album, might not be as tight and focused as Jailbreak was, but it has some tracks on its front part that are slightly heavier overall from the word go, if anybody doubts this just listen to the opening barrage of “Johnny” one of the band’s most powerful tacks and “Rocky” with its tasty guitar lick, two songs which firmly cement the bands heavy credentials. Things then as expected quieten down on the excellent and elegiac “Borderline” which easily could’ve been on “Jaiilbreak”, but the pick of the bunch is surely “Don’t Believe a Word” a song that most bands would die to be able to write, whereas Thin Lizzy make it seem just so easy and the band are then at their most infectious on the track “Massacre”. The album in relation to Jailbreak does have some aspects where it loses points and this dip occurs on its b-side in songs like “Fool’s Gold” which by and large has a steady tempo but doesn’t offer too much else, then there is the so-called title track “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed” which is nowhere near good enough to be that and “Sweet Marie” was surely one slow track too many for the band, and finally the heavy album closer Boogie Woogie Dance, is a perfect example where the band could do much better! Johnny the Fox probably ranks somewhere near Fighting in quality, probably just a bit behind Fighting if I had to list them. Its main problem though, is that it came out on the shirt tails of Jailbreak and basically comes across as its weaker brother.

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Old 06-24-2013, 09:21 AM   #317 (permalink)
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Just out of curiosity, are you gonna do Motorhead's Out On Parole? Their debut debut album was Motorhead in 1977, but On Parole was actually recorded earlier and supposed to be released in 1976. Obviously it's not the best album by any means, but it sounds like it would at least be worth a mention in your "albums that didn't make the cut" part at the end of the year. If for no other reason than historical signifigance.
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Old 06-25-2013, 06:18 AM   #318 (permalink)
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Just out of curiosity, are you gonna do Motorhead's Out On Parole? Their debut debut album was Motorhead in 1977, but On Parole was actually recorded earlier and supposed to be released in 1976. Obviously it's not the best album by any means, but it sounds like it would at least be worth a mention in your "albums that didn't make the cut" part at the end of the year. If for no other reason than historical signifigance.
I wasn't but now that you've mentioned it, it would seem worth the mention for historical reasons at least. It was actually recorded from what I can see in 1975 and planned for a 1976 release, but was dropped because yet again here was another label that didn't know how to market this type of band. It then got forgotten when the next album labelled the Motorhead debut got released in 1977. On Parole I think got released around 1979/1980 when the band were popular.
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Old 06-25-2013, 07:14 AM   #319 (permalink)
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Album Pick of the Year
03. Truth and Janey No Rest for the Wicked 1976 (Rockadrome)
Hard rock-Blues Rock

Punch up the volume & play this mother loud!


Overview

Truth and Janey had one of the great and unexpected debut albums of the year, despite the fact that nobody noticed them apart from their faithful local followers! The band hailed from Cedar Rapids Iowa and had formed as a band as far back as 1969, which probably explains why the band still had a great fondness of blues rock a la Cream and Jeff Beck amongst others, in fact the band had partially taken their name from the Jeff Beck album Truth and from the surname of their frontman Billy Janey. The band had gradually built up a reputation for themselves, after touring earlier on in the decade with the likes of bands like Mountain and then they came to greater prominence whilst touring with the Blue Oyster Cult. Success though never came their way and their debut album No Rest for the Wicked was actually recorded on a local independent label called Rockadrome and mostly sold in and around Iowa. Sadly a big label would never come in for this bluesy Iowa band and Just the following year in 1977 the band would finally split, with frontman Billy Janey adding ‘Lee’ to his name (not very original there) and going onto release several blues albums (surprise surprise) in the 1980s and 1990s (which I’ve never heard of) The band and album itself were certainly something of a culture shock in first instance and on the face of it, were at least half a decade out of date by the time of the debut release No Rest for the Wicked. Firstly the concept of the power trio which the band were, had more or less died out as the cool thing to do and the band’s heavy blues influences and bluesy covers were certainly a thing of the past as well, so adding these two things together would probably have the band as no more than a novelty act circa 1976 but the band were anything but that! Without doubt this was one of the heaviest and most startling releases of the year and a born cult classic in every sense, I’d say anybody reading this journal and looking for two relatively unknown or forgotten American cult classics of the decade, that can still do the business and also blow your speakers, then look no further than this album and the Sir Lord Baltimore debut released several years earlier (which is fully reviewed on my 1970 list) Also I think of that album cover above as having a real bleakness about it that would have done a future grunge rock band proud.

Billy Janey- Guitar/Vocals
Steven Bock- Bass/Vocals
Denis Bunce-Drums

Production- Steve Bock

Album
Down the Road I Go- A heavy opener that has a Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” feel about it, the song then emerges into a blustery powerhouse of a song and it’s a stunner without a shadow of a doubt, before then speeding up again at the end. The Light- A melodic style shuffle of a song, before it crunches and beefs itself up and then goes on to sound like a staple track from the band. I’m Ready- A revved up Willie Dixon cover and sounds exactly like so, in fact the band sound exactly like Wishbone Ash here…………..which means they sound pretty tasty! Remember: a Child/Burning Walls- A multi-part almost progressive rock track, that had the likes of Yes and Rush to name a few of not doing it any better! The band amazingly keeps this whole powerhouse of an song going for its allotted time, full of contrasting passages and jazzy breaks, and then fuck me the band pick it up with the guitars again! No Rest for the Wicked- The dynamic title track amazingly sounds like early Rush here….. on second thoughts it actually sounds better than early Rush ever did! All Above Us- A song deep rooted in west coast American psychedelia of the late 1960s and again the band get this half electric/acoustic number spot on and it’s one of the best on the album. Ain’t No Telling- The second blues cover here and it’s a speeded up cover of the Mississippi John Hurt track and again they don’t put a guitar-string wrong. My Mind- With a slightly drawn out intro, the song emerges into an almost Rush sounding “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” style before beefing the track out with some stellar guitar work later on in the song. Midnight Horseman- A heavy bluesy intro here and another stalwart album track in full motion. Around and Around- Not a cover but the band’s attempt to do straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, not bad but not to the height of what we’ve already heard earlier. Under My Thumb- A cover of the Rolling Stone’s classic and I’ve read on a few sites where the cover is not overly liked, personally I like it. Straight Eight Pontiac- Another one of the band’s bluesy sounding covers, that is actually not a cover but one of their own renditions.

Verdict
From the word go Truth and Janey lay down the gauntlet, in that this is a heavy band with a strong bluesy feel about them. The volume and epicness of the album’s opening song “Down the Road I Go” is enough to blow the socks-off most other bands out there and its quality powers through to “The Light” where the band show us their grasping of melody and the song turns out to be a near on six minutes epic. Then there is the near on nine minute magnum opus “Remember: a Child/Burning Walls” which when I first heard shocked me, as I wasn’t expecting a blues rock band as such, to have such mastery of putting out a nine minute progressive rock track that didn’t rely on extensive jamming……hell this is a song to make your hair curl, in fact I’d call this one of the finest tracks by a heavy band from the whole decade! In fact Budgie would’ve been one of the few bands around at this time to do justice to this song. Then the band tackle heavy psychedelia, or better said they then take the essence of psychedelia and dress it up in a heavy style on “All Above Us” where they basically sound like they’ve been doing this type of sound for years on end! Then there is the title track “No Rest for the Wicked” which is another stellar track that combines great all-round dynamics and a melody worthy of being a title track. The band though show their age in their choice of covers, using songs originally composed by bluesmen Willie Dixon and Mississippi John Hurt, but luckily instantly make them their own. It has to be said that when a band does covers as well as Truth and Janey, who the hell cares whether these choices are several years out of date and the band also include an estimable cover of the “Under My Thumb”. In fact the only area where the band does lose some brownie points, is in its own two overtly blues tracks, that actually sound very much like covers rather than originals but both are buried deeply away on the b-side of the album. The power of this album largely comes from Billy Janey’s guitar, the powerhouse bass of Steven Bock and intense drumming of Dennis Bunce! The album clocks itself in at over fifty minutes, making it a long album for its time considering that it’s not a double album. In fact I’ve heard a number of so-called classic albums from this era, that hold less quality over their thirty to forty minutes than Truth and Janey put out over fifty! Listening to this album makes you realize, that had the band made the breakthrough that they should’ve done, half the other acts putting out similar music may as well had given up and gone home!

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02. Rainbow Rising 1976 (Polydor)
Heavy Metal
A rainbow in the shadow of the wizard.


Overview

After the firing of the ex-Elf members from the first album (minus Dio of course) both Dio and Ritchie Blackmore went onto produce what would be seen as the definitive Rainbow album in both sound and style. The album was simply released as just Rising in the UK, but for the US market it was titled Blackmore’s Rising (surely feeding Ritchie’s ego here) and the two frontmen of the band, brought in two relatively unknown musicians in Jimmy Bain on bass and Tony Carey on keyboards and the somewhat rather well-known Cozy Powell on drums, who throughout his career would just about work with everybody in the business! Prior to 1976 though, he had worked fairly extensively with the likes of Jeff Beck, Bedlam and on his own solo material and would probably be the best drummer ever to sit on the drum stool for Rainbow! As mentioned on the review of their debut set, Rainbow would effectively be the band that ushered in the long forgotten term ‘Dragon Rock’ which as the name suggests, was music steeped in fantasy and sword & sorcery settings, along with medieval themes, and Rainbow would certainly perfect this sound on Rising. The band had already given us great examples of this sound on songs such as “Man on the Silver Mountain” “Catch the Rainbow” and “The Temple of the King” all from the debut set, which despite being a largely uneven affair did contain those gems! Rising would be a tight and focused album in every aspect, as the band purged all filler from the proceedings, and the album sits at a surprisingly short thirty three minutes, and the 'big things in small packages' quote comes to mind here! One of the vital aspects of the Rising album though, surely must be in the production of Martin Birch, who had co-produced the debut and would be a producer and engineer largely responsible for the development of both hard rock and heavy metal throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He had of course worked prior with all the Deep Purple line-ups, along with bluesy based outfits such as Fleetwood Mac and Wishbone Ash and would later go onto to work with Whitesnake and even then more famously with Iron Maiden on several of their albums. Rising would certainly be one of the most important albums from the 1970s in terms of grandiose metal designs and all of the musicians on show here are largely responsible for this. Also the album cover really does denote the power of the band and that fist smashing through let’s know that metal is here to stay!

Dio- Vocals
Ritchie Blackmore- Guitar
Jimmy Bain- Bass
Tony Carey- Keyboards
Cozy Powell- Drums

Production- Martin Birch

Album
Tarot Woman
- With its distinctive spiralling keyboard introduction and then its pacey rock-out feel, which all then blends in seamlessly with Dio’s powerful lead vocals, “Tarot Woman” would be the type of song that would become synonymous with the classic Rainbow sound. Run with the Wolf- Sounds like it’s been ripped from the Deep Purple discography, but after about a minute the song sounds like the perfect second track to follow the stunning opening track, again it’s the vocals of Dio and the guitar of Ritchie Blackmore that shine through. Starstruck- One of the best tracks on the album, which rambles along with its catchy lines and strutting sound, and that now makes three great tracks on the trot! Do You Close Your Eyes- One of the heaviest tracks on the album without a shadow of a doubt and does an amiable job of finishing the first side of the album, especially with its hooky chorus! Stargazer- A stunning 8 minute band classic that apparently all just fell into place when the band were putting the song together and features some great work by Ritchie Blackmore on guitar and Tony Carey on keyboards, and this song would be a band staple for many years. A Light in the Black- The best song on the whole album and is in stark contrast to the previous song, this is a fast kicking outro-track that shoots along for a stunning 8 minutes and the song is basically a guitar lesson from Ritchie Blackmore. When this song finishes, you know that you’ve just heard a classic album of 6 classic tracks and no filler.

Verdict
From the moment you hear the spiralling keyboard intro on “Tarot Woman” the feeling that this is going to be grandiose hits you, as does the pacey guitar and rhythm section on the song, but it’s the vocals of Dio and the plucking guitar sound of Ritchie Blackmore that really set the song alight and sets the tone for the rest of the album. On the second track we have the thumping rhythm section of the band on “Run with the Wolf” where Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar runs from being dominant to subtle with equal aplomb and then the band put out their very best on “Starstruck” and then get even heavier on “Do You Close Your Eyes”. But surely the song that best defines the album, is certainly its showpiece track “”Stargazer” an 8 minute plodding brontosaurus of a track, wrapped up in medieval vibes and lyrics and is probably the song that best typifies the ‘Dragon Rock’ sound of the band. That song is then followed by the butt kicking almost neo-classical metal majesty of “A Light in the Black” the crown on top of the throne as far as the album's concerned. Most reviews of this album constantly heap praise on both Dio and Ritchie Blackmore (for good reason of course) but one of the real strengths of Rising is quite simply it stellar rhythm section, where Jimmy Bain and the illustrious Cozy Powell really do standout. Strangely enough though, despite Jimmy Bain’s great work on the album, this album would also see Ritchie Blackmore take on even greater dictatorial powers than ever with his bandmates, which of course had previously knocked the Purple ship off even-keel a few years back! He now started his long purge of bass players, who would be constantly sacked over the years for not being able to hack it according to him……Jimmy Bain was one of those that certainly could and should’ve never been ousted from the band in the first place! Then there are the keyboards of Tony Carey which really enhance the album on tracks such as “Tarot Woman” and “A Light in the Black”” where it was seen that keyboards had a large part to play in the development of the heavy metal sound and Tony Carey probably doesn’t get enough credit in this respect. Rising as an album quite simply combines fantastic guitar playing by Ritchie Blackmore (one of his best ever) a great rhythm section, a muscular vocal display by Dio second to none, with the whole thing then wrapped up in a blanket of powerful and grandiose tracks, that yet still allow the whole album to be propelled along by a host of melodic muscle songs and neo-classical metal guitar lines. In many ways this album shows the transition from melodic hard rock into a true heavy metal listen, with all the trappings that would go on to characterize the metal genre over the next several years. Without doubt Rising is one of the most important albums ever recorded within the genre.

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Metal Wars

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Pounding Decibels- A Hard and Heavy History

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