Monday, December 29, 2008

Birth of the Beast: A Basic History of Heavy Metal – Chapter I: 1968-79

I wrote this for last Fall's KZSU program guide, so if you're not in the listening area of KZSU you probably didn't see this. Enjoy.

Before you ask - I’m nixing Led Zeppelin, AC/DC (both swell bands but they just got played on 500 different stations as I wrote this). Aerosmith also loses ‘cause this is KZSU not VH-1, alright?!? This period of ’68-’79, deals with some real grey areas. Where does the proto-metal come in the hard blues rock, prog or psych go out (or vice-versa)? Here’s some obvious choices and some of the not-so obvious.

1. Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum – (Vertigo, 1968) These S.F. hippies, strangely gave way to some Heavy Metal (see St. Vitus), Heavy Psych (see High Rise) and even Grunge Rock (see Mudhoney)
2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (Warner Bros, 13th February 1970) Dark, dread, doom and undeniably the truest, purest origin of HEAVY METAL - end of debate!
3. November - En Ny Tid Är Här (Sonet, 1970) Only a few months after Sabbath (or one can surmise). An amazing mix of Cream’s blues swagger, Tony Iommi’s guitar tone, big bass and wild drumming. All but one song in Swedish but these guys play the international language of badass.
4 & 4 1/2 Pentagram – First Daze Here Too (various recordings 1973-76, Relapse reissue, 2006) & Bedemon – Child Of Darkness (recordings from 1973-74, Black Widow reissue, 2004). There’s legendary and virtually unknown but Pentagram and Bedemon are both. First Pentagram – who paint in bits of Blue (Cheer) and Black (Sabbath) but definitely create something of their own. Both Pentagram and Bedemon made it even darker, managing to still crush on a limited recording budget. Bedemon features the stunning guitar/vocal work of Randy Palmer. (He joined Pentagram in 1974). Pentagram still exists today in some form or another and it’s can be seen in things like the label 20 Buck Spin, local tribute act Parallelogram and even Arnelli’s Pizza.
5. Deep Purple – In Rock (Warner Bros., 1970) Bombastic and very over the top heavy rawk legends that knew how to jam AND write really great songs. Plus, NO “Smoke on the Water”.
6. Nazereth – Razamanaz (A&M, 1973, Reissued 2007) While mostly a heavy blues rock album (lots o’ swagger n’ slide guitar) - the reissue has 4 bonus tracks were probably “too heavy” for ‘73. In a fair world, Guns N’ Roses would be only known for a dodgy ballad and Nazereth would be mega-huge. Vocalist Dan Caffery puts the “whiskey” in “whiskey soaked voice”.
7. Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (Mercury, 1976) Granted it’s the one with the 3 big hits but also it has “Emerald” which is one massive riff and next to the Scorpions & ‘Priest (+ ‘Maiden a few years later) some of the earliest and greatest dual guitar harmonies.
8. Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny (Gull, 1976) In a word: Intensity. This kicks off what we will hear a lot of in the 80’s: huge sound, extreme sharp guitars & screamin’ vocals (done the right way) and 100% energy.
9. Scorpions – Taken By Force (Mercury, 1977) Killer, pre-MTV Scorps with the deadly guitar duo of Rudolph Schenker and Uli Jon Roth. So many great songs that scream “heavy rock und fuggin’ roll”.
10. Motörhead – Motörhead (Chiswick, 1977) The first band loved by metalheads and punks. British, lawn killin’ speed freaks that were truly the first “extreme metal” band. Still continuing to outlast every lame trend.
11. Rainbow – Long Live Rock N’ Roll (Polydor, 1978) There’s something about pairing the guitar virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) and very commanding vocals of Ronnie James Dio (later of Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell, Dio) that makes this work to near perfection on every song.
12. Heavy Load – Full Speed At High Level (Heavy Sounds, 1978) These Swedes got a jump start on the UK’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal by playing some galloping riffs (with only one guitar!?) with off-metered vocals. There’s even a near speed metal tune about Vikings!
13. UFO – Strangers In The Night (Chrysalis, 1979) Near perfect live album from that just screams “arena rock perfection”.

Honorable mentions:
High Tide – Sea Shanties (Liberty, 1969) Mostly good, very “jammy”, skating away on the thin lines connecting prog, hard psych and proto-metal.
Crazy World Of Arthur Brown – Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (Mercury, 1969) “I Am The God of Hellfire!” is the first thing you hear which makes it’s pretty shocking but not far off in the zeitgeist of Manson and Vietnam. Brown’s vocal histrionics that put him ahead of his time.
Sir Lord Baltimore – Kingdom Come (Polygram, 1970) Bombastic stuff from the UK, with a faster, looser and wilders than Zeppelin feeling.
Lucifer Was – Underground And Beyond – Very interesting Norwegian Tull/Sabbath-ish proto-uh…folk-metal rockers. (Record Heaven, 1971, reissued 1997)
Accept – Accept (Brain, 1979) Pretty solid debut for these soon to be highly influential but often unheralded German bangers.

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