Tag Archives: metal

188. Deep Purple – In Rock

Deep Purple - In RockIf there was an embryonic trinity for heavy metal, with Led Zeppelin bringing the riffs, and Black Sabbath delivering the scary, then this is the album where Deep Purple brought the batshit insane.

In fact, Deep Purple had been around for a while, with some success, but it was “In Rock”, their fourth album, and their first with the classic lineup featuring Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, that cemented (get it?) their reputation.

The opening solo of “Speed King” sounded like nothing that had ever existed before, a cacophony of axe-mangling that would have made Led Zep and Sabbath spill their tea. Then after some unnecessary organ fiddling, it bursts into an orgy of Little Richard lyrics (nice touch), introducing an entire new hellscape of fast, hard metal.

The second track, “Bloodsucker” is mellow enough to let you take a breath, even if it sounds like meandering jam session, but things heat up soon after.

“Child in Time” is a monster. It’s long, it’s bold, it’s loud and it’s many things mashed into one. It starts with what sounds like a reflection of Deep Purple’s psychedelic roots, with gentle vocals that channel Jim Morrison (as well as sounding puzzlingly like Tony Hadley), and takes up a quarter of the entire album. There’s no time for nostalgia though, as it steps up quickly into some powerful guitar work from Ritchie Blackmore, including a three-minute solo that’s nothing short of spectacular. When the psychedelia comes back (at around the six-minute mark), it’s back with full rock afterburners on, with high-pitched choral screams that might have inspired Queen.

“Flight of the Rat” isn’t quite as epic, but it does mix the psychedelic and the thrash together neatly, plus it brings a great bit of wah-wah silliness at 4:46, as well as some great drumming at the 7-minute mark.

“Into the Fire” is riffy and more conventional, but it’s effective and exciting. It’s followed by “Living Wreck”, which is the most traditionally Deep Purply track as well as being the runt of the litter. Still, it manages to steal some effects from “Hush”, and there’s even some of the “Smoke on the Water” riff hidden in there.

The album concludes with “Hard Lovin’ Man”, which harks back once again to the band’s 60’s roots, with some ace electric piano and Moog-mangling, but it also has a high-tempo metal riff that feels ahead of its time and goes out in an orgy of distortion and feedback that would make Kurt Cobain proud.

As an album, “In Rock” was never quite as iconic as “Led Zeppelin II” or “Paranoid”, but as you listen to it you can hear Iron Maiden, Van Halen and Twisted Sister being conceived on the mixing desk, and that’s just on the first track.

Even with one foot still planted in the sixties, “In Rock” manages to stand as a bold statement of what rock music was going to become.

187. Led Zeppelin – III

Led Zeppelin IIIIt’s easy to forget sometimes that there’s another side to Led Zeppelin, at least if you’re listening to them in these early career stages anyway. The blues to rock to epic bang that defined tracks like “Communication Breakdown” and of course, “Whole Lotta Love” were, by this time in their career, the Zep’s trademark, but they did alright on the softer acoustic side as well.

I never particularly liked Led Zeppelin III growing up, despite the fact that it begins with what is probably (one of) my favourite tracks, the blindingly exciting “Immigrant Song”. This is the first album that really explores that ‘other’ Led Zeppelin, with gentle acoustics and a mix of (blatantly nicked) folk-blues and weird Druid shit.

“Immigrant Song” is explosive, angry, frightening even, an adrenalised fury of howling vocals and thunder. It’s a song that came to define the Zep’s live sets (when they weren’t going drum batshit on “Moby Dick” anyway), and damn it’s good. Check this puppy out…

It’s been covered to death, recently and notably by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” soundtrack (it is quite a Scandinavian song), but for me the best ones are a VERY early and noisy Nirvana…

… and a rather more sedate but evocative acoustic cover by SOAK.

“Friends”, which follows, is the first taste of that ‘other’ Led Zeppelin on the album, with the band stretching their acoustic legs on a simple but intriguing number that even dares to have strings! (Judas!). But don’t fret, it ends on some nice Moog that leads into “Celebration Day”, a more traditional rock number.

“Celebration Day” isn’t the band’s most remarkable track (the critics weren’t kind to the rock numbers on Side A of this album), but it does come at you like a freight train, and the bass and lead guitars work in delicious synergy.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” returns to the acoustic, and is one of the more notable tracks on the album, full of soul and blues. Like three other tracks on here, it was ‘covered’ by Page and Plant for their MTV ‘Unledded’ performance and subsequent album “No Quarter”, mixed with a Middle Eastern orchestra and despite the strange surroundings, is more bluesy than ever.

“Out on the Tiles” is often overlooked, which is a shame, because it evokes the sound of their first album and ends the A-side nicely.

Once the vinyl flips though, the real essence of this album starts to come out. It starts off with a rousing (and once again pilfered) cover of Leadbelly’s “Gallows Pole”, and is a grand new step for the band, not just acoustic but creatively structured and merging folk banjo with more familiar rock drums. It leans on tradition but is full of invention and never fails to excite.

It’s followed by “Tangerine” and “That’s the Way”, both among the band’s more gentle and emotional songs. Both incidentally were used to great effect in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”, with “Tangerine” providing the perfect outro (man, I love that film). “That’s The Way” also gets the “No Quarter” treatment, quite effectively.

“Bron-y-Aur Stomp” is a triumph of a track, sounding both richly acoustic and different to anything the band had done previously, while the album’s closer “Hats off to Roy Harper” is a surreal mix of slide guitar and distorted vocals that shows off Plant’s prowess as a blues singer.

It’s a fitting end to this album that the closing track leans on the blues tradition and acoustics rather than the usual crunchy riffs. When Led Zeppelin III was released, it got a rough ride from the critics (so much so that Page refused to give interviews for 18 months), but as Page himself stated, “Led Zeppelin III was not one of the best sellers in the catalogue because the audience turned round and said ‘What are we supposed to do with this?’—’Where is our ‘Whole Lotta Love Part 2’?”.

Led Zeppelin III has been redeemed over the ages, and it’s an album I warm to in a way that teenage me didn’t. The band would soon reach a creative zenith with “IV” and “Physical Graffiti”, but this is an important album, a reminder that in a world surrounded by Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin had the smarts to push the envelope a bit.

179. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath - Black SabbathI think it was about March last year, when I reviewed “Tommy”, that I pointed out one key fact about this list – the book is entitled “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”, and that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best, just the ones you MUST hear.

This one fits the latter camp. It’s not quantifiably a GREAT album. It was recorded in a single 12-hour session on a meagre budget. It’s short, rough and for much of the 40 minutes, disappointingly mundane, and it was a critical failure on its release. But, and this is a but Sir Mix-a-Lot would be proud of, this album deserves a blue plaque, because, on this album, heavy metal was born.

In the gloriously meta opening track (“Black Sabbath” from the album “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath), those first bars from Tony Iommi’s guitar come down hard, followed by our old buddy Ozzy’s ominous vocals. The lyrics, designed to scare, seem tame these days, but combined with that sonic canopy, they still sound nice and evil. And oh my word, does the riffing at the 4:30 mark sound fresh.

“Wizard” scales down the ominous, incorporating some blues harmonica, but the guitar keeps growling, and there’s some fine drum work going on too.

“Behind the Wall of Sleep” is a low point on the album, with an arguably archaic sixties vibe. On the other hand, the main riff sounds quite similar to their later “Iron Man”, so that’s nice.

“N.I.B.” is probably the best-known track from the album, and one that they went on to soar with in their live shows. Rumoured to be an abbreviation for “Nativity in Black”, it was later revealed to be named after Bill Ward’s goatee. It’s a guitar-heavy first person narrative from Lucifer, with a riff that’s been described as “the raucous defiling of Cream”.

“Evil Woman” was a cover of a track from Minneapolis band Crow, and it’s more a blues rock track than genuine metal. It was released as Sabbath’s first single, which is slightly disappointing as it doesn’t really represent the sound of the album. There’s even a crude fade-out at the end of the track that just doesn’t belong.

Despite opening bars that sound just like Metallica’s “Unforgiven” and a nice drum solo, “Sleeping Village” is mostly nothing to write home about, but the album closer, the epic “The Warning”, most certainly is.

It’s a track with more conventional “woman-done-me-wrong” lyrics than the more pagan mischief from the rest of the album, but for the whole of it’s 10 and a half minutes, it’s a sonic resume of what guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward could do, and it’s quite a magnificent closer to the album. There’s more than a nod to the blues-rock from the likes of Cream and John Mayall in here, but the sound is truly Sabbath’s own, with the promise of many great things to come.

Tony Iommi famously lost the tips of his middle fingers in an industrial accident, leading him to detune his guitar to make chords easier, and it’s widely suggested that the distinctive dark sound that that created was the nucleus of heavy metal. Certainly, at the 8-minute mark in “The Warning” the guitar sounds like nothing that went before and opened up some great ideas.

There’s no doubt that Black Sabbath were pioneers of the genre, and there’s enough great music to redeem Ozzy from his missus’s later X-Factored crimes against music. There are better metal albums out there, sure, but this is a growling, abrasive little belter that has a lot of history about it. Certainly worth 40 minutes of your time.