Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The Gods are best remembered by rock historians as the band who became Uriah Heep (Ken Hensley, the leader, would go on to form Heep with Mick Box and David Byron of the band Spice whilst Gods drummer Lee Kerslake became a UH mainstay when he joined them on DEMONS AND WIZARDS all the way up until their 2008 release Wake The Sleeper and 2011's masterful Into The Wild), but traces of that later, heavier group would only appear very sporadically on the two albums The Gods recorded Genesis and the much superior To Samuel A Son. Most dealers/collectors seem to prefer Genesis, but I find the tracks off that album to be tamer, less fully realized, and the album has its high highs and low lows. Having said that, I've yet to own the original.....
In Koobas fashion (A band To Samuel A Son and my second choice Titus Groan resemble to a certain extent) To Samuel A Son was released after The Gods no longer existed. Throughout their career personnel changes had plagued the group with such luminaries as King Crimson/ELP bass man/voice Greg Lake and the Stones Mick Taylor early members who came and went, but after settling on Hensley as the leader (lead vocals/keyboards/guitars) with Joe Konas (Guitar/vocals), the late John Glasscock (bass player SUPREME and vocals), and Lee Kerslake (Drums/vocals) they would make their two albums and then rapidly disappear into the netherworld of collectors groups who didn't sell 5 copies at the time.
To Samuel A Son is a concept side of 9 songs and a non-concept side of "Stage Numbers" on Side Two although more likely the ambitious songwriting and dramatic vocals were a natural to Hensley and he was feeling restricted by The Gods' short song format. The concept of Side One is the birth, life, death, and rebirth through his son of the fictitious Samuel "Sammy" Jay and while that may sound ordinary much of the 9 songs are amazing. The beginning of the album isn't inviting- a plodding organ, sound effects, and then finally after that kicking into the first song the title track which manages to combine Zombies Oddesey And Oracle melodic richness with a deeper, more urgent progressive slant. We can call this majestic track "Progressive Pop-" a transition from the 1967/1968 British pop to the coming progressive sound of the early 70s. The vocals from Hensley are strong and appealing while the harmonies are staggeringly good. The rest of the side moves from childhood to marriage to growing old to the very sophisticated take on rebirth through the Son in "Autumn" which like the opener begins pretty lame and then gets great when the vocals and actual theme come in. You can overlook two poor yet very short intros when the rest of the side and the album are amazing. Highlights of the Conceptual side are the classy very British psychedelia of "Sticking Wings On Flies," the Koobas style rocking psych sound of "He's Growing" and "Lady Lady-" which may be the side's best track. There is a also the Beatles/Badfinger power pop sound which permeates through this entire album. Yes, my mates, Uriah Heep began as the Beatles proteges The Gods. "Penny Dear" and Side Two's brilliant "Mama I Need' are McCartney meets The Koobas while the McCartney and Lennon comparisons can't be avoided when describing some of the band's vocal arrangements which find them somewhere between the two. This isn't to say that To Samuel A Son is derivative, just to point to an influence not just on The Gods but on their Hatfield friends Octopus who'd deliver with Restless Night a one-off masterpiece I wish I'd kept.
Now, you're probably going to ask if To Samuel A Son and The Gods really are great enough to command the 400 and more pound value of the album/their work and whether they were capable of turning out a classic and not just an album that would get overshadowed by the masterful work of Uriah Heep. I can tell you right off that you play To Samuel A Son next to Very 'Eavy Very 'Umble and To Samuel wins hands down. Byron's voice wasn't quite all the way there yet as it would be on Salisbury and same for the songs, many of them ideas nicked from this record. The Gods could churn out song after song of transitional 60s into early 70s greatness far better than most bands were doing at the time as England was in the throes of major musical changes which saw quite a few masterpieces, but just as many duds (Spectrum's The Light Is Dark Enough, Samson's one off nightmare Are You Samson, Fire's laughable The Magic Shoemaker). The Gods no longer were afraid to spice up their arrangements both musical and vocal nor were they held down by pseudo soul moves which led many to call them a British Vanilla Fudge. Now they sound confident, melodic, upfront, strong, and with many highlights which combine superb vocal harmonies with a strong yet very down to earth lead voice. "Lovely Anita," the album's closer, is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard and though it may be from 1969 is full of the vibes of the Summer Of Love. It is a love song to end all love songs and I'm not one that's big on girls' names in song titles (Toto is a guilty pleasure thus so..) or lyrics. The Gods manage to surpass quite a few other bands here, and they also manage to avoid sounding pretentious which isn't easy when one side of your album is a 9 song mini-opera. Yes, you can hear echoes of Queen from time to time in their harmonies and it undoubtedly is the influence of The Beatles and Bee Gees on The Gods which can be pointed to as making them a trio of bands whose music would later take on a very mature shape in the songwriting of Freddie Mercury and cohorts. If you love The Bee Gees, Beatles, Koobas, and you like your Proto-Prog on the less pretentious more juicy song based side start here. To Samuel A Son is a Brilliant album and The Gods themselves are a band worthy of their revered place in the world of late 60s British Bands who didn't have the success they deserved so much at the time.
   By the time Titus Groan made their one self-titled album in 1970 Uriah Heep were up and running, Jethro Tull were astonishing friend and foe alike, Genesis were panhandling us some of the most boring music ever save for "The Knife," Traffic were branching out, Yes and King Crimson were reinventing British music, and progressive rock had indeed come into its own. Sounding a bit like King Crimson and Jethro Tull, Titus Groan belong to the category of bands like Czar, Raw Material, Bulldog Breed, and Aardvark all of whom differ, but all of which were playing heavy early prog with traces of British popsike. The 4 man band Titus Groan here offer us 5 long tracks and one of them a multipart suite, but passionate interplay between guitar and woodwinds, rich harmonies, and a raspy yet friendly lead voice render them a band who don't even come close to sounding pretentious. I remember when this album was common and not highly thought of, that is the US press (and typically my mint minus copy is a US press) and I still run into a lot of very skeptical reviews of Titus Groan's one record, but for the life of me I don't understand it. This is one of THE BEST and one of THE MOST IMPRESSIVE progressive albums ever made. I would say that it may top some of the huge monsters and is one in its own right. I can point to several reasons for this collection's spotless, magical vibe. First off the playing may be exuberant and virtuosic, but it does not interfere with the songs and the excellent melodies present in each track. Secondly there is a lot of room for pop melodic know how even in the heaviest tracks. Third and final to make this a classic Titus Groan doesn't sound like a band who take themselves way too seriously. There is a real feeling of fun and creativity on here that I would compare to the sense of joyfulness present on Aardvark's best songs and the peak moments of Czar where the music is exciting and at that same time not just a lot of pseudo philosophical nonsense. Progressive without pretentious is the way it should be and for proof of this listen to the track "Hall Of Bright Carvings." What is a long suite is actually melodic, soaring, harmonies surrounded  by a jam of intense joy and excitement. The saxes, guitars, bass, and drums all get a chance to really shine without an excess of overlong solos. The jam here is a structured one with a few free form/free flowing sections. I am reminded of the vast creativity prevalent in the best of the heavy leaning British Psych/European psych which has no equal in Amerika or very few equals in the States. I would put this album up there with the amazing 1st Mighty Baby album as one of the best ever, but like Mighty Baby who would go on to a dreadful 2nd album (the financially huge price tag'd musically worthless Jug Of Love) the other tracks recorded by Titus Groan which only made it to singles were unimpressive. Also, I can bring in Czar at this point as a band who made their album when times were changing fast and there weren't any really concrete trends that were prevalent for a band to be sucked into, thus when you either were progressive or more middle of the road that middle ground was unwisely taken both by Czar and Titus Groan. A British pressing of Titus Groan commands a huge sum now, but it would be good to point out that you get a gatefold with the UK release and its' on the Dawn label who gave us the also brilliant Pluto and Quicksand. Thankfully, the US press is on the Janus label and the sound quality is fantastic- better than any of the reissues. In the annals of heavy progressive rock with some of that popsike/Mod magic still left in there Titus Groan are one of the best. They deliver and they aren't music that will depress or bring you down. They avoid free jazz squealing, prog rock navel-gazing, and the delirious nothing of boogie band nowhere land. Both these albums by The Gods and Titus Groan reflect the era when British rock was nearing a peak of excitement and the heavy sounds of Europe were coming in full blast. You can't go wrong with these two. Do yourself a favor and find them. It may be a long search, but it will be a rewarding one at the end.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


This could be my most controversial post, but it had to be said and had to be written. Before we go on let's get one thing clear- I'm still very much anti Tipper Gore and her PMRC bullshit back in the 80s, but that said all that fuss happened in that dim and distant time when Heavy Metal was still mainly just a louder more strident version of hard rock and roll. Yes, back in the Golden Age of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal there was much good music that was mistakenly thrown under that banner or which simply stated is a harder, meaner, more in-your-face hard rock. I'm talking about bands like Diamond Head, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Praying Mantis (I'm not a big fan, but some songs are great melodic rock when they're less doom-ladened) Def Leppard, Dokken, UFO, Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath and the like. Good solid rock and roll. Now I bring you the sad, disturbing, and horrible news:
Heavy Metal is dead. Rest In Peace. It wasn't natural causes either it's best described as intentional long rot turning to a quick homicide by clueless ignorant teenagers who form a large quotient of the buying public.
To go back some 23/22 years I was at the age of 12 and 13 a metalhead protege. However, it wouldn't last long with the kids at school or other older friends because I would not go to the dark side- the right wing fanatic sick and disgusting pro-war pro-violence pro-death side of what was just starting to appear in the late 80s. My staple diet was loud AOR and hard rock and now it still is. Having bands like Warrant and Whitesnake in the top 10 constantly I thought the truly evil side of this music was nothing to fear and would die out. Many good times were had listening to Diamond Head and UFO. Truth be told UFO saved me from going completely insane with the abuse I encountered in school and the huge amount of stress I suffered from it. They are Gods and for me UFO, Angel, Diamond Head, and the other great melodic metal/hard rock/pomp rock bands this is what the music is all about. Disturbingly looking back all those years now I can look at what took place around 91/92 when hate metal and grunge were entering the mainstream and the "kill and destroy and plunder everything" philosophy lead to the worst crap ever recorded and the worst bunch of kids ever to have the displeasure of my knowing. I had become a hippy by this point indulging in psychedelia and with long hair- I'd left metal behind completely if this is what was going to be considered "Heavy Metal." There were really bad bands back in the 80s, but it is these hate-preaching bands of the 90s era like Tool, Avenged Sevenfold, Hammerfall, Deicide (more on that disgusting lot later), Korn and the like who are the ones who have survived. Now there is another even more evil generation and Hate Rock has entered the mainstream clogging up all new and used CD and record stores that carry "Heavy Metal" and of course they still call it that. Bands as disgusting as Hatebreed, Anal Cunt, Anal Vomit (you can tell how imaginative these arseholes are), In Flames, Deicide (whose leader murders animals and is proud of that), Emperor, Cannibal Corpse (actually this is a still popular 90s death/dark/speed metal band), Slayer (another holdover,), gay bashing hole-headed Sebastian Bach, and an even longer list are fully in the mainstream and it is the messages of hate, war, death, and murder which are filling up the ears of stupid pissed-off-for-no-good-reason loser kids while their lazy parents do nothing but feed into the negativity of their children. Heavy Metal is indeed dead and the above bands and many others can be thanked for that. If I go to a store to find a band like Leverage, Treat, Dreamtide, the back catalog of Stratovarius, or any number of brilliant melodic hard rockers or even mainstream acts like Europe or Whitesnake's new releases there is no luck. Why you may ask? Music that preaches love, standing up and fighting for what you believe in, saving the environment, and respect for other people is not going to sell. I could see this sad and evil rot setting in in the 80s, but I never dreamed that it would become this bad. As a musician, artist, and a lover of rock and roll I find this really beyond frustrating it's worse than that it's painful. And I won't say it's hard to believe. Ask yourself the question why Saxon and Iron Maiden are two of the few old metal acts still popular and I will answer it with the following lines from Saxon. I am quoting Saxon's rather overzealous towards human conflict Biff Byford here from a song all the way back in 1982 "Power And The Glory:"
"My friends lay around me their bodies all tattered and torn/but mine is not to reason why mine is just to do or die/to the Power And The Glory". And just when I'm thinking that Biff either had no brain he is so twisted or just was naive/not thinking in the same song he says:
"The General says we'll win the war just sacrifice 10,000 more"
Go over to Afghanistan and get blown up by an IED and see how much glory you find in that.
This song and both Saxon and Iron Maiden's endless hate, death, and war promoting rubbish are considered anthemic and patriotic. The world is going straight to Hell and these bands are loving it.
So you could ask how do we bring back real Heavy Metal and Hard Rock and stop this viciousness and hate driven non-music and I don't know if I could answer. If I had to say a quick response I'd say gather a movement of people like myself and complain to CD/Record Stores (I'm saying CD before Record as most of this is bought by kids on CDS or downloaded), to parents I'd say step up and keep your kids away from violent video games and the perils of the internet (incidentally this was suggested in an interview by Judas Priest's Glen Tipton and I fully agree), you could write angry emails to music publications, or you could get your own music together and fight that way.
The internet has an awful lot to do with the rot and destruction of teen culture and teenagers period. Any kid regardless of age with the internet can access hate rock, death metal, and can go to blog sites suggesting that kids kill their parents, can make bombs, and can kill other kids, and harm people. This leads to a viciousness where the parents are not stepping up while their children are into serious harm  and their minds are rotting away with the click of a button. Like how the world ends in many songs from the bygone era of the 80s like "Future World" by Pretty Maids or "Blind Men And Fools" by anti-war metallers Tytan/Kal Swan. The likes of Kal Swan's Lion and Bad Moon Rising are extremely rare and if Lion who stood up for a lot of good things and were basically a macho yet love and passion fueled band are even available on CD you won't find them. Blame the kids for their stupidity, but a lot of blame when it comes to the web can rest with inefficient lazy parents.
This is so sad. That's what it boils down to more than anything else is a real sadness and disillusionment within me. I still play what many would consider Heavy Metal guitar licks and I love heavy music of all kinds to balance with my lighter stuff, but as it was for poet and WW1 veteran Robert Graves I will say to metal having any credibility left "Goodbye To All That." I can't and never could listen to such evil messages and inept wet noodle delirium and to see it go straight into the mainstream and homes all across Amerika and other countries too is too much to bear. I began my journey knowing good music from bad and I know even better now. Except now the question isn't just a question of music it's a question of moral justice. These bands have to be punished and punished severely, but we all know that in the wrong way that will only increase the sales of these bastards. I have not any hope left for Heavy Metal as a music form. It's dead and it's gone. From the dying embers there are still bands and musicians out there trying to keep it alive and working really really hard to make great music. I'm talking Treat. I'm talking Magnum, I'm talking Europe. I'm talking Pete French reviving a band that many had no hope for ever hearing music as great as theirs again and revitalizing it with a new line up and same classic hard rock of his great band Leafhound. What can it take to bring these great musicians the success they deserve? Revolution. Why have Stratovarius never gone anywhere in Amerika and only in Japan and their native Finland even with the release of a landmark new album this year? Because my mates people are incredibly stupid. Stratovarius, a Finnish melodic symphonic metal band, have been around in one form or another since 1990 or even 1989. They currently have one of the most amazing guitar players in the world and have rebounded from the uninteresting Polaris album to their new one which is brilliant (type in Stratovarius New Album 2011 as the title is escaping me now). Uriah Heep have just released Into The Wild- a true Heavy Metal masterstroke that is one of their best ever in their over 40 year career. The music that I love, that all real musicians love is still being made, but while Saxon and Iron Maiden and Slayer and Megadeth/Metallica remain huge UFO, Uriah Heep, Stratovarius, are cult bands at best. It's a dreadful situation. Lyrics that deal in a proper manner with dark subjects and don't encourage horrific acts have been around longer than you'd think- even longer than Black Sabbath. Sabbath brought a lot of things to people's attention, but bless them not just for that, but for being the one huge selling band along with former frontman extraordinaire Ozzy Osbourne's best work who still can sell huge quantities of their music and draw fans from all over the world. If at best 3 bands (Sabbath, Zeppelin, and the massive and even more massively great back catalog of Queen) are still alive and doing great and we have Kiss to keep us company on a cold night whether Gene Simmons tongue gets in the way or not a horrible analogy can be drawn to an army of soldiers fighting for all things good finding themselves outflanked by an evil Proto Fascist army of Hate. As veteran rocker Ian Lloyd and I said when we met each other in January the world is ending. And as for heavy metal- if you're not convinced by these passionate words of a one-time huge follower yet let me say it again- Heavy Metal is Dead. Rest in Peace I wish it would, but these slanted/twisted fools are trying to claim that Hate Rock is really Heavy Metal and it is very much alive. If it's down to them to make the judgement it never was and never will be alive. I rest my case. It's really sad, but there are the facts behind the death of a once very vibrant music form.