Kal Swan if you see this where are you? What have you been up to? Will you ever sing and record music again? These are all questions that only Kal can answer and since I've not been able to contact him directly or do much research I can give you as many facts as I have about this Metal Vocal God, but I can't tell you much more than what matters the most- the music.
-Tytan- The Early Days and Rough Justice Indeed!-
OK, so a lot of you won't know who Kal Swan is unless you're a die hard follower of British hard rock. You won't recognize Tytan or maybe you do if you are reading this blog and have seen my rants on heavy metal/hard rock/New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Kal's first professional band that I know of was Tytan back in 1981-1982. Swan is one of those rare exceptions in metal. A voice that is genuinely powerful and majestic, not a helium pitched screamer or an overstuffed cookie monster. There was a time when metal could have class and Tytan together with Diamond Head and Dark Star were the classiest of them all. Formed by ex Angel Witch bass player/keyboardist/backup singer Kevin "Skidz" Riddles, Kal, and guitarist Stevie Gibbs who along with Riddles has reformed the band sadly without Kal it was clear from the beginning that Tytan weren't going to be a run of the mill metal band or a power trio type sound like Angel Witch. They were helped out a great deal in the beginning from Angel Witch's rising popularity and guitarist/lead singer Dave Dufort's support, but they were a band doomed to meet an untimely end with just enough in the tank to record some astonishing music.
Music has always been something that can be twisted into a lie. It doesn't matter what era, what kind of music, how far back nor how far forward you want to go. Iron Maiden are lying through their teeth and they always were lying through their teeth. Why some anti hate group hasn't slaughtered them literally I don't know and fuck all those fake connections Bruce Dickinson makes to Williams Shakespeare and Blake he's a complete loser in the clothes of a rock and roll champion which he most certainly is not. Back in the days of classical music or jazz it probably was a better time to be a professional musician. You were successful because you were hugely talented and had a natural gift for music. We all know the classics of both- Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Mozart, Wagner, Stravinsky, Vivaldi, Debussy to name but a few and for jazz Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, early John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and only a few who slipped by huge success such as the tenor sax genius Wardell Gray. Music changes with each generation and with each new change and revolution come hangers on, liars, and the real deal. While rock progressed fast from the Beatles onward it would always hit a brick wall at a certain point and nothing good would register in the charts. Kal Swan and Tytan were a real heavy metal band at a time when metal was a valid musical form in England that had breathed freshness into a dying music scene.
The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal by definition would be music much more melodic, much more powerful, much more extravagant and well-crafted than any other metal that was around.
Tytan played a blend of melodic hard rock, bashing over the top metal, and driving blues based hard hitting solid metal all with brilliant musicianship and Kal Swan's refreshingly deep, bassy, bluesy, soaring, hugely well-rounded and wide-angled vocals/lyrics. They were a rare exception- a band who could write, perform, and pull off a shocking hybrid of all hard heavy music that had gone before and that was yet to come. Kal's voice and the excellent singles they released, their amazing live shows, and an album sadly long after their demise are what we have to remember this short lived group for. Tytan were tipped for huge things, but line up changes and management issues typical of the era led to Swan splitting in late 1982/early 1983 for Los Angeles where he'd form Lion (more on them later). The band didn't exist, but to remember them 12 tracks were put out on a tribute album to their music compiled by the band and the Metal Masters label in 1985 entitled appropriately ROUGH JUSTICE.
-Kal Swan Roars Into His First Battle- Rough Justice-
One of the most famous albums of the entire New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and now one of the rarest and most sought after (albeit an awful pressing job) is Tytan's ROUGH JUSTICE- an album once ignored by all including silly me back then when it was a common $10 album! The title is very fitting of what happened to Tytan's career. I really wish I could polish a knife and kill some stupid war mongering metal assholes when I hear the anti Nuclear War opening track "Blind Men And Fools" and yes that is how frightening, how powerful this song is. It's Tytan's most famous together with the amazing Side Two first track "The Watcher" and hardly surprisingly. "Blind Men And Fools" is true metal- it's heavy, bludgeoning, emotional, and full of menacing power. With Queen like harmony vocals and Kal's belting deep voice soaring on top of the full blast toughness of the music this is a God like metal song- may just be the best ever. The rest of the album is really in all honesty just as amazing. Swan sounds like Kal Swan and he does also try a few things he'd never do again such as some borderline thrash/speed like the uproarious rape track (I'm not advocating such a horrible thing the song is just so tasteless that it makes me crack up) "Cold Bitch" which is a disaster and some more convincing songs ("Don't Play Their Way," "Far Cry"). I'm glad that Swan would later abandon the overt metal of some of ROUGH JUSTICE, but as overt metal goes this is awesome. On the best tracks like "Forever Gone," "Money For Love," "The Watcher," "Blind Men And Fools," "Women On The Frontline," and the melodic splendor of the beautiful yet still hard hitting final track "Far Side Of Destiny" it's enough to just break down and have a good cry over how this band never went anywhere. Yes, it's nearly that sad. Really, though, I feel more anger than sadness and my mind keeps going back to damned Iron Maiden and how such a hate driven, Proto Fascist, and war mongering bunch of poseurs could make it and Tytan fall right through the cracks. Tytan also beat the shit out of Maiden live with the kind of force and power only the best of metal can have. Both live and on the record it's not just Swan we have to thank for the brilliance of Tytan's music it's all involved especially Kevin Riddles who is a fantastic musician and the impressive Randy Rhoades influenced guitar work of Stevie Gibbs. Gibbs even sings the beginning and end lead in a haunting choir boy like voice on the epic metal in a shorter song of "Sadman." Tytan were special, but with work getting harder to find, a lack of major label interest, and the ever changing line ups Swan left the band for L.A and that was the end pretty much. It could be said that his lyrics on the album are a bit on the vicious side, but as with what followed Swan is about cold hard dirty and evil reality and love two things most metal is afraid to face.
-The Dangerous And Fatal Power Of Lion-
After moving to L.A in late 1982/early 1983 it would take Kal awhile to get a band together and get it off the ground. Lion, a very different sort of band from Tytan, came together finally with the line up of virtuoso guitarist Doug Aldrich, brilliant bassist Jerry Best, powerful drummer Mark Edwards, and Kal Swan. This band were bent on not making the mistakes of Tytan regarding record labels and the 3 Americans complimented Kal perfectly. Working out of L.A in the mid to late 80s was a tough time for a serious melodic metal/hard rock band as most of the other L.A bands in fact all of them were nothing like Lion. The airbrushed decadence of Dokken (a great band), Ratt, Autograph, and later on the rubbish of Winger and the decent pop metal of Warrant were as far from the realistic world Lion created as you could be. Lion signed with a major label in 1985 Scotti Brothers, but not major enough. Scotti Brothers were more concerned with hit making AOR machine Survivor than Lion. Still, Lion wrote and performed the theme to the hugely popular TV series The Transformers and issued their first album in 1986 entitled DANGEROUS ATTRACTION.
DANGEROUS ATTRACTION is a group effort. They produced it as they would the follow up and had complete control over the music. It is a very different sound from Tytan! Lion are best described as a band who played music that is both polished, artistically enlightened, basic, energizing, and menacing. There are no more Satanic references and only one politically charged track would emerge from the band that being the terrifying anti war anthem "Forgotten Sons" (forget Marillion/Fish's song what a bunch of losers) on their also very frightening second album TROUBLE IN ANGEL CITY. The songs that make up DANGEROUS ATTRACTION all stem from what sounds like horribly bad luck and hurt feelings in human relationships. Kal's wailing, plaintive, powerful, soaring voice is matched by some fine harmonies and great bluesy guitars from Aldrich. Songs like "Fatal Attraction" are such a breath of true fresh air when I hear them. The music is blues based- thank God for that! Finally a metal band who can combine blues where its all meant to come from with just enough neo Classical bombast in the solos. The riffs are killer and the hooks really are something extraordinary- just listen to songs like "Powerlove" and the 7 minute epic "In The Name Of Love." Clearly Kal Swan is a cross between Diamond Head's Sean Harris and early David Coverdale whilst staying truly himself Kal Swan. That is high praise. There are few who I would say equal Sean Harris, but he and Kal Swan are the two contenders for best metal/hard rock voice since the golden days of Ozzy led Sabbath, UFO, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest. Lion may have been more overtly melodic and a little more radio friendly than Tytan, but the Take No Prisoners assault remains a powerful hard rock blast that will have you completely blown away. I would not call DANGEROUS ATTRACTION an album for teenaged girls to listen to or any of Swan's music. Clearly from his lyrics Kal Swan has a deep hatred for the opposite sex. The fact that for the most part I share that and that I'm very masculine and not a typical homosexual though our one difference is our sexuality makes Kal almost comforting- like a brother I haven't seen in a really long time. Kal is a beautiful looking guy, but he's also a pretty moody and dark one too from what I can tell through his music.
Full marks must be given to songs like "Death On Legs," "Armed And Dangerous," "After The Fire," and the aurally savage blasting hard rock of the closing track "Shout It Out." What music!. In general unlike what would follow DANGEROUS ATTRACTION is a very listener friendly album, but not the follow up...
TROUBLE IN ANGEL CITY is probably the scariest record in my collection and a record full of pain, anguish, and loss. We all know how scared we are when we hear those storm effects at the beginning of "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath and that's how the record begins. "Come On" is about going mad over lost love and losing grip of reality. Kal roars and wails with soul, heavy keyboards augment the song, Doug Aldrich flies off into the stratosphere, and this is one epic melodic hard rock anthem like Diamond Head meets a really lavish Pomp keyboard sound. The album took till 1989- a full 3 years after its predecessor to come out and it was soon all over for Lion as they had lost their major label deal and the whole thing was another screw over just as they'd hoped to avoid. Also, ominously like the cut-offs/violent endings in the album's lyrics while touring after the album either Best or Edwards was seriously wounded in a bad road accident which brought Lion to their end. TROUBLE IN ANGEL CITY is an album full of bad memories for me. Still I love it. I'm not a masochist so I must hear the true soul and purity of this sad, depressed, and mourning kind of loss all channeled through the most unlikely music form of all- heavy metal. The question of this record is IS THIS HEAVY METAL? I could say an affirmative Yes or a very strong No, so it would have to be called melodic metal or where that music meets melodic hard rock. The band had grown even more as musicians and their production job is earth-shattering, but you won't find songs more bitter or full of sadness than the pained loss of "Can't Stop The Rain" and the anger over betrayal in "Love Is A Lie." Two of the album's highlights are on Side Two the hard hitting street guy against the system of "Stranger In The City" which is filled with the kind of alienation that occurs throughout the album and the truly heavy metal horrific End-Of-The-World anti war closing epic "Forgotten Sons." Tytan could be really scary, but this album is both that and it's a depressed work of dark genius. There are almost no cheerful moments here unlike the young fresh faced optimism of the debut. Soon Lion would break up almost under worse circumstances than Tytan, but both Swan and Aldrich got together again in Bad Moon Rising- a band that showed some serious maturity.
-BAD MOON RISING AND KAL SWAN'S DISAPPEARING ACT WHERE IS HE TODAY?-
Despite ignorance by the American buying public Lion had done very well in Japan and when Kal Swan was putting some ideas together for a Lion comeback it was no surprise that Doug Aldrich would be heavily involved in the band. The two complimented each other so well in Lion and they'd only get better in Bad Moon Rising.
Essentially a logical progression and more mature vision of Lion Bad Moon Rising's timing in the States/England was horrible. This wouldn't stop them from making great music, though, and for me their first two of 3 records the eponymous first and the more ominous second BLOOD capture Kal Swan at his absolute zenith. Kal could probably have waltzed through anything, but he and Aldrich devoted all their hard work and time into melodic metal perfection. The first album featured some new tricks- the epic yet more mature "Dark Side Of Babylon," the hard hitting blues rock of "Built For Speed" with a guest appearance from Michael Schenker, and the beautiful nearly tear jerking ballad "Without Your Love." From opening track "Hands On Heaven"through this band never should have missed out, but by 1991 their brand of heavy metal was fast becoming not what would be considered metal at all. I became so angry with new non music that in 1992 I just stopped listening to anything current. Perhaps Bad Moon Rising were going through a 70s metal revival and this is why both their first album and BLOOD are so endearing. They are warm. I think of soldiers. Stalwart and iron clad never giving up on their fighting spirit and generosity, but all soldiers both literal and figurative end their fight at some time and Kal and Aldrich ended it rather on a sudden note. They recorded a none too impressive third try at breaking through the lines in a furious storm of speedy grungy nothing music with OPIUM FOR THE MASSES in 1995 and then it all ended with them not even on speaking terms I don't think. I'm not exactly sure what went on, but Swan and Aldrich disappeared from each other's lives and Swan just disappeared. Judging from the cries against gang violence brought on by poverty in the really intense "Blood On The Streets" and environmental destruction/political lying/the growing homeless problem in "Devil's Son (While Our Children Cry)" Swan may have headed for something more political than musical, but he vanished! Where is he? Especially where is he when we need him? Thanks largely to the nightmare that Iron Maiden began and which Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Anthrax, the disgusting Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Testament, and Helloween followed real heavy metal was killed off almost completely. All we have are memories of when the music form had credibility and one of the songs on BLOOD is a fitting epitaph to a lost dream- "Remember Me." For anything on BLOOD that I think is a bit over the top like Aldrich's sobbing guitar in "Tears In The Dark" or everything brilliant about it such as "Servants Of The Sun." "Dangerous Game," "Time Will Tell" really every track here is truly coming from musicians who have a great strong and honest heart. How sad that is just ended, that the dream just was over when it could have gone on indefinitely, but the music makes me brush the sadness off my face and feel like I am part of a small group who know of the genius that Kal Swan is. And while you're at it do check out Aldrich's guitar in Whitesnake now- he's still really good. As for Kal I end where I began- where are you you amazing wonderful vocalist and writing genius?