Tuesday, July 10, 2012

KAL SWAN WHERE ART THOU!? THE VOICE OF ROARING LION IN SWAN'S CLOTHING!

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?

      

13 comments:

  1. Excellent post! I have been on a Kal Swan kick for the last few years and am glad to find someone who shares my appreciation of him. Hopefully he comes out with a new project soon!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Nem! Thanks so much! Kal is amazing isn't he!? I love everything about his music. He is so honest and so direct. he just gives you the facts straight up no pretensions. For me he's the best metal singer in the universe even more so than somebody as revered as Dio (rest in peace Ronnie). He's so good. I particularly think that with Doug Aldrich some real magic chemistry was there and I wish they'd settle whatever differences they had and get back together. It is wonderful to see your comment, really warms my heart up! thank you! Feel free to contact me anytime you like!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post man Lion is my favorite band, Trouble in angel city is probably the best album I've ever heard, and also I've been searching for this guys to see if they are interested in re-releasing dangerous attraction CD, I've sent a message to doug but didn't got any reply

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you thank you thank you! Nice to know that there is someone else out there who loves Lion and Trouble In Angel City! I don't know how Lion didn't make it huge at the time. You look at the music that was popular then for hard rock and so much of it didn't have half the power and emotion that Lion had. Kal is great, but so is Doug's guitar. He should have replied to you. I don't know Doug, but if I could get in touch with him I'd tell him he's one of the best guitarists I've ever heard.

      Delete
  4. Oh and btw is "Come on" really about a man who goes insane after a break up? Also do you know where can I find lyrics for trouble in angel city? I'm looking desperately the lyrics of "Victims of circumstance" and "Stranger in the city"

    Once again, great post man I really enjoyed reading it

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes it's about a guy who goes insane. I got really mad at someone and screamed out the lyrics to "Love Is A Lie" over the phone now awhile back. I unfortunately don't know where you can find the lyrics for the album. Have you heard Bad Moon Rising? You should check them out- it was Kal and Doug after Lion and pretty similar maybe a bit more obviously influenced by Led Zeppelin and Bad Company. I love their music. Great to hear from you. Thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Excellent post, you nailed it! Thank you for that. I, too, am a part of the club - as I told my wife (again) today, Lion is probably my all time favorite band. Driving to work in the morning wouldn't be the same without the sound of Kal's art in my ears. Nor would driving home.

    Best thoughts from Copenhagen, Denmark.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello to you in wonderful Copenhagen a place I'd love to visit one day! Thanks for your kind comments about my rave of Kal Swan and Lion. I love him. I wish I could get in touch with him. I'm really pleased that other people also respect his music. It also must be said that he and Doug Aldrich were a really brilliant team not just in terms of musicianship, but also when it came to how much soul they have. I'm not big on a lot of metal- it has to be passionate. You obviously agree that Kal is passion music! I love the song "Fatal Attraction" for me that song alone nails what a great band Lion are and I love all their other songs too. You've made me really happy today. Thank you so much. Keep on loving that big maned cat of a man Kal Swan!

      Delete
  7. Hi Blake, thanks for your reply. I'm not a metal fan per se either. In fact, I'm mostly listening to jazz and older ambient and synth. But Lion, Tytan, Whitesnake, Tigers of Pan Tang, and such works very well for me. You're right, we should not forget about Aldrich! You nailed their relationship and how it evolved in the above post -- that's more or less exactly how I experience it through their music. 'Fatal Attraction' is also a favorite of mine, but oh, there are so many of the tracks that one has got to love. I tend to prefer 'Trouble in Angel City' overall though (and again, you nailed it above). By the way, if you're on Facebook, do visit my fan page over there: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lion/253057551413244?ref=hl

    Also, yeah, come check out Copenhagen. It's a pretty city. I'll give you a guided tour if you show up some day.

    All the best!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry it took so long- absolutely ages to get back to you. All the bands you mentioned are bands I love! I love some metal/really heavy hard rock, but I'm very eclectic and believe all music can be great music except grunge and anything else 90s that is. I think I also just a hair above the first album prefer Trouble In Angel City- they tightened up and got more sophisticated on that album and continued to mature as Bad Moon Rising. Kal Swan- I don't know how to express how much I love the guy. Wish he'd get back to music again. It's great to hear from you always. Stay warm in cold Denmark now that winter is here! cheers
      Ben

      Delete
  8. Kal. Ethis..apologies. My loss. Would love to hear from you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpetEldgPUA&list=PLFD7F247FD017C7C0

    ReplyDelete
  9. I was a huge fan of Lion back in the late 80s when I bought them on vinyl. And later Bad Moon Rising. To this day I still think Aldrich's best playing is on those Lion albums. He's great on the Dio and Whitesnake releases, but just RIPS on the 80s/90s stuff with Swann!

    And you're right: the world needs Kal Swann back. Been a fan since forever!! One of the best singers for sure, and a Scot to boot!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Whew... talk about some memories, and one great article, my friend. Nearly 30 years later, I'm still learning more about Kal's early singing background. As luck would have it, I was fortunate enough to have sung background vocals on the vast majority of tracks on both Lion LPs, as well as the Transformers theme, recorded during the Fatal sessions. Kal's then gf/wife Vicky (working for producer Keith Olsen) and my wife (working for Geffen A&R guru, John Kalodner) were good friends, and after having played/sung on an artist demo for Vicky (which included guitarist, Dave Marshall and drummer John Shearer), she apparently raved to my wife, then Kal about how much I sounded like Coverdale, and within a few weeks I'd received a call from Kal, asking if I might join the band during the backing vocals phase of Dangerous Attraction. Having spent a total of about 3 weeks between the two LPs with the band, your description of Kal being moody is spot on. Not that he was at all a downer to work with, but he was just so quiet, and intently focused on every single aspect of the production. Kal might have laughed twice, and smiled maybe 5 times, whereas Dougie, Jerry (still a good friend) and Mark were a little more fun to work with, and that's likely because the four of us were in the recording booth together most of the time. The backgrounds on Dangerous took about 2 weeks, as 4 days into it, all of us had come down with colds, and were worthless for days. Not that Doug, Jerry or Mark were bad vocalists (great players), but I was pretty quickly guided closer to the mic by Kal (this also happened when singing backgrounds with Don Dokken and Joey Tempest on the Fiona Flanagan LP, Squeeze), I was (and I emphasize the word was - lol) that good, with the exception of another BG singer who later joined us for Love Is a Lie, being Gary Falcone, who sings that very highest note of "lie!" Man, what a freakish range he had! During the session, I'd heard that Kal wasn't happy with the backgrounds of the EP released earlier (many of which he performed), and why he wanted more than just his own voice being so prominent in the final mix. Anyway, anyone who's familiar with such work knows you rarely, if ever, hear the track from beginning to end, essentially working from section to section, unless we were taking a break in the control room, but watching Doug add pieces was equally fun, as he (like many described above) remain one of my favorite plays of all time, and he's such a laid back guy. A few years later I was summoned back for Trouble, as the guys had spent a lot of time promoting/touring in Japan. Sound City (in The Valley) wasn't as sweet as the Santa Monica studio of Dangerous, but the songs simply f**king rocked! Sadly, soon after the release of Trouble, Mark was involved in what I was told was a pretty traumatic (career-ending) motorcycle accident, which he barely survived. This was a huge hit for the guys, and like so many rock bands of that era, changing trends equally contributed to the demise of the band. Since the advent of the internet, we're all pretty familiar with the successes of Lion's members, but the last I'd heard about Kal was that (like me) he found himself working for the Hollywood movie studios, and being as untraceable as he's become in this tech era, I'm guessing he's working under a pseudonym.
    Thanks again for this article, as you've helped me with a few more of the puzzle pieces.

    Scott Douglas MacLachlan

    ReplyDelete