A Dozen Awesome Bands from Newfoundland and Labrador!

My quest for Canadian contemporary heavy metal has brought me to the point farthest east! In the initial stages of my exploration, there was no shortage of bands from the Big 3 Canadian music cities of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. I was delighted also to find so many great bands from Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg. The Maritimes surely must have had some stellar bands hidden away and I already began getting a taste of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and even Prince Edward Island. But at first, I was getting nothing from The Rock (Newfoundland). Was Great Big Sea the best I could expect?

Hell no! As I soon discovered, Newfoundland – and Labrador I am guessing – has an incredible heavy music scene going on. There was even an article on CBC about the thriving scene in St. John’s.

Well, with the help of a list on Last FM and a YouTube channel devoted to heavy music from Newfoundland and Labrador, I have pulled up a dozen bands that I would like the world to know about.

HÄG – This was the first band on HeavyNFLD’s YouTube channel and one listen had me ears riveted. Retro doom metal like Blood Ceremony but with a modern touch as well as psychedelic and progressive touches. But what totally sold me was the vocals of Clair Hipditch. There is a seductive, sorceress quality to her singing that enchanted me. I think she has already become my favourite female vocalist! The music also ventures into more melodic and even haunting atmospheres. Unfortunately, HÄG’s self-titled debut album released in June of this year is available only on vinyl and digital download. Though there have been other bands whose albums I decided not to buy because of the download only (I really want a CD!), I could not pass up on HAG! The music is now mine!!

HÄG – Summon the Earth to Lay Claim Back into the Soil

Allagash – A band speed/heavy metal band whose foundation rests upon the Allagash abductions, Allagash are all about alien abduction and UFOs. They already have two albums, an ep, and a recent release that’s a compilation of their ep and some other tracks. This was the first band I found whose music really convinced I had found a great representative of Newfoundland who also had a CD. Thanks to this band, I found the HeavyNFLD channel. CD ordered from Bandcamp!

Allagash – Evil Intent

Category VI – The CBC article was my first step towards rock from The Rock. That’s where I discovered Category VI. At first I was disappointed to find only an ep but there are two full-length albums too! Power metal and classic heavy metal with a powerful female vocalist in Amanda Marie.

Category VI – Reborn

Emblem – This classic metal/power metal band popped up on a Bandcamp list of Canadian bands worth checking out. Their debut album came out in 2017 and they released a split album with Ezra Brooks in 2019. One of their songs is included on the compilation album of new Canadian metal, called “Trapped Under Ice Volume 1”.

Emblem – The Exorcist

Oceanic – This is a math rock / progressive rock band who aren’t particularly heavy but whose music grabbed my attention for it’s remarkable quality. This is yet another case of a Newfoundland band producing world class music that’s easily on par with any big-name American contemporaries.

Oceanic – Origin

Qyn – This is a two-piece (from what I gather) progressive metal band who just released a debut album. I haven’t much more information on them right now but the music impressed me!

Qyn – Hoi Polloi

Sheavy – This is a stoner rock band who go back to the 1990s. They have some ten full-length album releases, which you can read about on the Metal Archives. So far, I have only given them a cursory listen but they sounded good enough for me to include them here. I’ll say they do a great job of Black Sabbath and Trouble.

Sheavy – Electric Sleep

The Combine – A progressive metal band that formed in Stephenville in 2009, The Combine now have three albums under their belt. Enjoy the sci-fi video!

The Combine – Victory Road

Winterhearth – Newfoundland has a good share of black and death metal bands. Here is a really good blackened death metal band with some light, folk touches before mayhem breaks loose!

Winterhearth – Tarot Cards

Of the Black – This is a hardcore band. No CD for this band, at least not that I’ve found. But I really like their sound.

Of the Black – Sacrificing Ghosts

Bucket Truck – These guys have a couple of cool animated videos. Here’s one of them.

Bucket Truck – You Walk Behind

Fireign – This is an older band too that I believe doesn’t exist anymore. Fireign released only two albums,  one in 2002 and a second in 2011. There don’t seem to be any CDs for sale out there right now. Here’s an instrumental track from their first album.

Fireign – Valley of Unrest

So there is my pick for twelve bands out of literally scores from Newfoundland and Labrador. Check out the HeavyNFLD channel and scroll along. There are plenty of punk and alternative rock bands as well, and some oldies like Borealis and many other bands whose music I haven’t taken time to explore yet.

Album Artwork

My quest to discover contemporary Canadian heavy metal bands continues. I have surely listed over 200 band names so far and listened to samples of music on YouTube and Bandcamp of over half of those. About three dozen CDs have slipped through my mailbox. I am now looking at my massive CD collection and thinking to begin culling albums I really don’t need, albums that I will no doubt suddenly need a few months after I have sold them off. Seventh Angel, we parted too soon!

One of the most dangerous traps I have found is to search for bands on Bandcamp. The reason why this is a hazard is because I can not only listen to the music right away, but I can also see the artwork. And if the artwork attracts my attention, I have almost already decided to order the album. all I need to do is listen to the music and decide for sure.

So, today, I will share some of the artwork that drew me to albums.

Covers Allelic

Allelic – A one-man-band from Montreal. A beautiful blend of folk music and melodic black metal.

Covers Anomalism

Anomalism – Death metal. Love that cover!

Covers Aquila

Aquila – I haven’t checked it out yet but the cover caught my eye!

Covers Arctos

Arctos – Black metal from Edmonton. First full-length album.

Covers Blackwater Burial

Blackwater Burial – Vancouver death metal. Digital download only. 😦

Covers Brain Stem

Brain Stem – I love this kind of sci-fi horror art!

Covers Of Hatred Spawn

Of Hatred Spawn – Loved the cover so much I went ahead and ordered the album! Death metal.

Covers This Day Burns

This Day Burns – Haven’t listened to it yet but I love the colours and the abstract dendrite look.

Covers Thrawsunblat

Thrawsunblat – Love the simplicity. This is only an ep and digital download only. I ordered an older full-length album.

Covers Villainizer

Villainizer – Terrorist thrash metal (satire).  Sadly, all the CDs were destroyed when the band ended.

Covers Wilt

Wilt – Atmospheric black metal from Winnipeg.

Covers Abyss

Unleash the Archers – The new album due out in August!

Who First Sang About Heavy Metal Music?

Who was the first heavy metal band? What was the first heavy metal song? Who was the first band to call themselves a heavy metal band? What was the first song to use the term heavy metal?

Alright, Internet inquisitors! I have a question for you! Who was the first band to use the term heavy metal in reference to the style of music in a song?

Just about anyone can tell you that Steppenwolf used the term in the 1968 song, “Born to Be Wild”, but the “heavy metal thunder” in that song was referring to an engine. That reference turns up again in Led Zeppelin’s 1975 song, “Trampled Underfoot” with the lyric, “Check that heavy metal / Underneath your hood”, and again in Don Felder’s 1981 song “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)”, which appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Heavy Metal which was based on a science fiction and fantasy graphic novel.

Then there was Blue Oyster Cult’s 1974 song “ME 262” which was about bomber planes and included the lyric, “They hung there dependent from the sky / Like some heavy metal fruit”. Here, the term is a simile to describe the bombers, though it is interesting because the band’s manager, Sandy Pearlman, who wrote a lot of the song lyrics, had claimed in the past that he had invented the term “heavy metal” for music. Unfortunately for him, there are no reviews or articles anywhere that corroborate his claim.

Of course, in the 1960’s, the term heavy metal was already known, just not as a style of Rock and Roll. William S. Burroughs had used it in a novel of his as a term to describe the people of Uranus. Also it was used for the collection of metals on the periodic table including lead and cadmium, both of which were – among others – becoming issues of environmental concern in the late sixties. The term was also used for motorcycle and car engines from time to time, it seems.

“Heavy” had meaning on its own, coming from the Beatnik culture and meaning deep and profound. Interestingly, the words “metal” and “metallic” began to show up in the late sixties as descriptive words for the sound of rock music and electric guitars. But it wasn’t until Mike Saunders now famously described Humble Pie’s music as “heavy metal-leaden shit rock” in a review, and then reused the term twice after in other reviews, that it began to stick to the more aggressive and heavy sounds of some rock bands. Still, it took a few years before the term became commonplace in the music press. My own research into old CreemCircus and Hit Parader magazines revealed that “heavy metal” was used only a little in 1974, but much more frequently in 1975.

By this time, there still seems to be no band writing songs about “heavy metal” music. Bachman Turner Overdrive were close with their 1974 album, Not Fragile; the title track including the lines, “You asked if we play heavy music / Well a thunderhead’s just another cloud”. We need to look further ahead then.

Back in 1983, I remember hearing on television that “heavy metal” had become a household word. This was largely thanks to the chart success of Quiet Riot’s Metal Health album, which reached the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top 200 – the first heavy metal album ever to do so – in November, 1983. That year also saw the release of hugely successful albums by Def Leppard (Pyromania) and Motley Crue (Shout at the Devil). By this time, several big names such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Scorpions were drawing huge stadium crowds. This was the year that heavy metal became a musical style to be celebrated or despised.

During the three years of 1982 to ’84, heavy metal themed albums and song titles were everywhere. There were:

Heavy Metal Shuffle – song by Kick Axe (1984)

Metal Queen – song by Lee Aaron (1984)

Heavy Metal Breakdown – song by Killer Dwarfs (1983)

Heavy Metal Maniac – album and song by Exciter (1983)

Metal Militia – song by Metallica (1983)

Heavy Metal Machine – song by Riot (1983)

Metal on Metal – album and song by Anvil (1982)

Heavy Metal – song by Sammy Hagar (1982)

Black Metal – album and song by Venom (1982)

And many many more.

So by 1982, bands were already celebrating playing heavy metal and writing songs about it. But we can look back a little further to 1980 where we find the song “Heavy Metal Thunder” by Saxon – this time about the music! – and a song by Manilla Road called “Street Jammer” that includes the lyric, “Oh, Rock and Roll (heavy metal) / I’ve got the hottest stacks”. There is also Krokus’s 1980 album, Metal Rendezvous, which could be a reference to the music but cleverly pictures two cars crashing head on, thus possibly drawing a connection between engines and the music.

It’s temping to call out Judas Priest’s 1980 song, “Metal Gods”, or even Blue Oyster Cult’s “Heavy Metal” from the same year. However, both of these songs were inspired by science fiction stories, the former being about robots/machines and humans and the latter about a black hole. So looking back through the eighties, we reach at least two songs in 1980 that include “heavy metal” in the lyrics where the term refers to the music style.

That leaves us with a gap between 1975’s engine reference and 1980’s music reference. Were there any bands who sang about heavy metal music prior to 1980?

The answer is an indubitable “yes!” Check out these two lyrics:

“We’ve been five years working / In a rock and roll band / blasting heavy metal / Right across the land”

“Fireball steamer / Heavy metal screamer / Playin’ licks hotter than hell”

These lyrics come from the first and second albums by Canadian power trio, Triumph. The first song is “What’s Another Day of Rock and Roll” from the self-titled debut in 1976 and the second from the title track of their sophomore release, “Rock and Roll Machine” released in 1977.

It seems that at this time and well into the eighties, bands were still regarding “heavy metal” and “rock and roll” as two peas in the same pod. Indeed, Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilminster would claim throughout his professional life that heavy metal was just another way to talk about rock and roll and he even announced at concerts, “We are Motorhead. We play rock and roll!” It wasn’t until metal developed more extreme subgenres that the gap between rock and metal became more obvious and, as a result, many of the bands considered as heavy metal bands of the seventies and eighties became relegated to hard rock. It’s a little like how the planet Pluto got demoted to a dwarf planet because the criteria to be a planet became more specific and Pluto didn’t meet all the criteria.

But anyway, there you have it! My research has put Triumph as the first band to include the words “heavy metal” in a song where the term refers to the style of music and not anything else.

If anyone out there knows of other examples from between say 1974 and 1978, I would dearly like to know about them!

New Canadian Metal: The Quest Progresses!

So, in less than a week i have completely overwhelmed myself with Canadian metal bands to check out, and my spending on CD orders is at the point where I need to keep written record and calculate what I’ll need to be paying off on credit card bills over the next month or two.

But it’s been oh so much fun listening to so many bands and finding a lot that I either had to have soon or that I will certainly be calling home when it’s financially safe for me to do so. There have also been many bands who were very good, but as I’m going for diversity in style and region of origin, I couldn’t just go and get every cool power metal act from Alberta or killer death metal act from Quebec.

Two sites that were very helpful in pushing my expenditure limits were Hellbound’s lists of ten best Canadian metal album picks for each year from 2009 to 2018. Just click on the link and look at the best album for each year and find the link for the top ten of each year.

The other site nearly knocked me off my chair. By this point I had consulted several “professional” lists, meaning those on pro-like or pro sites like Hellbound, Loudwire, Kerrang, and so on. A lot of bands were turning up again and again. I had written down about 100 bands or so and listened to music samples of about 50 bands on YouTube or BandCamp. Then I found this list on Rate Your Music. Out of 67 bands, I had only heard of 16. But what caught my attention more was that most of them were labeled with any combination of symphonic metal, power metal, progressive metal, and melodeath. I realized that I had been busy gathering death metal, thrash metal, black metal, classic and trad metal, tech death, doom, stoner, hard rock. Power metal is not an area I have much listening experience in so I decided to hear what our Canuck bands were capable of. Wow! Lots of great music. Unfortunately, not all of it readily available for purchase on CD. Nevertheless, with so many bands to choose from, it was easy to find a handful of solid representatives for my project.

New comers that have been ordered or set on standby are:

Cauldron

Riot City

Lutharo

Viathyn

Borealis

Chthe’ilist

Begrime Exemious

Forteresse

Karkaos

Ravenous

The Agonist

Longhouse (download only but sound good)

Electric Magma

Phobocosm

Tenet

and just because they’re from Kamloops,

Benthic

and just because they are from Nanaimo,

The Body Politic

Othyrworld (a.k.a. Sacred Blade – an older Vancouver band from the eighties but good stuff)

Not saying that I will buy albums by all of these bands but they have stood out for one reason or another. And there are plenty more. Just look at those lists! Canada really rocks!

 

New Canadian Metal: A Quest!

A few weeks back, I caught an episode of Banger TV where Spell‘s latest album, Opulent Decay, was reviewed. Two things caught my attention: the band is from Vancouver, and I had never heard a band quite like that, especially one appearing on a heavy metal video channel. It excited me that there was a Vancouver band playing that kind of music and I quickly ordered the album. I’ve been enjoying it more with each listen.

However, it got me thinking about other bands like Anciients, Blood Ceremony, and Unleash the Archers. My 21st Century Canadian metal releases are mostly tech death bands from Quebec or Devin Townsend projects. It occurred to me that Canadian heavy metal and heavy metal in general has a lot more to offer even in the recent years than the brutal styles like metalcore, deathcore, slam, and tech death. I had also been hearing a lot about how rock is dying and metal is dying, and I don’t believe a word of it. It actually had me thinking to do a video featuring new, young rock bands, and a recent encounter with videos by Starcrawler had me thinking to begin my search in that territory. But I recognized that even though I thought Starcrawler were pretty cool, there wasn’t enough outside of the videos to hold my interest to the point of a passion. But if the genre of music is metal (or prog) and the region is Canada, well then it would be very easy for me to become passionate about finding out where the goods are.

The first thing I did was to do a Google search for best Canadian bands of the 2010s. I found some pretty good reference lists: Kerrang’s list of twenty heavy Canadian bands you need to know, Kerrang’s list of 13 Canadian metal albums everyone should own,  a list of ten Canadian albums of the decade (2010s), Hellbound’s list of top Canadian metal albums of 2017 (more years!), and web site lists like BestBlackMetal’s Canadian list, and Angry Metal Guy’s Canadian albums list.

With so many bands and albums, I decided that I would not simply compile a list of new bands. If I was going to make a video for my channel, I needed more focus. Perhaps the best five albums (in my opinion) by bands who had formed in the last ten to twelve years with attention to regional and stylistic diversity. It was easy to find bands from Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal but I wanted more regional diversity. Calgary and Saskatoon were also hot, as was Winnipeg (no surprise). But how about other places? I began searching for metals bands, province by province, territory by territory. This lead me to bands like Bushwhacker of Whitehorse who now reside in Vancouver, Death Valley Driver of Prince Edward Island, Hellacaust of Nova Scotia, and Category VI of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I also found regional stylistic hotbeds like trad metal and stoner metal in Alberta, doom and stoner metal in B.C., tech death in Saskatoon, noise in Manitoba, metalcore in Ontario, and black metal in Quebec and Nova Scotia, not to forget the tech death scene in Quebec. This meant that my quest to pick out five new bands was actually going to mean not searching hard to find them but rather digging through dozens and dozens of bands to find which ones impressed me the most. And though I planned to take my time and slowly and carefully make my selections, I have already enjoyed so much of what I have heard on BandCamp and YouTube that the purchasing of albums has already begun.

So, it seems that the final video video will have a broader theme. There will be a top five albums/bands, but also a list to a top twelve from which the top five will come and a longer list of bands that I enjoyed enough to want to own a copy of an album. The video is a work in progress, but below I give you the bands I have either ordered or have on the list to order. Not all are actually young enough bands to make my list, but their music is new to me and so I decided to pick up a few older artists along the way.

Black Wizard

Dead Quiet

Wormwitch

Bushwhacker

Skull Fist

Woodhawk

Striker

Kobra and the Lotus

Black Thunder

Gomorrah

Hellacaust

Death Valley Driver

Sorciers des glaces (older band)

Endless Chaos

Oni

Hazzerd

Tomb Mold

Bison BC (Bison)

Big / Brave

Chron Goblin

Wasted Heretics

Maelstrom Vale

Despised Icon

KEN mode

Traveler

…so far, that’s where I am at in my quest. But it’s proving one thing: that the Canadian metal scene appears quite robust in spite of fears that heavy metal will die because there are no more younger bands to carry the torch. I would disagree.

1977 – A Year of Transition for Heavy Metal

sin after sinOne night a couple of years ago, I was walking home and listening to some tracks from Judas Priest’s “Sin After Sin”, and it suddenly occurred to me that this was really heavy metal as we came to know it in the 1980s. I mean, who else was making music like this in 1977?!

There has been a lot of debate about when heavy was born and what exactly is heavy metal, but everyone I have heard contribute to the discussion agrees that Judas Priest was the forefather of the modern metal sound, which was then intensified and developed into further extremes later on.

The debate mostly revolves around the state of heavy metal music in the 1970s with the debate split between there not having been any heavy metal prior to 1976 with the exception of Black Sabbath and that heavy metal did exist because the term was being used to describe intense, exciting and, as was usually the case, deafening guitar rock, even though most of that music would now be classified as hard rock. Typically, it’s the older folks who experienced heavy metal in the 1970s, or at least in the early 1980s (like me), who argue that what we had back then was heavy metal because that’s what that style of music was called. Music lovers and music critics alike referred to that music as “heavy metal”.

07 Ted Nugent, 1977

Ted Nugent in 1977

During the 1970s, heavy metal music went through some important transitional phases. The original downer rock/heavy rock style that became labeled as heavy metal was prevalent between 1969 and 1971. From 1972 onward, the music of loud and intense guitar rock bands began to shift away from the doom and gloom minor chord style to something more like intensified rock and roll. By 1975, heavy metal was heard on albums by UFO, Nazareth, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, and Rush, while Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS, and early Queen were also regarded as playing heavy metal music.

The following year, however, was when an important change began to appear in heavy metal music, most particularly seen in two albums: Rainbow’s “Rising” and Judas Priest’s “Sad Wings of Destiny”. The style was a move away from the pentatonic scale hard rock sound of most bands to more technical riffing with an added penchant for creating classically-influenced compositions. Ritchie Blackmore was a known fan of classical music and Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton had classical piano training. In a way, the move was toward more epic songs with more complex musical structure. Lyrics returning to war themes were less about the futility of war and the doom it spelled for mankind and more about the struggles of the hero fighting against oppressive forces. Evil was not necessarily personified in Satan but in warlords and evil wizards who oppressed the people and heroes of the story. Fantasy themes were revived as well, as in Rainbow’s “Stargazer”. Judas Priest soon would begin giving us fantastic characters like the “Sinner” and the “Starbreaker”.

By 1977, there some a couple of major shifts occurring in the heavy music scene. Perhaps most importantly but least obvious in album releases was the beginnings of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It would take the current hard rock scene, some inspiration from the progressive rock scene (certainly in the case of Iron Maiden), the likes of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Rainbow, and the rise of punk rock to inspire young British bands to create a new style of heavy metal for the 1980s. quartzBut in 1977, most bands who were part of the NWoBHM scene were only just forming. Quartz released their debut album in 1977 and this album is sometimes regarded as the first release in the NWoBHM. The style is certainly portentous of things to come.

As for the old guard of seventies heavy metal, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin did not release albums in that year. Deep Purple had split up, and what the various members were offering on vinyl was a mixed bag of blues, funk, rock, jazz fusion, and hard rock. Rainbow released a live album, but no studio album. The Ian Gillan Band released their second album, “Clear Air Turbulence”, a jazz fusion album. John Lord and Ian Paice were with Tony Ashton in PAL, who rocked and grooved but were not really even hard rock, despite having Bernie Marsden on guitar. Roger Glover was immersed in guitar-less progressive music with his album “Elements”; Nicky Simper was in the hard rock band Nicky Simper’s Fandango; Rod Evans had left Captain Beyond and was about to commit career suicide with an attempt to create an all-new Deep Purple; Tommy Bolin was dead; Glenn Hughes was following his funk ambitions; and David Coverdale launched his solo career with a bluesy, funky, rock album called, “Whitesnake”.

expectOther bands from the early seventies scene included Nazareth, who released “Expect No Mercy”, a solid rock album with some heavier tracks and a very metal cover. Their 1978 album, “No Mean City”, however, was closer to a heavy metal album and possibly their second heaviest after “Hair of the Dog”. Uriah Heep released two albums in 1977, “Innocent Victim” and “Firefly”, both featuring some traditional Uriah Heep hard rockers and some more progressive tracks as well as some lighter tracks not worth considering in a hard rock and heavy metal dialogue.

From the mid-seventies hard rock scene, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS, Moxy, Thin Lizzy, UFO, and several others released albums along with a slew of second wave bands on their first, second or third albums like The Runaways, Teaze, Triumph, Angel, Starz, Thor and so on. But for many of these bands, the 1977/78 period was one of identity searching. angelAngel had begun more like a heavy rock band with progressive proclivities and Rainbow-esque themes but by 1977/78 the band was stripping back to an AOR sound and by the fourth album were heading in a catchy, glam rock/hard rock direction. Canada’s Teaze also began their career in a solid hard rock base with their debut in 1977 but then switched to a more radio friendly approach. Starz also followed a similar trajectory. KISS was lightening up a bit with “Love Gun”, and Sweet would release their last really hard rock album in 1977 with “Off the Record” before softening their sound for the next year.

The mighty Blue Oyster Cult were always spread out over heavy rock and hard rock but with strong connections to rock and roll and the melodies of early 60s American pop radio. After achieving major success with their song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in 1976, they delivered their fifth album in ’77. “Spectres” which includes the concert staple “Godzilla” but also piano-infused rock and roll and melodic numbers like “Searchin’ for Celine” and “Celestial Queen”. In the following year they would release their least heavy album of the seventies, “Mirrors”.

Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, and UFO all released albums in ’77 with some hard rocking tracks but also, in the case of Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper, a range of styles. UFO’s “Lights Out” is a highly-regarded album among fans of seventies rock, but it was noticeably lighter than the previous two albums.

creem metal deadTo summarize the state of hard rock in 1977, some bands were getting harder and heavier, some bands were diversifying their sound, and many other bands were delivering their last really hard rocker before attempting an AOR or arena rock approach. More melodies, more keyboards, more catchy hooks. This is perhaps what most inspired the October, 1979 article in Creem magazine about the death of heavy metal.

However, aside from hopefuls Judas Priest and Rainbow and – save for the Quartz debut album – the as yet unknown New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, there were still some bands who released albums worthy of distinction in 1977.

rock cityRiot – Rock City. Riot’s debut album took American style hard rock and put some extra juice into it. In a way, certain tracks can almost sound like a forerunner of the soon-to-be unleashed British scene. There’s an intensity particularly in the first half of the album that shows a band striving to add an extra punch and pound to its music. The album does lighten up with more emphasis on vocal melodies towards the end. But for 1977 it sounds like an album pointing the way ahead rather than jumping on the bandwagon.

bow wowBow Wow – Signal Fire. Japan’s Bow Wow released their second and third albums in 1977. Though they were later to fall victim to identity search like many other bands, their album “Signal Fire” rocks with a more consistent intensity than Riot’s “Rock City”. Had this album come out of the U.K. in 1980, it would have fit right in with the likes of Tank, Raven, Saxon, and Tygers of Pan Tang.

 

motorheadMotorhead – self-titled. It took over a year for Motorhead to finally get their debut album released, and though it lacks the more developed sound of the next three albums, the debut still offers up that familiar raw, lo-fi biker rock sound that made Lemmy and Co. unique. Though Motorhead’s style is rooted in a more primitive rock and roll approach, Lemmy’s ragged vocals and the speed and grit of Motorhead’s music easily associated the band with heavy metal.

farewellRush – A Farewell to Kings. Originally a hard rock band, Rush’s shift towards progressive rock opened up a wonderful opportunity to develop a new style of music. Sometimes regarded as the godfather’s of progressive metal, Rush took prog’s complexity and technicality and applied it to their power trio format, augmenting their sound with keyboards. “A Farewell to Kings” is not as heavy as some other albums of ’77, but tracks like “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1” show how heavy rock can be intelligent and complex while still hammering home the power chords and energetic displays of metal intensity.

TakenByForceScorpions – Taken By Force. The original Scorpions and their debut album in 1972 were very much a part of the so-called Kraut Rock scene. But the band folded after the departure of Michael Schenker, and so brother Rudolf Schenker along with vocalist Klaus Meine went to see guitar wiz Uli Jon Roth and ask to join his band. Roth agreed if they could use the more known Scorpions name. Over the next three albums, Scorpions would gradually shed their Kraut Rock sound and develop a hard and heavy rock style that was different from those of the U.K. and North America. “Taken By Force” is probably the best sounding album of the early Scorpions releases, but more importantly it features two fantastic heavy metal tracks in the dark and technical “Sails of Charon” and the speedy, proto-thrasher “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”.

Based on my impression from dozens of albums released in 1977 and as well the views expressed by Martin Popoff in the Banger TV video on the best heavy albums of 1977 and Scot Waters’ video of hard and heavy rock of 1977, I feel 1977 was a year of transition for the mid-seventies hard rock scene and the nascent underground New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene. While some bands looked for a more melodic and catchy music style to attract greater appeal, other bands were intensifying their sound or writing songs of more lyrical intelligence and musical complexity and technicality. This was not only the beginning of metal as we knew it from the 80’s but also where the divergence of hard rock and heavy metal began to set in with Judas Priest at the vanguard of the new style.

Rush: Favourite Songs

It was one of those things you just don’t want to read.

I had gotten up on Saturday morning and was getting ready to go to work. I opened Facebook and the first thing I saw was, “Rush Drummer, Neil Peart, Dead at 67 from Brain Cancer”.

It was one of those things you just don’t want to believe.

I quickly went to Safari and did a quick search for “Neil Peart”. It was true. Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for Rush had left us.

I felt the shocking news in several ways. Rush, one of the most well-known power trios, the three-way combo of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, three music icons, and Rush an institution. Those three guys. Three! And now one of them was gone. Then there was Neil’s wife Carrie and his daughter Olivia. In the late nineties, Neil lost his first daughter to a car accident, and ten months later his wife died. After a few years of healing and coming to terms with the course of his life, he remarried and had another daughter. Now it was his turn to leave.

Then of course, there were the music fans. Rush being one of the seminal bands of seventies progressive rock and Neil a top class drummer, the shock struck across my Facebook feed all day as musicians and music fans alike all responded in grief and heartbreak. By night, YouTube videos were already appearing – tributes, memories, and personal responses.

I think one of the things that made Neil so endearing to so many people was that he was an honest, delightful, and warm-hearted human being. Yes, he was timid and a little uncomfortable about meeting new people, especially gushing fans who were a bit too over the top with their idolization and admiration. But all the people I read or heard about who got to know him closely make the same claim: Neil was warm, caring, and welcoming. As for the rest of us, we knew him through his lyrics, his books, and his interviews. I always felt he could speak about anything in a way that seemed intimate and intellectual, honest and with a sense of humour. Neil was never the comedian that Alex is, but he always recounted his tales with a smile.

There is much to say about the kind of persona that came across, the character, the man. But in the end I think that there is a vast number of people who are all shocked by this news because not only an extremely hardworking and talented artist has left us, but also a very wonderful human being. It made me really want to listen to Rush again and listen to the lyrics as well as the music.

By chance, a week earlier, I had added the entire Rush studio catalogue back into my phone and I had added a couple of dozen songs or more to a playlist of favourite bands. So that morning, I put on my 2112 T-shirt and went off to work listening to Rush for the first time in a while. It sure was pleasing to hear those familiar songs again. When I first fell totally in love with the band’s music back in late 2010, I went and ordered all the albums I didn’t have yet (I had only five) and listened to nearly nothing but Rush for six months. I made a stack of mixed CDs putting almost every song they had on at least one disc. I bought the “Beyond the Lighted Stage” documentary and watched it over and over. So it was really a welcome feeling to hear those songs once more.

I realized though that I still had my favourites, the songs that my music appreciation lobe just revels in hearing. And on that mark, I will pick the track I like best from each album and write a little about why I love those songs so much.

Rush_self_titledRush – 1974

The debut album and the only album to include founding member, John Rutsy on drums. The band’s turn of fortune was unfortunate for John who had been the drummer ever since he and Alex first formed the band in the late sixties. Geddy joined soon after but was for a short time not a member of the band. They at last cut a record, but with a large-scale tour in North America in place, John’s health became an issue (he was diabetic). He was nudged out of the band while new recruit, Neil Peart, was brought in just ahead of the tour.

The song I keep coming back to here is “What You’re Doing”. It has such a heavy and groovy riff. The echo effect on the vocals is a little annoying, but the music hooks me with that riff. There’s also an instrumental bit that sounds like Rush are already thinking about writing songs that showcase musicianship.

Fly By Night – 1975

With a new drummer who was not only obviously very talented even at that point but also a knowledgeable person who could write good lyrics, Rush began work on their second album. They used a couple of tracks left over from before Neil’s entrance, but it was Neil who penned the majority.

I always like “Beneath, Between & Behind”. It has a Zeppelin-like feel to the guitar riff but it’s the intensity in the drumming that complements the vocal melody that I like. I should also put in word for the title track because of Alex’s incredible guitar solo. “Anthem” and “By-Tor and the Snowdog” are also great!

Caress of Steel – 1975

This was an odd album. It seemed to bear the last vestiges of the Rush that existed prior to Neil Peart joining and as well still held on to newer song writing. But then there was the whole second side which was supposed to be a side-long track but was executed like six individual tracks that could have just as easily been separate tracks that were part of a side-long theme.

While “Bastille Day” is an easy favourite, I actually prefer the mini-epic, “The Necromancer”. In three parts, we see three sides to Rush’s music. The first part, “Into the Darkness”, is introduced with a narration telling us of three travelers who are entering the Necromancer’s domain and losing all cheer and sunshine and only able to press on because of their desire to free themselves of the Necromancer’s power. The second part, “Under the Shadow”, is heavy and dark at first and then breaks into a speedy guitar solo and instrumental section. At last, “Return of the Price” tells us of how Prince By-Tor from the previous album comes to save the day. The music is melodic and the guitar riff has me wanting to sing April Wine’s “Tonite Is A Wonderful Time To Fall In Love”.

2112 2112 – 1976

“Caress of Steel” was not only disparaged by the record label but the tour was unsupported. At the time, the cry for writing more singles and more radio-friendly material was loud in their ears, but the boys in Rush went ahead with the album. It was nearly the end of the band. Once more pressure was put on them for radio-playable singles. But Neil had had enough, and together with Geddy and Alex, they created a side-long epic track of a future society where entertainment is strictly controlled by a closed circle of religious leaders. A young man discovers a guitar and brings it to the priests in hopes of promoting free musical expression. Instead he is told not to bother them.

Side two is a regular Rush album with some very good songs, but the music of the story parts on side one is truly remarkable. This is where the band’s ability to combine musical talent with a story is underscored. Though it is actually a collection of different tracks, they segue together because they are part of a continuous tale. Rush proved here that a hard rock band with progressive rock aspirations could successfully pull of at least a half album of a conceptual narrative story that grabbed fans’ attention and riveted them to the band.

More favourites to come in the next post!

Pull Up a Chair for Ningen Isu

Sometimes I envy my wife. She gets into a band and then is content to listen only to that band for months. How much cheaper it would be for me to do the same rather than becoming interested in whole subgenres or periods in rock history. Nah, just get into a band, buy their ten or twenty albums, and just sit back and enjoy day after day.

Well, it does happen from time to time, sort off. There was a time I listened only to Rush for six months and mostly to Yes for three months. There was the time I was into Devin Townsend and even this year I was really into Styx (that ship hasn’t exactly sailed yet either – it’s just in harbour right now).

And then there is Ningen Isu.

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By October, I always like to think of what albums will be my final purchases of the year. Of course there are always a few that get through later on in November or even December. But basically, I plan on winding down because during the winter holiday period I don’t have very much time to listen to music as I don’t commute to and from work. I decided this October, while making my Japanese band video, to pick up a few extra albums by Japanese bands. Ningen Isu had already found its way into my collection with four albums, but those four impressed me so much that I decided to get four more before the year end. Then I ordered four more. Within a few weeks, I had 19 of their 21 studio albums, plus three compilation albums I bought because there were songs that were not on the regular albums. I could have saved a bundle by just purchasing downloads from iTunes or even signing up for their streaming service. But I have to have the physical copies. That’s just how I am.

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There are several things I love about this band. The first and most obvious is of course that I love their music. Shinji Wajima (guitars, vocals) and Ken’ichi Suzuki (bass, vocals) cover a lot of my favourite styles, including stoner metal, doom metal, stoner rock, progressive rock, heavy prog, heavy psych, hard rock, and more. They are heavily influenced by the early period of heavy metal in the late sixties and early seventies, but also show a strong connection with early eighties heavy metal and even go thrash or speed metal at times. Wajima is a riff master, often said to be the Japanese Tony Iommi, and can pull off one ripping solo after another, each one tailored to suit the song perfectly. Suzuki lays down some pretty mean bass lines too, and the combination of Wajima’s guitar and Suzuki’s bass has been likened to the Alex Lifeson / Geddy Lee teamwork in Rush. After 30 years plus and 21 full length albums, these two are each one part of a three-piece metal music machine.

The third part is of course the drummer. They’ve had four in the band over the three decades. Noriyoshi Kamidate was the original drummer from 1987 to 1992. Iwao Tsuchiya played on two albums in 1995 and 1996. Masahiro Goto played as a stand-in drummer on their 1993 album, “Rashomon”, and then joined the band as the official drummer from 1997 to 2003. Finally, in 2004 they acquired Nobu Nakajima, who has remained the drummer since then. As a side note, both Goto and Nakajima have added some lead vocal work as well.

Lyrically, their songs are inspired by the literary works of Ranpo Edogawa, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as a fair bit of Buddhist themes (Wajima studied Buddhism in university) including lots of songs about Jigoku (Hell). Oh, and space songs. Lots of those too! The vocal style of Wajima and Suzuki is atypical of Japanese rock and metal bands. Their vocal style is very close to traditional Japanese theater and song. This gives their music a unique twist: while it’s impeccable in its likeness to western hard rock and heavy metal, the traditional Japanese vocals make it distinct in both the world of heavy rock music and Japanese rock music. Additionally, their choice of stage dress is with Wajima in traditional Japanese men’s wear and Suzuki in the robes of a Buddhist monk.

As for the band’s history, I have only just begun trying to read through their 30th anniversary publication which includes dialogue between Wajima and Suzuki giving a play by play recount of the making of each of the band’s 21 albums. From Wikipedia, I have learned that the band formed with Wajima and Suzuki in 1987 when soon after Kamidate became the essential third member. Actually, Wajima and Suzuki knew each other from high school and regularly visited a music saloon. It was there that they introduced to each other a song they had each written. Wajima’s was “Tetsugoshi Mokushi-roku (Apocalypse of the Iron Grill)”, and Suzuki offered a track called “Demon” (which, I wonder, could possibly be the song “Oni” from the “Shura Bayashi” album in 2003). After graduation from university, the two met up and first joined a hard rock outfit called Shiné Shiné Dan before setting off to form Ningen Isu. The name comes from the title of a short story by Ranpo Edogawa.

The book is chock full of information you won’t find on the English Wikipedia page or on the band’s English page of their web site. What I learned most recently was that the atmosphere in the band after the third album, “Ougon no Yoake (The Golden Dawn)” was not very good. Still poor, the band shared rooms when they travelled, and the album sales were declining with each new release. Ningen Isu had done very well as an indies band and had been the darlings of the TV show “Ikasu!! Band no Tengoku (Cool!! Band Heaven)”. But each new release sold less than the previous. Kamidate, who was older than the other two, was not pleased with the way things were going and parted ways with Wajima and Suzuki. Suzuki participated in a glam rock festival dressed as Gene Simmons, if I got that bit right, and met Masahiro Goto there. Suzuki asked him to do an album with the band and Goto obliged.

They first contacted Tony Iommi to produce it, but with compliments on their music, he had to decline because of his own busy schedule. They next asked Gene Simmons who agreed to do the job if they’d pay him 2 million yen (about $20,000). Ningen Isu declined on account of not having that much money. Though a track from the album was used by the Aomori Tourism Bureau and a non-album instrumental was used for a Honda bike commercial, the fourth album “Rashomon” didn’t sell much either. Their label, Meldac, released a compilation album of songs from their first four albums with the Meldac lable – “Ningen Shikkaku”, “Sakura-no-Mori-no-Mankai-no-Shita”, “Ougon no Yoake”, and “Rashomon” – and after that, Ningen Isu’s contract with Meldac expired.

Ningen Isu’s musical trajectory over the 30 years can be briefly described here. They began as a retro-sound, early seventies heavy rock band but rather swiftly became a terrific heavy prog rock band by their third album, “Ougon no Yoake”. The later half of the 90’s was spent exploring more variety, dipping into hard rock, heavy psych, and heavy prog, with traces of Japanese folk. From 2000 to 2008, Ningen Isu’s sound went more towards the modern day, heavy alternative band, but there was always room for some metal parts as well. Then they gradually became heavier until 2010. The last five albums, they have been at their heaviest yet and sound like a proper heavy metal band.

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I’ll hopefully have something of interest to add for every album, and that might just be a post for a future date. I’m thinking maybe to write a short bit for each album and select perhaps three songs that stand out for me and explain why they do. For now, I have made two videos for Music Is A Journey about Ningen Isu, one general video about the band’s history and albums and another about their compilation albums. I’m also responsible for getting the discography up on MetalMusicArchives, which I am still working on.

Emperor and Deafheaven

It’s rare that I get to see a concert because I usually work evenings. But luck had it that Emperor was performing with Deafheaven in Tokyo on a prefectural holiday in Saitama. It was still an official workday I was told, but I could take a paid day off and that’s exactly  what I did!

The venue was Tsutaya-O East in Shibuya. It’s wide but not so deep. Perhaps long enough to play basketball but not wide enough if you consider the raised step at the back. I was glad for that because it meant I could get close enough to take photos with my phone.

Deafheaven

I knew of Deafheaven but I had never heard their music until my coworker and also my concert companion let me hear a little off his phone one day at lunch. It sounded intriguing; like a combination of post rock and black gaze. Rolling Stone put their album “Sunbather” at #94 on their list of top 100 metal albums of all time. I didn’t expect how good the band would be live.

Vocalist George Clarke was a real showman. The way he glared out at the audience, moved around the stage, and made dramatic gestures with his hands made him an entertaining figure. Also active was bass player Chris Johnson, who moved about behind guitarist Shiv Mehran, throwing his head back, smiling, and generally looked like he was having a good time. The lights were pretty cool too. I was constantly taking out my phone and snapping photos of the band.

George Clarke of Deafheaven in action at Tsutaya-O East in Tokyo. Click on any picture to enlarge it.

Kerry McCoy (guitars) and Shiv Mehra (guitars) and Chris Johnson (bass) of Deafheaven, live in Tokyo. Click on any image to enlarge it.

The music was terrific and easy to get into. By the fourth song, the band was going through a long and beautiful instrumental passage, and as the music built up you could feel the energy of this ride. Bass player Chris Johnson seemed really into it, and he and guitarist Shiv Mehra appeared to be totally riding the music. The whole band was in the groove! It was a pretty awesome moment to behold.

When George Clarke announced that the next song would be the final song of the evening, the audience let out a collective groan of disappointment. I heard later from my companion that one young women was gushing over Deafheaven’s performance. Like us, she had come to see Emperor but was blown away by Deafheaven.

Emperor

Emperor hit the stage a short bit after Deafheaven, and as the headliner the fans were thrilled. I’d say at least half the people there were wearing Emperor T-shirts. My friend and I each grabbed one for ourselves from the merch tables.

Emperor’s performance was less active. In fact, except for Ihshan walking around, most of the members remained in their spots. Only guitarist Samoth would step forward between songs, stand at the front of the stage and glare down at us, then raise his fists overhead, to which the audience responded by throwing the horns and cheering.

But even though Emperor were not as active on stage, I was impressed with the music. I have Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and In the Nightside Eclipse but I guess I never listened closely enough to catch all the changes in riffs and in the music overall. I will certainly listen to both albums more carefully in the very near future.

Once again, I had a blast going to a live show. Unfortunately, no band members came out to chat with us this time, but that was alright. It was still great fun!

I decided to check out Deafheaven’s Sunbather album. It was available on Amazon Japan through the market place for ¥1,162. Two days later, I decided to order it, but the price had doubled. Suddenly, it looked as though it was going to become a rare item. Discogs had only one mint copy listed for under $15 US, and Amazon dot com only had new copies for over $44. I first gave up and ordered Ordinary Corrupt Human Love instead, but then finally conceded and ordered the more expensive Sunbather.

Now I must begin work on the next Music Is A Journey episode (#22) which will be about the top 25 black metal albums of all time as per my research on the Internet.

What Has Been and What Is to Come

The last few months have been a bit trying. Music Is A Journey, both this blog and the YouTube channel, has been held back more than anticipated.

I began the year attempting to increase my video output. Last year I had so many ideas I wanted to present in my videos but I ended up spending the first twelve episodes introducing new music. Not a bad thing, just there was much more I wanted to say. So I began 2019 by recording many videos, tackling topics I had scribbled down in early 2018. The problem was the time it took to edit and create the final video. I had been using a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop computer, which I bought before I ever had the idea to make videos. As such, the computer I bought was basically for Microsoft Office apps, surfing the Net, and other basic computer functions. Video making and even photo editing were not recommended (photos looked terrible on that display!).

But early on in the year, my father was hospitalized and I rushed back to Canada to see him. Then it seemed his health was improving, and so I returned to Canada once more in order to have a proper visit with him and my mother at their home. Most unfortunately, a couple of weeks after I left, his condition began to deteriorate once more and ultimately, he passed away.

July was, as always, a very busy month. My second job requires me to judge an English reading contest every July and November, and that keeps me very busy for about 18 days because I still have my regular job and of course my family. I also went away for a week to Ishikawa Prefecture for an episode of the NHK World program, Journeys in Japan.

By August, the heat was rising here in Saitama and my work room does not have an air conditioner. I was trying very hard to finish a video about musician and producer, Chris Gestrin, but the computer kept struggling as the video got longer. At last, it crashed and even after attempting to reset it there was nothing to be done but send it in for a repair estimation. The estimation came out to nearly the same price and I had paid for it. So, instead I bought a used Mac Mini and only just got that all set up and running this past weekend. One of my first projects was to finish off that video about Chris!

I actually have had a few blog topic ideas, but due to the heat and the absence of computer access recently, I have left all my blogs largely inactive except to post about my appearance on that TV program.

But now that I am back in business, I am looking toward the next few videos to make and two of them will be more introductions to new music. I’m very excited about featuring the first two albums in Steve Bonino Project’s Stargazer trilogy. The episode will include the latest releases by Kinetic Element and Marco Ragni, a suitable mix I reckoned because guitarist Peter Matuchniak plays on three of those albums. I’m also excited about featuring new music from The Inner Road, Joost Maglev, Seven Steps to the Green Door, and KariBow, all of whom have been featured in previous episodes. Also, I am anticipating the release of new music from Rosenkreutz, Murky Red, Band of Rain and even Grandval. Other bands I have featured before are working on new music, and I will dedicate an entire episode to Babal once they have wrapped up their Circle of Confusion of Tongues trilogy.

As for the blog, I hope to get around to writing about some of the topics that have passed through my head. Not long ago, I was reading a lot about Styx and there sure are some interesting thoughts there. For now, here are some recent video posts on Music Is A Journey.

The music of Densabi and photographs of Japanese mountains

A notice about the Lenovo crash and a brief introduction to the Sakiyama Tumuli of Gyoda City, Saitama.

A “Side Trips” episode about Virgin Steele

A dozen Vancouver bands (the video was recorded in Vancouver)