The Year of Extreme Metal

We are three quarters of the way into 2017 and this is only my third post of the year. It’s not because I haven’t been exploring music very much this year. On the contrary, I have bitten into to something larger than almost anything I took on in previous years, with the one exception being my conscious entrance into the world of progressive rock in 2012. I emphasize “conscious” because almost since I began exploring music in the early eighties I had been adding various albums to my collection that fall under the progressive umbrella. I simply wasn’t aware that the music was referred to as “progressive”.

Over the decades, I have generally been into either a band or a sub-genre. In 1986 I was into Nazareth. From 1989 to 1992 I was largely into various styles of Christian rock and metal. For many years, I followed the Canadian power pop rock band, Sloan and other Canadian artists. Then I was looking into Japanese bands. The I got back into Scorpions and after that once more into Deep Purple. The journey I have been making has always kept me exploring new avennues.

This year started out safely enough. I was determined to make 2017 the year I did not spend too much money on music. Early on I became interested in Dream Theater and bought five more albums, and decided to finish off my Opeth collection, purchasing four more albums. For the next eight weeks I placed no orders and only looked forward to a few new releases coming up in the early summer.

But with Opeth I realized that I was at last ready to delve into death metal. Back in the eighties I had loved thrash metal and was a fan of other extreme bands such as Bathory, Kreator, and Celtic Frost. By the time death metal truly became its own sub-genre of metal, however, I was moving away into sixties and seventies proto-metal and early hard rock. I didn’t appreciate the deathly gutteral growls and roars. Strangely enough, as heavy metal whethered the grunge scene and sprouted new branches like nu metal and groove metal, I was not particularly interested. Pantera, Disturbed, and whatever else my metal-loving friend was buying, did not grab me. I liked Marylin Manson a bit; Nine Inch Nails were interesting, but Rob Zombie, Fear Factory, Korn, and System of a Down just didn’t click. Slipknot? They were okay, I guess. As I had no connection with extreme metal bands anymore, I didn’t know what was happening. I just stopped buying Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer albums and enjoyed the classics from the eighties.

So, Opeth was a kind of gateway drug for me, but I had already been primed by Devin Townsend and Strapping Young Lad, and some other bands like Baroness, Mastodon and Suspyre, ready for more aggressive, more brutal, and more compelx music.

Since around May of this year then, I have been exploring the world’s of death metal, Norwegian black metal, death doom metal, a little industrial, thrash and post-metal, and some progressive bands tinkering with metalcore or djent. I check out playlists on YouTube such as “The Best 50 Old School Death Metal Albums (part 1)” or “Top 50 Greatest Thrash Metal Albums of All Time” or “Top 10 Norwegian Black Metal Albums“. The lists go on and on.

Another big help has been Banger TV’s program, “Lock Horns“, which has introduced me to key bands and albums in various branches on the heavy metal tree. Some bands and albums will be mentioned in my YouTube travels two, three or even more times, and it’s those that I often decide to check out, first listening on YouTube to see if I might like them, and then placing the choosen albums in my Amazon cart and putting them on standby. Naturally, not only has my cart reached nearly a hundred albums but I have already brought home about sixty this year. The good thing is that extreme metal albums are often quite a bit cheaper than prog albums, and my guess the reason is because death metal albums –  the older ones anyway – are usually about 35 minutes long as opposed to prog albums which easily go over 65 minutes, sometimes even being double albums.

Choosing albums is not always easy either. Essential albums like Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, Cynic’s Focus, or Darkthrone’s Under a Blazing Northern Sky are easy enough; however, when it comes to bands it’s a bigger challenge. Do I choose the essential album, the debut, a recent release, or listen to various samples and choose the one I think sounds best? For Immolation I chose the debut, Dawn of Possession because it came up two or three times on these compilation videos. But it was the most expensive album in their catalogue! For Obituary I chose the album that I thought sounded best and ended up with World Demise, not one of their higher rated albums and not an easy album to get a hold of either (I got a used copy of the CD in near-mint condition but the case and booklet look awful). For Nile I chose the more recent Those Whom the Gods Detest and was duely impressed; however my next purchase of Annihilation of the Wicked didn’t thrill me as much, possibly due to a muddier production. And then there was Vader’s Revelations, one of the cheaper albums but one that got me interested in the band. Two more albums were recently purchased but again, not the same thrill level.

The quest for albums that totally impress me continues.

Yes, I have had a lot I wanted to write about this year. I read the biography of Dream Theater and wanted to write a post. I had things to say about Opeth’s interesting career. More recently, I am interested in just how it was that so many subgenres of extreme metal developed in the eighties and early nineties and also how heavy metal continues to evolve and develop new sounds, playing and song writing styles, and new sub-genres.

But I am still on this new leg of my journey. I am still watching, listening, reading and learning. It is now October and I usually try to wrap up my purchasing for the year by this month. Orders in November can become delayed and arrive just before or during my winter holidays when I have no time to listen to music. I’m considering the last ten albums to order. Should I make it twelve albums? Can I go until January with 90 albums in my Amazon shopping cart and a few more in my Discogs cart without ordering anything? If I watch a video that introduces an important, essential album, can I summon the willpower to just leave it until next year? More importantly, can I afford to keep buying so many CDs?

Music is far too attractive to a mind like mine. But I am loving this part of my journey into extreme heavy metal.

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Explosion of Metal Subgenres in the 80’s

I entered my teens when heavy metal became a household word. Back in 1983/84, heavy metal was the music of choice among my friends. We had such a choice, too. There were Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the old boys, Black Sabbath. Then there were the hits bands like Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue. There were the German bands: Scorpions and Accept. And then there were all the bands who managed to squeak a video on the late night video programs, bands such as Killer Dwarfs, Krokus, Kick Axe, and so on.

Helix

Helix

Back in those days, heavy metal was not neatly divided into various sub-genres as it is today. Van Halen, Blue Oyster Cult, Motorhead, Venom, Saxon, Helix, and even AC/DC all fell under the metal banner. If your music was loud, hard, heavy, pounding, fist-pumping, head-banging rock, that was enough. Headpins “Turn It Loud” was metal enough. Santers made it in the heavy metal pages. Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS, and the list goes on. These days metal scholars and fans are much more critical and discerning about what gets called metal and what is hard rock. Metal itself has splintered into so many subgenres, and I would say that the 1980’s were responsible for this rapid branching of the metal tree.

classic-exodus-live-shot full in bloom music

Exodus (photo from Full In Bloom Music)

The first subgenre I heard about was thrash metal. While the Los Angeles metal scene (which gave us what is now referred to as glam metal or hair metal) was producing wild and colourful bands like Ratt, Poison, Cinderella, and so on), metal purists who loved Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Venom and who also liked hardcore punk, decided to go against the grain and emphasis speed and aggression over party rock and cosmetics. The leaders here in the 1983 to 1987 period were Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Violence, and a host of others. The music became not only faster but, as in the case of some bands, it also became more technical.

anvil_25a

Anvil

Around this same period, specifically 1982 to 1984, three other countries also saw movements toward extreme metal. In Toronto, Canada there was a concurrent metal movement that was initiated by the band Anvil. Anvil are often seen as the link between traditional heavy metal (Judas Priest, etc.) and thrash metal. But Anvil were not alone. Sacrifice, Slaughter, Razor, and Exciter were also part of this speedier and more aggressive scene. The Canadian label Banzai began stamping albums with a speed metal logo. Quebecers, Voivod, also earned this label, as did some European bands like Destruction. Speed metal today is recognized as being different from thrash metal and also power metal in that it is a little looser, and bit more biker-ish. As it was described on Banger Lock Horns (44:55 to 45:15 in the video), it’s like power metal but with a five-o’clock shadow.

Meanwhile, across the pond in England, the hardcore punk scene was taking an interest in metal. Going the opposite route from American thrash metal bands, who added hardcore to metal, British grindcore bands added metal to hardcore. By the latter half of the 80’s, you had two similar metal scenes with different roots.

Then there was Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. Inspired by the music of Judas Priest, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and Venom, new bands emerged in these three countries that would prove to be very influential in the development of new emerging subgenres. In Germany, Kreator focused on violence and aggressive, heavy music. Though similar to thrash metal music, Kreator’s sound was more evilly intense, more threatening, the vocals gruffer and growlier. Switzerland produced first Hellhammer which evolved into Celtic Frost. Here was a band that combined the speed of thrash metal with the slow and heavy riffs of doom metal and featured a vocalist who could growl and roar even lower and more ominously than Motorhead’s Lemmy or Venom’s Chronos. Finally, up in Sweden, a young Tomas Forsberg created Bathory, a band which focused on Satanic lyrical themes and, like others, combined speed and heaviness. Most outstanding was Forsberg’s vocal style: a back-of-the-throat, rattling, croak that could resemble a wicked witch singing. Though they were not yet fully developed, the subgenres of death and black metal were gestating amid the sounds of these bands.

Back in the U.S.A., two important bands were taking thrash metal in a new direction. Possessed from California released “Seven Churches” in 1985. The music was thrash-based, but Jeff Becerra’s deep, roaring, guttural vocals and the band’s Satanic themes took thrash metal as Slayer had conceived it into darker territory, if that were possible. Across the continent in Florida, Chuck Schuldiner was putting together Death and the first album, “Scream Bloody Gore” was released in 1987. While thrash metal lyrics were more about violence and war, death metal focused on gore and the occult. The American death metal scene produced bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Autopsy in the late eighties, and by the early nineties the scene had fully grown, particularly along the East Coast and up into Quebec with bands like Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, Malevolent Creation, and Gorguts.

darkthrone

Darkthrone – Black metal from Norway

By the late eighties, both Norway and Sweden had picked up on the sounds of black metal and a second generation was born. Though both countries would contribute, it was basically Norwegian bands that moved from death metal over to the black metal scene, while in Sweden death metal became the more popular.

Taking a cue from as far back as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, power metal was yet another subgenre to emerge from the eighties metal scene. Ronnie James Dio, who had sung with Rainbow in the seventies, took the knights and dragons theme further in the mid-eighties on his “Sacred Heart” album (the tour featured a towering dragon on stage).

Virgin Steele

Virgin Steele

Virgin Steele in New York also moved from a trad metal approach into power metal. As someone on Banger TV said, power metal is trad metal but with louder, bigger, more over-the-top, with bolder melodies and an almost symphonic approach to music themes. It’s totally conceivable that symphonic metal developed from a combination of power metal and prog metal. The vocal style is usually more operatic, and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford can be seen as creating the blueprint. Manowar, Helloween, and Blind Guardian are recognized as early true power metal bands; however, elements of power metal can be found in the music and also the lyrical themes of bands like Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Uli Jon Roth era Scorpions, and Accept.

While it seems a natural course for heavy metal music to become more aggressive, more technical, darker, faster, and heavier, two other subgenres that emerged from in the eighties were looking to travel with their guitars down slightly different paths. Perhaps the older of the two would be progressive metal. The instigator would likely be Iron Maiden. Bassist and founding member Steve Harris was a fan of progressive rock bands of the seventies and right from the debut album in 1980, Iron Maiden proved there were more than just a band of three to four minute songs. They included instrumental sections that were not just dedicated to guitar pyrotechnics and even instrumental tracks. Iron Maiden was clearly an influence on two important American bands now associated with the development of progressive metal: Fates Warning and Queensryche. Add to that Crimson Glory and Watchtower and you have four of the earliest prog metal bands.

queensryche-band-photo-1986

Queensryche

Following the lead of Iron Maiden, these bands endeavored to write music that had complex instrumental parts, or danced around odd time signatures. Lyrics were often more intellectual and socio/political. The star child of progressive metal would be born in the eighties but not stamp its mark on the subgenre until 1992. Dream Theater was the band that seemed to define what progressive metal should be about, and yet the desire to take metal into more progressive territory was already spreading to the thrash and speed metal scene in 1986/87 as Metallica introduced longer songs with multi-part musical themes on “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice for All” and Voivod created their own form of space sci-fi prog metal, culminating in the classic album “Nothingface” in 1989.

godflesh rate your music

Godflesh

The other new and also more experimental subgenre of metal was industrial metal. Musicians combined metal’s heaviness and aggression with techno and electronica, giving birth to a new underground movement. Ministry, Godflesh and others both in the U.S. and overseas in Europe (Germany’s KMFDM) kicked off the first generation of industrial metal in the latter half of the eighties and the movement continued into the nineties, gaining a second momentum by the middle of the decade.

One other important subgenre that came into its own in the eighties would be doom metal. Originally born in the sound of Black Sabbath in late 1969, bands such as Saint Vitus and Pentagram (who were actually active concurrently with Sabbath in their heyday) emphasized slow and heavy riffs and particularly Saint Vitus sought to recreate that early seventies sound. As the eighties progressed, some bands combined the speed and deep guttural vocals of death metal with the slow and heavy riffs of doom metal, and thus the death/doom subgenre was also born. Autopsy were one band that emerged from the Florida death metal scene who liked to slow down at times and get heavy. Meanwhile back in England, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost also emphasized deep, growling vocals and slow heavy riffs. Interestingly enough, the European bands would go on into new directions now labeled gothic metal and post metal, as would many bands from the black metal scene.

It’s not uncommon to hear people criticize the 80’s for a lot of crimes against pop music and rock. However, I find it really interesting to see how heavy metal experienced an explosion of growth in subgenre branches. We saw thrash metal, speed metal, grindcore, black metal, death metal, progressive metal, industrial metal, doom metal, and death doom all emerge from the heavy metal tree. Now we recognize traditional metal, hair or glam metal, and hard rock as the three most popular forms of heavy music in the eighties. But in the underground, so much more was happening.

2016 – Favourite Music Acquired This Year

The year is coming to an end and what a year it has been. In the news there have been so many high profile deaths and many others of lesser fame yet still tragic losses to the music world. On the bright side, this is the year that I made a number of new musician friends whose music careers have been taking off or climbing steadily higher.

Since we are at the end of another year, it is time for me to post where my journey in music exploration has taken me this year. In some ways the year started out as usual. Orders placed at the end of 2015 were brought home in early January and by February I was checking out the top albums of 2015 on Prog Archives and seeing which ones I thought would be worth ordering. By spring I was back into music history, topping off my Canadian 70’s hard rock and metal and my 60’s garage band collection. Then I discovered the progressive music of Quebec in the 70’s and brought home over a dozen albums from those exciting days. There was a brief period of Slayer and Megadeth classics, and then by the end of the summer I was checking a few more recent prog albums before launching into a 2016 release festa. In fact, I ordered more new releases this year than any other year since the mid-eighties when I was rapaciously following everything metal.

Here are a few lists of songs and albums that I really enjoyed.

Albums of 2016

img_121810. Strategies by Jesus Munoz – Quite a surprise this one. Jesus Munoz is a Spanish amateur guitarist who recorded an album’s worth of music in 2015 and then released it with two additional tracks and a real drummer in 2016. His playing style reminds me of a cross between Steve Howe and Steve Morse. “The Limpid Green” is the track that stuck in my head the most, though nearly every track on the album is really great.

9. Distance by Structural Disorder – I heard about this band through the Facebook page, Progressive Rock Fanatics. The fact that they use an accordion as a lead instrument but make it sound like a synthesizer for most songs intrigued me. I pledged money toward their new album and I was not disappointed. Progressive metal with lots of atmosphere and beautiful slower parts included, I enjoyed listening to this several times before reviewing it.

8. The Perfect Map by Elephants of Scotland – An album that was getting some attention during the end of the summer, I picked it up in the fall and was impressed. Though the vocals need a little more something, the music is top notch modern prog.

7. The Clockwork Fable by Gandalf’s Fist – Three discs! And a concept album! What made this one stand out was not so much the great music but the narrative that it went with. While most narratives are told in the lyrics, this album has a cast of voice actors and comes across as a radio play with musical interludes. For the first two listens, I was more interested in the story than the songs!

marco-ragni

6. Land of Blue Echoes by Marco Ragni – An excellent psychedelic / space rock inspired album of progressive music. Marco released a new album a few months later, “California” which is also very good. It’s thanks to this album that I got to know guitarist Peter Matuchniak of Gekko Projekt.

5. Silence Between Sounds by Karmamoi – An Italian band that don’t sound like RPI, Karmamoi’s album will keep you guessing where each track will take you. Four female singers contribute to the vocals. Great music and singing!

4. Holophinium by KariBow – A perfect blend of melodic rock and progressive rock. Oliver Rusing’s KariBow has been a personal project for nearly 20 years. “Holophinium” was his big leap into having a band and including several guest musicians. He also rereleased an older album, “Man of Rust” in the fall.

3. Overwrite the Sin by Maglev – Another almost one-man-band, Joost Maglev’s first full-length progressive rock album is a treat. Five songs each with its own approach and expertly executed.

2. Evership – self-titled debut. What a class act this is! A perfect blend of modern prog with late seventies / early eighties progressive rock sounds. A real treat!

ctp

1. Hair in a G-String (Unfinished but Sweet) by Colin Tench Project. The subject of my previous post, let’s just say this is a blend of many styles, sounds terrific and is entertaining as well.

 

Favourite Songs of 2016 Purchases

fish-on-fridayOf course each of the above albums had songs that stuck in my head and demanded repeat plays, sometimes over the course of a week, sometimes coming back again and again. CTP’s “Part 4b”, Maglev’s “Judith”, Evership’s “Slow descent into Reality” and KariBow’s “Quantum Leap” were some of the songs that became favourites this year. But here are ten other songs from my 2016 purchases that were played well over a dozen times.

Orbit by Thundermug
Phasors on Stun by FM
Madman by Klaatu
Bloody Well Right by Supertramp (yes, I finally bought some Supertramp albums)
Back to the Stars by Rosenkreutz (one of the best 17-minute plus songs I’ve heard in a while)
A tout le monde by Megadeth
The Endless Knot by Haken
Tick-Tock by Fish on Friday
Meditations by Modern-Rock Ensemble
A ciel ouvert by Grandval

Harmonium_-_Si_On_Avait_Besoin_D'Une_Cinquième_Saison

Rock progressif Quebecois – 10 favourites
I wrote about the progressive rock of 1970’s Quebec in a previous post. Here are some favourite tracks.

En pleine face by Harmonium
Eclaircie by Et cetera
La marche des hommes by Morse Code (keyboard player Christian Simard passed away recently at age 67)
Vivre la mort by Pollen
Voisins (mon chum) by Vos Voisins
Les folleries by Maneige
Algebrique by Sloche
Agneau de Dieu by Dionysos
L’alarme a l’oeil by Contraction
Le chant du Guerrier by Octobre

coney-hatch-outa-handHere’s a list of five new favourites from the hard rock and metal of Canada of the late seventies through to the early nineties.

Turn It Loud by Headpins
Don’t Say Make Me by Coney Hatch
Too Much Carousing by Goddo
Under the Influence by Sven Gali
Metal on Metal by Anvil (such a classic)

nemo

 

Finally, I want to mention ten bands and artists that were mostly new to me whose albums impressed me enough to deserve their own list.

Cocoon by Tiger Moth Tales (Peter Jones)

Refuel by Rocket Scientists

The Road to Avalon by The Minstrel’s Ghost (Blake Carpenter)
Chapter One by Cell15 (Robert Scott Richardson)
Coma by Nemo
Ones & Zeros by 3rdegree
Who’s the Boss in the Factory by Karmakanic
Godspeed by Fish on Friday
The Ones I Condemn by Sacrifice (I’ve known about Sacrifice since the 80’s but this album really stands out)
Mood Swings by Harem Scarem

I want to close off with honourable mentions going to Peter Matuchniak’s solo work, GorMusik, Grandval, Yuka & Chronoship, Q65 (a Dutch garage rock band of the 60’s), and The Troggs (for some of their hard and heavy hitting music of the 60’s).

What is CTP?

Colin Tench Project

ctp

On September 30th of this year, Colin Tench released his long-awaited solo project album “Hair in a G-String (Sweet but Unfinished)”. I call it a solo project because he usually plays in a band called Corvus Stone where everyone contributes to the music creation; all four members come up with their own bits. Colin has played lead guitar on a few other album’s like “The Road to Avalon” by Blake Carpenter’s Minstrel’s Ghost, “The Road to Mingulay” by Andy John Bradford’s Ocean’s 5, and most recently on “Bridge Across Time” by Steve Gresswell’s Coalition (with Blake Carpenter). But this “Hair in a G-String” is a Colin Tench album, with all the music and much of the lyrics created by him.

No. Not quite. Let me correct that. The music was created by Mr. Tench but a rather lengthy list of people (25 I counted including Colin) contributed with some of them building on the music that was created while others – namely Phil Naro and Peter Jones – contributed lyrics to some tracks.

CTP for short (and not to be confused with the Christian Tolle Project) has culminated in an album that can best be described as entertaining and enjoyable. The music is varied and wonderfully composed, performed, and produced. Some of the lyrics are very clever and beautiful while others are quite amusing. It’s an album of progressive music but not in an exceptionally technical way nor in a grandiose fashion. It’s an album of melodic rock in a manner reminiscent of the classic days when melodic rock was a pop radio staple. Though the primary influences would seem to be Genesis, Queen, ELO, and even Santana, one can pick out some Pink Floyd and even a touch of Iron Maiden, plus as many other artists are you care to find. Rumours of both Sir George Martin and Spike Milligan being channeled on this album add to the intrigue. It’s an album of serious music (mostly) not to be taken too seriously (mostly).

The stories behind this album’s creation are interesting. It began way back around 2010/11. Colin had played in a band called BunChakeze (say bunch-of-keys) in the 80’s and they had recorded an album’s worth of material that was never released. After a 25-year hiatus from guitar playing, Colin got in touch with Pasi Koivu, a keyboard player and composer in Finland. Pasi recommended releasing the BunChakeze album. Around this time, Colin decided to pick up a guitar and see if he could still come up with something. What resulted was an instrumental piece that was comprised of some material from BunChakeze, some new ideas, and a little bit of stuff borrowed from elsewhere. The final composition was entitled, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Screwed”. Shortly after, Pasi asked Colin to play guitar for a piece he was working on called, “Iron Pillows”. This collaboration was the beginning of Corvus Stone. The guitar instrumental was the beginning of CTP.

Colin became very occupied with chatrooms and through these he came in contact with several people who would become instrumental in his sudden and rapid career development: Sonia Mota (artist), Blake Carpenter (singer), Steve Gresswell (multi-instrumentalist and composer), Stef Flaming (multi-instrumentalist and composer and singer for Murky Red), Andres Guazzelli (composer), Andy John Bradford (folk singer and composer), Oliver Rusing (multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer) and several others too. From 2011 to 2015, Colin would not only go on to release two Corvus Stone albums and one album of remixed tracks and new tracks, but he would appear on a few other albums playing lead guitar and guest on a few more like KariBow’s “Holophinium”, United Progressive Fraternity’s “Fall in Love with the World”, Marco Ragni’s “Land of Blue Echoes”, and Grandval’s “A ciel ouvert”. During all of this, Colin had let singer Phil Naro (who appears on a few Corvus Stone songs) hear “Something Old…” and he took part of the track and recorded vocals with his own lyrics. This became the basis for “Can’t Have It Any Other Way”, the second track on “Hair in a G-String”.

After Corvus Stone “Unscrewed”, Colin decided to work on his solo project in earnest. “The Mad Yeti” was a demo that he had created earlier after buying a microphone called Yeti. This along with other working demos were available on Melodic Revolution Records’ web site. Colin picked up a piece he was working on called “Hair in a G-String” (a title inspired by “Air on a G-String”) and decided to see where he could take it. He also composed a piece called “The Sad Brazilian” which he put on YouTube. Meanwhile in Buffalo, U.S.A., Gordon Bennett, a fellow musician on the United Progressive Fraternity album, found Colin’s Brazilian and pilfered it. Gordo, a very talented guitarist in his own right, went ahead and added orchestral arrangements to the Brazilian and then sent the whole thing back to Colin with a “hope you don’t mind but…” type of a notice. Colin did not mind one bit. Gordo’s contribution had been to enhance the music rather than go over it. Colin was thrilled. Gordo was invited to join the project.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Steve Gresswell, who had provided orchestration for what was to become “Hair in a G-String part 1 (The Opening)”, was becoming busy with his latest recording project, Coalition’s new album “Bridge Across Time”. Gordo was put in charge of most of the rest of the orchestration to appear on the album. Other important names to appear were Phil Naro (vocals and lyrics on two tracks), Vic Tassone (drummer for Unified Past), Oliver Rusing on drums (Oliver commented that he was given the music and with no click track, he had to add his drums and percussion), Ian Beabout on flute for “Lisa’s Entrance Unplugged”, drummer Jay Theodore McGurrin, Petri Lindstrom on bass (Corvus Stone, Saturn Twilight, Progeland, Petri Lindstrom Project, etc.) and a host of others. The biggest addition to the album however had to be Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales and Red Bazar.

Peter Jones not only brought his talents as a vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist (he plays a clarinet and a saxophone solo on the album) but also as an improvisational mad man. Though Colin’s lyrics were at times zany enough, Peter was free to interpret them as he liked and add things when he felt inspired to do so. Thus we get the lines, “Put them together and what do you get?/ Goodety goodety good!” Peter also contributes a minion vocal break near the end.

Peter’s serious side can be heard on the first single, “And So Today”. He sings with passion and sentiment on this song about the passing of some of our musical heroes in this past year. It’s a beautiful and touching song.

The album became available on CD in early November and there are plans for a vinyl release of the “Hair in a G-String” parts, “The Sad Brazilian”, and “And So Today”. There is also a bonus track with the download that will not be on the CD and that is Gordo’s orchestral work on “Lisa’s Waltz with full orchestra”, a phenomenal piece on its own.

Currently ranking on the top of several prog lists including CD Baby and Prog Archives, the album received a favourable review in Prog Magazine as well. Colin will be the first to tell you though that this was indeed a band effort. Every single contribution helped make this album the success that it is.

Guitar Rock Explosion!

Several years before the birth of heavy metal, in a time that is now recognized as the beginnings of punk rock, there existed various styles of aggressive and energetic guitar rock. On the English side of the Atlantic, young musicians were plugging in to a rock and roll band format but playing African American blues. Other bands were into the Mod beat music scene. Then one day, Ray Davies heard the American garage rock classic song “Louis Louis” and decided to try to write his own riff rock number. The result was the 1964 hit “Girl You Really Got Me” and its sibling “All Day and All of the Night”. This in turn inspired Who guitarist Pete Townshend to write “Can’t Explain”. In the final months of 1964, a single American garage rock hit had inspired three English riff rock classics.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean in the U.S. of A, garage rock bands who were busy tinkering with classic 50’s rock and roll, frat rock, and surf rock and turning it into proto-punk garage rock got a taste of the British Invasion. Beatles’ popularity aside, it was the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who (self-described purveyors of “maximum R&B!”) and The Yardbirds that intrigued many bands to take on the English renditions of American blues and give these songs a shot of their own juice. Thus as the American garage rock scene was building up to boiling over, many bands took a decided and guided turn into adding English R&B to their set lists.

A big kick to both sides came in 1965. Previously used by select artists as an effects device for an occasional song or instrumental track, the fuzz box gained overnight popularity when The Rolling Stones’ new single “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” with its fuzz-toned memorable riff hit the charts. Before 1965 was over, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were testing the capacities of their speakers with the alien buzzing of the fuzz box.

the sonics

Were they loud to compete with the Boeings? The Sonics from Tacoma, Washington.

On the American side, Tacoma Washington’s The Sonics were already well-versed in overdriven, over the top classic rock and roll covers, giving them an unbridled, feral injection of power. Their 1964 single “The Witch” loudly proclaimed what this band was capable of and fully intended on doing, which was to push the needle into the red as far as possible. Back in jolly old England, The Pretty Things were turning their R&B sound into something grittier and dirtier, a sound that matched the image the band was also earning for themselves. Ronnie Wood started up his first recording band, The Birds, a band that frequently put an emphasis on hard-hitting guitars. Their cover of “Leaving Here” in 1965 would later be covered by Motorhead for their debut single.

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The Pretty Things: making long hair for men trendy since 1965.

In 1965, The Yardbirds lost Eric Clapton but gained Jeff Beck. Beck’s contribution to the band would be a harder edged sound with frequent diversions from standard English R&B to something that permitted fuzz box experimentation and loud, resonating power chords. Their urgent and charging cover of Johnny Brunette’s cover of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” became an inspiration to future bands and was covered in the 70’s by Aerosmith and Motorhead.

The typical sound set up of bands at this time, regardless of their preferred style(s), was a four or five member band with drums, bass, vocals and then usually either two guitars – one clean rhythm and one lead guitar often employing fuzz tone – or a keyboard. The Music Machine and The Seeds, both of California, chose Farfisa organs while The Artwoods in the U.K. had a young Jon Lord on Hammond organ. Original songs were typically about unfaithful girls. Some bands experimented with a harder, more aggressive sound for some of their songs while others may have only ever recorded a song or two that even come close to the proto-punk, proto-metal arena. Australia’s The Easybeats – featuring George Young, older brother to Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC fame – hit a few upbeat guitar rockers but changed their sound with the times. Meanwhile Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds when he felt they were not truly dedicated to the blues after recording the chart-making “For Your Love”. Still, bands like The Sonics, The Seeds, and The Troggs caught attention exactly because they went for volume, grit and edge.

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They should have put the all of the taller guys in the back. Chicago’s The Shadows of Knight.

It was 1966 when this transatlantic breed of music hit its undisputed peak. From the American garage rock perspective, many bands began at last to release albums. The Remains released their one and only album, The Shadows of Knight released two long-players that year, and The Music Machine released an album in December. That last band deserve mention in particular because they combined the garage rock sound with the emerging psychedelic rock sound. They dressed all in black and dyed their hair black, down-tuned their instruments a semi-tone and built their own fuzz box. While their teen angst song “Talk Talk” became their one big hit, the band recorded mostly mature and intelligent songs about various topics such as women’s liberation, food waste, and environmental abuse. A good number of their songs feature heavy, fuzzed out guitar and leader Sean Bonniwell’s powerful, and at times acerbic vocals.

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Making black the new black: The Music Machine

Another band that was about to blow the music apart but whose candle was snuffed out on the brink of stardom was California’s The Misunderstood. Originally a band chiefly inspired by The Yardbirds, The Misunderstood gained good fortune at each time their first two guitarists had to leave for the draft. The first time, they gained steal lap guitarist Glenn Campbell and the second time they gained English lead guitarist Tony Hill, who later formed the progressive heavy rock band High Tide. The band were in London, struggling to get a record deal when Hill joined and the chemistry between him and singer Rick Brown buzzed so well that they wrote out a song on the same day. Their rare six-track recording in London combined blues-inspired rock with a heavy flower power sound that was unlike anything in their day. No one would come close to that sound until at least 1968. Unfortunately for them and us, Brown was drafted and the band collapsed.

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Taking the long hair thing one step further: Q65 of the Netherlands

While garage rock was chiefly an American (and also Canadian) phenomenon and R&B had found a new sound in English rock bands, this music was not limited to two or three countries. There was a kind of zeitgeist that inspired teens and twenty-somethings around the world to try to play this more aggressive style of guitar rock. From Iceland to the Netherlands, from Australia and to Japan, fuzz-toned guitar rockers were cropping up everywhere. Some followed the garage rock sound, others went for the English R&B sound. Still others fused the emerging psychedelic sound into their songs. Not everyone was going for the level of intensity that The Sonics were and not everyone was trying to be the baddest boys on the block. For most bands, the pursuit of the chart-topping single was still paramount because it would mean the record company would be happy and there would be money to allow the bands to record more music. However, the desire to play harder, louder, heavier, and with more energy was made apparent in songs like “Louis Louis” as covered by The Sonics or The Troggs, The Yardbirds “I Ain’t Done Wrong”, Q65’s “Cry in the Night”, or Guess Who’s “It’s My Pride”.

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The Yardbirds once boasted having Jeff Beck and Jimmie Page in the band.

The band who best brought heavy to a new definition had to have been Cream. Though their debut album in 1966 was essentially a blues album, the whole sound of the album was unlike anything that had gone before it. Mostly notably, “Spoonful” and “Toad” included guitar chords that were heavy enough to blow everything else out of the water until Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues” cover or Iron Butterfly’s “Iron Butterfly Theme” both released in January of 1968.

By 1966 the elements that would distinguish the future path differences between punk rock and heavy metal were already cropping up. Psychedelic music and progressive rock meant that bands who played songs constructed by simple three-chord riffs could now begin experimenting more with song structure, styles, and sound. Most of these mid-sixties rockers are associated with the proto-punk scene namely due to their rawness and simple, energetic, often angst-filled songs. Nevertheless, from a heavy metal perspective, energetic, guitar rock with guitar distortion, lead guitar solos, and driving riffs are what made heavy metal recognizable. Plenty of elements exist here among the proto-punk files.

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Eddie Philips of The Creation in 1966: “Hey, Jimmie Page! I’ve got an idea. A bowed guitar!”

The final glory year was 1967. British R&B and Mod beat had given way to freakbeat, a kind of aggressive guitar rock style that strove for catchy vocal melodies. The Creation, The Action and The Attack managed to find degrees of chart success but soon after faced a critical turning point in the sound and of popular music. The Creation folded; The Action recorded a album’s worth of songs in a new style which was not released until decades later; and The Attack attempted to move toward a heavier British psychedelic sound before disbanding with guitarist Jon Cann then forming the early heavy progressive band Andromeda.

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The Litter, a decent bunch o’ lads

Psychedelic rock, acid rock, and flower power were upsetting the garage rock scene in the U.S. Short, three-chord rockers about cheating girlfriends were no longer in vogue by 1967. Some bands like The Litter and The Amboy Dukes (the Ted Nugent-fronted version) released their debuts that year with decent success; however, by ’68 their styles were changing with the times. Bands the world over, in fact, were trying out new approaches that included more acoustic tracks, adding strings, more experimental and art rock styles, catchy pop rock and bubblegum songs aiming for the charts, and anything else that could hopefully ensure their survival in a rapidly changing popular music scene.

Above all of these changes in popular music was the appearance of Jimi Hendrix on the scene. Guitar playing was never the same afterward. There was simply so much more potential in electric guitar playing. By 1968, bands like Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Jefferson Airplane were bringing a completely different kind of guitar rock to the scene. For those earlier bands that survived, 1969 vindicated their persistence. Heavy blues rock, a new more evolved but still raw and aggressive garage rock, and the first generation of heavy metal music emerged from the other end of the peak psychedelic years. Hard and heavy guitar rock had a new sound.

Now, it’s interesting to look back to those years from late 1963 to 1967 when English R&B and American garage rock cross-pollinated and gave us often hard-hitting and testosterone-fueled rock that has earned the title of proto-punk but also holds many of the fundamental elements of heavy metal.

Rock Progressif Québécois

The progressive rock scene in Anglophone Canada during the 1970’s was not particularly robust. Rush are the most well-known band to attempt to apply English prog sensibility to their sound. Earlier in the 70’s, bands like Warpig and Jackal played the heavy rock and Hammond organ style of English bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Chilliwack, Lighthouse, and A Foot in Cold Water were known to veer proggish at times. Progressive pop on the Canadian scene came ahead with Klaatu and FM, and SAGA delivered an earlier neo-progressive pop sound. Nightwinds was probably one of the bands who best tried to follow the English prog example but only lasted one album. It would seem that in spite of Canada’s close connection with British music, the progressive scene did not really take hold.

Not in Anglophone Canada maybe. However for Francophones, progressive rock was given a huge welcome!

It is very curious how English progressive rock became most popular in Canada in the Province of Quebec where most people speak French, and that it became popular there during the height of the Separatist Movement and Québécois pride. But it becomes easier to understand when considering how progressive rock was advantageous for French-speakers: progressive rock was a lot about the music and less about the lyrics, unlike pop which is lyrically oriented. For Francophones who weren’t particularly keen on singing in English just to get a hit song in Anglophone North America or who simply had a difficult time with the language, progressive rock was a way of creating contemporary music that gave them more freedom to express themselves without turning to the English language. Furthermore, progressive rock incorporated a lot of jazz and classical influences, and for many Québécois musicians with degrees in classical music or experience with jazz, progressive rock offered them the liberty of composing music as they liked.

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Quebec jazz classical rock fusion giants, Maneige, sitting down so as to appear not so huge

Two results emerged from these two important reasons for prog’s popularity in la belle province. The first is that many bands chose to sing in French, thus creating not only a platform that made French lyrics acceptable and even desirable, but also blazing a trail for upcoming bands to follow. This was supported and encouraged by the French pride supporters and hence French-only bands were promoted and praised. Meanwhile, other bands committed themselves to being entirely instrumental. The second is that many bands experimented with ideas that were initially perhaps inspired by the British progressive rock scene and soon some went ahead with their own ideas, developing a sound that was distinctly Prog Québec. In fact, as the progressive movement in Italy earned the title rock progressivo Italiano, so the prog movement in Québec could almost have had its own special moniker, rock progressif québécois.

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Sloche in fine running form

Several English bands were first welcomed to North America by Quebecers. Prior to the prog trend catching on in the rest of Canada and the U.S., bands like Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, Camel, Supertramp, and Pink Floyd were filling concert halls in Québec, and as the Québec prog scene grew, local bands opened for their major English counterparts.

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Contraction recorded two excellent albums in the early seventies

The progressive rock and progressive music scene in Québec went through some stages during the 1970’s. At first, bands followed the trends of other North American acts: psychedelic music, heavy psych, blues-based rock. Dionysos was one of the first bands to switch to French-only lyrics and released a heavy psych album with blues influences in 1971. Offenbach and Morse Code Transmission also leaned towards heavy rock and blues. But by as early as 1972, the jazz rock fusion bands were starting to put out vinyl. Octobre, Contraction, and Maniege were among top performers in this genre, with Sloche coming in during the peak years between 1975 and 1977.

It was during these years that the rock progressif québécois scene was at its strongest and with the influences of the English prog scene sewn into the music of many bands. Et Cetera has been called the French Canadian incarnation of Gentle Giant, while Pollen and Morse Code (formally known as Morse Code Transmission) showed some Yes and Genesis influences.

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Changing from heavy psychedelic to symphonic prog, Morse Code after dropping the Transmission

Incubus (later to be known as ExCubus) employed the organ-led power trio approach. For other bands like L’Orchestra Sympathique, orchestral jazz was their cup of tea, while Conventum went more for folk influences. Toubabou followed a world music route, bringing in African drums.

By the mid- to late seventies, however, prog folk was replacing prog rock in popularity. This was most likely due to the great success of Harmonium’s second album, “Si on avait besoin d’une cinquiéme saison”, an album that often appears in top twenty lists of best prog albums ever. Other bands to become successful with prog folk include Garolou (who were actually Ontarians singing French Canadian folk songs) and folk-pop artist, Beau Dommage. There is also a long list of artists who went by their own names in the prog Québec scene.

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The most well-known Quebec prog album ever? “Si on avait besoin d’une cinquieme saison” by Harmonium

By the end of the seventies, many prog bands everywhere the world over were struggling to find relevance in their style of music and either disbanded or modified their sound to a more pop friendly approach. In the case of québécois bands, many also switched to singing in English in order to score hits which would in turn keep record companies interested. For some bands who decided to switch languages earlier on, they found themselves in a tight spot as supporters of French pride regarded singing in English as bad as treason. Gaining popularity in one language meant losing it in another language.

Though the classic years of French Canadian prog are considered to be in the mid-seventies, progressive music and prog rock never truly died out in la belle province. Even in the eighties, new bands like Miriodor were forming. And as both the thrash metal and progressive metal movement began in the mid-eighties, Québec’s Voivod established a special place for themselves in both scenes, singing in English mind you.

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Octobre, undersung heroes of Canadian music

Listening to music from the classic years of French Canadian prog, there is such remarkable, fantastic, and wonderful music. Why didn’t Anglophone Canada make contributions on the same level? Though largely unknown outside of Québec and perhaps France, a few years back ProgQuebec began reissuing classic québécois prog albums on CD. Though word is the label is winding down now, there are still many great albums to be found on CD out there.

 

 

For further reading:

ProgQuebec – features bios in French and English of many bands

Canada.com – a story about prog’s popularity in Quebec

the journals of alan rhodes – an article from 1995 about Quebec prog

 

Below is a playlist of some of my personal favourite songs from my private collection that I have made into a mixed CD.

Morse Code – La marche des hommes

Vos Voisins – Voisins (mon chum)

Maniege – Les folleries

Harmonium – En pleine face

Contraction – Claire Fontaine (YouTube video not available)

ExCubus – Parade de l’armee de verre

Octobre – Le chant de guerrier

Et Cetera – Eclaircie

Pollen – Vivre la mort

Sloche – Algebrique

Offenbach – Marylin

Contraction – L’alarme a l’oeil (second track in this four track set)

Maniege – Les epinettes (video not available but there is one for “La fin de l’histoire“)

Dionysos – Agneau de Dieu (awesome proto-metal song too!)

Metal On Ice – A book review

As we saw in the last two posts, hard rock and heavy metal were a driving force behind the success of Canadian bands beyond the national border. While some bands fared better than others, the world – meaning mostly Western Europe, parts of the United States, and Japan – were becoming acquainted with hard and heavy sounds from Canada.

Canada’s love for heavy music was surely obvious by the eighties as several bands paid homage to heavy rock fever. Anvil’s anthem “Metal on Metal, Helix’s party rock hit “Heavy Metal Love”, Kick Axe’s “Heavy Metal Shuffle”, Killer Dwarfs’ “Heavy Metal Breakdown”, White Wolf’s “Metal Thunder” and Lee Aaron’s “Metal Queen” all offered different takes on what heavy metal meant and sounded like to them and nearly all of these songs reached the radio waves and late night video programs. Add to that the debut album by Sword, “Metalized”, and there’s no doubt that Canadians loved their metal.

In spite of the fact that Canadian rock had made great headway through the seventies and into the early eighties, there were still great hurdles for bands to overcome. As many bands discovered, deals with record labels didn’t guarantee their albums would make them superstars. And as the nineties began, a lot of bands who had fought hard to achieve some degree of international success and play in the big arenas found themselves back in the bars as grunge made metal subgenres like thrash and glam passé almost overnight.

The story of the Canadian heavy metal band in the eighties has been wonderfully retold in a book by musician Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly, Helix, Nelly Futardo). Metal On Ice: Tales from Canada’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes takes the reader on a journey from fandom to budding musician, to bar band to debut album, to arena band to canned band wondering what to do next. Kelly interviews over a dozen Canadian hard rock and heavy metal musicians about their early days in their respective bands, their experiences in making their way to the peak of their success and what happened after the grunge explosion hit plus where they are at now and how they look back on the eighties and early nineties. There are stories of harrowing winter road travels packed in a small touring van and the wild lifestyle that evolved around glam metal in particular. While the book doesn’t expound upon episodes of gratuitous debauchery, certain suggestions of youth-gone-wild are mentioned where artists are willing to offer a little insight. More importantly are the common trials shared by Canadian bands trying to make the big time.

For this book – remarkable for its subject matter (how many other books can you name that deal with the subject of Canadian hard rock and metal?) – Kelly interviews members of Coney Hatch, Helix, Headpins, Haywire, Harem Scarem, Slik Toxik, Sven Gali, Voivod, Sword, Lee Aaron, Sacrifice, Killer Dwarfs, Razor and more. Plus he recounts his own experiences as a youth first exposed to heavy metal, learning to play the guitar, the life on Younge Street, Toronto, and his own pursuit of heavy metal-dom into the nineties. It makes for a very entertaining read if you were/are a fan of Canadian hard rock and metal. That last point – the Canadian one – is very important because there is a strong sense of Canadian identity running throughout the book. Near the end, musicians are asked if being Canadian had any influence on their lives on the international scene and how they were regarded or treated as Canadian musicians abroad.

Finally, the book ties in the heavy metal arena with the hockey arena; musicians share their thoughts on how hockey and heavy metal are related in Canada and how the relationship is reflected in the life of a Canadian rocker.

If there are any cautionary points to make about this book, then there are three that I noticed. The first is that this is a very Canadian book and perhaps Europeans will be sympathetic but I suspect some Americans might be less so. As a Canadian who is proud of his country’s hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock output, I felt a glow of pride often while reading the book. But Canadian pride is often and personal thing and not something we shout about to the rest of the world. So I felt it would be a little humbling to sit next to an American reading this book. The second point is that this book is very Ontario/Toronto-centric. I felt most bands mentioned were from Ontario or on the periphery but western bands in particular received less mention. Not something to really complain about however as there was plenty for me to learn about from a Torontonian’s perspective. And it’s thanks to this book that I learned muscleman Thor was from Vancouver! Furthermore, Mr. Kelly’s life experiences as a metal head in the eighties are not so far from mine (we are only a year apart in age), and as Toronto’s Younge Street became like the Sunset Strip of the North, it was interesting to read about.

My biggest warning to any potential reader, however, is that you may feel tempted to go add some Canadian metal albums to your collections, and finding some of these like Sven Gali and Slik Toxik means tracking down expensive collector’s copies or finding used CDs in excellent condition. This means it can be a little expensive to satisfy the craving for Canuck metal that this book encourages.

“Metal On Ice” is published by Dundurn and is available on Amazon.ca for $14.98. It’s 208 pages and includes several pages of B&W images.

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