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!

Five Canadian Metal Albums and One Strange Story

I love finding out about Canadian talent that I have never heard before. It doesn’t matter if it’s metal or prog or sometimes something else, I’m always thrilled to hear home-grown talent, even though I don’t live at “home” anymore.

Recently I heard about three such bands and managed to acquire an album from each. Then there was an old favourite whose classic album I never had, I finally bought. And then there was a band I had never considered, who never actually were a band but a band with an interesting and peculiar story.

First, I was watching a YouTube video, a compilation of old school trash metal bands with many obscure bands or bands that I just hadn’t heard before. The creator of this video had kindly added in what country the bands were from and I was thrilled to see that three of them were Canucks! (I also got to know of Artillery from Denmark, and Exumer and Protector from Germany.) Here’s what I got!

Aggression – The Full Treatment, 1987

Formed in Montreal in 1984 under the name Asylum, The band changed their name a year later and in 1986, recorded their first album, which would not be released until 2005. After some line-up changes, they recorded a second album, The Full Treatment, which was released in 1987. The album is fast and furious thrash metal with a fair bit of hardcore punk in the mix but also a sharp sense of musicality with quick rhythm and tempo changes. This is a brutal album because the recording job makes them sound like an-overloaded fright train careening down a Rocky Mountain railway and barely staying on track. But beneath the auditory assault, I hear finely-honed skill, at least in so far as a brutal thrash metal band can be concerned.

Disciples of Power – Power Trap, 1989

Disciples of Power were formed in that hotbed of metal music, Medicine Hat, Alberta. ??? Yeah, I know. I am surprised too. But hey, I can’t say I know what the metal scene was like in Medicine Hat so I’m actually thrilled to hear of a band from there. Power Trap was their first full-length album after three demos recorded in 1988. For a debut, Power Trap shows a mature thrash band that displays song-writing capabilities that I compare not by style but by ability to the space between Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. They are listed as thrash/tech death on Encyclopedia Metallum. The band has released four other full-lengths since then, the latest being in 2002.

Obliveon – Carnivore Mothermouth, 1999

Formed in Montreal in 1987 as Oblivion, they changed their name to Obliveon in 1989. Between 1989 and 1999, Obliveon released four full-lengths and a number of demos. Their debut, From This Day Forward, has been given a fair bit of praise on Encyclopedia Metallum and one reviewer interestingly writes of competitive rivalry between Obliveon and Disciples of Power. By Carnivore Mothermouth I feel their futuristic theme and the sound of the music is not far off from Fear Factory, keeping in mind that the only Fear factory album I ever had was Remanufacture.

Razor – Violent Restitution, 1988

Razor’s fifth album and the last with their vocalist Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren. I had their second and third albums, Evil Invaders and Malicious Intent, on cassette in the eighties and finally bought Evil Invaders on CD a couple of years back. I kept Violent Restitution in mind until I started to see it show up on favourite thrash metal album lists. I bought it and I was not disappointed. The sound is better than Evil Invaders and still has the raw Razor rip and shred feel to the music. “Taste the Floor” includes a chainsaw and it fits in just perfectly with razor’s sound.

Piledriver – Stay Ugly, 1986

I remember seeing both Metal Inquisition and Stay Ugly in the eighties Canadian metal mag, Metallion. At the time, I was really getting the feeling that too many bands of lesser talent were getting signed and releasing albums, and based on the cover art and the song titles, I reckoned that Piledriver were a band best left alone. I forgot about the band until a couple of weeks ago when someone in a video or on the Net somewhere mentioned Piledriver and that the band was from Canada. I have been collecting a number of the old eighties metal bands from the Great White North, but did I want to try to get a hold of Piledriver? A quick listen to Metal Inquisition on YouTube made me sure that I was right to avoid the band. Curiosity, however, got the better of me and I went back to listen again. It wasn’t so bad.

piledriver m i

Metal Inquisition is not so easy to get a hold of but Stay Ugly was ready for order for a normal price, and so I placed my order just a few days ago. It hasn’t reached me yet but in the meantime, I found some interesting information behind the Piledriver albums.

Piledriver was never a real band. As the story goes, as told by vocalist Gord Kirchin,  Piledriver was created by a suggestion from Cobra Records. The fellow Gord refers to as “Record Weasel” said that if they made a metal album with a crazy cover and songs to match, they could easily expect to sell 20,000 copies. Gord claims to have received $250 in payment for his services as the vocalist. The album Metal Inquisition was released in 1984.

Two years later, David DeFeis of Virgin Steele was told by his manager that he owed the manager money and if he’d write material for three projects, he’d be forgiven his debt.  DeFeis and Steele guitarist Eddie Pursino worked on material for three albums, one of them becoming the second Piledriver album and another one was Convict. Gord Kirchin sang on both of these. Convict didn’t go far but apparently the Piledriver albums garnered an underground following, all unbeknownst to Gord! He did try to turn Piledriver into a real band but then changed the name to Dogs With Jobs and “de-piled” the material he had prepared for a third album.

Several years later, Gord Kirchin got himself a computer and connected to the Internet to discover that the two Piledriver albums had actually sold quite well. Yet he and others involved never saw a cent after their initial work was paid for. In 2004, Gord tried to put together a new lineup for a new, Exalted Piledriver (the name was modified since there were already other bands out there using the Piledriver name). He currently heads the band and they have at least one new album out. David DeFeis has given his blessing to Gord to use the material he and his guitarist wrote for the Stay Ugly album.

about Piledriver

interview with Gord Kirchin

interview with David DeFeis

This story about Piledriver led me to the YouTube channel of Nasty Metal Productions, where the young gentleman who hosts the channel enlightened me about the so-called “metalploitation” phenomenon of the 1980’s. There were at least two companies, Cobra Records and Metal Enterprises, who released dozens of albums recorded in the same vein as the original Piledriver albums. In some cases, real musicians would be called in to write something to help pay off a debt while in other cases, bands and musicians who were not yet (and not necessarily likely to be) professional were given studio time to knock off an album or two. The band would then, in most cases, cease to exist.

The purpose of this was to sell metal albums to eager youth who wanted their next new metal band fix. The quality was often sub-par at best and ludicrous at worst, apparently. Corroseum has taken an interest in the releases from Metal Enterprises. While most of these albums and bands have faded into obscurity, Piledriver seems to have remained an important legend. This actually reminds me of the Crown Records label I wrote about in the post about The Firebirds / The 31 Flavors, a late sixties band who were in a similar situation, recording an album of questionable material for a label that only wanted to sell sub-par music to unsuspecting youth.

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 (unfinished but sweet)”. 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.

My Most Listened to New Purchases

It’s time to indulge myself in a few lists of personal preference. Each year I buy a lot of music – nearly always on CD – and since 2012 I have been putting all my annual purchases into an iTunes folder for the year of the purchase. By the end of the year, I can see which songs I listened to the most.

As with any year, I had some favourite artists and groups as well as sub-genres I explored. This year my sub-genres of interest were proto-metal (specifically 1969 to 1973), 1970’s Canadian rock (not really a sub-genre but a theme), and 1960’s garage/R&B/freak beat/psychedelic.

Favourite groups included Iron Maiden, White Willow, The Music Machine, and April Wine.

Let’s look at the lists.

Most listened to purchases of 2015

The list includes the most listened to song from ten groups or artists. Some artists actually could have easily taken over the entire list, but I chose only the top song per group.

  1. Talk Talk – The Music Machine
  2. Weeping Widow – April Wine
  3. Jane “J” James – Thundermug
  4. Yalla Yae – A Foot in Cold Water
  5. Never Be the Same – Chilliwack
  6. Land of 1000 Nights – Mahogany Rush
  7. Sub Rosa Subway – Klaatu
  8. Floor 67 – White Willow
  9. Let It Ride – Bachman Turner Overdrive
  10. The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car – Trooper

A lot of bands appear here because one song of theirs was played frequently while making a playlist to burn to CD. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the songs.

Proto-metal – Early Heavy Metal 1969-1973

My interest in buying early heavy music had run its coarse last year. Or so I thought. But then I finally got a hold of Warpig’s 1970 album and shortly after Bedemon’s Child of Darkness was re-released with better mastering. The exploration began anew.

  1. Blue Ice – The Litter (1969)
  2. The Queen – Bang (1972)
  3. Wicked Truth – Bloodrock (1970)
  4. Just I was Born – Blues Creation (1971)
  5. Never in My Life – Mountain (1970)
  6. Not Yet – Sex (1970)
  7. Timothy – UFO (1970)
  8. Hard Times – Valhalla (1969)
  9. Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl) – Blue Oyster Cult (1973)
  10. Satori, Pt. 1 – Flower Travelin’ Band (1971)

1970’s Canadian Rock 

My proto-metal explorations led me to several hard rock / heavy rock bands from Canada in the 1970’s. This in turn brought me to other less hard rocking but still talented groups. This list is very similar to the first list, suggesting that my Canadian rock explorations were the longest lasting.

  1. Weeping Willow – April Wine
  2. Jane “J” James – Thundermug
  3. Yalla Yae – A Foot in Cold Water
  4. Land of 1000 Nights – Mahogany Rush
  5. Sub Rosa Subway – Klaatu
  6. The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car – Trooper
  7. Let It Ride – Bachman Turner Overdrive
  8. Can’t You See I’m a Star – Moxy
  9. Riding High – Chilliwack (this song was played about as much as Never Be the Same from the first list but it is more guitar rock and worthy of mention)
  10. Little Texas Shaker – Triumph

1960’s Garage/R&B/Freak Beat/Mod/Psychedelic 

I swore I would not start looking for early forms of hard and heavy guitar rock in the mid-sixties. But I did anyway…

  1. Talk Talk – The Music Machine
  2. Find a Hidden Door – The Misunderstood
  3. You Got a Hard Time Coming – The Remains
  4. Follow Me – The Action
  5. Pink Purple Yellow and Red – The Sorrows
  6. L.S.D. – The Pretty Things
  7. Making Time – The Creation
  8. Action Woman – The Litter
  9. Bad Little Woman – The Shadows of Knight
  10. Hey Mama (Keep Your Big Mouth Shut) – The Ugly Ducklings

Post Reunion Iron Maiden (2000 to 2015) 

I hadn’t bought an Iron Maiden album since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son but the packaging of Book of Souls looked so good that I had to see what the Beast was up to these days. I liked it enough to buy Brave New World which I liked enough to buy Dance of Death, which I liked enough to buy the remaining two albums.

  1. El Dorado – from The Final Frontier
  2. The Wickerman – from Brave New World
  3. Wildest Dreams – from Dance of Death
  4. Blood Brothers – from Brave New World
  5. The Nomad – from Brave New World
  6. Paschendale – from Dance of Death
  7. Age of Innocence – from Dance of Death
  8. Brighter than a Thousand Suns – from A Matter of Life and Death
  9. The Great Unknown – from The Book of Souls
  10. When the River Runs Deep – from The Book of Souls

The Music Machine (1966 to 1968) 

One of the most interesting bands I came across was an act from the mid-sixties which are worthy of their own post, perhaps to come in 2016. For now, here are the five songs I listened to the most.

  1. Talk Talk
  2. The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly
  3. Masculine Intuition
  4. Wrong
  5. Absolutely Positively

White Willow

I bought the debut album a year or two ago and always thought to buy another album. I bought three: Sacrament, Storm Season, and Terminal Twilight. These were my five favourites.

  1. Floor 67 – from Terminal Twilight
  2. Natasha of the Burning Woods – from Terminal Twilight
  3. Paper Moon – from Sacrament
  4. Sally Left – from Storm Season
  5. Searise – from Terminal Twilight

April Wine

A band I never had much interest in before, suddenly this year I discovered that from 1971 to 1983, the band recorded a lot of very good hard rock / arena rock. I am still missing the album Power Play.

  1. Weeping Willow – from Electric Jewels, 1973
  2. Bad Side of the Moon – from On Record, 1972
  3. I Can Hear You Callin’ – from Electric Jewels, 1973
  4. All Over Town – from The Nature of the Beast, 1981
  5. Hot on the Wheels of Love – from First Glance, 1978
  6. Listen Mister – from April Wine, 1971
  7. Work All Day – from On Record, 1972
  8. Wings of Love – from The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy, 1976
  9. One More Time – from The Nature of the Beast, 1981
  10. Roller – from First Glance, 1978

Lastly, I’d like to mention my personal top five 2015 releases, though I didn’t buy too many as I was stuck in the 60’s and 70’s.

  1. No Pocus Without Hocus – Murky Red
  2. Perfect Beings II – Perfect Beings
  3. Unscrewed – Corvus Stone
  4. War and Peace – Pandora Snail
  5. The Book of Souls – Iron Maiden

 

 

No Pocus without Hocus – A Review

Over the last decade or so, there has has been a revival in the heavy psychedelic acid rock scene with many new bands adding a modern and updated twist, creating a heavy stoner crunch with occasional aggressive leaps. Bands such as Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Kadavar, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and Demon Eye have taken the bridging elements between late sixties heavy psych and early seventies downer rock and recreated them in an up to date sound scope.

One band who have very successfully encapsulated that sound in their music,  enhancing it with an underlying flow of Pink Floydian tones and applying a progressive approach, is Belgium’s Murky Red. Their debut Time Doesn’t Matter was released in 2012 and has been described as Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd. By the band’s own admission though, the first album didn’t truly capture the sound they were going for. Keyboardist Yolanda Flaming goes as far as to say three of the tracks are today not even fit to be called Murky Red music.

NPWH-album-coverTheir new album No Pocus without Hocus, released just recently as a digital download for now (CD to come once sales of the digital album reach the goal), sees the band developing their sound more in the intended direction with vocalist/guitarist Stef Flaming stating that the final track Elena is where the band has really managed to flesh out the direction of its sound.

The music on this 11-track offering is quite a treat for anyone who loves music as described in the opening paragraph. Wonderful modern day heavy psych guitars abound with heavy prog tendencies. The rhythm section provides a solid pounding when required with drummer René Marteaux doing an excellent job of driving the heaviness and aggressive edges home as well as appropriately handling the trippier and more melancholy parts with Marie Vancamp augmenting the percussion . However, unlike a lot of bands who concentrate on the heavy stoner side, Murky Red deliver lighter songs as well such as She’s Crying Diamonds, Bad Wolf of the Pack (a kind of Pink Floyd meets Planet Caravan and Green Grass and High Tides Forever number) and Wild Flower. In a way, the concept behind the name Iron Butterfly is quite suitable here with Murky Red showing their lighter Butterfly side against the heavy Iron side. It’s my impression though that the heavy side wins out with some excellent guitar riffs of the stoner rock variety showing up in Pixilated Friends, Stoned and Horny and Collateral Damage, as well as in many of the other tracks. You can also look forward to some note and mind bending guitar solos courtesy of Patrick Dujardin.

Special mention must go to Stef Flaming’s voice. Though he aspired not to be the band’s vocalist, his deep, almost Johnny-Cash-goes-ominous-elder-hippy quality suits the sound of the band just perfectly. Flaming guested as vocalist on Corvus Stone’s cover of Murky Red’s song Boots for Hire and in turn, Corvus Stone guitarist Colin Tench plays lead on this album’s track Collateral Damage. In fact, Tench was responsible for the mixing of both Murky Red albums, and I believe he’s done a stellar job of rendering their sound.

A review of this album album would not be complete with saying a few words about the lyrics. Though I honestly haven’t listened carefully to each song’s lyrics, the humorous and quirky ones do tend to stand out. “I smoked all my hashtags with some pixilated friends,” from Pixilated Friends is the first to have arrested my ears. As the amusingly titled Stoned and Horny floats through a spacey segment, Flaming utters, “For those who don’t understand this song, this is the stoned part, yeah”. “The trick is to get back to the horny,” he muses. A Wooden Groove begins as a song with lyrics but soon Flaming tells us that, “from now on, this song will be strictly instrumental”. Indeed it is with a thundering, cantering thrash conclusion. I have to say that Mermaids is also an excellent tune combining the lighter side with the rockier and including the image-conjuring lines, “Mermaids, m-m-m mermaids / fish tails everywhere / mermaids, m-m-m mermaids / fish sticks in the air”.

The album No Pocus without Hocus is an excellent piece of work and fans of heavy guitar rock with a thick stoner crust and a Floydian mantle will surely enjoy this. However, those who prefer a more progressive aspiration will not be disappointed, particularly with the closing track, Elena.

Murky Red is:
Stef Flaming: Vocals & Guitars
Patrick Dujardin: Guitars
Luk Lantin: Bass Guitar
René Marteaux: Drums
Marie Vancamp: Percussion
Yolanda Flaming: Keys

Artwork by Stef Flaming
Mascot: Maurice le Murk

Links

Murky Red web site

Reverb Nation records

Corvus Stone (II)

Corvus Stone are a multi-national group of European musicians who released their second album in September. The album was appearing on the ProgArchives homepage regularly for a few weeks, often with two or three reviews on a given day, and mostly earning ratings of four or five stars. I was interested in the album but thought I could wait until the new year before purchasing it. However, a very remarkable thing happened. Guitarist Colin Tench read a couple of my reviews of other albums and based solely on that he offered to send me his band’s album because he thought I would enjoy it. This has never happened to me before. I was flabbergasted, dumbfounded, and honoured.

The album arrived a few days later and I played it once through. Indeed, this was the kind of music I could enjoy listening to. But if I was going to write a review on the album as a return favour, I would need to listen to it carefully several times. I did so with pleasure. My review was posted last week on ProgArchives and I attach it below. In the meantime, I have been enjoying exchanging messages with Mr. Tench and consider it a great privilege to be able to chat so freely with a professional guitarist of his calibre.

My Review:

I swore I would avoid a track by track run down, but this album is rather rich in really good progressive ROCK with lots of special flavours and assorted delicacies carefully placed on the table so that one may eat to his filling of tasty musical morsels not too hot and not too peculiar. If you are a fan of Deep Purple, seventies Rainbow, The Flower Kings, and other bands, perhaps Camel, with some great emphasis on guitar and keyboard playing supported by an active bass and drummer with good breeding, then this album should appeal. These guys are out to enjoy making music first and foremost. This is their band and it’s for them. If you want to ride along, jump aboard!

“The Simple Life” is a surprising beginning that leaps straight into the music. I can hardly place where I’ve heard something like that before when the vocals come in and I am reminded of Peter Banks era Yes. Keyboards and guitar grab my attention but listen to that bass rumble.

Now a waltz with “Early Morning Call”. Organ and some guitar moments that utter the name Blackmore. And do I detect a touch of old Camel in there? Or is it the Flower Kings? Perhaps something else. The moment has passed. A very pleasing piece of work, this instrumental.

And now for a great rock guitar instrumental that plays through a couple of different moods before a haunting desert theme emerges. But wait! This is not an instrumental. “Boots for Hire” features vocalist Stef Flaming. I picture a black-clad, rugged, middle-aged frontiersman with a black Stetson. But hey, Ian Gillan could have sung this as well. Not the young Gillan. The present day Gillan. The instrumental section transforms into a heavy prog number with a quick tempo and organ, almost like some classic proto-metal bit from the early seventies before the music glides smoothly back into the eerie desert music. “Sun is gone and all is brown” might recall Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. This epic track takes a long slow journey through a desert twilight atmosphere before closing with some spooky keyboard sounds.

“Sneaky Entrance in to Lisa” is a short instrumental with a Spanish guitar feel and piano. It’s pretty and it’s over pretty quick. We’ll have to wait to later to hear more of where that was going.

A revving engine, the screech of tires, and a Deep Purple salute. “Purple Stone” gets the Purple references on the table. “Yes, we like Deep Purple.” And in case you are still in doubt, check out the artwork on the back of the CD booklet. It’s four purple crow heads carved out of Mount Rushmore! Corvus Stone. Purple Stone. There you go. Two singers here, and my guess it’s Blake Carpenter whose voice is the one I don’t care too much for. The music rocks and rolls and there’s organ and wah-wah guitar. A very cool and busy bass-line comes in twice. The lyric “Will I make it round the bend” has such potential for referencing insanity but instead concludes with, “or will I die?” Wait. Is this referencing “Trashed” by Black Sabbath? And then the Deep Purple tribute line, quoting a favourite classic also about a car. I have to admit that this is the first track that doesn’t warm up to me like the rest of the album has. But it’s shorter than my review of it.

Now another instrumental with “A stoned Crow meets the Rusty Wolff Ral” and a beautiful intro with acoustic guitar and gentle waves of synthesizer chords. It moves into a mid-tempo rock number that brings about some surprising time signature changes and some delightful snippets of weirdness. There’s a flute-like synthesizer, heavy guitar, and organ. This piece will keep you guessing which way its going to turn for the first couple of minutes before the pattern establishes itself. A showcase mostly for guitar and keyboard but don’t ignore the rhythm section.

“Lisa has a cigar” has me at a loss to describe the music. Something European. It’s very nice and then it’s over. And then there’s “Mr. Cha Cha” which has a 1974 rock rhythm feel and has me thinking this could be Deep Purple meets Nektar. This could also be a salute to Rainbow Ritchie Blackmore, late seventies? Nice organ. And a change of pace with a strong mid to late seventies rhythm and synthesizer. That bass doesn’t want to stay in the background. I’m suddenly reminded of “Son of Aleric”, the bonus track on the “Perfect Strangers” reissue.

Tinkling piano, bass, guitar wails, and string synthesizer. Vocals come in. Strangely, this music brings to mind the band Iona for some reason. Interesting and surprising sudden close. Such is “Dark Tower”.

The much lauded “Scandinavians in Mexico” is not the Sonoran party track I had come to expect. The Mexican groove is modest and more like what a Mexican rock band might have striven for. Instead, just enjoy the lively rhythm and the synthesizer and guitar lead work. A great fun piece of music nonetheless.

Oh, look! A bass intro with a bit of mystery, accompanied by acoustic guitar and synthesizer. “Mystery Man” begins and the keyboards and guitar take turns trading quick exchanges. I find the lyrics a little obvious but the vocals are strong. The music takes us through various changes with slow acoustic parts and some harder heavier sections.

I wondered if this next song “Camelus Bactrianus (Tuolla tuonnempana)” would bear any resemblance to the music of the band Camel but it doesn’t match what I know. It’s sung in Finnish and the exotic language sits well with me because it suits the slow and sombre music at the start. Are we witnessing a march to a funeral? Then there’s a change a we get a cool switch to an upbeat rock groove. I love how the song winds down, too.

“Uncle Schunkle” might just get my vote for coolest instrumental in the album. While we get lots of Colin Tench’s rock guitar, the rhythm in this track moves very coolly. The bass is really in there! And there are these abrupt changes in the groove of the rhythm that almost don’t get noticed until after the change has occurred. Yes, this is a great piece but it ends too soon. Or is that a timely end after all?

A slow acoustic piece that sounds very early seventies in approach. Not quite Yes this time for “Eternal Universe” but with some good vocal parts. There’s that sweet flute keyboard sound. At the close it sounds like the song will change gears and really get moving. Perhaps an Andean flute and guitar bit? But no. It just ends. Perhaps there was an opportunity missed here?

“Moaning Lisa” is actually a ballad in the original sense of the word about a woman whose father drowned at sea. As a result of her heartbreak she becomes a target for lustful men and eventually she joins her father, leaving her ghost to haunt the sea winds. The song features a blend of acoustic and electric with a hint of Spanish flavour, though there is more to this than my musical background can describe. The vocals have an accent which adds to the foreign feel. Surely though, even with all its non-traditional elements, this song can’t help but dropping into a heavy rock passage that reminds me a bit of the band Armageddon, who cut one album in ’75. This is a well-developed epic piece that keeps taking the listener into new territory. Catch the flowers-in-the-hair hippy folky passage before it returns to a Spanish ballad and then moves into an almost danceable folk rock conclusion. Great music!

The final song is another Finnish one and a pleasant folky acoustic number, a suitable conclusion for an album that has given us plenty of rock and Spanish-flavoured acoustic music as well.

This album has proven to be a pleasant journey worth repeating anytime. No, I was not dancing in the aisles from the start. This is not an album for pulling off a few great tracks and whistling them in the shower and then getting back to the rest later. Like a hot spring spa, this is an album to sit back and soak up in order to appreciate. The person who sent me this was right in guessing this was my groove. It is an album I enjoy listening to from start to finish, and though there are a couple (only a couple) of tracks that I feel are just alright, I don’t feel like skipping them.

Someone said the album was eclectic but I don’t think so. Corvus Stone is a rock band with a strong seventies feel in the most positive way, and that can be heard in almost every track. The colour comes from the Spanish or other sounds and styles they merge so nicely with their music, meaning it’s more than just a 70’s tribute band. This is really good upper level rock with a flair for blending in folk and ethnic music.

I’m not giving this five stars for the simple reason that I am really now looking forward to their third album, hopefully to come in two year’s time. I have yet to hear the debut, but based on the reviews and what I have heard here I strongly believe that Corvus a Stone will be one of those bands that really hit their mark on the third album. Many great bands produce their most historic work on either their third album or their third with a key new member (Deep Purple, Yes, and Genesis for example). Corvus Stone are on the right path to producing one of the most phenomenal albums of the decade. If this was close to that then I have especially high expectations for Corvus Stone III!

For more information about Corvus Stone:

Corvus Stone website

Scandinavians in Mexico