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

 

 

The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter 8

Defining a New Sub-Genre of Rock

On February 13th, 1970 the debut album of a new band, Black Sabbath, was released in the U.K. The album came amidst a wave of loud, heavy guitar rock albums and at the time it was poorly received by the music press. From one perspective, the eponymous debut was nothing exceptional. The guitar was loud, played with distortion effects, used power chords, and included lots of soloing. The bass was not simply quietly in the back as a rhythm instrument but mixed near the front and often playing an important lead melody. The drums hit hard but had a jazzy swing to them. And the vocals were a little higher register than those of some contemporary vocalists but sung with passion and power and a certain degree of theatrics as the music required. Lyrics were about the occult, war, and fantasy. Individually, all these elements were nothing new. They had all been emerging in rock music over the previous several years and had become part of the new sound of heavy rock that grew out of the peak psychedelic years in 1967 and ’68. But as history would prove, there was something special about the music of Black Sabbath that distinguished it from the music of most other bands of the time.

One important factor was in guitarist Tony Iommi’s playing style. Having sliced off two finger tips in a sheet metal shop accident during his final days of employment, he was mortified that he would never be able to become a professional musician. Thankfully, he learned of another guitarist who had suffered a similar accident and how that guitarist had fashioned false finger tips. Iommi took inspiration and did the same, moulding artificial tips from plastic. Playing the guitar with this plastic tips wasn’t easy however, and to facilitate his playing technique, Iommi down-tuned his guitar. This would prove to be a crucial reason for the band’s future success.

Down-tuning was nothing new. As far back as 1966, the American garage rock / early psychedelic band, The Music Machine had tuned their instruments a key lower than usual in order to give their music a darker, heavier sound. But Black Sabbath would strike a chord, so to speak, with the addition of one element more: the diabolic tri-tone. It was avoided in western music for centuries because of its dissonant quality. As early as the 18th century, it became known as diabolus in musica, and many writers assert that the tritone and other dissonant chords were avoided in medieval and renaissance music because of its satanic connotations. It later became acceptable to use in western music composition, and the tritone that famously opened Black Sabbath’s self-titled song which opens the debut album, was inspired by Mars, the Bringer of War from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

The album begins with the sound of rain, the distant peal of a church bell, and rumbles of thunder. Then abruptly the band play the tritone riff, slowly and ominously with an underscore of force, giving the music a frightening tone of heaviness and foreboding. The lyrics, “What is this that stands before me? / Figure in black that points a me,” were inspired by a real-life incident experienced by bassist Terry “Geezer” Butler when one night he alleged to have awoken to find a black figure standing before his bed. The sound of this new album was something different. Heavy guitar rock fusing psychedelia, jazz, blues, and even classical music, and lyrics of dark subject matter were already about (the band Coven had even written a song entitled “Black Sabbath” a year earlier), but it all came together here, along with Iommi’s down-tuning to create a monster of a hair-raising song with the rest of side one following the course with songs about paganism, wizards, and Lucifer. Several musicologists claim that the title track, and as well side one of the album, were the turning point of heavy rock music, where the elements that came to be recognized as synonymous with heavy metal music appeared in the right combination for the first time.

But in 1970, this particular new approach to rock and roll had not yet found an identifying moniker, and the term heavy metal had only just come in to use in reference to music – loud, raucous, untalented, rubbish music.

The term had been about in chemistry describing metallic elements with high atomic numbers, and it had been used in a 1962 novel by William S. Burroughs, “The Soft Machine” for the character Uranium Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid. A follow-up novel linked heavy metal with drugs and the term “metal music” appeared. “Heavy” became a term used in the late sixties to describe something potent and profound. The term could also refer to something grave and emotionally weighing. Steppenwolf famously used the term in their 1968 hit “Born to Be Wild”; however the phrase “heavy metal thunder” referred to the engine of a motorcycle. Heavy music was a beatnik phrase applied to slower and more amplified music. In the May 1968 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, reviewer Barry Gifford referred to Electric Flag’s album A Long Time Coming as the “synthesis of white blues and heavy metal music”, though Electric Flag’s music bears very little resemblance to that of Black Sabbath.

Perhaps the most famous use of the term comes in a review by critic Mike Saunders. In his November 1970 review for Rolling Stone of Humble Pie’s Safe as Yesterday Is, he described the music as “noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-laden shit-rock”. In May of 1971 for Creem magazine, Saunders wrote of Sir Lord Baltimore that they seemed to have “down pat most of all the best heavy metal tricks in the book”. The term became used as a putdown for the music of other bands like Grand Funk Railroad and Dust, and the drug reference of Burroughs returned in 1979 when a New York Times music critic panned heavy metal rock as “brutally aggressive music played mostly for minds clouded by drugs”. In an interview with Black Sabbath’s Terry Butler, he said that people described their music as “the sound made when one drops a load of heavy metal”. Drummer Bill Ward coined the term ‘downer rock” and it became used for other bands like Bloodrock as well until the term heavy metal became the popular term.

Though Black Sabbath’s style may have best captured the essence of what was to become known by future generations as heavy metal, there were between 1970 and 1972 countless bands around the world playing their own take on heavy guitar music. Led Zepplein had already established themselves a year earlier as a heavy guitar rock band, though much of their music was more clearly rooted in R&B, and Deep Purple released In Rock, an monumental album of their new harder, heavier, and more aggressive and furious sound, in the spring of 1970. Styles among bands varied and could be blues-based, psychedelic-based, or progressive like bands such as T.2. and High Tide. A band may include a keyboard player on Hammond organ or be a power trio. In some cases a fifth member on rhythm guitar was included. Heavy rock music was played in not only the U.K. and the U.S. but bands also appeared in Germany, France, Iceland, Japan, Peru, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and a host of other countries whose artists would have less of an impact but whose albums are still sought after by collectors.

The early 1970’s were the years of progressive rock, roots rock, and the height of the first generation of heavy metal musicians. However, a generation in popular music is usually given five years from emergence to ultimate decline, and heavy metal music was to a large degree doomed to become unfashionable within such a short time. It would face a transformation and a period of underground existence.

A Playlist of Heavy Guitar Rock from 1969 to 1973

High Tide

Zior

Free

Iron Claw

Pentagram

Sir Lord Baltimore

Stone Garden

The 31 Flavors

Icecross

Warhorse

Necromandus

Jerusalem

Blue Phantom

Jacula

Lucifer’s Friend

May Blitz

Warpig

T.2.

Eloy

Dark

Jericho

Euclid

Leaf Hound

Cactus

Yesterday’s Children

Buffalo

Sainte Anthony’s Fyre

Rotomagus

Stray

Glass Sun Band

Nazareth

Blues Creation

Scorpions

Andromeda

Atomic Rooster

Captain Beyond

Dust

Budgie

Trapeze

Uriah Heep

Blue Oyster Cult

Bedemon

Grand Funk Railroad

Blackwater Park

Highway Robbery

Night Sun

Blue Cheer

Tarkus

Deep Purple

The Power of Zeus

Black Sabbath

Iron Maiden

Iron Butterfly

Valhalla

Jeronimo

Mountain

Bang

Flower Travelin’ Band

Bulbous Creation

Bodkin

Killing Floor

Pax

The Pink Fairies

The Litter

Taste

Tractor

Wicked Lady

Poobah

The Amboy Dukes

Argus

Vanilla Fudge

Possessed

Hard Stuff

New Lords

Thunderpussy

Freedom’s Children

Suck

UFO

Seompi

Bloodrock

Thundermug

Aerosmith

Led zeppelin

Zoot

A Foot in Cold Water

Montrose

Message

Samuel Prody

Elias Hulk

Alice Cooper

The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter Seven

1969 – The Turning Point

The two big years of psychedelic music caused a change in popular music that was unlike anything to have come before or after. Within those two years, rock was transformed into serious music; short and simple dance songs dropped out of favour and instead longer compositions with more technical playing or more advanced and complex music was becoming the in thing. Short songs were still necessary for radio play and hits, and simplicity still appealed to a large portion of the listening public. But rock musicians were interested in experimentation and thus many new sounds and styles emerged that had previously been heard only in experimental tinkering or not at all.

As previously discussed, in 1966 there were four foundations that would each contribute to the development of heavy metal: electric blues, garage rock, psychedelic rock, and the nascent progressive rock subgenre. Over the two years of 1967 and 1968, when psychedelic music mushroomed and swallowed just about every form of popular music, the three other foundations were transformed as though they had gone through adolescence and reached adulthood. Electric blues bands like The Yardbirds and Cream had adapted to the new sounds of the psychedelic period but by the end of it, both groups had folded. Yet the blues had not dropped of the music map at all. On the contrary, it re-emerged in 1969 with new muscle, and the most exemplary would have to be Led Zeppelin’s debut in January of 1969, featuring blazing guitar work by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant’s powerful howls, and a rhythm section with John Paul Jones and John Bonham that simply pounded the floor. If there was to be one album of 1969 that resonated furthest into the future of heavy guitar rock, this would be the one.

Garage rock as it had been in 1966, which was perhaps also its peak year, also underwent a great transformation. Bands had managed to work in the psychedelic sounds of ‘67/’68 and for many this lead to a harder-edged style. The Stooges, MC5, and the final album by The Litter are examples of the new approach to the garage rock style, and from this new sound the forth-coming subgenre of punk rock was in gestation. A great majority of bands, however, faded out by 1968, finding it difficult to maintain success with the style of music that had drawn the respective musicians together in the first place.

The subgenre to benefit most from the psychedelic peak years was progressive rock. By 1969 a slew of new groups had formed – mostly in Great Britain but also in Germany and Italy – who were interested in experimenting with music and who would take rock music far beyond its unsophisticated beginnings. Among these new groups, King Crimson was likely one of the most influential, not only in prog circles but also in heavy metal and most notably for their monster heavy hit of ’69, “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

The most important point that distinguishes the music of 1969 from previous years is that there were numerous new bands who recognized that it was not only possible but desirable to record an entire album, or nearly entire album, of heavy guitar rock music. Prior to 1969 perhaps the only album that was truly heavy to that extent was Blue Cheer’s “Vincebus Eruptum”. Led Zeppelin’s debut in January was a monster in itself with a heavier guitar sound than had appeared on most earlier blues rock recordings (except for maybe a couple of tracks from Cream’s “Fresh Cream”). More importantly though was that the music was no longer strictly adhering to the blues but had become blues-based. Speed burners like “Communication Breakdown” and the hurricane force of the instrumental section of “Dazed and Confused” combined speed and heaviness in ways barely unheard of and established this form of music as more than just a novelty but as a new style. The appeal to playing loud and heavy music extended even beyond bands who would establish themselves as classic heavy rock acts. After The Who had released “I Can See for Miles” in 1967, The Beatles had topped it for hard-hitting heaviness in 1968 with “Helter Skelter”. But in 1969, Pink Floyd beat that with “The Nile Song”, which had even more distortion and shouted vocals than The Beatles had in them.

With the appeal of loud, heavy guitar music, other new bands that appeared on the rock scene and thundered their way across vinyl were Americans like Grand Funk Railroad and Sir Lord Baltimore, whose muscled up music was so loud and raucous that it earned from critics the derisive appellation “heavy metal”. Lesley West played his heavy blues rock in his new band Mountain and Yesterday’s Children managed to cut a sole LP in 1969 of their brand of heavy rock. In Britain, Andromeda and High Tide were combining heavy guitar rock with the more complex musical approach that the new progressive rock bands were experimenting with, and the soon to be famous Deep Purple were approaching a critical moment in their history when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would push the band further into a heavy guitar rock direction.

Without contention the most influential band in the early history of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, was also coming into form. Having changed from a folk-based band called Earth, the four musicians from Birmingham were working on a new sound that combined blues and jazz with heavy psychedelic sounds and fantasy and occult themes. Though their debut would not see record store shelves until 1970, their earliest single releases were quick to grab attention around the world. Iron Claw in Scotland, Pax in Peru, Bang in the U.S. and Flower Traveling Band in Japan, to name a few, snapped up this new heavier sound and began writing and recording music over the next couple of years.

Though heavy metal music is identified by its guitar sound and playing style, for a lot of heavy rock bands in 1969 the Hammond organ was equally important. Vanilla Fudge had introduced the sound of loud, heavy guitar with swirling Hammond organ chords to great success in 1967, and this sound had appealed to Ritchie Blackmore, who wanted to create a band that would be like Vanilla Fudge. Other bands in 1969 who included a Hammond organ player were Valhalla from Long Island, Spice (soon to be Uriah Heep) from the U.K., Warpig in Canada, and Lucifer’s Friend in Germany.

Naturally, as this new style of music became in vogue, many of the bands that had helped initiate it in 1967/’68 struggled to fit in the new scene. Iron Butterfly experienced a line-up shake down, losing guitarist Erik Braunn and taking on two new guitarists, Mike Pinera and Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt. The band managed one more album in 1971 before folding. Vanilla Fudge performed their farewell concert on March, 1970. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was no more as Hendrix began work on a new band project, Band of Gypsies. Other bands like Blue Cheer moved away from the heavy and voluminous sound they had created and ventured into another new subgenre called roots rock, which brought back the country and acoustic origins of rock and roll. More heavy rock bands would later also follow this route.

The year 1969 saw the rock music scene begin to coalesce into new subgenres out of the fertile nebula of psychedelic music. It was the year that progressive rock began to rise to the surface, that punk rock began to take on a form that is recognizable against the style that became popular in the mid-seventies, that roots rock started to attract a loyal following of musicians, and the year that a good number of bands around the world agreed that loud heavy guitar rock, sometimes including a thundering Hammond organ, was the direction in which their music lay. The first generation of heavy metal bands was born.

Separated at Birth? – The Nexus of Prog and Metal

The psychedelic period in rock music history permitted musicians and artists to experiment with the genre in ways greater than their predecessors had ever enjoyed. Rock and Roll music had caught on in rapid steps in the 1950’s and continued its pace into the 1960’s, albeit with a sidestep underground in the U.S. around 1960. But even as the next generation of youth picked up guitars and drumsticks, or practiced on organs, pianos and saxophones, the standard format of a rock song changed little. Songs were still usually two to three minutes long with an almost obligatory verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. The sound of rock and roll changed but not the general song format.

What the psychedelic movement encouraged was longer instrumental sections and more serious musicianship. It also gave songwriters new lyrical freedom as the usual songs about love and heartbreak or dancing and partying were no longer essential for recording a hit song. The new lyricists wrote about social issues, poems, fantasy, literature, history, war, death, the occult, or simply enigmatic lyrics that the listener was free to interpret in his or her own way. And, although it’s not true for all new artists of the period, LSD certainly played an enormous contributing role in the new found musical expression.

Prior to the advent of psychedelia and rock music (for the “and roll” was not longer suitable to this more serious style of pop), two new musical styles were beginning to take shape. The drive to fuel guitars with distortion or fuzz tone effects and the desire to master and build on electric guitar solo techniques along with a more assertive and aggressive style of singing and playing eventually led to the sub-genre of heavy metal. Meanwhile, other artists saw the studio as a place to experiment with rock and attempt to create something that went beyond expectations of the rather simplistic approach to recording. These were the earliest days of progressive rock.

Freak outThe year 1966 was a pivotal one as psychedelic rock was beginning to emerge. The Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds” and The Mothers of Invention album “Freak Out!” are both seen as albums within the rock genre that took giant steps toward initiating the progressive rock movement. On the heavy side, Cream introduced the world to a heavier sounding version of electric blues with their debut “Fresh Cream”. The Yardbirds recorded songs like “Happenings Ten Years’ Time Ago” and “Stroll On”, their rewrite of “Train Kept A Rollin’” for the movie “Blow Up”. And The Who released their first album as well, including their hit, “My Generation” and the growling, bulldozing bass solo, “The Ox”. By the end of the year, The Jimi Hendrix Experience had recorded “Purple Haze” and Jefferson Airplane were working on their sophomore album. Both progressive rock and heavy metal were still a few years away from developing into name-worthy sub-genres of rock but the basic molecules were in place. All they needed was a catalyst.

Or a Big Bang. Between the years of 1967 and ’68, psychedelic rock came into its own, serving as a Big Crunch to several music styles. Rock and roll, folk, country western, classical, and jazz – all of these and more contributed matter and energy to the explosion that would spawn both progressive rock and heavy metal. If one looks at the ProgArchives list of proto-prog bands and the MetalMusicArchives list of proto-metal bands, more than a few bands and artists can be found on both. HeavyIron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Jimi Hendrix all released albums during these two consequential years and their music is built on both the foundations of prog and metal, at least as it was back then. Other bands tended to lean more to one side than the other: Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf being more rock, blues, and heavy psychedelic rock, and Jefferson Airplane and the Doors going more for the experimental take. Then there was Pink Floyd who practically invented space rock with their adventures in electric guitar and organ soundscapes.

Bearing these considerations in mind, it should come as no surprise that the progressive rock album that broke down any remaining barriers did so with a bombastic, distortion overdrive song called “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson. The band’s debut, “In the Court of the Crimson King” was released in October, 1969 and is often hailed as the first true progressive rock album.kc It features an eclectic amalgamation of heavy psych, jazz, classical instruments, folk, and experimental music. Other bands, however, were also busy developing their music into new territory. The Moody Blues were turning standard pop rock into musical adventures by adding various instruments and experimenting with new recording techniques. Yes were busy expanding their songs by adding snippets from show tunes, Beatles references, church choir-inspired vocals sections, jazz, and anything else they could fit in. Meanwhile, the distortion and aggression types were aiming for a heavier, harder sound, first with Jeff Beck and then with Led Zeppelin at the forefront.

Deep PurpleBy 1970, the monikers “progressive rock” and “heavy metal” had already been applied to bands in their respective sub-genres. But some bands eluded a swift pigeonholing by straddling both sides of the grey area boundary. Deep Purple are always mentioned as one of the progenitors of heavy metal, however, the advanced talents of Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards), and Ian Paice (drums), not to mention bass players who had to keep up (Nicky Simper and Roger Glover), and some of the band’s early songs put them in the proto-prog and prog category (their latest album is a rapturous step back to that style). Uriah Heep are found in a similar vein, attempting lengthy compositions that on occasion included an orchestra and choir.

As both styles of music ascended swiftly in popularity, there was precedent for quite a few bands to attempt to embrace both. The Wikipedia entry for progressive metal covers mostly bands like Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and Crimson Glory who emerged in the 1980’s. The coverage of earlier bands mentions a few who began releasing albums between 1969 and 1970: High Tide, Lucifer’s Friend, Night Sun, and of course, Uriah Heep. High TideThe approach these bands took was to incorporate distorted guitar sounds and heavy metal playing with other instruments, usually a Hammond organ but in the case of High Tide, a violin, and then create longer songs with extended instrumental sections that often referenced classical music (Baroque or Romantic) and at times leaned towards jazz. Volume and virtuosity, imagination and intensity. These bands were not the only ones bridging the two styles. Necromandus could be seen opening for Yes or Black Sabbath and were once said to be like “Yes plays the hits of Black Sabbath”. T2_-_It%5C'll_All_Work_Out_In_BoomlandT.2. and Jericho (a.k.a. Jericho Jones) were also fully capable of rocking all out with chugging power chords and screaming guitar solos and then switching gears to an acoustic number with classical piano, strings, horns, choir, or whatever suited their taste. Germany’s Eloy began as a hard rock group but by their second album were already deep into prog territory. Brits in Hamburg, Nektar, too crossed heavy rock with progressive thinking.

As the seventies counted out the first few years, bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Budgie as well as many lesser known bands were experimenting with more complex and varied songs. Some heavy rock artists went prog for a few years while other prog artists experimented with heavy rock. King Crimson included bombastic heavy music on their albums and Jethro Tull mixed acoustic rock with heavy electric rock while Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, and even Genesis managed to turn heavy rock into progressive art as they found ways to fit it into their songs when deemed appropriate. Though there may have been two distinct camps of rock sub-genres, both sides couldn’t resist borrowing techniques and ideas.

By 1974 / 75, two groups had emerged who could claim influence from both styles. Judas Priest experienced the early ‘70s as a “progressive heavy blues-based” band, according to founding member, Al Atkins. The first two albums by Priest capture the band in transition, moving from the experimental heavy rock style prevalent at the time toward a new approach to heavy metal. Indeed, music journalist, Martin Popoff, sees Judas Priest’s second album, “Sad Wings of Destiny” as the reinvention point of heavy metal, but the album still features some of the old progressive elements. Sad_wings_of_destiny_coverThe other very important band is Rush, who began as a straightforward blues-based rock band and then quickly metamorphosed into a heavy rock band with a desire to build their music on progressive rock principles.

Progressive metal is usually regarded as a musical style that emerged in the 1980’s and that is probably because many people consider true heavy metal to have emerged in the late seventies or early ‘80s. But the way I see it is that progressive metal is as old as proto-prog and proto-metal. Perhaps proto-progressive metal should be recognized as an apt moniker for the music of those bands of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s who attempted to create music that was both artfully complex and aggressively loud and bombastic.

 

Antecedents of Progressive Metal 1968 to 1976 – A Suggested Playlist

Iron Butterfly – In the Time of Our Lives

Vanilla Fudge – Some Velvet Morning

Deep Purple – Wring that Neck

Andromeda – Turn to Dust

High Tide – The Great Universal Protection Racket

T.2. – In Circles

Uriah Heep – Salisbury

Necromandus – Still Born Beauty

Eloy – Castle in the Air

Nektar – Crying in the Dark

Judas Priest – Epitaph / Island of Domination

Rush – By-Tor and the Snowdog

Going Metal – The Early Years of the Heavy Metal Genre

Thinking about it now, looking back through the decades to the early years of heavy metal is like looking at a great mountain range from a distance. We can see and identify the highest and most famous peaks with ease: Mt. Led Zeppelin, Mt. Black Sabbath, and Mt. Deep Purple. And some of the lesser prominent peaks also stand out from this distance: Mt. Uriah Heep, Mt. Grand Funk Railroad, and Mt. Nazareth. We can also see beyond and further back in history Mounts Iron Butterfly, Cream, Blue Cheer, Jimi Hendrix Experience and others. But like any mountain range, there are many lesser peaks, satellite peaks, sub-peaks, and mountains of lower status and height which are not readily visible from a distance.

When I first embraced heavy metal back in my late primary school days (around 1982), I soon became intrigued by the roots of this genre and from the magazines that were available at the time – Creem, Circus, and in Canada, Metallion – I learned about the big name bands that helped create this style of music that combined musical virtuosity (at times) with energy, power, and sonic aggression. LedZeppelinThe Big 3 were of course Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, and for a great many people, the genre was born with Black Sabbath’s early 1970 release of their eponymous debut. Black Sabbath invented heavy metal. To anyone who gave it a bit of thought, however, there were several progenitors who all contributed prior to the mighty riffs of the Black Sabbath title track.

Drummer Bill Bruford notes in his autobiography that no new form of music can suddenly appear on the scene. People need something to which they can reference new developments. (There’s that wonderful scene in Back to the Future where Marty McFly thrills the crowd with a Chuck Berry guitar solo and then leaves them stupefied with an Eddie Van Halen solo.) As Bruford points out, punk rock didn’t abruptly emerge in 1976. It was built on the garage rock music of the 1960’s which in turn was a back-to-grassroots effort to recapture the simple power of the original rock and rollers of the 1950’s.fresh cream Heavy metal experienced the same slow growth, perhaps beginning with some of the guitar rock of the late fifties and finally coming to conception with The Kinks You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night in 1964. The next several years saw this new aggressive, guitar-driven style gestate and develop with the likes of The Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Jeff Beck’s fuzz tone guitar antics with The Yardbirds, the heavy blues of Cream, the guitar wizardry of Jimi Hendrix, the psychedelic rock of Iron Butterfly, the thunder of Blue Cheer, and so on. By January, 1969, when Led Zeppelin released their debut, a well-paved route to that landmark album had already been laid out and a plethora of bands of varying success existed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as on the continent.

If heavy metal was born with Black Sabbath’s debut in early 1970, then 1969 was the year the genre achieved consciousness. For this was the year that new bands started up with the desire to record entire albums of primarily fuzz tone guitar rock and not just include such styles as one of the flavours on their vinyl offerings. Though Led Zeppelin led the pack with Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown, Dazed and Confused, and How Many More Times, and more tracks on their sophomore album, groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Andromeda, High Tide, and MC5 were hitting the record store shelves with various approaches to frenzied guitar rock, be it amped up blues boogie, garage aggression, or progressive heavy guitar rock. The world was being prepared for this new beast.grand funk

When both Black Sabbath and Deep Purple released their thundering guitar rock (plus organ in Purple’s case with In Rock) albums in 1970, dozens of bands in the U.S. and the U.K. were already in recording studios everywhere laying down their polished material which in many cases had already been in their repertoire for a couple of years. In the U.S. Euclid, Yesterday’s Children, Bloodrock, Sir Lord Baltimore, and others would put out their debuts. Many other bands would soon follow, like Sainte Anthony’s Fyre, Dust and May Blitz. budgieIn the U.K. bands like Budgie, Jerusalem, Iron Claw, T.2., Iron Maiden (an earlier band not related to the famous one), Leaf Hound, Necromandus, and others would set their songs to vinyl over the next couple of years. In fact, by the early 70’s there were bands all over the world who were experimenting with aggressive, fuzz tone guitar rock.

It’s interesting now to think that the proto-metal bands whose names still resonate as major contributors to the creation of the genre are mostly British. Yet the term “heavy metal” in reference to a music style seems to have come from America. Many will point out Steppenwolf’s lyric in Born to Be Wild, “Heavy metal thunder”, which is used in reference to a motorcycle engine. Indeed, Led Zeppelin make a similar reference in the lyrics to their 1975 song, Trampled Underfoot: “Check that heavy metal / Underneath your hood”. Others will cite the title of Iron Butterfly’s debut, Heavy. However, as many web sites report, the first use of heavy metal to refer to a style of music appeared in a review by Barry Gifford in the May 11, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone of a U.S. band named Electric Flag: “This is the new soul music, the synthesis of white blues and heavy metal rock.” (see Wikipedia article on heavy metal). Two years later, Mike Saunders, reviewing Humble Pie’s debut, As Safe as Yesterday Is, for Rolling Stone, wrote: “Here Humble Pie were a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-laden shit-rock band, with loud and noisy parts beyond a doubt.” Used in the pejorative here, it is no wonder that Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan would say in his documentary Highway Star that heavy metal is the most unflattering name for a genre of music. Heavy metal was also used to describe the music of the debuts of Grand Funk Railroad, Sir Lord Baltimore (who claim they were the first to have this label ascribed to them), and Dust.

The term heavy metal as a label for loud, aggressive, “heavy” music became quickly accepted in the U.S. and soon the label was being attached to British bands as well, with many American bands citing British acts as their inspiration. The term showed up a few years later in What’s Another Day of Rock and Roll on the debut album of Canada’s Triumph: “We’ve been five years working in a rock and roll band / blasting heavy metal right across the land.” However, after the initial rush to join the parade, many bands began turning towards more conventional rock styles and kept the guitar distortion to a radio-friendly level. Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad, Stray, Nazareth, Deep Purple, and many others moved in varying degrees away from the aggressive, noisy approach of heavy metal. Other bands dissolved and some members left the music scene altogether or turned to other music styles.

rocka rollaBy 1974, when Judas Priest released their debut, Rocka Rolla, many of the old guard had changed their sound or gone away. Here heavy metal entered a chrysalis stage where few bands dared turn up the volume and fuzz. Glam rock bands such as KISS and Sweet were among the new breed of hard rock outfits that drew crowds of fans. What is sometimes labeled heavy metal in the mid-seventies gets blown out the door by the re-intensification of metal in the mid-eighties. The punk rock movement also set a new challenge for heavy metal bands. Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny was the reinvention of heavy metal, according to music journalist, Martin Popoff. Interestingly enough, the new bands to emerge in the late seventies and usher in a new era with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal built their sound on varying combinations of classic heavy metal of the early seventies, progressive rock (most notably Rush and the guitar work of bands like King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes), and punk rock.

Take Those Old Records off the Shelf

By the early nineteen seventies, the rock band or pop artist as a commodity that could be sold to millions of young people had reached a unique point in music history. Bands and artists were no longer signed to a record label solely for the purpose of making an instant profit via a hit song. Musicians were allowed to grow and develop their music, and it was understood that any one band may take two or three albums to make the payoff. Furthermore, not every band had to become an instant success to keep a record label interested. That one successful group could carry the cost of ten non-successful groups was the understanding.

As such, there were many groups who were signed to a label, recorded an album or two, and then dissolved for various reasons. Sometimes the group found their new position as a recorded artist heaped greater responsibilities on them after years of being a relatively local touring group. Some members rejected their new burden while others wanted to move on. Then there were groups who were all ready to go out and promote their new product but found that the record label was not supporting them because someone else was making the charts. Some musicians continued in the music business, others went different ways.

In the nineties, however, record collectors began discovering old albums of “unheard of” groups, and the search for the “lost classic” began. Where was that album that by all means should have been a hit? Old albums were reissued on vinyl and later on CD. In the last 10 to 15 years many of these albums have been reissued again, often with bonus tracks and CD booklets telling the story behind the band and album. Here are eight single-album bands of the seventies that I have added to my CD collection since last year.

Leaf HoundLeaf HoundGrowers of Mushroom
Vocalist Peter French is more known for his work with Atomic Rooster and Cactus but before all that there was Leaf Hound. Though the band name and album title sound drug-inspired, French insists that the names came from horror stories he was reading at the time. The band was evolved from a former incarnation called Black Cat Bones, which played mostly blues-based rock. With French on board, the band became a little heavier and fit in more closely with the likes of Led Zeppelin. After their album was recorded, the band went to Europe to tour and promote it, but when they returned to the U.K. they found the album had still not been released. Disappointed, Leaf Hound split up and French joined Atomic Rooster. Only then was the album released, but with no band to take it on tour it quickly disappeared from public interest. Two decades later. It was voted the number one collector’s item in Q Magazine. French reformed the band with new members and released a new album in 2007 called “Unleased”.

possessedPossessedExploration
Vernon Pereira had been a regular figure in the Midlands rock scene since the mid-sixties and had even been in the Band of Joy with Robert Plant. Other members of Possessed had also performed in bands with future big names, including one member taking over for Greg Lake in Shy and member Mick Reeves being in a band with Al Atkins who would soon after form the first incarnation of Judas Priest. Possessed took their name from a description of Pereira’s stage performance – it was said that he was possessed by the music. They recorded an album in 1971 and tried to find a label that would be interested. They had no luck but continued touring around in Britain. Then in 1976 tragedy struck when early one morning their van struck a stationary tanker, killing three of the members, including Pereira. Word was the Plant and John Bonham discussed re-forming the Band of Joy for a one-off charity and tribute concert to raise money for Pereira’s wife and children but Led Zeppelin’s commitments stood in the way of making it happen. Note that this band are in no way connected with the 80’s American thrash metal band of the same name.

Dark-Round-The-Edges-ReissueDarkDark Round the Edges
Dark were three young British lads accompanied by a fourth who went to a small studio one day to cut six tracks of the music they had been working on. Guitarist Steve Giles paid for the whole production and asked for blank album sleeves to which he glued on a photo he had taken and had had printed in his father’s photo studio. They printed 30 copies at first which were given or sold to friends and family. However, the response they received was very encouraging and so they printed 30 more copies to send to record labels. They never got the response for which they had hoped, but years later when someone was cleaning out the EMI office in London, Dark’s album was discovered. It is now hailed as a very important heavy fuzz guitar album and it fetched such a high price from collector’s that all but one band member sold his copy for a handsome sum. The album was reissued on vinyl and CD by Machu Picchu Records in Oregon in 2012.

necromandusNecromandusOrexis of Death
“Yes plays the hits of Black Sabbath” was how this band was once described. Indeed, the band had a close connection with Black Sabbath and Toni Iommi even became their manager, which sadly was the ultimate reason for their demise. At first there was much excitement about the band and they often toured and played with Sabbath and even Yes. But as Black Sabbath’s career took off so did their manager. The band recorded an album and had commissioned an album cover by the legendary Roger Dean. But Iommi was overseas touring in the U.S. and there was no one to move the album through the hands of record company executives. Shortly after, the band split up. A couple of years later, Ozzy Osbourne was planning to go solo and start a band called Blizzard of Ozz. His new band was to be comprised of three of the Necromandus members. After a wild weekend of pranks and studio fun, Ozzy had a change of heart and chose to stay with Sabbath. “Orexis of Death” was finally released in 1999 and then again in 2005. A live album was also released and a “Necrothology” which included additional tracks not available on the CD version of “Orexis…” or the live album. A recent reissue puts both the studio album minus two original tracks and the live album on one CD.

ironmIron MaidenMaiden Voyage
Going by the outlandish name of BUM, this band converted from a blues act named Stevensons Blues Department to a guitar-oriented rock band with dark lyrics about black gods, rituals, and plagues. One member’s girlfriend’s father agreed to manage them if they would change their name to something more socially acceptable. Someone picked the name Iron Maiden and it became their new moniker. Working primarily in the Essex area, the band attracted the attention of a label, recorded a single with a B-side and a bunch of demos, and then got dumped. The band lost steam and split up. Come the nineties and their original studio demos were finally put out on vinyl with their single. Then surprisingly, the original master tapes turned up and the original concept for the cover (drawn on a paper napkin) was made into a new cover for a CD released in 2012. Note that this band has nothing to do with the famous heavy metal band of the same name.

jerusalemJerusalemJerusalem
When the electric blues was something new in Britain, three young dudes went to see John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and were so impressed that they knew they had to form a band, even though no one could play an instrument. Over the years they worked hard to learn how to play and write their own songs and eventually, after some personnel changes, they became Jerusalem. Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan took an interest in them and decided to produce their first album. However, after that the spirit in the band somehow changed and they soon split up afterwards. Too bad because it was a rather good debut.

IcecrossIcecrossIcecross
In the late sixties and early seventies, if you wanted to play music in Iceland you had to be a covers band. But three young musicians had the idea of composing and playing their own songs. They managed to stir up a small following in their native country and then went over to Copenhagen, Denmark where there was more music action. They recorded an album, got some favourable reviews, played their music, and decided it was time to go back home. Fast forward to the magical 90’s and their album gets discovered on a shelf, played, and becomes a “lost classic”. Bootlegs are made and finally a proper label releases the album in early 2014. Icecross are now back together and have their own web site.

Bent WindBent WindSussex
For most Canadian bands, the sixties were a hard time to get recognized. While many obscure acts were at least getting singles out and cutting demos south of the boarder, in Canada few proper recordings got done. In Sussex, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, a heavy psychedelic act, Bent Wind recorded and released an album – 500 copies pressed. No label showed any interest and the band mostly sold their albums at their shows and even threw them as Frisbees in the park, according to the Museum of Canadian Music. Twenty years or more later, one former member was running a pawn shop and had his album pinned to the wall when a collector friend of his spied it and told him Bent Wind’s album recently sold for a few hundred dollars. Well, Bent Wind got reformed and cut two more albums. “Sussex” was recently re-released on CD with bonus tracks.

Black Sabbath, “Black Metal”, and the Occult in Music

Black-Sabbath-Black-Sabbath-498592On Friday, February 13th, 1970, a debut album by a British rock band was released in Britain, an album that would prove to be one of monumental significance and influence. “Black Sabbath” by the band of the same name took psychedelic rock and heavy blues and turned it into something darker and more sinister. The opening track – also called “Black Sabbath” – began with a distant church bell ringing solemnly in a thunderstorm. Then a massive tri-tone guitar riff played on distorted electric guitar and bass and accompanied by a crash of drums with each chord introduces the album and the world to what later some would call the first heavy metal album and the first doom metal album. The lyrics on side one mention Satan, Lucifer, and a wizard, and the dark figure on the album cover affirms the occult nature of the songs inside.

When the “Satanic” metal bands of the 1980’s began achieving their share of fame and initiated the so-called genre of Black Metal, there was likely not one among them who wouldn’t have cited Black Sabbath’s debut as a major inspiration. But Black Sabbath was not a satanic band. In the song “Black Sabbath”, even though the lyrics mention a “big black shape with eyes of fire” and “Satan’s coming round the bend” the protagonist of the story is clearly frightened out of his wits and cries out, “No, no! Please, God help me”. In the song “N.I.B.” – mistakenly thought to stand for “Nativity in Black” – the lyrics speak from Lucifer’s view point of Old Nick falling in love .

The dark imagery of the band’s lyrics and heavy, ominous music continued on subsequent albums; however, the sinister lyrics referred to the evils of the world (“Generals gathered in their masses / Just like witches at black masses” – War Pigs) and did not necessarily reflect any band member’s desire to be a practicing Satanist. Conversely, one can often hear Ozzy Osbourne singing hippy lyrics about a world of love and even encouraging a belief in God in the song “After Forever (including the elegy)” from their third album “Master of Reality” – “Would you be afraid of what your friends might say if you believe in God above / They should realize before they criticize that God is the only way to Love”. This song was later covered by a Christian thrash metal band, Deliverance in the early 90’. Even the giant crosses that were used as part of their stage sets were never inverted. Dark and referencing the occult at times in their lyrics and album art, the band did not involve themselves in any satanic worship practices. When deliberate satanic imagery was used in the album artwork, it was without prior consent from the band members.

venom_blackThe rise of Black Metal in the 1980’s saw bands taking the whole business of Satan more seriously. The British metal band, Venom, actually used circumscribed pentagrams, goats’ heads, and other symbols associated with Satanism in their album art and even called an album and song of theirs, “Black Metal”. A young Swedish musician, Thomas Forsberg (stage name, Quorthon) started the band, Bathory (named after a Hungarian countess who was rumoured to have been a killer of young women and bathed in their blood) and with their first four albums set the blueprint for Scandinavian black metal. In the U.S., Possessed also were one of the forerunners of the black metal movement. The movement caught on in Norway with some band members being associated with murder and church burning.

However, while many modern bands look to Black Sabbath as a mentor of dark music and songs about the occult, there were actually other bands prior to Black Sabbath who were not nearly as heavy in sound but quite serious about the occult in their lyrical content. Britain’s Iron Maiden, a short lived act that bears no relation to the world-famous heavy metal band, though not actually involved in the occult, wrote songs about sacrificial rituals and evil. Their only single was “God of Darkness” released early in 1970. Also from Britain, Black Widow released a few albums between 1969 and 1973 that also dealt with the occult. Their first two albums were “Return to the Sabbath” (1969) and “Sacrifice” (1970).

covenBut when it comes to early use of satanic imagery, America’s Coven goes unmatched. Their debut in 1969, entitled “Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls” includes a photo of band members giving the sign of the horns, the first time this appeared in popular culture (usually the sign’s first use is credited to the late Ronnie James Dio during his days with Black Sabbath but Coven had already done it ten years earlier). There is also an inverted cross and the band standing around a nude young woman on an altar prepared for sacrifice. Song titles include “Black Sabbath” (and a band member named Os Osbourne, too!), “Dignitaries of Hell”, and “Choke Thirst Die”, plus a song about a witch. Unlike many bands then and later on who used the occult and Satanism for entertainment only, the members of Coven were quite serious about their beliefs and were well-read in the subject. The final track on their debut album is over 13 minutes of an initiation ritual of a neophyte. The music was not really heavy and still steeped in psychedelic rock with a jazz tinge. But when it came to knowing about devil worship, these guys were as close to real deal as one could get.

After the end of bands like Coven and Black Widow in the mid-seventies, one would imagine that occult rock had gone away until the revival in the 80’s. Not so. Searching for proto-metal bands on YouTube brings up a varied selection of underground and little known heavy metal bands with dark, satanic imagery on their covers and in their lyrics. Check out the videos below to see that Venom, Bathory, Possessed, Slayer, and the many other bands that came after were nothing new but building on and expanding upon what, to various extents, had already long been established.

Zior – Entrance of the Devil, 1971

Bedemon – Nightime Killers, 1974

Seompi – Almost in a Hole, 1970

Pentagram – Be Forewarned

Wicked Lady – Psychotic Overkill, 1972

Iron Claw – Skullcrusher, 1970

Pinnacle – The Ripper, 1974

Macabre – Be Forwarned (later to become Pentagram)

Necromandus – Nightjar, 1972

Salem Mass – Witch Burning, 1971

Bulbous Creation – Satan, 1970