Deram 1972 / Talking Elephant 2022
Five decades down the line from its failed crusade, preeminent proto-metal platter is restored to all its conquering glory.
Being produced by Ian Gillan might seem like a strong selling point – and, for many a fan, it has been an entry point to this cult album for fifty years now – but it’s been a blessing and a curse for the British band who didn’t leave any other vestige of their brief existence, because for all the tentative attention such a solid link could bring, there would also be stylistic expectations piled up high. Of course, the hard-rock collective which delivered their one-off longplay and shared European stages with the genre’s heavyweights only to dissolve in oblivion demonstrated quite an edge, yet the world wasn’t ready for raw power of that intensity, and the quintet were fully aware of their potentially short lifespan – otherwise, why choose “Kamakazi Moth” and “Frustration” for the ensemble’s sole single? Fortunately, the group’s legend cast a long shadow, attracting new flocks of listeners to this record’s flame, and should anybody wonder about the platter’s appeal, here’s a reissue to provide the answer.
Eliminating the silence with the rumble of Paul Dean’s bass, which is wrapped in a twin-guitar assault and cross-riff attack courtesy of Bob Cook and Bill Hinde before Ray Sparrow’s drums chase Lynden Williams’ voice down the aggressive avenue, the ’45 is there as well as a fine example of what this team could deliver. But it’s spacious and gloomy numbers – first of all, the solo-flaunting, soul-shattering “Midnight Steamer” and the aforementioned “Frustration,” the album’s multi-dimensional stampede of an opener where amplified strings strive to repel electronic effects to contrast the vocalist’s histrionic hysteria – that are possessed by mesmeric magnetism. And though “Hooded Eagle” displays less melodic elegance, the cymbals-enhanced crust and a thick instrumental background add depth to the piece’s infectious belligerence, while the twangy “I See The Light” offers a tangibly anxious, if exquisite, bluesy interplay, and the even more theatrical “Murder’s Lament” explores lower frequencies with a lot of gusto until the glacial passages elevate the cut’s macabre veneer to reveal the band’s romantic underbelly and hide it in “When The Wolf Sits” to place predatory drift into dynamic pocket.
So however primeval the stomp of “Primitive Man” may appear to today’s ears, its rather nuanced Neanderthal dance feels spellbindingly vibrant, as does the raga-tinged filigree and mantra-esque singing of “Beyond The Grave” whose groove is riveting, and when “She Came Like A Bat From Hell” swaggers to the fore, grins are guaranteed to replace the masks of fear which the uninitiated will wear. This reissue is augmented with a few mixes from 2009 that flesh out the original performances with fresh parts, most notably organ waves, yet the latter-day shiny shroud, somewhat demolishes the old raucousness, smoothing the serrated brilliance of yore and inserting a Santana quote perfectly out of the record’s classic context. Stay within the context, and the strong pull of “Jerusalem” must be obvious to everybody.