Armageddon – Armageddon (1975)

Armageddon_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Armageddon was a short-lived “supergroup” (its members being from Captain Beyond, Iron Butterfly, Steamhammer, Yardbirds, and Renaissance) that produced only a single album. And sadly, just after the album was released, the group broke up due to record company problems, drug addiction, and illness, but this sole album left a deep and indelible impression on many budding musicians, including myself.

For me, this one album (with its mixture of Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Heavy Metal, and Progressive Rock) seemed a cross between groups such as Captain Beyond, Budgie, and Led Zeppelin, with the music being generally creative, atmospheric, and so outstanding on numerous levels that it left me (and scores of fans) ravenous for more.

The frantic opening track, “Buzzard,” for example, is an outstanding slice of Psych-Rock and Metal with extraordinary performances by all, while the next track “Silver Tightrope” has a majestically spacey atmosphere that adds a Prog-Rock touch to the band’s Heavy Psych sound. “Paths and Planes and Future Games” is mostly straightforward Hard Rock, but the psychedelic elements once again pop up. And the final two tracks, the rather bouncy and funky “Last Stand Before” and the Prog-tinged eleven-minute epic “Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun,” with its dastardly riffs and multiple sections, really show off the skills of each band member, especially guitarist Martin Pugh’s imaginative riffs and solos. Meanwhile, bassist Louis Cennamo and drummer Bobby Caldewell display their chops with creative fills and tight interplay, and Keith Relf’s periodic harmonica solos blare through the dense musical soundscapes like a warning siren on a foggy night.

Generally speaking, I can’t help thinking that had any of these tracks appeared on a Captain Beyond album, they likely would have seemed right at home. Indeed, the Captain Beyond comparisons are probably the most appropriate when it comes to all the former groups of Armageddon’s members, and had Captain Beyond’s Rod Evans been the lead vocalist of Armageddon, things may have gone differently for the group. Don’t get me wrong…certainly, Keith Relf did a “passable” job on these five tracks, but his vocals are not the most consistent, recognizable, or beefy overall—perfectly fitting for Yardbirds, perhaps, but not as perfect for this type of heavier, more experimental material.

Therefore, had Armageddon had a more accurate and commanding vocalist such as those typically hired by Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple/Rainbow), for instance, this album may have received a more enthusiastic reception with the often-fleeting and commercially swayed “average listener” back in ’75.

But then again, none of the five tracks offered here are in the least bit “commercial,” with this album being instantly assigned to the fledgling FM radio stations of the era with their more limited audience.

Regardless, Armageddon deserved worldwide fame, especially within the Heavy Metal/Heavy Psych community, and the band’s lone album easily falls into the “must have if stranded on a deserted island” category.

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Diamond Head – Borrowed Time (1982)

DiamondHead_BorrowedTime3.5 out of 5 Stars!

The generally exciting “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” era in the U.K. produced a slew of bands that, whether they fit the genre label or not, somehow got lumped into this category. Many bands (Iron Maiden, Saxon, Angel Witch, Tygers of Pan Tang, etc.) were appropriately categorized, whereas a handful of others (such as Nightwing or Girlschool, for example) seemed sadly mislabeled.

When it came to Diamond Head, another one of the “NWOBHM” groups heavily promoted by magazines such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer at the time, most of the tracks on Borrowed Time easily fit this category (although a few tracks, such as “Don’t You Ever Leave Me”—mainly a Blues-Rock excursion—and “Call Me”—a Hard Rock, almost AOR, attempt at generating a hit single—didn’t quite). And certainly once Diamond Head released its follow-up album, Canterbury, and the majority of the “metalness” had disappeared, the genre label seemed horribly inappropriate.

But as I stated, Borrowed Time did indeed include some actual Heavy Metal that offered great promise for the band’s future (sadly unfulfilled), especially when it came to the songs “Lightning to the Nations,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Borrowed Time,” “To Heaven From Hell,” and the utterly outstanding “Am I Evil?” (later covered by Metallica, and quite commendably, I admit).

So to me, Borrowed Time (Diamond Head’s first “official” major label release) is probably its finest album (not counting the band’s previous 1980 “demo”). The musicianship is generally commendable, with guitarist Brian Tatler displaying great potential, while bassist Colin Kimberly and drummer Duncan Scott do a commendable job with the material. But also note: although on many tracks I rather enjoy Sean Harris’s voice when it comes to his range and timbre, his delivery style did take some getting used to—his tendency to ad lib melody lines where he often ended up all over the map, and his inclination to be too forceful at unexpected moments, occasionally proved frustrating and downright annoying, so “potential listeners/buyers beware.”

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Rush – Rush (1974)

Rush_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although showing only a marginal hint of the influential Prog-Rock/Metal band Rush would quickly become, this hard-kicking debut album nevertheless had me racing to purchase it only a few days after hearing it for the first time.

Okay, a mini-survey: What die-hard Rush fan did NOT defiantly and joyously shriek “Yea, oh, yea” along with Geddy Lee during the introduction of “Finding My Way” every single time the opening track blasted out of the speakers?

If anyone says, “Not me,” they are lying!

Regardless, this album of mostly Hard Rock tracks is still enjoyable after all these many decades, with Alex Lifeson’s inspired guitar solos and riffs leading the way, and further reminding me why I preferred Geddy’s higher and rather unique “wicked witch” vocal delivery to his latter day “normal” singing.

Although this album also includes original drummer John Rutsey (RIP), I have absolutely no problems with his solid performance on this collection, even though he would prove to be no competition for the exceptional Neil Peart (and, let’s face it, not many drummers are, right?). By the time of the next album, Fly by Night, Neil Peart would be firmly ensconced in the drummer’s seat, and penning many fanciful lyrics, and his influence on the trio when it came to expanding its musical scope into Progressive Rock would be profound.

Anyway, with the release of this hard-rockin’ collection back in 1974, Rush seemed the Canadian equivalent to the mighty Led Zeppelin, especially with riff-heavy tracks such as “What You’re Doing” and “In The Mood,” the bluesy “Here Again,” the classic “Working Man,” and the aforementioned “Finding My Way” all included, and my friends and I defiantly rejoiced…”Yea, oh, yea!”

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Rough Diamond – Rough Diamond (1977)

RoughDiamond_14 out of 5 Stars!

Rough Diamond was a group that formed shortly after legendary vocalist Dave Byron got handed his walking papers from Uriah Heep. But sadly, the band, also including the accomplished Clem Clempson (Humble Pie/Colosseum) and Geoff Britton (Wings/East of Eden), released only one album before disappearing.

Certainly, seeing as the group was fairly straightforward in its overall Hard Rock/AOR style and not Heavy Metal/Heavy Prog, the somewhat-diverse and moody nine-track collection didn’t bring to mind any Heep “magic,” as many people expected, and it ended up selling rather poorly (or rather, was generally ignored by both Uriah Heep fans and the conservative and lame record company executives).

Regardless, this debut album is still an enjoyable release. Dave Byron’s performance is both up to par with his work with Uriah Heep and instantly identifiable, and the album features numerous tunes that showcased the band’s overall creativity and had true potential to become singles/classics, especially the rockers “Lock & Key,” “By the Horn,” and “Lookin’ For You,” the wonderfully melodic and dreamy “Seasong,” the mid-tempo and bluesy “Scared,” the more intricately arranged “The Link/End of the Line,” and the ultra-tasty “Hobo” with its memorable main riff.

Horribly obscure!

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Robin Trower – Victims of the Fury (1980)

Trower_VictimsFury4 out of 5 Stars!

When it comes to Robin Trower’s many releases, in my opinion, there’s never been a better album than Bridge of Sighs. But many of Trower’s numerous releases come a very close second, therefore, if interrogated by another Trower fan, it’s always difficult for me to select another specific favorite since the answer usually changes from day to day, depending on which album I yearn to hear.

Recently, that album has been 1980’s Victims of the Fury, Trower’s seventh studio release, which also features long-standing collaborator, the exceptional singer/bassist James Dewar (RIP), and rock-steady drummer Bill Lordan, and of course, Trower’s outstanding guitar solos and riffs.

Again, the material on offer here is similar to the sound/style of the Bridge of Sighs masterpiece, with bluesy, often funky, and mesmerizing tracks such as “Mad House,” “Roads to Freedom,” “The Shout,” “Jack and Jill,” “Only Time,” and the title tune. In fact, all of the tracks as a whole seemed a step up from the more lackluster fare found on the previous release, Caravan to Midnight, which wasn’t a horrible album by any means, just somewhat mellower and less impactful.

So in my opinion, even though Victims of the Fury doesn’t quite hit that lofty “5-Star” benchmark set by Bridge of Sighs, it sure comes damned close.

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Kenziner – The Last Horizon (2014)

Kenziner_LastHorizon4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Founded by talented Finnish “guitar god” Jarno Keskinen, Kenziner released two enjoyable albums of blazing Heavy Metal in the ’90s, then sadly disappeared.

But in 2012, Keskinen decided to resurrect the group with a new lineup, this one including members of Status Minor and Thunderstone.

Despite the new personnel, however, the band’s overall sound and style changed very little. As on Kenziner’s previous albums, the musicians deliver a consistently hard-hitting collection of tracks on The Last Horizon, including standouts such as “Devour the World,” “I Am Eternal,” “Run For Your Life,” “No Turning Back,” “Heroes Ride,” and “Keep the Flame Alive.”

On all tracks, Jarno Keskinen’s furious guitar riffs and fiery solos, perfectly accented by Jukka Karinen’s lush keyboards in a Neoclassical Metal vein with periodic Progressive overtones, are utterly astounding. Meanwhile, bassist J.J. Hjelt and drummer Make Lievonen create a succinct and thundering rhythm section, and along with Markku Kuikka’s husky vocal performances, the music on The Last Horizon often reminds me of a cross between sundry groups such as Time Requiem, Yngwie Malmsteen, Firewind, Impellitteri, Evil Masquerade, Royal Hunt, and the like.

The Last Horizon is impressive as all hell, and I’m praying the album’s title doesn’t mean this is the last the world will hear from this exceptional act.

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