Thieves’ Kitchen – Argot (2001)

ThievesKitchen_Argot4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Fans of Prog-Rock may be familiar with Thieves’ Kitchen from its more recent releases with the talented Amy Darby as its lead vocalist. But prior to her arrival in 2002, the U.K. band released two enjoyable albums with a male lead vocalist, which is when I originally discovered the group.

What instantly drew me to the band on its 2000 debut album, Head, was the strong Gentle Giant influences I immediately detected in not only the instrumentation and labyrinthine musical arrangements, but also since the male singer (Simon Boys) sounded eerily similar to Gentle Giant’s Derek Shulman. This further enhanced the illusion that I was listening to a modern version of Gentle Giant itself, albeit a tad heavier in places and with extra Neo-Prog influences tossed in.

For me, Argot, the band’s sophomore release, is equally as impressive as the debut album and often similar in style and scope. This time, the band elected to compose four ambitious and elaborate tracks—the twenty-minute “John Doe Number One,” the seventeen-minute “Call to Whoever,” and the “shorter pieces” (by Prog-Rock standards, at least) “Escape” and “Proximity,” both clocking in around the thirteen-minute mark.

On each of the tracks, the Gentle Giant influences are once again displayed in abundance, especially when it comes to the various eclectic tempos and rhythmic idiosyncrasies, the intricate and quirky vocal melody lines, as well as many of tones used for the guitars and the standard Prog-Rock keyboard arsenal—organ, piano, synths, and the mighty Mellotron. But also like the band’s debut, the music is in no way a perfect copy of Gentle Giant’s style. The talented musicians merely use that style as a starting template on which to construct its own brand of Prog-Rock magic—trimming out much of Gentle Giant’s abundant avant-garde ingredients and medieval inspirations, employing (albeit with the exception of an oboe) only traditional Prog-Rock instruments (ie. no saxes, no violins, no recorders, etc.), and incorporating more Symphonic and Jazz elements into its sound than Gentle Giant ever included on its own albums.

Nevertheless, the band’s influences during this early period in its history are crystal clear, so for any fans of Gentle Giant or groups with comparable styles—Advent, Echolyn, Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings, or Beardfish, to name but a few—Argot (and the band’s debut) is certainly a “must-have” album.

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Cast – Power and Outcome (2017)

Cast_PowerOutcome4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although Cast is still quite obscure in many parts of the world, including America, this Mexican band has been around for more than twenty years, has released more than twenty albums, and continues to create stunning material in a similar realm as groups such as United Progressive Fraternity, The Flower Kings, Druckfarben, Kaipa, Spock’s Beard, Magic Pie, and Kansas.

Power and Outcome, the band’s latest release, is yet another fine collection of classy, complex, majestic, and jaw-dropping Symphonic Prog. Songs such as the grand and glorious, nearly twelve-minute opener “Rules of the Desert,” along with “Illusions and Tribulations,” the two-part magnum opus “Details: a) Circle Spins” and “Details: b) Start Again,” plus “The Gathering” and “Through Stained Glass” are loaded with layered and pomp keyboards and contain metallic-tinged guitars, a dynamic rhythm section, the occasional violin, and pitch-perfect vocals, both male and female. During the majority of the ten tracks, lush melodies and challenging instrumental soundscapes abound, along with enough tempo and mood shifts and other sonic surprises tossed in along the way to keep listeners on the edge of their seats.

After so many years, with so much talent within its ranks, how this top-notch group has remained “under the radar” for so many Prog-Rock fans is another of life’s annoying little mysteries. I’m hoping this latest album reaches a wider audience and finally brings Cast the recognition it so truly deserves.

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Architecture Of The Absurd – Beluga (2013)

ArchitectureAbsurd_Beluga4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Wow, Beluga is extremely fun! The music on this debut album is sort of like a marriage between Gentle Giant and Zappa / Mothers Of Invention during the Apostrophe / Roxy & Elsewhere / One Size Fits All era.

Nothing on this release is in the least bit “commercial,” but is nevertheless melodic, with some vocal sections (most very Zappa-esque) even catchy. The instrumentation on tracks such as “Photosynthesis,” “Under a Black Cloud,” “Monologue,” “Trying to Be a Court Clown,” and the wickedly entitled “Sunny View (For Douchebags)” is quirky, often jazzy, and wonderfully impressive. Along with Zappa-like guitar soloing on occasion, there’s also a heavy emphasis on keyboards, many sounding like older synthesizers (which is where much of the Gentle Giant and Zappa comparisons pop up) with even a Mellotron tossed in for extra pizzazz (and fairly dominant) on the tune “Thylacine.”

Generally speaking, the band’s name, Architecture of the Absurd, perfectly describes the seven diverse tracks contained on the album. Now I can only pray the absurdly named band releases more of the same type of material…and soon! Prog-Rock these days does have a tendency to get rather boring (in my opinion, there’s too much “atmospheric Prog-Rock” along the lines of Porcupine Tree, Riverside, and Pink Floyd-wannabes droning on and on album after album with lazy rhythms and keyboard washes). So bands such as Architecture of the Absurd, with odd and often-changing time signatures, complicated and upbeat arrangements, and impressively diverse instrumentation, are sorely required to keep things exciting. Toss in some fun and quirky melodies and what you have on Beluga is music that reminds me of why I fell in love with Prog-Rock many decades ago.

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Lake – Lake (1976)

Lake_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the ’70s, a radio station in Chicago had an “underground” program several hours each night that featured obscure and new groups from Europe, bands not being played on any other “normal” FM stations. One of the unknown acts introduced to me was Lake, and what made the group different from others being showcased was its genre. Whereas the station typically focused on Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, and Prog-Rock groups (everything from Guru Guru and Nektar to Judas Priest, Three Man Army, Lucifer’s Friend, etc.), Lake played extremely catchy AOR material with perhaps a touch of Prog-Rock tossed in. The song that grabbed my attention was the driving and harmony-drenched “On The Run,” which I played repeatedly on my portable cassette player (I had a tendency to record that radio program as often as possible for future reference). Based on that track alone, I sought out the album during my next shopping trip to the record store, and was shocked that I actually found it, not in the pricey “import” section, but in the main section, thanks to Lake being contracted by the CBS/Columbia label.

Anyway, although some websites incorrectly classify Lake as being “Krautrock,” that label is far from the truth—and style—of the matter (aside from the band being formed in Hamburg, but made up of multinational musicians). Instead, Lake could have easily passed for any American AOR band featuring Pop melodies, music aimed directly at the U.S. market. In fact, the melodic track “Time Bomb” was not only released in America, but actually hit Billboard’s Top 40, giving Lake some genuine and coveted bona fides back in its home country.

With wonderfully slick production and top-notch musicianship, Lake delivered an undeniable AOR masterpiece on its debut. Aside from the aforementioned tunes, several others (“Sorry To Say,” “Chasing Colours,” and “Key to the Rhyme”) are in a similar vein, all containing a nice balance between guitars and keyboards, with exceptional vocals and multi-layered harmonies, deceptively complex instrumentation, and (for the most part) upbeat rhythms. The group also included a single ballad (“Do I Love You?”), which somehow reminds me of the Little River Band, as well as the ten-minute closer “Between the Lines,” which is where the musicians let loose with an extended outro section that borders on Prog-Rock. All in all, the melodies from the majority of tracks stubbornly stay in your head long after the album concludes. In fact, I hadn’t heard the platter for more than a decade, but when I played it recently, I could automatically hum along to almost every track, with memories of lyrics and hook-lines rushing back to me as if I’d heard those tunes only days earlier. Amazingly catchy material, which I have replayed several times now since the songs are so addictive (and long-missed).

Thankfully, Lake went on to produce several additional albums of high quality (although none of them quite matched the pure brilliance of this debut, in my estimation), but the group eventually went “stale” as the ’80s approached. Then, with scads of personnel changes also becoming routine in future years, the group never could recapture the magic from the ol’ days, even though its last release came out as recently as 2014.

Regardless, for fans of the AOR style produced by groups such as mid-period Ambrosia, Little River Band, Toto, 707, Le Roux, Player, Tycoon, etc., you might want to investigate this stand-out release (or the band’s next two albums, Lake II and Paradise Island, the latter being slightly better of the two, in my opinion). But if snatching up a copy of this debut, be warned you’ll likely have many of these songs repeating in your head for days.

One final note: I always thought the music on this album was, in many ways, a precursor to the style of material abundant on Lucifer’s Friend’s undervalued Sneak Me In album from 1980. Ironically, the singer during that AOR-ish period in Lucifer’s Friend’s history was Mike Starrs, who would actually join up with Lake in the opening decade of this new century. Eerie…

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New England – New England (1979)

NewEngland_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the late ’70s while working at a record store, one of the most memorable “PROMO” albums that arrived was the self-titled debut by an act called New England. I distinctly recall hearing it for the first time…it was a long, dreary night with no customers, due to a torrential rainstorm. My co-worker and I, bored out of our skulls and unpacking shipments, tugged this album from the box, saw the lightning-decorated cover art, and decided that on such a stormy evening it would be highly appropriate to crank it up on the store’s sound system. We actually didn’t realize how appropriate until after hearing the lyrics to “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.”

Anyway, just as Side A faded out, then after lifting our jaws from the floor, we simultaneously sprinted to the turntable. I wanted to flip the platter to Side B since I couldn’t wait to hear more, while my co-worker begged to repeat the first five tracks, especially that “catchy song about losing someone during a storm.” She eventually won the argument only since I wanted to once again absorb all the layered vocals and lush keyboard instrumentation (never had I heard an album outside of Prog-Rock that actually featured the Mellotron so liberally). Well, I got to hear Side B soon enough, fell in love myself with the song “Nothing To Fear,” and she and I ended up repeating those five songs before replaying the album in its entirety. And before we realized it, the “quitting hour” had arrived and the thunderstorm outside had also miraculously vanished.

Needless to say, over the course of the following week, she and I “promoed” this album as often as possible and we both purchased it when our next paychecks arrived (with our employee discount, of course). And since those days, I have savored the album more often than I can count and have never grown tired of it. From the rockier tunes such as “P.U.N.K. (Puny Undernourished Kid)” and “Shoot,” to the aforementioned AOR masterpieces “Nothing To Fear” and “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” to the Poppy, Art-Rockish, and Pomp-tastic “Hello, Hello, Hello,” “Turn out the Light,” “Encore,” “Shall I Run Away,” and (another favorite) “The Last Show,” the musicians had created a grand and majestic style all their own.

Although the band hailed from the Boston area, that musical style, however, did seem so damned British, almost as if the groups 10cc and Mott The Hoople had joined forces with Queen and Badfinger, then added perhaps Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz to play Mellotron. Indeed, when he’s not adding full power chords or blazing solos, guitarist/vocalist John Fannon sings with almost a British accent at times, and on piano-featured tracks such as “Turn out the Light,” and the highly theatrical “The Last Show” and “Encore,” Fannon’s voice could almost pass for Ian Hunter’s (only somehow tamed) while various musical passages and chord patterns often remind me of material from Mott the Hoople’s final days, only mixed with those other groups I mentioned…and the abundant Mellotron. And speaking of which, when it came to New England, no one ever had to ask the question “Where’s Waldo?” since keyboardist Jimmy Waldo was always front and center, adding his symphonic flourishes to create some of the most extravagant Pomp Rock on the planet. Meanwhile, bassist Gary Shea and drummer/vocalist Hirsh Gardner set a high standard, their rhythms always tight, punchy, and easily fluid while they shift from one tempo to the next. And adding to the magnificence of it all, Kiss’s Paul Stanley produced the collection along with Mike Stone (of Queen/Journey fame), who also engineered the project.

But after such an impressive release, the question remained—could New England follow it up successfully? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “yes,” with 1980’s Explorer Suite easily matching the same catchy high quality, although with (sorry to say) less Mellotron overall. Oh, well, you can’t have everything, right? Anyway, after releasing a third album in 1981, the group sadly disbanded for reasons unknown to me. I did, however, happily find myself in a situation some years later when one of my own bands opened several shows for Alcatrazz, a group that included both Waldo and Shea, and I got to hang out one evening with these “idols” of mine, so had New England not broken up, that evening certainly would have never happened. (Yes, I know, I’m selfish.)

But one final and happy note: it’s a thrill to know that New England is once again together and touring, so I’m praying for the guys to release new material in the near future. I will never forget that stormy-night-turned-special at the record store when I discovered the band, so New England remains special to me for that reason alone and I can never get enough from this wildly talented team of musicians. So come on, boys, you can do it…you’ve got “noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, noth, nothing to fear.”

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Spys – Spys (1982)

Spys_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1980, after the “leaders” of the band Foreigner dumped its more creative and adventurous founding members to further commercialize its already commercial sound, I stopped listening. Without these members (especially keyboardist Al Greenwood), the group became way too bland for my tastes, and no amount of wimpier fare such as “Waiting for a Girl Like You” or “I Want to Know What Love Is” could lure me back into the fan base.

Anyway, in 1981, when I learned a new group was being formed in New York featuring both Greenwood and original Foreigner bassist Ed Gagliardi, I couldn’t wait to hear the end results. Thankfully, that came soon afterward when the debut from Spys appeared, and after hearing the platter just one time, I realized the band that had incorrectly spelled its name (like the Babys) had correctly executed its music.

The album’s opening track (and first single) “Don’t Run My Life,” along with other tunes such as “She Can’t Wait,” “No Harm Done,” “Danger,” “Hold On (When You Feel You’re Falling),” and “Don’t Say Goodbye,” delivered solid and energetic AOR/Pomp Rock, highly melodic with grand and layered vocal harmonies, often complex instrumentation, and inventive song arrangements. Better still, I found that Greenwood’s contributions—generally front and center in the mix and more dynamic and creative then they had ever been with Foreigner—added intriguing chills and thrills to songs such as “Ice Age,” “Desirée,” and “Into The Night,” making sections of these tracks almost Prog-oriented in their keyboard complexity. Moreover, Gagliardi is also given the occasional spotlight on many tracks, his melodic bass lines popping through crisp and clean thanks to Neil Kernon’s stellar production magic.

As far as the other “non-famous” band members, John DiGuardio performs tasty guitar leads throughout, giving the songs a powerful punch, while Billy Milne proved himself a formidable drummer, his work with Gagliardi extremely tight, especially when including unexpected breaks and twists in the tempos. Meanwhile, vocalist John Blanco belts out the lyrics with the self-assurance of a pro, his tone, range, and delivery enjoyable and fairly distinctive.

Overall, the album impressed the hell out of me upon initial hearing, and even today stands out as something special in the AOR/Pomp Rock genre, a forgotten masterpiece. With the music being an interesting mixture of groups such as Foreigner and Toto with more than a touch of Asia, Styx, and Angel, thanks primarily to Greenwood’s bombastic keyboards, I can think of no other band from this era that had quite the same spark or zest or promise.

That’s why it was woefully unfortunate that the group’s sophomore effort (1983’s Behind Enemy Lines) paled in comparison, with a noticeable dip in songwriting quality and a slight change in direction. With the band’s fortunes swiftly diminishing, it truly came as no great surprise when Spys broke up shortly thereafter. And although Greenwood immediately went on to work with legendary Rainbow/Deep Purple vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, the other talented guys basically vanished off the scene. A sad twist of fate, especially for a band that could create such a stunning debut, one I still regularly enjoy all these decades later.

(RIP Edward John Gagliardi—February 13, 1952 – May 11, 2014)

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Jorn – Out to Every Nation (2004)

Jorn_OutEveryNation4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I contend, had Norway’s Jorn Lande been in the “singing business” back in the ’70s/’80s, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that celebrated guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (having perhaps the best “ear” when it came to selecting vocalists for his groups) would have recruited him to join either Deep Purple or Rainbow. No doubt at all, since Jorn Lande (to me, anyway) is on par with any of the legendary singers with whom Blackmore has worked, including Rod Evans, Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner, Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, and Doogie White.

No matter on which album he appears, Lande’s voice is full, rich, and nothing short of stunning, with his performances always energetic and commanding, so it’s no wonder he’s been involved with numerous bands and musicians since arriving on the scene and is consistently in high demand.

On Out to Every Nation, Jorn’s third solo effort, he’s joined by a formidable group of musicians, including guitarist Jørn Viggo Lofstad (Pagan’s Mind/Beautiful Sin), bassist Magnus Rosén (HammerFall/Revolution Renaissance), drummer Stian Kristoffersen (Pagan’s Mind/Firewind), and keyboardist Ronny Tegner (Pagan’s Mind)…so basically, what we have here is the band Pagan’s Mind with a different bassist and Lande behind the microphone. Moreover, Lande and Lofstad wrote all the music for the album, while Lande tackled the lyrics himself. And as a result of having this particular lineup of powerhouse musicians, with all songs composed by the same duo, this is easily one of the most consistent Jorn albums, and also one of the heaviest. Mighty tunes such as “Rock Spirit,” “Young Forever,” “Through Day and Night,” “Living With Wolves,” “One Day We Will Put Out the Sun,” and the title track itself blast from the speakers like cannons of melodic fury, while the two ballads—”Behind the Clown” and “When Angel Wings were White”—add slower but no less powerful diversity, with the latter song being wonderfully dramatic, and in my opinion, one of the finest songs Jorn ever recorded.

Anyway, since “discovering” him just after the turn of the century, I believe I now own just about every album on which Lande’s ever appeared either as a solo artist, a member of a band, or as a “guest performer.” And thus far, whether delivering his own material or covering classic Heavy Metal tracks and often making them “his own,” as he’s prone to do with great success, he has yet to disappoint me. Therefore, that easily qualifies Lande as another legend in the making, and Out to Every Nation certainly displays his talent in full and awesome glory.

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Van der Graaf Generator – Godbluff (1975)

VanDerGraaf_Godbluff4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1971, Van der Graaf Generator released Pawn Hearts, a masterpiece of an album and probably my favorite in the group’s catalogue. But even through the band’s reputation and popularity seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds on the Prog-Rock scene, the group surprisingly disbanded, with leader Peter Hammill deciding to concentrate on a solo career in lieu of keeping the band together. Thankfully, and much to the thrill of many fans, Hammill resurrected the band several years later, and Godbluff popped up shortly thereafter. To my ears, the album proved to be yet another masterpiece, a collection of four complex tracks that certainly matched Pawn Hearts in regards to creativity, moodiness, and technical proficiency, so easily it remains my second favorite of the band’s works and the one I still play as often.

Now, compared to Pawn Hearts, this collection of tunes is almost as musically creepy, almost as wickedly demented, but a touch more straightforward (that is, if one can consider anything released by Van der Graaf Generator during the band’s early years as being “straightforward”) and more jazz-inspired. Included on this album are the classic tracks “Scorched Earth” and “The Sleepwalkers,” the songs that initially enticed me to further investigate this group in the mid-’70s, and causing me to fall in love with Van der Graaf Generator’s overall strangeness. “The Undercover Man” and “Arrow” are equally as enticing, and offer up even more weird and wonderful, dark and dastardly fun, clearly showing Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton, and Guy Evans in tip-top form, while David Jackson’s exceptional and unusual saxophone performances act as the icing on the already wacky cake.

So to me, Godbluff (as well as the previous Pawn Hearts) is definitely a “bucket list” album, one collection that every Prog-Rock fan should experience before they die.

(Additional note: To read my short review of Pawn Hearts, click here.)

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SouthGang – Tainted Angel (1991)

Southgang_TaintedAngel4.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the state of Georgia, the appropriately named SouthGang swept onto the music scene with Tainted Angel in the early ’90s around the same time as other highly melodic Hard Rock groups such as Firehouse, Sons of Angels, Slaughter, Warrant, and Trixter had started to gain attention from the record-buying audience and the MTV viewers. Although with a name like SouthGang, and considering the band’s state of origin, some people (such as myself) at first assumed the group would deliver a style of Southern Rock. Instead, however, the band sounded similar in many respects to the aforementioned acts, but with some chief differences—a talent for merging various Hard Rock styles and grooves, then creating intriguing song arrangements and catchy choruses, and finally employing slick studio wankery and trickery for added spice and zest.

Certainly, several tracks on the band’s debut album hinted at Southern Rock, such as the talk-box enhanced opening tune “Boys Nite Out,” along with the beginning and brief mid-section of “Big City Woman,” and the closing segment of “She’s Danger City/Seven Hills Saloon,” yet for the most part, the songs are fairly straightforward Hard Rock ditties mixed with a touch of AOR, especially when it comes to the stellar vocals and the stacked background harmonies. Other ballsy tunes such as “Georgia Nights,” “Russian Roulette,” and the single/MTV video “Tainted Angel” have gigantic choruses that, only after several hearings, rang through my mind for days on end. The band also included two stadium-rock ballads in the form of “Aim for the Heart” and the single “Love Ain’t Enough,” obviously meant to lure in the female audience, while “Shoot Me Down” and “Love for Sale,” as well as many of the previously mentioned tunes, seemed geared more toward the male party-animal crowd.

And with a slamming rhythm section in bassist Jayce Fincher and drummer Mitch McLee, a wickedly wild guitarist in Butch Walker, and a powerful and wide-ranging lead singer in Jesse Harte, SouthGang seemed to have everything going for it, including aid from Desmond Child, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers), and Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper), who aided the band either during the songwriting, recording, and production processes. This was no “cookie cutter hair band” of the era, but a group that had not only big-time support, but mastery over its instruments. Plus, the musicians also had a knack for incorporating numerous surprises into each song, whether it be unexpected rhythm breaks or key changes, inventive drum, bass, or guitar fills, or the addition of a brass section, harmonica and cowbells, light Hammond organ and honky-tonk piano, acoustic and slide guitar and the aforementioned talk-box, even one instance of female background vocals, all giving SouthGang that “unpredictable factor” that set it apart from its contemporaries. And with the ultra-catchy choruses, a budding “guitar hero” in its midst, the overall energetic performances and rowdy atmosphere, and slick yet robust studio production, the band truly seemed destined for greatness.

Unfortunately, after releasing another superb album (Group Therapy) the following year, SouthGang and other acts that played a similar style of music all seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye when the music industry suddenly began shoving nothing but Grunge down everyone’s throat. Such a shame, since the gifted SouthGang had the potential to offer even greater excitement to those of us who had little craving for the “Grunge scene.”

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Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JudasPriest_SinAfterSin4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Sin After Sin was the platter that “introduced” me to the mighty Judas Priest, thanks to the song “Starbreaker,” which I chanced to hear on an underground radio station here in Chicago upon the album’s release. As a high-school junior at the time and a fledgling singer in my first “garage” band, I was blown away and inspired by the song and the performances on this album, especially Rob Halford’s vocal delivery and awesome range.

Needless to say, after absorbing the metal power, the dual-guitar onslaught, of tracks such as “Raw Deal,” “Sinner,” “Let Us Prey,” and the blazing and screeching “Dissident Aggressor” with it’s layered vocal harmonies, I could barely contain my excitement for the U.K. group. Even the album’s two lighter moments, “Last Rose of Summer” and “Here Come the Tears,” had the power to mesmerize me, especially the latter, due to Halford’s gut-wrenching wails and a highly emotive guitar solo. And of course, the band’s now-classic cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust” proved the perfect tune to blare in the high school parking lot as I tore out of the “prison” each afternoon with my middle finger raised high in the air. (The track also prophesied things to come for the band, the shift in a more commercialized direction, but more on that below.)

Anyway, in retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that Sin After Sin had such a profound and immediate effect on my teenaged self, considering Deep Purple’s Roger Glover handled production duties. The man had produced Nazareth’s 1973 breakout album Razamanaz, for pity’s sake, a platter that also stirred and inspired me upon initial hearing and became another of my all-time favorite albums in history, so why should his work on Sin After Sin have any lesser power, right?

Therefore, once hearing this album I became “Priest-crazy” and soon afterward purchased the band’s previous Sad Wings of Destiny, then even dished out the extra bucks for the import-only Rocka Rolla. Of course, the album Stained Class came the follow year and proved to be a masterpiece, in my opinion, just before Priest got “discovered” by the masses and, thus, became more commercial and “leather-friendly.”

Thank goodness I had the early, more experimental Priest albums emblazoned on my soul so I had learned to appreciate the true magnificence of the band before the “sell out” phase began. Certainly, I enjoyed much of Killing Machine (or Hell Bent For Leather, as it’s known here in the States), but with this shift toward shorter, three-to-four minute anthem-like tracks aimed directly for the MTV crowd, I could never fully embrace the band afterward, never automatically snatched up future albums upon release, at least not for many years. Indeed, the same exact shift in style happened with Scorpions, a band I discovered at the same time as Priest (therefore, the groups are forever connected in my head)—once Scorpions got a taste of success (and record executives made demands), much of the former experimentation with songwriting or lengthier arrangements got kicked aside in favor of churning out shorter, hit-based tracks. In the case of both bands, this shift happened in the same year (curse the rise of Disco and Punk), and no longer did either group feel like my “personal discovery,” my “best kept secret,” but instead had suddenly become the “world’s darlings.” Damn, I hate commercialism and the effect it continues to have on bands regarding style and songwriting…

Regardless, from my early years of musical discovery and high school rebelliousness, Sin After Sin will always remain one of my favorite Priest albums, falling easily within my “Top Five” from the group’s vast catalogue.

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