Gillan – Future Shock (1981)

Gillan_FutureShock4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Gillan (the band) always played a weird-ass concoction of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal/Prog-Rock and even “How The Hell Do You Classify That?” Rock that somehow got simply clumped into the “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” movement of the early ’80s (thanks to the era of the band’s productivity and splendor).

But just savoring each track on any of the band’s many albums showed that it had a TON of diversity, thanks to the extraordinary musicians involved (on this album, keyboardist Colin Towns, guitarist Bernie Tormé, drummer Mick Underwood, bassist John McCoy, and vocalist Ian Gillan) and their individual histories of playing on such diverse albums in numerous bands with such diverse styles.

As you can no-doubt tell, “diversity” is the key issue (and word) here, and 1981’s Future Shock is no exception. This collection of tracks features an eclectic blend of genres, where it’s almost unfathomable to pinpoint any primary category for the overall platter, except “pure Gillan wildness.”

Certainly many tunes, such as “Night Ride Out of Phoenix,” “Don’t Want the Truth,” “Sacre Bleu,” “Bite the Bullet,” “(The Ballad of) The Lucitania Express,” the title track, and the band’s rousing rendition of Guida/Royster’s “New Orleans,” could be considered simply Hard Rock bordering on Heavy Metal, yet each of the songs also includes such wacky guitar leads or avant-garde keyboard solos, or unpredictable arrangements and rhythmic breaks or tempos, that some people might argue the songs are Progressive Rock in nature also.

The same genre-oddness befalls “No Laughing in Heaven”—although the song’s foundation is Blues-based Hard Rock, Gillan’s vocals, an amusing and stunning combination of talking and shrieking during the verses, is like a precursor to Rap—”Heavy Rap Metal,” of course. Then we come to the absolute jewels of the album, the borderline Prog-Rock ditties “If I Sing Softly” and “For Your Dreams,” with both containing haunting scores and instrumentation that set them apart from the other eight tunes.

By the way, all of the aforementioned tracks appear on the original vinyl version of the album, but I also purchased the CD “re-mastered” version a decade later, which features ten additional bonus tracks—including my favorite, “Mutually Assured Destruction”—where even more craziness ensues with “genre-merging” from song to song, although not quite as stark or numerous.

Anyway, on Future Shock, the exact genre into which each track actually falls is entirely dependent on the personal preferences of the listener. As for me, as mentioned above, I call the band’s overall style “pure Gillan wildness,” and I still love every single moment of this album, as well as each platter produced by this unique, entertaining, and phenomenal band during its way-too-short existence. Nevertheless, Ian Gillan will forever remain my favorite vocalist of all time, and Colin Towns will always retain a spot on my Top Ten Rock Keyboardists list—both individuals proved enormously influential when it came to my own musical growth, and their performances on Future Shock show exactly why.

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Gravity Rain – Artifacts of Balance (2016)

GravityRain_ArtifactsBalance3.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the Russian Federation comes Gravity Rain, a relatively new band that plays melodic Progressive Metal in a similar vein as Fates Warning and Redemption. Indeed, overall, the vocalist (who sings in English with no detectable accent) sounds similar in style, tone, range, and delivery as Ray Alder from the aforementioned groups.

I wouldn’t say, however, that Gravity Rain is as Progressive as those other bands. For the most part, tracks such as “Ikameshii (Jotun’s Rage),” “Temple of Haste,” “M.A.D,” “Closer,” and “Sunfire” contain a fairly “traditional” Metal sound, yet both Symphonic-Metal and Progressive-Metal touches do blaze forth from time to time, while the musicianship is typically at a high level. The riff-driven material is fairly thick with crunchy guitars and pounding rhythms, and although keyboards are included, they are basically added for only tinsel or atmospheric enhancement, relegated mostly to the background with only occasional piano or synth fills brought to the forefront.

One criticism I have, though, is that the majority of the ten tracks included on Artifacts of Balance are mid-tempo and composed in the same key, thus giving several of the tunes an almost “samey” feel. This is why I appreciate the occasions when the band employs those Symphonic and Progressive influences I mentioned, which lends some periodic distractions and keeps the album from becoming too mundane. Regardless, should Gravity Rain further develop its skills, include more diverse tempos and extra alterations in chord patterns regarding its songwriting, even experiment with more adventurous arrangements on future releases, the band apparently has the talent to give those aforementioned Prog-Metal bands a run for the money.

Nevertheless, Artifacts of Balance, the band’s first album (not including a three-song EP from 2014 called The Shining Silence, with which I am unfamiliar), is a fairly good introduction for an act with a ton of potential.

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Golden Earring – Golden Earring (1970)

GoldenEarring_GoldenEarring4 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1970, when the band’s big breakthrough song “Radar Love” wouldn’t even be on the “radar” (sorry, couldn’t resist) for several more years, Golden Earring released a self-titled album (its sixth studio collection overall, I believe), also nicknamed “The Wall of Dolls” based on a song title as well as the bizarre cover art background.

Regardless, this ended up being my favorite period of the band’s lengthy history, before it hit the (relative) “big time” and the albums started sounding a bit overproduced.

Here, the more stripped-down style and the occasionally “darker” atmosphere on tracks such as “I’m Going to Send My Pigeons to the Sky,” “The Loner,” “Back Home,” the mellower “See See,” and the aforementioned “The Wall of Dolls” (which strongly reminds me of The Guess Who, thanks to the instrumentation featuring electric piano and singer Barry Hay’s gruff performance) gives Golden Earring a rough and youthful edge. The mostly guitar-driven, Blues-based Hard Rock with a touch of Psychedelic Rock, even Prog-Rock ala Jethro Tull (thanks to the trickier song arrangements and the inclusion of flute mixed with acoustic and electric guitar on “Yellow and Blue” and “Big Tree, Blue Sea”), along with a hungry, almost rebellious “punk” attitude, especially from vocalist Hay, pervaded the vinyl grooves and proved both entertaining and enchanting.

Thankfully, Golden Earring continued on with this particular style/attitude for two additional albums, 1971’s Seven Tears and 1972’s Together, which I also continue to enjoy on a regular basis. And with the arrival of drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk, this album is the first to feature Golden Earring’s classic and endurable line-up of musicians, which not only makes it a definite milestone, but also marks the beginning of the band’s most satisfying era to my ears.

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Grace Slick – Welcome to the Wrecking Ball (1981)

GraceSlick_WreckingBall4.5 out of 5 Stars!

When the legendary Grace Slick took a break from Jefferson Starship after the band’s less-than-spectacular Earth album in 1978, she released two above-average solo collections before returning to the band—Dreams in 1980 and, the following year, Welcome to the Wrecking Ball.

This latter album proved itself unique among all of Grace’s solo efforts since, instead of being the expected mixture of Pop Rock, Psychedelic Rock, AOR, and Folk Rock, it contained stripped-down, back-to-basics, guitar-oriented Hard Rock material, with some songs even bordering on Heavy Metal, thanks mainly to the contributions of guitarist/arranger Scott Zito, who composed all of the tracks either by himself or with Grace as co-writer.

Therefore, due to the album’s hard-rockin’ style on tracks such as “Sea of Love,” “Wrecking Ball,” “No More Heroes,” “Shot in the Dark,” “Mistreater,” and “Shooting Star,” with blazing guitars, a pounding rhythm section, and Grace belting out wickedly sardonic lyrics throughout many of the tracks, Welcome to the Wrecking Ball ended up becoming my favorite of her solo releases.

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Gecko’s Tear – Primati (2016)

GeckosTear_Primati3.5 out of 5 Stars!

A decade after Italy’s Gecko’s Tear released its rather weird and impressive debut album Contradiction, the band finally returned in 2016 with a brand new album called Primati.

Like the first album, Primati includes some rather strange and complex material, a combination of Prog-Rock with a load of avant-garde arrangements, time signature shifts, awesomely bizarre vocal interplay (as on the track “Preambolo”), and highly creative instrumentation, bringing to mind the more Jazz Fusion albums by acts such as Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention and Frogg Café, along with other groups from Italy such as PFM, D.F.A., Jumbo, and Area.

And if memory serves me correctly, please also note, unlike the debut album, all lyrics on this second release are in the band’s native language.

Be that as it may, the tunes on Primati are often wild and wacky, definitely different from the norm and geared toward the more adventurous Prog-Rock listener who savors endless yet euphonious twists and turns and unpredictability in their music.

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Guru Guru – Dance of the Flames (1974)

GuruGuru_DanceFlames4 out of 5 Stars!

Guru Guru, and I say this with admiration, has to be one of the more “goofy” Krautrock bands to have emerged in the early 1970s, and (with, I believe, one original member, drummer Mani Neumeier, still at the helm) continues through to the present day (although I’m unfamiliar with the band’s material after the early ’80s).

Dance of the Flames, the group’s sixth studio album, is one of my favorites in the band’s vast catalogue of releases since it includes the wonderfully silly track “Dagobert Duck’s 100th Birthday” (the song that actually introduced me to Guru Guru long ago), slamming and highly avant-garde (and mostly instrumental) tracks such as “The Girl From Hirschhorn,” “The Day of Timestop,” and a wicked, almost free-form jazzy piece called “God’s Endless Love for Men,” all of which left me reeling upon initial hearing.

The impressive guitar work (both electric and acoustic) from Houschäng Nejadepour, along with Hans Hartmann’s wild bass runs and Mani Neumeier’s frantic drumming includes the seemingly perfect degree of strangeness and jaw-dropping Prog-magic.

Generally speaking, Guru Guru was nothing if not creative through the years.

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Galaxy – Nature’s Clear Well (1978)

Galaxy_NaturesWell3.5 out of 5 Stars!

From Germany, a band with the odd name Waniyetula recorded this collection back in 1975, the six songs produced by the acclaimed Dieter Dierks for potential release on (I’m assuming) his own Venus record label. Yet for some reason, the album was shelved indefinitely. Then in 1978, only after another record label purchased the rights to the album, did Nature’s Clear Well finally see the light of day, only packaged/marketed under the more palatable band name Galaxy.

The music on Nature’s Clear Well is generally a mixture of Yes and Starcastle-inspired Symphonic Prog with a hint of Prog-Folk, thanks to several lighter acoustic guitar moments, while the keyboard instrumentation occasionally reminds me of Genesis, Nektar, Eloy, Jane, and Camel.

Well, regardless of the band’s name change, the album went nowhere fast in the “Punk/Disco era,” and Galaxy ended up reverting back to its original (and less-marketable) name, recorded another album released in 1983 (which also went nowhere fast), and finally called it quits.

Nevertheless, Nature’s Clear Well contains some fairly decent material, such as “Wish I Were Happy,” “Warning Walls,” “Dreams Out in the Rain,” and the eleven-minute title track, and fans of really obscure Prog-Rock might certainly find something to savor here.

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GNP – Safety Zone (1989)

GNP_SafetyZone3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Safety Zone, the single album by GNP (aka Gilmour Negus Project) is a collection of tracks created by two longtime members of the legendary Canadian Prog-Rock group Saga (keyboardist Jim Gilmour and drummer Steve Negus) along with vocalist Robert Bevan.

But unlike a typical Progressive-leaning album by Saga, the music on Safety Zone is instead AOR/Pomp Rock material, a musical landscape similar in many respects to groups such as Toto, Asia, Mr. Mister, and Ambrosia, with just a touch of (no surprise) Saga influences. In other words, highly polished, commercial and melodic tunes with an emphasis on (again, no surprise) keyboards.

While various studio musician “guest stars” provide additional instrumentation—most notably guitarist John Albani (Wrabit/Lee Aaron)—the music again relies heavily on Gilmour’s extensive keyboard skills, and is generally likeable and catchy, if not unremarkable overall.

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The Guess Who – Wheatfield Soul (1968)

GuessWho_WheatfieldSoul3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Wheatfield Soul was the first album in The Guess Who’s vast catalogue that truly indicated how strongly this mainly Pop Rock band desired—or rather, aurally ACHED—to burst into the Hard Rock arena.

Sure, the album contains the “sweet” mega-classic/orchestrated hit “These Eyes” and other “radio-friendly and tame” pop-rock ditties (“A Wednesday in Your Garden”, etc.) but it also includes blatant hints as to what was to come the following year with the release of the album Canned Wheat…the heavy fuzz guitar solo on “I Found Her in a Star” and the lengthy, funky, and lyrically caustic “Friends of Mine,” for example.

Overall, the sardonically blistering (yet still relatively tamed) vocals of Burton Cummings on most tracks were another clear testament to the savage band being held in rebellious captivity by a rapaciously greedy record industry seeking nothing but “delicate hits.”

Nevertheless, this is a classic album…with the promise of forthcoming slamming hard-rocking grandeur.

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Gnidrolog – Lady Lake (1972)

Gnidrolog_LadyLake3 out of 5 Stars!

Although this U.K. group emerged during the height of the Prog-Rock explosion in the early ’70s, Gnidrolog gained no significant traction. In my opinion, this was probably due to two chief factors…

First…Gnidrolog? Not exactly a name that rolls off the tongue or is even pronounceable upon initial sight, is it? Turns out, the moniker is the backward spelling (with some adjustments) of the name Goldring, the surname of the twin brothers (Colin and Stewart) who led the group. Yes, an unfortunate name selection.

But the second and most important factor…although the two albums Gnidrolog released in 1972 (this one being the sophomore collection) contained some fascinating material when it came to instrumentation and song arrangements, occasionally bringing to mind groups such as King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and Van Der Graaf Generator—thanks primarily to the highly creative woodwind passages and background fills, the bizarre vocal harmonies, and the jazz and folk influences—the lead vocals are most definitely an acquired taste.

Indeed, on the opening track “I Could Never Be a Soldier,” the singer, especially when being unnecessarily overdramatic and shooting for the higher octave of his natural vocal range, is often out of key and simply too grating, which takes some getting used to and the reason I rated this album down a full star for my official review.

Therefore, putting aside the band’s odd name, I can’t help thinking these vocal deficiencies may be the chief factor why Gnidrolog never gained a legion of fans during its brief history. Personally, I have to be in just the right frame of mind when listening to this album, and I do so only for the rather imaginative music and instrumentation, all the while gritting my teeth through the more awkward vocal sections.

So, let this review serve as a warning to Prog-Rock fans who may be unfamiliar with this group yet drawn to this album due to the rather cool cover art. The music is often enjoyable; the lead vocals are often not.

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