West, Bruce & Laing – Why Dontcha (1972)

WestBruceLaing_WhyDontcha4 out of 5 Stars!

Why Dontcha is the first of two albums released in the early ’70s by the “supergroup” power trio composed of guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing (Mountain), who team with bassist/keyboardist Jack Bruce (Cream), for highly electrifying and straightforward Blues Rock with a touch of Soul and Heavy Psych.

On its debut album, each musician takes a turn at singing lead. But let’s face it, anyone familiar with the voices of these three individuals knows that none of them has the awesome skills to compete with the likes of Ian Gillan, Paul Rodgers, or Robert Plant, for example. Yet even through none of the guys has what I would consider supreme vocal talent, each musician at least holds his own and services the style of material quite admirably. Nevertheless, this is not an album for music-lovers merely seeking outstanding vocal prowess.

No, this album instead is for those who revel in wonderfully slick guitar, melodic bass, and thumping drums, and thankfully in this arena, each individual musician plays at the top of his game while working with his cohorts as a cohesive team. Indeed, some of the rousing and often-inspired performances on stomping and pounding tracks such as “The Doctor,” “Love is Worth the Blues,” “Third Degree,” “Pollution Woman,” “Turn Me Over,” and the scorching title tune often bring to mind the best work of both Mountain and Cream, and occasionally even surpass it, while a few other tunes—the piano-enhanced “Out into the Fields” and “While You Sleep”—offer up lighter moments, adding diversity to the package and showing the group’s potential.

Overall, fans of the individual musicians and their famous “parent groups” will certainly appreciate much of the material here, while devotees of other bands such as Cactus, Beck Bogert Appice, Humble Pie, Faces, and Free will also likely savor the often-fun and raucous material.

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Omega – Omega (1973)

Omega_14 out of 5 Stars!

This Hungarian band’s self-titled album from 1973, thanks to the fuzzy/distorted tone of the guitars and the use of Hammond organ and early synths, often reminds me of other Heavy Prog bands from the same period, such as Lucifer’s Friend, Birth Control, Eloy, Deep Purple, Warhorse, and most especially, Uriah Heep.

Indeed, the Heep influences here are quite numerous. In general, on tunes such as “After A Hard Year,” the grandiose vocal harmonies are definitely “Heep-esque,” and on one track in particular, “Parting Song,” Omega even adds an instrumental passage taken almost exactly note-for-note/chord-by-chord from Uriah Heep’s classic “Circle Of Hands” fade-out/main melody. The instrumentation on the songs “Delicate Sweep” and “The Bird” are in the same class as that displayed on Heep’s Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble album (or even Lucifer’s Friend’s debut release), and on the lengthier closing tune, “White Magic Stone,” an instrumental riff/passage seems almost like a reworking of Heep’s famous “July Morning.”

Yet, despite all the obvious Uriah Heep flourishes, the band is not a direct clone. The English group had a fuller, grander sound overall, often considered Heavy Metal, not to mention a highly recognizable and flamboyant vocalist in the form of Dave Byron, whereas Omega did not. Overall, the guitars lack Mick Box’s fierce, raw power, and the keyboards don’t have nearly as much force as Ken Hensley’s mighty Hammond, and while the vocals are certainly passable, they are hardly delivered with the fiery gusto as Byron possessed. Plus Omega’s vocalist lacks that identifiable stamp when it comes to his tone, range, timbre, and vibrato. And as far as the music goes, in the periodic softer portions of songs when the band adds Mellotron, influences from other acts such as Procol Harum and the Moody Blues rush to the fore. Moreover, two tracks on the album, “Everytime She Steps In” and “The Lying Girl,” are fairly standard and catchy rock ‘n’ roll ditties, sounding almost like tunes by Kiss, Silverhead, or Mott the Hoople, believe it or not, only with Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych influences—and Heep-like keyboards/synths, of course.

Anyway, several reviewers at various music-related websites have called Omega “The Hungarian Uriah Heep,” and for good reason, as detailed above. Regardless, this eponymous album is a classic of underappreciated and obscure Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych, one I continue to enjoy to this day, and any fans of the aforementioned groups seeking additional music from the early ’70s are likely to appreciate the band.

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Man – Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In? (1971)

Man_DoYouLikeItHereNow4 out of 5 Stars!

The group Man, a Progressive Rock/Psychedelic Rock outfit from the U.K., is not only a long-lasting group, but one that remains (horribly enough) an obscure one.

From the late ’60s through the mid-’70s, Man released a string of engaging and clever albums (and more, since the band reformed in the ’90s and continues to this day) that remain cloaked in controversy—in other words, which genre label is the best to describe Man?

Although I’m sure no response will fully satisfy die-hard fans of the group, my answer would simply be “Progressive Rock.” Seriously, since the band was nothing if not experimental, created a style all its own by jumbling together so many various genres and was indeed true to the meaning of the term, “Progressive Rock” is quite apt.

Therefore, Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In? (the band’s fourth album), with highly diverse tracks such as the experimental “Many Are Called But Few Get Up” that sounds almost a cross between Nektar and Gentle Giant, the ultra-wacky “All Good Clean Fun” with its crazy time signature shifts, the rocking “Love Your Life” with its Heavy Psych guitar and organ solos, and the bopping “Angel Easy” with its countrified-Pop feel, will be of possible interest to those Prog-loving individuals unfamiliar with Man, yet who are also seeking interesting music outside the norm that has inexplicably escaped their turntables throughout the decades.

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Frijid Pink – Frijid Pink (1970)

FrijidPink_14 out of 5 Stars!

On the debut album from Frijid Pink, a long-forgotten band from Detroit, the “Motor City”/Michigan influence truly shows, especially when it comes to the blues-based Hard Rock style on display.

The band seemed to follow a similar starting template as other popular Hard Rock acts to arise from the same general area of the USA, including The Stooges, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad, and perhaps even MC5 (although definitely not quite as blisteringly loud or frantic as the latter). Nevertheless, tunes such as “Crying Shame,” “Tell Me Why,” “I Want To Be Your Lover,” “Drivin’ Blues,” “End of the Line,” and the catchy opener “God Gave Me You” are liberally sprinkled with shredding riffs, a fuzzy psychedelic guitar tone, frantic “Keith Moon-esque” drumming, and a rowdy and rebellious (almost proto-punk…or dare I say “proto-PINK”?) atmosphere. And one additional highlight of the album is the band’s cover of the classic “House of the Rising Sun,” which, to me, is far superior to the Animals’ version. Yes, this is “Garage Rock” at its sometimes-sloppy, occasionally rough, yet riotous finest.

Too bad Frijid Pink never gained the same lasting recognition as the other Michigan bands that emerged during the same era, since this album and the subsequent two releases—Defrosted (1970) and Earth Omen (1972)—are all nearly forgotten gems of Heavy Psych Rock.

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Dr. Z – Three Parts to My Soul (1971)

DrZ_ThreeParts3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Loaded with tribal-like percussion, twiddling pianos, and (of all things) harpsichord, Three Parts to My Soul, the one and only album by Dr. Z, is certainly a bit bizarre and totally different in the world of Prog-Rock.

This trio of musicians (keyboardist, bassist, and drummer) from the U.K. is sort of a maniacal version of either Triumvirat or Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. This has much to do with the rather crazy-sounding lead vocals (like the more deranged side of Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill), the hypnotically psychedelic and almost-creepy vibe, and the often-strange instrumentation and song construction on the lengthier tunes such as “Spiritus, Manes et Umbra,” “Too Well Satisfied,” and “In a Token of Despair.” Even the shorter, more commercial-oriented songs (if you can actually label them “commercial” in the general sense of the word) such as “Summer for the Rose,” “Evil Woman’s Mainly Child,” and the flute-enhanced “Burn in Anger” offer some strangeness, so Three Parts to My Soul is an album for Prog-Rock fans who yearn for something truly unique within the genre.

If you can imagine the Alice Cooper track “Black Juju” heavily dosed with the sinister atmosphere found on the debut album by the group Black Widow, and further picture the character of the macabre and grumbling manservant Lurch from The Addams Family playing along with these tracks on his harpsichord, then at least you’ll get an idea of what you can expect when listening to this rather strange album.

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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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Buffalo – Dead Forever (1972)

Buffalo_DeadForever4 out of 5 Stars!

Although perhaps not as memorable as the band’s second album Volcanic Rock (reviewed previously on this blog), Buffalo’s debut still remains a strong introduction to this gang of hard-hitting Australian blues rockers.

On Dead Forever, the guitar work is wonderfully heavy yet melodic, reminding me of a cross between early Wishbone Ash, Cream, Flower Travellin’ Band, and Mountain (while one of the two vocalists sounds almost like Kenny Stewart from Dirty Tricks).

Of the eight tracks on this album, the band includes two covers, the first being “Pay My Dues” by Blues Image (from that band’s Open album), and the other being a terrific Heavy Psych version of “I’m A Mover” by Free (originally included on its Tons of Sobs debut), which Buffalo rearranged, then toyed with various rhythms and extended the running time past the ten-minute mark, making the track seem like a completely different tune. Meanwhile, John Baxter’s wild guitar rules the roost, his solos and riffs on tunes such as “Bean Stew,” “Leader,” “Forest Rain,” “Ballad of Irving Frank,” and the boogieing title track make for an enjoyable affair. Again, Dead Forever isn’t nearly as hard-hitting as the next album in the band’s catalogue, but the memorable, well-performed riffs and driving rhythms are fairly impressive and offer plenty of hints of what will come next.

Were this album released in today’s market, it would certainly be labeled as “Stoner Rock,” and the description would be quite appropriate.

A shame the cover art is ugly as hell, though—indeed, all five of Buffalo’s covers were rather putrid—but don’t let that stop you from investigating this talented group, especially its first three albums.

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Black Widow – Sacrifice (1970)

BlackWidow_Sacrifice4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Not to be confused with Black Sabbath, Black Widow released its first album only a few weeks after Sabbath’s debut, and although both groups were formed in the U.K., both had similar names, and both relied heavily on occult-themed lyrics, the musical styles were as different as night and day.

Unlike Sabbath, Black Widow played mostly Progressive Rock with a touch of Psych, effortlessly floated between heavy and mellow passages, and rarely sounded “evil,” despite the lyrical content, which the band basically abandoned by the time of the second album to gain a wider fan base. In fact, the music on Sacrifice is sort of a cross between early Deep Purple (the Rod Evans era), Uriah Heep, and Birth Control (mostly due to the Hammond organ and guitar tones) mixed with Jethro Tull, Van Der Graaf Generator, and King Crimson (thanks to the liberal inclusion of flute, sax, and clarinet).

And to be honest, listening to this album nowadays, the lyrics on tunes such as “Come to the Sabbat,” “Attack of the Demon,” “Conjuration,” “In Ancient Days,” and the lengthy title tune, sound rather cheesy and tame, certainly nothing to bring about the roiling hot bed of controversy in today’s audience as they elicited in morality watchdog groups back in the 1970s.

“Come, come, come to the sabbat, come to the sabbat, Satan’s there…”

Seriously? As I said, cheesy and tame compared to today’s “evil” lyrics.

Regardless, lyrics aside, the tracks on Sacrifice are well-performed and enjoyable, with intriguing atmospheres and memorable melodies galore, and Black Widow certainly deserved wider acclaim instead of remaining so obscure.

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Warpig – Warpig (1970)

Warpig_14 out of 5 Stars!

This is a damned decent one-off album from a hard-rocking Canadian band with Heavy-Prog and Psych elements, which was remastered and re-released in 2006 by Relapse Records.

Fans of groups such as Captain Beyond, Warhorse, Deep Purple, Birth Control, and Uriah Heep might appreciate this one, as well as those who might be interested to hear what an evil Black Sabbath-esque guitar riff might sound like with a harpsichord accompaniment.

Seriously, that’s exactly what happens on the track “Tough Nuts,” so the band was nothing if not inventive with its instrumentation.

And since the track “Rock Star” has a similar rhythm and vibe, chord pattern, and guitar fills as Deep Purple’s “Speed King” from the In Rock album, I seriously have to wonder if either band heard the other’s demo tapes prior to their own recording sessions, since both albums came out in 1970.

Regardless, it’s a crying shame Warpig didn’t release more material in the ’70s since the band would have certainly and easily fit in with the aforementioned groups and—perhaps?—taken a magical ride to stardom. With so much creativity on display here, it would have been interesting to see how the band might’ve honed its skills and developed on subsequent albums.

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May Blitz – The 2nd of May (1971)

MayBlitz_2ndMay4 out of 5 Stars!

May Blitz, a hard-rockin’ and creative trio made up of two Canadians (guitarist/vocalist Jamie Black and bassist Reid Hudson) and a Brit (drummer Tony Newman, formerly of Jeff Beck Group who eventually joined Boxer and T-Rex) sadly released only two albums before disbanding.

Both albums are crammed with grooving and occasionally funky Hard/Blues Rock, Heavy Psychedelic Rock, and even a touch of Prog-Rock, with rather dark (proto-Metal) atmospheres overall. On this particular platter, the group’s second release, the driving opening track, “For Mad Men Only,” is a perfect example of that more metalized sound, with the band barreling out of the gate in the finest tradition of rock ‘n’ roll power trios—thundering and unrelenting rhythms and blazing guitar leads. A similar style also appears on “8 Mad Grim Nits,” the first track on the flip side, an instrumental where Hudson and Newman maintain a riotous beat behind Black’s often-explosive six-string antics.

Meanwhile, the other half-dozen tracks are less in-your-face, with “The 25th of December 1969,” “Honey-Coloured Time,” and “Snakes and Ladders” offering up mid-tempo fare loaded with both acoustic and electric guitar riffs, intriguing and varied percussion, highly melodic and jazz-inspired bass runs, and—especially on the latter track—hypnotic atmospheres galore. And one of my favorite tunes, the laid-back “High Beech,” with its beautiful acoustic guitar background and psychedelic vibes, could almost be a lost track from Ten Years After’s A Space in Time album.

The two lengthier side-closers seem almost text-book examples for bands on how to create captivating and almost free-form Heavy Psych material. The rollicking and flute-enhanced “In Part” even features a lengthy drum solo, a definite rarity for studio albums in any genre or in any era, while the luscious and dreamy “Just Thinking” allows the listener to float away on a sea of psychedelia—ideal for any listener who occasionally enjoys indulging in a certain type of…hmm…”cigarette.”

Overall, however, The 2nd of May is not without its flaws. Like on the band’s debut platter, Black’s lead vocals are indeed the weakest link. His delivery is often frail and perfunctory, lacking in all emotion, and his precision is not always meticulous. Yet May Blitz was never about vocal prowess, never about luring in listeners who demand a recognizable crooner churning out catchy and singalong lyrics, but instead, a raw celebration of tasty and mesmerizing fret-work. Therefore, Black’s generic vocals are in no way an aural affront to the ear drums, just a bit of a disappointment for those of us who can imagine what might have become of May Blitz had it also possessed a frontman as powerful and as sterling as its musicians.

And speaking of which, the fantastic musicianship on display here often reminded me of the excellent U.K. power trio Three Man Army (which—highly coincidental—also featured Tony Newman), another band that also never received the fame it so justifiably deserved. So fans of groups such as the aforementioned Three Man Army and Ten Years After, plus outfits such as Captain Beyond, Blues Creation, Groundhogs, Flower Travellin’ Band, Dust, and even Jimi Hendrix, will likely enjoy May Blitz, a band that disappeared way before its time.


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