Protoplasm is pregnant for the second time, for y’all have knocked her up.
COLOURED BALLS – BALL POWER (1973)
Lifespan: 1972 – 1974
File Under: Sharpiecore, rat-tail rockin’
In Print?: Reissued on LP by Sing Sing Records (US) in 2012
Crucially underrated Melbournian thud-rockers, Coloured Balls got typecast early on as a hooligan band. Adopted as a de facto soundtrack to the popular “sharpie” youth gang subculture of the time, the Balls, for their part, fully embraced the sharpie culture and fashion, if not the violence – but it would shortly be their undoing.
Formed by Aussie guitar hero Lobby Loyde (previous of The Purple Hearts, The Wild Cherries, and Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, later of solo albums and briefly Rose Tattoo), the Balls solidified their lineup for Ball Power, which was technically their second album. The first one, Rock Your Arse Off, recorded in 1972, had been deemed “unsuitable for release” and shelved until 1976, when it saw posthumous release under a different title.
Reeling like a less-long-winded MC5 (and minus the bullshit, half-assed politics), Ball Power riproars through forty minutes of wide-ranging hefty rock, equally at home baring its fangs in raw rock aggression (“Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?”), as it is rolling around in the seedy blues of “Something New.” But it’s “Human Being” that really captures the Balls in their glory, pushing hard-charging riff after progressive riff – and it would eventually capture the ears of no less than Fenriz, who included the track on his Trapped Under Vice, Vol. II mixtape in 2009.
Great as they were, though – Coloured Balls were not to last. Discouraged by the increasing violence at their gigs, and by the Australian mass media’s finger-pointing squarely at the Balls for said increase in violence, Loyde quietly disbanded the Balls at the end of 1974, walking away to concentrate on his own solo efforts.
Nevertheless, in spite of, or perhaps due to the band’s reputation, Ball Power’s roar still reached #13 on the Aussie rock charts.
GRANICUS – GRANICUS (1973)
File Under: Hello, Cleveland!
In Print?: Yes. Re-released in Europe on Austria Record Finder in 2009. No idea of rights and legality, but it’s out there.
Granicus is why Cleveland was the first U.S. city to fall under Rush‘s spell. At least, that’s what I assume when I hear Woody Leffel’s vocals thunder out of the speakers. Leffel has a monstrously strong voice, a lofty wail that splits the difference between good ol’ Geddy Lee and the golden god himself, Robert Plant. Pitched to crack glass and make dogs yarl, Leffel lead Granicus to peaks rarely reached by bands that didn’t break into the mainstream. Their self-titled 1973 debut isn’t merely a lost gem, a piece of proto-metal for fans of the stuff. This is a stunning album, with a breadth and depth that set them apart from the power bluesman and Free-basing hard rockers of the era. It’s downright Zeppelin-esque, and stands not too far down the mountain from their high summit.
Granicus takes the blueprint from those famed, aforementioned Brits, including slower folky acoustic tunes and a panned vocal effect straight from “Whole Lotta Love”, but this is a distinctly American band. The Motor City isn’t far from Cleveland, and all through the rust belt there is a siren’s engine rev calling to folks to play a certain style of hard rock. Granicus owes nearly as much to the MC5 and Bob Seger as the British blues contingent. Album opener “You’re In America,” with its tandem electric leads, is a Great Lakes stomp worthy of those Detroit artists, despite its “Peace Frog” breakdown rip (The Doors‘ funky burners are underrated next to the praise for all the maudlin bullshit). The self-deprecating civic pride of “Cleveland, OH” rocks like a mother, its cowbell beating Blue Öyster Cults into awesome status by several years.
The centerpiece of the album, the eleven-minute “Prayer”, is where the band stretches all the way out and the high caliber of the musicians comes to the fore. While Leffel is obviously the key – though here he is completely in Plant’s shadow, to the point of “going where the four winds blow” and “ah.. agh…AHHHH!”-ing his way to ecstasy – this is a band filled with chops. The talent of lead guitarist Wayne Anderson is obvious, his total control atypical of the genre. Plus, Al Pinell’s rhythm playing is thick and rich, the strong connective tissue between Anderson and the low end thump of drummer Joe Battaglia and bassist Dale Bedford. That rhythm section is rock solid, with every change fluid and natural, and hot damn does Battaglia sound simply amazing. Why drums don’t sound more like this nowadays is a mystery.
Somehow, Granicus fell through the cracks at RCA. This wasn’t just a band with future promise, they were already there. Why RCA failed to back their self-titled debut, and why the American public never got exposed to their excellence, is sadly lost to time. However, the album lives on with collectors and hard rock fans the world over, and there is absolutely no reason not to avail yourself of the chance to hear it.
JERUSALEM – JERUSALEM (1972)
Lifespan: Very early 70s.
File Under: Fuck-off, hippie.
In Print?: Yes. Both CD and LP versions available through Rockadrome.
I was alive in 1972. I wasn’t much more than a tiny slobbering pup in a heavy diaper, but I was alive. I obviously don’t recall a lot about what was happening in my environment back then, but I do know that my folks – hardcore music addicts just like myself – were spinning stuff like Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Don McClean’s “American Pie,” and Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken,” which was extremely typical of the time. Many of the artists of that era were either continuing to ride the hippie wave of the 60s, or doing their damnedest to get something – ANYthing – onto mainstream radio. This is precisely what made the handful of bands that were fed up with the music world’s sweeping tranquility all the more vital.
With that in mind, check out what Ian Gillan (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath/Born Again) had to say with regard to Jerusalem:
“I believe that, whenever possible, the work of writers and players in their formative stages should be recorded; before inhibition and self-consciousness set in, before fire and aggression die down, and while they are still absorbing influences and doing things which others might consider ‘uncool’. Most important though, before they might develop that self-imposed rigidity which afflicts so many. I hope none of these things happen to Jerusalem. We’ll have to wait and see. This album is just in case.”
A beautiful pile of words written years ago that perfectly encapsulates why so many of us in the metal community jump through hoops to gobble down demos. To capture a band at its rawest, most unalloyed state encompasses a huge portion of what’s to love about heavy metal. Unprocessed raw energy unhindered by years spent toiling in the industry’s gears is key. That, in a nutshell, is the crux reason why Jerusalem’s debut (and only long-player) remains so significant today. Two friends from school cobble together a band after having their faces melted by the heavy-handed work of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and, after months of laboring through the basics in seclusion, finally decide to start blistering ears in pubs and halls of their hometown with their own crude 12-bar-blues representation. What helped set Jerusalem apart from a good portion of their peers, however, was the fact that they cut their teeth by pushing original tunes only, and the fact that principle songwriter Paul Dean approached the construction from a bassist’s point of view – something that’s best represented by the heaviest tune on the record, the amazing “Primitive Man.”
After a fair stretch of time spent mostly kicking around their immediate neighborhood, Jerusalem’s full impact was finally achieved once the aforementioned Ian Gillan caught wind of them and decided to produce this blistering debut. He described their overall sound as “…rough, raw and doomy, with their own strong identity,” which is precisely the sort of thing that should call out louder than a bomb to anyone interested in proto-metal’s big bangers.
Sadly, Jerusalem co-founders Paul Dean (bass) and Ray Sparrow (drums) decided to shutter the doors shortly after this release because the remaining members had prospective hopes for a more commercial, polished route (my GOD, I wish more bands would learn from this band’s example), but they ended up teaming up with guitarist Bob Cooke under the name Pussy, whose collected work is also available through Rockadrome.
LEAF HOUND – GROWERS OF MUSHROOM (1971)
Lifespan: 1970 – 1971 (reformed, 2006)
File Under: Down n’ dirty, heavy blues and psych.
In Print?: LP out of print, and rare as unicorns tears. CD reissue in print.
Even if you’ve never heard of scruffy UK rockers Leaf Hound, you’d hopefully be aware of bands like Free, Foghat, Bad Company, Cactus, and Atomic Rooster. All of those acts featured members from Leaf Hound (and the band’s precursor, Black Cat Bones) in their ranks at some stage, and Black Cat Bones’ sole release, 1970’s blues buster, Barbed Wire Sandwich, is worth seeking out, if only to peer at the rib-tickling ridiculousness of its cover art.
While collectable, Barbed Wire Sandwich’s value doesn’t come close to the mega-dollars you’d spend on a mint copy of Leaf Hound’s debut, Growers of Mushroom – and for good reason too. Leaf Hound formed in the crucible of the UK heavy psych and progressive blues scene, and Growers of Mushroom, recorded in a single, and clearly smokin’, 11-hour session, was originally released by German label Telefunken in early ‘71. (Although, weirdly, Telefunken’s version left off Growers of Mushroom’s title track, and scorching galloper, “Freelance Fiend”.)
Leaf Hound duly set off to promote the album by touring Europe, but when UK label Decca Records released Growers of Mushroom for UK audiences in late ‘71 – with a thankfully reconfigured track listing – Leaf Hound was dust in the wind, man. Lead singer Peter French had already departed, to eventually join Atomic Rooster, putting paid to the Leaf Hound’s chances of ever makin’ it. Still, Growers of Mushroom stands as a stompin’ mix of vintage pre-metal, with lashings of blues, boogie, and rock ‘n’ roll to boot. Opener, “Freelance Fiend”, is a cowbell clangin’ and grungy riffing piece of prime proto real estate, and things get scrappier and dirtier from thereon in. “Drowned My Life in Fear,” “Stagnant Pool,” “Stray,” and 2005 CD bonus reissue track, “Hip Shaker,” see the band wah-wah(ing) through the gutter and stratosphere, stewing in red-eyed blues, and ramping things up, high as fucking Rock God kites.
Like fellow bands Hard Stuff, May Blitz, Killing Floor, and innumerable others born from the cradle of the late ‘60s UK blues scene, gut-sourced, instinctive tunes are the order of the day for Growers of Mushroom. The album gets the grit on the boil, with flashes of Cream, Sir Lord Baltimore, Black Sabbath, and, inevitably, Led Zeppelin, but bonus points are awarded to Leaf Hound for lifting their name, and the majority of the band’s song titles, from horror stories edited by legendary Pan Book of Horror Stories compiler, Herbert Van Thal.
NIGHT SUN – MOURNIN’ (1972)
File Under: Heavy prog
In Print?: Reissued in 1997, but out of print again.
Germany’s Night Sun evolved from a popular regional jazz band, and their one and only full-length record was produced by krautrock studio guru (guru) Konrad Plank, he who helmed brilliance by the likes of Kraftwerk, Neu, and Ash Ra Tempel. Take the jazz and oddball krautrock influences and cross ’em with a more traditional guitar-and-organ-led Deep Purple-y aesthetic, and Mournin’ is born. Largely sidestepping most traditional rock tropes, Night Sun took Purple’s structure and most progressive moments and created something equal parts familiar and foreign.
From the opening number of “Plastic Shotgun,” the band’s off-kilter arrangements are immediately evident. It’s an almost stereotypically German take on heavy jazz-rock, in that it’s angular and odd but very precise, syncopated without being particularly funky. Vocalist Bruno Schaab sounds a bit like Ian Gillan in his lower register, losing the comparison as he goes higher. (His voice is the weakest element here, and a stronger singer might’ve helped Night Sun fare better, though Schaab isn’t a deal-breaker, by any means. He just tends towards a yelp.) Throughout “Shotgun,” Walter Kirchwasser’s guitar and Knut Rossler’s organ dance around each other in constant competition for the lead; the whole thing collapses just shy of three minutes, imploding with a groan.
Subsequent tracks tend to be equally complex, though often not as chaotic – “Crazy Woman” could be a trippier Uriah Heep, while “Got A Bone Of My Own” goes more in the direction of the kraut route, with a space-rock echo-laden intro that soon morphs into stomping, guitar-driven proto-metal. “Bone” is the best of Mournin’, perfectly paced and filled with some great Kirschwasser/Rossler interplay.
Night Sun never made another record – Schaab and Kirschwasser departed not long after Mournin’ was released, the former briefly joining uber-prolific jazz-prog weirdos Guru Guru. But for these thirty minutes, the world finally got the answer to the burning question, “What if Deep Purple attempted krautrock psyche-jazz?”
SOCRATES DRANK THE CONIUM – ON THE WINGS (1973)
File Under: Prog-fueled, bluesy basket weaving.
In Print?: Reissued on LP in 2008 by ANAZITISI, although that requires paying import prices.
Some prog bands were as bluesy, but few blues bands were this proggy. And, considering Socrates Drank the Conium labored beneath the boot of a dictatorship, their unwavering allegiance to fiery workouts is all the more amazing.
In the beginning, Socrates was a trio frothed to a Cream: Antonis Tourkogiorgis was Bruce, Yannis Spathas was Clapton, and a few different drummers dropped the poly-rhythmic hammer as their Baker. The outfit’s ’72 eponymous debut was as prickly and hallucinatory as Cactus, zooming through Mayall/Butterfield licks while tightly wrapping tunes in counterpoint twine. Yet, the burgeoning predilection for prog was the key, truly freeing the three. Released within the same calendar year, the sophomore splash Taste of Conium hinted at the coming-soon smarts vs. strengths vs. whoaaaa-man dynamic, freaking out on a “Satisfaction” cover before returning to the classroom to cleverly dissect Fleetwood Mac pond frogs. When on their A-game, these brains were a hard-driving, Vulcan-logical Yes with the Bacchic burp of The Experience.
However, it wouldn’t be until LP number three, On the Wings, that Socrates got weighty; their muscles filling out, snuffing the doubts regarding their potential. Joining Spathas – a guy you could king as the Greek Hendrix without needing to decompress in a hyperbolic chamber – was fellow fret wizard Kostas “Gus” Doukakis. The two proceeded to execute the epitome of getting the hell down, leaving no scale unexploded, no part of the guitar untouched. Two words: They flew. Indeed, from the initial crackle of the dropped needle, the album’s title doesn’t lie, setting a course to the stratosphere thanks to its two top guns acting as if the other was the spur. That’s not to say Tourkogiorgis and drummer Yiorgos Trantalidis were ground control, watching idly and plotting vicarious paths. Pockets and roots? Pffft. Those T birds were squawking up their own storm. Naturally, this can sound bewildering on your trial run. It’s wild. Manic. Utter chaos. Doesn’t matter: Logic wins out. Remember the prog-ness? It’s still here, amplified, providing a plain-sight secret structure to the flourishes. The result? The Socrates of the previous year, just blood-red in every way possible.
Exercise: Tune the world out and drop in on opener “Who is to Blame.” Sure, it’s a mind speculum. Its test scores are nerdy. Nevertheless, it’s a brawler. To wit, Tourkogiorgis’s voice might belong to a Buffalo, sporting scratchy stubble. Spathas and Doukakis spin riffs like there’s about to be an embargo. Trantalidis rolls harder than a dungeon-master on Molly. This stuff is tough. Tough and quick. Incredibly, it’s over in under four minutes. It burns the candle with a blow torch. All of On the Wings is this DMT speedy, swallowing up only a sitcom-length amount of your day. Okay, here’s everything we own packed in one fireball. Shhhhhhhhfffffffooooomph. Again, it’ll take a couple listens to learn how to catch its curve. That said, their expended effort is contagious, forcing you to keep trying.
Three years later, Socrates officially distilled their moniker down to philosopher instead of cause of death. Part of this was a sonic rebirth aftershock. See, they’d hook up with, synth sweep please, Vangelis on ’75’s Phos. Regardless what a rocker will tell you, it boots hinnies, simply subbing out the speed and general mixed nuttiness for a richer rock. Phos is layered, contemplative; Gentle Giant if it never grew out of 1970. From there, the boys would end up in an affair with funk and fusion, pressing guilty treasures such as the April Wine meets Confunkshun of Waiting for Something. For the most part, in that vein they’d stay. So, though they continue chugging to this day, bangers believed Socrates to be DOA after the name change. Shame: It’s all good. Read that last line as you see fit.