quinta-feira, 22 de julho de 2021

IRON MAIDEN (UK) - Iron Maiden (LP, EMI, 1980)

RATING: *****

This is the first Maiden album I bought, you know.

No, I wasn't around when it first came out in April 1980 - actually, I was still having quite a good time inside my mother's womb, and wouldn't be doing the rounds in this quite strange world (pun intented) until August that year. I would add it to my collection quite a few years later actually, maybe in 1996 or thereabouts - as an official cassette tape, which I still own to this day. I kind of knew what to expect from it, mind you: I'm an Iron Maiden fan since I was a kid, and some albums were already a part of my daily routine, borrowed from friends and neighbours and duly recorded on tape. I was short on money back then, and buying albums would be quite a luxury - I didn't even had a CD Player at home back then, if I'm not mistaken. But my mom gave me enough money to buy a new walkman, as a Christmas  gift, and the change from the cash she gave me was enough to buy two cassette tapes.

I wanted Iron Maiden, you see. Wanted it real bad. And, believe me or not, the eponymous 1980 release was the only Maiden available at the store, apart from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son - a record I had already taped from a friend. There was no choice, and no choice was needed: Iron Maiden 1980, here we go (the other cassette I picked was Metallica's "...And Justice For All", I believe).

It's a silly personal story without much of a meaning, you see, but I enjoy remembering this, because buying that record was something of a revolution for me, as it was for the whole metal world when boys and girls first bought it in 1980. And the reaction was pretty much the same, too: I'd thought I knew what to expect, from my previous knowledge of the band and all that, but I was wrong.

I was blown away. In a sense, it still feels the same, nearly 25 years later for me, over 40 years later for the world.

Now, I don't want this review to become a treatise on how Iron Maiden changed my life and all that, so I'll skip any further visits to Memory Lane for the remainder of it. But I do have a theory: THIS is the quintessential Iron Maiden record. I'm not saying it is the best thing they ever did (it sure isn't), nor that it is their most impressive batch of songs (Powerslave gets the nod IMO), but I would be inclined to affirm that, oh yes, this is the most IMPORTANT album they ever recorded. If there's an Iron Maiden LP that changed the world around it, a release that came to show everyone what should be done and how to do it, a signal that defines heavy metal 'before Maiden' and 'after Maiden', this is the one. Their first statement, and everything that matters is already there, as powerful and impressive as it could possibly be. In a sense, the world was already conquered by Iron Maiden the day this album came out: from that point onwards, it was mostly a matter of fulfilling a destiny.

It was the right record at the right time, really. The whole NWOBHM thing was ready to explode, with many promising acts being monitored by the strongest labels of the period and a fervent fanbase growing exponentially. That new metal thing in the UK needed a band to lead the way, and many combos were trying to head the pack - some (like Diamond Head and Saxon) got quite close, others (Def Leppard) decided to take a different road, in their own terms. Iron Maiden are the ones who made it. And (no matter how many times Steve Harris will try to deny it) it has a lot to do with the perceivable punk influence in Maiden's early sound. Many long-haired metalheads among us will never admit it, but that's a fact nonetheless: the punk rock phenomenon did influence the NWOBHM in no uncertain terms, adding a sense of urgency in songwriting you won't easily find in the forerunners of early 1970's metal scene. Iron Maiden epitomise it rather effectively: their formative songs got faster and faster as the years progressed, and the semi-theatrical elements of their early sets (ex-vocalist Dennis Wilcock spitting blood and all that) would eventually give way to a more concise, straight-to-the-point (and exhilarating) stage performance.

It obviously has a lot to do with Paul Di'Anno. He's a punk singing metal, so to say: though able to reach some pretty effective high notes when required (something that would be far more perceivable on follow-up "Killers", but let's not rush things), what makes his delivery truly unique is the ability to use all the rough edges of his voice in favor of his singing. He's not always perfectly in key (listen carefully to "Charlotte the Harlot", for instance), his range is nothing out of this world, and I'm damn sure he didn't have much in the way of singing lessons when he was a kid - but his raspy, ferocious delivery is all the more highlighted by this lack of refinement, giving to memorable songs such as "Prowler" and "Running Free" a sense of urgency and grit that is no less than spellbinding. He's not bulshitting you, you know: he really is a tough guy that learned to live on the streets, and every single word he sings is filled with youthful swagger, bite and honesty. It's truly great, and I will never get tired of it.

Not that Di'Anno shines on his own, of course. Steve Harris is such a legend that any compliments are bound to be redundant, but I must make my personal exercise in futility here: his basslines are remarkable from an early stage, and he's the glue that keeps it all together really, as this particular line-up was quite short lived and would hardly have been functional if not for his confident playing and sheer sense of purpose. Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton were quite a functional guitar duo to be fair, and it's nice to point out that Stratton's delivery is not that dissimilar to what Adrian Smith would bring to the table in the near future (his solos on "Phantom of the Opera" and "Transylvania", for instance, are very memorable). And drummer Clive Burr (that had joined the group for less than two months when recording sessions commenced) is a beast in his own right, nailing all those complex arrangements and fast tempos with a finesse that makes it look and sound easy, rather than the truly impressive feat it actually is.

This album is a monster. Very few recordings encapsulate the spirit of the scene it stems from as well as Iron Maiden's debut LP: it's as revved-up and irresponsibly gritty as a world still shook by punk rock would demand it to be, and then some, but it's also filled to the brim with a creative ambition that would surely make Harris' heroes like Jethro Tull immensely proud. You can bang your head to it almost to no end, and still a part of your mind will be in awe with all those intricate instrumental passages and unexpected changes in mood and tempo. "Phantom of the Opera", of course, is the song that more perfectly solves this apparent contradiction, and it's no wonder this is one of the greatest classics in the history of metal, no less - but other moments like "Remember Tomorrow", "Transylvania" and even the slightly out-of-place ballad "Strange World" also showcase this magical bridge between punk and prog, made possible only by the musical miracle of early 1980's heavy metal. 

Yeah, the production kinda sucks, but it's also part of the charm: the whole record gains something of an urgent, street-level vibe because of that, and it further distances early Maiden from the inaccessible metal deities of the day, while bringing the band closer to the real people, the fans that were there in the pubs and record stores when the dam began to burst. It wouldn't be such a brilliant album if it was more professionally produced, believe me. From the opening guitar riff of the archetypal classic "Prowler" to the final throes of the equally unforgettable "Iron Maiden", this is a game changer if there ever was one, and if you don't know it, then you don't know nothing. Diamond Head got real close with "Lightning to the Nations", and many bands of the era released amazing records they all should be very proud of, but make no mistake: this is the crowning achievement of the entire NWOBHM, the landmark release of early '80s British metal, and also one of the most classic debut albums ever issued, regardless of musical genres. There was still a lot to learn, that's for sure, and Iron Maiden would bring us tons of marvellous heavy music in later years - but it all begins here, and every self-respecting metal fan should drink from this fountain of youth from time to time.

Thanks a million to Discogs for picture sleeve scans and cassette photo!

Paul Di'Anno (V), Dave Murray (G), Dennis Stratton (G), Steve Harris (B), Clive Burr (D).

01. Prowler (Harris)
02. Remember Tomorrow (Harris/Di'Anno)
03. Running Free (Harris/Di'Anno)
04. Phantom of the Opera (Harris)
05. Transylvania (Harris)
06. Strange World (Harris)
07. Charlotte the Harlot (Murray)
08. Iron Maiden (Harris)

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!

domingo, 4 de julho de 2021

MORGEN (USA) - Morgen (LP, Probe, 1969)

RATING: ****

For a humble explorer like myself, it's kinda exciting to know there are still so many great Psych Rock bands waiting to be discovered - talented and hopeful musicians that only managed to release one or two slices of vinyl before plunging into near-total oblivion for the decades to come. A common story of course, and it will be the fate of countless rock 'n' roll hopefuls until the world reach its very end. But you don't need to be known to be good, you see, and Morgen were yet another one of those groups who had genuine talent on display but never got anywhere, which was a particular shame in their case if you ask me. Oh well, at least there's a very pleasant LP to forever remind us of their existence, and, even though I'm hardly going to make them more well known by simply writing about them, let's drop a few lines about their pretty good music for posterity's sake. And oh yeah, the use of the revered painting by Edvard Munch on the front cover doesn't go unnoticed: a bit cliché perhaps, but quite an eye-catching choice, right?

Led by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Steve Morgen and completed by Barry Stock (G), Rennie Genossa (B) and Bob Maiman (D), this 4-piece from Long Island, NY (USA) seems to have been a promising young act by the time Probe (a recently stablished sub-label for ABC Records devoted to psych/prog records) offered them a record deal in early 1969. I really don't know much about them, mind you, and I don't feel like making an extensive research right now (though I would definitely want to hear from you if you happen to know more), but it's safe to say they did deliver a great album full of urgency and dynamics, going from the contemplative to the lascivious with admirable confidence and enthusiasm. The production values are quite fuzzy and raw, with many perceivable rough edges and a mix that puts Steve Morgen's voice way up front in places, sometimes close to the point of distortion. Not the most professional job you'll ever hear, but it actually helps the album's cause rather than hinder it, giving the proceedings a garage feel that surely adds an extra charm to the listening experience.

Opening number "Welcome to the Void" is a fantastic, slightly gloomy and near-hypnotic acid rock tune with a distinct hard rock feel throughout. No flower-power here: Morgen (the band) were surely more about rock and roll excitement than most of its contemporaries, something that makes it particularly appealing for today's listeners. "Of Dreams" is also great, a somewhat atmospheric tune that sounds like The Zombies on acid (weren't they anyway?) and really makes your imagination fly. Steve Morgen's vocals are specially brilliant on this one: some may criticise him for being a bit too over-the-top in places, but I think it's always reassuring to hear someone moving from whispers to near-screaming, from almost spoken parts to explicit sighs and moans, all with no holds barred and genuine amounts of passion. "Purple" is another winner, a rock tune with an excellent drum performance and fuzzy guitars to die for, while "She's the Nitetime" immediately reminds me of Jimi Hendrix, for the best reasons you can think of.

Sometimes the whole thing sounds a bit too thrown-away for comfort, that's for sure: "Beggin' Your Pardon", for instance, drags along way longer than it should, while the otherwise excellent "Eternity in Between" (a strong rocker hugely influenced by The Who) presents a long drum solo for no fathomable reason (and drum solos in a studio record are hardly winners, you know). I think it has something to do with the improvisation-friendly, near-live approach of the whole recording, but I wouldn't be at all surprise if, despite being truly talented, the lads simply didn't have enough songs for a full LP just yet and had to resort to a few tricks in orded to deliver a full-length perfomance. Whatever the case, the carefree spirit of instrumentation works admirably well in the closing number "Love", a superb 11-minute journey through countless textures and swift changes in direction that more than justifies the belated adulation devoted to Morgen by many collectors and music enthusiasts.

It's a shame they didn't last the distance after their very promising debut - a sad state of affairs that supposedly has a lot to do with the fact that the short-lived Probe imprint closed doors in 1970, leaving Morgen with not much to lean on. None of the musicians seem to have move much further in the business; I believe mainman Steve Morgen got involved with some solo experimentation in the early 1970's, but none of it seem to have ever come to fruition, and no subsequent releases ever came out, at least to my knowledge. Maybe it was supposed to be their lifespan anyway: one good album, ignored by their peers but lauded by future generations, and nothing more. Life fast, die young - not a good piece of advice for individuals, but perhaps the right way to do it for many rock bands. Philosopical questions about the meaning of life (and art) aside, anyone with an interest in the development of heavy music throughout the decades should give this album a chance - something made easier by enterprising individuals such as Sunbeam Records, that released the band's sole album on CD for the benefit of eager collectors like myself. 

Thanks a million to Discogs for picture sleeve and label scans!

Steve Morgen (V/G), Barry Stock (G), Rennie Genossa (B), Bob Maiman (D). All songs by S. Morgen.

01. Welcome to the Void 4:42
02. Of Dreams 5:32
03. Beggin' Your Pardon (Miss Joan) 4:47
04. Eternity in Between 4:30
05. Purple 4:00
06. She's the Nitetime 3:28
07. Love 10:50

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me (drequon@gmail.com) and let me know!