Thursday, 8 December 2016

DECADES APART: 5 Albums 5 Different Decades, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001, 2011

By: David Majury, Chris Bull, Joosep Nilk,
Marc Gaffney & Phil Weller

Decades Apart

The idea of Decades Apart is pretty simple. I’ll choose 5 different albums from 5 different decades and I’ll share a little information about them and hopefully you’ll check them out if you haven’t already.   Today is 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011.  Whilst some these albums may not all be considered classics, they’re certainly amazing records.  So be sure to check it out.    

Hawkwind - 'In Search of Space' (1971)

Growing up in the '80s I heard the name Hawkwind often enough but never took the time to listen to them. As far as I knew they weren't a metal band, more some kind of hippie jam band with keyboards, which was a major turn-off when I was obsessing over Celtic Frost, Prong and Voivod. They seemed so twee, almost laughable in the face of the epic speed and heaviness of 'To Mega Therion' or 'Dimension Hatross. Of course, once Soundgarden and Mudhoney came along it suddenly seemed alright to look backwards for inspiration, and when Monster Magnet released “Spine of God” and started mentioning Hawkwind in every interview I thought it might be time for a reassessment. I bought a double cassette compilation and dived in.

Trying to consume so much Hawkwind at once is sheer madness and the compilation leapt around in terms of chronology so I thought I'd work out where to start and go from there. A tuned-in workmate was so excited to be asked for Hawkwind recommendations that he gave me a vinyl copy of 'In Search of Space' along with some valuable advice for ideal listening conditions. To this day I still get the same feeling of foreboding when the opening strains of 'You Shouldn't Do That' seep out of the speakers. To have the confidence to open with a 15 minute epic speaks volumes of just how mind expanding Hawkwind truly are/were, and to this day no-one has really done anything that comes close. Ultra creepy, doom laden, tribal, kosmich and totally confusing at the same time. What's more, there's nothing of the peace and love of American west coast psych here at all. Hawkwind were raw, tough and incessant. I had to check the record label to see how long that song was, it felt like it was as likely to be three minutes as thirty. Totally transcendental. They didn't let up either with 'Master of the Universe ' rivalling Sabbath for pure power, and 'Adjust Me' setting an early template for noise rock twenty years before anyone was even thinking about it.

Like Sabbath, really nothing sounded the same at the time, or since, and I can't begin to imagine how alien this record must have sounded in '71. Hawkwind's legacy has been tainted by inconsistent line-ups and releases, along with a slew of tenth rate copyists posturing as psych-rock, but there's no doubt in my mind that if the band had finished after 'Hall of the Mountain Grill' they'd be revered in the same light as Sabbath, Zeppelin and all the other Titans of the era. This record still stands up like few others. This is your Captain speaking. Your Captain is dead

Van Halen – “Fair Warning” (1981)

In 1981 an album that in my opinion is the epitome of the Van Halen sound was released, “Fair Warning”. Sheer gravitas. For my money, each track holds its weight in groove, riffs, musicianship and straight up ass kicking swagger from David Lee Roth.

What in my humble opinion always gets lost in a lot of their albums and I feel especially on this body of work is how amazing the percussion is.  “Dirty Movies” is a lesson in full on boogie till the fucking cows come home, sleep in the barn and prance back out to the pasture to graze.

“So This is Love”, forget about it. How many T Tops had this song blitzing from their 8 track stereos, meanwhile, engines growled like a Rottweiler in heat. The key is the smoothness of the Ted Templeman production, the sonic sexiness of the virtuoso himself, Eddie Van Halen.  The tonality and growl of his axe is more potent than any espresso ever brewed. 

I remember my buddyJim Delosh playing this for me and Vaugh Fachette's dad blaring “Sinner's Swing”, before going fishing.  So if you are feeling sentimental, and have a 3 quarter t shirt In your drawer please put it on, get one foot out the door and become “Unchained”.

Soundgarden  - “Badmotorfinger” (1991)

Having recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, Soundgarden helped unshackle the band of their grunge tag with ‘Badmotorfinger’. While draped in that archetypal grittiness which helped characterise the movement and genre bursting from their hometown of Seattle at the time, this album was representative of a band outgrowing their early sound, building on their blues laden, doomy template with an intrinsic experimentalism which they learnt to perfect on ‘Superunknown’.

Indeed, while it was that succeeding album that helped skyrocket the band, breaking them to the masses with massive singles in ‘Spoonman’, ‘Fell on Black Days’ and ‘Black Hole Sun’, its older brother has grown into something of an underrated, cult classic. The melancholy chaos of ‘Rusty Cage’ - lovingly covered by Johnny Cash some years later - and the 7/4 thump of ‘Outshined’ (a pre-cursor to ‘Spoonman’, which is also in 7/4) make a moody and impenetrably iconic introduction to a record which, while its style and feel may receive seismic shifts throughout, never lets up. Its diversity is its greatest gift, riffs leaping out at you from the dark when you least expect it, psychedelia then whisking you away from the punches. 

They showed with this album a sharp and intelligent level of song writing, from the genius lyrics of Chris Cornell (“I’m looking California/but feeling Minnesota” and “share a cigarette with negativity”) to Kim Thayil’s nasty, unconventional approach to guitar playing, it may not be an album hugely revered, but that is in no way a representation of its quality. There is a progressive mindset driving the record, their playfulness with less common time signatures and often obscure, unnerving note choices defining it as something of an ugly beast. But why should rock music be pretty?

Slaves And Bulldozers’, ‘New Damage’ and ‘Holy Water’ are packed to the rafters with titanic doom riffs which snarl and growl like an animalistic Tony Iommi. The short and savage punk of Ben Shepard’s ‘Face Pollution’ and the bastardised, brass-tinged classic rock of Matt Cameron’s ‘Drawing Flies’, keep you guessing, keep you on your toes.

Never short of surprises, it is an amalgamation of so much, all condensed and blended into one unholy racket. Like any true classic, it is a record that no other band could write.

Converge – “Jane Doe” (2001)

Released in 2001, Converge's breakthrough 4th album, 'Jane Doe' remains a landmark in extreme music and sounds as fresh and relevant today as it did 15 years ago. Played with such ferocious precision, thanks in part to the impetus of new members Ben Koller and Nate Newton, 'Jane Doe' is a bitter, angry, scathing statement of intent from the band.

From the opening arpeggio that dips into the inhuman blasts of 'Concubine', the album barely lets you catch a breath as Jacob Bannon screams at you, telling you the story of a ruined relationship. It's so powerful and full of emotion that you can almost hear the blood pouring from the man's broken heart seep into his vocal chords.

Various twists and turns permeate the albums intensity; 'Distance And Meaning', 'Hell To Pay', 'Homewrecker', 'The Broken Vow' and 'Heaven In Her Arms' provide some of the most memorable moments, while 'Phoenix In Flight' is near perfect in its composition and placement on the album, allowing you to digest what's just been thrown your way before 'Phoenix In Flames' and 'Thaw' that follow, absolutely annihilate your eardrums. As if that wasn't enough, the album's title track is an 11 minute emotional rollercoaster, making you worry for the welfare of the song's protagonist.

Elder – "Dead Roots Stirring"(2011)

As opposed to the debut that was more of a brawny smack to the gut (or the wall, whichever you prefer), Elder’s excellent sophomore was one for the thinking-man’ stoner books. As psychedelia-ladden as it was riff-driven in its approach, this Boston trio set themselves up to be true trailblazers in the genre. Showing respect for the long-form, each track in duration 8 minutes at the very least with two nearing the twelve-minute mark, they brought a world fully their own and spent time exploring it with quieter moments but not lacking any punch either. The sheer rawness acting contrast to the intricate layering, all the while showcasing their penchant for experimenting with songwriting formulas.

The album is equal parts a plunge into murky depths – like the epically ravaging conclusion that closes the opener – as it is opting for the less travelled overgrown route, with floating guitars going off on shimmering tangents like aptly-titled third track ’III’. With rusty riffs bringing its plodding hooks, bluesy and bog-ridden coincide with the album art, sill, alongside the opening notes of ’Gemini’, or the thick earthy toned pulse that opens the title-track, it’s De Salvo’s vocals breaking at just the right moment. Concurrently melodic and raspy in their intonation, they come through as if a guide lighting the way, though showing restraint enough to let the instruments tell the majority of the story.

"Dead Roots Stirring" gave strong hints of what was to come on yesteryear’s acclaimed Lore, again proving that there isn’t a band that does it quite like Elder.