Machine, Hard Stuff, and more...
Rotterdam-based Machine mixed psych, prog and hard rock with plenty of brass on its single LP, 1970’s Machine. Singer John Caljouw had found a measure of recognition with his former band Dragonfly, but Machine tilted towards a more eccentric sound, with organ and horns featuring as strong lead instruments as much as guitars. Slinky funk and rock runs through many of Machine‘s tracks, but weightier songs, such as “Old Black Magic” and “Lonesome Tree” come with doomy metal promise. Flute, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet all feature, bringing the Nederbeat and jazz stylings of late ‘60s Dutch rock. And, mixed with swirling keyboards and crunchy guitars, Machine really offers a touch of this (acid rock, soul and trippy gambols) with a dash of that (folksy melodies and a few ponderously apocalyptic steps) making for a one-off formative album in the Euro garage and underground psych scene. See also: Cosmic Dealer (Crystallization) and Mainhorse (Mainhorse).
(1972, Hard Stuff)
Following guitarist John Du Cann’s forced exit from Atomic Rooster, he formed the short-lived but tremendously gratifying London-based trio Hard Stuff with former Atomic Rooster drummer Paul Hammond, and ex-Quatermass bassist John Gustafson. Signed to Deep Purple’s label, Purple Records, Hard Stuff only made two albums, its career cut short by a car crash injuring both Du Cann and Hammond. The band’s first album, 1972’s Hard Stuff, is an unheralded triumph of tumultuous guitars and thundering percussion. Filled with blustery bluesy tunes such as “Sinister Minister” and “No Witch at All”, it buzzes and smolders like a power-station set to explode—and funked-up opener “Jay Time” is a stoner rock classic. Follow-up, 1973’s inferior Bolex Dementia, saw a reduction in brute strength in favor of proggier pursuits—which leaves Hard Stuff as the only album you really need to check out. See also: Bullet (Entrance to Hell) and Incredible Hog (Volume 1 + 4).
When it comes debating who is the most proto-metal of all, Canada’s Warpig sits high on the list. The band’s self-titled 1970 debut didn’t bring home the bacon, nor did a 1973 reissue bring any huge change in fortune. In fact, it wasn’t until Relapse Records reissued Warpig in 2006 that the band finally found wider acclaim—and Warpig definitely deserves that recognition. The band’s debut is as important to metal’s evolution as Sir Lord Baltimore’s Kingdom Come, and tracks off Warpig such as “Flaggit” and “Tough Nuts” are superlative examples of early North American metal. However, that’s not even the album’s prime virtue. Its tracks are routinely compared to acts such as Uriah Heep or Deep Purple, but it’s important to underscore that Warpigs’ hulking proto-metal predates the work it is so often compared to. The band was a leader, not a follower, and these days Warpigs’ pioneering service to metal has been rightly inscribed in the genre’s hallowed halls. See also: Thundermug (Thundermug Strikes) and Mahogany Rush (Strange Universe).
(1970, En ny tid är här…)
Swedish rock band November formed in 1969 in Stockholm and is often cited as the nation’s first true proto-metal band. There’s no doubt the band was informed by Blue Cheer and Cream on its debut, but November’s real strength lay in its infusion of Scandinavian melodies, and in its decision to sing in its native tongue. The band’s three albums, 1970’s En ny tid är här…, 1971’s 2:a November and 1972’s 6:November, were warmly received by fans throughout Europe, with the band’s Swedish lyrics serving as an exotic hook. Tracks from En ny tid är här… are joyous collisions of blues, folk, and hard rock, and they’re hipped-out, bud-friendly tunes made for volume, volume and VOLUME. For non-Swedish speakers, the notion of enjoying November may seem limited, but the band’s work is positive proof of the universal allure of primal rock ‘n’ roll. See also: Baltik (1973, Baltik) and Neon Rose (1974, A Dream of Glory and Pride).
(1971, Dirt Box)
Evidence of German band Blackwater Park’s impact on metal can be found in the album title of very the same name from Swedish progressive death metal giant Opeth. Like many of its kin at the time, Blackwater Park’s 1971 debut, Dirt Box, incorporates jazz, prog, space and garage rock, all covered in a thick layer of grime. Although the band was fronted by Englishman Richard Routledge, Dirt Box comes with that sense of ‘60s/‘70s exhilaration, where German musicians were freeing themselves of the nation’s legacy. Blackwater Park didn’t last long as a band, but its sole album is filled with fervent rockers. The epic romp of “Rock Song” is a real highlight, bringing all the band’s influences together into an elongated acid-rock burn flecked with ‘60s mysticism. Dirt Box may not have set the charts afire on release, but its still talked about enthusiastically today, proving its long-term influence. See also: Lucifer Was (Underground and Beyond) and Epitaph (Outside the Law).
Boasting a single eponymous album from 1973, Granicus blazed briefly but incandescently. Formed by howling, Robert Page-like vocalist Woody Leffel, bassist Dale Bedford, guitarists Wayne Anderson and Al Pinelli, and drummer Joe Battaglia, the band signed to RCA Records for Granicus’s self-titled debut. The album was a commercial flop, and the band broke up soon after, but Granicus is one of US hard rock’s knockout lost treasures. It features superb songwriting, mixes blistering tracks with contemplative fare, and the 11-minute prog-metal giant “Prayer” is one of the album’s real highlights. There’s no evidence on the LP as to why Granicus failed to capture an audience, but such are the whims of public opinion. In any case, the album is much loved by its fans, and is a superb example of traces of psychedelia and arena-worthy hard rock finding perfect balance. See Also: Fraction (Moon Blood) and West, Bruce & Laing (Why Dontcha).