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The Best Proto-Metal Albums From Heavy Metal’s Rowdiest Progenitors

Legions of underground musical legends litter the heavy rock graveyard, and the list below surveys a horde of those rowdy proto-metal rockers.

Randy Holden – Population II (1969)

Randy Holden - Population II

Randy Holden played guitar for Blue Cheer briefly in the late 1960s, appearing on their 1969 album, New! Improved! Blue Cheer!, but he’s most famed for his first solo album, Population II. On the LP, Holden and drummer and keyboard player Chris Lockheed delivered a triple dose of proto-metal, with doom, stoner, and sludge all appearing. With über-heavy riffing driven by 20 or so Sunn amps throughout, Population II focuses on Holden’s six-string performances. It’s 100 percent, hulking-fret-work, guitar-hero gold. Huge and lurching passages are cut with Holden’s kaleidoscopic soloing, with wrung-out leaden blues oozing into dense metal dirges. Holden disappeared from the music scene for over two decades when money troubles effectively ended his career around the time Population II was supposed to be released, but the LP has been bootlegged countless times, ensuring his place in the pantheon of cult guitar greats. See also: The Other Half (The Other Half) and Zephyr (Zephyr). 

Weed – Weed…! (1971)

Weed - Weed

Uriah Heep wizard Ken Hensley hooked up with members from German psychedelic band Virus for 1971’s one-off collaboration, Weed…!. Obviously, it’s a toke-friendly affair, filled with hazy Hammond and hard-rock-drenched blues and delicate acoustics. Lost for decades, although always sought after by collectors, Weed…! has had a new life in recent years, with its proto-stoner rock atmospherics finding favor with lovers of reeking retro rock.

Hensley must have been creatively exhausted given he was contributing to Uriah Heep classics Salisbury and Look at Yourself around the same time, and stylistically, Weed…!‘s guitars and organ are reminiscent of Uriah Heep. However, the album rambles, boogies, and ambles in whatever direction it fancies. Proto-metal pyrotechnics featured, as did as good old tumbling rhythm and blues, and with all tunes ‘officially’ credited to concert promoter Bobo Albes, Weed…! has a lot more heart than expected from a studio project. See also: Head Machine (Orgasm) and Jeronimo (Time Ride).

Necromandus – Orexis of Death (1973)

Necromandus - Orexis of Death

Barry Dunnery, the guitarist for British band Necromandus, impressed Tony Iommi enough that he got the band a deal with Vertigo Records, oversaw the band’s debut, and set up a booking agency to get them gigs. With that impetus behind it, you’d think Necromandus was set for stardom, but with Iommi’s heavy touring schedule with Black Sabbath, Necromandus got lost — and the band’s 1973 album, Orexis of Death, was shelved. The album was eventually released in 1999, by which time three of the four band members were in their graves.

Still, for fans of heavy rock, it was better late than never. Black Sabbath comparisons are warranted, with doom-drenched power chords mixing with jazzier, folkier, and proggier passages on Orexis of Death, but the record basks in sunlight as much as sheltering under gloomy skies. The 2010 reissue of Orexis of Death comes with a second CD featuring a live show recorded in March ’73, and that’s where the band’s heavier side truly shines. See Also: Iron Claw (Iron Claw and Dismorphophobia).

Truth and Janey – No Rest for the Wicked (1976)

Truth and Janey - No Rest for the Wicked

The sole LP from Iowa trio Truth and Janey, 1976’s No Rest for the Wicked, is a little late in the piece chronologically compared to the rest of this list. However, you can’t ignore its swagger, and it sounds like it could have been recorded in 1970. The group formed in 1969, and took their name from Jeff Beck’s Truth album, throwing on the surname of Truth and Janey vocalist and guitarist Billy Janey. The roots of UK psychedelic rock and hallucinogenic prog ring loud on No Rest for the Wicked, and Truth and Janey are masterly wielders of Cream-like heavy blues.

Truth and Janey remained wholly obscure throughout their career, only 1,000 copies of No Rest for the Wicked were sold on release, and the band dissolved soon after. That would have been it for them, but a late 1990s reissue of No Rest for the Wicked caught the ear of vintage rock fans, a buzz built, and they found themselves with a horde of new fans celebrating their zestfulness and riffs, riffs, and riffs. See also: Morly Grey (The Only Truth) and Zipper (Zipper).

Bang – Bang (1971)

Bang - Bang

Bang’s 1971 self-titled album was clearly influenced by UK acts such as Black Sabbath, but they took that inspiration and cemented it in granite-like US hard rock on their debut. The power trio had their career derailed by management and record company wrangling with their first recorded album, 1971’s Death of a Country, being shelved by label Capitol in favor of Bang, which was finally released in 2004. Strife aside, Bang produced two gems of North American hard-hard rock in Bang, and 1972’s more commercially orientated Mother / Bow to the King (1973’s Music can be safely avoided).

Bang contains plenty of bombastic riffing and confident blasts of proto-metal, and the glam-infused “Questions” even took a shot at the charts. While Bang didn’t ramp up the revolutionary zeal like many of their brethren, they were immensely enjoyable and enthusiastic rockers nonetheless, and the best way to appreciate their oeuvre is on the four-CD collection Bullets. See also: Bloodrock (Bloodrock 1 & 2) and Randy Holden (1969, Population II).

Negative Space – Hard, Heavy, Mean and Evil (1970)

Negative Space - Hard Heavy Mean and Evil

Über-hard, über-heavy, über-mean, and über-evil is a more fitting title for New Jersey-based Negative Space’s 1970 release, Hard, Heavy, Mean and Evil. The ‘mean and evil’ portion of the title was a reference to guitarist and vocalist Rob Russen’s dying marriage, and dying is probably an apt reference point for the album as a whole. Negative Space loaded the LP with noxious, fuzz-ridden tunes, all delivered with a crypt-like production; forget proto-metal, Hard, Heavy, Mean and Evil is proto-noise in parts.

Original copies are incredibly rare, but a reissue in 2000 with additional material brought Negative Space some overdue attention. Hard, Heavy, Mean and Evil isn’t for everyone. If you sat Steppenwolf in an acid bath for 72 hours, and then had the band jam (non-stop) with Cream and the Stooges for a week on blown-out amps, you’d be getting close to the abrasive rawness here. See also: Poobah (1972, Let Me In) and Witch (We Intend to Cause Havoc).

Baby Grandmothers – Baby Grandmothers (1967-1969)

Baby Grandmothers - Baby Grandmothers

Swedish group Baby Grandmothers only existed from 1967 to 1969, yet their role in convincing many a subsequent Scandinavian group to let loose instrumentally has been profound. In 2007, the label Sublime Sounds re-issued the band’s only recorded single, along with unreleased live recordings on Baby Grandmothers, and an entirely new generation got to experience their trippy and improvised rock. Baby Grandmothers served as a house band for Stockholm nightclub Filips, and the group jammed with Jimi Hendrix and the Mothers of Invention on their Swedish tours, which goes some way to explaining the mind-bending contents of Baby Grandmothers.

The album is one of the finest heavy psych reissues of the last decade, and its catacomb-echoing rawness only adds to all the intrigue. Baby Grandmothers launch into drones, avant-garde dirges, and fevered hard-rocking wig-outs throughout, and the entire LP is as heavy-lidded as it is heavily overblown with jams rocketing into surreal spheres. See also: Pärson Sound (Pärson Sound) and International Harvester (Sov Gott Rose-Marie).

Highway Robbery – For Love or Money (1972)

Highway Robbery - For Love or Money

RCA demanded an accessible tune to promote Highway Robbery’s sole album, 1972’s For Love of Money, and when they delivered the syrupy puke of “All I Need”, they really signed their death warrant. The track didn’t remotely capture For Love of Money‘s cyclonic energy, as lead guitarist Michael Stevens, drummer Don Francisco and bassist John Livingston Tunison IV, had actually crafted one of the early 1970s heaviest LPs.

Highway Robbery had backing from big-time management, recorded their debut before ever performing live, and For Love or Money even included a declaration on its back cover: “Highway Robbery hereby dedicates itself to roar, to drive, to sensitive joy and, above all, the emission of the highest levels of energy rock.” The drive was all there, as was a deafening roar, but RCA barely promoted the LP, and For Love of Money was a commercial failure. Of course, like the best lost rockers, you can ignore sales figures, because For Love of Money is a complete artistic victory, a roisterous collision of proto-metal and volcanic rock ‘n’ roll. See also: Damnation: (The Second Damnation) and Ursa Major (Ursa Major).

Wicked Lady – The Axeman Cometh and Psychotic Overkill (1969-1972)

Wicked Lady - The Axeman Cometh

Wicked Lady were a rabble-rousing trio from the UK that never intentionally recorded anything for actual release. Their The Axeman Cometh and follow-up Psychotic Overkill albums, released in the mid-1990s, were never more than sketched demos of songs, tracked on tape for the band’s own benefit. However, vintage rock fans being the obsessives that they are, Wicked Lady’s works were unearthed, and they found some overdue recognition.

Wicked Lady had a rebellious image, and there’s no doubting The Axeman Cometh, which draws recordings from 1969 to 1972, is imbued with a bad-ass sense of purpose. Feedback galore and over-driven jams make up the album, and it’s an exceedingly raw, blues-drenched fusion of Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix loaded on pills and booze. Psychotic Overkill is similarly debauched, and just as crusty, and while the crudity of the recordings is apparent on both albums, each is an energetic basement rock essential. See also: Sudden Death (Suddenly) and Icecross (Icecross).