One of the best things Decibel Magazine ever gave the world was Scott Seward’s Filthy 50: a collection/ranking of 50 of the best proto-metal/stoner rock albums. I was only aware of a handful of the more popular bands (Cactus, Grand Funk Railroad) so to have my ears opened to the fuzz-blown wonders of bands like the Groundhogs, Dust, Toe Fat, and the great Armageddon was like a gift from the sticky bud gods of yesteryear. We’ll definitely be checking a few of the bands from the list later in this journey, but for now let’s talk a bit about the band’s one and only album, 1975’s Armageddon.
Armageddon sits on the line straddling early heavy metal and prog rock, with great lead guitar work, solid grooves in the rhythm section, and terrific vocals from Keith Relf of the Yardbirds. The album opens with two eight-minute tracks: the driving heavy rock of “Buzzard” with its repetitive riffing and driving momentum followed by the laid back Yes interlude vibe of “Silver Tightrope” which slides into a kind of prog perfection to my ears. The first side ends with the rocking “Paths and Planes and Future Gains.” Relf’s voice is fantastic, whether he’s singing quasi-fantastic apocalyptic musings or just turning on the “Jon Anderson mellowed on a huge high” voice for the smoother songs. He’s backed by a great rhythm section featuring drummer Bobby Caldwell who played with another great proto band Captain Beyond and fantastic licks courtesy of Martin Pugh. Think Black Sabbath but less doom and more prog/blues.
The second side has a killer rock hook in “Last Stand Before” which is also the last chance for an easy rock song. The remainder of Armageddon is the rock/prog suite “Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun” which believe it or not has odd shades of Captain Beefheart in its opening verses. Copious use of stereo effects and was pedal make this a must-listen if you’re craving something in the early metal vibes but all the usual players have been, well…played to death.
PHYSICAL COMPONENT NOTE: It was a long search hunting this down on vinyl. I’m still leery about ordering used records online, so when I finally found this beauty at a store in Long Island it was like tracking down some elusive and rare Pokemon. At least I think it was…I know literally nothing about Pokemon. Anyway, besides the benefit of having a short essay about the band on the back cover (I am a major sucker for liner notes of any kind – this was more PR but I still ate it up) the album came with the original record sleeve, which has all the lyrics printed out. Sitting back in my office with this sucker blaring while I read along was a highlight of music for me.