I had no idea who the Groundhogs were when I first heard about them. It came, like so many of the albums I eventually fell for, from a list. Specifically from Decibel Magazine’s Stoner Rock special all the way back in 2007.Their Top 20 Stoner Rock Albums of All Time list was okay, if a bit,well…underwhelming. But tucked away was also an article by Scott Seward dubbed The Filthy 50, where he lists out as it states in the article “50 forgotten late 60s/early 70s thud-rock masterpieces.” And number one of that list was Thank Christ For the Bomb. When I started collecting vinyl it became the #1 must-have on my wishlist, and the good news (besides the fact you can read his article for free here) is that the album holds up superbly as a killer early hard rock record. It’s filthy, it’s thunderous, and those guitars are just sublime.
After coming up with two solid albums firmly entrenched in the British blues sound at the time, the band’s third album reaches for more, tackling socially progressive subjects (as if the title didn’t give it away) and injecting some prog and a heavier, proto-metal feel into their songwriting and arrangements. It helps that the album also features engineering by Martin Birch, who was already working with Deep Purple and Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, but would soon hit heavier bands like Black Sabbath, Whitesnake and of course Iron Maiden. But the album rises and falls with guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Tony McPhee. If I wasn’t already enamored of the band due to the trio format (the album is rounded out by Peter Cruickshank on bass and Ken Pustelnik on drums) just one listen to McPhee’s playing had me hooked. Opener “Strange Town” comes in with a mud stomping march of a riff before getting psychedelic, McPhee’s guitar slowly growing until it bursts into a solo. Heavy here is a matter of state: nothing is awash in waves in distortion, but the rhythm section pummels hard, and the power chords are plentiful.early favorite “Darkness is No Friend” slides snakelike from a boogie blues approach to full out hard rock rock, and highlight lyrically the themes the band were interested in, another move away from their roots:
It’s so easy to shut your eyes, to block out the things that you despise. Just as easy for the dark of night to blot out the daylight, things that aren’t right.
The social attack continues throughout Thank Christ For the Bomb, mixed with some serious soloing and attacks. “Garden” may start off like a rambling acoustic blues, its opening riff reminiscent of “Strange Town” but when it gets heavy it gets HEAVY, channeling some serious Jimmy Page work. Later tracks like “Status People” lean into the prog elements with a slow, layered build that really accentuates the rumbling bass of Cruickshank, and finale “Eccentric Man” gets back to the heaviness. The wheel isn’t being re-invented here, but the Groundhogs capture a lot of the same electric feel for me as the Jimi Hendrix Experience – the interplay between the band really stands out and allows you to live inside the music, watching how the simple combination of drum, bass, and guitar work together to create the sound that’s fascinated me for over 40 years. And over it all McPhee, his voice and solos taking the band out of the muck of a thousand other bands and standing out as one of the greats of the period.