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by David Clayton and Todd K Smith
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We wanted to finish the year with one of the best records of 2017. We’ve been living with Rough Times since its release three months ago and it just keeps getting better. With their steady lineup of guitarist/vocalist Lupus Lindemann, bassist Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup and drummer Tiger, the power trio have found their comfort zone and continue to forge a new dimension in heavy retro fuzzed-out rock. Rough Times doesn’t surpass last year’s Berlin but stands as a companion piece equally as magnetic, charismatic and diverse. The production remains hard panning with guitars in left channel, bass on the right, drums inside right and vocals straight down the middle, allowing tracks like ‘Skeleton Blues’ to blossom into a masterpiece. A signature of the band’s writing, the song embraces a heavy verse, followed by a cosmic wah-wah chorus enhanced by Lindemann’s echoing vocals. Part early Hawkwind with Sabbath, Zeppelin and Scorpions in the mix, the record’s 10-tracks weld onto a potpourri of modern Kroutrock. Though Tiger claims the album came from a dark place (hence the title) the songs remain inspiring and honest.
Lead single ‘Die Baby Die’ has a bit more pop in the tank, maybe even a spill-over from their last album with a clean polish to its reverberating roar. The vengeance inspired lyrics, “No one can help or will save you tonight / 'Cause the time has come to make things right” fuel the imagination while appealing to the band’s mystical side. Clever contrasts prove the maturity of the three-piece. Baring their teeth on ‘Into the Wormhole’ with a barrage of fuzzed out feedback counters the psych eerie keyboard driven ‘The Lost Child’ running nearly 6-minutes. A return to form is the chugging ‘Words of Evil’ that stands strongly next to early classics ‘Goddess of Dawn’ or ‘Doomsday Machine’. Hopefully it will make it into the band’s future setlist as it’s made for the stage. ‘Vampires’ takes the group down a seductive pop path with Tiger’s thumping bass drum and a catchy chorus that begs for radio play. The tripping ‘Tribulation Nation’ is a cosmic bender with a killer Dragon groove while ‘You Found the Best in Me’ might be the first real Kadavar blues ballad for the group. The French ‘A L'ombre Du Temps’ closes the album as a spoken word piece echoing over a landscape of dripping guitar.
Remember the Story
We’ve been waiting seven long years for a new release from Fireball Ministry. Calling themselves the ‘First Church of Rock n’ Roll’ may be ambitious but is not far from the mark considering the nearly 20 years the group has been grinding out chunky riffs with melodic hooks that rang the death toll of the nineties rock drought. With the release of Remember the Story, the LA four piece has blessed us with ten tracks of accessible fury. Though a little older, vocalist James A. Rota II can still growl out a convincing lyric while guitarist Emily J. Burton sets the tunes ablaze. Legendary bassist Scott Reeder (Kyuss, The Obsessed, Unida) brings his own set of proliferation to the mix including a solid foundation with long-time drummer John Oreshnick. ‘End of Our Truth’ opens the disc with a Sabbath-like dirge complete with a blissfully heavy riff and pounding rhythm. Indeed, the band combine elements of stoner, doom, and metal, but it’s the way they mix it that makes it their own within the integrity of the song. It’s that quality and structure that make it classic heavy rock.
Working with producer/engineer Paul Fig (Alice In Chain, Rush, Ghost) gave the band the opportunity to get the best sonic representation possible. The low end is deep and full while the guitar tone is thick and dense. ‘Everything You Wanted’, the metallic ‘All for Naught’ and title track ‘Remember the Story’ cherry pick the best of the record’s juicy guitar muscle but it’s the melodies found in ‘Stop Talking’ and ‘Dying to Win’ that showcase the group’s real brilliance. Getting the hook just right within the framework of a sludgy power chord is no easy chore, yet they pull it off without a hitch. ‘The Answer’ rises to the top of our list with its chugging rumble, tempered guitar and prominent vocals. No wonder it was picked to lead the album as a single. Deep tracks ‘Back on Earth’ and ‘Weaver’s Dream’ tap the groovier 1970’s side of the band with a nice dose of psychedelia. The record closes with the Motörhead cover ‘I Don’t Believe a Word’ from their 1996’s Overnight Sensation disc as a fitting tribute, but also a social commentary and political rallying cry.
Website: Fireball Ministry
Charming Man Records
Berlin’s Heat return with their third outing since forming in 2011. Night Trouble brings back late seventies/early eighties rock with classic riffs, rugged vocals and primal thumping. Their delivery is honest and heartfelt with twin guitars blazing and a rhythm section that rumbles like a midnight freight train. Six months ago, the band teased with the single ‘Day in Day Out’, a classic slab of beefy rock ‘n’ rock with ‘Time to Believe’ as its B-side. The single only whet the appetite, as the main course has completely lived up to expectations. Album title cut ‘Night Trouble’ has that early Def Leppard On Through the Night edge to it, adding plenty of cowbell and strutting guitar. Patrick’s vocals are rough and ready, perfect for backing up the onslaught of guitars in ‘Burden’ and ‘Hide and Seek’ while still laying down a smooth melodic line in ‘Sullen Eyes’ and eight-minute power ballad ‘Where Love Grows’. The traditional format of clean production, tight playing and stage maturity bring out a high polish to the proceedings.
Six years, with numerous gigs under their belt, have taught the band a thing or two about songwriting. The aforementioned ‘Sullen Eyes’ could easily have been a Scorpions outtake as could also ‘Hide and Seek’ which was actually dubbed ‘Klaus Meine’ after the Scorpions’ iconic singer. The oddly titled ‘Granny Notes’ transitions to a Stones swagger putting a down ‘n’ dirty blues kick onto the bottom of Side One. On the flip side, a meaty hook captures the imagination as ‘The Kraken’ saunters across a Southwestern landscape with just a trace of country in the biting slide guitar while ‘Divided Road’ is raw High and Dry-era Def Lep with added fuzz and chest beating testosterone. The platter closes with the southern twang of ‘46 Miles to E’, reminiscent of Golden Earring, Tattoo Rodeo or Tangier (obscure ‘80s reference). Remaining true to their leather fringe and bell bottom roots, the entire album was recorded, mixed and mastered on analogue tape at Big Snuff Studio, Berlin, with absolutely no computers involved in the creative process. One listen and you’re hooked!
Born From Fire
For fans of that ol’ seventies classic rock sound, The Quill are among the few standouts in the crowd. Looking back at a 20-plus year career, the Swedish four-piece deliver, what is undoubtedly their crowing masterpiece in Born From Fire. Granted they have the musicianship to back it with founding guitarist Christian Carlsson, long-time bassist Roger Nilsson, and drummer Jolle Atlagic, but with the return of vocalist Magnus Ekwall they are Kings once again. Shipped as the first single, “Stone Believer” is that perfect shiver up the spine when a band like this announces their return after four years. The song is brimming with the ghosts of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep prominently featuring Nemo-like keyboards with a fiery riff and plowing rhythm section. Ekwall’s vocals bind the whole thing together with power and emotion. Known primarily as a stoner/heavy rock band, they maintain their steady approach with a newfound zeal that lights up every track in a lust for raw intensity.
The Quill’s seven album track record is the bedrock that paved the way for songs like “Ghosthorse” and “Spirit and the Spark”, both Sabbath-like grand slams and the Thin Lizzy-inspired “Skull & Bones”, just a few of the record key standout tracks. The eight-minute epic “Set Free Black Crow” pulls from the group’s psychedelic history in a grove-laden astral walk through Doors-like territory uniting the cosmos with the rich musical tapestry of Swedish ‘70s folk and the lyrical wail of “I’m a demon to tame”. Other songs take a similar Hawkwind dip into liquid euphoria including “Keep It Together”, “Hollow of Your Hand” and the majestic “Metamorphosis”. The rumbling “Snake Charmer Woman” launches into a full-scale rampage with Ekwall bellowing “I can’t quit my evil ways” in an act of pure defiance while “Electric Sons” and “Revelation” are true muscle rock. “Unchain Yourself” lands as a personal fave with its loud, aggressive riff transitioning into peyote musing then closing with a sonic feedback jam that’s absolutely blinding.
Website: The Quill
Exile On Mainstreet Music
Tricky Lobsters is a hidden gem out of Rostock on the northern coast of Germany. With the release of Worlds Collide the power trio are ready to break out into a much large audience. Nicknames like Sarge (vocals, guitar), Doc (bass, vocals) and Cpt. Peters (drums, vocals) mean they take their electric blues seriously, aim for the heart and go for the throat. Lead cut, “Bitter Man’s Fame” hit the Internet as the first single. A pile-driving riff, fully amplified, with a jackhammer rhythm acts as a soundtrack to a slide show of haunting black and white portraits. It evokes a cold but galvanizing showpiece of no-nonsense rock and roll. The military march of “Battlefields” and “Tarred Albino” (their second video single) frame the first four tracks with hardcore, bone-crushing reverb accentuated by the gravel vocals of Sarge. Though forceful and pounding, the band still creates a unifying melody keeping the songs memorable with a sticky chorus and bold solos.
Worlds Collide marks the sixth long player for the band. Four years in the making, it benefits from the thoughtful process of long-term songwriting. Nowhere is that more evident than in the intoxicating passages of the seven-minute “Dreamdiver”. Using an extended Scorpion-esque intro brings the listener to a bludgeoning mid-section that transfers its roots to the drumbeat. Things get carnal when the bass kicks in delivering a surprising upbeat tempo even though the lyrics reside in darkness; “Lying in the gutter / waiting for the world to end.” Ballad grinder “Black And Blue” stands out amongst the rattle of the other track due to its fuzzed out tail end. Both “Big Book” and “The Fire” are ripe for arena rock with big riffs, a mule-kicking rhythm and tons of wah-wah guitar. Personal favorite is the biographical “Father and Son” which takes on a tribal nature with the guitar central to the song’s storytelling including “the good and the bad” of a complicated relationship. The cool, ZZ Top-inspired “Needs Must” crowns the disc with a confident nod to influences from AC/DC to Kid Rock.
Website: Tricky Lobsters
DIE TOTEN HOSEN
Laune der Natur
It’s been a five year wait for the new studio offering from Germany’s première punk/hard rock band Die Toten Hosen. Laune der Natur marks the band’s 16th long player in their 34-year career. Though the five piece have softened their punk edge for mainstream in the past, their new recording is an immediate assault of full rock rage. To prove it, they kick off with the two and a half minute “Urknall” moving fast and furious like a Siberian freight train. Guitarist Andi Meurer and Breiti Breitkopf fuse with twin guitar fury while rhythm section of Kuddel von Holst and Vom Ritchie stoke the furnace. With a steady lineup stretching almost 20 years, the group have mastered a high standard work ethic merging metal with melodic. “Alles mit nach Hause” highlights lead vocalist Campino (Andreas Frege) wailing through the verse then hitting the mark with a catchy layered chorus. Often his passion leads to a ragged primal growl as the verse tapers. Fourth song in, “Unter den Wolken”, selected as the lead single, is evidence the group are still exciting, fresh and innovative with plenty of punk elements while cranking the rock. The video is a spine-tingler as the group use an artful cinematic display to light up their sonic luster.
Injecting moments of traditional Schlager and pop fancies comes the merriment of “Wannsee” a dance beat with a banner-waving chorus. Other tracks move toward a more moody tempo like the eloquent heartbreaker “Alles Passiert” and the acoustic “Geisterhaus”. There’s even a country flavor in the wind-swept Spaghetti western “Die Schone und das Biest”. The album’s title track “Laune der Natur” is an arena masterpiece equipped with snapping guitar punch and a keen sense of humor while the methodic aggression continues through the lighthearted foot-stomper, “Energie”, a classic punk/garage mash-up. Having toured with U2 many year ago, the Irish quartet still cast a shadow over the emotional “Eine Handvoll Erde” where the added piano gives a perfect blend of texture. Powerhouse riff-rockers “Wie viele Jahre (Hasta La Muerte) Happy Birthday to You”, “ICE nach Düsseldorf” and “Lass los” continue a no-nonsense fist-in-the-air chant. The farewell “Kein Grund zur Traurigkeit (No reason for sadness)” is a tearful ode to past drummer Wölli who pasted in 2016.
The deluxe edition comes with an additional disc “Welcome to Learning English Lesson 2” where the band cherry pick 27 of their favorite punk covers and give them a proper workout. Favorites: Teenage Kicks and California über alles” with Jello Biafra.
Website: Die Toten Hosen
A Dream of Lasting Peace
For their fifth studio long player, Swedish retro rockers Siena Root enlarge their ‘70s progressive heaviness with a fresh set of pipes and ten tracks that secure their place as genre leaders. A thick rhythm section and extended soloing gives room for new vocalist Samuel Björö to breathe his own style into the densely layered opening track “Secrets” while packing emotion into the laid-back “Sundown” and folk-drenched “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay”. The line up of founders Sam Riffer (vocals/bass) and Love ‘Billy’ Forsberg (percussion) remain while the addition of Matte Gustavsson (guitar), Erik “Errka” Petersson (organ) who joined in 2012, give the band their uniquely original sound. With A Dream of Lasting Peace, they seem to have found their heavier side while still broadening the roles for drums, bass and keyboards. “Tales of Independence”, the group’s video and single for the new album, generates a cool SRV-like guitar swagger with an inspired ZZ Top groove. The keyboards fluctuated between support and spotlight while guitarist Matte Gustavsson proves himself as one of the great innovators of modern electric blues.
In the summer of 2015, we were lucky enough to catch the band on their European tour. One of the intro tracks that stuck became the opening to “Outlander” a real headknocker with potential for an arena showpiece. On the set list it was referred to as “Deep Purple 84” because of its ode to Perfect Strangers. Along with the song’s tribal beat and catchy organ riff, it plows the fertile soil of an early Sabbath/Purple merge with Samuel Björö rising as a mix of Ian Gillan and David Coverdale. On the flip side “Empty Streets” has a nice Southern Cal vibe before exploding into a massive chorus rocker. Heavy-laden keyboards dominate “Growing Underground” as the singer belts “Heads are gonna roll” while the band throw down with Robin Trower-like confidence in “No Filters”. Following the jazzy instrument “Imaginarium”, where Gustavsson and Petersson swap leads, the haunting “The Echoes Unfold” basks in the glow of ELP. The band is promoting the album with an extensive Summer 2017 tour opening, at least on one date, for Deep Purple.
Website: Siena Root
Heavy Psych Sounds
Turbocharged from their highly acclaimed debut, Austin, Texas four piece Duel bring hellfire and thunder with sophomore outing Witchbanger. Locked away in a remote farmhouse studio with only a bag of mushrooms, drums, bass, a couple guitars and full amplification, the band tapped into their darker, more sinister side. What they produced, in a hallucinogenic haze, was eight tracks of thick blues-based grooves and weighty riffs that pay tribute to early 70’s proto-metal and classic old school 80’s HM. Opening track “Devil” gets right to it with all guns blazing. Fuzzed out guitars over a Judas Priest-like rhythm run assault the ears with a blast of fist pumping, full-tilt rock. Madman Tom Frank (ex-Scorpion Child) growls through subterranean lyrics while playing bone-crushing rhythm guitar. Guitarist Jeff Henson (who also produced and engineered the record) finds his inspiration on old Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple solo bends while the rhythm section lends it’s heft and strength through bassist Shaun Avants (ex-Scorpion Child) and drummer JD Shadowz.
The album’s title track “Witchbanger” is overt and deadly. “If you see her it must be late / because the blood has chosen your fate,” sings Frank as a series of open chords dominate the Sabbath-like backend. The track drops like a lethal wrecking ball setting the pace for the rest of the record. “Heart of the Sun” and “Cat’s Eye” follow suite with a raw punishing blows that move from early Pentagram and Obsessed to the low-fi angst of Trouble and Sacred Reich. Standout track “Astro Gypsy” is five minutes of cosmic boogie played with strut and swagger. It’s here the bass brings the fatness to the groove while the guitar distorts into the fray. Nugent-inspired “The Snake Queen” continues the band’s adoration of all things wicked and female while “Bed of Nails” lets the drums lead as it rumble across the tundra with a galloping guitar hot on its heels. At six-minute plus “Tigers and Rainbows” brings a slightly more melodic edge to the proceedings as the layer guitars cavalcade into a wall of distortion. A mid-section break offers a mood swing suppressing the bass/drum and giving the guitars full access to a swirling conclusion.
Website: Heavy Psych Sounds
THE DEVIL AND THE ALMIGHTY BLUES
Blues For The Red Sun Records
Beating the sophomore jinx, Norwegian rock band The Devil And The Almighty Blues return with a more progressive and developed second album. The riff-heavy quintet has matured in their last two years of constant touring and the 6 tracks on II show an increase in depth and style. “These Are Old Hands,” a song they have been kicking around in their live set for almost a year, opens the disc with a bold riff and structured rhythmic beat. At ten-minutes long, it moves like a desert Sidewinder, embracing Sabbethian sludge then moves through a melodic refrain before pile driving into a dense landscape of fuzzed-out blues with energetic soloing. On the opposite end of the scale is “When The Light Dies”, a slow burner that soulfully creeps along creating a mesmerizing stew of hypnotic howling with pain-tempered lyrics. The mid-section has the distorted guitar surfacing briefly before being dragged back into a river of Mississippi mud. The number is brooding, wistful and tempered while still being emotionally powerful.
The majority of songs on II average seven-minutes plus evident the band takes time to fully developing their electric blues. “North Road” and “Low” take full advantage of their extended time to explore a full musical story with texture and ambiance. Elements of Dylan-like drama echo back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s where folk, blues and rock where aqueously merged into a hybrid signature sound. “North Road” is especially rich as a road weary traveler’s tale. Personal favorite “How Strange The Silence” brings to life a sinister riff as the singer warns, “Speak from the heart, let the soul out, or bind your tongue and speak not at all.” A crashing surge dominates the mid-section as the bass and guitar circle the drumbeat in a tribal dance while a flaming solo burns higher. Drumsticks count in “Neptune Brother” giving the track a quicker beat and showcasing the group’s steady rhythm section. Vocals follow the guitar lick with ever-increasing anxiety finally culminating in a frenzied jam that runs out the record with the plea “Take my hand my brother.”
Website: The Devil And The Almighty Blues
Crispin Glover Records
Norway’s own Spidergawd are sticking to their promise to deliver one album a year. 2017 brings us IV in all its beauty and heavy elegance. Setting the eight majestic tunes a blaze are guitarist/vocals Per Borten, drummer Kenneth Kapstad, saxophonist Rolf Martin Snustad and bassist Hallvard “The Kid” Gaardløs who replaced Bent Saether (of Motorpsycho) last year. Though the band first came to prominence under the shadow of Motorpsycho (borrowing a couple members for bass and drum) they are their own entity. This year’s record continues to draw from early seventies hard rock with the Grand Funk thunder of ‘Is This Love?’ to the Ted Nugent homage ‘Stranglehold’. Both praise the almighty riff forged in the metal mindset of Mr. Borten and getting the necessary brain-damage rhythm kick from one of the best bass/drum duos on today’s heavy scene. To some, the addition of the sax might be an odd fit but not for this quartet as the woodwind texture creates an almost sinister edge that’s uncomfortably delightful.
Fuzz-filled ‘I Am The Night” erupts with a hair-raising beat as the tribal drums fuse with the electric guitar in a spell binding incantation. The barrage of wood and steel amplified to full volume with mass distortion creates a cosmic climax. “LouCille” is a jazzy love song with piston-pumping feedback while the band take a reckless road trip under the “moon’s fading light”. An MC5 influence ignites a jackhammer rhythm in “What You Have Become” which takes the blood of a breakup, injects a high-octane riff and adds an echo vocal to create tense visceral emotion. Other tracks like the tribal “Ballad of a Millionaire (Song for Elina)” and the Celtic-flare of “Heaven Comes Tomorrow” celebrate the mid-tempo muscle of The Cult’s Sonic Temple with huge chunks of arena rock. If there ever was an epic saxophone jazz/rock masterpiece, it’s the 8-minute “What Must Come To Pass”. Building on a blues base, the track moves from a sax solo to a hammering backbeat and metallic chord sequence. Pleading vocals add a level of drama to the psychedelic workout but the wooly guitar runs are spine tingling!
Website: Spidergawd, Crispin Glover Records
Century Media Records
With each record Sweden’s Horisont take another step towards perfecting their unique brand of rock’n’roll. About Time showcases their staggering growth with layered twin guitars, prominent keyboards and dynamic hooks. Looking at each of the band’s four previous releases, one can see where they have moved from a simple Free-like presentation to working through Foghat, Status Quo and BÖC in terms of influence and sophistication. About Time strikes as a muscled-up Boston. The rock is still there in songs like ‘Without Warning’, ‘Night Line’ and ‘Dark Sides’ while embracing the openly melodic “Electrical” and beautifully crafted ‘Boston Gold’. Keyboard-led ‘The Hive’ starts the record off with a tantalizing nod to Seventies hard rock in a surging wave of balance and volume. A mix of UFO and April Wine come to mind as the five-piece roll out song craft and instrumental prowess. Single ‘Electrical’ capitalizes on the momentum with its chugging rhythm and Sweet-styled chorus.
Heavier numbers, ‘Without Warning’ and ‘Dark Sides’ celebrate the band’s love of Sabbath and Deep Purple with sinister riffs and cosmic keyboards over a loud and established rhythm section. Giving the bass its own solo space allows the song a grater magnitude while the dual guitars trade monstrous licks. It’s important to note that guitarist Tom Sutton left the band just before they signed an international deal with Century Media Records last spring. David Kalin was recruited in his place and brings his own set of dangerous playing to compliment guitarist Charlie Van Loo. Embracing their Swedish heritage ‘Letare’ lifts the record with native lyrics and folksy melody while ‘Point Of Return’ and ‘Hungry Love’ celebrates a time when Kansas ruled the airwaves. ‘Boston Gold’ boldly pays homage to the polish of ‘Don’t Look Back’ as title track ‘About Time’ goes for the epic factor with six-minutes of sonic exploration. The album is incased by yet another Henrik Jacobson painted masterpiece.
Website: Horisont, Century Media Records
From the Pink Floyd-like ‘Pale Moon’ to the hammering ‘Mr. Strange’, Sweden’s Asteroid prove they are masters of the almighty riff with their aptly title third LP, III. The power-trio are well versed in seventies heavy rock bringing the doom of Sabbath, the melodies of BÖC and the cosmic exploration of Hawkwind. At just under 40-minutes, the record pours out an orchestrated mix of tone and color moving easily from quiet passages and timbre treble to massive power jams. The eloquent build of ‘Pale Moon’ radiates a ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ texture with a blossoming chord progression that hooks a melody and brings it to a bass-infused crescendo. Though understated, the guitar is smooth and silky giving support to the vocal chorus inline with the best of Dire Straits. Both “Last Days’ and ‘Silver & Gold’ push the boundaries of the groups laidback texture bringing to mind country-mates Graveyard. It’s here the production comes clearly into focus moving layered harmonies into sonic landscapes.
‘Wolf & Snake’ stands out as the album’s clear single. Bass and drum set pace as a warm guitar riff drives the six and a half minute piece. Echoing the vocals brings the solar purity of early-seventies Hawkwind where music and time converge into a spiritual epiphany. The song explores astral mind-numbing feedback eventually locking in on a fuzzed out guitar pile drive complete with a memorable chorus. The heaviness of ‘Them Calling’ is only matched by its clever tonation and pin-point tempo changes. “Now I stand at the gates of hell waiting for you to arrive…I want you here by me side,” is the vocal howl taking the listener on an Odyssey-inspired descending thrill ride. Standing in a thick seventies groove is ‘Til’ Dawn’ basking in the glow of pure stoner/fuzz and plodding rhythms while closing track ‘Mr. Strange’ drums it’s way into a Sabethian dance complete with Iommi-inspired chugging, evil blues and tortured chanting. AN ABSOLUTE MUST!
Website: Fuzzorama Records
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