VARIOUS – The Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion (Bristol Archive Records)
Bristolians – of which I am partly one – are a funny lot, always carping on about what they have not. Their two football teams under-perform, they’ve been banging on for years about the need for a proper arena (finally being built), and even the sleeve notes here suggest that Bristol “isn’t the West Midlands. The city has never produced a Led Zeppelin, a Black Sabbath or a Judas Priest.” But then, nor has anywhere else. But as the notes continue to elaborate, and as you may well already appreciate, Bristol developed a vibrant underground rock/metal scene through the Seventies and Eighties (and beyond) with a host of bands that never became rich but whose impact led them to be filed under ‘inspirational’, and ‘The Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion’ does a superb job of rounding them up and paying tribute to them.
First the roll-call; in alphabetical order the album serves up seventy-plus minutes from Amebix, Brabazon, Bronz, Claytown Troupe, Gazer, Headmaster, Hunted, Jaguar, Lautrec, Magic Muscle, Metropolis DC, Mirror Mirror, Onslaught, Shiva, Stampede, Stormtrooper and Voodoo. Some of these bands never really got their name further than the boundaries of the South West whereas others should be well-known to even casual observers, and it’s worth noting that a lot of the tracks on offer are rare or even previously unissued.
Onslaught - Eindhoven 1986
Now the album: legendary Hollywood film producer Sam Goldwyn is credited with the suggestion that “we want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax,” and that’s pretty much what this album does. Lautrec’s ‘Mean Gasoline’ – the A-side of their never-released single, a rabble-rousing speeded up version of ‘Wheels Of Steel’ which unfortunately never got past the white label stage – is an inspired choice of opener. From there on the album builds deliciously with an eclectic selection of hard rock/heavy metal in the widest sense of the genre with gothmongers and Cult-wannabes Claytown Troupe (‘Hey Lord’, previously unreleased demo version) rubbing shoulders with the pop metal of Headmaster’s ‘Kids Say Rock’ (previously unreleased), a band formed by Chris Goulstone after he left Bronz (represented by the stunning ‘Ask No Questions’ – again, an unreleased but staggering demo version). Shiva (‘Not There’ from their posthumous demos album ‘Continuance’), Jaguar (‘Stormchild’, not the ‘Heavy Metal Heroes’ cut but an earlier version showcased on Majestic Rock Records’ ‘Archive Alive Vol.1’) and Stormtrooper (‘In The State In The City’, from the recent Bristol Archive Records’ release ‘Pride Before A Fall’) all brought their influences to bear on the disparate and heterogeneous NWOBHM, and once Colin Bond had left Stormtrooper and the Archers had called time on Lautrec they joined forces in the UFO-influenced Stampede (‘Shadows Of the Night’, previously unreleased Radio West Andy ‘the voice of metal’ Fox rock show session).
And that’s just for starters – there’s a whole lot more to discover as the album unveils its secrets. The wild card for me is ‘Domino Effect’, in which (by then) ex-Onslaught singer Sy Keeler leads Metal Mirror through the greatest song Queensryche never wrote; and it’s great to hear Brabazon again, who, like Hunted (‘Strangers’ from the recent Bristol Archive Records’ ‘Fallen Angel’ collection), led a rear-guard action against grunge and whom I personally felt should have made it all the way. If the album has a flaw it’s that it builds to Goldwyn’s climax with its penultimate track, Onslaught’s 2016 re-recording of ‘Metal Forces’ (Japanese CD bonus track) only to fall flat on its face with Amebix’s Venom-soundalike ‘The Power Remains’ which should have been shuffled elsewhere in the deck. Still, that’s a minor quibble compared to what’s gone before. This is a fabulous collection of talent which deserves its moment in the spotlight once more and is an album well worth adding to your collection, whether you live in Bristol, Birmingham or Belgium. And the even better news is that there could be a ‘Vol.2’ in the offing.
© John Tucker October 2016