Atomic Rooster, Death Walks Behind You (1970)
In the annals of undervalued heavy rock, there are few who hold such a place as the UK’s Atomic Rooster. Founded by organist Vincent Crane and drummer Carl Palmer, both of whom had previously been members of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the band made their semi-self-titled debut, Atomic Roooster (discussed here), early in 1970, and followed it with Death Walks Behind You later that same year. Those two, together with 1971’s In Hearing of Atomic Rooster (discussed here), form a trifecta of early heavy rock and proto-prog righteousness that, even as it produces landmark swing like that in the opening title-track of Death Walks Behind You, underscores a decent portion of why their commercial reach never extended farther than it did. Like a lot of bands from their era — and this era, for that matter — they couldn’t keep a consistent lineup. Palmer and Crane founded the band with Nick Graham on bass, guitar, vocals and flute, but by their second album, John Du Cann took over on guitar, bass and vocals and Paul Hammond took the drum spot from Palmer, who joined the supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Hammond, Crane and Du Cann would also return for In Hearing of Atomic Rooster, but with Peter French, formerly of Leaf Hound, as the band’s frontman. That lineup was also short-lived, as French would join Cactus for 1972’s ‘Ot ‘n’ Sweaty.
Meanwhile, Atomic Rooster would once again shake up the entire lineup around Crane by the time their fourth album, Made in England, surfaced, so a fair amount of turbulence was the standard. This, coupled with Crane‘s well-documented struggles with issues of mental health, depression and hospitalization, meant that Atomic Rooster lacked the stability — such as it was — that a band like Black Sabbath had through their pivotal first six LPs. That, however, takes nothing away from the quality of Death Walks Behind You itself, which is a document of a special if brief power trio as formidable as anything the heavy ’70s produced. Whether it’s in the swaggering vibe of “Tomorrow Night” or the krautrock-inspired experimentation of closer “Gershatzer,” Atomic Rooster‘s sophomore outing may be part of a legacy of tumult, but that does nothing to diminish the smooth vibes as the organ leads the way into “7 Streets,” the guitar swapping channels en route to a rolling side A finish, or the shuffling “Sleeping for Years” at the start of side B. It may on some levels be defined by the hook of its leadoff cut, but Death Walks Behind You offers a rare glimpse at the transition from heavy blues rock to what would continue to take shape as prog, and for that and for the quality of its songcraft and performance, it well earns its place among the best offerings of the early ’70s.
Crane released two albums with Atomic Rooster in the early ’80s — working with Du Cann, David Gilmour and others in the process — and eventually took his own life on Valentine’s Day 1989. Death Walks Behind You and Atomic Rooster‘s other early works have been reissued numerous times and are available alongside other live outings from various incarnations of the band and compilations, bootlegs and so on.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
One of those afternoons where the Neurosis can’t seem to get loud enough. Plenty of those. I must’ve slept poorly, but I can’t remember, as I can’t think of anything else that would so darken my mood enough for Through Silver in Blood when it was a pretty good week. Added Snail to the All-Dayer and got a great response off that, and my books are back in from the press and will be on sale soon through War Crime Recordings. I also just got off the phone with Andrea Vidal of Holy Grove for a really cool interview that will be up in the next couple weeks. I’m headed down to Jersey to see family this weekend. These are all positives. And me, in the middle of it, grump grump grump.
That’s how things feel to me a lot. Whatever. Get me out of the office, get me a day or two of not-work, maybe even a couple hours without staring at my laptop, and I’ll be good as new. I’m just done with the week.
It was busy. Man, was it busy. Even down to the Scissorfight interview and Blackwitch Pudding tracks premiered today, there was just a ton going on. And keeping up with news — I’ve got stories slated into next Tuesday as it is. Look out next week too for a Merlin review, Samavayo track premiere, full-album stream from Deadsmoke, maybe the Brant Bjork interview posted if there’s time, a new track from Queen Elephantine and I don’t even know what else. It’s all in the notes. There’s a lot of it.
Like I said, the weekend is travel to NJ and back. It’s also the deadline for the Roadburn ‘zine that I edit, the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, so I expect there will be plenty by Sunday to keep me occupied between that and getting ready for the week to come. It never really stops these days. Also next week, need to start preparing for the Quarterly Review, which will start March 28. I just want to keep going, keep writing, keep my head down, keep working.
Maybe I’ll quit my job and go on a three-month book tour. That’d show ’em. And by ’em, I mean me which is ’em backwards.
Have a great and safe weekend. Forum and radio.