Friday Full-Length: Bang, Bang

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 11th, 2019 by JJ Koczan


Of course, the 1972 self-titled outing from Philadelphia power trio Bang is one of any number of releases in its era living in a long shadow cast by Black Sabbath, but in listening to a tracks like “Come with Me” and “Our Home,” the three-piece may have been a couple years ahead of the reality masters at their own game in terms of sound. The overall affect of the eight-track/34-minute LP is raw in its sound even in its various reissue incarnations, but the tones of guitarist Frankie Gilcken and bassist Frank Ferrara are a little more Sabbath-circa-’75 than they are Sabbath-circa-’72, and Ferrara‘s vocals — with backing from Gilcken and lyrics by drummer Tony Diorio — are more malleable than even Ozzy at his ’74-’76 era peak as a singer. But the working class sensibility behind early heavy rock and what one might now consider proto-metal bled into Bang‘s riffs and even the mood of a wistful cut like “Last Will” — its hook, “Happy people make their way through the world every day/Saddened people they can’t seem to find their way across that rejected line” s standout chorus rightly leaned on — draws from it. Recorded after the then-shelved 1971 concept LP, Death of a Country, and released as their debut the same year as its follow-up, Mother/Bow to the King, Bang‘s Bang has long been considered the band’s defining statement and a landmark of the original era of underground heavy rock and roll.

Imagine it’s 1972 and you’re one of three kids from Philly just signed to Capitol Records and they send you down to Miami to record with producer Michael Sunday, who’s just a couple years off working with Blue Cheer on their 1969 self-titled, and engineer Carl Richardson, who’d just had a hand in CactusRestrictions the year before. True, their confidence might’ve been shaken by having their first recording shelved, but still. One shudders to think of the amount of cocaine and who the hell knows what else might’ve been consumed at Criteria Studios, but whether the answer there is “all of it,” “none” or somewhere in between, the fact remains that nothing gets in the way of the songs on Bang. Like the logo on the front cover that would in itself become iconic over the course of the decade since it first appeared, the tracks that comprise Bang stand the test of time because of their inherent structure and the vitality with which they’re presented by the band. Late-arriving singles “Questions” and “Redman” — which is a word that I’m not even comfortable typing, honestly — reinforce this notion at the end of side B, but one need look no further than the opening salvo of the riffy, strutting “Lions, Christians” and the swing-happy “The Queen” to figure it out: This is prime ’70s heavy that has in no small way helped shape the definition thereof. Whether it’s Diorio‘s fills on “The Queen” or Ferrara‘s out-for-a-walk bassline on the prior opener, Bang are not shy about their intent and neither should they be. In answering their label’s call for something more straightforward to be released as their first album, they went back and wrote nothing less than a handful of classics.

bang bang

Go ahead and add the aforementioned quieter “Last Will” and the subsequent chug of “Come with Me” to that list as well, and really, when you factor in side B’s mega-hook in “Our Home” and the nodder riff of “Future Shock,” there isn’t a clunker in the bunch on the LP. “Future Shock” in particular emphasizes something Bang did exceptionally well even among their peers of the day in bringing together Gilcken, Ferrara and Diorio around a deceptively mid-paced groove. It would seem that, of the various lessons the three-piece took from Black Sabbath, that pace plays a role in dictating heaviness was not at all forgotten. “Questions” is more uptempo and thus makes a fitting single (it charted, so fair enough) and “Come with Me” would seem to be about as close to frenetic as Bang got, but though hardly subdued, “The Queen” maintains an overarching groove that’s still laid back despite being pushed along so fervently by the drums, and the same is true of the closer as well, and the brightness of the chorus melody there and in “Our Home” lends Bang a positive sensibility that even some of its moodier aspects in “Last Will” don’t undercut anymore than they mean to. It’s not as dynamic as some of the work they’d do later in their career, but Bang only thrives for the energy captured in a formative moment for the band.

Again, they’d follow it up with Mother/Bow to the King the same year — 1972 — and release Music on Capitol in 1973. That was it until 2000’s RTZ – Return to Zero and 2004’s The Maze, both self-released, but renewed interest came with reissues of their original work through Green Tree Records in Germany and eventually through Rise Above, which put out the Bullets box set in 2010 and gave Death of a Country its first official release in 2011. They’d tour with Pentagram in 2014, play the Psycho Las Vegas predecessor, Psycho California, in 2015 and do Roadburn in 2016 on a European run that got cut short when then-drummer Jake Leger abruptly went AWOL. They came back with the Franks and a new drummer to play Maryland Doom Fest in 2016 and 2017, roughly concurrent to Svart Records reissuing their back catalog, and though live activity has been sparse, last year, Ripple Music released a compilation, The Best of Bang, that of course highlights the songcraft that’s always been so essential to their righteousness.

I was fortunate enough to see Bang every night of their 2014 West Coast and East Coast tours as I was traveling with Kings Destroy, and I’ll say that as I listen to their self-titled now the versions I still hear in my head are coming from the band live, and that every time I saw them, without exception, including at Roadburn and Maryland Doom Fest, the absolute joy and appreciation for what they were doing and for the fact that, after two generations, they’d finally found the audience they’d long since deserved, was infectious. You could not watch them and not be happy for them. If that makes me less impartial about the album, so be it. I’ll take being a fan instead.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Up and down week. Most are. Shit is complicated. Money is complicated. It’s a lonely semester with The Patient Mrs. starting a new job and a schedule that has her gone a lot of the day on a lot of days, so it’s just The Pecan and I for a lot of the week. Plus this week I was recovering from the trip to Norway and yeah. It was just a lot. Any angle you want to take. A lot.

Next week, premieres for Hazemaze, Woodhawk, Hot Breath and Ogre, not necessarily in that order. Plus a review of the Death Hawks LP reissues which Svart was kind enough to send my way, and whatever else happens to come down the pike. That’s kind of how it goes these days. My calendar is pretty full through the end of the month as it is. Sometimes people are like, “hey can you do this thing tomorrow?” and I have to say no. Sorry folks. My brain’s melted as it is. Burnout is real.

I slept through my alarm I guess on Wednesday? Maybe Tuesday? It felt like the end of the fucking universe, whatever day it was. To lose that two-plus hours of writing before The Pecan gets up in the morning? Holy shit, that’s my whole day. That’s what keeps me sane, let alone on pace with stuff around here. The Patient Mrs. came through in the pinch and gave me extra time to work after she got home from teaching class, but without that, I’d have been properly fooked. A reminder of the fragility of the whole thing, I guess. Drop a piano on it and see what happens. Mostly to my mental state.

There’s more, but I’ve no inclination toward further navelgazing — well, I do, but I’ll deny it — and I want to get another post live before the kid wakes up and needs a diaper, breakfast, I need to shower, etc., so off I go. I wish you the greatest and safest of weekends. Have fun, do what you do. Forum, radio, new merch coming soon, old merch I think still available.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday Full-Length: Bloodrock, Bloodrock

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 10th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Bloodrock, Bloodrock (1970)

The crucial relationship involved in Bloodrock‘s self-titled 1970 debut is that between the band and Terry Knight, who at the same time he helmed these tracks was the producer and manager for Grand Funk Railroad. That band’s self-titled had been issued in Jan. 1970 and wound up going Gold, and so when Knight approached Capitol Records with Bloodrock‘s Bloodrock, which came out that March, he had some clout behind him. The Fort Worth five-piece would make more of a splash with their second outing, later 1970’s Bloodrock 2 — which Knight also produced — but by then the first of a slew of lineup changes for the band had taken place, putting Rick Cobb on drums so Jim Rutledge could concentrate on lead vocals, and while that was a plenty worthy endeavor for Rutledge, I’ve always dug the vibe of the first album, the way “Fatback” rocks and swings around its backward guitar and early Rainbow-style vocals, the keyboard work throughout from Steve Hill, Eddie Grundy‘s bass and Lee Pickens‘ and Nick Taylor‘s bluesy riffing on “Wicked Truth” and the strange, key-driven turn that song takes, the multiple singers on “Double Cross” and how deep side B seems to roll with “Fantastic Piece of Architecture” and “Melvin Laid an Egg” at the end.

I think if you look at it and even go beyond the bands who are directly trying to mimic a ’70s sound in terms of their production or presentation, there are a lot of parallels between the boom of the early ’70s and now. Heavy rock and roll is certainly a less commercially viable property than it was at that point, but it seems like as rock was turning away from the psychdelia of the mid and late ’60s and toward something rawer in sound — what would gradually become metal, heavy rock and punk — there was a seemingly endless string of acts adopting the mode of expression, and substitute words like “private press” for “limited edition” and the situation isn’t really much different today. You could listen to brand new records every day for a year and still not hear everything that’s come out. It’ll thin out over time, but I think if the continued proliferation of ’70s rock shows anything, it’s that stuff like Bloodrock‘s Bloodrock never really goes away. Shit, look at Texas today. The state is huge and I still don’t think you can go five feet and not walk into a heavy band of one stripe or another. I like the thought of, 40 years from now, someone finding that stuff and being able to explore a world they didn’t really know about, or if they did, had only touched the surface. An awful lot of stuff has been dug up over the last decade or so, including Bloodrock, which was put out last year on vinyl by Kotay, but however much seems to come out, there always seems to be more underneath.

Not a hardship at all, especially when stuff like this record winds up experienced by and influencing another generation of heavy rock and rollers, even if it’s just influencing them to hunt down an original copy. A call to action. Ha. I hope you enjoy.

I’m traveling next week, going out to San Francisco for a conference for work. I know I’ll be able to do some record shopping while I’m out there — Amoeba Music and Aquarius Records, I’m comin’ for you — but not sure how much else. In any case, I’ll be in town from Monday night to Thursday night. If you’re around, hit me up and we’ll figure something out. I’d be happy to talk rock and roll over some iced tea or a nice caesar salad, all responsible-like.

I absolutely mean that, by the way.

A lovely bit of genius on my part: Traveling next week, I’ve lined up a premiere for every day Monday through Friday. Look out for new audio from Agusa, Yellowtooth, Wildlights and Pastor and a new video from Atavismo, because god damn it, if I sleep, I lose.

Don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I also joined Instagram last week and have been posting stuff there, if you’re into that kind of thing:

Still kind of figuring that one out.

Work is going well, if you’re wondering. It’s been an adventure to say the least, but I feel like I’m at the point where I’m starting to get settled in and but for the hour-plus it takes me to get to or from the office, I have no real complaints. The people here are nice and seem willing to kind of let me do my thing so long as the work is done, which as far as I’m concerned is the best-case scenario. I’m pretty lucky, all in all. Just got business cards today. They have my name as “J. J.,” but other than that, are fine. Somehow Massachusetts doesn’t really know what to make out of “JJ Koczan.” I should’ve told them to put H.P. Taskmaster on there. Ha.

Have a great and safe weekend. I’m heading down to Connecticut for the next couple of days, which is always a good time, and may or may not put together a new podcast while I’m down there. We’ll see how it all shakes out. In any case, thanks for reading, and please check out the forum and the radio stream, which has been absolutely killing it today.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

Tags: , , , , ,