Friday Full-Length: Rainbow, Rising

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Rainbow, Rising (1976)

Listening to the searing precision in Ritchie Blackmore‘s guitar, Ronnie James Dio‘s soaring voice, the powerful rhythmic thrust of Jimmy Bain on bass and Cozy Powell on drums and the grandiose flourish of Tony Carey‘s keys, Rainbow Rising sure sounds like the moment when heavy rock became heavy metal. Narratives are never so cut and dry, but this was an important transitional moment. Gone was psychedelia unless you were Hawkwind, and even heavy rock was fading out in favor of the nascent punk movement. Rainbow made their debut in 1975 with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (discussed here), and even between that album and this follow-up that arrived a year later on Polydor Records with the revamped lineup around Blackmore and Dio, one can hear that transition taking place. To boil it down to a track? Think of “Starstruck” on Rising and “Man on the Silver Mountain” from the preceding record. The two share a lot in common — big hook, big groove, etc. — but “Starstruck” is leaner, tighter, and true to the hard-clenched fist on the iconic Ken Kelly cover art, more aggressive. Both LPs were produced at least in part by Martin Birch, who would also work on 1978’s Long Live Rock and Roll, and it really does seem to have been a shift in vision (or at least a move closer to an initial vision) on the part of Blackmore driving the evolution of the band in this direction.

As to where Rising ultimately fits in the pantheon of heavy rock/metal, I don’t think there’s any question it’s one of the greatest albums ever released. From the opening charge of “Tarot Woman” with Carey‘s clarion keyboard intro to the swaggering crotch-thrust of “Run with the Wolf” down to the two side B epics, “Stargazer” — a blueprint that Dio would follow for the rest of his career as heavy metal’s greatest frontman in Black Sabbath and especially his own Dio band — and closer “Light in the Black,” it is a close-to-perfect execution of early metal. Yes, Sabbath, Zeppelin and Blue Cheer, Cream and Hendrix before them laid out the foundation — not to mention Blackmore‘s own work in Mk. II Deep Purple — but even in the three-minute bass-led stomp of “Do You Close Your Eyes” one can hear Rainbow splintering away from the bluesy vibe on which heavy rock was founded and toward a graceful execution that over the next couple years would continue to take shape as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Again, narratives are never so cut and dry, and lest we forget that Judas Priest also issued Sad Wings of Destiny in 1976, that Sabbath were still roaming the countryside and that soon enough the willfully-ungraceful Motörhead would kick dirt in everybody‘s face with the raw power of their execution and volume, but Rising is nonetheless a pivotal document without which the NWOBHM and the formative work of bands like Iron MaidenAngel Witch and Saxon simply wouldn’t have existed in the shape it did. Of course, by the time those acts came around, Rainbow would be onto exercising different influences toward a more commercialized sound — they never put out two records with the same lineup — but that doesn’t change how essential a moment Rising continues to represent. Hell, listen to the guitar, bass and drum gallop at the start of “Light in the Black.” It’s the roots of thrash spreading out. Rainbow may have been deeply (and purply!) informed by the heavy rock of the earlier portion of the ’70s, but Rising was when they took that and remade it in their image, and 41 years after the fact, its ongoing relevance is inarguable.

Powell and Carey would stick around for Long Live Rock and Roll, but Bain was out — a mistake on Blackmore‘s part not keeping this band together — and replaced by Bob Daisley, and that 1978 final installment in their initial trilogy would also mark the final collaboration between Blackmore and Dio, whose styles were complementary in a manner few guitarists and vocalists have ever been. Dio, who had come from boogie rockers Elf at just the right moment to catch hold of Blackmore‘s attention when he was disaffected by where Deep Purple were headed, went on to proffer further metal majesties in Black Sabbath and, from 1983 until his passing in May 2010, he’d work with the Dio band to inscribe a singular legacy — his periodic returns to Sabbath and later Heaven and Hell didn’t hurt either. Rainbow continued on with Down to Earth in 1979, Blackmore bringing in frontman Graham Bonnet and following a tumultuous course of change through the middle of the ’80s before being put to rest for the next decade. Blackmore, having reunited and split again with Deep Purple, did another run with Rainbow before founding the Renaissance-themed Blackmore’s Night, and in 2015 resurrected the band again for limited shows, swearing off the possibility of new material as he had once sworn off playing rock and roll entirely. They have live dates booked for June in the UK.

Whatever may or may not come of that, Rainbow‘s Rising stands among the most classic of classics. One could and probably should and probably somewhere in the world — looking at you, Britain — does teach a two-semester college course on everything this incarnation of the group had to offer, and it’s my sincere hope you’ve enjoyed the chance to revisit their work.

Thanks for reading.

Working late today. Speaking of mistakes. I had to miss some time earlier this week picking up The Patient Mrs. at the airport as she was returning from a conference in Texas, so decided it was best if I stick around the office for a few extra hours to make up the time. It was, of course, the wrong decision, but it’s quiet here after everyone leaves and if you actually have work to do, easy enough to get it done. The question is “if,” but I always manage to find a way to keep myself busy.

Hope you had a good week. As I think I noted last Friday or maybe the Friday before, I’ve been dealing with some uptick in my general level of anxiety lately. Part of it is the precariousness of my work situation — I’m on a year-long contract that expires in June that may or may not be picked up for permanent hire. Part of it is probably related to my food intake — I don’t eat much these days that isn’t either salad or protein powder/bar-based. And part of it is “other,” but “other” of some substance. I’m healthy, at least physically.

Probably healthier than I’ve ever been, if one wants to go by the totally fucked way in which those things are generally measured. But yes, very anxious. I’ve made a mantra of “It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay” that I repeat to myself on the regular, to varying effectiveness. I’d like to go to a doctor and get some of those chill-the-fuck-out pills I keep hearing such good things about, to help carry me over for a little bit as other medication has in the past for depressive issues. Never a permanent solution, but something to get you over a hump when you need it. I feel like I might need it, and I think The Patient Mrs. would agree, going by her nigh-on-frantic search to find me a new primary care physician, which I haven’t really had since we moved north from New Jersey three years ago. Every doctor I’ve been to up north, on one level or another, has pretty much been an asshole. The guy who took care of my foot at least got the job as “done” as it was going to get, but he did so while hitting on my wife, so yeah, still counts as asshole.

At least baseball’s back on.

Next week is frickin’ packed. Embarrassingly so. Still some stuff to shake out, but here’s what’s in the notes as of now:

Mon.: Review of the new Solace tape, video from Black Mirrors, news on Freak Valley, My Dying Bride and more.
Tue.: Maybe a Mothership review/track premiere, otherwise a Death Alley review, plus new Shadow Witch video, news, etc.
Wed.: Review/track premiere for the new Wounded Giant, video from Six Organs of Admittance.
Thu.: Review/track premiere from Green Meteor, video from Dandy Brown, announcement from No Man’s Valley.
Fri.: Review/premiere for the new The Devil and the Almighty Blues, plus whatever else comes down the wire between now and then.

As I said, packed.

I’ve also slated the Quarterly Review for the end of this month. It’ll run the week of March 27 through March 31. I might add a sixth day again, depending on what comes together, but I’ve already had it in the planning stage since the start of February, so yeah, it’s well in motion. Lot of good stuff in there, and I’ll have another batch of Radio Adds before then as well.

Speaking of the Radio: it’s been on the backup drive all week, as you may or (more likely) may not have noticed. The Raspberry Pi that hosts the main server shit the bed and with work I just haven’t had time to reinstall the operating system as I need to do. It’s on my weekend agenda, but so is traveling to Connecticut for The Patient Mrs.‘ mom’s birthday dinner on Saturday, so it’ll very likely be Sunday before I get there. And then at least three more days to deal with how terribly I will have invariably fucked it up. Ah, the gently correcting tones of Slevin. I can hear them now as he directs to insert the SD card facing the right way, no doubt for a second, then a third time.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. From the lonely, empty office in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, I’m signing off. See you back here Monday for more good times, and in the interim, please check out the forum and (backup) radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 28th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1975)

Thing is, by 1975, most of the decade’s best heavy rock had already been made. The psychedelic era was over. Black Sabbath had done Master of Reality, and Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Stooges and Pink Floyd had (at least arguably) hit their peak, not to mention the slew of heavy rock acts that popped up and had by then receded — Sir Lord Baltimore, Cactus, Atomic Rooster, Buffalo and the like. Some had gone super-prog like Jethro Tull and others, like King Crimson, were already there. Hawkwind still had some cool stuff going on, as did plenty of others and heavy metal proper would start to take shape before 1980, but still. All of a sudden, here’s Ritchie Blackmore, out of Deep Purple post-Stormbringer, linked up with some dude named Ronnie James Dio from a band called Elf, and they blow out one of rock and roll’s all-time powerhouse records. With most of Elf as their backing band, Blackmore and Dio concocted one of rock’s most essential debuts in 1975’s Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, reviving the former’s career and establishing the latter as a major presence on some of the world’s biggest stages.

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow was the first of three records that, by my judgment, are indispensable. No single one of them is perfect, but when Rainbow, who shifted their lineup after Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow to become a more permanent project, locked in, they simply could not be argued with. The first album has more than a few of those moments. Of course there’s “Man on the Silver Mountain,” and the ripping Quatermass cover “Black Sheep of the Family,” but even the subdued groove-blues of “Catch the Rainbow” has movement at its center, and the fantasy elements that came together across “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” and “The Temple of the King” established what became the lyrical basis of a good portion of Dio‘s career. True, Craig Gruber (bass), Gary Driscoll (drums) and Micky Lee Soule (keys, clarinet) kind of got the shaft in being ousted before 1976’s Rising — to be replaced by Jimmy BainCozy Powell and Tony Carey, respectively — and they basically had their singer swiped out from under them by Blackmore, but the results speak for themselves. Ritchie Blackmore’s RainbowRising and 1978’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll are as much monuments to ego as to talent, but they prove just how much room there was for both in this band at that point in time.

And GruberDriscoll and Soule made their presence felt in cuts like “If You Don’t Like Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the closing Yardbirds cover “Still I’m Sad,” both of which played off a strong sense of boogie while also showcasing Blackmore‘s inhuman ability and command as a lead guitarist. Any given day, I could pick any one of the first three Rainbow records as my favorite, but no question the first of them was a special moment put to tape and had a kind of let’s-try-this-and-see-what-happens air to it that even a year later they’d never be able to capture again. A complete classic.

I hope you enjoy it.

By way of a confession, and a transgression I hope you’ll forgive, I didn’t put the Rainbow record on while I typed out the above. A couple minutes here or there, but I’ve had a severe-enough headache for most of the night that I couldn’t really hang with the front to back and wanted something I knew well enough that I wouldn’t need to. My brain feels like it’s throwing itself against the sides of my skull like it’s trying to break a door down so it can escape. I almost went with Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll for “Sensitive to Light” alone. It would be only too appropriate as I sit here and type in the dark, which I think is actually bad for a headache with the light from the computer monitor, but I’ve got that turned way down as well. Still a bit of throb going on.

Anyway, I’ll crash out shortly. If you’re in the States, I hope you had an excellent Thanksgiving yesterday. Much family time on my end. Tomorrow, The Patient Mrs. and I drive back north to Massachusetts from New Jersey — I got my license back (did I tell you about that? It was like I pulled a bad card from the Monopoly deck; “bureaucratic issue, go directly to the Registry of Motor Vehicles”), so I can actually drive — and hopefully we’ll get some rest before next week starts. Could use a quiet afternoon, to be honest. And some Advil.

Next week, look out for a Balam track stream on Monday, plus reviews of Deadpeach, a new split between Goya and Wounded Giant and Stone Machine Electric‘s new tape. We’re getting on December, so it’ll be time to start the year-end wrap-ups soon, and I have a few new ideas for that I’d like to work in, provided there’s time. Or maybe they’re not new and I thought of the same stuff last year, didn’t get to it and forgot to write it down. That’s entirely possible. Either way we’ll try again. I’m also already planning out this year’s best-of podcast. It will be up before Xmas. Not that it would be a huge draw either way, but I might talk on it. Probably not. But maybe.

Gonna try to get my interview with Alunah online this week as well, so keep an eye out for that.

All the best to you and yours as we move into the holiday season. Before we get there, though, I hope you have a great and safe weekend.

Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Frydee Rainbow

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 27th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Fuckin’ “L.A. Connection.” This song rules, man. This was one of three videos Blabbermouth posted that were put up by former Rainbow/Ozzy bassist Bob Daisley, and damned if I could find anything better to close out the week. It doesn’t get much better than ’70s Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio kicking out a ridiculous hard rock song that has nothing to do with anything.

There’s a new podcast coming this weekend. Do you know what the theme will be? I do. I guess you’ll just have to stay on this page and click “Refresh” until it’s actually posted so you can find out.

Next week we wrap up August, and I promise I’ll finally have that Yawning Man feature up. I’m also slated to do two more interviews, and I’ve got conversations with Man’s Gin and Masters of Reality already in the can, so we should be well stocked. Next week also starts the semester, which is terrifying but a reality I was going to have to face sooner or later. Can I work, go to school and manage the most kickass stoner blog in the known multiverse? Probably not, but it’ll be fun anyway.

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Ronnie James Dio, 1942-2010

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 16th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

There were rumors floating around some last night, but Wendy Dio has now confirmed via Blabbermouth that her husband, LEGENDARY metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio has died of the stomach cancer he’d been battling since winter. As a longtime fan of Dio‘s work, I on behalf of this dinkly little website The Obelisk send condolences to Wendy and others who knew Ronnie in either a personal or professional capacity.

I don’t know what to think and I’d feel dirty editorializing. He was my hero. We knew he was sick and we could extrapolate if we wanted to that it wasn’t going well when Heaven and Hell canceled their touring plans. I didn’t want to extrapolate. I wanted to think he’d beat cancer like it was a giant rubber dragon in 1983 and be back putting out Magica II and III in no time.

Mourning later. Music now.

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