Review Summary: In one's search for the beginnings of prog and heavy metal, your quest will inevitably lead you here.
In 1969, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
was at the peak of its international popularity, largely due to the controversial antics of the group's said front man, Arthur Brown. The attention Brown was getting caused grumblings among the other group members, who felt they weren't receiving enough attention for their musical abilities. Thus, the group splintered, and in late-'69, ex-Arthur Brown bandmates Vincent Crane, Carl Palmer (of later Emerson, Lake and Palmer
fame) and Nick Graham formed Atomic Rooster
. The group released their first record in February of 1970, but due to Nick Graham's departure soon after it's UK release, guitarist and vocalist John Du Cann was brought in to overdub the album; thus, there wasn't enough room in the budget to release the album in the US. Following the ensuing tour in support of their debut album, Carl Palmer also left the band. The band recruited Paul Hammond as their drummer, and in August of 1970, Atomic Rooster went into the studio to record their second album, and their US debut.
Vincent Crane: Hammond organ, piano, backing vocals
John Du Cann: Guitars, Vocals
Paul Hammond: Drums, percussion
Death Walks Behind You
opens up with the galloping title track, a spooky track you do not want to be listening to on a cold, rainy night. In 1970, doom metal was in its infancy, and "Death Walks Behind You" was an early classic in the genre, a freakish thing of beauty and a hint that Atomic Rooster was on the verge of creating something dazzling. Although the rest of the album would not match the heaviness and eeriness of the title track, the album would be heavy enough as a whole to inspire future groups who'd become giants of the heavy metal genre, such as Iron Maiden
. Though the album is more progressive rock in nature - I mean, come on, that organ is deafening at times - the album's beauty lies in its heaviness. Along with Deep Purple
, Atomic Rooster became pioneers in heavy prog with the release of this album, forever changing the prog-rock landscape.
The lone single from the album, "Tomorrow Night", got enough recognition to achieve Top 20 radio airplay in the group's native UK, but the album was largely ignored in the US. Another early doom metal classic, "Tomorrow Night" was one of the scariest love songs unleashed on the British charts at the time, with an extended ending that descends into chaos, a terrifying yet fantastic bridge into "7 Streets", a track which is equally chaotic with Du Cann's blazing guitar competing with Vincent Crane's organ for attention. In fact, Du Cann and Crane seem to be competing throughout the whole album, as also evidenced on "Sleeping For Years" as well as the two instrumental pieces, "Vug" and "Gershatzer". In these two pieces, especially in the latter, drummer Paul Hammond, relegated to background noise on the majority of the tracks, finally gets his spotlight, and does a passable job, although the organ/percussion duet on "Gershatzer" gets a little painful toward the end, but hey, it's 1970, when annoying drum and organ solos came standard. Other than the final two-and-a-half minutes of "Gershatzer" there is no low point on this album.
If you can't hear the bass on this album, that's because Vincent Crane played all the bass parts on his organ, much like Ray Manzarek. While the bass is pretty mute on this album, probably the song where it plays the biggest role is "I Can't Take No More", a groovy rocker that is probably the least prog-influenced track on the record. "I Can't Take No More" is followed by the fantastic "Nobody Else", which begins with weird irritating chanting, but then introduces a jazzy and relaxed piano theme. The only song on the album that can be called a ballad, "Nobody Else" is a great mood piece that slows down the record, and is definitely the highlight of Side 2 of the record. However, midway through the track, the drums and guitar pick up the pace significantly, creating a powerful rock passage that very nicely picks up the pace of the remainder of the album. In actuality, "Nobody Else" is two songs in one - part relaxing ballad, part uptempo prog-rocker, and a real treat to anybody who listens to it, one of the gems of this fantastic album.
While Death Walks Behind You
will not blow you away with its elite musicianship or fairy-tale lyrics, the record definitely holds a place in the prog-rock masterpiece catalog, as well as one of the early pillars of the heavy metal genre. With their unique approach to progressive rock, Atomic Rooster was able to create a satisfying record that truly sounded unique compared to the sounds of their peers. For fans of dark, pessimistic music, as well as fans of raw, vintage organs (trust me, there's a LOT of that on this album), this is a must-have album, as well as a must-listen for those who are interested in the development of heavy prog and heavy metal.