Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 26 Apr 2019
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I've introduced myself to all sorts of bands this year at Apocalypse Later but most of them are reasonably new, either putting out their first album or consolidating on what they've done during the last decade while I've been getting more and more out of touch. What's really surprising me is bands of serious heritage that I've somehow completely missed out on, especially this one because the lead vocalist comes from the same town I grew up in.
They're Lucifer's Friend, a versatile hard rock band from Hamburg, Germany, though vocalist John Lawton is from Halifax in Yorkshire. I think I've only heard the name Lucifer's Friend in conjunction with their debut album from 1970, which has been mentioned in doom circles as a very early heavy metal release. I don't think I realised they got past that, but they did with no less than eight studio albums before they split in 1982.
They came back briefly in 1994 to record an album as Lucifer's Friend II, but reformed fully in 2014. This is their second album in recent years and I'm rather fond of it, even though it's all over the genre. Reading up on them, that's not too surprising because those albums include psych, prog rock, hard rock, jazz fusion, NWOBHM, heavy metal, whatever seemed like a good idea at the time.
The title track is good stuff, a seventies Deep Purple-esque song with an interesting use of saxophone, but it was Passengers that really made me pay attention. It's a very powerful piece, heavy on the organ like a Uriah Heep song from the early seventies, but with vocals more akin to Dave Hill from Demon. I realise that Lawton sang with Heep for a number of albums; he's an interesting man, it seems, singing gospel for the Les Humphries Singers and even presenting travel documentaries for Bulgarian television.
He's very strong here, especially on Passengers, but he's far from the only highlight. These songs grow and kick far more ass than they ought to, given that many of these band members are in their seventies. The double whammy of Palace of Fools and Call the Captain highlights Jogi Wichmann's keyboards, because these felt more like catchy eighties songs on an album that's most sourced from the sounds of the seventies. Call the Captain has that driving catchiness we know from Golden Earring where everything seems really simple until we realise just how much is going on in the song.
Lucifer's Friend really don't seem to want to stay in one style for long. I have to say that there's nothing here as Wagnerian as the album cover, but there's funk on Behind the Smile, blues on Little Man and bass-heavy AOR on Taking It to the Edge. There's good old fashioned guitar rock all over the place, but especially on Freedom, which showcases Peter Hesslein's guitar.
I have to say that, while everything here is sourced from the past, not one of these songs doesn't sound pretty damn good in 2019. The production is excellent and this would be a great follow-up after Living the Dream, last year's unexpectedly fantastic Uriah Heep album. Reading up on the band, it seems like they've had trouble defining what style they play, so it may be that this works so well because they gave up trying and just played all of them on the same album.
Whatever the reason, this is highly recommended. It's a solid 7 from me and I'm seriously considering upping that to another 8. This month just doesn't want to quit!