Monday, 11 January 2021

Blind Golem - A Dream of Fantasy (2021)

Country: Italy
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 4 Jan 2021
Sites: Facebook

Here's an album to bring a nostalgic smile to fans of legendary British hard/prog rockers, Uriah Heep, not least because it features their late keyboardist Ken Hensley, on a new song called The Day is Gone, not only playing Hammond organ but apparently slide guitar as well. Blind Golem's sound is overtly seventies and overtly English, as the Rodney Matthews cover art suggests, but it's not confined to the Heep, even though the band appear to have grown out of a tribute outfit called Forever Heep, who are present day and Italian, hailing from the city of Verona.

Heep are obvious on the opener, Devil in a Dream, which barrels along with consummate ease. It starts memorably in the way that all the classic rock songs we know by heart do and then finds its groove. It remains bouncy and upbeat throughout, though I think it'll sound even better when played faster on stage. The other obvious Heep track is Star of the Darkest Night, which brings Gypsy to mind early on, though it does evolve away from that is the song grows.

There are proto-doom songs here that would sound more like Black Sabbath if the vocals had tried to emulate Ozzy. They don't, so it's the music behind them that evokes Sabbath. Screaming to the Stars is the best of them, though The Ghost of Eveline fits in this world too. I wasn't that impressed with the first half, which is decent but growing on me, but the second half is fantastic, as great as anything to be found anywhere on this album, which some deliciously organic bass and guitar.

Scarlet Eyes plays up the heavy seventies organ sound but in a different way. Instead of delivering the Ken Hensley/Uriah Heep approach throughout, Simone Bistaffa channels some Jon Lord too, as this is reminiscent of early Mark II Deep Purple, especially in its heavier moments. Of course, I use heavy in a very seventies hard rock sense here, because this doesn't approach metal at any point. These are songs that could have been released in 1975 but without any Judas Priest pointers to the decade to come.

The first half of the album is excellent. This is such a generous release, running a hair's breadth under seventy minutes, that it would have been a double album in 1975, making that first half the first disc. In addition to Devil in a Dream, Screaming to the Stars and Scarlet Eyes, all of which are highlights, as is the second half of The Ghost of Eveline. Also in the first half are Sunbreaker, which is a classic hard rock belter, almost like a Y&T song recorded five or six years earlier, the solid Bright Light and the big one to look for, The Day is Gone.

It feels like a cheat to suggest that it's the best song here, given that it's the only one to feature Ken Hensley, but it's also true. It feels epic, even though, at just over five minutes, it's actually shorter by a minute than the previous song and by two than the following one. Hensley may not sing, but he's a constant star on this one, front and centre throughout, and he endows the song with a timeless feel. I love the tone he pulls out of his guitar. It's a worthy epitaph to a stellar career. RIP.

The biggest problem the album has is that the second half can't touch the first. The final seven songs are all decent, but the best of them is a step down from the worst in the first half. There's a neat piano on Night of Broken Dreams, which is a power ballad. There's an odd German feel to Pegasus, not only because of the accented vocals. A Spell and a Charm features some strong acoustic guitar work, but it isn't the instrumental outro I thought it would be.

So yeah, what would have been the second slab of vinyl is decent and worth pulling it once in a while, before putting it back in its sleeve and running a few more times through the first. If the first half is a 9/10 but the second is a 7/10, then this ends up as a still highly recommended 8/10.

I don't know how long Forever Heep explored this sort of territory through covers and I do see that a few members of the band have played with others in Italy who write original material, but a running time of seventy minutes suggests that they've been simply burning to get their own ideas down. I for one am very happy that they did so, because the first half of this (which still runs over 36 minutes) is surely the best 1975 album I've ever heard that wasn't remotely written or recorded in 1975.

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