I think we’ve had this conversation before haven’t we? The one where we discuss the relevance and attraction of compilation albums and how you can put together an album that can transcend the audiences it initially targeted. No, I am sure you probably get the gist, I think it is one of the hardest markets to crack which is why so many of these type of albums end up just being standard big hits from bands you have heard already of and probably already own.
So, it is an interesting and intriguing day when The Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion lands in my inbox. Even by its own admission this is a compilation, covering three decades of music produced in and around Bristol, all rock related but the bands themselves are neither related or even know each other. Instead Bristol Archive Records offer us a peek into a scene that may not have ever existed but it worthy of putting together anyway and shining a light on this part of Bristol’s musical heritage.
With this as an introduction, you can see where this dilemma comes in. I’m not from Bristol and know little of their rock heritage, what’s in it for me? Well, hell of a lot as it turns out. I have just picked at a few of the highlights of this album but there is so much to offer, everything from the Hawkwind-ish Stormtrooper to the mellow rock catchiness of Shiva. I think that Bristol Archive have done a great job of documenting this local history and actually a part of the British Rock story in general. I only wish I had the notes to the album and could tell you a little bit more about the bands., It’s OK though, they will come when you buy your copy which I would recommend, especially for fans of New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
It’s not surprising that the stand out track on the album turns out to be by one of the Bristol Rock Scenes most famous exports; Claytown Troupe. It is a name I remember well from the time, probably most famous for touring with Pearl Jam on their Ten Tour and for being signed to Island records. “Hey Lord” was from their 1989 record Through the Veil. What a great song this is as well, goth rock at its 80’s best, part Mission, part Cure, and part The March Violets. It has the pop sensibilities and a hypnotic sound and beat that makes it such a stand out track. It’s not the only goth rock band on the album though and I equally enjoyed the anarcho heavy metal of Tavistock’s Amebix “The Power Remains”. It’s a lot dirtier and punk with a really low and dirty bass opening. Once the vocals kick in though this sounds like a very punk, gothy Motorhead, its raw, its catchy it messy and really has a spirit above the lo-fi-ness of the recording which jumps out at you.
On my first couple of play throughs though it was probably the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Tracks that stood out for me. First up (and first track of the album) is Lautrec. Bristol based Lautrec were the prototype for Stampede (also represented here with their most known track “Shadows of the Night”). Lautrec was the first band of Laurence Archer who went on to briefly play with Phil Lynott in Grand Slam. The track chosen is “Mean Gasoline” which is a great track, very New Wave, slightly Judas Priest-y with a solid rhythm throughout. Elsewhere we are also introduced to Jaguar, a mid 80’s NWOBHM band out of Bristol. Their track Stormchild, despite have a rough demo feel to it (the drums are quite muffled) is a very catchy and the band you feel could have gone further. They firmly straddle that period of time between NWOBHM and the more fantasy style bands of Dio etc. I really enjoyed this track.
My favourite track from this period though is probably Bronz’s “Ask No Questions”. Bronz themselves did pretty well, being there at the birth of NWOBHM alongside Diamond Head and also touring the US with Ratt in the 80’s. They did briefly reform also before the death of guitarist Shaun Kirkpatrick in 2013. It’s just a really well formed song, nice use of keyboard and guitar riffs, excellent songwriting and you can see why they were the best of the bunch at the time.
Just before I move onto undoubtedly the best known Bristol Metal band, I thought Headmaster were worth a mention. One of the few female fronted bands here with a similar sound to Vixen, their contribution “Kids Said Rock” is probably one of the catchiest songs here. So who is that best known Bristol metal band? Onslaught of course, and here we get a new version (2013) of “Metal Forces”.
So Bristol Archive Records have not only captured a small piece of local history here with this compilation but have actually managed to bring together a set of tracks that will have wider appeal. It’s a great insight to British metal in general during this period without just resorting to the standards that you see on every compilation. Who knew Bristol had so many rock bands of this calibre? Well you do now.