Armageddon - Armageddon

Year of Release: 1996
Label: A&M Records
Catalog Number: POCM-1969
Format: CD
Total Time: 41:16:00

One Saturday afternoon in 1975, I was browsing the albums on the new release rack in a favorite record shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. My attention was caught by an album with a most unusual cover: Four long-haired gents dressed in what appeared to be English WW-I army uniforms reclining on the ground in front of a recently decimated battlefield. At the top of the picture, emblazoned in large red, orange, and yellow letters was a single word: Armageddon. I looked over the album, reviewed the song-list (only five?!?), the band's roster, and realized that I was holding a very special album, one destined to become a rock classic, never to be repeated. I didn't buy that album right then, but over the coming months kept checking the store's 'A' bins to be sure that a copy was still available for me to purchase. Finally, almost a year later, I bought Armageddon, an act that - along with discovering Rush's Fly By Night in January that same year - proved to be one of the most important in my music-buying life.

As a teenager in the 1970s, I missed most of the great hard rock acts that emerged (and disappeared) in 1960's, including the Yardbirds. I was familiar with the now-legendary guitarists (Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page) who spent time playing in the band and, to a lesser degree, with the band's brain-trust and vocalist, Keith Relf. An avid reader of Circus Magazine, I knew that Relf had formed Renaissance, but wasn't familiar with that group's work. Beyond that, I had no idea what he was up to until I discovered Armageddon. The first listen to the album convinced me that what I had read was true, that Keith Relf was an eccentric genius with a penchant for the dramatic. I also remember thinking that there was not a single wasted moment on the whole record. In the twenty-six years since, my opinion has changed little: Armageddon stands today as one of the finest hard rock albums and, perhaps, as the seminal progressive metal album of all time.

Although not so much metal as hard rock, Armageddon's music was as hard-hitting as any of their mid-70s peers. Built around punchy blues-based rock, Armageddon incorporated off-kilter time signatures, startling dynamics, spiritual themes, and effects-laden production into their lengthy compositions. (While short by most progressive standards, four of the five songs exceeded eight minutes in length). The musicianship was beyond reproach: Keith Relf (Yardbirds, Renaissance, Steamhammer) handling vocals and harmonica, Martin Pugh (Rod Stewart, Steamhammer) on guitars, Louis Cennamo (Renaissance, Steamhammer, and inventor of the electric bowed bass guitar) on basses, and Bobby Caldwell (Johnny Winter and Captain Beyond) on drums. Each member contributed to the writing and his own unique musical style to Armageddon's music, all of which meshed nicely to create a sound distinctly their own - violent and forceful, fully deserving of the name Armageddon.

?Buzzard? kicks off the album in rocking style, built around a nifty 5/4 guitar riff and some fine, Neil Peart-style drumming. The guitar opens the track, is joined by bass and drums, and then Relf leaps into the fray, bellowing out the lyrics with a nasty edge on his normally boyish voice. The song races along into a straight 4/4 middle, drops the guitars and bass while Relf punches in with searing harp and Bobby Caldwell rides the high-hat, then Pugh and Cennamo crash back in to carry the song out in the original 5/4 time. Violent in message and attack, ?Buzzard? races through its allotted eight minutes, never allowing the listener time to be distracted or even catch a breath. ?Silver Tightrope? follows, the only track to represent Armageddon's softer side. Again, Martin Pugh opens the song, this time with double-tracked acoustic and electric guitars mixed together in a simple, stately repeating figure. Relf's vocals are treated with echo and mixed behind the guitars, giving the song an other-wordly, ethereal feel. At the mid-section, Louis Cennamo brings out the bowed electric bass for a mournful solo, accompanied by Pugh's guitar and xylophone accents from Bobby Caldwell. Drummer Caldwell kicks in the second half of the song with majestic power, supporting the guitars and angelic vocal harmonies as ?Silver Tightrope? fades out on a positive, hopeful note. ?Paths and Planes and Future Gains? brings back the forceful, angular rock, grabbing the listener immediately with straight-ahead, overpowered 4/4 rock, then shifting suddenly into a simple, but edgy 7/8 chord change. At just over four minutes, this is the shortest track, but don't be mislead - ?P/P/FG? is just as dynamic as its longer counterparts. Next up is ?Last Stand Before?, a blues-rock work-out that sounds very much like Physical Graffiti-era Led Zeppelin. Driven by Martin Pugh's doubled guitar tracks, ?Last Stand Before? is cleanly divided into two separate sections (similar to ?Paths and Planes and Future Gains?); the first sounds eerily like Jimmy Page's best riffing, while the second hints at Captain Beyond. Pugh adds some off-the-wall soloing in the latter half, sounding strangely like a flute in places. Oddly enough, ?Last Stand Before? is the weakest cut on the album, perhaps because it sounds so derivative of Zeppelin. That said, it is still a very strong track, thanks to the catchy riffing and Keith Relf's harp and lyrics. The album's final eleven minutes are given over to the four-part opus ?Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun.? ?Warning Comin' On? gets things rolling with one minute of simple, hard-driving chords racing along at break-neck speed that segue into the title track. Built on a frenetic riff, ?Basking?? is forcefully driven by the powerful ensemble playing of Pugh, Cennamo, and Caldwell. Bobby Caldwell is especially strong here, sounding like a maniacal mix of Neil Peart and Bill Bruford. Martin Pugh adds some biting solos, effectively using the wah-wah pedal to put teeth into every note. ?Basking?? then crashes into a wall and slides down into the molten, riff-driven groove of ?Brother Ego.? The overpowered instruments dominate, threatening to blow out any speakers daring to project them, while Keith Relf - seeming almost in the background - implores to the titular brother to ?come on home - it's time.? The proceedings take an atmospheric turn as Pugh's guitar slips into the background for a subdued but ragged solo, while Caldwell and Cennamo carry the song along on hi-hat and bass. Things stop suddenly again, this time for a nasty interplay between Keith Relf's harp and Caldwell's drums. Again, Caldwell really kicks it up with some powerhouse soloing, beating what sounds like the life out of the snare drum. ?Brother Ego? then crashes into ?Basking (Reprise)?? and the opus races out just as furiously as it began, collapsing abruptly to a violent end.

Unfortunately, Armageddon was a short-lived project. Drug addiction, health problems, and Keith Relf's untimely death (by electrocution) put a quick end to the band. Armaggedon's legacy remains, however, thanks to A&M Records' Japan division and their British Rock Masterpieces series. The sound quality is excellent and virtually replicates the polish of the original vinyl. In addition, Repertoire Records (in Germany) re-issued Armageddon in 1998, and I've read that the production quality actually surpasses that of the A&M import.

Ultimately, Armageddon stands as one of rock's - and progressive's - finest albums. For progressive fans interested in history or just looking for something that genuinely rocks, or for prog-metal fans wondering where it really all began, Armageddon is a must!

Buzzard (8:16) / Silver Tightrope (8:23) / Paths And Planes And Future Gains (4:30) / Last Stand Before (8:23) / Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun: Warning Comin' On (1:02) -Basking? (3:07) - Brother Ego (5:13) - Basking (Reprise)? (2:02)

Keith Relf - vocals, harmonica
Martin Pugh - electric and acoustic guitars
Louis Cennamo - bass guitar, electric bowed bass guitar
Bobby Caldwell - drums, percussion, piano, vocals


Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: February 1st 2001
Reviewer: David Cisco

Artist website:
Hits: 1294
Language: english


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