HE’S BEHIND YOU!!!

Disconsolate piano notes descend in a maudlin trickle; the guitar squawks like a tortured chicken. Then the band hits a catchy riff, though it’s not the spine of the song. The central nervous system is a four chord descending figure in counterpoint to a rising vocal line. The music is powerfully rocking, the words gloomily nihilistic, laying out the narrative of the album like a B&W noir horror film; theatrical, certainly, but never descending into pantomime. This is the opening song, the title track, of Atomic Rooster’s second album Death Walks Behind You. Welcome to their nightmare.

“Vug” is an instrumental skeleton’s dance between guitar and organ. It’s a savage boogie, the foundation of which composer/organist Vincent Crane describes as “a heavy shuffle rhythm”. Think early Deep Purple where Jon Lord has taken a bad trip.

The album’s single, “Tomorrow Night”, did rather well in the UK and it is easy to hear why. It’s heavy catchiness (and it’s catchy heaviness) would have been well received by those who loved early Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. This album version of the song has an “after the credits” freaky fadeout of insane poultry, leaving you to wonder about a subtle running gag as it fades towards the sepulchral loneliness of “7 Streets”.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Vincent Crane’s churchy organ introduces this mid-paced rocker before John Du Cann pounds out the riff on electric guitar. This song has a strong vocal by the guitarist before a cool organ-guitar duel. The chordal hook returns, a couple more verses and a dramatic coda takes us to the end of side one. Four tracks, each with a memorable riff and strong delivery. Verdict at the halfway point? It rocks is miserable arse off.

Just as Crane’s piano introduce the album, so Cann’s guitar leads off the second side. After the freakout opening, another steel riff kicks off “Sleeping for years”. Although it’s a solid heavy rock song, I find this the least engaging track on the record. Despite Cann’s distorted, fucked-up guitar solo there is something a bit too pedestrian about this one.

Peter Finch encounters tether-end in Network

Imagine if Emerson, Lake & Palmer were a trio of intense occult-orientated funeral directors. “I can’t take no more” would be their theme. Some might be worried about their well-being until the double negative is processed and conclusion reached that they can, in fact, take more.

It’s a great rock song, with clever shifts of mood and rhythm, underpinned by fabulous bass pedal work by Vincent C. The trio sound is deep and strong. Colin Harper’s thorough liner notes to the 2004 CD re-issue include the following quote from Crane, talking to Melody Maker in 1970.

I want to keep it as a trio. We are lucky in having two lead instruments, and playing the bass lines on the pedals and with my left hand I can play exactly the lines I want. We were playing at a club the other day and when we finished our set a guy came up to me and asked who was playing the bass. He suggested maybe we had someone behind the cabinets. That was a real compliment. It’s things like that that keep you going through all the hang-ups.

Are heavy albums lifted by a ballad? Does “Changes” make Sabbath’s Volume IV great, for instance?

“Nobody else” is Atomic Rooster’s contribution to the debate. It’s a sad, piano led song of lamentation and isolation. Cann’s subtle guitar accompaniment is very nicely played. Then, just as you imagine this brief interlude is over, Paul Hammond’s drums kick in and the song charges off like a street racer before finally coming to rest in an empty car park overlooking a wet, deserted city.

Ending DWBY with a solid slab of steroid-enhance muscle, “Gershatzer” is a Vincent Crane instrumental (with yet another catchy riff) that wanders out of the gym and into some strange modern dance studio for a groggy middle section of piano/organ shenanigans and aural trickery. It is a bit like those ELP concert clips where Keith Emerson is doing despicable things to his organ; impressive, but you are relieved when the vamping riff returns. Hammond gets a brief drum solo—unusual on a studio recording, even in the early 70s—then Crane’s Hammond and Cann’s guitar close ranks for a riffing race across the finish line.

The chequered flag might have a skull emblazoned on it and the victory dais may be a desecrated pulpit, but the dark tones do not mask the conviction and power of this heavy prog sermon. Don your black cape and join the congregation as they boogie through the graveyard of your mind.

Death Walks Behind You. It’s a killer.

*

Credits could only be located for a couple of the above photographs. Appropriate acknowledgment will be added if found.

*

A lengthy preamble to this album review can be found here.

29 comments

  1. I am ashamed to say that I don’t believe I’ve ever heard any Atomic Rooster, i do like the William Blake cover art though. Didn’t Vincent Crane play with Arthur Brown? in which case I have heard him play.

    ‘Does “Changes” make Sabbath’s Volume IV great, for instance?’, I can answer that one – no, It’s a toss up between the cover art and ‘Supernaut’ that makes that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Vincent Crane was in/on The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (1968) and co-wrote a number of the songs on that quite extraordinary album.

      In the right mood, I can imagine you enjoying this LP, Joe:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I really would too. (Adds to list).

        Galactic Zoo Dossier is the LP I’ll have heard him on, one of my dad’s old favourites.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s a shooting shambling monster of an album! Never seen it on vinyl though… 😦

          Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Find out next post. […]

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  3. As I said earlier I haven’t heard this album (although I intend to rectify that now) but this line just kills me, excellent. “Imagine if the Emerson, Lake & Palmer were a trio of intense occult-orientated funeral directors. “I can’t take no more” would be their theme.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Paul. Link to album just above your comment.

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  4. I think I need this….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so too, Danica. Everybody needs a little Rooster in their lives!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I knew the connection with Palmer. Why I didn’t explore it at the time is beyond me ( I went back to his band mates earlier stuff). I just listened to it Bruce, and i can see why you dug it. I’m a sucker for that organ sound. Great description, I read your take on the opening cut and you nailed it. It’s cool when the albums we started with still sound good. I hear you on this one. Howard Beale’s favorite band. Like you said “synchronicity” or what? I’m still chuckling at that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those early albums sure do imprint, CB. Glad you found something to enjoy in this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hear a lot I like. A lot of those bands back then were drinking from the same well. You’ve sent back for a revisit on my albums from that time. I’m enjoying it.

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  6. I tell you what, Bruce… this sounds pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good. Just spent a bit of time having a look for it on Discogs there… a pretty expensive LP, it seems. Still, it sounds worth it (especially if a YouTube stream thing can sound that good). Anyhoo, the preamble was worth it; this really was a great piece and the album sounds ace!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks J. I wonder if the Purple Pyramid re-issue might be around still? Might be worth checking a few ‘new’ suppliers just in case*. Good hunting!

      * (or of course there’s the (whisper) CD!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll be having a look for that one, I think. Might be difficult to find, but if so I’m sure the shiny disc would be easier, and cheaper, to come by.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hey J! I just heard that Music On Vinyl are re-issuing ‘Death Walks’ on vinyl. Must have read the post! 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Well what are the chances of that, eh?

          Clearly MoV like to stop by Vinyl Connection.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. A nice fantasy!

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        4. July 28th release, Bruce.

          ‘A repackaging and remastering job restores the original artwork in all its gatefold glory’.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I wonder if it will have a textured cover?

          Liked by 1 person

        6. That would be good, though MoV releases tend to have pretty high glossy covers, eh? Certainly those I’ve seen (and have).

          Liked by 1 person

  7. You ended your previous post with “… does it still ROCK?” and I nearly replied, “Yes, it does still rock!”. Then I thought I’d better wait for the second instalment before voicing that opinion. Very glad to see we agree on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too right. And thanks for avoiding the ‘spoiler’ lure! Do you have another favourite Atomic Rooster album?

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      1. Sorry to disappoint you, Bruce, but I’m not sufficiently familiar with Atomic Rooster to have any favourite albums. My comment is based on remembering the odd single and spinning Death Walks Behind You after the prompt of your previous posts. Good band, though, and I’m sure they made some other fine albums.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Not disappointed mate, just excited by the prospect of another Rooster fan. There are only a poultry number of them/us. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  8. A great post, and a brillant album as all the early albums from AR was, A very under rated artist I guess, heard about them rather late myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! The original album goes for pretty silly money, so the extra good news is that Music on Vinyl is re-issuing the LP in the near future. Now everyone can walk with Death behind them.

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  9. Listening now — great, descriptive review and perfect photographic accompaniment. I will inject a little controversy into the mix by saying that the ‘pedestrian’ accusation against “Sleeping for Years” suggests you may need to up your dosage. I love du Cann’s guitar freaking throughout, both up front in the intro and solo, as well tucked away in the background elsewhere. I even chose that one as the sole Rooster song on an unsolicited mix CD I forced upon my son a few years back … you and I can still be friends however.

    I don’t buy vinyl, but I will be buying that Music on Vinyl reissue LP mentioned above, probably two copies, one for me and one for VotF junior. I’ve vaguely shared my deep personal shame with regard to the sacrilege committed against my own vinyl holdings some years ago; suffice it here to say only that thrift-store “rocket rooster” no longer resides with me.

    Now, I’ll stand by for the eventual follow-on post in which you take the musical description herein as expertly given, and continue with the purely personal take on the mental journeys on which each track floats you.

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    1. As it is not really rawk-n-roll without a little controversy, I welcome your gentle admonishment to ‘up my meds’. If I was being wincingly honest, I’d confess to having such an adverse reaction to gushing (and saccharine, too) that I was actively looking for something less-than-glowing about some part of Death Walks. The above was as close as I got. Glad it won’t wreck a beautiful friendship though.

      You know, if you start buying vinyl re-issues, it is only a short step to acquiring a turntable to play them on. And then where will you be…

      Like

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