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It was in late 1991 that I was first introduced to The Almighty when they were the support act for Alice Cooper on his 'Hey Stoopid' tour. The M6 had once more worked its magic and I was uncharacteristically late for a gig at what was then the N.E.C in Birmingham. On arrival at the entrance to the arena, over the usual ramblings of frustrated ticket touts and the compulsory aroma of frying onions, I could just hear this unholy rumble emanating from the bowels within, which was obviously the swashbuckling sound of the band charging through their set.
Now when I go watching Alice I'm usually so excited and pent up that the support band could pretty much scoop copious shovel loads of camel dung into the audience and I would applaud regardless. But that night, through the blind ferment, a period of lucidity embraced my soul as I blew the froth off a very welcomed but over-priced cold one. Something registered and I thought that this energetic quad of reprobates had enough about them to warrant further investigation. A few days later, mullet flapping in the wind as I bounced down the high street, the pockets of my incredibly tight fitting stonewashed jeans were emptied and 'Soul Destruction' was duly purchased.
'Soul Destruction' is The Almighty's second studio album and was released kicking and screaming into the wild in March 1991.
Guitarist/vocalist Ricky Warwick (who once had a stint with New Model Army) leads them fist high into battle with their no frills, old school, muscular hard rock. It isn't guided by spells our coated in a haunted shroud of mystique nor does it take you on a magic carpet ride o'er vales and hills of lyrical genius. The sound in general is quite heavy, dirty and assisted by a hollow drum pulse. They have what I can only describe as a very underdog sound and appeal about them. Rock staples such as choking the odd cymbal on a stab and snapping in a power chord on the half beat are all present and correct although they can drop tempo from time to time to reflect and take a breather. Mostly though, they deal in the art of the 'bash-about crusade' and with band members with names such as Tantrum (gee-tar) Stumpy (drums) and Floyd London (bass) they'd be loathe to try anything else.
Warwick as a vocalist knows his limitations and probably isn't too fussed about it. In the main his style is staccato, rough and borders on breathless during the band's rarer more subtle moments. He can blast away when he needs to but you'll seldom hear him hold a note for too long. A prominent feature and one that perturbs me a little is the somewhat fraudulent American drawl with which he sings. Ricky was born in Northern Ireland and the band's origins are based in Scotland. Now I don't expect him to sing in the style of 'Ian Paisley does The Proclaimers' (hell, there's a polarising act) and a little twangy tweak is ok in small doses, but it seems a little forced at times, as though he is trying too hard to be too rock 'n roll. You've got to be careful it doesn't simply become a bad impression of a hundred average rock singers that litter pubs up and down the country or worse still, Otto Mann (the dude who drives the school bus in 'The Simpsons').
For me it drains the honesty away from several of the songs and compels me to muse on the quandary that if he were actually American what would I think then? I really don't know. My escape hatch is that it's all hypothetical but it is an indelible stain which remains stubborn throughout the album. In addition, Ricky's reluctance to hold a note does take some of the sting out of the crescendos that the songs offer with his voice falling away as the bar overtakes. I don't totally dislike his vocals on the whole, one could argue it fits the skinned and scalped sound the band has to a degree, but I just feel it teeters perilously close to the edge of integrity.
From a song writing perspective, 'Soul Destruction' lacks true consistency though there are some stonking songs on offer which in a way makes it slightly harder to take as I'm all for willing bands that have something about them to make it over the finish line. Opener 'Crucify' flicks on the band's afterburners and singes the scrotum of the Satan inside you to get you dancing on the hot coals of rock - fans of Van Halen will draw immediate comparisons with the track 'Hot For Teacher'. After this it really is a bit of a mixed bag.
Tracks such as 'Joy Bang One Time', 'What More Do You Want', 'Praying To The Red Light' and 'Love Religion' are all pretty mediocre. No doubt they were encompassed in the 'filler' holding pen to be released at strategic times during the running order. Though obviously not intended to slip under the radar entirely they do harbour that 'support band' vibe about them and you do find yourself occasionally switching your ears to autopilot. 'Hell To Pay' comes straight from the AC/DC scrapbook but features an agreeable blues harmonica intro which is a nice touch. You see that's my gripe - the band aren't totally devoid of ideas or originality. 'Love Religion' for instance, features a very short, sweet, basic acoustic interlude that really works and shows they were thinking about what they were putting out. 'Sin Against The Light' billows the smoke of a Billy Idol fire and drops tempo during the chorus allowing it to ricochet nicely.
'Free 'N' Easy' features the albums only true memorable riff and even though it's basic it stands proud and defiant enough to hold your interest. You know the type, the stage is a blackout then in it comes, full of triumph to slowly reveal heroic guitarist under a smoky conical green light.
'Bandaged Knees' sees Ricky bleeding some rock 'n roll tears in the rain and threatens to become a classic but there's just something stopping it, something in the flow that you want to unblock. Maybe again it's that 'dowg gowen' transatlantic twang (which hits a peak during this number) sapping its true strength.
The Almighty give a big shake of the ballad tree eight songs in and down falls every cliché in the book but it's still a decent punt. Think of any slowy by Bon Jovi, Poison, Aerosmith, Motley Crue etc and there you have it. You can see the video in your mind's eye as soon as you hear it - in a desert somewhere, sat around a campfire, cigarettes lolling out of mouths at barely smokable angles, bottles of JD scattered all around, cowboy hats, occasional black and white slow motion shot as our hero catches the eye of the blonde hottie in the denim hot pants across the flames. Hang on - that's a dream I had last night. Anyway, you get my point though it is a nice enough song.
Every album has its centrepiece though and 'Devil's Toy' is an absolute gem. This track is the silver bullet in 'Soul Destruction's' six shooter and unlike several of its misfiring counterparts this one pierces the chest and rattles about your ribs. It's hard rock gold - swinging, swaying, rocking and baying. This song is probably why I've been a little harsh in this review, it's because I'm a bit peeved. Peeved because the band can produce brilliance such as this and yet fall short in other areas. I know every song can't be a classic but if you've got this in your locker than you're halfway there. Moody slide guitar intro, a killer tension building verse and a hook of a chorus that any band anywhere would wish they'd have written. I'd have kept the tension a little longer and milked it a bit more but they can't resist the temptation to kick the sand in your face early doors. Anyway who am I to tell them how to write songs? They're the ones who played at Donnington, not I, and bloody good luck to them.
So that's the story of 'Soul Destruction', well, my take on it anyway. Very much a nearly album by a nearly band. It isn't bad at all. I do, for all the negative points I made, quite like it, but it's way off being a classic. As Brits it is decreed that support of the underdog runs in our blood, 'tis indeed a noble and commendable trait. But sometimes you feel the underdogs just don't help themselves and that can be pretty frustrating at times.
Soul destroying, some might say.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Free 'n' Easy
3 Joy Bang One Time
4 Love Religion
5 Bandaged Knees
6 Praying To The Red Light
7 Sin Against The Light
8 Little Lost Sometimes
9 Devil's Toy
10 What More Do You Want
11 Hell To Pay