Flash Metal Suicide: The Almighty
This week: the debut album by The Almighty. Play it loud enough and you can smell the exhaust fumes.
“I'm destroyed but I'm Ok” - Blood Fire and Love
Blood Fire and Love is the greatest Cult rip-off album of all time. It's so good at aping Astbury and Duff that it's basically the fourth-best Cult record (after Electric, Sonic Temple, and the '94 self-titled comeback, if you're keeping score). In 1989, if the Cult vanished in the Bermuda Triangle or fucked off to Tibet for a sabbatical, Rick Rubin coulda just hired The Almighty to take their place and no one would even blink. It wasn't always this way, and it wouldn't last for long – if The Almighty have any legacy, it's their uncanny ability to shed their former skin and transform into a shiny new beast every couple of years – but for a hazy summer or two in the late 80's, The Almighty were lizards in a bottle (yeah!), and it was glorious.
The Almighty has always been and will always be Ricky Warwick's band. Warwick was a young, hard-bitten, tattooed rocker from Northern Ireland with a resume full of punk bands who lucked into a gig playing guitar for nomadic Brit peace-dogs New Model Army during their seminal Ghost of Cain tour in '86-'87. The tour gave him a taste for bright lights and bustling crowds, and when they spat him back out in Glasgow in 1988, Warwick called up a couple old friends, Stump Monroe and Floyd London, and formed the nucleus of The Almighty. They were completed by tempestuous lead guitarist Tantrum (really Ricky, the guy's fucking name shoulda been a clue), and they were off.
Warwick's association with New Model Army put him on the major-label radar and the fledgling hard rockers were soon signed to Polydor, where they quickly and efficiently banged out their 1989 debut, Blood Fire and Love. Here's how rock looked in 1989: jet black hair, motorcycle boots, mirror-shades, dangling earring, leather pants, tattoos, cigarettes, well-trimmed beards, exhaust fumes. You could add a little fur and maybe even a flat-top greaser haircut here and there, but that was the basic archetype. The heavy metal wars were over and everybody lost except the hardcore rock'n'roll types, hip cosmic biker shamans like Ian Astbury, Zodiac Mindwarp, Rob Zombie, Dave Wyndorf (Monster Magnet), Alex Mitchell (Circus of Power), and Frank C Starr (Four Horsemen). And yeah, Ricky Warwick. All of these frontmen shared a common trait: they understood rock n' roll implicitly, and were able to pull in influences not only from their favourite bands (AC/DC, mostly), but from the culture at large, from obscure literature, hidden histories, cult movies, and tribal rituals, from American bikers gangs to Native American medicine men. They were essentially enlightened beasts, the wiliest cocks in the cockfight, each carving out their own particular niche while looking as much like a renegade Hell's Angel as possible.
Actually, that last bit really tripped The Almighty up. As soon as they had built up a good head of steam, the Hell's Angels biker club let the band know in no uncertain terms that their winged-skull logo looked a little too close to the infamous gang's seminal emblem for comfort. After a bloody, fatal chain fight on the streets of Glasgow, the band relented and redrew it. I'm kidding about the chain fight. They did redraw the logo, though.
So anyway, it's 1989 and Blood, Fire and Love hits the streets in all it's fist-shaking, guitar-slinging glory. Destroyed was the obvious hit, a throbbing, head-banging, gut-punching bad-love anthem that shoots straight for the arenas, and the rest of the album (mostly) follows-suit, with big pop hooks smashing headlong into dirty hard rock guitars. The only deviation is the title track, their attempt at an “epic” power-ballad. You know it's supposed to be epic because there's a string session. But it's really just a blues jam with disco violins. And honestly, given some of the power-ballad abominations created in the 80's, it's not really that bad. But it does slow the ruckus down. Otherwise, it's state of the art biker metal, right down to the ridiculous hollow-drum production. Not as cool or catchy as Electric, but definitely at the same party. The kids liked it. Times were good.
The Almighty followed-up with Soul Destruction in 1991, which was essentially a heavier version of Blood Fire and Love (just like Sonic Temple!). The record was relatively successful and the band hit the road to tour, but a year later, Tantrum quit the band, citing the usual artistic differences. And that's when The Almighty's path started to zig-zag wildly. Basically Warwick decided to never make the same record twice, so the next album, 1993's Powertrippin', was grunge, Crank (1994) was punk-metal, and Just Add Life (1996), was pretty much a pop-rock record. Warwick has stated in interviews that he likes to stay current and soaks up what's happening in the rock world, which explains the schizophrenic nature of latter-day Almighty records. There's certainly some precedent in that. Alice Cooper has been doing it for forty years, after all. And, you know, Crank has some tight jams. But in my used-leather universe, Blood Fire and Love is the purest Almighty, the uncut, highest-intensity version, the one where they were willing to take on biker gangs and the whole fucking world, really. The thwacky-drums keep it firmly planted in 1989, but whatever, for a wild night of hardcore rabble-rousing, nothing beats Blood Fire and Love. Except Electric. And Sonic Temple. And that one other Cult record. And maybe Ghost of Cain. But you get what I mean.
PS: Ricky Warwick is alive and well and still making records and was in Thin Lizzy for a minute back there. In fact, he still kinda is.
Next week: Geared! Primed!