1970. The dusk of a decade, darkness and the spawn of (proto) metal, a three year metagenesis incubation period of morphed sub-genres, thus the rising of the beast and the consolidation of material rising from the earth's surface. Slab-heavy, sinister, doom destined and stone sonic, the first crushing wall of oppression consisted of Black Sabbath's self-titled debut, Deep Purple's In Rock, the eponymous Lucifer's Friend, Kingdom Come from Sir Lord Baltimore, May Blitz, Bloodrock and a legion of other crusaders. Marching with the initial onslaught, though not on the frontline of the metallic mayhem, four young men (actually in thier late teens) waged axes, pounded the drums bringing the thundering boom of the war-clouds, stricking with swagger from the shadows with superior prowess and galloping gallantry - forward - Stray.
"All In Your Mind" is the intitial assault, slowly, deceptively builds and then swiftly bolts into a chugging plod of mortar fire riffs with a finesse vocal harmony verse/chorus. Enter the arial flight solos of guitarist Del Bromham switching to space searching sonics and back to a tank attack riffage with a smashing devasting end result. Holy smokes! Future metal monster, Maiden would unleash the same fury some twenty years later along with "Holy Smoke".
A dilatory drum beat and a guitar groove gains momentum with a wiry bass sneaking in tempered with a harmonic chorus and then the young gunslingers shatter the silence and let all hell break loose with a wall of distorted fuzz overdubed with a shooting guitar solo. "Taken All Those Good Things" ends the showdown with the boys struting out the verse and chorus as they step out of the saloon. Cocky.
"Around The World In 80 Days" and "Yesterday's Promises" takes a break from the frenzy. Both tracks are a mellow prog/psych sound with few time signature shifts but show cases simple song writing and musical structure with some brushes of exotic instrumentation without being to sappy/poppy. Beatle-esque. Tastefully done.
"Only What You Make It" brings back the momentus barrage of incoming shells right from the start and is relentless to the end of the mission. A harmonica is employed with this campaign of straight-ahead heavy rock. Well executed.
The band's first single, "Time Machine" starts off as more mild flower-power psych hit of the day with a captivating harmonic chorus verse and then griping guitars, catgut acoustic and fuzz drenched electric charge out with a wall of stinging semblance and ending with a conquering demon riff.
A chucka-wucka wave opens fire on this track, "Move On" and slides into a jazz/funk fusion rhythm with a stunning solo and then returning to the stammering rapid string attack joined in unison with a melodic vocal verse. Bromham then soars with his solo session over a groove laden bass and drums, never going into an annihallated suicide mission.
Nine minutes of proto-metal madness to end-all closes out the album. "In Reverse / Some Say" encircles and is entrenched in a cast iron composition of hammering and ductile distorted and doom riffs. Stomp and boogie then set the stage for a rip tearing, mish-mash of metal. Suddenly, the switch and swath of the axe leaves one in vertigo, mania and awe.
A top 10 proto-metal release from 1970, Stray's eponymous release features the best of "heavy" from the early '70's: the riffage of Sabbath and Budgie, progressive leanings and the sonic of Deep Purple, the space/sci-fi heavy psych of Hawkwind, the twisted steel blues base of May Blitz and the Groundhogs, the melodic vocal style of Wishbone Ash. Unfortunately Stray didn't recieve the "success" of these contemparies and after two more fantastic proto-metal releases the band changed thier formula to find "stardom" and left thier die hard fans confused though they would return to the heavy metal after a disappointing venture into more of a mainstream hard rock endeavour.
What seperated Stray from most hard rock/heavy psych bands of early '70's was thier hook laden, melodic and harmonic vocals. Vocalist Steve Gadd was very competent and had great unison harmonies with guitarist Del Bromham, but never took the spotlight away from Bromham as he is the show of this band. This album is dominated by the guitars as Bromham's gunning is relentless with mind boggling time signature shifts, power chords, manic solos and dark heavy riffs with some eclectic progressive tinges at precise times. The rhythm section of Ritchie Cole (drums) and Gary G. Giles (bass) lay down a very good foundation of chug and boom and keep up with Bromham's frantic, twisting and meandering. The songwriting is short and simple and may be the weak point of the album, but with that being said it doesn't hinder, take away or deter from the music.
Stray is still going strong today, forty years later with guitarist Del Bromham being the backbone and released probably thier best album since the mid '70's with Valhalla from 2010 and the band is still giggin' in the UK and was one hell of a live act back in thier heyday.