HEAVY LOAD — Full Speed at High Level (review)

HEAVY LOAD — Full Speed at High Level album cover Album · 1978 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Heavy Load's debut has got the whole NWoBHM thing going on, but with better production, vocals aside.

There are also some awesome Progressive ideas in here that belie the frequently sloppy execution.

The opener, "Full Speed at High Level" is a kind of low-grade Vardis meets Saxon thing, hard to listen to because of the execution, and mercifully short.

"Midnight Crawler", on the other hand, is packed full of invention - that main riff totally destroys, and the contrasting answering riff is progressive in flavour. The drummer kicks things up several notches, and the lead guitarist chucks in some tasty licks. There is a kind of harmony choir of backing vocals which isn't half bad too - the complete opposite of the opening song, this is actually really, really good and well executed. Unlike the opener, this is unforgiveably short.

Things stay on a good level from here, with the "Keep Yourself Alive" opening riff of "Moonlight Spell". A lot on the sloppy side, but really inventive and pushing the bar at the cutting edge of NWoBHM - or NWoSHM, as many people seem to have started to call the Swedish version which appears to have kicked off at the same time as it did in England. The song progresses in an Iron Maiden / "Sin After Sin" Priest style and again, goes from pretty good to brilliant - which is more than can be said for the vocals.

The quality drops for the intro to "Storm", which seems to be based on a Ritchie Blackmore riff, but played with that high-octane Judas Priest sound - and it's more of a drizzly shower than a storm. The howling gale sound effect just evokes a Spinal Tap moment of embarrassing proportions.

The long instrumental section kicks in around 3:05, where the song proper ends, and it's a brave attempt... it could also be heard as highly influential, as the ideas are really good, but the execution sucks. The tempo and stylistic changes are a demonstration of an imagination on overdrive, but the lack of the skills necessary to bring the imagination fully alive. The slow section is actually executed with painstaking care, and you can hear that, with practise, this would be a really nice Floyd-flavoured section, with added technical snippets, putting this in the running for an early Prog Metal category. It's a great idea to move to an uptempo section, but ouch... and that drum solo feels too much, despite being reasonably executed. A very tasty, massive riff is then appended, which builds, and drops disappointingly back to the song.

So it is that "In Two Minds" is a very good summary of how I feel about this album.

Good NWoBHM riff, rubbish song, appalling vocals even by the standards so far, and a terrible wailing guitar solo. The riff/rhythm section is nice and strong, and the song comes across like a really well made cake that's been iced and decorated by an incontinent seagull.

Weirdly, at this point, I'm reminded of the monster obscurity "From The Fjords" by Legend (which is an awesome album, well worth 40 minutes of anybody's time). I'm now wondering if Legend heard Heavy Load and got inspiration to record this sort of music properly?

"Rock And Roll Freak" has the Legend sound all over it, with solid riffing and bass, and driving drums. Yup, and horrid vocals. The Priest flavour is even stronger here - and, for my money, is better than much Priest of this time when the instrumental kicks in around 2:50. There then appears a riff I recognise from "White Rock" by Riot from their "Narita" album of the following year. I really wish the band hadn't returned to the song!

"Caroline" begins in Progressive territory, with keys and plinky guitars tracing a nice, imaginative progression. The vocals fit this style a little better - but still not the most attractive feature. When the band kicks in, we're still in a Progressive mood, and there are tempo-changes a-plenty, with a really individual approach to the arrangement. Some really stunning ideas in here, well worth tolerating the bad execution for.

The album wraps up with "Son of The Northern Light", and it's time to stand up for Exciter as far as the main riff and double-bass drumming is concerned, exploring a kind of proto-thrash territory. The modal flavours of the mid-verse sections are really very cool and modern sounding, despite the old school amp sounds and production, and the instrumental again explores like crazy:

This isn't a lame bunch of two chord tricks, but a clear attempt to try different structural methods and build some dramatic tension into the overall structure. It's really good to hear a band having a go at the hardest parameter of music to be progressive in: Form, and this is probably my favourite piece on the entire album.

In summary, a hard album to listen to, and a Game of two halves";

On the one hand, a bit of a mess with rubbish vocals.

On the other hand, some fabulous musical ideas and some moments of real trailblazing brilliance where it all comes together to form a progressive NWoBHM sound such as the world had never heard in 1978.

An album for those able to hear past surface horribleness and appreciate beauty within, and definitely one for fans of Progressive Metal. A tough one for more traditional metal fans to appreciate, I'd wager - but there is plenty here to headbang to nonetheless.
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