IRON MAIDEN (PROTO METAL)

Proto-Metal • United Kingdom
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Not to be confused with the band that formed in the late 1970s and is better known by this name;

In 1964, Barry Skeels, Steve Drewett, Chris Rose and Alan Hooker formed an acoustic band in Basildon, Essex, that eventually evolved into a band called Iron Maiden. By 1966, the lineup was Skeels on bass, Drewett on vocals/harmonies, Rose on lead guitar, Tom Loates on rhythm guitar and Stan Gillem on drums; they played Rolling Stones and blues numbers under the name "Growth". Reduced to a two-piece, Drewett and Skeels played blues under the name of "Stevenson's Blues Department" in pubs and clubs in Essex and London. They supported a number of up and coming bands including Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac, The Groundhogs and King Crimson.

In 1968, Drewett and Skeels were joined by Paul Reynolds on drums and Trevor Thoms on guitar. They released an acetate (God of Darkness/Ballad of Martha
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IRON MAIDEN (PROTO METAL) Maiden Voyage album cover 1.79 | 3 ratings
Maiden Voyage
Proto-Metal 1998

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IRON MAIDEN (PROTO METAL) Ned Kelly album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Ned Kelly
Proto-Metal 1970

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IRON MAIDEN (PROTO METAL) Maiden Voyage

Album · 1998 · Proto-Metal
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I've always had an irrepressible pride in my predilection for the obscure. When my grade six buddies were playing the Mötley Crüe and Van Halen albums over and over, I brought home a copy of Deep Purple's eponymous third album. When a junior high buddy had his Scorpions "Blackout" T-shirt on and "Love at First Sting" in his Walkman, I offered him a listen to "Drifting Sun" from "Fly to the Rainbow" and got a bemused look in response. I'm sure I was the first in my junior high to bring in Bathory and Voivod, too.

From my senior high days I really got into proto-metal from the 60's and researched what I could about the music and contributing artists. Now more than two decades later and on a whim I decided to check out proto-metal 60's on YouTube and discovered so much music I was never aware of.

Iron Maiden - my second ever concert and one of the first bands I got into. But wait! This is not that Iron Maiden. Another much older band had the same name? Now I'm intrigued. This "Original" Iron Maiden formed in Essex in the mid-sixties though existed under different monikers until they recruited the lads necessary to write guitar rock with dark lyrics. To express their new found rebelliousness they changed their name to the socially disturbing BUM but their new manager requested a less offensive name and soon the name Iron Maiden came up and stuck. The band recorded the single "God of Darkness" b/w "Falling" in early 1970. They also managed six demos in late '69 and had high hopes for an album. Sadly, their record company folded, their manager became ill and a line-up change just before an important gig resulted in a live disaster. Soon after Iron Maiden's members scattered to the breezes.

A couple of decades later there was a request for their old material and eventually a CD was scrapped together using the single and b-side and some demos because the tapes were lost. On the most recent re-release, the tapes resurfaced it seems and the demos are replaced with better quality recordings. The cover on this version (not the one you see here on MMA) was suggested by one band member as he had imagined their first cover should appear.

"God of Darkness" does not feature heavy distorted guitar but it is a dark tune, though the lyrics sound like they are about a voodoo ritual at times and the attempt at an ominous whisper for the line, "Summon the black God of Darkness" sounds a bit corny now.

I much prefer the second track "Falling" with its Renaissance guitar lick. The guitar sound has more fuzz to it and the song doesn't come across as corny. I've put it on a proto-metal mix CD as it's my favourite from the album.

"Ned Kelly" tells the story of a criminal who was caught and shot down (don't know the story but could be Australian). It's not bad and rocks alright but the dark occult feel is absent here.

"Liar" starts similar to "God of Darkness" with the unfuzzed electric guitar rock but the song gives way to a lengthy guitar solo which hints of jazz and blues. The bass guitar gets a bit of a feature in here too, the percussion easing away until only the bass is thunking and plunkering away for nearly a minute. The percussion returns with some subtle guitar but fades out again as the soft soloing guitar is given the floor. The song continues as a guitar jam with bass and drums in their proper place. There's some weird off-key song part near the end that's a little too experimental for me. Not really metal at all and a bit long I find.

With "Ritual" we're back to lyrics about forces of darkness though until the lead break the music is pretty laid back and tame. The soloing is rather good here and more interesting that "Liar". Still the music sounds closer to 1970 American guitar rock with a hint of country roots overshadowed by the blues. Competent, yes. Heavy, no. At over 8 minutes you get the impression that some of these songs would have been shortened or reworked for an album. Still, "Ritual" keeps moving with more song and then distorted guitar soloing. Perhaps one of the better tracks in the end even though I feel it loses impact once the first part reprises to close the song.

Next up is an awkwardly out of place blues rock tune "CC Rider" which would have done better as a bonus track if this were an actual LP and not an anthology of the band's terribly brief career. The playing is good enough but they sound like a 1969 covers band of Clapton era Yardbirds.

"The Plague" sounds promising in lyric and title but is actually another non-distorted guitar number that provides a vehicle for more jazz rock guitar. It does at times remind me of some of the more jazzy moments during the extended solos of Black Sabbath's debut and Iron Maiden do make decent use of a fuzz box for some of the soloing. The drumming is also quite jazzy at times and the bass is solidly in there. In this song the guitar reaches an interesting experimental part reminiscent of Jeff Beck just before 6 minutes and mellows a little before the sound is toyed with, graduating from Beck to jazz to rock and then the song abruptly concludes.

"The Ballad of Martha Kent" is yet another song with plenty of room for an instrumental workout. By now I'm finding the singer's somewhat nasal tone not so appealing but he doesn't take up too much space here either. Guitarist Trevor Thoms must be given mention at last as he turns even more experimental in parts, playing some aggressive power chords that don't make up a riff but part of the solo, reminding me of Jeff Beck's work in the Yardbirds' instrumental "Someone to Love part two".

The Rise Above Relics CD I have here sounds pretty good regarding recording quality. The first two songs were recorded in February 1970 for Gemini Records and the other six songs were recorded in October 1969. The CD comes with a small booklet that gives a detailed history of the band and includes numerous photos of members, group shots, and concert adverts.

What I'd like to have had happen was that these guys put out a proper album with more fuzz on the guitar and then that album plus the single and b-side and these demos were all released together. Sadly, that album never happened.

The highlights here are also the downfall for me: the guitar soloing is often something to appreciate and the bass and drums do a wondrous job of backing the guitar. But there's a little too much room for just soloing and not enough effort on song structure. This is a band that were this close to having it all done right and tidy. Had they managed a couple of albums in the early seventies they may well have become one of the forefathers of doom. As it was and is, the guitar rarely approaches a real metal sound and at times the songs seen more like doom jazz thanks to the lyrics.

This album is interesting in places and for its place in underground rock history I'm glad I bought it. But aside for a couple of tracks I am not likely to spin it much. As for proto-metal it earns this label more for the guitar-based music and sometimes dark lyrics than for any truly heavy sound. I have many more albums from 69/70 that better encapsulate the style of music that led to heavy metal.

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