Friday, April 8, 2016
Favorite Albums Friday #3: Rising
Favorite Albums Friday is a series of mini-essays weekly or bi-weekly that explores classic albums that made an impact on the world of popular music whether are albums famous to the public or albums that the world needs to hear.
Throughout the history of heavy metal, many often wonder when the genre had gone into its periods of decline as some said it was in the mid-1990s because of the emergence of grunge, alternative music, and hip-hop while the most popular consensus of the genre’s first decline was in the late 70s due to the emergence of punk rock in Britain while disco and corporate rock were considered contributing factors to the genre’s decline in America. Yet, there were still some important albums that came out of that period as one of the bands who would still continue to carry the flag of metal was Rainbow as their 1976 sophomore release Rising would be an album that showcased a more symphonic side to the genre.
While it’s a band that always had a constant line-up change for the bulk of its nine-year period from 1975 to 1984 with a reformation from 1993 to 1997. The one constant of that group was its founder and leader in guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. While he is largely famous for his work in the seminal hard rock band Deep Purple, Rainbow was formed just after Blackmore left the group over creative differences as he wanted to go into something more classical-based. Instead, the band in its Mach III line-up of Blackmore, keyboardist Jon Lord, drummer Ian Paice, and then-new members in bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes, and vocalist David Coverdale were venturing into a more groove-based sound for the album Stormbringer. With Blackmore out of Deep Purple, he decided to form a new project with a band he had encounter earlier called Elf that featured a vocalist who would later become an icon in heavy metal in Ronnie James Dio.
The band’s first release entitled Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow wouldn’t just feature interpretations of songs by Steve Hammond and songs based on classical material. It would also feature elements of medieval fantasy courtesy of Dio as the band’s lyricist at the time yet the line-up for the band’s first album was brief as it would the first of many things that would happen for the band as the group’s first tour would consist of bassist Jimmy Bain, keyboardist Tony Carey, and drummer Cozy Powell. Powell was already famous for his work as a session drummer as well as playing with Jeff Beck in the early 70s as he would be the catalyst for what Blackmore wanted musically. Though the first album did modestly well in the U.S. and U.K. because of Blackmore’s name, it was a major hit throughout the rest of Europe where the idea of classical music fused with heavy metal was more accepted than in Britain and America.
The band’s acceptance in Europe would allow them to record their second album in Munich, West Germany at the Musicland studios with Martin Birch who had co-produced the band‘s first album with Blackmore and Dio. With their sophomore album, the band wouldn’t just create something that would push the boundaries of metal and hard rock to new heights but also provide something was also very challenging musically. At the same time, the production would be heavier and broader to capture the scope of the music while Dio’s lyrical approach would contain a sense of imagery filled with ideas of fantasy that relates more to medieval times as the six songs on the album contain a lot of that. Notably the ferocious opener Tarot Woman as it is this song full of power in terms of its blistering rhythm section led by pummeling fills from Cozy Powell’s drums, Jimmy Bain’s heavy bass, and Blackmore’s fierce guitar work. The track opens softly with Tony Carey’s swooning Moog synthesizer before it becomes this menacing song where Dio really shines vocally with his operatic growl.
For someone as small as Dio, the fact that can bring such a massive voice just adds a lot to his legendary status as he would also provide a lot of range in a mid-tempo song like Run with the Wolf that features these raunchy riffs from Blackmore’s guitar that includes a blues-based sliding solo that is supported by a bopping rhythm that include these amazing fills by Powell who is probably one of rock’s most underrated drummers outside of the world of metal. The upbeat cuts like Starstruck and Do You Close Your Eyes definitely plays into that world of fantasy in terms of what Dio is saying lyrically. The former is a blues-based song while the latter is more based in hard rock as both tracks feature amazing performances from Blackmore and Powell in their respective instruments. Another upbeat track in the album closer A Light in the Black definitely has the energy of punk but it’s more based on bits of blues-riffs and pummeling beats. Yet, it would also feature elements of classical in Blackmore’s guitar solo that do display a sense of virtuosity which was something punk wasn’t about at all.
The album’s centerpiece and often considered the band’s crowning achievement is the song Stargazer. Nearly eight-and-a-half minutes long, the song is not just a true definition of an epic song but it has so much to grasp on. Opening with these pummeling and blistering drum fills for a solo by Cozy Powell, it just adds to the musicianship of the song as Bain’s bass and Blackmore’s guitar hits with the latter coming up with these ferocious riffs that go wow, wow-wow-wow, wow, wow-wow-wow, wow, wow-wow-wow, wow, wow-wow. Dio’s vocals is the voice of an angel of metal where it has these ranges that can be calm to operatic as the lyrics he sings are cosmic in their imagery as they’re accompanied by Carey’s swooning synthesizers that sound very symphonic. That sense of orchestration and need to be symphonic would come into Blackmore’s solo that is probably his best solo as it sounds like a violin from outer space.
The album in its initial release on May 17, 1976 was quite daring considering that it was coming at a time when the music scene in Britain was about to change with the emergence of punk as many say the summer of 1976 was the Summer of Punk. Albums like Rising was considered a big no in Britain despite doing well in the U.K. album charts peaking at 6 while doing modestly well in the U.S. peaking at 48. While the band would focus largely with their growing audience in Europe, the line-up of Dio, Blackmore, Bain, Carey, and Powell wouldn’t last as Carey was fired as Blackmore felt his playing was too complicated while Bain was also fired for being seen as substandard in Blackmore’s view. The two would eventually be replaced by David Stone on keyboards and Bob Daisley on bass where they would help complete parts for the band’s third album Long Live Rock n’ Roll. Dio would leave the band after its tour where Blackmore wanted to go into a more commercial, AOR-oriented style.
In the years since the album’s release, it is often considered the band’s best work despite the many changes in line-up and musical styles the band would do. The 2011 deluxe edition of the album would feature not just the album in two different mixes in the mixing stages set in different studios in New York and Los Angeles but also a rough mix as its second disc that featured expanded versions of Stargazer. Unless one is an audiophile, the New York and LA mixes do sound the same but some of the songs have different time lengths while the rough mixes showcase what the band was trying to go for before the final mixes. Yet, the standout in that deluxe edition are the rough versions of Stargazer as one featured an extended keyboard intro by Tony Carey and another version is from a rehearsal as it is very rough but does maintain that sense of power in the song.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the album has been released as it’s also bittersweet as three of the members in the band have currently passed on as bassist Jimmy Bain just passed away in late January to lung cancer while vocalist Ronnie James Dio also succumbed to cancer in May of 2010 and drummer Cozy Powell died in April of 1998 in a car accident. Despite their passing, their contributions to music will live on as Rising still holds up in terms of its ambition and power while also being an album that rocks. It’s also the kind of album that gives hard rock and metal fans something more as some believe this album provides a template of sorts of the metal sub-genre power metal which is very popular in Europe. In the end, Rising is an album that is metal at its finest as it proves to be operatic, loud, and provide some escape thanks to the band that created it in Rainbow.
© thevoid99 2016