When The Almighty opened the Donington Monsters of Rock Festival in 1992, they sounded like a band ready to take on the world. Their second album, 1991’s ‘Soul Destruction’ had been hugely popular among UK rock fans and despite a key line-up change that saw guitarist Tantrum replaced by Alice Cooper sideman Pete Friesen, their third album – the soon to be released ‘Powertrippin’ – further showcased a band that seemed absolutely unshakable.
…And indeed, upon its release, the reviews for ‘Powertrippin’ were hugely positive. With its heavier stance and some brilliantly crafted songs, it quickly became a fan favourite. Peaking at #5 on the UK album chart, it also became The Almighty’s biggest commercial success. It clearly wasn’t successful enough for the label bigwigs, though, as Polydor Records dropped the band the following year.
This seven disc box set effectively tells the story of almost – but not quite – everything that happened after. ‘Welcome To Defiance’ maps out the highs and the lows; the interesting experiments; the songs that deserved to be huge and even a dalliance with punk ‘n’ roll. Perhaps best of all, it finally shines the spotlight on two unjustly ignored albums from the early 2000s – ‘The Almighty’ and ‘Psycho-Narco’ (from 2000 and 2001, respectively) – both of which seemed to have spent most of their natural lives in an out of print limbo.
WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON? (1994-95)
The Almighty’s fourth studio album ‘Crank’ (released in October 1994) gained both enthusiastic reviews and respectful sales, but it wasn’t met kindly by all fans. The band could’ve chosen to record ‘Powertrippin’ part two, but here was something markedly different in style. With the bulk of the songs taking on a far more abrasive attitude, it found The Almighty inhabiting a world where an anger seemed to inform everything and the one-line chorus hook reigned.
Interestingly, for an album able to provoke such an extreme reaction, the passing decades have been more than kind. It’s also more obvious that its simple anger feels far more anthemic. At its best, ‘Crank’ takes on an almost punk-metal fusion, which at the time, seemed like a very natural step for the band to take – if not a step forward, certainly a step sideways. When rattling out riffs at full pelt and making great use of gang vocals on simple choruses, tracks like ‘Cheat’ and the expletive driven ‘Crank & Deceit’ show off an unflinching anger. Despite this, the material never appears to confront the audience, but rather more set up a feeling of unity. These musical vehicles designed to relieve pent up frustration – something that would have certainly appealed to an audience of twenty-somethings in the mid 90s – have lost none of their edge when revisited decades on. It’s great to hear how much of the weight is taken by Floyd London’s bass work, especially on heavyweight, high octane tracks like ‘Crackdown’ where the Almighty cast aside their earlier, biker friendly anthems like ‘Free ‘N’ Easy’ and fully embrace something more in keeping with a melodic hardcore edge…and do so very successfully.
Keeping with the speed, ‘Move Right In’ actually sounds like the ultimate tribute to classic Motorhead, with Stump Monroe indulging in a drum part that takes some very obvious cues from the classic ‘Overkill’ and Floyd rattling his bass strings with a genuine feeling of force. This is the “new” Almighty going for broke – a band with the subtlety of a truck and a frontman more than willing to give himself entirely to almost every performance. It’s a band that suggests you’re either with them or you’re not, and if you’re not, well, fuck you. Ricky Warwick’s gravel edged voice remained one of the most distinctive in rock at that time and that definitely helped The Almighty’s recordings to have a feeling of consistency despite a few drastic musical changes.
Decades after the album’s original release, it’s only really the single ‘Wrench’ that doesn’t quite hold up. ‘Wrench’ made an obvious lead single back in 1994 due to its heavy and grungy style; there’s plenty about the performance that suggests a heavier, much darker cousin to ‘Addiction’. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’re left with a massive riff that’s got nowhere to go – its devastating heaviness comes at the expense of the song itself. Musically, it’s little more than a dull plod. For those looking for something of a more metal persuasion – a little closer to that ‘Powertrippin’ comfort zone – the album still has a couple of very familiar sounding tunes up its sleeve. ‘The Unreal Thing’ unleashes the kind of grungy riff Friesen had taken to glory on ‘Addiction’, and ‘Jonestown Mind’ (a top 30 hit at the beginning of 1995) concedes to a far more “traditional” Almighty sound, almost feeling like a leftover from earlier sessions with it’s chorus taking on a more melodic edge. If that single points towards ‘Crank’s most accessible side, then the riff heavy brilliance of ‘Ultraviolent’ – pushing Friesen to the fore once again – more than cements it by showcasing a fantastic downtuned sound throughout. These are both songs deserving of being played loudly…and often.
Back in 1994 and with the mighty ‘Powertrippin’ still getting regular stereo time, ‘Crank’ seemed…disappointing, but (‘Wrench’ aside) nothing could be further from the truth. In terms of combining big riffs with sloganistic hooks, it’s an unflinching experience, but it’s also the sound of a great hard rock band taking no prisoners. …And if the studio recordings failed to make that clear enough, the live set ‘Crank & Deceit’ (a Japanese only release in 1995; repackaged as ‘Just Add Live’ for the UK market in the late 90s) really hits that point home with storming renditions of half of the album tracks – including definitive performances of ‘Crank & Deceit’ and ‘United State of Apathy’ – sitting naturally among the much-loved classics.
SPEED OF THE BREAKDOWN (1996)
Within seconds of hitting the play button on 1996’s ‘Just Add Life’, The Almighty’s desires to always move forward are immediately clear when the heaviness of ‘Crank’ is replaced by far more of the buoyancy that drove the first two Almighty albums, ‘Blood Fire & Love’ and ‘Soul Destruction’, but with a whole new twist. In true Almighty form, of course, this step forward brings a new challenge and – eventually – more greatness. In the case of set opener ‘Ongoing & Total’, the band’s gritty rock style is tempered with a little punky spirit, often hinting at Warwick’s love for The Ruts with its jagged sound and anthemic, one line hook. If this makes the band sound energised, it’s got nothing on the tracks that immediately follow. ‘Do You Understand’ is a brilliant punk infused belter where fluid basslines underscore a pogo-worthy riff, while Warwick’s gravelly tones sound about as natural as they have at any point since 1989. With the album’s gutsy one-two opening punch swiftly joined by a punk ‘n’ roll influenced ‘All Sussed Out’ – a tune where a horn section bolsters something that sounds like Rocket From The Crypt playing Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ – there’s a feeling that The Almighty could tackle any rock style they wished and emerge as victors.
Lovers of the band’s heaviest side are given a treat via the dirty grooves of ‘Feed The Need’, a track that revisits the crunch of ‘Crank’ and most aggressive bits of ‘Powertrippin’, but ensuring there’s more than a basic retread here, the heavy elements are balanced by an unexpected funk groove – occasionally suggesting someone within the ranks has a love for Stretch’s ‘Why Did You Do It’. If the funkier elements aren’t clear enough, there’s time along the way for a cheekily lifted KC & The Sunshine Band lyric. Like most of ‘Just Add Life’, it mightn’t immediately feel essential, but the opportunity to revisit it as part of this broad body of work more than shows its strength. Also flaunting a new sense of swagger, ‘Independent Deterrent’ is driven by one of London’s finest basslines when a fat tone colliding with a dirty groove lends an almost post-grunge feel to some tough hard rock sounds throughout, and in yet another twist ,‘Some Kind of Anything’ experiments with a fusion of hardcore and skate punk, which contrasted with a defiant hard rock vocal and rock ‘n’ roll lead guitar break, still sounds like The Almighty at full pelt.
The chunky ‘Look What Happened Tomorrow’ sounds like a ‘Crank’ leftover augmented by a new, shiny chorus and its push and pull between heaviness and melody always lends an energy. With Friesen’s guitar tones at their most distinctive, this should be considered “classic Almighty”, but it’s actually outshone by the swaggering rock of ‘8 Day Depression’, a track that gives the album the ultimate in “buried treasure”. Offering a great riff set against a very retro 60s keyboard, the arrangement whips up an odd hybrid of mod, hard rock and melodic punk – all of which suits Warwick’s voice brilliantly. It might not always greet the purists entirely favourably, but – like ‘All Sussed Out’ – it proves this band never got stuck in a musical rut. There are at least six tracks that make ‘Just Add Life’ worthy of revisiting, but this is definitely one of the band’s most exciting experiments.
With each track genuinely feeling as if they all contribute to a complex and confident record, it’s a mystery why ‘Just Add Life’ wasn’t massive upon release. Peaking at #34 in the UK album chart, it didn’t enjoy the commercial success of its two immediate predecessors, but it’s a record that stands up very well. It is occasionally let down by too many one-line hooks, but unlike ‘Crank’ it is much better served by a real energy and a feeling that Warwick and friends are enjoying being in the moment. An outsider’s view can be deceiving of course, and the rot was obviously setting in. After a tour promoting the album, The Almighty bid the world goodbye…at least for a time.
It felt like the end of an era.
JUST DROP THE FUCKING BOMB NOW (2000-2001)
Following a brief stint with a new band (sic) in 1997, Warwick re-emerged as frontman with The Almighty in 2000. Energised by a new line-up featuring guitarist Nick Parsons, the band’s comeback disc ‘The Almighty’ was – and remains – a vital listen. At the album’s strongest, it’s as if the band had never been away. With tracks like ‘Broken Machine’, ‘TNT’ and ‘La Chrispa De La Muerte’ mixing the grungier aspects of the best ‘Powertrippin’ material with massive melodic rock choruses, Warwick’s natural gifts as both vocalist and songwriter more than shine through. And although, in some ways, such tracks can feel like a retread of previous works, they really don’t feel lazy or laboured in any way. The speed driven ‘Fat Chance’ offers a perfect punk-metal hybrid that wouldn’t have felt out of place on ‘Crank’ or ‘Just Add Life’, and ‘White Anger Comedown’ taps into a busy, groove laden slab of rock where new boy Parsons gets to overlay a punchy riff with a sharp counter melody. In terms of energy, this is classic Almighty…and as far as performance is concerned, this is the sound of four men reaching optimum tightness. It honestly sounds like a band ready to take on the world for a second time – you’d never guess it was among Floyd’s final Almighty recordings.
Where ‘The Almighty’ really hits the mark, though, is through its desires to ditch the vaguely alternative overhangs and just cut loose with some good old fashioned rock. Set highlight ‘Poison Eyes’ presents some of the band’s most commercial sounds ever via a very melodic performance that almost seems to pre-empt some of Warwick’s Black Star Riders work with its nods to classic rock and the sounds of the 70s coming through in waves. Also very enjoyable, ‘Alright’ and ‘Stop’ call back to ‘Soul Destruction’ with an increase in both trebly sound and swagger, with the former sounding particualarly smart as Warwick really cuts loose on a great vocal performance while new boy Parsons drops various choppy guitar chords and contributes a fabulously retro solo.
An obvious bridge between the album’s two extremes, ‘I’m In Love With Revenge’ takes the guts of a classic Almighty sound and adds a punchy, almost punky edge calling back to the more groove oriented aspects of ‘Just Add Life’. As with ‘La Chrispa…’, for example, although there’s a whole world of familiarity here, it’s certainly a case of tipping the hat to part of the band’s past as opposed to Warwick phoning in a performance for a quick and easy quid. ‘The Almighty’ might not be home to anything truly “classic” in the wider world of the band’s back catalogue, but it has one major advantage over both ‘Crank’ and ‘Just Add Life’: a genuine consistency.
‘The Almighty’ captures a lot of the band’s natural power, but 2001’s ‘Psycho-Narco’ arguably is a much stronger album in most respects. Another drastically overlooked release, ‘P-N’ comes absolutely loaded with potential classics. In opener ‘Galvanise’, the record quickly offers something on a par with ‘Powertrippin’s best as muted chords underscore a gruff vocal, before a shoutalong chorus calls back to the early days. Shifting into the drum heavy grunger ‘427 Freak Horsepower’, a much dirtier sound finds the band waste deep in a powerful rocker that thrusts a great rhythm section in the spotlight, while a semi-narky Warwick growls about a Che Guevara wannabe with “persecution complexes”, proving none of his pointed anger is in danger of subsiding. Topping a great riff, Nick Parsons steps up to the plate with a fantastic solo absolutely drenched in wah-wah. On all fronts, this showcases The Almighty doing what they do best – regardless of era and line-up, it shows a band unwilling to go quietly.
A massive left turn on ‘Ruse’ takes the riff from Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ and reimagines it in a more sinister way, which sounds really effective while Warwick reels off locations of major wars. There’s something deeply unsettling about this track – it’s all groove and intent, further proving the band have lost none of their edge. Also brilliant, the semi acoustic ‘Waiting For Earthquakes’ gives Warwick ample opportunity to explore the more bluesy side to his voice, prefiguring a few of his solo recordings, while the punchy rocker ‘Million Times Nothing’ manages to mix punk attitudes and metal riffs in a way that makes so much of the punk ‘n’ roll movement of the 90s seem limp by comparison. Each of these gives a lot of weight to ‘Psycho-Narco’ as a whole, and although it’s never been as loved as The Almighty’s early works, a strong case could be made for it being one of their best albums.
For those hoping for something even more rousing, the huge hard rock sound of ‘Soul On A Roll’ gleefully calls back to moments of the first two Almighty albums without sounding like a disinterested band recycling past glories. Ricky’s voice is especially good, and if it weren’t clear before, Parsons sounds like a great fit for the band, managing to pull together Tantrum’s biker rock charm and Friesen’s alternative sound within one performance. Even punchier, the sub-two minute punker ‘Big Idea Idiot’ couples an energetic performance with a rough and ready production style that occasionally makes The Almighty sound like early Therapy?, while the equally enjoyable (though stylistically different) ‘If I Knew What I Wanted’ recasts Ricky and the boys as Eddie & The Hot Rods with bigger boots. Also among the “crank it loud” highlights, ‘Blowout Kit For The Underdog” clearly seems modelled on a couple of old Wildhearts tunes, but with a pinch of The Almighty’s own magic and some tightly wound riffs, it never feels like a direct lift in any way. These tunes are more than testament to The Almighty’s easy ability to mix up styles and each one adding some genuine weight to ‘Psycho-Narco’s already enjoyable material, will make instant favourites for first time listeners, and cement any feelings older fans have harboured about this being a superb swansong.
For a lot of people, its the chance to pick up those later albums that gives this collection its main purpose. Truth is, despite not connecting with the record buying public at the time of release, both are fantastic records – arguably better than 1994’s popular ‘Crank’. They might have only been heard by the die-hards at the time, but they have the potential to rise to the status of cult classics. If this box introduces a few Black Star Riders/Ricky Warwick solo fans to a couple of once hard to find discs, its work is done.
STARING OUT THROUGH SONIC SOUNDS (THE BONUS MATERIALS)
On top of all of that ‘Welcome To Defiance’ pulls together a wealth of bonus tracks from several hard to find CD singles and compilations. The studio recordings are pretty good all round, if not always quite as good as the best of the album material. Instant highlights include the dark and moody ‘Thanks Again, Again’ where a semi-gothic verse collides with a Therapy? Sounding chorus, showing a less direct sound to the Almighty’s sound while still finding time for a vaguely grungy middle section and the punchy rock of ‘State of Emergency’, a Stiff Little Fingers song that gets reworked into a blend of early biker rock and NWOBHM – something reinforced by a brilliantly tapped lead guitar that echoes a couple of moments from Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ LP. It’s probably not what the Stiffs’ Jake Burns expected, but The Almighty certainly make it their own.
The groove heavy ‘Superpower’ might sound more like a Senser jam than an Almighty classic, but between a great riff and a lot of vocal effects it captures a moment in the 90s like very little else, while fans can completely lose themselves in something far more traditional once ‘Tense Nervous Headshake’ revisits the thrashing riffs and punky edge first explored on the most aggressive parts of ‘Crank’. In terms of fun, a great cover of Eddie & The Hot Rods’ ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ – originally from the b-side of the ‘Wrench’ CD single – captures a band in a more carefree mode, yet still delivers the kind of toughness you’ve come to love from the greatest Almighty performances. Despite being a mixed bag (as most b-sides are, due to their more throwaway or experimental nature), the dozen Chrysalis era off-cuts assembled here – originally released as b-sides between 1994-1996 provide a great snapshot of a busy three year stretch.
The bigger draw with the bonus material comes with a disc’s worth of live recordings, where absolutely incendiary versions of ‘Wtench’, ‘Welcome To Defiance’ and ‘United States of Apathy’ (highlights from a 1994 show in Germany) can be heard alongside a fiery ‘Jesus Loves You’ (an extra track from the Japanese gig featured on ‘Crank & Deceit’) – each one lending further testament to the band’s power in front of an audience. Also lifted from the Osaka show, fans are able to revisit a cover of ‘I Fought The Law’ where Warwick and company tear through the standard with a reasonable amount of grit. It may not rouse the same levels of fun as ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’ at their early shows, but it’s great to hear – especially for the many UK fans who didn’t catch the band on the road in the mid 90s.
Obviously, there isn’t too much in this box set that the Almighty obsessive won’t already have. Where it serves a useful purpose and really comes into its own is by providing massive “bang for your buck”, offering a truckload of material at a budget price. With two good albums, two great ones and a host of interesting extras, ‘Welcome To Defiance’ provides a wealth of entertainment. For those who missed the later albums or never got around to finding the ‘Crank & Deceit’ live disc, it should be considered essential.