Out of everything I do for the Decibel empire, the Primitive Origins column is what gets me the most reader feedback, hands down. In the column, I explore proto-metal albums from eras past—usually ones I haven’t heard, so the album is documenting my own explorations as we go along—to uncover early extremities that the Decibel readership may or may not be familiar with.
And, man, were there some hard-hitters this year. I wanted to take a minute here as the 2019 draws to a close to take a look back at five of the best—and heaviest—songs I came across while writing the column in 2019; do yourself a favor and get familiar with these tunes, immediately.
Huge shout-out to all the readers who took time to contact me or to chat online about these records and others; the list of recommendations you’ve all given me is overflowing, ensuring there’s plenty more early and pre-metal to explore in 2020. It’s amazing how much proto-metal has been left behind, and alarming how much of it is nearly forgotten. Hopefully we can do our part through this column in making sure it stays remembered.
5: Toe Fat: “That’s My Love for You”
This song kicks off Toe Fat’s self-titled 1970 debut; I was hesitant about this one due to the band’s Uriah Heep connection as, man, I just gotta admit that I can’t really get behind the Heep. Still, color me very ’umbled, as this one is a fun, barnstormer rocker. Nothing mind-melting and not incredibly heavy, but pretty raucous for 1970, and an undeniable riff. And that album cover!
4: New Trolls: “C’è Troppa Guerra”
This 10-minute track is a monster delivered by Italian progsters New Trolls on their 1972 album UT. There’s a lot to sift through here, but of note is the huge proto-metal riff that opens and closes the song; in between, they have no quarters—or no tangerines, or something—about mimicking Led Zeppelin a bit, but it works, and there’s lots of different parts here to digest. But again, it’s all about that huge riff, especially when it returns at 9:06.
3: High Tide: “Death Warmed Up”
This is super deceptive: High Tide’s 1969 debut was called Sea Shanties and had an album-title-appropriate cover, and also prominently featured a violin, so everything about it was set up for failure. But get a load of this huge, heavy crazed instrumental, a 10-minute monolith placed as track two (!) on the album. Great riffs for miles, hysterical violin work, everything about this tune just killing it. I mentioned in my original article that Mastodon’s sea-faring progressive-metal exploring could be traced back to this song, full stop, and I stand by that.
2: Gedo’s “Scent”
Oh, man, how much do I love this song? Japan’s Gedo really did it right here, releasing this self-titled live album in 1974 as their debut, and that’s not the only reason we’re thinking MC5 here: Gedo’s off-the-charts energy veers more proto-punk than proto-metal, but this still scores high on our list for just being so outrageously fast and furious, and catchy. Love the in-the-red production, the barely-held-together delivery, and that alarming amount of songwriting smarts. This song totally rules.
1: Randy Holden’s “Keeper of My Flame”
Astonishingly, this is the third 10-minute track here on this list, but it’s totally worth sitting through, as ex-Blue Cheer guitarist Randy Holden lays down the heaviest riff we’ve encountered in Primitive Origins to date on his Population II album from 1970. Astonishingly, it was recorded in either 1969 (as the internet says) or 1970, but before Black Sabbath’s debut was released (as Holden told us when we were writing the original column about the album). This song is a great, heavy proto-metal stomper, but what really makes it an enticing extreme excavation is the absolutely mammoth proto-sludge riff Holden drops at 7:05. As I said in my original column about this album, this song is Eyehategod, recorded in 1969. Alright, maybe it was 1970, or maybe we’ll never know, and maybe either goddamned way, this riff was a startling discovery for me, one I’ve played loud and proud for many since coming across it, and a prime example of why these albums should always be remembered and discussed with utmost respect.