Primitive Origins: Winterhawk’s ‘Electric Warriors’

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there are no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

San Francisco-based Indigenous hard rockers Winterhawk put out two records—one in 1979, one in 1980—that are both about to be re-released next week by Don Giovanni Records, so we thought it was a good time to dive into the band’s first album, ’79’s Electric Warriors, to find out if it deserves the reissue.

This Winterhawk—who, by all accounts, took their culture’s traditions and values into their music and aimed to be good role models to youth—isn’t to be confused with Chicago’s Winterhawk, who were also around at the same time. (This band’s “Don’t Die” shirt is one sXe slogan away from being a piece of Earth Crisis merch.) Indeed, this Winterhawk took a positive and damn near squeaky-clean approach to their craft, and it only adds to the music.

“Prayer” is a killer opener, starting off with a slow burn that has tons of ’70s feel to it; it’s a courageous way to kick things off, not exactly diving head first into hard rock, but setting a mood, and doing it with authority. Then on to “Got to Save It,” and, man, I really like what this band is laying down here, incredibly solid on their instruments with a fantastic vibe—good-time KISS at its best—and a strong message. Fantastic opening pair of songs here. This song is 5:30 but doesn’t get old, it actually just gets stronger and stronger as it goes on.

“Black Whiskey” tells a tale of the evils of alcohol over a mid-tempo kinda-mellow tune, a song that wouldn’t sound half bad playing in a car stereo at 8pm on a summer night while you’re killing time in a parking lot with the buds. Winterhawk is doing absolutely nothing wrong on this record so far, three songs in. Win, win, win.

“Dark Skin Lady” ends off the original album’s side A with some killer guitar work that immediately brings to mind classy and classic Thin Lizzy, the band just incredibly solid, tight, working as a cohesive unit here. Love it. Side A done and done and absolutely no complaints here.

“Restaurant” is a slinky groover with tons of attitude, kinda absurd lyrics, and—I can’t stress this enough—a tight delivery. Seriously, these guys were incredibly locked in together on this album. This song rules, and, honestly, those stoopid lyrics only help.

“Selfish Man” is when the band’s personality really starts to shine, with some of their traditional Native American musical sounds coming through both in the music and vocals. Excellent track here, one that handles both quiet and louder parts with ease and power.

“Custer’s Dyin’” absolutely kills it, the band laying into a slinky boogie with charged lyrics and tons of their own flair in there. A great song, and then they end the album even stronger with “Fight.” This closes the album off with another streamlined rocker, vocals threatening to be a bit much at points but generally staying just this side of too much and instead rocking all night long, the band showing off their excellent riff skills one final time here, drumming concise and tight, everyone locked in for one final groove, bassist holding it down, man… I love Winterhawk, and the spoken part that ends off this song, and the album, just nails that home. Incredible.

I’m thrilled to see this, and follow-up Dog Soldier, being reissued, this record being legit rocking, with tons of personality and a positive message behind it to boot. It’s aged perfectly and is one of the finest pieces of shoulda-been early metal/hard rock we’ve come across in this column to date.

Winterhawk’s Electric Warriors – The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Nope.

Heaviness factor: Somewhere between KISS and Thin Lizzy. Not wildly heavy, but wildly rockin’.

Obscura Triviuma: Info is hard to come by, but it appears that the band’s last release was a 1984 7” with a cover of “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and an original, “Rock and Roll Soldier.”

Other albums: 1980’s Dog Soldier.

Related bands: Jim Boyd, V.C. & the Saucers

Alright, fine, if you must: Nope. The band wanted to be good role models, so let’s keep it clean.