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’s 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.
Well, you probably know the band name, you maybe know the cover, but if you’re anything like me, you, for some reason, don’t really know the tunes on Lucifer’s Friend‘s 1970 self-titled debut. The German-based band certainly have heavy-looking artwork here, and I just can’t stare at it enough, but do the tunes hold up? I figured it was time to finally get to know this record, so join me as we discover just how heavy Lucifer’s Friend really were.
“Ride the Sky” starts off with a righteous scream and an “Immigrant Song” nod and a galloping proto-metal bit of economy, a 2:55 opener that channels gorgeous Thin Lizzy leads and looks toward the NWOBHM with its brisk rock. Love it, this song as good as the best of Zeppelin’s “metal” output and neck in neck with Deep Purple’s. What an opener: if I were to compile a Primitive Origins compilation, this would be as good a track as any I’ve discussed in this column to kick things off.
“Everybody’s Clown” leans heavy on that organ, and it’s just a sound I have a hard time warming up to, but everything’s heavy enough here, so I can forgive. Love those wailing vocals, the crashing and bashing—this feels far more proto-metal in intent than some of the bands who just stumble into the sound for like 40 percent of an album. At 6:12, time kinda stands still here, the band lapsing into a groovy breakdown part that, alarmingly, takes me along for the ride, a ride I normally nod off during. But man, the band play it with a deft hand then build things back up like pros, not laying it on too thick. So far, I’m super impressed at these songs: not as schticky as the (awesome) cover suggests, this is just well-crafted proto-metal. Two songs in and I’m very sold.
“Keep Goin’” starts off with a riff that immediately makes me think NOLA, so that’s nothin’ but a good thing, and this song’s nothin’ but a good time, a sludgier take on proto-doom that definitely works well at keeping the Sabs at bay, man, the drumming in the heavy part just pounding, the vibe in the quiet part legit creepy, like how “No Quarter” is legit creepy. But there’s more soul here, this proto-doom cut pure gold. Like, imagine if blues rock didn’t suck 99 percent of the time and you can take the essence and feel of it and inject it into a song that alternates between Sabbatherian doom and Purple-esque keyboard-driven to-the-bowling-alley! rock: that’s what we’ve got here. In other words, another winner, and the high-strung ending rules, too.
“Toxic Shadows” ends off the first half of the record with seven minutes of funkified rock that turn down the heavy a bit but turn up the good times, although not without a slinking, doomy undertone. It’s not knocking on any paradigm’s doors to announce a shift, but it rocks just enough, stretching out into a lazy, prog, near Kraut section that is actually quite engaging.
“Free Baby” kicks off side B with a rockin’ and rollin’ organ-led rocker, all ones and threes on the snare and soulful vocals for miles. Seems like the proto-metal and proto-doom of the first three songs has mellowed itself down a bit into a sound that hues more Purple than Black, but it’s still rocking really hard, and feels heavier in intent than many—than most—bands of the era, which counts for a lot with me. This one gets a bit trippy with the vocals in the middle, but it still works. Man, everything is just working on this record, not a wasted minute so far.
Then it’s “Baby You’re A Liar,” which starts heavy then drops an even heavier riff, like if “Wild Thing” was actually heavy. The verse then shows some sunny summer sunshine with a huge, melodic groove of a riff, and we’re feeling good, we’re feeling really good, way better than a band called “Lucifer’s Friend” should be making us feel, but the smile on my face says that it’s okay. Ends off with the heavy part again, which is a nice touch.
The incredibly titled “In the Time of Job When Mammon Was a Yippie” (damn man, why did anyone else even bother trying to top that?) drops four on the floor fast, and we’re all highway stars here, and these riffs are big, the organ is working its magic, the forward momentum of all this is just pure ’70s arena-rock perfection. The song is as good as the title.
Then we’ve got “Lucifer’s Friend” the song to end things off, in turns psychedelic, crashing, come-in-the-haunted-house-in-the-corn-maze spoooky, heavy, and then the organ-led race to the finish, with a soul-searing scream at the end. Killer ending to what is a fantastic album, heavy through and through, no filler.
This record has aged fantastically, and I have no idea why I slept on this one for so long, as this is pure proto-metal gold.
Lucifer’s Friend’s Lucifer’s Friend – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Nope.
Heaviness factor: It’s up there on the higher and heavier end of the Primitive Origins proto-metal spectrum.
Obscura Triviuma: It’s not obscure but worth repeating that vocalist John Lawton went on to man the mic for Uriah Heep.
Other albums: Several, but by all accounts, this is the one you need to know.
Related bands: Lots, including The Pink Mice, The German Bonds, The Fantastic Pikes, Electric Food, Asterix, Hell Preachers Inc., Megaton, Rock Circus…
Alright, fine, if you must: Whatever’s going to harsh you out the most while looking at that cover.