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Steamhammer - Speech CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.27 | 39 ratings

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5 stars Finally, finally after 45 years is this album is starting to be given its just due. For me it's the most underrated album of all time. I first heard it in about 1987 (I was in kindergarden when it came out) and thought, "wow." Well I am still going "wow."

The reason I feel that Steamhammer didn't get the attention they deserved was that they were actually three bands, they evolved so quickly. This is highly unusual for a rock band and inhibits acquisition of a loyal fan base. Steamhammer started out bluesy, then moved into the "Passing Through"/ "Johnny Carl Morton" phase of spacy, melodic material. Then in their most mature period, they release the burst of intense genius known as Speech. I'm sure fans didn't know what to think. New fans had little place to turn after the drummer Mick Bradley's untimely death soon after the Speech recording. In the ashes guitarist MartinPugh formed supergroup Armageddon with what was left of Steamhammer, basically bassist Louis Cennamo. Singer on Speech Garth Watt-Roy was not a regular band member. Drummer Bobby Caldwell of likeminded Captain Beyond and rock veteran Keith Relf, singer of background vocals on Speech, round out Armageddon. Then Relf dies and Armageddon is history. Double tragedy strikes Pugh and Cennamo!

Speech is so special, the kind of record that comes once in a listener's lifetime. Words here, especially from no great poet like myself scarcely do it justice. Go to youtube and listen to it full album. Yet I think Speech deserves a detailed paean to its greatness; I will attempt it. My favorite track "Penumbra," is 22 minutes of pure glory. My friends ask me how my favorite song needs to be five times as long as their faves. Well as engaging as it is, it could have even been longer. Really it transcends time. The listener is so enraptured, rational attributes like clock time don't enter the picture. The composition starts out with an atmospheric dungeony vibe with a single stringed instrument. I thank the other reviewer for ID'ing the instrument as a bowed bass. Then wild lead guitar work takes over. Pugh is an extremely accomplished and unique guitarist. The guitar solo backed by Bradley's expert drumming is about a minute. This gives way to a dramatic section with a haunting vocal. Next comes truly psychedelic guitar and tom madness. I would imagine any of you acid takers out there would be freaking in a very positive way. Certainly for us non-indulgers, it is the pinnacle of Nik Turner's definition of pyschedelic music: something to emulate or replace the chemical trip.

But "Penumbra" is only getting underway, into what I call the tribal fiesta section. This gotta be the best acid trip in the world, and no-one necessarily has ingested anything! The guitar is caressing, though pretty shreddy, and the drum-work like what you'd find in "Magic Carpet Ride," but ten times better. Things quiet down for a bit, getting atmospheric. Then guitar with a very forceful, tone(don't ask me how these sound are created-- I have minimal guitar experience) launches into another melody. An equally forceful vocal comes on, then echoey, droning instrumentation and a grand finale full of mesmerizing echo and what sounds like sitar, perhaps just the guitar pedal-dunno. All the while those drums just won't let up. You feel like you have been transplanted to Haight Ashbury in its heyday.

The next track, "Telegram," almost half the length of "Penumbra," starts with jazz chords not unlike your classic prog --Yes, Genesis, what have you. But it's far more guitar oriented. Pugh goes into high gear, a gong sounds and some fairyland-like strumming ensues. Hard proggy guitar blasts this away. The second vocal begins. There is a lot of vocal on this track, in contrast to "Penumbra" 's vocal sparseness, but the singing is on equal amplitude with guitars, not either in the foreground or background. Next comes a riff rounded out by a chorus and toms. The riff is then set to spacy sound effects. This is an extremely complex song with many different guitar and vocal sections. The writing dwarfs even prog's assumed greatest.

At about eight minutes, arrives sparser but crescedoing guitar accented by Bradley's trademark drumming. Then there's an outpouring of guitar and drum intensity. Being exposed to stuff like this may explain why I stopped listening to those three minute, formulated 1960s "nuggets" and really any music that has no development.

"For Against," a track of about equal length as "Telegram" opens with a guitar melody built of jazz chords but hard rock in delivery. Bradley gradually assume center-stage with the drum solo to end all drum solos. It is never for a minute boring because Bradley was obviously one of the world drumming greats. (It also is very beneficial to listen through headphones; disclaimer: I'm a drummer) So tragic his loss at only age 24!! He must have been conducting drum clinics to the angels for the last 45 years.

At 10:10 the boisterous jazz chord melody resumes and soon thereafter best album ever comes to its close.

steamhammeralltheway | 5/5 |


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