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Deep Purple - In Rock CD (album) cover

IN ROCK

Deep Purple

 

Proto-Prog

4.30 | 811 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
5 stars After making fools of themselves with Concerto for Group and Orchestra, one gets the feeling that a long long chat took place about the band's new direction. Simply put, the band's strengths were being wasted in this direction, especially given the specific talents of the two new band members, and I doubt this was lost on Ritchie and Co. Hence, Lord retreated from his de facto "creative force of the group" chair with his tail between his legs, put the neo-classical blah away (though the band did indulge him once more with the later Gemini Suite, possibly as a way to mend fences), and "settled" for being a primary cog in one of the best heavy metal albums the world has ever seen.

The greatest improvement for the band from the previous studio albums, of course, comes from picking up Gillan to sing. Gillan, in his prime, was one of the greatest vocalists in all of rock music, and certainly at or near the top among all heavy metal singers ever. Not only did he have a great "normal" voice, a solid tenor with ever-present low-key power, but he also had one of the best "screaming" voices I've ever heard. It's difficult for me to fathom that anybody in rock could hit high notes the way he could (often in vibrato, no less), not only showing a range that could rival Jon Anderson but also staying totally in tune, all the while maintaining a resonant force in the sound (as opposed to merely hitting the high notes for their own sake). In short, he was the perfect metal vocalist.

That said, making In Rock was not merely a function of taking the sound on previous DP albums and slightly modifying it to account for a new vocalist. In particular, Ritchie sounds completely reborn on this album, as he amply demonstrates that his reduced role in the last two albums was not a function of reduced ability but rather of impaired judgement on the part of Lord and other relevant parties. His solos and riffage are given the prominent place in the mix that they deserve, as opposed to seemingly disappearing for minutes at a time as before, and they're well worth it - the guitarwork on this album is some of the most entertaining I've ever heard in my life, combining well- conceived "show-off" shredding with just enough sloppiness to give it an edge (and in the process make it that much more entertaining, much like Hendrix used to do). Jon reduces his role from before a bit in order to make room for Ritchie, but that just means he's conceded enough to become an equal partner with Blackmore - he gets his fair share of incredible keyboard solos and sounds on this album, and what's most impressive is how so many of them interact so tightly with the guitar parts that it seems they came from the same mind. Add in that Paice could do whatever the heck was required of him, and that Glover had no limit to how low he wanted the bottom of the sound to go, and you have the workings of one hell of a metal band and album.

The end result of all this is an amazing combination of songwriting and showmanship, a collection of seemingly a zillion notes with only a few wasted, and a band that can balance incredible chops with a tightness that few have ever rivaled. If pressed for "weak" tracks, I could single out side two's "Into the Fire" and "Living Wreck" as somewhat weaker than the rest. The former does seemingly "plod" a bit too much, especially in comparison to the speed-of-sound tempos of the rest of the album, but on the other hand it has a GREAT introductory riff, and the mid-tempo rhythm stomps SO much on each beat that it really becomes fascinating. In other words, it may seem like a weak DP track, but it would make a GREAT Black Sabbath track. The latter also seems like a bit of a toss-off in comparison to the rest of the album, but again these things are only relative; the slightly "airy" production helps give the drum intro a nice effect, the "screaming" sound Lord coaxes out of his organ at times is disturbing as hell, the lyrics are amusing, the riff is perfectly decent ... in short, it's weak compared to the high points of the album, but still plenty fine on its own.

The other five tracks, then, range from "excellent" to "indescribably awesome." The only one that I consider just "excellent" is the album closer, "Hard Loving Man," and that's largely an effect of me getting tired by album's end. It's also partially an effect of the song being based a little too much on the blazing speed of the main rhythm track, as opposed to a particularly interesting riff, than I'd prefer, but that's just the nerdy nitpicker in me talking. The headbanger in me has a blast when it's on, as my foot doesn't stop twitching (as opposed to tapping, which is impossible because the song's too fast) for almost the entire time as the rhythm is covered with ear-piercing organ and guitar solos, before ending with Ritchie having some feedback and stereo-panning fun.

And then there's the first four tracks. Honestly, I don't think the opening "Speed King" gets its proper dues in general - I often (at least, more than I'd prefer) see reviews of the album refer to the lyrics as "stupid" or "immature," (they're based around cliches from 50's lyrics) and from time to time this seemingly causes people to think of the opening track as a bit of a tossoff. Personally, I think nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, I think of this track as one of the best "calling card" numbers with which I've ever heard a band open an album. This is basic, primal, gut-instinct rock'n'roll that just happens to be faster, heavier and louder than what people had previously thought basic, primal, gut-instinct rock'n'roll could be. The first minute of the track seemingly screams out, "Hey! You don't necessarily need to make rock music more complicated or more vulgar or more serious to make it better; if you want, you can just make it kick more ass!" Of course, the song doesn't just contain that awesome series of heavy riffs and glorious Gillan singing that makes up the first minute - within a minute-and-a-half after that, Blackmore and Lord have presented us with jazzy/neo-classical/whatever interplay that practically makes all their interplay of the first three albums irrelevant. And then, more glorious screams, more glorious riffage, a spooky laugh ... damn, what a song.

The argument could be made, though, that the next track, "Bloodsucker," is even better. Holy cow, WHAT AN OPENING RIFF. Listen to how tight these guys are, working their way through all sorts of starts-and-stops that don't seem forced at all, with Ritchie and Jon trading off solos over a rhythm section that sounds like it could go until the end of time. Ian is the main star of the song, though, as his "OOH NO NO NOOOOOO!!" screams beat the crap out of anything Robert Plant could pull off even in his best days. Sheesh, and then there's the side two opener, "Flight of the Rat," which is basically garage rock (with another fabulous main riff) done at an unstoppably fast tempo, replete with enough brief ass- kicking solos to fill an entire side of a normal band's album. Man, if you're not sold on the band by the time you've gone through that amazing Lord part in the fourth minute, followed by Ritchie soloing like a madman in the fifth, capped by those funky-as-hell wah-wah's starting at the 4:48 Mk., there's just no hope for you with this band.

Yet for all that, it's the amazing side-one closer that ensures the album of such a high grade. "Child in Time" is arguably the first prog-metal piece ever, and while that genre has definitely had its fair share of ups and downs, few pieces of that type can match the original. The main slow organ theme is a welcome respite from the speed of the first two tracks, the main verse melody (with lyrics about being in a war, scared of the seeming inevitability of dying) is freaking gorgeous, and the whole thing just seemingly oozes a sense of majesty. Yet what is most impressive about it is how natural the majesty sounds - it's not the result of an artificial atmosphere, created by automated strumming of some simple chords and singing about various pot-induced fantasies, but instead comes straight from the performances themselves and not from the band jumping out of its skin to go "you're supposed to catch the atmosphere now." (Not that I necessarily dislike this approach, you see - Yes does it all the time - but it is definitely novel to see a band pull off majesty in the way DP does so here). This especially becomes obvious when Ian starts singing his "ooh's" and "aah's" in his falsetto, before stepping it up a notch (both in octave and performance) and belting out some of the most blood-chilling high-pitched in-tune screams I've ever heard. And, oh man, I really cannot explain how much in awe I am of the band as they slowly crescendo to match Gillan, before going into that brief sequence starting at 3:21 that has got to be one of the most grandiose stretches I've ever heard from any rock band ever.

And sheesh, it's just beginning at this point. Blackmore does some excellent slow, "heavenly" soloing over the verse theme for a bit, until the 4:07 Mk. when he breaks out his hyper-speedy, hyper-moving "apocalyptic" guitar parts for a couple of minutes, before Lord synchs up with him and the band plays off of Ritchie before crashing to a halt exactly two minutes later. Then the "main" part starts again, the Gillan-led catharsis re- enters, and it's all capped off with a (TIGHT AS HELL) race-to-the-finish climax (with a bunch of anguished Gillan screams) that ends on a giant, loud, long chord. I mean, damn.

In short, as far as I'm concerned, this is close to as perfect as heavy metal can get. If there are any reservations I have towards this album, they're because I tend to get exhausted when my brain spends a whole album getting bashed in with a sledgehammer (as all "pure" metal albums, even this one, tend to do), but that's my problem. If you're a headbanger who doesn't like this album, well, I guess I just don't understand headbangers at all. DP would come close to the quality of this in some songs, but never again would they make an entire album this close to immaculate.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |

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