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Atomic Rooster - Death Walks Behind You CD (album) cover


Atomic Rooster


Heavy Prog

3.86 | 321 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Atomic Rooster's best known effort, it seems, the darkly titled Death Walks Behind You, is clearly a bit less... bleak than the debut, and maybe a bit more musically diverse: even without the jazzness contributed by Palmer, it comes off with a bit of funk and hard rock that gels pretty neatly with the band's more obviously progressive moments. The musicians are certainly all talented figures, with Vincent Crane on piano, organ and bass pedals, John Cann taking vocals and guitar and the capable Paul Hammond (sure, he's not Carl Palmer... but he's no slouch, either) on drums. The best parts of the album, in my view, are generally created by Crane's twitching, spine-tingling piano parts and some of Cann's more assertive guitar parts. Unfortunately, Crane's organ parts don't always have the same grip (particularly on the instrumental bits), and the cleverness of some of the compositions is overshadowed at times by a lack of clarity and focus. Regardless, it comes off pretty well, it doesn't sound like anything else out there, and it's certainly a real 'heavy prog' album rather than just a hard rock album with long songs. A real must-have for the 'heavy prog' enthusiast, and a fair buy for anyone else.

Death Walks Behind You opens with the album's finest moment, a bleak, foreboding clockwork piano part which is promptly backed up by the cacophonic Cann guitar and some swiping bass pedals (I think). The fantastic intro falls nicely into the (perhaps overly) smooth, funky riff of the song itself, contrasted rather sharply with the verse's frantic guitar. Paul Hammond adds in some fastidious, but not particularly intense drumming, and a smooth piano rounds off the song proper. Thick blobby, ranting vocals ('Shout and scream/shout for help/there is no one by your side'), but it comes off as comical, rather than threatening. Contrast remains the order of the day, with a neat piano coming up against block-effect guitar, obvious, jarring dissonants meeting the song's smoothest bits. The piano is a continued, if barely audible, presence towards the song's middle, and is replaced by the organ as the track carries on in its slightly lunatic way. The first twenty, thirty seconds on this one are magical, the strongest of the album, but it's unfortunate that the track simply wallows on, albeit with plenty of clever compositional tricks, rather than keeping its icy tension.

The following VUG is not half as interesting, and in spite of the first really obviously neat use of the bass pedals, the organ just wallows in general funk, and takes about two minutes to metamorphose into anything worth listening to, when the hard rock kicks in and a wailing guitar under a bluesy organ keep the attention riveted. The Cann/Hammond combo remain thick and not immensely impressive for the most part... though I can't criticise them technically, I just don't particularly like the blanketing sound created by Hammond's drums and the bass pedals in unison. Though there's one very neat bit in the middle, the rest of VUG isn't much fun for me. No atmosphere, and musicality alone does not an interesting song make for me.

Tomorrow Night opens with a neat piano part, and some slyly funky guitar creates an intro to a surprisingly non-depressing song, complete with ambling vocals, an occasionally kicking organ and some neat production/effects jiggery-pokery on the part of Cann, including a blistering double-solo which winds the song down to a suitably negative close. Not bad, really, though the vibe doesn't come through too well after the cool opening.

Seven Lonely Streets opens superbly. A reverent organ opens up the song, before some understated rolling from Cann opens up the song into a classy full-on hard rock thing, before some more jerky organ and irksome vocals drag it down a bit. Crane's inability to settle on one thing to play is still frustrating at times. Very musical, perhaps, but it comes off as nervous rather than controlled. The instrumental mid-section is clear 'prog', with some intense guitar-organ interplay, both taking on layered effects and Paul Hammond coming out with some classy fills. A return to riffage and a whirling solo before a stadium-like, strutting conclusion from the whole band rounds off the piece. Again, great stuff in it, but still nigh-unlistenable at one point.

Sleeping For Years opens with very Hendrixian feedback/production messing with a guitar solo before moving onto a more assertive and violent hard rock track with some of Cann's better vocals, an absolutely great use of the bass pedals, some ultra-cool guitar licks and a thunderous multi-instrument riff. As always, the band's musicality is on show, with a shredding solo, some very well-directed hammond, and (sorry, but someone had to say it :p), some very well-directed Hammond. Comfortably the best thing on the album, early metal or hard rock or whatever you want to call it with a bitingly unique sound and vibe.

I Can't Take No More is another more funk/rock fusion number, with a murky/light vocal, some wonderfully crisp lower-range piano notes, a quirky little organ flourish thing, but otherwise, not a particularly distinctive creature. A Don't-Bring-Me-Down-like bass melody stands out a bit, but the song as a whole varies between awkward individuality and harmless groove.

Nobody Else opens with the crazed mutterings of something, presumably the Nebuchadnezzar figure on the album's cover, and features a very collected Crane piano with a little rolling addition on the end of its clearer lines. Reminds me a bit of Winter on the band's debut, I suppose, albeit less neat on the vocal side, until a full guitar and funking drums kick in to fill up the song. Pleasantly sad, and nicely structured, but a bit more tame than I'd like.

The closer, Gerschatzer is an instrumental, relying, in the band bits, more on sonic force than emotion, initially slamming a number of notes into the listener with a merely bemusing effect, no matter how good Crane's bass pedals are. However, Crane does get a full solo spotlight after the swamping opening, containing full, fluent, aggressive piano parts, fanatically driven organ and, at last, a use of his musical vocabulary to a full devastating effect for a couple of minutes in a well-rounded, intelligent and extremely individual solo. Another band reprise, albeit with a bit more punch, comes in, prior to a rather bluntly introduced, but nonetheless very enjoyable and capable drum solo from Paul Hammond, with a very measured and fastidious feel. Again, a band reprise of basically the exact same thing comes in before the song wails off into a superb conclusion. Two great solos, three annoying band moments, one great conclusion... pretty good overall, though.

About the bonus tracks: Play The Game is a more plain rock piece, which you'll probably like if the band's trademark sound is an attraction for you. If not, though, it's a harmless creature. The Devil's Answer is basically the same. A bit more memorable and on the funk side, but still not particularly stunning for me. Now, the version of Tomorrow Night on the other hand, has a fire that the studio version doesn't really... Cann's vocals, still, not great, but otherwise a killer rendition. Shabooloo has a similar treatment, and Death Walks Behind You, in spite of a less obviously neat piano, never sounded better. The finished take of The Devil's Answer, complete with brass, is actually pretty neat. Anyway, whether the remaster is worth getting solely for the bonus tracks, I don't know. Maybe for the live versions, depends on your tastes. All in all, not a bad selection for anyone, and an interesting style of progressive rock. Unfortunately, perhaps, not up to some of the accolades it receives, and the awkward vocals don't really help, even as someone who's mostly benevolent to vocalists, I find them actively irritating. I'd like a little more clarity from Crane, though admittedly, that wouldn't be his style. Dark, brooding, excellent in some respects (Crane's musicality in particular) but not as consistently rewarding as I'd like: 3 Stars.

Rating: Three Stars Favourite Track: Sleeping For Years

Edit: general rating enharshening leaves this one in the lurch. The words above probably still apply, but the contrast of how much I enjoy the debut compared to this and the fact that I just don't put the album on because the vocals and drumming don't really work for me left me thinking this is probably in 2-land.

TGM: Orb | 2/5 |


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