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The last Deep Purple album to feature both Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore is unfortunately a pedestrian affair. Former Rainbow singer and Blackmore’s running mate Joe Lynn Turner came into the fold for a spell, but Gillan returned for a final go-around with Blackmore. “The Battle Rages On…” seems to be long forgotten and for good reason as the band sounds tired and Gillan sounds disinterested.
However, the opener and title track leaves a false impression as the battle rages with a strong riff and background keyboards by the great Jon Lord. A melodic chorus and the typical Blackmore guitar solo start the proceedings off on the right foot.
Problems begin immediately with the next track and slither in throughout the rest of the album. “Lick it Up” is a straight-up rocker with not one of the most memorable guitar parts and is mediocre by Deep Purple standards. “Talk About Love” and “Time to Kill” suffer from the same banal attributes and the worst part is Gillan sings like he knows these songs are crap.
Gillan delivers the most disappointing performance on this record. He sounds like he does not want to be there. The passion and character of his voice is not there. His singing on the next Purple record is way better than his work on here. On the aforementioned “Time to Kill”, his voice sounds tired and the closer “One Man’s Meat” he is completely emotionless. He at least shows some life and character on the cowboy rocker “Ramshackle Man” with some gun-toting vocal lines.
Amidst the boring tripe emerge two Purple gems that save the record from tanking. “Anya” is a beautiful song with maybe some foreshadowing by Blackmore showing where he was headed with his music. The acoustic, midnight fire guitar part transforms into a great riff featuring graceful chorus lines and perfectly conjures up the image of the mystical woman in the song. The other winner is another song about a woman with “Solitaire.” An enchanting, escalating guitar part immediately caught my attention and Gillan sings like a drone. I’m not sure if that’s what he was going for, but it goes well with the brooding tone.
In the end, there is not enough good songwriting and fails to capture the merits of a great band like Deep Purple. Blackmore and Lord do not even trade solos and have any moments together until the eight track “Nasty Piece of Work.” Blackmore even rips himself off with “One Man’s Meat” by taking the main riff from “L.A Connection” and inserting it here. The only time he lets loose with furious riffing and guitar theatrics is with “A Twist in Tale”, which shares similarities with “Dead or Alive” from the last Mk II album, but is not as good.
I don’t know if the boys decided to name “The Battle Rages On…” to describe how Gillan and Blackmore were working together again yet still hated each other, but no listener would win this struggle. On the band side of things, Gillan would win as Blackmore would quit mid-tour and since then he hasn’t looked back. With this final Mk II installment, the title track, the wonderful “Anya”, “Solitaire”, and “Ramshackle Man” will provide healthy listens. However, insipid rockers and a tired Gillan drag the album down as the band was clearly waiting for the battle to end.
The dark age of rock music, from 1985 to 1995 (and maybe beyond) was taking toll and there were many casualties. Old School metal bands fought hardly to survive the harsh winter that came: MTV, disco-pop, grunge and funky rock, you name it. Maybe, the hardest stroke was for Deep Purple. After a brightstar comeback with the excellent and essential "Perfect Strangers", they weren't able to produce what they do best, let's say classic vintage metal.
"House of Blue Light" was like a dwarf star. Not bad at all, but nothing nice to be remembered there. And let's not talk about "Slaves and Masters", arguably the worst creation in Deep Purple's glorious career.
Something was missing, something was needed. A return to the roots. A return to traditional though inventive metal sound. Against wizard Blackmore's desire, the rest of the crew supported by the producers required the presence of Ian "lazy-you-just-stay-in-bed-says-ritchie" Gillan. After an addition in Blackmore's bank account and other struggles, the banshee returned and delivered the goods.
I'm not saying Gillan is the mastermind in Purple's metal approach or any of it. But with him, back on the track, the classic metal sound of the band returned almost automatically. And something else: they've learnt from their mistakes and they went straight to their core, no comercial approach, no pop flirting sound.
Instantly, with the opening song "The Battle Rages On" we find out that the Fireball is back and thirsty for more. Ritchie (maybe inspired by the return of Gillan and trying to overcome him) licks out one of his most aggresive riffs. The heavy atmosphere is supported by always enlighted Maestro Lord, with Paice and Glover punching everything away. Notwithstanding, Gillan is the star here, with those bright lyrics and powerful singing.
"Lick it Up" is not a masterpiece, but works perfectly to make the environment lighter for what was about to come. Catchy chorus, funny lyrics, nothing else needed here.
The magic moment arrives when the sound of a distant renaissance guitar introduces us into a parallel but very Deep universe. "Anya" is a purple jewel, the everlasting creation of a genious. Ritchie Blackmore, the man in black, the string sorcerer, did it again. He twisted our emotions, played with our hearts and took us onto a rollercoaster of mystical metal power. With Jon Lord's virtuoso and imaginative lines in the keyboard, this piece is probably the finest track ever created by Deep Purple (with the exception of Child in Time and maybe one or two others). You will fall in love with it, instantly, as lovers of cars got excited when they see a classic vintage vehicle, like a Rolls Royce, an Aston Martin or a Bentley. Black-more-magic.
"Talk About Love" and "Time to Kill" are very enjoyable hard rocking fillers. Not much thing to say about them, but they won't dissapoint you at all. Classic Purple fingerprints are there.
Another stand out moment is "Ramshackle Man". Heavy bluesy, like Machine Head's classic "Lazy", but with a more traditional approach. Once again, Ritchie is the star here. His soloing will melt your brains away. Oh, poor twisted mind, if you haven't heard about the String Sorcerer, you are dead meat. Arrogant and insufferable, but a total genious.
Somehow speed/power metal "A Twist in the Tale" is a fine effort and will have a long and placid existence. The best from Rainbow in the eighties was taken and used for this song. With Gillan's charisma and Lord's symphonic metal-ish additions, you get a nice and rocking piece. Then, the weak spot of the record "Nasty Piece of Work" slows down the paice a little bit, or maybe a lot. Is the totally forgettable track in here.
We get a wonderful surprise with "Solitaire". Deep Purple, as usual, experiencing with different methods and doing great stuff. Gillan's vocal games, the beating sound and heyboard solos are excellent.
Finally "One Man's Meat" has again that hilarious lyrical style by Gillan/Glover and a punchy paice. Maybe not such a good closer, but works it out.
The only great problem with this album (and most of Purple's albums after Perfect Strangers) is the silly art it has. But musically speaking, and that's what matters here, it's maybe the finest work created by Deep Purple since Perfect Strangers, a worthy descendant of In Rock, Fireball or Machine Head.
Unfortunately, there are no good live versions of the songs in this album and those available are not the band's finest. But the people who knows about classic metal will inmediately recognize the power of this release, like a mechanic recognizes the sound of a vintage Ferrari or a driver enjoys the comfort and elegance of a Rolls Royce while he is driving it. A Purple Rolls Royce.
This album is pretty much shelved by the masses as being a final effort before the original Deep Purple line-up fell apart for the 2nd and final time. The circumstances surrounding Ritchie Blackmore’s exodus from the band obviously showcase the fact that when you put together 5 incredibly large egos together for 10 years on the road or in the studio, there is sure to be plenty of fire works. If nothing else, this album showcases the very different musical direction that Ritchie was going as opposed to the other 4 members of the band.
One of the reasons Blackmore gave for his not liking this release was the assertion that Ian Gillian was unable to sing in tune. Although during several instances in some of the songs (particularly the more progressive sounding Anya) the vocals do tend to slide a bit flat on the longer notes, the overall voice performance is not as horrible as he alleges. We are treated to the occasional high end shriek by Ian on more rocking tracks like “Nasty Piece of Work” and “Lick it Up”, but it becomes apparent that their lack of frequency is due to his inability to do it as often or as strongly as he used to. When I saw them in Pittsburg back in 2002 he didn’t even bother trying to hit the high G at the beginning of Highway Star.
The music on here is quite an interesting mish mash of rock and early metal influences, most of the strongest material occurring at the beginning and the end of the album. “Lick it Up” and “Nasty Piece of Work” are my picks for the best rock songs on here both for vocal performance and for solid low end guitar riffing. “One man’s meat” rides close behind with a more down tempo groove and some rather interesting guitar effects on the riffs. The title track is more oriented towards an epic metal approach that is less crunchy, but otherwise quite similar to Black Sabbath’s late 80s work with Tony Martin. “A twist in the tale” is a solid effort at emulating early speed metal like Judas Priest’s Exciter, although with a more blues driven set of ideas.
Our two best songs on here are the most unconventional for the band, and ironically quite similar to some of the work Ritchie Blackmore ended up submitting during his brief resurrection of Rainbow’s career. “Solitaire” has a slow and gloomy atmosphere to it, in addition to a rather unusual 2 voice harmony with some chorus effects on it. The overall feel of the song is quite similar to “Insatiable (Hunting Humans” off Stranger in Us All, minus the superior organ solo work courtesy of Jon Lord. Likewise, the classically influenced “Anya” has a principle riff which is paraphrased in Rainbow’s “Black Masquerade”, as well as the same basic instrumentation. This song is probably the most similar to Ritchie Blackmore’s current work with his more Folk/Acoustic project Blackmore’s Night.
This album was purchased by me about 12 years ago at a bargain bin in a Kmart, which in my opinion is a clear indication that the album was shunned due to having too many pre-Grunge influences in it. This album is as much a victim of the year it was released in as it was in being associated with the break up of the band. It comes recommended to fans of Classic Rock and early 70s metal, but fans of post-Ozzy Sabbath are also encouraged to check this one out. Don’t let the lack of interest fool you, there is some quality material on here.