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I consider myself pretty knowledgeable in 70’s heavy metal, but one band I unfortunately never really got into (until recently mind you) was Deep Purple. When people would discuss Ian Gillan’s piercing screams or Jon Lord’s crazy keyboard ramblings, all I could thing about was how overrated “Smoke on the Water” was. However, I did understand the genius of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore from his post-Purple band Rainbow. Even from their very beginning, with the eponymous “Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow,” it was pretty hard to mask the immense talent of the formidable group which was not only responsible for keeping Blackmore alive and well in the musical world, but for formally introducing legendary frontman Ronnie James Dio (did anyone really listen to Elf?).
Realistically, things on Rainbow’s debut aren’t completely foreign to the Purple sound. Some of the crunchy rockers on here, such as the exotic sounding “Snake Charmer” and the organ-heavy classic “Man on the Silver Mountain,” aren’t far removed from Purple’s heyday. The key differences here are the lack of Jon Lord (meaning keyboards focused on atmosphere than technicality) and the addition of Dio. A completely different animal from Gillan, Ronnie’s voice has a strong, lower range that can be as expressive as it can be badass, perfectly suiting the metal-tinged rock ‘n’ roll that Rainbow offers up on here. And though they aren’t Roger Glover and Ian Paice, Jimmy Bain and Cozy Powell lay down a mean groove on this record. So good in fact, Dio would recruit Bain for his solo project a few years down the road. [EDIT: Jimmy Bain and Cozy Powell joined Rainbow after this album's release. The bass and drums here were provided by Craig Gruber and Gary Driscoll, respectively, both former Elf members. My apologies for the mix-up.]
Rocking numbers are the norm here, with plenty of opportunities for Ritchie Blackmore to show the listener that his guitar chops are as big as his ego (instrumental “Still I’m Sad” is pretty potent). But the truly special material is that which leans toward the mystical. For instance, “The Temple of the King” has a very moving, epic sound to it complemented by Blackmore’s classical acoustic lines. Or “Catch the Rainbow,” the bluesy Scorpions-like-ending-ballad that caps off the album in style. Sometimes it’s whole songs like these, but many times it’s just the little touches here and there that truly make the album (the little lead lick during the pre-chorus of “Man on the Silver Mountain,” the serpentine guitar solo of “Snake Charmer,” the tambourine hits on “Self Portrait,” etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.).
It’s a great debut album with a little something for everybody (particularly guitarists/bassists). Yet another mandatory 70’s rock/metal album from Ritchie Blackmore, a man partly responsible for quite a few classic 70’s rock/metal albums.