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Germany’s Scorpions were a force to be reckoned with…. in the 70’s. This early period is often unheralded in light of the commercial success they’d achieve in the following decade, but it is undoubtedly the era in which they were the most powerful, musically speaking. They were once a band that weren’t so concerned with writing hits and selling records that they forgot to put their hearts and souls into their songwriting. This is the band they still were for 1977’s Taken by Force: a band of integrity and musicianship forging a new sound that combined their psychedelic rock roots with the soaring harmony leads and intense riffage of proto-power metal. I haven’t heard their entire back catalogue at this point, but I feel it’s safe to say that this is their finest recording.
Taken by Force was the last album to feature one Ulrich Roth, the most talented guitar player they’d ever have in their lineup. Sure, Mathias Jabs is good, as are the brothers Schenker, but Uli was the best. Roth and Rudolph Schenker deliver the performance of a lifetime on here, trading solos and crunchy riffs that would shame the band’s later work. Klaus Meine is also in rare form; his voice still resounding with energy and conviction. This energy is noticeable immediately in opener “Steamrock Fever,” a surprisingly heavy rocker with a delightfully catchy chorus. This treatment is repeated throughout the album, but this time around, Meine’s catchy chorus melodies aren’t the sole departure in an otherwise uninteresting song (as would be the case in their post-Blackout material). Quality instrumentation exudes from every pore of this album, from Roth’s undeniably Hendrix-inspired “I’ve Got to be Free” and “Your Light,” to cult classic “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man,” which has one riff that can’t really be misconstrued as anything but a thrash riff. There’s a notably darker tone on this album than on later ones, apparent not only in the phrasing, but in some of the subject matter. “The Riot of Your Time” is not the upbeat rocker that would have garnered mainstream attention in ’84 like one chart-topping song about rocking like hurricanes, while power ballads “We’ll Burn the Sky” and “Born to Touch Your Feelings” are infinitely more haunting than “Still Loving You” would be.
But the absolute highlight of this album is side two’s opener, “The Sails of Charon.” A Roth masterpiece, it’s the best Scorpions song ever composed. Carried by Roth’s exotic opening rhythms, an unstoppable groove, Meine’s inimitable vocal melody, a plethora of ear-pleasing harmonies, and one of the most brilliant intro solos ever conceived, it’s one of the best metal songs of the 1970’s, even in light of Black Sabbath’s early discography. Plus there are those lyrics; darker and more ominous than anything else they’ve ever done. “Dark night! There is no light in the realm of the black magic man!” This could be the only song on the album and it’d still be the best thing they’ve ever released.
This is a mandatory purchase for any Scorpions fans, especially fans of their later material who don’t know what they’re missing.
Highlights: “The Sails of Charon,” “We’ll Burn the Sky,” “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”