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More like yer ABCs & counting to ten in Spanish - 63%

Gutterscream, July 6th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1980, 12" vinyl, Polydor

Just in case the big yellow stamp on the jacket snuck past ya while its other more enticing subject matter colored you intrigued, The Witch of Berkeley is a live album. How many metal bands (or bands in general) launch a career with a live album? Yeah, I guess I’ll throw a couple of names out to keep the ‘ol noggin sharp - keeping it prior to ’85, Korpus (Pol), Abryct (Rus), Strikemaster (NZ), Chinatown (UK - if their single didn’t come first), Stampede (UK - if their ep didn’t come first), MC5 in ’69, Johnny Rivers back in early ’64 and probably a handful more - an uncommon practice for obvious logistics and all kinds of duh factor. Personally speaking, live efforts are not what I enjoy. Heard too many that simply suck, I guess, though if they all sounded like this nine-tracker, I guess I’d be chanting their name with the rest of the crowd with the first track as it rises up from the peppering of album crackle.

Coinciding with this odd debut format is a gaggle of ‘fans’ who are actually chanting the band's name. Well I’ll be…guess they were pretty popular at least wherever in Manchester this gig landed (oddly omitted info).

Coinciding with this odd debut format and unexpectedly charged-up fanbase is a boob-flashing ‘witch’ leering over an even more unclothed tot inside some candle-lit, occult-standard symbols – despite what seems like a pointless written description here when the jacket visual is less than a glance away, it can’t be said the MA doesn’t support its hearty sight-handicapped membership. Today this cover would go over like a rodeo in church.

Coinciding with this odd debut format, unexpectedly charged-up fanbase, and half-jailbait jacket pictorial is A-II-Z, a handle that threw a few people for a minor loop as they called them stuff like ATZ and ‘alls’/‘eyez’-pronounced AIIZ (said to be inspired by a UK street map atlas). No worries ‘cos despite signing with corpulent Polydor Records, a UK support slot with a reinvented Sabbath on their Heaven And Hell tour, then later with Maiden and Girlschool, these guys were never in danger of becoming a household name considering their career trails off in ’81 with two singles, then in ‘82 adopt new moniker Aurora after Gary Owen leaves, then…hang on, let me ease back on the timeline here.

The thing is, of all the strange nuances floating around A-II-Z’s weird ‘lil world, almost all conventionality is found within their rockin’ British soundwaves that hit the new decade running no more or less out of breath than most else at the time, save for some cutting edge aliens and a handful of known/unknown veteran stalwarts who braved the ‘70s rockslide to grant our ‘80s hearts either continued warmth or new love at first feel (nice run-on sentence, Dave).

Without a solitary spark of eerie innuendo that the jacket judiciously attempts to elicit (I leer and sigh toward Witchfynde in that sense nearly as much as for the music), The Witch of Berkeley unfortunately boils down to nine tracks of heavy rock-metal expectation that one’s memory may have a hard time registering or at least keeping registered. I dunno, call it lack of identity. Several plays later, scribbled on my mental clipboard is “Lay Down” and its cowbell, “The Romp” and its uninteresting audience participation portion of the program, opener “No Fun After Midnight” really only because of its future same-named single, a ‘meh’ tract of wax with no vocals which turns out to be “Glastonbury Massacre”, “Walking the Distance” and “Last Stand” hauling back and forth between slo-burn quasi-ballad and better-than-decent (“WTD”) to base rocktronics (“LS”), and finally the a-side finale extraordinaire “Danger U.X.B.” which rocks out like one of the firestarters on Guardian Records’ same year Roksnax compilation. Alright, I won’t be that much of a jerk: I can remember the title track and “The King is Dead” as well and that they’re not half bad.

So in actuality I can grab kibbles n’ bits of every song, however it's obvious they’re not all peachy keen particles. But I also don’t run screaming like I often do with most Witchfynde, Spider, Shy, some eye-rollers by Chevy, certain overplayed swill hits on British Steel, and anything on Unmasked.

Meanwhile, hopping back onto my earlier-abandoned timeline, drummer Karl Reti and bassist Cam Campbell give up their ringside seats before they know who loves ‘em on the next single (enter bassist Tony Backhouse and future AC/DC stool-warmer Simon Wright), then Gary Owen leaves to briefly join Tytan in ‘82 while A-II-Z-turned-Aurora fantasize about their fresh start.

While hardly adjacent to a studio quality recording, it’s still better than yer average recorded-on-a-moving-1972-Sanyo-tape recorder attempt.