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The Strange Bird's First Flight - 88%

DawnoftheShred, September 1st, 2012

Despite being named after a rather small, harmless bird, Budgie are one of the gigantic musical forces that came to define heavy metal’s earliest period. By some fateful intervening circumstance, they’ve never achieved the notoriety or respect that they deserve for the powerful, varied heavy metal they produced throughout the 70’s. In fact, the average metal fan only knows their name because a much more famous band happened to cover them (and no, I don’t mean Van Halen). But regardless of their relative obscurity, Budgie have a nameless irresistibility (after one finally catches a glimpse of the rare bird) and it’s clear that their grimy proto-doom sound has influenced scores of rock and metal bands ever since their humble self-titled debut in the beginning of the 70’s.

Due to the band’s geographical origin and heavy use of distortion, it’d be very easy for one to assume that Budgie are one of the earlier Sabbath clones. This would be underestimating the band I think, because despite the obvious “blues cranked to 11” feel of much of their early material, Budgie have a very different take on ‘heaviness’ than their darker Birmingham brothers in arms. For one thing, their approach tends to be more minimalistic than that of the jazz-influenced Sabbath: drummer Ray Phillips and bassist Burke Shelley tend not to rely on fills, instead adding immensity to the already stout riffs, only relenting during the occasional jam-out solo section, where the band often recklessly rock out at tempos not well observed until the NWOBHM. Shelley’s higher-pitched singing is pretty far removed from Ozzy’s mournful wail, sounding more like Robert Plant on a helium binge. And let’s not forget the band’s affinity for strange song titles. “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” and “Rape of the Locks” are among the band’s quirkier exhibitions, the latter literally about cutting hair, while the former follows what would come to be Budgie’s lyrical standard: vague, interpretative love anthems in clever heavy metal disguise. Sort of the heavier counterpart to American rockers Blue Oyster Cult sans keyboards, though I do believe Budgie existed first.

For all their various eccentricities, however, the focus of this and most other Budgie albums is the same as that of Black Sabbath: the monster riffs. Guitarist Tony Bourge will never quite escape from underneath the shadow of Tony Iommi, but he’s just as formidable a riff machine as the master himself. Literally, within the first milliseconds of the album, from the very first DEN DIN DIN DUN DUN VWOO WHENG of Bourge’s unaccompanied electric sledgehammer, you will be hooked. This riff is also neat because it doesn’t start on the downbeat, so the first few times you hear the tune, you’ll hear it wrong, the drums and bass coming in unexpectedly. This, in a way I can’t adequately describe, is certifiably cool as hell. “Guts” indeed. “NDPW” has a powerful rhythmic interplay; the band convinces you that 15/8 isn’t such an odd time signature after all. A single electric guitar and bass with applied percussion rarely get heavier than they do on tracks like “All Night Petrol” or “Rape of the Locks.” “What about the living?” Shelley asks during the former. “What about the dead?” What about them? None can imitate Shelley’s piercing wail, though Geddy Lee would nail a worthy interpretation of the style just a few years down the road. These are but a few of the many memorable moments to be discovered throughout Budgie’s earliest effort, listen for yourself and gradually unearth the rest.

If there’s a fault to be found in Budgie’s presentation, it’s that they existed during the 70’s, where musical experimentation was part of the recording process, no matter which kind of band you were playing in. In many cases this resulted in some very interesting material from rock bands; in Budgie’s case, it resulted in a career-long tendency to include brief acoustic ballads that feel completely out of place on the band’s albums. “Everything in my Heart” and “You and I” more or less stop the album dead, their short length notwithstanding. However, the use of acoustic experimentation does result in “The Author,” arguably this album’s finest track, where the melancholy prelude provides exquisite counterpoint to the enormous riffage that follows. Classic heavy metal through and through, everybody should know and love this band.

In my opinion, one of the finest albums produced by what must certainly be the finest band from Wales. Patronize!