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Gem - 100%

Felix 1666, November 22nd, 2015
Written based on this version: 1986, 12" vinyl, Steamhammer

Thrash metal is my favoured genre. But quite apart from the vast number of thrash bands and albums, I also like black metal, traditional metal, death metal, power metal and so on. I even listen to a pop song every now and then, to be precise, roughly once in a decade. What I want to say is that I do not have the time to check out each and every thrash band. Taking this situation into consideration, I say with all due caution: Griffin's album from 1986 is unique. No doubt, this is a bold claim. I will try to explain the reasons for its uniqueness. But first off: Yes, I have seen the list of similar artists, but I beg to differ. Omen, the most frequently mentioned band in this context, do not sound like Griffin, because albums like "Warning of Danger" lie precisely in the middle of speed and power metal, while Griffin celebrate their own style of thrash. Not to mention Omen's commercial blunder, the polished "Escape to Nowhere". With that said, let's concentrate on "Protectors of the Lair".

Griffin had the luck of having an outstanding lead vocalist. William McKay possessed one of the most impressing voices of the intriguing (thrash) metal universe of the eighties. Already the first number, which was a kind of bastard between an intro and a regular song, indicated his expressiveness. Listen how much desperation and woe he put in the simple request "not me". During the entire album, he made full use of his relatively high-pitched voice while offering the entire spectrum of emotions. By the way, just to avoid any form of misunderstanding, McKay did definitely not sound like a freshly castrated eunuch. In view of his talent, his performance had nothing in common with the misdirected dislocations of these (power) metal vocalists whose only aim is to shatter the listener's nerves while constantly screaming as shrill as they can. In view of my natural politeness, I will not add names to this.

Although McKay delivered a very important element of Griffin's sound, we may not forget the fantastic melodies that the guitars create. As a reference, the dudes of Forbidden had a fine sense for fragile melodies and they proved it with songs like "Out of Body (Out of Mind)", especially with regard to its slender bridge after the second and the third chorus. But compared with Griffin, Forbidden appeared as absolute beginners. (Nevertheless, Russ Anderson and his buddies released great albums!) Griffin's Rick Cooper did not only play guitar and bass, he seemed to be a wizard as well. He surprised with meditative parts, emotional sequences and relaxed sections that invited the listener to let the thoughts run free. Further elements, for example some melancholic melodies, were added as well. Do not make the mistake to think that Cooper behaved like a wimp. Despite his extremely developed understanding for thrilling, occasionally surprisingly soft harmonies, he did not eschew harshness and aggressiveness. The opposite is true. The comparatively mysterious aura of Griffin was exactly based on the harmonious connection of melodic components and furious outbursts. Any form of sharp interfaces did not show up. Abrupt breaks were conspicuous by their absence. As mentioned before, I am sure that Cooper had a second job and earned some money as a highly successful magician. However, I have to talk about the contribution of Rick Wagner as well. His vibrant drumming was also impressive, although his performance stood in the shadow of Cooper's wizardry.

Based on the phenomenal contributions of McKay and Cooper, the timeless song material did not have any other possibility than being absolutely fantastic. Let me put the attention on some of the tracks, although I don't really know where to begin. Every song would deserve special recognition. The random generator between my ears tells me to start with "Truth to the Cross". It impressed with its archaic lyrics and the blazing impetuosity of its guitar leads. The continuous change of velocity increased the song's dynamic, its solo did not lack of depth and the longing vocals during the chorus added the melodic touch. "Poseidon Society", the following track, possessed a slightly progressive structure and passed the seven minutes mark with great ease. The playful beginning stood in sharp contrast with the ironclad riffing that set in quickly afterwards. The solos exploited the entire sea depth in order to introduce the listener into the society of Poseidon while raging waves broke the surface of the sea. Anyway, each and every part of this song deserved standing ovations. But Griffin were also able to present straight thrashers. The openers of both sides blew away all obstacles which stood in their way. To put it quite simply, each tune had its own character. Griffin had composed highlights, highlights and, finally, highlights.

One might say that good songs are fine, but what about the production? Of course, a legitimate objection. To be honest, the mix of "Protectors of the Lair" may be dismissed as slightly blurred. It lacked a bit of sharpness and clarity. Yet it was punchy, vigorous and lively while having its own character. I cannot really explain why, but it emphasised the juvenile enthusiasm of the band. The inspired guys were able to cast a spell over the listener who sits in their lair. Due to the fact, that the band members were the "Protectors of the Lair", there was no chance to escape. But one thing is certain, nobody wanted to break out. Instead, every inhabitant of the lair enjoyed the music again and again. This album did not lose anything from its glamour during the last 30 years - and its splendour seems to be everlasting.