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Classic Force - 98%

bigmoney, May 8th, 2017

There was a time in the history of heavy metal when the lines between hard rock and metal were quite blurry. The late 60s brought us some pretty heavy rock n roll, from Mountain and Blue Cheer to Led Zeppelin and individual songs from bands as diverse as Steppenwolf (Born to be Wild) and King Crimson (21st Century Schizoid Man)! Listening back to the early 70s you get even heavier guitar tones and more aggressive playing from Montrose, Robin Trower, and ZZ Top (laid back sound, but seriously ripping guitar work and gnarly tone). All of these bands seemed to utilize traditional blues techniques and scales, but often danced around the typical blues song structures and focused more on heavy riffs and chunky tones. Even jazz fusion band Return to Forever had a song titled "Excerpt From the First Movement of Heavy Metal".

There are also the 70s bands that are more commonly seen as heavy metal than hard rock, many of whom further avoided typical blues sounds while still retaining the connections to classic rock n roll. Thin Lizzy had those folk melodies and some Van Morrison-esque soft songs. Black Sabbath's jammy drumming stand in stark contrast to the structure of a lot of 80s metal techniques, but their use of minor notes goes beyond the typical blues-rock tonality. Rush had some choppy chord strumming in "Temples of Syrinx" that reminds me of Elton John's "Crocodile Rock". And let's not forget Judas Priest's moody and progressive "Sad Wings of Destiny"! (Obviously I have missed many fine examples here but these were the first that came to mind).

Then we have Scorpions. "Taken by Force" referred to as TbF for the remainder of this review) is the only Scorpions album I own but it has had an immense impact on my listening habits. This album is progressive and diverse, yet it also features some of the heaviest riffs of its time. I can also hear a clear connection to classic rock in this record, which is a huge plus in my book. The band's creativity was seemingly boundless during this period, and TbF is a fine display of their collective talent and passion. The fiery triplet riffs of "Steamrock Fever" and "He's a Woman..." sound chaotic and seductive at the same time, while the shrieking vocals of the latter might just give you goosebumps! TbF courts a little bit of the sound Scorpions would later become famous for on "We'll Burn the Sky" which reminds me of "No One Like You" but with more sensitivity. There are some Robin Trower-meets-Thin Lizzy vibes in "I've Got to be Free" and "Your Light" both of which feature some of the heaviest riffs with a clean guitar tone that I have ever heard. "The Riot of Your Time" begins with a minor-key parallel to the Who's "Pinball Wizard" (acoustic strumming with electric guitar playing octaves) and uses a very effective disco beat in the chorus. The references to more dance-oriented music don't stop there, the hard funk of "Sails of Charon" and the sexy swagger of bonus track "Suspender Love" should really get those hips gyrating (unless your hip does not hop, you poor soul). On the original album, the last song would have been "Born to Touch Your Feelings" which is majestic and passionate in equal measure. That final ballad also goes to show you that you don't have to have a smooth voice to sing such a beautiful chorus.

Although all the songs on TbF are strong and well-executed in their own way, "Sails of Charon" is the centerpiece of the album for a few reasons. This song is so heavy and unique, and yes I would even describe it as sexy! That intro riff has so much attitude, it sounds to me like an authoritative and mysterious figure lecturing the listener for daring to enter its forbidden lair. Yet the song seduces you and leads you further into unknown dangers with exotic scales and burning lead guitar. The first guitar solo even seems to reference the classic jazz standard "Caravan" right before shredding some sweep-picked diminished-scale arpeggios (eat your heart out, tech death). There's just so much depth in this song, it has certainly earned its reputation and then some!

Finally I have to mention the production on this record. All I can really say about it is that all the instruments are pretty clear and everything fits together nicely. Maybe the vocals could be higher in some spots, but it's not a big deal. The guitar tones are killer, all the heavy riffs really lock in sonically and hit hard. The lead guitar screams and soars, especially on "Sails of Charon" I also want to say that the little quirks and effects are well done, such as the alarm clock in "Steamrock Fever" the voices at the end of "Born to Touch Your Feelings" and that snare drum in bonus cut "Suspender Love"!
In conclusion, TbF is an amazing rock n' roll/ heavy metal album and I think listening to it might make you realize that those two ideas are often the same thing! Check it out, bang your head, and don't forget that metal can be sexy.