One of the things that made The Almighty such a special band when they first appeared at the tail end of the 1980s is that it was not exactly easy to place them in the musical landscape. The four-piece was a square peg in a round hole of rock music; Motley Crue and their sunset strip ilk were sharing the same airwaves as thrash icons Metallica. It was either big hair and make up or drainpipe jeans and basketball boots but The Almighty fit neither. The decade was a total blast – some of the best and worst in music – but when The Almighty made their mark, they were on a different level; pure rock music – and British at that – no frills, furiously pressing the re-set button but achingly familiar and dammit, they were out to conquer. Imagine this: December 1989, high ranking LA sleaze merchants Faster Pussycat’s headline tour with Texas hard rocker Dangerous Toys supporting and right in the middle was The Almighty. A flame haired rock god, heavy metal with a punk edge? This band blew everything off of the stage that night and in the crowd there were looks and whispers of “what was THAT?”. The Almighty had arrived – and they knew it.
Formed in 1988 in Strathaven, Scotland by three school friends, Ricky Warwick, drummer Stump Monroe and bassist Floyd London who came from a punk background and lead singer Warwick had done session work with New Model Army. The three friends were joined by guitarist Andy ‘Tatum’ McCafferty but despite the band’s punk roots decided to take The Almighty in a more hard rock/heavy metal direction that could have easily been aligned with The Cult or Motörhead. Their debut album Love, Fire & Blood was released on Polydor records in October 1989 to critical acclaim and in the same year were announced third place in Kerrang’s ‘Best New Act’. The Almighty toured the UK in 1990 and tried to break the US market but a more extensive American tour was shelved in favour of a European tour and a live album Blood Fire & Live – released in 1990 – was recorded in Edinburgh and Nottingham. The same year saw the band begin recording their follow up album Soul Destruction with producer Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran fame). The album was released in March 1991 with lead single Free ‘n’ Easy became something of a hit and the band toured with Motörhead and Megadeth in support of the record which was followed by their own headline tour and then a support slot with Alice Cooper. In early 1992 Tatum left the band to be replaced by Pete Friesen. The Almighty were invited to support The Screaming Jets – who requested a British band – and their Living In England EP on their Australian tour. By the summer, The Almighty were opening the 1992 Donington Monsters Of Rock Festival and managed a major attendance for an opening band that made a field bounce on a Saturday morning. During that slot, The Almighty premiered a new song called Addiction which was the lead song from the more grunge influenced third album Powertrippin’ (which included the entire Donington set as a bonus CD) in April 1993. The band supported Iron Maiden and once again tried to break America but failed to make much impact and by the end of the year left Polydor and signed to Chrysalis. It is the fourth album, Crank where Welcome To Defiance picks up the story of The Almighty.
We had a band that had thrown a curveball into the glam and thrash dominated music ballpark at the end of the 1980s with two strong but also very different albums in their debut Love, Fire & Blood, sophomore effort Soul Destruction and followed that up with Powertrippin’ an album which very much fed into the Grunge’s stranglehold on rock music. By the time The Almighty’s fourth album saw the light of day, Kurt Cobain had gone, alternative was still ‘in’ but a different format and the tracksuit wearers from Bakersfield, California were setting the scene. Fourth outing Crank was a very clever record which had The Almighty heading back to their punk roots. Whether this was by design or just an anti-thesis record, in retrospect, it kept the band from being lost in metal’s mire by picking up a different direction which was actually familiar territory for them. And you cannot argue with an appearance on long standing UK music programme Top Of The Pops with their first single Wrench either – this really was a band that had hit it big and on their own terms. Even now, Crank feels like an utterly timeless album that could be dropped into any decade and it still sound punk ‘n’ roll fresh. We are not even talking the pop punk as displayed on Green Day’s mega hit Dookie the very same year, Crank had a snot and grit alright – there was even a free nose ring attached to the front of the album – it is a record that offers a rabbit punch and the catchy as hell Jonestown Mind has a chorus that a crowbar would struggle to prise out. This was the beauty of Crank, it so nailed a punk sound and attitude but married it with catchiness that dodged out-and-out commerciality. While the two singles are standout songs, they were not cop out tracks that were hiding filler, Crank is choc full of terrific punchy material that avoided feeling contrived, is energetic, sidestepped trends and kept The Almighty in the game – and very little has changed since its release 27 years ago, Crank still remains a jewel in the band’s crown.
The Almighty’s fifth album Just Add Life released in 1996 was not an album that was universally enjoyed but on reflection, it is possible to see both sides of the divide. Whereas Crank was homing in on the band’s punk roots, Just Add Life has punk at its beating heart but added some extra gloss and some velvet underfoot as well. First single All Sussed Out probably had hearts racing for all the wrong reasons with its upbeat tempo and the addition of horns. A shock to the system for sure but it is a great song – it is just not the one to judge the whole album on. Overall, Just Add Life was another dose of punk-like hard rock that sounded better, more rounded and well produced by Chris Sheldon adding some sheen and slickness to the sound. It was an album that had punk smartened up and in some quarters, the infusion with hard rock was tighter and felt more accomplished. Maybe this was what the issue was with the album, it was not one that was “down and dirty”. Even the artwork, a collection of bright photos felt like it was the opposite, it may have been gaudy but it was eye catching and the original limited edition CD came in a heat responsive box that turned all sorts of whacky colours if parked on a radiator. The Almighty were aiming to get noticed and without necessarily compromising. Just Add Life came out mid decade, rock music had changed and this is the sound of a band that were not playing catch up and struggling for breath, they were making their place and their presence felt; making it their own and from an ‘environmental’ point of view, The Almighty were hammering their stake into the ground and keeping true to themselves. Just Add Life still had its punk elements in tact, Stump’s rolling drum on and those evident bass lines on Do You Understand; the pent up frustration of How Real Is Real For You which were both middle ground in comparison to Some Kind Of Anything which is a sped up blowout. Just Add Life may have its critics but in The Almighty cannon it is still a fine album. Incredibly and despite All Sussed Out charting and the band seemingly on a roll, The Almighty broke up due to frustrations within the industry and undisclosed record label issues.
When The Almighty did return in 2000 it was with a self titled album via Sanctuary Records and a line up change. Gone was guitarist Pete Friesen who was replaced by former Whatever man Nick Parsons. While long time bassist Floyd London was credited with performing on the album, he did not appear in band pictures and even his credit was apart from that of Warwick, Monroe and Parsons. In effect, London had left the band but did not announce it officially until 2008. Self titling an album is often questioned but it does make sense in the context of The Almighty – a return, new line up, a new millennium and a new era for a band that had now managed to release records in a third decade. In some respects, it is a record that dispenses some of that sheen and production was on a budget in comparison to Just Add Life; the plus is that The Almighty brings back some grit and adds some bottom end, has a grungy feel but is not short of hooks or melodies. However, the album does have some patchiness to it. There are some belting tunes though and opens strongly with Broken Machine, beyond more drum rolling from Stump Monroe is a chunky mid tempo stomp that opens up the melody on the chorus. It is that mid-section though, the scissored guitar before Warwick snarls “alright now” and a boot to the bollocks riff kicks in, all of the components of a great The Almighty song. I’m In Love (With Revenge) picks up the pace in tempo and Warwick finding his potty mouth and some snarl but the chorus and some sweet backing vocals giving some ice cool contrast. Two for two and on track for an impressive album but by third track La Chispa De La Meurte it feels like a pattern forming with aggression on the verse and a melodious chorus – there is nothing wrong with the tune in the slightest but it just feels over familiar in terms of the first three songs on the record. Big Black Automatic does change the pace but the song is a bit throwaway while For Fuck’s Sake ups the swear ante, a nice subtle sythesized voice on the verse and yet again melody in the chorus. There are a lot of good songs on The Almighty but it feels a long album and the peaks and troughs in the middle does drag a little until Barfly which is a total riot and really gives it a tail end burst of energy. 20 years on, The Almighty is still a decent listen of punk edged metal, showed what a new formation of The Almighty could do in the new millennium but at the same time, it felt a little uneasy as well, like more change was on the way.
There was not a long time to wait for the next – and final – The Almighty record with Psycho-Narco being released a year after its predecessor. If The Almighty had a budget production then Psycho-Narco did little to change that but also fails to progress the band in any way; had Psycho-Narco been released as a second album along with The Almighty, there probably would not have been any complaints but this is not said in any derogatory manner as to the the material itself, if anything, Psycho-Narco is something of an overlooked record within The Almighty’s discography. The album is not without its merits and it is definitely one that wears its influences clearly on its sleeve. There is some purity in the fact that it is a no frills affair – even down the basic cover artwork – that rockets through without airs, graces nor a sniff of pretentiousness and the punk ethic is part of its heart and soul. Hardly a bad album and it has some excellent tunes, the acoustic beginning of Waiting For Earthquakes with its rabble rousing ending being one of the stand outs but Galavanise, the excellent Soul On A Roll and 7X are terrific songs but was it The Almighty? The fact that Psycho-Narco is the last The Almighty album is one half of the story, The Almighty had said all it needed to say. What stands out on the writing on this album is that Ricky Warwick is one of the UK’s finest writers and he was ready to break out, check any of his solo work for proof, The Almighty had run its course and as much as this is a decent record, it just felt like it was wringing the last from the band. While this sounds like some act of desperation, far from it, more the realisation that Warwick was onto something bigger and The Almighty as a band had no more to add to the legacy.
The disc that makes Welcome To Defiance worth shelling out for on its own is Crank And Deceit – Live In Japan. Initially only available in Japan or as a bonus disc with the Japanese edition of Just Add Life, this album shows just how devastating a live band The Almighty actually was. It is possible to feel the sweat drip from the ceiling and vocally Warwick is at his feisty and rambunctious best. If the performance alone is not enough of a right hook, then there is a surprise left hook just waiting around the corner with just how beautifully this performance is captured – raw as hell and a continuous slap one after the other. It’s as punk as fuck too, Jonestown Mind is a class song anyway but it just has that extra notch of aggression; second number Crank And Deceit is like a snotty punch to the face. The slower, groovy, grunge-y Addiction (from Powertrippin‘) is like being showered with glass, the crunch is absolutely superb and is like a slow walk over hot coals. The set list over the 17 cuts does cross over the The Almighty discography at the time and that does mean a fair few peaks and troughs in their styles which just showed how dynamite and dynamic the band is on this album.. The punky numbers from Crank really do go over well but this is a band that is loving their performance, not sure what the Japanese would have made of Warwick quoting from his own song and “won’t you take me to…a funky town” on United State Of Apathy but it is possible that that place was bouncing. Over The Edge does that with it’s brooding hard rock tones and some excellent guitar work that is both raw and solid. “We’re going to play a fuckin’ old song for ya”, says Warwick as the lead in to the still awesome Wild And Wonderful and a song that would have been the first pointer to who The Almighty was. The band could have ended on this song and no-one would have been unhappy but instead, The Almighty closes this show with Crucify, a jangly Motorhead like tune from their Soul Destruction record. Live albums can be a bit of a throwaway but not this one, no-siree, Crank And Deceit – Live In Japan is the real deal in capturing a band both in the prime, fired up and ready to destroy. Utterly superb.
For younger readers, there used to be a thing called “singles.” Back in the mists of time and before vinyl was hip and trendy in the 21st century, there would be 7 inch and 12 singles released in a lead up to an album and even during its lifetime to keep the legs running. It was not possible to do much with a 7 incher (do not even get us started on flexi discs), it may be two tracks from the album or even a song not destined for the record so a bit of a bonus which was constantly flipped over to the point of insanity. The 12 inchers could add a few more tunes, maybe even a longer version of the main song. When CDs appeared, the world opened up a bit more and multiple editions creating a number of possibilities. Remixes were more than ubiquitous in pop and dance circles but in the 1990s, even rock got in on the act. It was actually quite cool to have a remix and completely bastardise the original song to the point where it was unrecognisable. Which was what happened to Jonestown Mind – Therapy? remix. In fairness, it is a fun remix, the jangly guitar is so trippy, this atmospheric dance-like number that just goes on an on, enjoyable in its own way, quite unique but not recognisable as Jonestown Mind. With a second remix of Jonestown Mind – The Ruts remix, it is more like the actual song and is representative as to what rock was doing with remixing, dissonant instrumentation or removing the guitar and having more up front drum beats. Again, excellent in a way of giving something different and extra to the song. With a total of 12 songs, the remainder are likely B sides to singles although sadly, there is no information as to where they come from so it is difficult to pin point the style with the time frame. Thanks, Again, Again is a brooder, Knocking On Joe has a cracking intro riff and a serious in-yer-face front about it whereas Hellelujah is an instrumental and could be Therapy? based on the guitar tone. Overall, an interesting collection one that definitely does complete the picture as to the other songs that were released during the 1994-2001 period/ Collectors will be happy that there is a total picture as to everything that The Almighty did release on the much missed single format.
The final disc is titled Live B Sides And Sessions but this could have been worded a little better and is somewhat confusing and messy. There is an eight song live recording Live at Kongret Zentrum, Stuttgat on October 3, 1994 which is not listed as a session and has a crowd in the background. Without any further information, it depends on what the definition of “session” is. The second part of the disc is one ILR Radio session from 1996 (Do You Understand) and then the final two tracks live versions of Jesus Loves You (incorrectly missing the “But I Don’t”) and what is listed as I Fould The Law [sic] on the sleeve which should actually be I Fought The Law – both listed as live B sides and presumably, these two tracks have been made previously available on singles. While this seems massively picky, as a retrospective, there should be some clarity as to where the songs come from. The idea of the disc itself makes sense and keeping these live extras separate from the other B side disc with studio songs but the wording of the disc, the spelling of songs and the omission of full titles is not great and to know of the provenance of songs would be helpful. Of the eight songs recorded in Germany in 1994, this is yet again another example of what an immense live band The Almighty was and a cracking set. It is another well recorded collection of songs and captures a fiery version of the band with a solid Wrench kicking off proceedings followed by a punky Move Right In. A stunning Addiction which shouts out to Pantera. Jesus Loves You [But I Don’t] and I Fought The Law are a bit ropey and raw but are fine as recordings and hardly damage what The Almighty did in the live arena. On the whole, the disc is again offering practically everything that The Almighty did – which is its saving grace- the main live recordings are good but not as essential as the Crank And Deceit – Live In Japan.
Welcome To Defiance: The Complete Recordings 1994-2001 is on the whole an excellent box. As much as Crank And Deceit – Live In Japan is worth the price of entry alone, both the Crank and Just Add Life remain terrific albums and are well worth owning. The post 2000 version of The Almighty is a battle between a band coming back but with the question as to their necessity to do so with both albums offering up something in a very much changed musical world. The albums do show a band that had adapted more than once throughout their career and if anything, a band that owned their punk roots and could bend and shape it. With an extra three CDs containing a Japanese only live album and properly collecting B sides from singles and some live session material, this really is a complete picture from 1994 to 2001 which indeed makes Welcome To Defiance very welcome indeed. The collection is presented in a hard clam shell box and each album in a cardboard sleeve and with a booklet that gathers up credits for each of the album, although there is little more than that and as already stated, it could do with more details as to where the single B sides came from.
Ricky Warwick told yours truly in 2015 that there would be no return for The Almighty, Ricky confirmed that the band had said all it needed to. A shame indeed but Warwick’s talented presence still exists in his own solo albums as well as fronting Black Star Riders. The Almighty made their mark at times when some much needed fresh air was required and showed what British rock could do in a very American marketplace. Plus no-one will open a festival like The Almighty did.
There is a wealth of The Almighty to enjoy in this box set and it is – just like the back of the t-shirt said – All Loud, All Wild, All-FUCKIN’-Mighty!