This is another column that I've wanted to start for ages. I spend a huge amount of time elbow deep in whatever random discount record bin I stumble upon. I've never seen a discount bin I didn't like and one I wouldn't spend time digging through. Even when Rasputins dumps their crap records on the street on the corner of Telegraph Ave for anyone to take, I'll stop and take a look.
Hey, I found a Mose Jones LP there once, so don't laugh.
What I'm gonna do here is share with you some of the random gems that I rescue from the 25 cent, 50 cent, and one dollar bins. You could call this "From the Vaults" if you like, but many of these records were never in a vault, more like a trash can. You could call it "Lost Classics" but really, it'd be a stretch calling many of these classics. Still, there's some cool stuff for the finding if you have the patience, a little adventurousness, and way too much obsession with LP's.
So we're calling this column, what it is. Dumpster Diving.
And here's my first report.
Many of these records could be found in discount bins near you, and almost always they could be found rather cheap on eBay or your local store. Happy digging.
Hellfield - S/T
For whatever reason, there was a time around my senior year in high school where I immersed myself in second-rate, Canadian pomp. Don't ask me why, but bands like Prism and Zon were high on my daily listening list. NWOBHM first, then Canadian pomp. Again, don't ask me why, but there it is. Another Canadian pomp release that occupied a tremendous amount of time in my cassette player was this self-titled debut from Hellfield.
Formed in 1977 by Mitchell Field, who performed under the name Mitch Hellfield. Hellfield, the band, was born out of necessity when Mitch Hellfield pitched an album to CBS Records only to be rejected because they weren't interested in signing a solo act. No solo act? No problem. Helffield quickly put together a band with guitarist Dave Hovey, keyboardist Rick Lamb, bassist Jamie Larsen, and drummer Steve Coombs. He named it Hellfield and secured a two-album deal.
Suffice it to say, Hellfield never set the world on fire, but still I remembered digging the hell outta this album in my mispent youth. In retrospect, I have no idea why. I was listening to Axe, and Praying Mantis, and Maiden, and Tygers, and Angelwitch back then. What fascination did a second-rate pomp band from Canada hold over me?
Stumbling upon this in the $1 bin, I hesitated at first. Almost scared to touch the record. It wouldn't be the first time that I pulled an album out from my childhood, only to be horrified by how awful it sounded to me today. Did I dare do it again? The $1 price wasn't too much, but the destruction of my childhood memories was too high a price to bear.
Not here. Hellfield is back on my turntable in unfathomable heavy rotation.
Let's be honest, I don't know if this is really an album worth hearing for you or just a happy memory from my childhood. Sometimes, I just can't be impartial to something that was so cool to me once, so I'll have to let you judge for yourself. But for me, Hellfield is a keeper.
Starting off with "The Pact", this is the Hellfield I remember. Big synths bring us in as Hellfield's expressive and roughened theatrical voice brings on the fury. "I am not a mortal man" he bellows over the huge cascading drums and group harmony vocals (a la Sweet). Without hesitating, Hellfield leaps into a tale of how he made a pact with the devil for wealth and fame and fortune. Damn heavy stuff for a pomp song full of tinkling keys and "Ooohh" backing vocals. And don't get me wrong, this song is full on pomp in all it's over-indulgent glory, and damn, does it rock. As a kid, this song terrified and fascinated me to the point that I wrote a short story once, using the lyrics of this song as the first page, then launching into my own story of how this man was granted eternal life, only to be imprisoned for a life-sentence. Ham-fisted, maybe, but I thought it was cool at the time.
So after hearing that song, I was drawn back into my Canadian pomp cocoon, wondering if anything else would hold up. I didn't have long to wait. After a mellow AM-radio MOR opening sequence, Hellfield and band reach a fever pitch on "Magic Mistress". About a third of the way in, the sap dissolves away breaking into some righteous pomp heaviness. Staggering guitars and Hellfield's voice which just simply was too harsh for most pomp, but worked perfectly here. Toss in some pretty searing guitar and this song rocks about as hard as Hellfield could. Certainly on par with some of the best of early Styx.
Hellfield tossed in a few more vivid rockers, like the boogie of "Fancy Nancy" and the proto-pomp-punk of "All Night Party" amid their steam of radio friendly pomposity. "Tell Me Are You Listening" shows the band in full grandiose pop glory, while "City Boy" verges on pure pomp prog nirvana. "Too Long" was another radio hit in Canada, but to me is a bit too soft to be interesting.
But it was this contrast of pure pop like "Too Long" with the rougher, scarier rock-with-abandon cuts like "The Pact" and "Magic Mistress" that always drew me to these guys.
So after my initial hesitation, I'm glad I paid the buck for this and have it back in my collection. If you're a fan of '70's pomp like early Angel, Styx, or Bluebeard, you should track this one down.
Now I know I'm gonna be searching for those Prism and Zon records.