Magnificent Fiend – Howlin Rain
American Recordings 88697 19676 2
One of Chicago’s better used-record stores used to have a “heavy 70’s” bin. I don’t think they meant “heavy” in the metal sense instead, it seemed to indicate that the records were thick with the sorts of things (seven-minute tracks, classical influences, metal grandiosity) that supposedly became obsolete by the decade’s end. That store closed, but there must have been more people looking in that bin than I suspected, because it seems that a fair amount of bands are reintroducing those elements into rock although, since the early 70’s are gone, the production values are more garage-y, the venues smaller, the labels not as well-distributed.
Ethan Miller, on leave from Comets of Fire, clearly cares about creating a new example of “heavy 70’s” music. The amount of layered guitar tracks and screaming vocals he invested in this CD attests to that, and he’s found skilled accomplices (particularly keyboardist Joel Robinow). Unfortunately, the turgid, hookless lyrics (“We are only slaves to our master’s memories/Staggering through the days to yield the seed of the golden age” is a chorus) are one of the primary outlets for his emotion.
Howlin Rain can lay down some firm riffs, and unlike many of those 70’s outfits they can get funky (although mentioning Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel in the bio is stretching things). In the end, though, they recall all of those bands who grew their hair long and cranked up their guitars but rarely managed to make a point. The bands that did a fair amount to deserve the abuse they got at the hands of the punks.
That being said, Magnificent Fiend is just bent enough that I suspect it will find its cult, as those old bands did. There’s a place waiting in the “heavy 00’s” bin for this disc.