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10 obscure but brilliant hard rock bands you need in your life

Obscure ROCK
(Image credit: Various Artists)

Hard rock is such a vast yet broadly defined subgenre that the law of averages dictate that a large number of bands were always going to find themselves far from the top of the pile. Although the UK had some of the biggest hard rock bands of all time, its roots were so inherently American that even if bands got some renown in the US, many remained all but unknown elsewhere.

But if hard rock became more of an amalgamation than a specific style, drawing from the blues, punk, new wave and more, its lack of scene identification and adherence to a particular set of ideals meant that it was ripe for idiosyncratic takes where force of personality shone through.

To find the wheat amongst the chaff, who better to guide us than Lucifer’s Johanna Sadonis and partner Nicke Andersson - two artists steeped in rock’s forgotten byways and dust-encrusted jewels and general arcana?

“You know how it is when you go through the bargain bins in a record shop,” says Johanna, “where you find records for a pound, and sometimes you look at them and think, What's this? The guys look cool, but it can't be that good, because otherwise we'd know about them. But there must be something. And then often you find one song or two songs that are totally worth that pound.”

“And then you do wonder, why has no one ever told me about this?” adds Nicke - also guitar hero for The Hellacopters and Imperial State Electric. “So, people do miss out. And so maybe this is the reason for this little talk we have here.”

Lucifer II album cover

(Image credit: Century Media)

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DB Cooper

Nicke: “This band, I would say, is pretty obscure. They put out two albums as far as I know. The first album is from 1980, and it’s called Buy American. The second is from 1981, called Dangerous Curves. I still don’t know if the singer calls himself DB Cooper, or if it’s the band name. Apparently it’s taken from a mystery case that never got solved, so this guy robbed a bank and he was escaping. He was on a plane and he jumped out of it with a parachute, and they never found him again, or the money either. [The story is the subject of an upcoming Netflix series, D.B. Cooper Where Are You?]

“This first album especially is so good. It sounds like if you cross early Elvis Costello with Thin Lizzy. Maybe saying those bands in the same sentence will raise your expectations pretty high, but it is really good. I’s hard rock, but it’s a little new wave-ish.

“The record sleeves were horrible. No wonder they didn’t sell anything. I think they're one of those bands who had good songs, but no aesthetic vision. So for anyone who's going to buy it, it's like, ‘What is this?’ it's like the opposite to seeing your first Kiss record when you were a kid.”


Dust

Johanna: “This was Marky Ramones’ band before the Ramones. I don't know if it was his first band, but I think it's the first band he released something with. Back then he called himself Marc Bell, and they only put out two albums in ’71 and ’72. The first one was self-titled, and it has a really cool cover of three mummified corpses. The second album is called Hard Attack, and on the cover you have three dwarf Vikings with axes and swords, and it looked like a total heavy metal album cover. Everything on the album is really good, and we actually covered one with Lucifer for a split single with Kadavar not so long ago.”

Nicke: “They were nothing like the Ramones at all. We read some interviews with the guys recently, and they kind of talked about themselves as one of the first American heavy metal bands. Maybe you could say they were proto-metal. In some songs you could hear a Who influence, but then you also hear Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin, but it's really cool. And then two of the guys, now it's getting really nerdy here, they produced the first two Kiss albums, Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise.”

Johanna: “There is one song called Suicide that's really heavy. It's awesome.”

Nicke: “It has the funniest lyrics; he tries to off himself, but it doesn't work. He tries to electrocute himself with his electric bass guitar, playing in the rain. Another cool thing about that song in particular, is that that bass sound is totally Lemmy's bass sound. Marky Ramone’s playing style on this album the is the complete opposite of the Ramones. It sounds like he's Keith Moon.”


Copperhead

Nicke: “I actually know nothing about this band, but they are so awesome. They released one album in ‘73. A friend recommended it to me and I was like, ‘How come not I’ve heard this before?’, because it's amazing. It sounds like if you crossed Lynyrd Skynyrd with the Stooges. It has that raunchy proto-punk, proto-metal feel, but it’s still bluesy Southern rock. If I would start a band today, and it wasn't Lucifer or any of my other million bands, maybe that's what I would start. Anyone who’s into good rock music should check out this band. The Stooges thing for me is more the attitude. It’s super-energetic, but still playful and hard to describe.”


April Wine

Nicke: “They’re from Canada, so they're probably as obscure as you can get there, because in Canada everybody knows everybody.”

Johanna: “I think the main singer [Myles Goodwyn] would punch us out if we described his band as obscure. He just released an autobiography and he’s still going. Nicke tried to serenade me with songs just after we first met, and April Wine was one of these bands, with a track from an album called Electric Jewels. That's a great album, The voice reminds me a little bit of Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler, even though the music is more hard rock. I think if you like a band like Starz, that’s the direction they’re going.”

Nicke: “It’s such a weird band. Electric Jewels is their fourth album, and they hadn't really found their thing up to then, but on this album, every song is good. The album after, it was a bit of a disappointment, and then they got better again. They got some recognition in the UK in the early '80s because of the NWOBHM, but they were really hit and miss in the '70s”

Johanna: “They were founded in 1969, that album was in ’73, but they had an album in ’81 that I think think is very good, it’s called The Nature Of The Beast and it has two songs that are absolute hits in my eyes: Sign Of The Gypsy Queen and Caught In The Crossfire. It’s the kind of the territory Blue Öyster Cult went into with Fire Of Unknown Origin. The singer is awesome. He’s still playing as April Wine, and his voice is still top notch.”


Rex

Nicke: "This band made two albums, one in ’76 and one in ’77: Rex and Where Do We Go From Here? It’s the lead singer, Rex Smith. It’s hard to Google it because you just get T-Rex, but these two albums are – maybe I wouldn’t say really good, but there are bits here and there, especially the first song on the first self-titled album, which is called Trouble, and it’s amazing. It’s like Kiss on steroids. It's heavy, and it's got all the falsetto screaming, And apparently, Rex Smith is the brother of Starz’ lead singer, Mike Smith.

“I recently realised I’ve seen him on TV. He was in the 80s version of The Hulk and he played Daredevil in one or two episodes of that [he was also a presenter for Solid Gold, the variety show recently parodied on The Boys - Superhero Trivia Ed]. The sound was always good. If Starz were a cross between Kiss and Aerosmith, which of course I like, these guys were maybe not so to the point, because there are a few ballads that are actually okay. But the songs that were good, they’re totally worth it.”


Bob Seger System

Johanna: "This was when Bob Seger was wild and young, I don't know so much about it, because the only album on Spotify isn’t the one I like, which is called Mongrel. It's very heavy and extremely good. There's a song on there called Lucifer. He sings: ‘You can call me Lucifer if you could, I think you should’. It’s almost a naive lyric like a Roky Erickson lyric. His voice is amazing on it. I had no idea that Bob Seger was actually once a wildcat.”

Nicke: “Yeah, it's very soulful, in the same way that MC5 were soulful. It’s the best song on the album. It's like a really heavy Creedence Clearwater Revival sound because it's got a little bit of that John Fogerty rasp.”


38 Special

Johanna Sadonis: “It’s a Southern rock band from Florida, and one of the founding members was Donnie Van Sant, the younger brother of Ronnie from Lynyrd Skynyrd, who of course died in the plane crash in 1977. I think they’re really awesome. It's bordering a little bit into AOR, but if you like Southern rock bands like Skynyrd and Outlaws, this is just a little bit more melodic and easy listening, and the covers are very cheesy. There are two albums I really like, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys and Special Forces, and of those albums I would recommend the songs Caught Up In You, Hold On Loosely and Hittin’ And Runnin’.

“It’s very fun, they’re talking about being rockers in that environment and I just absolutely love the main lead singer, Don Barnes’ voice. I’ve seen a little bit of footage of them on YouTube, and they seem to be very un-cocky for a Southern rock band. I usually find humble singers more appealing.”

Nicke Andersson: “I really think that Donnie Van Zant had that humbleness and cockiness, which maybe his brothers didn’t have. He was the born star. Obviously we haven’t seen them live, but looking at all the old footage, he was an amazing lead singer and band leader, and he doesn’t really do anything. He just stands there and his presence is enough.”


Hard Stuff

Nicke: “They were an English band and they made two albums under the name Hard Stuff. The first album, Bulletproof, is amazing. It came out in ’72. They apparently had a car accident on tour and the drummer broke his legs, so they had to wait to record the follow-up album. Then it came out and they didn't like the album and they disbanded.

“The album cover for Bulletproof is three guys in a square, and then on the corner, it just says ‘Bulletproof’. But apparently the singer got sacked during the recording of the album, so he's on half of the tracks, but he got taken off the album cover and they put the name, the title, instead of his face. So each singer is on 1/2 of the vinyl each, but he didn't get credited. It's got a really great sound, great playing and has all these really quirky chord changes. The best songs are probably Sinister Minister and No Witch At All.”

Johanna: “Hahaha! I love that! We might have to steal those.”


Coven

Johanna: "I know to us, Coven might not be so obscure, but I guess in the context I’d go for it. We often get this Coven comparison, which is really annoying, because me and the singer, Jinx Dawson, both have blonde hair, dress in black and like the Devil. I actually found out about them way later in life, but I learned to love them, of course, but they don't sound like Lucifer at all.

“The first album, from 1969, Witchcraft Destroys Minds And Reaps Souls is the one everyone talks about, and Jinx has that soulful extreme voice, but she utilises so many different tones. She was just 18 when she sang on that, but my favourite Coven album, and that’s not on Spotify, is Blood On The Snow. I love all the songs, but what I really love about it is that it’s so morbid, and that really speaks to me.”

Nicke: “It doesn't sound morbid, though, and that reminds me of Roky Erickson, because he has these lyrics which are very morbid, but the music isn't, so that makes it even more eerie.”

Johanna: “That's what I love in old school horror movies. It's not a gory ‘chop off your arm really slow and you hear the bones crack’ thing, it's more like Rosemary's Baby. You see the shadow of the beast, but you don't see any blood; it's the horror in your head.”


Bloodrock

Johanna: “I got introduced this to this band when Nick was serenading me many, many obscure songs that I'd never heard.”

Nicke: “I bought an album of theirs because it looked cool. It’s called Bloodock U.S.A, and it’s their best one. I mean, there's good stuff on all the albums, although the album after Bloodrock U.S.A. has a different approach and style. There's a lot of Deep Purple with a lot of Hammond organs on U.S.A., so it’s got a bit more of a proto-metal feel. It's funny, because the songs that are good on this album all really good, the other half is just filler.”

Johanna: “So there's American Burn, Crazy 'Bout You Babe, Rock & Roll Candy Man and Magic Man. That's all you need to know... about their whole career!”

Lucifer's latest album, Lucifer IV, is out now via Century Media Records

Having freelanced regularly for the Melody Maker and Kerrang!, and edited the extreme metal monthly, Terrorizer, for seven years, Jonathan is now the overseer of all the album and live reviews in Metal Hammer. Bemoans his obsolete superpower of being invisible to Routemaster bus conductors, finds men without sideburns slightly circumspect, and thinks songs that aren’t about Satan, swords or witches are a bit silly.