Atomic Rooster: Death Walks Behind You - Album Of The Week Club review

An offshoot of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster mixed prog with furious riffs and thunderous drum beats

Atomic Rooster: Death Walks Behind You artwork
(Image: © B&C)

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Atomic Rooster: Death Walks Behind You

Atomic Rooster: Death Walks Behind You artwork

(Image credit: B&C)

Death Walks Behind You
Vug
Tomorrow Night
7 Streets (also called Seven Lonely Streets)
Sleeping for Years
I Can't Take No More
Nobody Else
Gershatzer

For many, Atomic Rooster are best known as the band that Carl Palmer left to form ELP, but that view does a grave disservice to the pioneering and exciting music they produced, particularly across their first three albums. 

Driven by the often demonically furious organ and piano playing of band leader and former Crazy World Of Arthur Brown keyboardist Vincent Crane, Atomic Rooster combined the swagger of R&B, the muscle of hard rock and the drama of prog, and came up with a sound that was both ambitious and accessible. 

It’s on their second album Death Walks Behind You where they go for broke and produce their classic record. The arrival of guitarist John Cann really beefs up their sound, with the fabulous title track in particular as gloomy yet golden as anything by Black Sabbath.

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Other albums released in September 1970

  • Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! - The Rolling Stones
  • I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You - Caravan
  • Untitled - The Byrds
  • Kiln House - Fleetwood Mac
  • Paranoid - Black Sabbath
  • After the Gold Rush - Neil Young
  • Idlewild South - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Beaucoups of Blues – Ringo Starr
  • Down Home - Seals and Crofts
  • Abraxas - Santana
  • If - If
  • Johnny Winter And - Johnny Winter
  • Mad Shadows - Mott the Hoople
  • The Original Human Being - Blue Cheer

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What they said...

"Devil's Answer might be the record for which Atomic Rooster are remembered, but it was their second album that posted warning that they were on the verge of creating something dazzling -- simply because the record itself is a thing of almost freakish beauty. With only organist Vincent Crane surviving from the original lineup, and John Du Cann coming in to relieve him of some of the songwriting duties, Death Walks Behind You opens at a gallop and closes with a sprint." (AllMusic (opens in new tab)

"While Death Walks Behind You will not blow you away with its elite musicianship or fairy-tale lyrics, the record definitely holds a place in the prog-rock masterpiece catalog, as well as one of the early pillars of the heavy metal genre. With their unique approach to progressive rock, Atomic Rooster was able to create a satisfying record that truly sounded unique compared to the sounds of their peers." (Sputnik Music (opens in new tab))

"As the name and eerie cover art would suggest, this is a heavy and dark album. Indeed, through most of the songs one gets the feeling that Death is walking behind them thanks to the whining guitar and creeping piano as the album opens. But while the album opens quite slowly the rest unfolds bombastically as soon as the riff for the title track finally shifts into gear and gets things rolling." (Prog Archives (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Dave Hinsley: Never heard this before. I thought it sounded good! I'll give it another go.

Mike Canoe: I find Atomic Rooster's Death Walks Behind You to be pretty spectacular. A proto-metal tour de force that's heavy without being muddy, dark without being a downer. To my ears, it's the heaviness of Sabbath combined with the musical interplay of Deep Purple.

Favourites include the appropriately doomy title track, the surging instrumental Vug, and the love gone bad rocker, I Can't Take No More. I tend to eschew writing about an album's bonus tracks, but Devil's Answer is a corker with blasting horns that's both heavy and swings. Horny metal? Honestly, only the solo-heavy instrumental, Gershatzer, has me thinking about, but not actually hitting, the skip button.

A true lost classic. The William Blake print used for the front cover is a beauty too.

Dale Munday: 1970, the start of the best decade for music. Atomic Rooster released two albums in one year , the second of which was Death Walks Behind You.

Proto metal ? Prog ? This is a fine example of the ever expanding rock scene of the time, with exemplary performances throughout, especially Vincent crane who manages to create his on unique signature sound on the ubiquitous Hammond organ.

Raw and uncompromising , Atomic Rooster never released two albums in the same style and would later be unrecognisable as the same band. Plagued by mental health issues, Vincent Crane never received the plaudits he deserved and later took his own life. What a waste and what a fitting tribute to him this album is.

Chris Elliott: It's so dated, and like a simple, second-rate version of their contemporaries. It ain't a lost classic, it's dated very badly. 15 minutes and I couldn't take any more. Life is too short.

Brian Carr: In the description and reviews, I wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about this week’s selection. I think I was expecting an album full of Gershatzer, which has some interesting ideas, but even more noodling that goes nowhere to my ears.

More often, though, I liked what I heard despite limited vocal talents and, for some reason, multiple reminders of Spinal Tap. I particularly enjoyed the solid work on organ and guitar throughout the record, including the instrumental Vug, which was quite better than the aforementioned Gershatzer. Death Walks Behind You probably isn’t something I’d grab often, but there’s plenty here to like.

Greg Schwepe: Back in 2007 I had bought a UK-based music magazine at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore here in the US. Huge article about the Led Zeppelin reunion show so I had to buy it. Attached as a bonus to that issue was a compilation CD titled Heavy Nuggets; 15 Lost British Hard Rock Gems 1968-1973

While I had never heard any of the songs on the CD, I had actually heard of five of the bands/artists; Terry Reid, The Move, Slade, Procul Harum, and Atomic Rooster. And now looking at the CD again, there is also a song from the Leaf Hound album we reviewed last year! Who knew? And why all the backstory? Because, even though I had heard none of these songs, I liked the total vibe of everything on the CD. Some stuff a little weird… some stuff really rocking… some stuff really experimental… but all with that late 60s/early 70s groove to it.

So, when I saw this week’s album I immediately was excited to hear an entire Atomic Rooster album, not just one cut. Now, the repeating piano notes and guitar riff the first minute of Death Walks Behind You got me almost reaching for the STOP button. “Hmmm…maybe a little weird?” But hey, I didn’t bail early and by the time they got to the vocals and “bigger riff”, I was a fan already. Black Sabbath meets ELP meets the Allman Brothers? Maybe? The Allman Brothers reference might be a stretch but the organ and “jammy improv” made me think of them.

Vug follows and is one of several instrumentals. The Rooster is not a one trick pony! Tomorrow Night with its piano focused intro brings a jazzy side, then again, the organ to thicken it all up. Nobody Else a few tracks later also features the same piano stylings. Seven Lonely Streets” features a nice call and response between the lead guitar and the organ. Sleeping For Years starts with some nice semi-fuzzy guitar, and that organ once again to help it out. Gershatzer is another instrumental that would not sound out of place on an early Uriah Heep album. More organ!

Overall, this was nice surprise. If you’re looking for that early 70s “let’s throw it all against the studio wall and see what sticks” attitude, Death Walks Behind You, fits the bill.

Melanie Kyle: Love this album!

Adam McCann: Top album, very influential and massively overlooked

John Davidson: Not for me I'm afraid.

While it contains flashes of interesting music the overall sound just doesn't work for me

They sound like other proto-prog band Iron Butterfly and unsurprisingly early ELP with the musical focus on the Hammond organ and drums. They even sound like early Jethro Tull in places.

The vocals are no better than OK (a common failing in the less successful prog bands where having a dedicated singer seemed a bit of a luxury).

It's not that the music isn't ambitious and it clearly influenced others but it sounded dated even by the end of the 70s when I first heard it and perhaps because they never had a stable line up they didn't have more modern sounding albums in the late 70s (like Jethro Tull did) to draw you in and connect you to their roots.

Mpampis Kalogiannis: Great album, but In Hearing is propably their best 

Paul Cropper: Great album. 8.5 out of 10. But In Hearing of is even better

Neil Immerz: Best album they did. love it

Karl Benson: Probably the greatest piano intro in the history of rock!

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Final score: 7.01 (51 votes cast, total score 358)

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