Various Artists - The Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion album review

A welcome celebration of the West Country’s unsung hard rock scene

The Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion album cover

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Barring a few minor players in punk and post-punk, Bristol’s official musical history is one of trip-hop, drum’n’bass and reggae. Which is largely true, but not the whole story. This compilation adds some pleasing extra sub-plots, collecting together 25 years of metal and hard rock acts spanning the period from the early 1970s to the mid-90s. Of course, the West Country never churned out classic head-banging bands on a par with Birmingham or Sheffield, but the tracks included here by Shiva, Headmaster and Voodoo, among others, at least prove that every city produced its own lesser version of Van Halen, Joan Jett or Bon Jovi.

Many of the 17 archive cuts on The Bristol Heavy Rock Explosion are generic pub-rock and more interesting as historical rather than musical artefacts, but some rare gems worthy of rediscovery are included too. Bands such as the prog-leaning Magic Muscle, fronted by singer/guitarist Rod Goodway, whose fluid early-70s line-up included members of Hawkwind, the Only Ones and future David Bowie violinist Simon House. Their Free As A Bird, a Neil Young-ish power-chord chugger clothed in spangled rock-opera fanfares, is one of the highlights on this album.

Other standout tracks include the gnarly proto-thrash gallop Stormchild by fringe NWOBHM players Jaguar (an early influence on Metallica), and Hey Lord by goth-tinged alt.rockers Claytown Troupe, who were minor chart stars of the early 1990s, which rumbles along with an agreeably ragged rhythmic energy.

Also impressive is The Power Remains by turbo-growling anarcho-punks Amebix, an exhilarating blast of guttural doomcore that predated much of the death-metal boom. A welcome antidote to the simplistic official narrative.

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.