Randy Holden – Population II Album Review

Randy Holden – Population II

Riding Easy Records

Release date: 28/02/2020

Running time: 32 mins

Review by: Alun Jones

8.5/10

 

First of all, an important note for all readers: Randy Holden is NOT the name of a winning hand in strip poker.  I used the phrase at a recent gathering at my Rock’n’Roll Naturist Society club, and nearly got a bunch of fives from Ozzy as a thank you.  Tommy Lee was up for it though, as you can probably imagine.

Anyway, Randy Holden is actually a guitar pioneer who served some time with proto-metal giants Blue Cheer, before splitting to take the helm of his own project.  Population II was the result – a far ahead of it’s time Big Bang of doom and sludge metal.

Originally receiving a limited release in 1969, this album has earned cult status with afficionados of early heavy rock.  And it’s no surprise why; “Population II” is a huge sounding, riff driven behemoth that sounds like it simply can’t have been created in that time period.

But it was.  The era that popular culture tells us was the age of peace and love also birthed this unholy slab of heavy noise.  Randy Holden, like his previous bandmates in Blue Cheer, was happily stomping all over flower power.

Of course, “Population II” is totally over the top.  “Guitar Song” is the first track, featuring the somewhat unimaginative opening line “I love the sound of a guitar playing” – so no marks for lyrical finesse.  If you’re after poetry, this probably ain’t for you.  Instead it’s six minutes of slow, heavy driving riff-based rock that sets the tone for the album.

 “Fruit Icebergs” is an outstanding name for any song; in fact, I might steal it for a band name.  Slow like cooling lava, with a doom-laden melancholic sound –  It’s dark in a Sabbath way.  Whereas the shorter “Between Time” picks up the pace a little and borrows a chorus from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.

“Blue My Mind” is less gloomy, but certainly taps into the blues with a hint of Hendrix.  The final song, “Keeper of my Flame” is over 10 minutes of pulsating, repetitive riff wrestling that doesn’t out stay it’s welcome.  Ol’ Randy stretches for the epic here and pretty much nails it, strangling that guitar and taking the listener on a heroic journey.

Yet another history lesson for which we can thank the scholars at Riding Easy Records, Randy Holden’s “Population II” is back in circulation and worth taking time to investigate.  You’ll wonder how this was lost for so long.

Visit Riding Easy records on the interweb here.

Or on Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.

Don’t forget to visit Ever Metal – where this review first appeared  for all your rock and metal news.

Halloween Horror Fest: Prince of Darkness

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

I couldn’t have another Halloween Horror Fest without honouring the wonderful Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly died earlier this year.  So it’s time for another Hammer horror classic with Dracula: Prince of Darkness!

This was the first time that Lee reprised the role of the Count since his performance in the legendary Dracula (or Horror of Dracula in the US) in 1958.  Bizarrely, this time Dracula is silent throughout – not uttering a single word – as Lee claimed he refused to speak the atrocious dialogue.

Following on from the previous film some years later, we encounter four British travellers who wind up at Castle Dracula, despite warnings against going there.  The travellers face some strange goings on, leading ultimately to the true purpose of their welcome at the castle – being used as sacrifice to resurrect the Count.

dpod

It takes a while to get to the key scene of murder and resurrection, though there are several creepy elements in the lead up to it.  This revival of Dracula is quite a blood thirsty and shocking scene, even now.

The rest of the movie sees our heroes trying to evade the vampire whilst finding refuge at a monastery, where Father Sandor (a superb Andrew Keir) steadfastly defends against the Count.

Lee’s Dracula still manages to menace despite the lack of speech, exuding power and malevolence.  Barbara Shelley also gives a fine performance, switching from peevish Helen to deadly yet alluring vampiress.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is not without it’s faults, but it does posses some witty ideas and a few sly winks to the original source novel.  Add in some terrific performances and the result is Hammer horror defined; it’s worth seeing to witness these traits before they became a cliché.  All the great elements of the famous studio are here – including the greatest Dracula of them all.

8/10

You can read my full tribute to Sir Christopher Lee here.

Halloween Horror Fest – Vampire Hunter

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)

I remember being about nine or ten years old, and my Dad telling me he’d stayed up late watching a vampire film the night before.  In it, the vampire hunters buried toads in the ground as a way to detect the undead.  Fast forward to my late teens, and I saw this very scene was part of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.  That was pretty exciting, in a very nerdy way!

This film from Hammer studios was something of a departure, as they investigated ways to breathe new life into their usual formula.  Brian Clemens of television’s Avengers fame took on writing and directing duties; adding numerous flourishes to refresh the vampire mythology. Kronos

Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) is the hero of the piece, roaming Europe with his companion Professor Grost (John Cater) and beautiful Carla (Caroline Munro) to rid the land of the undead.  They receive a call for help from old friend Dr Marcus (John Carson), whose village is plagued by a strange form of vampirism.  There follows a hybrid of classic Gothic Hammer horror and swashbuckling adventure, that is full to the brim with novel ideas and variations on traditional vampire folklore.

Originally planned as the first in a series, unfortunately this was not to be.  Changing tastes in horror films led to a decline in the traditional Hammer approach; the studios waning success meant that Kronos was a one-off.  It’s a great shame, as the new approach really pays off.  It’s almost a prototype for Blade (or even the disastrous Van Helsing).

One of my favourite Hammer films, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter has everything you could want.  The level of detail with regard to vampire lore and the new twist on the familiar are just some of the films strengths.  This film is a true classic and should be enjoyed by all!

Furthermore, I usually hate sequels and remakes – but Captain Kronos would be a great franchise to rise from the dead.  Apparently Tarantino is a fan.  Now that would be interesting…

10/10

Did I mention that the stunning Caroline Munro appears in this film?  Here’s some proof…