GRIFFIN
Flight Of The Griffin / Protectors Of The Lair
(Golden Core Records)
217:53min

Looking back at the history of Heavy Metal, the 1980s were the greatest decade for our music. The development from the NWOBHM to Death Metal was breathtaking and nearly every week there was a great new band with a unique style to discover. But on the other hand, the huge amount of great bands led to the fact that too much really great bands didn’t get the attention and appreciation they deserved for their music. There was no internet, of course, just the Metal press with their magazines, and these were few, especially in the first half of the 80s. Thus it was up to the revival of classic Metal at the end of the 1990s to honour most of them a little more with re-releases and features in a changed media landscape. Yet not all of the forgotten and underrated bands of the golden age of Heavy Metal received their honour and glory. And this leads us to the Californian band GRIFFIN. They were around all the time in the golden years of Metal, having started under the moniker SINISTER SAVAGE in 1980 by former METAL CHURCH members William Rodrick MacKay (vocals) and Rick Wagner (drums). In 1982, the band was renamed to GRIFFIN and two demos lead to a deal with Shrapnel Records who released the debut album “Flight Of The Griffin” in 1984. That album was available only in the USA in the beginning, it was a year later that the German label Steamhammer licensed “Flight Of The Griffin” for the European fans. Thus the European Metalheads didn’t have to pay the high import prices for the album any longer. And they were rewarded with a great US Metal record that was spiced with great tunes at the border of Speed and Power Metal. The opening ‘Hawk The Slayer’ already was a full power riff attack that showed all that GRIFFIN had to offer in 1984: great songwriting, garnished with great guitar leads and crowned by the great vocal delivery of William MacKay. His high voice, sometimes turning into high-pitched screams reminded a little bit of a tamed version of King Diamond. More classic speedy Metal songs like ‘Heavy Metal Attack’ (hence the name) or ‘Hell Runneth Over’ alternate with songs that were in a mid tempo rhythm like the fine ‘Submission’ or ‘Fire In The Sky’ with its irresistible guitars in the refrain. And as if these great Metal songs were not enough, there were real masterpieces like the sinister ‘Creeper’ and, standing majestic above all, ‘Flight Of The Griffin’. The epic title track is among those songs from the era that still send shivers down my spine. Pure epic! Despite this formidable debut album, Shrapnel did not release a second GRIFFIN album. That meant that just Steamhammer Records was in charge for the second GRIFFIN album “Protectors Of The Lair” in 1986, it was not officially released in the band’s home country. Even in Europe the album was really overlooked and sold as a “Nice Price” album pretty soon. I got my copy just a year after its release for a ridiculously cheap price. Listening to “Protectors Of The Lair” now, I can only shake my head about this. Over the years, it has grown to become one of my favourite US Metal albums of all times, despite the unlucky circumstances of its genesis. The album was recorded by a reduced line-up, as bass player Thomas “Hawk” Sprayberry and guitar player Mike “Yaz” Jastremski (R.I.P.) left the band, the latter joining HEATHEN. This left guitar and bass duties to the remaining guitar player Rick Cooper, with Rick Wagner still on drums and William MacKay on vocals. The recording and mixing of the album also didn’t turn out to be perfect, as it sounds a little odd, mainly due to the a little weak production and mixing that resulted in a kind of buzzing sound without depth and power. But the songs of “Protectors Of The Lair” are at least one step up, compared to the already great debut. The solemn intro piece ‘Eulogy Of Sorrow / Awakening’ already reveals that there is something lurking in the lair (as you can already see on the cover artwork), and this something has a great ‘Hunger’. That is also the name of the speedy opener that comes along with a great variability and a fantastic vocal performance of William MacKay. ‘Infinite Voyage’ kept the high level easily, having a barbed chorus that sinks in deep. But it even went better with the great combination of epic and speed that is the trademark of the catching ‘Cursed Be The Deceiver’. The first side of the vinyl ends with the masterpiece ‘Tame The Lion’: epic, speed and power in a perfectly balanced combination, and a chorus line that is nothing but thrilling: “Can’t tame the lion, the griffin is king!” And, believe it or not, the remaining five songs are as classy as the first five. ‘Entity / Watching From The Sky’ is another perfect example of catching songwriting that is not a little bit cheesy. The variable and fast ‘Sanctuary’ showcases that Rick Cooper was a really great guitar player and ‘Truth To The Cross’ is also a catching speedy song with anthemic qualities. With ‘Poseidon Society’ we have the second masterpiece of a song. Starting off with a jazzy beat and an awesome vocal line, this song evolves into a laid back epic song that lives from the absolutely fantastic guitar harmonies and the best vocal performance of the whole album. Just brilliant and maybe one of the best kept secrets of US Metal history. The instrumental outro ‘Eulogy Of Sorrow (Reprise)’ ends an album like no other. Due to the circumstances and the fact that GRIFFIN were in the wrong place at the wrong time this fantastic album was always just an inside tip and flew under every radar. And what should have been a bang for this band slowly led to their end. Having to deal with line up-problems, GRIFFIN didn’t have the chance to record a third album and disbanded in 1990. This might sound like a typical story of a typical 1980s Heavy Metal band from the USA, but it is a story that is absolutely dissatisfying for a band like GRIFFIN. It is even more dissatisfying that the albums have only been re-released once up to now by King Fowleys Old Metal Records in 1998 resp. 2000 and are sold out for quite a long time. But now this has changed and the musical work of GRIFFIN finally got a more than worthy re-release. This box includes no less than three CDs with a complete running time of nearly 220 minutes, completely packed with finest unique and extraordinary 1980s US Metal. Of course it features both albums in its original mixes, carefully remastered and restored so everyone can listen to “Flight Of The Griffin” and “Protectors Of The Lair” in the original glory. But as the original sound and mix of the latter was not really how it should have been, it got a remix from the dubbed original 24-track reels. This new mix was done by the well-known Neudi, who not only was the drummer of MANILLA ROAD but also played drums for GRIFFIN at their one-off reunion show in 2011. As I am not really a fan of remixing old albums, I was sceptical about this remix of “Protectors Of The Lair”. Nonetheless I was really surprised, because it turned out to be quite good. Of course I would always prefer the original mix, as I grew so familiar with it. But this remix gives the album a lot more power and the depths of the bass that were missing. Thus “Protectors Of The Lair” sounds a lot more contemporary and I won’t be surprised if those who haven’t heard GRIFFIN yet prefer the new mix to the old. Yet I am far from saying that the new mix is a huge improvement, as sometimes the guitars turned out a little bit too blurry (‘Infinite Voyage’, for example) and the original charm gets also lost in a certain measure. Nonetheless, I heard a lot of worse attempts to remix old recordings. But all this stuff would not fill 3 CDs to the maximum, of course. Tons of bonus tracks can also be heard on this box, lots of them for the first time officially. The first disc includes not only “Flight Of The Griffin” but also eight remastered songs from the second demo tape GRIFFIN recorded in 1983, that sound not perfect, but still quite okay. Yet this is not the complete recording, as the tape featured 12 songs and including it in its entirety to the disc would have gone beyond the boundaries of a CD. So, asides from demo versions of the classics ‘Creeper’ and ‘ Flight Of The Griffin’ we find no less than six songs that didn’t make it on the album. And most of them with great justice, as they didn’t represent what GRIFFIN was all about. ‘Power To Burn’, ‘Legion Of Ruin’ and ‘Name Of The Dance’ showed a band on the way to later grand deeds. These songs were still based in classical mid paced Heavy Metal of the early 1980s, pretty conventional, but yet quite good, especially the last one mentioned. But the other three songs are not exactly brilliant. ‘Dogs Of War’ is really less than average, sounds too random in my opinion, while ‘Break ‘Em In Right’ is really boring stuff in the vein of bands like HELIX or Y&T, without reaching the quality of these bands. The final ‘Starstruck And Studded’ is a semi-ballad, done the Metal way, which doesn’t really fit in here, even though it ain’t bad at all, quite typical for the time it was recorded. The second disc, that features the remix of “Protectors Of The Lair”, has six old live songs as a bonus. I don’t know where and when they were recorded, but I guess it must be around 1984, as the songs are mostly from “Flight Of The Griffin”. We find ‘Hawk The Slayer’, ‘Heavy Metal Attack’, ‘Fire In The Sky’, ‘Hell Runneth Over’ and ‘Submission’ from that album in surprisingly good live recording quality, taking into concern that the songs don’t sound like they were taken from a soundboard recording, but somewhere in the venue GRIFFIN played. The sixth songs of the live recordings is titled ‘Dance Of The Damned’, which is a reworked version of ‘Name Of The Dance’ from the demo. Even though there are no great surprises, these recordings are a pretty interesting document and showed that GRIFFIN were kicking it live as well in the times they were still a full band. Finally, the third CD, that features the original mix of “Protectors Of The Lair” features four songs from the one-off reunion show GRIFFIN played in 2011 at the legendary German Keep It True Festival. The -up at this show consisted of William MacKay as the only original member and four German live musicians. Asides the already mentioned drummer Neudi of MANILLA ROAD fame, these were Mario Lang and Eric Kaltschmidt from MASTERS OF DISGUISE and lead guitar player Holger Ziegler from ABANDONED. These recordings are pretty rough on the one hand, yet they sound very authentic, just as if you are present at the venue in that moment. And it is pretty nice to hear ‘Watching From The Sky’ and ‘Sanctuary’ from the second album in live versions. The happiness of William MacKay about the appreciation of the music of GRIFFIN in Germany can be felt when he introduces the band before ‘Flight Of The Griffin’, the song that proves that he hasn’t lost his abilities over the years. A furious version of ‘Hell Runneth Over’ concludes not only the bonus live recordings from that Keep It True show but also this overall very worthy documentary of the works of GRIFFIN. As this box set is made up very well either, including a 24 page-booklet with tons of rare photos and an interview with vocalist William MacKay, there is no reason not to check out GRIFFIN if you haven’t done yet. And those who know about the class of the band already will also get enough great stuff they never heard. For more information please visit: www.facebook.com/goldencorerecords

Thomas Meyer

Thomas Meyer

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