Personnel: John Du Cann (vocals, guitar, guitars); Vincent Crane (Hammond b-3 organ); Paul Hammond , Carl Palmer (drums).
Liner Note Author: Joe Geesin.
Why does a second-tier British heavy prog/hard rock act deserve three different two-CD anthologies? Hard to say, really, but there are in fact a trifecta of very distinct Atomic Rooster roundups: the simply titled Anthology, released on Repertoire in 2002; the superior Heavy Soul, released on Sanctuary in 2006; and now this one, which gathers B-sides, live tracks, demos, and studio rarities from the full gamut of the band's career, including its 1979-1981 revival as a heavy metal act. Atomic Rooster were led by organist Vincent Crane, formerly of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown; when the group first formed, another Arthur Brown veteran, Carl Palmer, was on drums, but he quickly left to join Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The Rooster really came into their own when guitarist John Du Cann joined. Their first three albums, particularly sophomore release Death Walks Behind You, showcased a guitar-and-organ front line that was relatively unique and bridged the gap between Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, with a gaunt Crane hunched over the organ like the Phantom of the Opera as Du Cann crunched out heavy riffs and fleet solos. The fourth and fifth releases explored a blend of funk and soul along with heavy rock, and weren't quite as noteworthy as the early albums -- and after a few years off , the group returned in 1979 attempting to piggyback on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with a faster, more aggressive sound that didn't suit them or hold up to their earliest work. This compilation features alternate takes, live versions, B-sides, and other ephemera from the early years (including three tracks with Carl Palmer on drums) and the "metal" years, and the difference is quite stark. A particularly useful contrast is provided by the inclusion of an alternate mix of the band's best-known song, "Death Walks Behind You," on disc one, and a sped-up, Alice Cooper-esque reworking from 1981 on disc two. This may seem like a diehards-only release, but Atomic Rooster deserved more attention than they got, at least early on, so serious devotees of early-'70s hard rock will find much to enjoy here. ~ Phil Freeman