Fortunately for us all, the end of the world hasn’t happened yet. When the final battle between good and evil is finally fought out it will, according to religious texts, take place on the Hill of Megiddo. Translate that from Hebrew and you get Armageddon.
This was the heavy title that a heavy rock, yet also progressively based, band chose when they formed at the end of 1973. Now some 36 years later, Armageddon’s one and only album has received a fully justified re-release and re-remastering revival.
The result finally pays proper homage to a band that for one brief shining moment threatened to establish itself alongside the likes of Led Zeppelin.This may sound like a wild claim but when you look at the pedigree behind the band you can begin to see why they caught the imagination of many a rock journalist of the time.
Vocalist Keith Relf had shot to prominence in the sixties with The Yardbirds, who would, of course, eventually morph, in part, into Zeppelin itself. He had also, more recently, been with Renaissance, a renowned progressive and folk-based outfit.
For Armageddon, Relf was joined by guitarist Martin Pugh and bass player Louis Cennamo who had both been with Steamhammer. Cennamo had already shown his pedigree alongside Relf in Renaissance and had also been part of Colosseum, a band renowned for increasingly intricate time changes.
Armageddon’s line-up was completed by hard-hitting American drummer Bobby Caldwell who had previously been with Johnny Winter. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame, however, was that he was part of the Allman Brothers Band for the Live At Filmore East album.
Caldwell’s addition provided a surprising injection of steel that helped set the course for the album. Following Peter Frampton’s recommendation Armageddon was offered a deal with the A&M label and in 1974 set to work on an album which would be recorded at the legendary Olympic Studios in Barnes, West London.
“Buzzard” launches itself from your speakers like some manic beast with an absolute killer riff, interspersed with Relf’s trademark harmonica breaks. “Buzzard” is driven, compulsive, edgily wired, and vibrantly effective. Despite providing a crushingly powerful opening it is also controlled and well crafted. It is a theme which will develop further as the album develops.
Martin Pugh’s guitar, which draws heavily from his time with Steamhammer, was never more urgent as the band, maybe in recognition of the meaning behind their own name, forcefully introduce themselves to the unsuspecting rock world.
The delightful “Silver Tightrope” follows, oozing class. The track unfolds through Martin Pugh’s chiming guitar which slowly builds towards a dramatic finale. The quality at the band’s core shines through from this, a track that the album’s notes describe as, Armageddon's “Stairway To Heaven”.
“Paths And Planes And Future Gains” successfully paints vivid and pulsating musical images. The equally effective “Last Stand Before” leads positively to the ambitious four part track, “Basking In The White Of The Midnight Sun”.
This section, which closes the album, brings together the varied musical backgrounds and pedigrees of each of Armageddon’s members. Together they draw a tangible sense of strength and inspiration from each other that takes the band in a direction that briefly promised so much.
Cursed with the dreaded ‘supergroup’ label Armageddon was almost impossible to pigeonhole and, I guess, market. An example of this is that they didn’t get to tour Europe, a move that would have helped underline their potential.
In hindsight, it is obvious that this band had far more to offer and a second album would no doubt have ventured further into territories explored so interestingly here. Unfortunately A & M felt otherwise and the resources necessary to take the next step were not forthcoming.
Keith Relf left, citing ill health, and put together another intended project which was to be called Illusion. Sadly, Armageddon proved to be his last album. In 1976 whilst practising in his home studio he was electrocuted in a tragic accident.
Once again the Esoteric label has added a timely and welcome addition to its already impressive roster. In doing so, they have helped ensure that otherwise forgotten or overlooked bands like Armageddon are brought actively back into the rock fan’s consciousness.