Angel : Helluva Band
(Casablanca - 1976)
Category : underrated
First of all this American band deserves a special mention for being the band with the smartest logo in Rock history. It looked exactly the same if you turned it 180 degrees. The designer who made it, must have been a genius.
Also of secondary importance, but something you can't help but notice, is the way they looked. The idea behind their look was that they were angels in immaculate, white outfits. But in combination with their shiny hairdo's this gave them something asexual which made them easy targets for ridicule. Even Frank Zappa did his part, as he once wrote a song about Angel's guitarist Punky Meadows. It's the song called 'Punky's Whips' on the 1983 album 'Baby snakes'. Look it up. It's hilarious.
But let's turn to their music now. Angel made a sappy type of AOR (Album Oriented Rock) that was geared towards American mainstream Rock radio. Sugarcoated ballads and commercial Rock songs did get them a bit of attention (albeit not nearly as much as their labelmates Kiss). However, when that attention arrived, as far as I'm concerned they were already way past their creative peak. As composers they excelled on their first two albums, 1975's 'Angel' and 1976's 'Helluva Band'. These albums too sounded rather sugarcoated, especially because of Frank Dimino's melodic voice and their synth heavy Rock sound, courtesy of Gregg Guiffria. The main difference between these early releases and the later ones lay in the complexity and originality of the compositions. The third album was still a transitional one, but things got increasingly shallow after that.
The music on the first two albums was very much influenced by Progressive Rock but that doesn't mean the songs were very intricate. They never were followers of the arty King Crimson approach of the Prog genre, but of a more accessible one. It didn't bring them success, but the same way of thinking would later put bands like Asia in the forefront of Hard Rock music.
The lengthy instrumental 'The Fortune', with its long and glorious synth intro that's probably meant to evoke a vision of Heaven, is one of the highlights of the album. It's probably the song that comes closest to being full-fledged Prog. When Dimino finally sets in, his very recognisable voice has such an unearthly quality that you'd almost start to believe he is indeed an angel (or a castrate at least) who has descended among us. He manages to couple the emotional singing style of Demis Roussos (Aphrodite's Child) to a high pitched clarity à la Jon Anderson (Yes) and the result is something very specific that you'll never hear outside of Angel.
There are three other standouts. There's the mid tempo Hard Rock song 'Mirrors'. It's a sort of Fantasy Metal avant la lettre, as it tells the tale of a warrior who has apparently slain a lot of enemies by sword. Then there's the sweet and at the same time melancholic sounding ballad 'Feelings'. Dimino is a master at this sort of stuff. On this album the ballad works well as a resting point, whereas on their later releases ballads would simply be hollow pieces of candy meant to lure young girls into buying the album. Finally there's a straight ahead uptempo Hard Rocker called 'Pressure Point', the album's most energetic track. The other songs (apart from one) are almost as good and interesting as these four.
If you're into classic AOR, Hard Rock and Progressive Rock at the melodic side of the spectrum, then you will find that this album, as well as their debut, is a rare and wonderful mix of all these genres. Look past their image and be prepared to endure some pomp. But if you can do that, you'll find out what an interesting band they initially were, and what a pity it is that they didn't evolve further in the same direction.
More info about Angel can be found on this website: http://www.michaeltross.com.