Tales from the Jugular

Made in England #7 - Desolation Angels

By: Josh Greer
Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Band: Desolation Angels
Album: Desolation Angels
Label/Year: Thameside Records 1986/Rock Brigade Records 1987

Desolation Angels --self-titled full-length

If anyone knows the struggle of trying to search for one of the greatest anomalies in the Essex area and finding nothing but Bad Company references and releases, you know I must be talking about Desolation Angels.

Forming in early 1981, each member met from the downfall of previous bands. The position of drummer rotated seemingly every time the wind changed direction and would take the rest of this write up to list them all. Desolation Angels released a live demo in 1983, which apparently included songs that never made it onto the debut s/t album. Conjuring an epic, doom laden, yet melodic and catchy approach, Desolation Angels managed to capture a sound that other bands of the movement failed to achieve. That same year, the self-financed “Valhalla” 7” single was released. Despite the long song arrangements, both songs (backed with “Boadicea”) were powerful enough to land on the good side of “Kerrang”. However, not every listener was won over and releasing long playing singles might’ve not been in Desolation Angels best interest.

Deviating from the template of most bands of the movement, Desolation Angels were an album type band as their full potential couldn’t be revealed with just a single 7” release. The timeline between Desolation Angels inception to the release of the full length self-titled debut managed to stir up quite the noise and stage show, at one point even creating a promotional video. Shows with Samson, Diamond Head and help from one of my favorite band monikers-Dumpty’s Rusty Nuts (runner up: Ethel the Frog) further helped Desolation Angels build a rabid following. Around this time a deal was landed, albeit brief, with Bullet Records.

"Pictured and credited on the back sleeve; an ominous hand drawn picture of the band along with a skeleton, sans drummer. Maybe the Grim Reaper doesn't care for cow bell. "

Just as drawing the wrong tarot card would reveal an unmerciful fate, Bullet ceased operation, mainly because of their distribution network thus putting a screeching halt on the debut’s release. Due to Thameside Records financial connection to Bullet Records, the begrudged band carried on and the album was released the following year. The opening track, “Spirit of the Deep”, successfully encompasses deep dark themes, all the while revving up with eerily strung guitar harmonies, smashing cymbals, thunderous toms and bass...saving the last but not least, the often dreaded cow bell! The powerful yet melodic vocal approach from Dave Wall commands the listener’s attention while Joe Larner’s bass fills stand competent from start to finish. Songs like “Unsung Hero” (a straight forward main riff rocker) are just as common and hard as any other NWOBHM track; the majority of the album sends the listener off into a supernatural wide awake dream. “Death Machine”, being one of the more notable tracks on the album displays one of the most weird and unique fuzz magic guitar tones of the movement. Is it a talk box-some sort of bizarre reverb/echo effect? While some press referred to the album as “tedious”, it really is a consistent slab of Heavy Metal from beginning to end, one of the most underrated records of the time period and one of my personal favorites. Interestingly enough, all but the revolving door that was the drummer are pictured and credited on the back sleeve; an ominous hand drawn picture of the band along with a skeleton, sans drummer. Maybe the Grim Reaper doesn't care for cow bell.

Possibly due to the lengthy time period of the album release and the average listener not giving the longer songs more of a chance, Desolation Angels surprisingly all headed to California to tempt their career once again at a bigger market and with a more accessible, stripped down sound with the release of two more demos. The crowds were there in and around the East End. But how much success could be made in America? The full album, “While the Flame Still Burns” along with the “English Bastards” EP were recorded but only released in small quantities, sometimes listed as a demo release. The earlier description is true as the shorter songs and a cleaner production is obvious and even showcases some wild high pitched vocals at times. L.A.’s Glam Metal was coming to a close at this point and the Seattle/Nirvana scene was beginning by the early 1990’s. As their song “Angry Rain” somberly states, all things must come to an end, such was the final demise of Desolation Angels as the band all flew back home from America for one short-lived final attempt.

Thankfully, all was not over as the resurgence of the NWOBHM granted a limited pressing 5 disc/5LP box set entitled “Feels like Thunder” in 2008 (which now seems sold out and almost as hard to obtain as anything else) quite possibly containing all recorded DA material up until that point. A reformed Desolation Angels, featuring original guitar players Keith Sharp and Robin Brancher have been conjured from the depths of the deep along with vocalist Ian Davies, bassist Clive Pearson and drummer Chris Takka. I guess it’s safe to mention at least one Desolation Angels drummer at this point. The new EP (Sweeter the Meat?) was released in 2014 and the band seems to be having success in this nowadays NWOBHM comeback. I’m only upset that the skeleton drummer couldn’t join them in their return to glory…

--Josh Greer

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