One of the nicer surprises of this year has been the discovery of Italian band Blind Golem. The band, which began as the Uriah Heep tribute band – Forever Heep. The band even supported Ken live on stage! The band decided to write their own album of originals, and were fortunate to have Ken guest on the track “The Day Is Gone”. Sadly, with Ken’s passing last November he did not get to see the release of this album, but I think many Heep fans will enjoy it – not just for the lone track Ken plays slide guitar & Hammond on, but for the other 13 tracks of classic ’70s influenced hard rock, featuring plenty of heavy guitar, slide guitar, and Hammond organ. Opener “Devil In A Dream” begins with a rumbling Hammond [you’d think they were going to break in to “Easy Livin” for a few seconds!] and features those early Heep influenced harmonies. Plenty of cool rock tunes here such as favorites “Sunbreaker”, “Screaming To The Stars”, “Pegasus” [this one remind me of Asia]. and “Bright Light” [reminiscent of Heep’s “Shout It Out”]. There are also a few more progressive and softer tracks, such as “The Gathering”, which is reminiscent of Ken Hensley [the guitar sound] and ELP [for the moog synths], and epic “Living And Dying”, which starts out quiet, and goes through plenty of changes with lots of Hammond organ and some great heavy guitar as the song nears it’s end. The album comes to a close with the acoustic track “A Spell And A Charm”, which suits this journey perfectly. I think not just Heep fans, but fans of the likes of Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple, and Magnum.
Blind Golem consists of – Andrea Vilardo [lead vocals], Silvano Zago [guitars], Simone Bistaffa [keyboards], Francesco Dalla Riva [bass, guitar, vocals], and Walter Mantovanelli [drums]. *Zago & Dalla Riva also recorded a number of albums in the 2000s as part of Italian band Bullfrog [not to be confused with the ’70s Bavarian band], while Bistaffa was previously a member of Forever Deep, who recorded a 2010 live album of Deep Purple songs, w/ Iain Paice as a guest, as well as a 2013 [self-titled] CD of originals with both Paice and Don Airey as guests.
Below is my interview with Francesco Dalla Riva of Blind Golem, who also writes most of the songs [some along with Silvano Zago], liner notes, and besides bass, also adds acoustic guitars and lead vocals on a few tracks. *Check out the links below for more info, review links, etc…
Can you briefly talk about the band and the decision to jump from being a Heep tribute band to making an album of originals that really has that old Heep sound on many tracks?
Well, me and all the guys in Blind Golem come from other bands and have released albums of original material in the past. A few years ago, chatting after a gig, we got the idea to start Forever Heep for fun, as we all love Heep and it seemed a fun idea. After a few enjoyable shows, the next logical step, it seemed to me, was to start imagining original material in that same vein, as that’s where the main satisfaction comes, for me. Most of the other guys were into this idea as well, so that’s how it started.
Why the name Blind Golem? And when was this album recorded? [month / year — timeframe]
The name for the band came fairy late in the game, when the album was almost finished. We only knew we were not about to call it Forever Heep, as we felt it would have limited somehow the musical personality of the album. We toyed with several options: Blind Golem sounded cool because it’s a two words name, like so many great rock bands of the seventies and it has a certain charm, like those obscure bands name, Iron Butterfly, Lucifer’s Friend, Gentle Giant, etc.
The album was recorded in about a year, we started in October 2019 and we ended mixing and mastering in 2020. Recording sessions went quietly without any pressure. We all have daytime jobs, so we were working in the evenings and sometimes during weekends. Then, of course, Covid19 arrived and in March we stopped everything for sometime. It was quite frustrating but we managed to continue working slowly when we had the opportunity.
Before I get into the music — the album cover is awesome! A fantastic [and obvious] Rodney Matthews piece. How [and when] did you get Rodney involved? How did that arrangement work out — did he have something or did you guys swap ideas?
The idea to ask Rodney came to Silvano, our guitar player, in August 2020. We were wondering about the cover art, saying how it would have to be something appropriate and in line with the music, and he jokingly said, “we could ask Rodney Matthews or Roger Dean!”, as they are so closely associated with so many bands and albums we love. After a few days, I decided to write to Rodney, just to see if it was something completely out of our budget. He and his team were very enthusiastic and cooperative: They asked about our musical references and some song titles and then they proposed to us 4 images that were already made and that suited our music. Needless to say they were all amazing paintings and we had long discussions in the band about which one to choose. In the end, we opted for the one that you see, a painting called “The Masters Arrive”.
Any favorite Rodney Matthews Magnum covers? 🙂 And Magnum albums?
Oh, countless ones! I’m a big big Magnum fan so, from “On A Storyteller’s Night” to the recent “The Serpent Rings”, He did so many amazing cover images for them. But I also love Diamond Head’s “Borrowed time”, or Eloy’s “Metromania” or Stormwatch’s “Caught In The Act”. He’s just amazing, and a true rock fan, we discovered!
Was there a deliberate attempt [or just natural influences] to have “A Dream Of Fantasy” sound like early Uriah Heep – musically and even lyrically, in places? And was there elements of that ‘Heep’ sound that were important to capture on the album?
I wouldn’t say that it was a deliberate attempt but surely we knew that we wanted to explore that specific musical format: The big Hammond/guitar wall of sound, the harmonized vocals. Apart from that, it all came quite naturally to us, as we all grew up with that kind of sound as one of our main influences. I also wanted the album to cover several different aspects of this sound: not just the fast loud rockers but also the more reflective moments, the proggy bits. When you think about it, “hard rock” is a very wide spectrum of musical solutions and Uriah Heep themselves could have a folk ballad, a blues number, a prog suite and a headbanging metal song on the same album, “Salisbury”, for instance.
Ken Hensley’s guest appearance on the album is a highlight, definitely – but the album sounds great, regardless. Can you talk a bit about Ken’s involvement as far as how it was decided what track he’d be on and what he’d add [organ & slide guitar]? And how enthusiastic or supportive was he? [Was there any thought to him being on more than 1 song? That outro to “The Ghost Of Eveline” has that KH sound.]
Thank you. I agree, Ken’s appearing on the album is the icing on the cake for us! I’ve been a fan of his music for most of my life and I remember, back in the 80’s, when he wasn’t in Heep anymore, looking for his name in other bands albums, like Blackfoot or Wasp, to find out what he was up to. With Forever Heep we got the privilege to be his backing band on several occasions for some of his shows in Italy and Austria. So when the idea arose to write an album, to me it sounded obvious to inform him about it. In July 2019, I asked him if he would have liked to contribute in any form to the album, a Hammond part, a slide guitar, a lyric, whatever. He said “Sure, send me the tracks when you’re ready and I’ll see if I came up with something”. So that’s what we did in summertime ’20. We sent him 5 songs and he replied “They all sound amazing to me and I can’t see what I could add to them”, so we said “Look, Ken, you don’t get it: we want your unique touch, your own twist on the music!” So it was decided that he could work on the song “The Day Is Gone”. He was very fast; he changed the arrangement of the song a bit and he came up with that haunting slide part in the beginning that is so unmistakably 100% Ken. We all loved what he did and are so proud of having him guesting on our album! Of course, he could have played on many other tracks, as the whole album is a tribute to a kind of music that he vastly invented in the first place. And, yes the outro of “Eveline” that you mention is heavily inspired by songs like “Echoes in the dark”.
Was Ken’s parts recorded at his own studio or were any of you guys all together? [I realize this is irrelevant if the album was completed during CoVid lockdowns]
No, he recorded all of his Hammond and guitar parts in Spain, in a studio close to where he was living.
What sort of inspired the lyrical direction of the songs? Were ideas drawn from personal situations, books, fantasy…. ?
We treated lyrics as another instrument, on the same level of importance as guitars or keyboards, so the first thing was that they had to sound right for the song, rhythmically. In the original demos, some words or phrases were already beginning to emerge as appropriate for certain passages. Then I wrote all the lyrics, getting inspiration from all kinds of sources, often with a specific thought in mind – a memory, an image, a situation, a conversation. Looking at the album now, I find it almost works as just one imaginary journey, from beginning to end, kind of a dream, a subconscious apparition.
One thing I really like about the album is the overall production, with thought given to intros, solos, different instrumentation and variety from songs. Can you give me a bit of detail on how some of the songs developed from demos to full blown finished tracks here?
The arrangements were already clearly defined from the start as I think this is one of the most important aspects in songwriting. I had a fairly clear idea of where to put what. But this being said, before Covid, we had the opportunity to rehearse the material together and this was very important to feel what was really working and what not. The arrangements got tighter and more refined and, once in the studio, we also had help and suggestions from Fabio Serra, who co-produced the album with us. For example, the piano solo at the end of “Carousel” was his idea.
Can you give me a few antidotes in to a few tracks that stand out for you guys on the album?
All the songs on the album are dear to my heart and there’s a story behind each of them. For example, I remember having the idea for “The Gathering” in a supermarket car parking lot: I couldn’t get it out of my head, I had to sing it in my cell phone to make sure I’d remember it and then I went in, looking at people shopping and clearly hearing this slightly dissonant melody in my head! “Living And Dying” was developed in my little daughter’s bedroom, as she has a little keyboard there and one night, after dinner, I was toying with it as she was falling asleep, and I remember playing it and developing the idea trying not to be too loud to wake her! A few other melodies came to me walking, as I like to walk alone, on the hills close to where I live. I find this very good to clear my mind from everyday thoughts and sometimes I find myself singing something, not sure if it’s something that already exists or not. Most of the times it is, but sometimes, when I couldn’t find out exactly what song it is, I decided that it could be my melody! This happened for “Ghost Of Eveline”: for days I went asking friends and the guys in the band “what melody is this? Can you name this song?” They couldn’t so I thought “well, then it had to be mine!”
Is there a plan to get and play this album live, when Co-Vid lockdowns or cautions ease?
Sure! We already had a few gigs planned for January 2021 to celebrate the album release. Of course they didn’t happen but hopefully we will be able to play them in the future. Right now it’s all so uncertain but I know that, after the release of the album, we had a few rehearsals and the songs sound very good, I really think that they will sound great on stage, as this kind of melodic hard rock works perfectly live.
As a Uriah Heep tribute band, what era[s] do you focus on, and how is the reaction / support over there for such a band, as well the hard rock / progressive band as Blind Golem?
Personally, I love all eras of the band but in Forever Heep we mainly concentrated on the Byron era. As that’s the most classic one. We used to play almost the whole of the 1973 live album, the classics, plus some deeper cuts like “Time To Live”, “Bird Of Prey”, “Circus” and others. I would have loved to prepare and rehearse different setlists in the future, like a “John Lawton only” set list or a “long epics” set (Salisbury, Paradise, Firefly) and rotate them but of course this would be just a vanity project as I’m not sure how many people would be interested in such situations, other than me and the guys in the band! Of course, even before this Covid thing, live playing is not what it used to be and apparently there’s room for 10 Pink Floyd tribute acts in every city but very little for a Uriah Heep one. Even less for original music, like Blind Golem do. But we’ll see, I’m not pessimistic or delusional: I know this won’t change our lives or careers but it’s something we want to do because we love it, it’s a matter of personal ambition, not just about the people’s response.
Can you guys give me a short list [5-10, each] of favorite albums from your younger years? Albums that had the most impact on you?
For my formative years, I’d say all the usual suspects in hard rock but, just to pick the first five coming to mind: Blue Oyster Cult Secret Treaties, Atomic Rooster Death Walks Behind You, Whitesnake Love Hunter, Magnum Chase The Dragon, UFO Lights Out.
For Silvano: Deep Purple In Rock, Led Zeppelin IV, Uriah Heep Salisbury, Rush Hemispheres, Blue Oyster Cult Fire Of Unknown Origin.
For Andrea: Blue Oyster Cult Secret Treaties, Uriah Heep Salisbury, Deep Purple Burn, Led Zeppelin I, Whitesnake Came And Get It.
For Walter: Hawkwind Warriors On The Edge Of Time, Megadeth Rust In Peace, Metallica Kill’Em All, Ozric Tentacles Pungent Effulgent, Tangerine Dream Logos.
Was there a vinyl option to A Dream Of Fantasy ? And are there any plans [begun writing] for a follow up album?
Yes, there will likely be a vinyl edition of the album in 2021. In the beginning we were unsure, but we had so many requests and offers for it that we decided to give it a go. Regarding new material, also the answer is Yes: we have a few ideas that were left off the album but that are equally strong, I think, and in the meantime I wrote enough material at least for another one. I know Silvano wrote some more, interesting stuff. There’s no shortage of ideas but we’d like to be able to test the songs live, on a stage, first. We’ll see how the situation develops, but we’re all willing to approach a follow up to “A Dream Of Fantasy”.
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