Crimson Glory – Crimson Glory
1986, Par Records
Behind the most awkward, amateur artwork, so typical of the time, beats the heart of a real gem. One of the finest jewels in the crown of White Collar USPM, Crimson Glory’s self-titled is an exceptional showcase of the genre. Whilst their much lauded sophomore album, Transcendence, has achieved cult status (and deservedly so) amongst heavy metal enthusiasts, I feel compelled to start here, at this paradigm shifting debut.
Although I could never live there (urk, the tube!), I have a real soft spot for London. Whilst the fast pace and power-dressing aren’t for me, I could explore the city for hours, lusting after music – a rare record, a hidden diamond in a bargain-bin, a drink in a bar with a fiver on the jukebox. I would often plan lonely little trips to the great metropolis, usually around a gig (that no one I knew would want to go to), hop on the train (or, *shudder* – coach), and enjoy a cosmopolitan weekend of drinking tinnies in a cheap hostel. During one such excursion, I popped into a second hand CD shop in Camden, and came across a brand new digipak, still wrapped in plastic, advertised as limited edition, individually numbered, and being sold for a pitiful sum. To this day, I cannot fathom what heathen wanted to get rid of it, but I’m grateful.
It is a mark of how isolated in my little bubble I really was – despite reverently worshipping at the altars of Queensryche and Fates Warning, I somehow, had never even heard of this band. I look back, horrified – twenty-one Crimson Glory-free years! Anyway, despite the tacky, Phantom of the Opera inspired cover, I bought it, and became acquainted with one of the most gifted vocalists of all time.
Starting at the start – Valhalla: strong, mid-tempo opener with a dark edge. Haunting and ethereal, this is music for the more sophisticated palate. The pace quickens slightly, with the more traditional sounding Dragon Lady, and then back to back epics – Heart of Steel (“your heart hides like a dark star/ Shining, hidden in fear” – how poignant!) , and probably my favourite song on the album – Azrael. Why they are regarded as one of the pioneers of prog/power is amply evident on this track – the gracefully executed guitar harmonies are complemented beautifully by the polyphonic layers of Midnight’s distinctive vocals.
Side B kicks off with the blistering Mayday, and finishes with Lost Reflection, an uncannily accurate depiction of a desperate man’s descent into mental decay. Midnight’s maniacal monologue may well be the first hint of the tortured soul that lived behind the mask. And here is where this record should end. My version (or my first version, anyway) has the bonus single ‘Dream Dancer’ tacked on at the end. Whilst a brilliant and beautiful song, it has no place here.
The mastery with which they crafted their first two albums was sadly, not enough to thrust them into the limelight, and achieve the success of their contemporaries – like the aforementioned Fates Warning or Queensryche. That a talent like Midnight eventually faded into such ignominy is almost unbearable to me.
This record is not a footnote. It is its own damn chapter. So go out, live, learn, listen to every bit of beauty in the world. Life is a fragile commodity. Don’t let yours pass you by without a stop at this flawless debut.