Sometimes I think that Atomic Rooster are the great lost Prog band. Ask most Prog fans and they will know of Atomic Rooster but somehow they are never mentioned in polls of the great bands and it’s a shame because, as this 4CD box set shows, they had a unique and strong sound that carried through all their incarnations.

The material here covers their studio work between 1970 and 1974 and even in that short period they went through line-up changes that affected the band’s sound but the core of the band was always Vincent Crane who played keys and wrote most of the band’s material. Crane had formed Rooster after leaving Arthur Brown in 1969, bringing Carl Palmer with him and adding Nick Graham on bass and vocals.

The first of the 4 albums here was their debut and it is a remarkably strong and confident album too. The tone of the album is questioning and slightly paranoid, always the sense of looking back over your shoulder, but musically it hits a great number of high points especially on the gorgeous ‘Winter’ which shows the remarkable subtlety that Carl Palmer is capable of as well as Crane’s piano playing, sparse and gentle, with Graham’s flute and strings rounding out the feeling of being caught in a frigid wilderness. Juxtapose that with the ballsout blast of ‘Decline & Fall’ and you are definitely seeing a band with many talents.

The second album was the massively successful ‘Death Walks Behind You’ and by now Palmer had left to form Emerson Lake & Palmer and Graham had left the band. John Cann had joined to play guitar and was immediately thrown in to vocal duties as well. Paul Hammond joined as drummer and Crane took up bass duties on his keyboard – as he had done with Arthur Brown. The result is, for me at least, the band at their absolute best. The title track has a massive, stomping, riff while the keyboards and drums create an almost overbearing sense of doom and unease. ‘Tomorrow Night’ was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic and you add to that ‘Sleeping For Years’ which has become one of the most popular live numbers.

‘In Hearing Of …’ sees that Pete French has joined on vocals giving the vocal sound a very different tone – much more classic rock voice – but at the core of the band is still Crane’s writing and keyboards. ‘Black Snake’ has Crane’s signature Hammond set against his theatrical vocals (Pete French had left before the track was recorded) to great effect.

‘Made In England’ saw a very different line up with Chris Farlowe taking over vocal duties, Steve Bolton on guitar and Ric Parnell (who later played with Nova and featured as the drummer in ‘This Is Spinal Tap’) on drums. The overall sound is a little less classic Rooster and more like Colosseum with horns and strings filling the sound out and a more pacey approach.

The final change saw Johnny Mandala join on guitar in place of Steve Bolton and again, there is a change in feel, heading into a more classic Blues/Rock sound although played brilliantly. ‘Voodoo In You’ is maybe the best track with this line up, meandering and grooving around a superb guitar solo. ‘Goodbye Planet Earth’ has a fine sense of funk, very much in the vein of Parliament or Sun Ra – absolutely fascinating!

Atomic Rooster were unquestionably an influential band and the core of the bands music was always Vincent Crane’s keyboards but they were able to grow and change through the releases, unlike many of their contemporaries.

This is essential for anyone with a love of Prog or its origins – also some damn fine music.

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