As vinyl enjoys a glorious reawakening, rock powerhouses Gillan add their two pence worth by releasing a box set to make other rock bands envious and serious collectors salivate with sonorous delight. Sadly the band's first album Gillan AKA The Japanese Album is missing from the set, but this re-issue houses all 5 UK albums together. The albums are all on heavyweight 180g vinyl for a meatier audio experience and have been recreated as first pressing replicas containing the original booklets and the 'For Gillan Fans Only' bonus LP featured on the Glory Road release.
After his success with Deep Purple, Ian Gillan moved towards jazz fusion with the Ian Gillan Band, but by 1978 that had run its creative course. Returning to the heavy metal genre which he helped to forge a decade earlier, Gillan's Mr Universe, hits the ground running with the frenetic blues-rock guitar playing of Bernie Tormé. There's still elements of Ian Gillian's previous progressive nature here with tracks like Mr Universe and Fighting Man, but also a clear move towards the burgeoning heavy metal sound which would appear in the following decade.
Glory Road, released in 1980 pushed the band into the clutches of the NWOBHM machine that was taking the music world by storm and was the band's most successful album. Unchain Your Brain and Sleeping On The Job have the aggressive feel of early Purple, but with more boisterous lyrics and attitude that was expected from 80s heavy metal stalwarts. The use of keys was largely seen as a no-no in heavy metal for most of the decade, but Gillian was playing with these sounds from the start. Perhaps Gillian's association with Deep Purple made the use of the keyboard acceptable rather than maligned, as it often was in the early days. Tracks like Are You Sure? offer a heavier twist on the keyboard sounds which started with Deep Purple.
1981's Future Shock would herald more of a focus on melody for the band and a lyrical shift away from metal machismo to the socio-political issues that heavy metal later became known for. Double Trouble's I'll Rip You Spine Out is pure heavy metal and in places reminiscent of a lot of Iron Maiden's later work. Ironically, the album would be the first to feature future Maiden guitarist Janick Gers. Man Of War shows a vocally diverse Gillan, alternating between high screams, frenzied guttural battle cries and soaring melody.
Magic completes the set. The band's final album from 1982 opens with a classic Gillan scream on What's The Matter, a trait which would be passed on to one Bruce Dickinson. The album is often underrated but contains some of their best material. Alternating once more between prog, blues and rock, the album is filled with mystical and melodic metal greatness, again many of these styles would be picked up by newer heavier metal bands later in the decade. Devil Driver and Caught In A Trap still stand out as particularly pioneering works on the album. A new twist on Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City closes the album with the full blues-rock tour de force that brought Gillan their acclaim in the early 80s.
In the same way that Deep Purple helped spawn heavy metal, Gillan can be proud to have laid foundations for many NWOBHM bands to build upon. This box set is certainly proof of their substantial trailblazing in a much-loved genre.
Groupie Rating: 4/5