Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.
In 1972, British hard rock band Hard Stuff (formerly known as Bullet) released their debut album, Bulletproof, on Purple Records. Purple Records existed from 1971 to 1979 and was put together by Deep Purple’s management to handle that band’s records as well as related projects and bands like this, who just kicked ass and would appeal to Deep Purple fans. (Of note to us longhairs is the label’s release of Elf’s L.A. 59 single in 1974.)
So what exactly is this album and why is it not talked about more often amongst hard rock fans? We can’t answer the latter, because it rocks pretty hard and the members have some pretty impressive ties (Thin Lizzy, Atomic Rooster, Roxy Music), but read on for more details on what the songs on Bulletproof can offer a metalhead in 2020.
Opener “Jay Time” absolutely kills it, excellent boogie/near-southern/almost-kinda-KISS-y riff totally slaying, tons of energy, feeling for miles. I love this song, and it makes me wonder, right off the bat here, why Hard Stuff aren’t more well known… or well known at all. This tune is one of the best I’ve encountered so far in 2020 writing this column, and is a great way to get the album started.
“Sinister Minister” has such a great title I can’t believe I never saw a thrash band use it in the ’80s (just looked, yeah, it was used), and the song shreds pretty hard too, nowhere near as, well, sinister as the title would have you believe, but it lays down some really good proto-metal riffs sandwiched in between boogie and stadium-rock ones, vocalist soaring (note: the album features three different members on lead vocals), whole band locked in as one, damn, everything working just fine here.
“No Witch at All” slams down a killer mid-tempo groove, the band sounding comfortable and confident here midway through side A, third vocalist in three songs, but it’s not like a Gene/Paul/Ace difference; hell, it’s almost easy to not even notice, considering how caught up we all are in the raucous rock. Three songs down, three winners, Hard Stuff setting the tone for the rest of the album nicely.
“Taken Alive” has a slinking riff that serves as a reminder that blues-inflected rock can be great, as long as the blues keeps a pretty safe distance away. Really, calling it “blues-inflected rock” sells it a bit short, or at least sells it short to people like me who recoil at the concept of bluesy rock (I’m not blind to the importance of blues to rock and roll, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit down and listen to it). And that snare-only outro? Awesome, awesome, awesome.
“Time Gambler (Rodney)” brings us to the halfway point of the record in style, the band stretching out a bit on this six-minute tune, but never getting laborious or exhausting. Really, this is an incredibly solid first half of a record, one that is decidedly more of-the-era hard rock than it is proto-metal but definitely with enough rock attitude for it to appeal to metal fans. Also, we just made it through five songs with no agonizing ballad or lame covers in sight. Excellent.
“Millionaire” gets the second half going with a bang, the band again offering up a six-minute tune but this one being more four-on-the-floor rockin’, Hard Stuff even picking things up to a manic, proto-speed-metal tempo halfway through, and keeping it up throughout the guitar solo. This album never gets too heavy, but it’s nice to see the band ramp up the speed factor a bit here. Good work.
“Monster in Paradise” features guest co-writing credits from none other than Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, which makes sense, as this song has appeared in a few other forms by various iterations of Hard Stuff members and those two Purple dudes; here, it’s a forward-thrusting, sly rocker that fits into the flow of the album perfectly. One of the things I love about this record is how every song holds its own; early hard rock and proto-metal albums can be pretty inconsistent sometimes but this one is solid through and through.
“Hobo” is up next, and, man, still no ballads or covers anywhere to be found, which is fantastic, and even the blues was kept really far away when it poked its head in earlier on on this album. Superb. This one is a more brisk 3:25 rocker, tons of fantastic arena-ready riffs, again, things more early-HR than proto-metal, but definitely on the more rowdy side of HR, if not necessarily sonically heavy.
“Mr. Longevity – RIP” has a humorous title and an absolutely fantastic, snaking southern-rock riff, and is simply another killer hard rock song on album full of them, the band teasing a bit with what could have been their strong point if they spent more time on it: those sleazy southern riffs. Throw this on the B side of a single with album opener “Jay Time” on side A and it’s solid gold.
“The Provider – Part One” (I don’t think there’s a part two anywhere out there) closes things off, and is a very Zeppelin-ish rocker that almost feels more like an impromptu longhair jam than anything else; it’s a short, fun way to end off this album. And there we have it, no shitty covers, no shitty blues, Hard Stuff totally rocking it for 10 songs on this album, their first of only two, the band proving that, yes, people should be talking about this one far more than they do.
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No.
Heaviness factor: Not incredibly sonically heavy, but the hard rock riffs will definitely appeal to metalheads who dig old arena rock.
Obscura Triviuma: Harry Shaw sings on four tracks but left the band before it came out, so was taken off the cover and is uncredited on the album.
Other albums: 1973’s Bolex Dementia.
Related bands: Atomic Rooster, Thin Lizzy, Roxy Music, Quatermass, Ian Gillan Band, The Attack, Export.
Alright, fine, if you must: A couple beers will actually be just fine.