From Sarasota, Florida, Crimson Glory started off in 1979. One of their earlier band names was “Beowulf”, one of my favourite stories.
The line-up which is known to me as the classic line up had vocalist Midnight, guitarist Jon Drenning and Ben Jackson, bassist Jeff Lords and drummer Dana Burnell.
Their style of metal was pioneering and along with bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning and Watchtower, (with Dream Theater added in a few years later), they are seen as pioneers of the U.S prog metal movement.
And because their original style still had traditional NWOBHM influences, they were able to tour with such diverse acts like Celtic Frost, Anthrax, Metallica, Ozzy, Queensryche and Doro.
The masquerade mask angle was strange to begin with, but I understood their message, that the music should lead the way, not how they looked but by the third album the masks ceased to be and hard rock abs were on display.
Now if you like hard rock/blues rock, then check out their third album “Strange And Beautiful” first and go backwards, otherwise, if your preference is metal, then start with the debut and go forward.
The self-titled debut came out in 1986 but I didn’t hear it until 89, along with the second album.
And the Dio-era Black Sabbath style was immediate to me, but there was some Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions and a little but if UFO. And the vocals, so distinct and unique, very Geoff Tate like, but still original. The references to those bands is important because in 1989, I was looking forward to hearing metal albums from those bands.
Scorpion’s didn’t really amuse me with “Savage Amusement” in 87, UFO still powdered their noses and had no recording contract, Queensryche went hard rock (which was a good thing) but I also liked their metal style, Iron Maiden lost an important band member and went even more streamlined with “No Prayer For The Dying” and Black Sabbath was still trying to replenish their worth and value after the “Born Again” debacle while Dio was starting to lose his star power from 5 years before.
So I went looking elsewhere for my metal fix and Crimson Glory filled the void.
And I like to play the guitar, so any album that makes me pick up the guitar to learn the songs gets my attention, and this is what the Crimson Glory albums do. Overall the riffage is excellent.
“Valhalla” sizzles as it kicks off the album, with chugging chords and harmonizing leads with a pretty wicked solo.
“Dragon Lady” starts off with a Midnight wail, harmony guitars and then a Deep Purple “Stormbringer” like riff in the verses. Make sure you check out the Chorus, which has a combination of harmony guitars and an AOR rock chorus. But it’s the harmony lead lick that comes after the Chorus that really gets me hooked.
“Heart Of Steel” starts off with acoustic guitars and harmony leads. It reminds me of 70’s Scorpions with Uli Jon Roth on guitars, with a nod to the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. And it’s probably their most catchiest and at 5 minutes long it doesn’t get boring. Especially the guitar playing and those harmony leads. The last 15 seconds is that good, the only thing you can do is press repeat.
“Azrael” is the song to listen to from the debut. The intro is a mix of acoustic guitars, symphonic voices, violins and Midnight’s unique voice which sounds like Geoff Tate from “The Warning” album. This then leads in to one of the best metal tracks I have heard with harmony guitars and galloping riffs.
“Mayday” is the fastest song on the album, relentless like “Screaming For Vengeance” and that ball tearing falsetto from Midnight rattled my windows.
“Queen of the Masquerade” is more hard rock than heavy metal with the “I Love Rock N Roll” chords in the verses and some serious shred.
“Angels of War” is very reminiscent of Iron Maiden while closer “Lost Reflection” is a haunting acoustic piece, built on two chords and Midnight’s gloomy and mournful vocals. From 3.10, distorted guitars crash in with reverb drums and after 30 seconds it fades out to how it started.
They really hit a peak with this album, released in 1988. It was talked about in the same breath as “Operation: Mindcrime”, “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” and “Keeper Of The Seven Keys pt. II”.
That intro riff in “Lady Of Winter” is metal fists in the air worthy and Midnight is more focused on his vocal delivery than the vocal gymnastics this time.
“Red Sharks” sounds like it came from a Mercyful Fate album with its all guns blazing riffage and double kick drumming. But its Midnight’s vocals which take it out of the Earth, as his voice moves between operatic, falsetto, tenor and baritone. Make sure you check out the guitar solos.
“Painted Skies” is my favourite, with the acoustic intro and a haunting Midnight vocal melody before it explodes for the Chorus. It’s probably the best Queensryche song that Queensryche didn’t write.
“Spread your wings you can fly, but the dark is never free, in painted skies that chain the colours of your dream”
It’s all in metaphors.
The harmony leads which mimic the chorus vocal line need to be heard. And the solos after that as well. Brilliant songs within a song construction.
“Masque Of The Red Death” has one of the best intro riffs and “In Dark Places” has this riff groove which rumbles along like Kashmir from Led Zeppelin.
The first 70 seconds of “Where Dragon’s Rule”. Listen to it.
“Lonely” starts off similar to “Painted Skies” and when the harmony guitars kick in, it’s massive. And the harmony lead break at the end is similar to “Heart Of Steel” from the debut album.
The closer “Transcendence” is fitting to close the album with acoustic guitars, a chilling choir, a Midnight vocal line that sounds like it came from the Misty Mountains that Robert Plant used to frequent.
A sign of things to come.
Strange And Beautiful
Released in 1991.
So much change happened in the 90’s and the world was never going to be the same again. While the first two albums put Crimson Glory on the metal map, the third one on Atlantic, would alienate their fan base and the band.
They went from a five piece to a four piece with one guitarist departing and not being replaced. They changed drummers. They changed labels from Roadrunner to Atlantic. New musical trends started emerging and artists tried to incorporate some of those sounds into their own sound. They got in outside writers. And Crimson Glory took of their masks, showed their abs and went back to their 70’s roots for this album, which seemed to be the trend that all bands were doing.
If you want to hear how Led Zeppelin would have sounded in the 90’s then this is the album for you.
Musically, this album has no resemblance to the sound of the previous two albums. This is a blues rock album with some progressive elements and hard rock overtones. Even Midnight sounds like he was the vocalist in Guns N Roses, The Cult, Cinderella or Led Zeppelin, depending on the song.
And I like it.
“Strange And Beautiful” and “Starchamber” are two tracks that immediately scream Led Zeppelin. The influence is clear, but these songs are not copycats. They stand on their own. Especially that intro riff to “Strange And Beautiful”. Listen to it.
“In The Mood” has Midnight delivering a vocal line reminiscent of Ian Astbury and Axl Rose. “The Chant” could have come from a Cinderella album, which is not surprising as it was written by outside writers.
“Promised Land” starts off with various chants and world instruments before it moves into a riff which Jake E Lee would be proud off. Hell this track would have been a perfect Badlands track.
“Love and Dreams” sounds like it came from a Bad Company album, especially the first two albums.
“Deep Inside Your Heart” starts off acoustically like “Painted Skies” and “Azrael”, a nod to their first two albums. But it’s a power ballad of the highest quality. The Chorus is massive and catchy, while the guitar work from Drenning is guitar hero worthy.
“Dance On Fire” feels like a Blue Murder song and “Far Away” could have come from a CCR album in the 60’s.
And everyone that I know judged this album on being the successor to “Transcendence” and saw it as a miserable failure, but to me it was a perfect progression of a band needing a progression.
In the years after, guitarist Jon Drenning said that “Strange and Beautiful” was more or less a Midnight solo album, and when the album got panned, Midnight didn’t stay in the band long enough to tour on the album. But if that is the case, why does Drenning have so many songwriting credits on the album?
In other words he was all in with this change.
And while it might have been a Midnight solo album, it’s his vocals which unifies this album with the first two albums. And Drenning on the guitar showcases his abilities even more moving between metal, rock, blues and folk and pulling out techniques like slide guitar, fast alternate picking, legato techniques and what not. A true guitar hero.
Sink your teeth into “Strange And Beautiful”, “Promised Land”, “The Chant” and “Deep Inside Your Heart” first.
And Midnight left the band, paving the way for others to fill his spot like Todd Le Torre who we all know as the current Queensryche vocalist.
In the 2000’s Midnight passed away from a stomach aneurysm and the world lost a great talent.