I really toyed with the idea of covering this one and done release by the UK's Force as part of my "N.W.O.B.H.M. Wednesday" series. Especially as the oddly-name Force (formerly know as Cryer) were (technically) a part of the movement and the nine-track "Set Ne Free..." was released on Heavy Metal Records*. But, strip away the totally misleading cover art (which likely mislead more then a few lost souls into thinking that this was some sort of wicked heavy metal) and the uninspiring and grotesquely overused moniker and at the heart of it all was a band that (seemingly) aspired to play a 70's progressive rock/melodic hard rock version of American AOR! Given all of that one would imagine that "Set Me Free..." proved to be a major source of disappointment for N.W.O.B.H.M. fans back in the day. Even when you look at this band as a continuation of the UK's Cryer**
(who were more in line with the likes of Deep Purple then Deep Machine!) an album like "Set Me Free..." seems to be more pomp then stomp! And yet (and I'm sure you could see this one coming from a mile away since I've choose to cover this gem and all) there is just something about this early eighties rock album that just does it for me. Lead vocals on "Set Me Free..." were provided by Graham Careless (who still looks to be
in the business of rocking out!) and there's something comfortable and familiar about his delivery that puts the listener at ease. He proves equally capable of delivering hard rock numbers like opener "King's Fury" as he does a ballad like "Hesitate" (reportedly a leftover Cryer number). How (or for that matter why) he wasn't tapped for bigger and better things after the demise of Force is one of life's great mysteries. But anyway, backing this superb vocalist up on strings was guitarist Gary Chapman, guitarist Stu Clarke and bass player "Fez" Ferriday. Music-wise these three gentlemen did wonders on cuts like the aforementioned "King's Fury", "Time Is
Right", "Footsteps" and "Don't Throw My Love Away". Prior to actually hearing this 1984 release I had read various points of reference ranging from the likes of Dream Theater, Rainbow and Deep Purple to bands like Styx, REO Speedwagon and Supertramp! Even fellow N.W.O.B.H.M. bands like Saracen, Limelight, Solider and Legend have been mentioned in passing when it comes to this UK act. The truth falls somewhere in between I'm afraid so warnings must be issued on the part of this one and done LP. Unless you are willing to expand your mind to the possibilities that a 70's hard rock-leaning, keyboard-heavy (courtesy of one Mr. Pete Wayne with drummer/percussionist Roger Whitehouse rounding out this six piece UK act) progressive rock band with AOR on their mind can work within the confines of a (slightly) N.W.O.B.H.M.-like atmosphere then this one is going to crash and burn right after takeoff. However, if your taste in music is rather colorful and varied (thus leaving you with an open mind and a love, like yours truly and in relation to this article, for everything from Styx to Shiva) then an album like this should leave you with a happy heart! Admittedly the album can be a bit jarring as Force did choose to move all over the map on "Set Me Free..." and that was sometimes just during the course of one song! Take the cut "I Want To See You" for example. The keys suggest an almost Kansas-like band, but then the guitar solos kick in and you find yourself on the receiving end of some gritty, N.W.O.B.H.M-infused 70's heavy metal! Crazy stuff right? Still, it does kind of work so who am I to argue with the direction of Force on said song? And really, other then the album's closing number, "Hold On To Your Love" (which seemed to be Force's attempt to write a radio rock standard, but is instead directionless & commercialized fodder), "Set Me Free..." is track after track of highly versatile rock/hard rock/heavy metal which is (damn right!) enjoyable! This is an album to be heard in it's entirety and one in which it's best to put on the headphones and just slip away. While it's never been released on CD*** you can get a nice digital download off of iTunes which, while not as good as a CD copy (or for that matter a mint LP copy of this gem!), is still a solid investment and one I'd encourage all 70's hard rock, prog rock, (early) AOR and yes, even N.W.O.B.H.M. fans(!), enthusiasts to consider!
*While not as prolific as Neat Records this N.W.O.B.H.M. label did release material from bands such as Dragster, Handsome Beast, Twisted Ace, Shiva, Bitches Sin, Jaguar, Quartz, Satanic Rites and even Witchfinder General! Not to mention they released the two Heavy Metal Heroes compilations.
**In 1980, when they were still known as Cryer, the band members released a 7" which was called "The
Single" (I know, really adventurous title there right? Although
my friend Strappado's site does makes mention of it also being known as "The
Visionary"). Also, Cryer appeared on 1980 "Brute Force" compilation with the track "Day To Day" which also appears on "Set Me Free...".
*** Who knows who has the rights to all of this, but wouldn't a re-mastered/expanded CD offering of this album be a good idea? If you added all of the Cryer material and had a nice booklet filled with pictures, lyrics, expanded liner notes and even a brief bio you'd be looking at a sure-fire collectors item!
Labels: 2013, 70's hard rock, Force, Forgotten Gems, N.W.O.B.H.M., progressive rock, UK