Listening to this album solidly for the past few months it surprises me that I could have been so absentminded as to forget to include it in my Early 70’s Proto-Metal Baker’s Dozen. Its’ always a challenge to compile those kinds of lists as there’s inevitably someone who you’re going to kick yourself for not including!
Randy Holden started his career in the early part of the 1960’s and was a member of; The Fender IV (Surf-Rock), Sons of Adam (Surf Rock/Psych), The Other Half (Psych/Garage Rock – Mr Pharmacist was later covered by The Fall), followed by a short stint in Blue Cheer on the record New! Improved! before going solo and launching his debut album, 1970’s Population II.
Population II is a reference both to there being 2 members in the band (Randy – guitar/vocals and drummer/keyboardist Chris Lockheed) and an astronomical term denoting a star cluster with heavy metals present – how apt! The album cover is of the duo stood in front of such a cluster in a valley as seen through a telescopic lens. The album is considered one of the earliest examples of Doom Metal and coincidentally was released in the same year as the first two Sabbath albums. The album has been reissued by RidingEasy Records who have some form when it comes to somewhat obscure 70’s Rock thanks to their superlative Brown Acid compilation series.
The record starts with Guitar Song that features some playful guitar histrionics before a slow, sludgy riff, which could be described as Sabbathesque, descends and Randy singing ‘I love the sound of a guitar playing, I love the way it makes me feel inside’, we would never have guessed. The theme of the song is so simple it’s beautiful, a man’s dedication to his craft. Fruit & Icebergs is a track that featured on the Blue Cheer record Holden guested on, and man, this version is infinitely a lot heavier and doomier, in fact you get the distinct impression that the version you hear here is how Randy intended it to be all along.
Stoner and doom metalheads will now be able to experience one of the most important documents in the development of the genre we dearly love…
Next are 2 short numbers, the first of which Between Time reminds me of the Rolling Stones (Keith Richards was an influence) meets Blue Cheer. The other, Fruit & Icebergs (Conclusion) is er, a conclusion of the earlier track of the same name. Blue My Mind has a definite cool Hendrix vibe before the longest track on the album, the simply amazing 10 minute Keeper Of My Flame which concludes the album, a track that is both melodic and airy yet also grinding and devastating, there is some amazing playing on here, it’s progressive in scope but never self-indulgent or tiresome.
You can hear a sense of joy from Randy Holden on this record, free from the constraints of being in bands where he was given no control, he was determined to make the most of it here. Unlike the likes of Joe Satriani and self-proclaimed genius Yngwie Malmsteen, this is a guitar orientated record you can enjoy, with no over the top shredding, instead it feels grounded and unpretentious.
Much like Hendrix the words/lyrics are largely functional with the focus instead on the amazing music. Sadly, due to record company woes, Randy went into hibernation for the best part of 2 decades before re-emerging, but thanks to the ever-excellent RidingEasy Records hopefully one of rock’s most overlooked guitar heroes will at last get the kudos he so richly deserves. Stoner and doom metalheads will now be able to experience one of the most important documents in the development of the genre we dearly love.
Scribed by: Reza Mills