Elias Hulk – Unchained – album review
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Elias Hulk – UnchainedElias Hulk – Unchained – album review

Esoteric Recordings

CD/DL

Released 28th January 2022

Reissue of Bournemouth heavy prog/hard rock band Elias Hulk’s 1970 album that has been newly remastered. The record didn’t sell at the time, but has come to be highly regarded over the years. Ian Canty breaks loose.

Elias Hulk were a Bournemouth-based quintet that had their roots in a r&b band called The Parkers, who featured bass player James Hain and Granville Frazer on guitar for a 1968 festival appearance on the continent. The pair came back home afterwards suitably enthused by the experience and vowed to set up their own musical unit. In came drummer Bernie James from the Bournemouth gig circuit, via a card in the window of Don Strike’s music shop. Bernie in turn suggested experienced frontman Peter Thorpe for the band’s vacant singing role. The final piece in the Elias Hulk jigsaw came when Neil Tatum answered a Melody Maker advert the band had posted for a lead guitarist, after Bill Napier had briefly filled the role.

The fledgling outfit soon busied themselves working up a set of original material. These opuses emerged out of extensive jam sessions which was a common practice of the day, with Thorpe generally contributing lyrical ideas. They came up the name with reference to The Incredible Hulk comic book character, with the band seeking to put the sort of out of control mayhem of Dr Bruce Banner’s alter ego into a musical context. Sensing they might be open to a copyright issue, the name was slightly tweaked to Elias Hulk. With the line up complete, the band set about establishing a live reputation in the fashionable London clubs and appearances up and down the country, plus hometown dates.

Tatum was the band’s only out of towner coming from New Mills (later to give us No Future heroes Blitz) and apart from his guitar prowess, he would help the band on their way by getting them on the bill of The Sound 70 festival, which was held at The Buxton Pavilion. Their set was witnessed by future 10CC member Eric Stewart, who offered the band a slot at Strawberry Studios to record a demo tape. Armed with this, Elias Hulk shopped around for a record deal. Veteran rock & roll chancer Miki Dallon was the first person to make a concrete offer to the band and before they knew it, they were in the studio taping their live set for release on his Young Blood imprint.

The album from this session Unchained was released in 1970 and got an encouraging response from the music press, despite an overall lack of promotion and a Spinal Tap-style, poorly drawn sleeve design that featured a Hulk-ish figure (just in case Marvel were watching) and naked women. The favourable press didn’t have a knock on effect on the record’s sales unfortunately, even though the LP was popular in Germany, where the heavy approach chimed in with homegrown fare. Facing the usual round of clubs and university bookings, Elias Hulk soon gave up the ghost in 1971. The band members flitted their way through various combos, with James and Haines carrying on under the truncated Elias name with singer/guitarist Phil Clough for a short while.

Over the years the album’s reputation has risen among hard rock/prog obsessives, with its rarity playing a part. Sometimes obscurity doesn’t mean greatness and as ever the big thing is what is the music actually like? Well We Can Fly starts off Unchained with a bellyful of fire, r&b hard rock riffing that is tough as nuts. There is the dreaded drum solo though which threatens to derail the number, but thankfully we are soon pounded back into the group mode before it becomes too energy sapping. Nightmare has a big bluesy voice neatly tagged to a raging rhythm section. There is more of a song this time – I think this would have made a good Elias Hulk single, if such a thing ever existed. There is also nice interplay between drums and guitar and a few sudden stops and starts to keep us listeners on our toes. Something that comes over clearly is that Peter Thorpe leads Elias Hulk very well on Unchained, always adapting his voice expertly for the sometimes demanding material.

Elias Hulk seem to be have more in common with Black Sabbath than ELP in the prog stakes – there is a similar no-holds barred musical approach to those explosive Brummies. But they can also take things down a little while still retaining surges of that power, like on the very cool Been Around Too Long. Yesterday’s Trip takes on a barrelling rock & roll form and does it admirably, I really enjoyed this as one of the LP highlights. It is followed by another gem Anthology Of Dreams, which throws a bit of heavy psych into a bouncing, exuberant beat to good effect.

A sparkling blues intro for Free leads to a galloping rhythm, before resetting itself and starting again. Thorpe’s clear and measured vocals are excellent here too. Delhi Blues uses droning guitars to establish the eastern influence that the title infers and spins along instrumentally at length. This sets up final offering Ain’t Got You, where a funky bass leads in to a hyperactive, wah wah enhanced rocker imbued with a soul vocal. This all renders the tune a little like how a prog Small Faces might pan out. When it comes to an end with quite a savage edit, I thought “I would have liked to have heard a bit more of that”.

Elias Hulk were reactivated in 2008 by Haines, James and Phil Clough, releasing the Unfinished Business EP in the same year. Going back to 1970, on listening to Unchained I could understand just why they have attained such a high reputation. This is hard rock filtered through prog more than prog itself and has definite funk and r&b elements too, which I assume came from the various groups members’ past and help give the sound a richness. There’s also a tonne of hammer and energy in a sound that never stays still long enough to get boring and always packs a real punch. Unchained is full of bonehead rocker thrills and is positively refreshing to hear – Elias Hulk resound through the years here with an almighty thump.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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