Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: Dawn of the Metal Gods by Al Atkins and Neil Daniels

Let me start by saying I, obviously have much respect for the forefathers of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal. Their blood, sweat and tears creating what we know as Metal has given me a lifetime of enjoyment as well as a purpose here on Earth. Without it I do not know who or what I would be.

I also have a boatload of respect for those who perhaps were a part of the formation of the art but never got the credit or respect they so rightly deserved. The world is full of talented individuals that either were at the right place at the wrong time or vice versa. More often than not they either end up forgotten or worse a bit of an asterisk in the annals of music history.

An artist chasing success can be a lifelong uphill battle with many battlefields and many scars. Some soldiers never give up, we've all seen what perseverance did for Anvil, but this isn't Hollywood, this tale begins in Birmingham, England (the birthplace of Heavy Metal) and this is the other side of that reality.

Dawn of the Metal Gods’ is the autobiography of original Judas Priest vocalist Al Atkins which almost primarily focuses on these sentiments. If you’re scratching your head asking “who?” you’re not alone. Al’s greatest claim to fame is helping form and name Judas Priest back in 1969 and has writing credits on several JP songs including the classic “Victim of Changes.” Writer Neil Daniels does his best to champion Atkins' contributions to the band as well as his career after Priest.

However for every Rob Halford, the "replacement" who goes on to change the World there is an Al Atkins, the one "left behind". The guy who was there first.

That being said, I will ask the million dollar question…who the hell has lost sleep wondering about Al Atkins all these years? I mean have you laid in your bed at night wondering what Rob Halford’s predecessor has done musically since leaving the band in 1974 before their debut was even released? Because as a student and self professed geek of all things Metal I haven’t. So if I or other dorks like me haven’t, well who has?

Yes, that may be a bit harsh, but at the end of this 220+ page book I didn’t feel like a weight had been lifted or any piece of an essential Heavy Metal puzzle had been solved. But that aside there’s a few things worthwhile about this book, but you have to be prepared to practice some patience. The upbringing and childhood and formative years of one Al Atkins isn’t exactly what I’d call engrossing/page turning stuff.

You do get an inside scoop on the birth of Judas Priest and the scene in which they came up in. A much, much different collection of bands, fans and early stages of the business of music than what you’d find today and admittedly it’s rather interesting stuff. Reading about current JP members Ken (KK) Downing and Ian Hill and how they came to joining the group is cool but after Al leaves JP the book, like his career suffers greatly.

You’ll read about the bands that Atkins formed and the pros and cons of being done before he really started and probably the most interesting things in the book are his thoughts on Judas Priest’s moves from album to album, tour to tour and everything in between. Some of his views are rather harsh and petty but it’s something I’m sure a) doesn’t bother anyone in the band and b) are written from the point self admitted jealously.

I mean if you think that’s wrong, ask Dave Evans what he thinks of AC/DC, ask Pete Willis what he thinks of Def Leppard, ask Pete Best what he thinks of the Beatles and so on and so forth. There’s no way on Earth any of these guys, Atkins included, could have been "thankful" they weren’t going through the hassle of selling out Madison Square Garden or having to suffer through ‘another sold-out world tour.’

This book is only of interest to the hardest of die hard Judas Priest fans interested in the embryo stages of the future legends. Atkins as a main character subject doesn't carry the story strong enough to hold the readers utmost attention. For instance a lot of talks about bands that, for lack of better words never even went anywhere and songs 99.9% of the population has never heard!

Despite being very well written with some beyond great photos throughout, it's still a story, IMO of a guy whose demons of "what might have been" are still haunting him 35 years later.