Leviathan – Leviathan: The Legendary Lost Elektra Album (2016)

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The official release of Leviathan’s one and only album on Elektra Records has been a long time coming – in fact, some 47 years. (Some collectors might say 43 years, if you count the very limited-edition vinyl LP Unleashed issued back in 2012 by the UK’s Record Collector Magazine – though that run of 750 copies featured different cover art.) It was definitely worth the wait.

And, 43 years if you count the very limited edition vinyl LP, ‘Unleashed’ (only 750-copies pressed) that was issued previously back in 2012 by Record Collector Magazine (UK) however, with different cover art.

Leviathan, known as the Mike Stuart Span prior to 1969, had everything going for them. Yet their lone album was held back from release at the last minute by Elektra president Jac Holzman, who supposedly wasn’t happy with some of the songs and wanted them to go back into the studio to record more. At that critical point, with their finances in dire straits and their morale destroyed by this action after years of trying to make it, Leviathan broke up.

The good news in all of this is that the music has survived in the vaults and has now been newly remastered by the Cherry Red Records subsidiary Grapefruit Records. It all sounds great!

Leading the charge is the dynamic and catchy first single “Remember the Times,” which – with its aggressive one-two punch – really should’ve been a Top 10 hit anywhere. Brian Bennett’s lynchpin lead guitar hits you right in the gut, along with the rock-solid rhythm section of drummer Gary “Roscoe” Murphy and bassist Roger McCabe. Combine it all with Stuart Hobday’s soaring lead vocals, and it all combusts into one undeniable force on record. “Second Production” is another throbbing, phased psych-rocker which grabs you without letting up.

Leviathan also wasn’t afraid of trying something new back then in the form of the anti-war protest song “The War Machine.” The subject matter is still relevant today. Remember that this was a year before Black Sabbath recorded the big anti-war song “War Pigs” for their second album Paranoid in 1970. Bennett’s dynamic guitar adds just enough drama to the proceedings and equally important are Stuart Hobday’s battlefield n’ barker-like calls, which add further menace to the proceedings.

I would imagine that Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were an influence on this band’s sound, judging from Leviathan’s full-on attack with any of their rockers.

A holdover from their Mike Stuart Span days, “Through the Looking Glass” was re-recorded for this album to excellent effect using stinging, driving guitar with the full-throttle sonic force of the band. “Blue Day” comes off as a bluesy, funky mid-tempo number which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Jimi Hendrix album. It’s like an across-the-pond cousin to “Rainy Day Dream Away.” Bassist Roger McCabe, the standout player anchoring this tune, is really walkin’ that bass to great effect.

The ethereal “Time,” also re-recorded again here, is a beautiful, thought provoking, timeless ballad that’s relevant in any era. I do have to say that their BBC Radio-recorded update, not included on this CD, is the definitive version of the couple of recordings made of “Time.” Leviathan’s album take contains a few extra guitar flourishes here, compared to before. Brian Bennett’s high swirling guitar riff and outstanding hot leads then set the tone for desire with Stuart Hobday’s passionate vocals on the fab “Flames.” The interior “World in My Head” is another solid rocker, which has some Ginger Baker-like drums ably handled by Rockin’ Roscoe, assisted with fine finesse by the whole band.

An extended musical workout with blues rocker “Evil Woman,” best known for the earlier version done by Spooky Tooth, is the album’s lone cover – and it’s a fine, gritty performance to end things. But wait, there’s a little more to hear in the form of three bonus Leviathan tracks. The single version mix of “Flames” adds some tasteful extra acoustic guitar. A fine addition to the album is a non-album B-side “Just Forget Tomorrow,” and lastly is a rare Australian single mix (not on the limited LP) of “Remember the Times.” This mix has none of the lead guitar fills – an interesting oddity. Yet it actually takes away from the song’s hook, unlike the U.K. or American versions which retain Bennett’s fantastic lead-guitar fills.

For anyone who wants to check it out, Remember The Times is also the title of the latest Mike Stuart Span reissue compilation on Grapefruit Records, from 2011. David Wells again provides an excellent, complete history of Leviathan’s lone album, as he did with the 1996 reissue of the Mike Stuart Span’s Timeless on Wooden Hill. Grapefruit have designed a beautiful package from top to bottom, with lots of cool band photos – some of which are unseen, like the band’s launch party at Harrods department store. This is a definite must have for all fans of great ’60s music.

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott has written for Shindig, Twist and Shake, Garage & Beat and Ugly Things. A big fan of all things rock and roll - especially the British Invasion, garage rock, psychedelic, new wave, folk rock, surf and power pop - he was a consultant on Sundazed Music's reissue of 'The Best of Butch Engle & The Styx: No Matter What You Say' in 2000, and has also provided liner notes for Italy's Misty Lane Records. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Steve Elliott
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