Heavy Load

Full Speed at High Level

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"Sweden's very own Spinal Tap"; "so bad they were good": these are the sort of backhanded compliments that have been paid to one of the first Scandinavian heavy metal bands on record, Stockholm's Heavy Load. Formed by brothers Ragne (vocals/guitar) and Stybjoin Wahlquist (drums/vocals), plus bassist Dan Molen, way back in 1976, Heavy Load released their severely flawed, but nevertheless pioneering LP -- the endearingly nonsensical Full Speed at High Level -- in '78. To put things in perspective, though, keep in mind that said debut arrived at the height of ABBA mania and sounds no more ridiculous today than your average Manowar album, so one almost has to give these well-intentioned Swedish kids some props. What's more, their primary musical template -- Judas Priest -- was frequently guilty of lyrics as cheesy as those found here, generally dealing either in "things that go bump in the night" ("Midnight Crawler," "Moonlight Spell") or "let's rock!" permutations, like the title track and "Rock 'n' Roll Freak." And what modern Scandinavian extreme metal band would dare cast the first stone at Heavy Load over the Viking-themed "Son of Northern Light"? No, the downfall of Full Speed at High Level can't be blamed on its creators' currently unfashionable talking points, but merely their rank immaturity, rudimentary songwriting, and dubious arranging skills, which condemned most all of the concise hard rockers cited above to amateurish mistakes. This makes it all the more surprising that the album's two, progressive-styled epics should fare much better, with the 11-minute "Storm" tendering a fair derivation of Priest's "Victim of Changes" (trippy middle-section notwithstanding), and the eight-minute "Caroline" providing a modest, but effective gothic ballad, in its own way. All this reticent criticism is ultimately meant to impart the notion that neither Heavy Load nor Full Speed at High Level should be dismissed outright based on modern-day expectations, but experienced within the correct historical context. After all, many of their qualities -- imperfect as they were -- remain entrenched in countless latter-day heavy metal band and subgenres. In any event, shortly after this album's release, the band's record company, Heavy Sound, supposedly went out of business and left the Wahlquist brothers high and dry; but they persisted in their quest, until finally making a return three years later via the Metal Conquest EP.

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