–SCORPIONS: Taken By Force (1977 Europe, 1978 U.S.)

–SCORPIONS: Taken By Force (1977 Europe, 1978 U.S.)

Taken By Force – a title that screams forth power and dominance, muscle and might. The album’s title may indicate uncompromising heavy metal, but one look at the original album cover hints at a more complex picture. This photograph, taken by Michael von Gimbut, depicts big kids playing with guns at a French military cemetery. It’s an ironic picture that at once portrays the innocence of youth, the innate aggression in human nature, and the folly of wars, usually fought by young people mindlessly killing each other in the name of a state or an abstract cause. Unfortunately, Gimbut’s cover art was considered too controversial by the powers that be and was replaced in most markets. It’s a shame, too, because it serves as the perfect backdrop for one of the most powerful, dynamic, exhilarating, and emotionally stirring records ever made.

The reasons why Taken By Force is my favorite Scorpions record are numerous, but that is not to imply there are not plenty of other scorchers in the German legends’ back catalog. In fact, the Scorps’ fifth record stands as just the kickoff to the band’s most fruitful and metallic period: 1978-1984. Lovedrive, Animal Magnetism, Blackout, and Love at First Sting; each of these albums are blisteringly excellent in their own unique ways. But Taken By Force is the perfect stepping stone for the Scorps’ glory period, a seamless blend of aggression, melody, and diverse musical styles that culminates in a record that’s invigorating and a ton of fun. It also marks the last album with acclaimed lead guitarist Uli Jon Roth, who reportedly left the band because he was unhappy with its increasingly “commercial direction.” Sitting here as a monster fan of the band and this album, Roth’s negative perspective is mind blowing to me. The pummeling, devastating metallic roller coaster known as Taken By Force is too commercial? Huh? Of course, Roth is a masterful neo-classical, and yet, bluesy rock guitarist, and he’s entitled to his opinions. Perhaps he simply preferred the psychedelic influences and long, winding compositions of their earlier work. Maybe he was put off by the wide variety of musical influences incorporated into the songs on this album. Regardless, Roth’s loss was the Scorpions’ and metal fans’ gain.

I first heard Taken By Force about 10 years ago when I saw a vinyl copy sitting in a milk crate at the local (now defunct) used-music store. The first vision of the album was the plain black cover with the small photos of the five band members plastered across the top. But the first sound? That would be the driving, down-picked monster of a main riff to Side One, “Steamrock Fever.” Was this a darker side of the Ramones on crack? No, this was a faster, more streamlined version of Scorpions Kraut metal that screams, “Yes, we’re the continent’s answer to Judas Priest!” And that infectious, sing-along chorus is the chocolate cake beneath the icing. Next is the ultimate, crème de la crème of all Scorpions songs, in this author’s oh-so-humble opinion. “We’ll Burn the Sky” is such a fantastic song that the rest of this album could have been performed by Yoko Ono and it still would be my favorite Scorps record. In case you’ve never heard it, the track begins with a clean guitar arpeggio and beautiful plaintive vocals by Klaus Meine, lamenting, “I’m in love with the sunshine/I’m in love with the falling rain/Everything seems to call your name.” Then enters the propulsive main riff, followed by an ecstatic bridge that features an effervescent waterfall of cascading guitar harmonies. These impeccable musical sections are repeated in what is undeniably one of the most dynamic and moving quasi-power ballads ever recorded. Why this track isn’t universally known and featured in EVERY Scorpions setlist is beyond me. Alas, the band decidedly lays back a bit more with the funky mid-tempo rocker, “I’ve Got to Be Free.” But the band ups the intensity factor again with “The Riot of Your Time,” a somewhat dystopian track that begins with a brisk, flamenco-style acoustic guitar riff. Never to be predictable, the Scorps burst forth with crushing electric chords over the top of a hypnotic DANCE beat, moving on to by lush guitar harmonies in the chorus and uber-impassioned vocals by Meine. And that’s just Side One.

Whew, on to Side Two! We begin with Taken By Force’s other signature track, and easily the most recognizable Scorpions song of the 1970s, the mighty “Sails of Charon.” A classic in every sense of the word, “Charon” features a timeless stomper of a middle-eastern-styled main riff, interspersed with Hendrix-inspired chord voicing from Roth and his Strat. This crusher of a riff rocker confirms the Scorps’ place in the pantheon of the metal gods, but sadly it is still not a mainstay in Scorpions setlists or radio playlists. The band slows things down again with the mellow, smoky, Hendrix/Vaughan-styled blues rock of “Your Light.” The chorus culminates in a hyper-melodious slow lead on top of a Sabbath-style doomy riff, only to return to the easy-going main toke of the song. Next? You get the obnoxious and silly, yet exhilarating, “He’s a Woman – She’s a Man.” Later covered by Helstar, among others, this short, fist-pumping track is (along with Priest’s Stained Class album) as close as one would get to speed metal in 1978. Finally, the original album concludes with the haunting and mournful ballad, “Born to Touch Your Feelings.” The song is highlighted by delicate clean-guitar arpeggios and well-placed harmonics, and a catchy chorus that has the ageless feel of a minstrel ballad. A soothing symphony of clean arpeggios, deep piano chords, well-placed melodic guitar leads and a multitude of female voices speaking softly in their native tongues fades the album into the sweet serenade of metal history.

CD bonus tracks include the groovy hard rock of “Suspender Love” and a Tokyo Tapes live version of “Polar Nights,” originally from Virgin Killer.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) Steamrock Fever 2.) We’ll Burn The Sky 3.) I’ve Got To Be Free 4.) The Riot Of Your Time 5.) The Sails of Charon 6.) Your Light 7.) He’s A Woman – She’s A Man 8.) Born To Touch Your Feelings 9.) Suspender Love (bonus track) 10.) Polar Nights (live from Tokyo Tapes, bonus track)

 

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on June 13, 2012.

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