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Colosseum II: War Dance (remaster)

Back in the late 80s I was busy scouring the second hand record stores (ah, the good old days�) trying to hoover up the back catalogues of the musicians who had played in the countless bands I was discovering from days gone by. Hence, as a burgeoning classic rock fan, any album featuring the talents of guitarist Gary Moore (who I knew from Thin Lizzy and as a solo act), keyboard player Don Airey (Rainbow, Ozzy and everybody else) and which had previously featured bassist Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Rainbow, ahh�.. Vow Wow) had to be worth investigating. As a dedicated metalhead, Colosseum II were, however, something of an unexpected discovery. To my young ears, I couldn't quite work out what this band's ELP-lite was meant to be all about and after a few quick spins of Strange New Flesh, Electric Savage and War Dance (all purchased on the same day and providing much confusion alongside a selection of Quo, Queen, Alcatrazz and Lone Star albums) they were quickly filed away and forgotten about�

Actually formed by their band leader, drummer Jon Hiseman, who had previously been in Colosseum (natch), and then Tempest, by the time War Dance, the band's third and final album arrived late in 1977, Murray had departed and been replaced by John Mole, while original singer Mike Starrs had also said his goodbyes. This left Moore to sing a song apiece on the band's first 1977 album, Electric Savage and the follow up, War Dance; the latter of which has been remastered by Cherry Red and made available for the first time officially on CD in the UK. The rest of the band's material was instrumental and as such allowed a foursome of fearsome musicians the time and room to truly spread their wings and musical horizons. Far removed from the classic rock I had been anticipating, Colosseum II were a jazz rock outfit of real class. Looking back now, I can still understand my bafflement, but musically things are much clearer. In the liner notes by Malcolm Dome (boy do Cherry Red keep him busy � and locked in a cupboard, presumably), Hiseman looks back on his band with real affection, revealing his amazement at the pace and force with which they played. According to the drummer, Airey too has in recent times contacted him to express his surprise at just how good this foursome had been, when he'd stumbled across some vintage footage on youtube. While Moore, just prior to his passing, had suggested Col II were the best band he'd ever been a part of.

With Cherry Red always keen to add as many extra tracks as possible to their releases, that this band basically wrote on the road, means that there's no bonuses to be found, but then neither is there any chaff whatsoever, every one of the eight tracks in sight standing proudly on its own merits. Jazz rock isn't always known for its ferociousness, but just take in the unbelievably busy snare work and guitar howl of "The Inquisition" and you'll be left in no doubt. But when you consider that Airey mangles his Moog with equal energy just as Mills relentlessly bashes his bass, it makes the results even more impressive. But whether it's the more controlled, if no less uncompromising, "War Dance", the playful "Major Keys", or the grittier "Put It That Way", every track here is delivered with a carefree virtuosity. As Hiseman himself mentioned, the pace of the tracks is breathlessly unrepentant and when you consider exactly what is being undertaken here, that's quite some feat. The one vocal cut on the album takes a break, Moore using a seldom heard falsetto to 'interesting' effect during the ballad "Castles", which is the obvious album low point, while the slower, more obviously jazzy "Star Maiden/Mysterioso/Quaser", at least initially looks to be more relaxed � although its conclusion couldn't be any less so.

To be fair, Hiseman is probably correct in his assessment in the liner essay, that by the time War Dance arrived, jazz rock had pretty much had its time in the sun. Moore would leave not long after, being briefly replaced by Don's brother Keith on guitar in 1978, but the drummer and band leader folded Colosseum II not long after. War Dance may have been something of a confusion for a young rock fan to stumble across, but with hindsight it really is quite a remarkable set of songs performed by quite a remarkable band. It still won't be for everyone and it is certainly very much of its time and yet if you can put all of that to one side and just let the barrage of beautifully selected notes tumble over you, you'll discover a fantastic band at their peak. This reissue does them proud.

Track Listing

Added: May 2nd 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: War Dance at Cherry Red
Hits: 1440
Language: english

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