In a classic example of life imitating art — album cover art, to be precise — there were storm clouds brewing ominously on Deep Purple’s career horizon as the storied British hard rockers unveiled their ninth studio album, ‘Stormbringer,’ in November of 1974.

And the greater irony is that only six months earlier that the band had triumphed against adversity yet again, when they successfully replaced vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover with David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, respectively, before delivering one of their all-time strongest albums in the formidable ‘Burn.’

But then, just as sure as the winds will sometimes change their course, abruptly and mysteriously, Deep Purple’s mercurial linchpin, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, suddenly grew disillusioned, even disinterested in his own group, as new boys Coverdale and Hughes began revealing their own musical interests.

Specifically, the pair shared a fondness for American R&B, which Hughes had already put to good use with his prior band, Trapeze. Now it was manifesting itself on soulful ‘Stormbringer’ cuts like ‘Love Don’t Mean a Thing’ and the spectacularly funky ‘You Can’t Do it Right.’

Furthermore, just as they had done on ‘Burn,’ Coverdale and Hughes genially alternated lead vocals on most all of ‘Stormbringer’s’ songs. with the latter only taking full honors on the suitably hymnal ‘Holy Man,’ and the former showing off the remarkable emotive range of his voice on the album’s lush closing ballad, ‘Soldier of Fortune.’

Mind you, every one of these tracks featured typically stellar and versatile guitar work from Blackmore, but the man in black was already checking out, and reportedly for the most trivial of reasons: because his bandmates refused to cover an obscure Quatermass song named ‘Black Sheep of the Family.’

So even though Deep Purple’s more familiar sonic traits still surfaced on the forceful title track (introduced by Jon Lord on synthesizers), the hard driving ‘Lady Double Dealer’ and ‘The Gypsy,’ a few sleepwalked performances (‘Hold On,’ ‘High Ball Shooter’) fell well short of the group’s typical high standards. And it didn't help that the overall change of direction left many fans confused.

All these factors contributed to making ‘Stormbringer’ an undeniable letdown after the inspirational heights achieved by ‘Burn.’ Deep Purple’s future was in serious doubt after Blackmore officially departed midway through 1975 to launch his new band Rainbow (which promptly recorded that Quatermass tune on their debut album).

Deep Purple, meanwhile, tried to prove the naysayers wrong by recruiting the amazingly talented Tommy Bolin and bouncing back just as quickly with ’75’s ‘Come Taste the Band’ — a fine effort in its own right, but not quite Deep Purple as most people saw them in light of Blackmore’s absence.

‘Stormbringer’s’ cover art hurricane was looking more prophetic every day.

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