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How Rainbow Redefined Heavy Metal on ‘Rising’

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As Deep Purple‘s guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore played a big part in the development and popularization of heavy metal in the early ’70s. These accomplishments would have been enough to secure Blackmore’s credentials, but by the decade’s halfway mark, Blackmore had quit Purple and started exploring new avenues in heavy music with his next band project, Rainbow.

Ironically, this new enterprise had first come into being rather accidentally while Blackmore was still in Deep Purple, when a casual recording session for a solo single to be sung by Ronnie James Dio unexpectedly evolved into a full album, released in mid-1975 as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. But it was arguably the following year’s Rising, which, in many ways, represented Rainbow’s true debut, thanks to a largely reshuffled lineup whose talents were capable of bringing Blackmore’s vision to fruition.

Whereas the informal nature of Rainbow’s debut meant Blackmore had been content to utilize the members of Ronnie’s backing band, Elf, Rising would feature a new cast of name players, hand-picked by Blackmore — namely bassist Jimmy Bain, keyboardist Tony Carey and drummer Cozy Powell. It was this soon-to-be definitive (if typically short-lived) Rainbow lineup that arrived at Munich’s Musicland Studios in February of 1976 to begin work with longtime Deep Purple producer Martin Birch (later Iron Maiden, Blue Oyster Cult, etc.).

Having already spent a few weeks in band rehearsal (in a farmhouse outside Munich), the recording process was surprisingly short, according to Powell, who was quoted as follows in Jerry Bloom’s unauthorized Blackmore biography, Black Night. “I think the idea was to try and capture it as quickly as we could. It wasn’t a manufactured record. It was done spontaneously and the musicians’ input is the way you hear it which is why is possibly why it’s one of the better albums that we did.”

Eyewitness and photographer Raymond D’Addario, also quoted in Bloom’s book, was in agreement, saying “There wasn’t much said but there was a lot done. The melody and track would be in the air for a couple of days and all of a sudden Ronnie would be gone with his pen and paper and then he’d come down and just sing it and not spend hours doing it. They had a great writing chemistry.”

This was even true of the album’s seemingly ornate opening cut, “Tarot Woman,” which set the album’s ambitious and mystical tone with the help of a virtuoso synthesizer intro from Carey, but was, according to the keyboardist himself, hardly belabored over. Likewise quoted in Bloom’s book, Carey said that “everybody left and I sat with Martin for an hour and a half. Blackmore,” he insisted, “never said a word, never told me which instrument to play, he said ‘Just play what you feel.'”

This organic aesthetic carries through on ensuing side one tracks, “Run With the Wolf,” the potential single (and easily Rising‘s weakest link) “Do You Close Your Eyes,” and the groupie diatribe “Lady Starstruck,” which apparently told of a particularly aggressive French woman who had been stalking Blackmore across Europe. Quoted yet again in Bloom’s book, Blackmore called the young lady “a real lunatic. We play a concert in Paris and she’d be there [then] we’d fly to Lyon and she’d be at the airport waiting. One day I looked out of my window and thought I saw bushes move in the garden. I kept watching and sure enough she’d found my house, so I set my dogs on her!”

No wonder Blackmore chose to “escape” to Germany for Rising‘s recording. He also escaped worldly subject matter (with help from Dio) on the album’s twin eight-minute epics, which dominated side two. The first, “Stargazer,” has gone down as perhaps Rainbow’s signature creation, thanks to its mystical lyrics about an ego-maniacal wizard and his “tower of stone.” This evocative Dio tale was set over stately rhythm and a central riff that originated on a cello (an instrument Blackmore used to lug around and tinker with, though he never really mastered playing it), making it all the more fitting when the Munich Philharmonic joined in for its dramatic conclusion.

The second was cryptically named “A Light in the Black,” served as something of an unofficial sequel to the “Stargazer” story, and barreled through at breathless, break-neck speed metal assault to Rising‘s cathartic conclusion, merely 33 minutes after it had all begun. Together these final tracks (and, to a lesser degree, the first two), helped Rainbow establish the so-called “castle metal” style, which Dio, if not Blackmore, would carry on exploring for much of his remaining career — to say nothing of the countless bands inspired to do the same after first hearing Rising.

The record was an instant critical and commercial success upon release, and even half a decade later was being voted the number one heavy metal album of all time by the readers of British magazine Kerrang!, remaining in the genre’s fundamental canon unto the present day. And how could it not? After all, in its grooves, Blackmore and Rainbow managed the seemingly impossible feat of infusing heavy metal’s monochromatic shades of black with every color of the Rainbow.

See Rainbow and Others in the Top 50 Heavy Metal Albums

Next: Top 10 Rainbow Songs

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