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Warpig - Warpig

Fonthill - 1970

Michael Panontin
The sixties ended abruptly and ceremoniously - in southwestern Ontario at least - on February 2nd, 1969, when Led Zeppelin made their Canadian debut at Toronto's venerable Rock Pile on Yonge Street. "Of all the memorable things which happened...last night, one visual image easily stood out," pop music critic Ritchie Yorke would write the next day in The Globe and Mail newspaper. "It was the sight of Led Zeppelin's hero-worshipped lead guitarist, Jimmy Page - resplendent in avocado velvet suit, bent over as if in agony to the audience, his fingers working like a touch typist's, his foot thumping like a kangaroo's tail, the sounds as clear and as piercing as a bedside phone in the stillness of 3 a.m."

It was precisely in such a brave new rock world of bone-throttling power chords and hyper-theatrical performance that Warpig was formed, about a hundred kilometres away, in small-town Woodstock, Ontario. The quartet of guitarist Rick Donmoyer, keyboardist Dana Snitch, bass player Terry Brett and drummer Terry Hook had actually worked together in various other configurations like the Turbines, the Kingbees and then the ominously named Mass Destruction. After endless practising, the four made the move from garage to the big stage - or in this case from Hook's basement to the hopping Toronto scene - and were subsequently signed to the fledgling Fonthill label, which issued their only LP in the early part of 1970.

Much of Warpig barrels its way head-on into the still-novel arena of proto-metal - Black Sabbath and Deep Purple will be the most obvious touchstones for the casual listener - while at the same time trundling along with the baggage of psychedelia from the previous decade. The two opening tracks, 'Flaggit' on side one and the aptly-named 'Rock Star' over on the backside, must have been crowd favourites back in the day, especially the latter, a blistering fireball of speed metal that curiously recalls the Purple's own 'Fireball', itself not even recorded until a year later. Elsewhere, you can hear the guys trudge through some fine doom-rock (the hard-hitting Spooky Tooth/Black Sabbath amalgam 'Tough Nuts') as well as take stabs at extended prog-rock pieces (the interesting 'U.X.I.B.', with its eerie harpsichord intro that wouldn't have been out of place on some Italian horror soundtrack in the mid-seventies).

Warpig even played alongside many of the dinosaurs of the day, including Wishbone Ash, Savoy Brown and Mahogany Rush, but unfortunately for the boys, crucial momentum was lost when Fonthill was bought out by London Records, who took a good three years to finally reissue the record (with a different cover). An amazing double-sider of 'Flaggit' b/w Rock Star (the latter rerecorded) even managed a bit of airplay just as Deep Purple themselves were blowing the whole scene wide open with their gazillion-selling Made in Japan set. But without that all-important breakthrough, and with a second album allegedly recorded but shelved for lack of a distributor, Canada's first and possibly finest metal gods decided to pack it in soon after.

(These days, that first pressing of Warpig, sheathed in a beautiful gatefold sleeve, is a bit of a holy grail for metal anoraks, and it will probably set you back upwards of 800 bucks if you can find one out there.)

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