Armageddon with Keith Relf

The late Keith Relf – who died in 1976 from electrocution while using an improperly grounded electric guitar – was best known as the lead singer of the Yardbirds. Of course, that band is better remembered for launching the careers of guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. The last band that Relf played in before his tragic death was called Armageddon, and that band’s chief asset was also its guitarist. Unlike the future superstar guitarists who graced the Yardbirds, Armageddon guitarist Martin Pugh all but disappeared from the music business after that band's 1976 demise. Their sole album, 1975's self-titled Armageddon, is currently out of print in the U.S. It is, however, available as an import from the U.K. Esoteric label.

After the breakup of the Yardbirds, Keith Relf moved away from that band's blues rock and embraced the progressive rock genre. Relf and his fellow ex-Yardbird Jim McCarty were the original founders of Renaissance, but both of them had departed that band by the time they had achieved moderate success with singer Annie Haslam. Relf's final band Armageddon (not to be confused with a Swedish metal band of the same name) purveyed a heavier prog-rock sound, perhaps brought about by the tremendous success of Led Zeppelin (whom the Yardbirds had evolved into after Relf's departure). Armageddon's bassist was Louis Cennamo, who had played with Relf in Renaissance and with Pugh in Steamhammer (another British blues-rock outfit). The drummer was Bobby Caldwell, formerly of Captain Beyond.

Relf was a limited vocalist, possibly due to the fact that he suffered from asthma and emphysema. But his vocals mixed well with the fascinating virtuoso playing of his bandmates in Armageddon. His distant-sounding vocals on the dreamlike “Silver Tightrope” were particularly well-matched with Pugh’s guitar leads. And Relf’s harmonica playing is essential to the lengthy instrumental jam that concludes “Last Stand Before”.

The lyrics are filled with the type of fairy tale imagery that was common in progressive rock, and some of these lyrics seem like a portent of the tragic fate that awaited Relf. The hypnotic “Buzzard” uses a bird of prey to symbolize the grim specter of death, while “Silver Tightrope” describes crossing over to a more peaceful afterlife. And the eerily titled “Last Stand Before” contains the foreboding passages: “Lost a friend, Met his end way before his time…Rock and roll, moving your soul, Took a few as well…Oh Lord, do something, gotta slow it down, It’s coming on too fast, can’t take it, Feel like I’m gonna drown.” Armageddon is compelling as the last musical stand for Relf, before he lost his own life to rock and roll.

Armageddon - Armageddon

Armageddon “Armageddon” (A&M SP 4513) 1975

Track Listing:

1. Buzzard (8:16)
2. Silver Tightrope (8:23)
3. Paths and Planes and Future Gains (4:30)
4. Last Stand Before (8:23)
5. Basking In The White of the Midnight Sun
– a. Warning Comin’ On (1:02)
– b. Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun (3:07)
– c. Brother Ego (5:13)
– d. Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun (reprise) (2:02)