TRIUMPH – Allied Forces 40th Anniversary Box Set (Originally 1981, 2021 Round Hill Records RSD set)
Triumph is under-celebrated. That’s a fact. To the unknowing, they were “the other Canadian power trio with the high voice”. To the Allied Forces, they were Rik, Mike and Gil: Triumph! And really incomparable to Rush except in superficial ways. Finally, some of their back catalogue has received the treatment it deserves and that is Allied Forces, for its 40th anniversary. Overseen by Andy Curran,* this vinyl box set (no CD) features some exclusive music and a wealth of goodies packed within. The usual content like booklets and reprints, but also a little surprise awaits you inside. Released for Record Store Day back in May, limited quantities were later made available for the schmucks like us who couldn’t snag one in time.
Allied Forces itself is pressed on a picture disc. The brilliant yellow A-side shows bullet belts and a Spitfire. Vibrant imagery that only serves to enhance the tunes you’re about to hear. Opening with “Fool For Your Love”, the beautiful picture disc sounds great with low surface noise. Rik Emmett goes deep with some wicked slide guitars, on a good time rocker sung by Gil Moore. In the luxurious liner notes, Rik explains that there are four tracks of guitar layered. Indeed, Canada’s greatest guitarist sounds nice and thick with a delectable crunch. With a nice tasty riff to bite down on, this opener stands as one of Triumph’s most enjoyable pure rockers.
The iconic #8 single “Magic Power” introduces Rik’s acoustic contemplative side. Triumph succeeded in marrying all their facets on Allied Forces, and “Magic Power” is a fine example of this. It has a quaint folksy vibe, but when the electric guitar kicks in, it becomes a pop rock classic. With lyrics about drawing a “magic power” from music on the radio, what could be fitting? Mike Levine’s big Hammond B3 is the ultimate accoutrement.
“Air Raid” is an interlude, a sonic experiment honed at the band’s new home studio, Metalworks. It serves as a war-like intro to “Allied Forces”, one of Triumph’s heaviest. A rallying cry for the live setting. According to Uncle Rikky, it’s Triumph letting out their Deep Purple side, and you can certainly hear “Speed King” and “Highway Star” in its DNA. Gil Moore rips it up on drums and vocals. Triumph at their most Purple, and powerful. But to end the side properly, they go for a good-time party rocker in “Hot Time (In This City Tonight)”. Of course in the live setting, this enabled Triumph to honour their host city every night. Just change the words to “Hot time in Cleveland tonight,” as we’ll see! With a hot boogie behind him, Rik Emmett sings some ongodly high notes and wails away a fresh solo laden with wicked licks.
Flipping the record over, Side B depicts a triumphant B-17 bomber dropping its massive payload. A strong graphic statement. “Fight the Good Fight” is the clear album centerpiece. Built upon Rik’s 12-string depth, it boasts many strengths. Gil Moore’s complex beat and Mike Levine’s keyboards accent the song and build upon its heart. Emmett’s solo is a sub-composition until itself, as they often are with him. It has peaks, valleys and hooks of its own. Adding to the true weight of “Fight the Good Fight”, the liner notes add the wrinkle that the song was inspired by a battle with cancer.
“Ordinary Man” is one likely to split opinions. Fans of the progressive side will love the choir and acoustic arrangement. Rawkers will say, “bah, pombous prog bullshit!” Gil expresses regret that they didn’t play it live; it certainly would have been a challenge. Queen-like vocals and guitar layers would be hard to perform by a power trio. Speaking of power, that kicks in around the three-minute mark. That’s when the riffing starts; full-on metal mode.
In the penultimate position, Rik’s classical instrumental (a Triumph institution) is “Petite Etude”, which also boasts some jazzy chords if you listen carefully. Finally Rik ushers in the album closer “Say Goodbye” with more of that juicy slide guitar. A pop rocker in the truest sense, and a Rik construction. Mike and Gil seem a little cool on it in the liner notes. It might not seem like the kind of song that fits on Allied Forces, but it does close the album on a really bright note, which is not a bad thing. Mike’s Hammond B3 returns to add some integrity.
And that’s Allied Forces, a great album with no weak songs. A solid 4.5/5 on a bad day. But this box set has so much more to go.
“Magic Power” (Live in Ottawa 1982) is an exclusive 7″ single. The A-side is the live version of the Triumph classic, unavailable elsewhere. With the Triumph logo emblazoned on the right, a female mechanic services a World War II-era warplane on the sleeve. As for the track, it’s a brilliantly energetic performance although you sure do miss that Hammond B3. Still you can’t beat it for the electricity in the air.
The B-side was a bit of a mystery until we did a little digging. “Allied Forces 2021” is not a re-recorded version by Triumph. It is a new version by former Triumph guitarist Phil X, reportedly for an upcoming tribute album that’s in the works. Phil’s version is way heavier, but he sings it pretty good and the solo work is absolutely wicked. It doesn’t seem to say anywhere in the box that this version is by Phil X, but the RSD site credits the Bon Jovi guitarist properly. It’s certainly far heavier than anything coming out of Jon’s camp these days.
A nice little bonus single here, and a nod to Phil X who helped keep Triumph going in the early 90s.
Live In Cleveland – 1981 will be the serious bonus here for many fans. Although this concert was released on CD in 1996 as King Biscuit Flower Hour (In Concert), this is its first vinyl release and remastered at Metalworks. By the time Triumph hit Cleveland, they were on their fifth studio album and had plenty of great material to play; all now classics. Only a few tracks from Allied Forces had worked themselves into the set, the bulk of which is still made up of earlier material and long instrumental stretches.
From the previous album Progressions of Power, “Tear the Roof Off Tonight” opens on a Zeppelin-y party rock note. Before you can say “Rock and Roll”, they’re into the second track “American Girls” from 1979’s Just A Game. A nice tasty riff with bite, and two Gil Moore tunes in a row, the drummer working extra hard. Dig that break into “The Star-Spangled Banner” right before the incendiary solo.
Rik’s up with the first epic of the night, “Lay It On the Line”, 12-string majesty ringing clear and true.
“Same old story, all over again. Turn a lover into just another friend. I wanna love you, I wanna make you mine…won’t you lay it on the line.”
Then Rik misses the mark and there are a couple extra power chords before he picks up the vocal where he left off. Things that only happen on true untampered live recordings. This passionate version of “Lay It On the Line” has some of Rik’s most incredible singing ever captured. Period.
First new song of the night is “Allied Forces”, Gil going in extra hard on the lead vocals. Rik screamin’ in the back. Triumph were frickin’ hot in 1981. “Allied Forces” is a work-out before Triumph lets loose some more serious epic material. “Fight the Good Fight”, impressive itself, is followed by “Blinding Light Show / Moonchild”. This is just a solid 15 minutes of compositional and instrumental brilliance. Not to mention a lead vocal tour-de-force from Rik. Serious drum thunder from Moore on “Moonchild”, and Mike Levine relentlessly laying down a melodic rhythm the whole time.
Gil demonstrations his ability to scat out a wicked song intro on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Machine”. It ain’t easy to front a band from behind the drum kit but here he does a song intro to rival Paul Stanley. They blast through that tune, complete with Rik’s signature solo, and then “I Live For the Weekend”. It’s Triumph at their most Van Halen, boogying and soloing with the big boys. Then it’s “Nature’s Child”, a drum solo, and an instrumental jam. They exit on “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Hot Time (In Cleveland Tonight)”, two live standards.
Live In Cleveland is not the definitive live Triumph album. That will remain to be Stages, which had a better song/solo ratio. This is however the heaviest live Triumph album and its rawness and unpolished veridity make it the perfect one to accompany this box set. Listen to the whole thing in one sitting, is my recommendation.
There is a treasure trove of relevant Triumph goodies included inside. Box sets sold in Canada included an exclusive replica poster for Triumph live at Maple Leaf Gardens, New Year’s Eve 1981. For a show at the Gardens, it’s pretty ballsy for them to use a picture of Rik Emmett wearing a Habs shirt. This box set is loaded with Rik in the Habs shirt!
Deke and I also received a Rik Emmett 2021 guitar pick taped to the front shrinkwrap of our sets. Picks are the kind of added bonus we really appreciate. Something material. The included replica backstage pass is also cool, as it looks better than just a piece of paper.
There are lots of paper goods inside too including: a massive 24″ x 36″ poster, three lyric sheets, three sketches, the booklet and Allied Forces replica tour book. Plenty of photos and text to sift through. There are interviews with Rik, Mike and Gil, and a song-by-song breakdown. Everything about the making of Allied Forces from to the music to the iconic cover.
Hopefully the powers that be continue to honour Triumph’s history as it deserves to be. Allied Forces is a triumph indeed but it’s ridiculous that it was released in such limited numbers. Let all the fans have a chance to get one.
Personal note: This box set was released June 12 2021, for Record Store Day. Deke and I tried mightily but were interviewing Andy Curran at the exact moment the box was released. Having failed to buy the box, Curran advised us not to pay inflated second-hand market prices to get it. “Something special is planned,” he hinted. A few weeks ago, the remainder of stock was made available via Rock Paper Merch. A kind viewer left a comment here with the link to buy, and both Deke and I managed to get one. Thank you Andy, and thank you viewer! It goes great with my official Triumph hockey jersey.