No matter how many times I’ve heard “Horizontal Hold,” the second track from This Heat‘s self-titled 1979 debut, I’m still blown away by how fresh it sounds. Few pieces of music excite me more than this chunk of timeless brilliance: a dense, seething mass of noise and rhythm that radically rises and falls in intensity, with stolid, fierce drumming, ominous, droning organ, searing, constricted electric guitar, and other sounds I still can’t really identify.
This Heat was nominally a rock trio, but they paid little heed to the conventions of the genre. Despite how influential they were, the band’s scant recordings have regularly gone in and out of print. That’s part of what made the release of Out of Cold Storage earlier this year such an event: an essential box set containing all of the group’s music. This Heat only made two studio albums (the second, Deceit, came out in 1981) and one classic 12-inch single, “Health and Efficiency”; the rest of the set includes Made Available, a collection of Peel Sessions from 1977, Repeat, a posthumous 1992 album that included a radical remix of material from the debut with some previously unreleased stuff, and a never-before-released live CD.
The enclosed booklet features whimsical ruminations on the group’s history from its two surviving members, percussionist Charles Hayward and guitarist Charles Bullen (multi-instrumentalist Gareth Williams died from cancer in 2002 at the age of 48). Most amusing was Hayward’s assumption that “we were going to be huge, that we were the band that was going to change everything, and the record companies were going to understand this immediately and would give us huge amounts of money and cede all of their power to us.” Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Prior to forming the band Hayward had played with prog-rockers Gong and Quiet Sun (a group led by Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera), and while it seemed that This Heat would follow a similar path, they stumbled upon something altogether their own, masterfully employing tape loops, rhythmic phasing, noise, radical editing, and weird overdubs. Deceit is comparatively more melodic and song-like than the first record, but the sonic make-up is just as strange and slippery. And as the new disc of live material proves, the trio painstakingly found ways to translate their studio creations into a live setting with remarkable resourcefulness and power. There are few bands as tough to write about as This Heat, and in my mind that remains one hell of a compliment. This certainly stands as the year’s most important and necessary box set.