Randy Holden—
Population II

Released 1970 on Hobbit
The Seth Man, February 2002ce
One year after his departure from Blue Cheer, Randy Holden released this solo album accompanied only by ex-Kak drummer Chris Lockheed. And until the original master tapes surface and “Population II” gets reissued for real, one must be content with a recording level a little less coherent than “Metallic K.O.” But despite its total lack of fidelity, one thing it still has going strong in the mix is Holden’s lead guitar blasting out relentlessly from the curtain of his Sunn amplifier cabinets, as pictured on the back cover. I count 16 in this photo, but there were probably more. I mean, Holden had to rent an opera house in order to just rehearse, as each speaker could handle 200 watts. However many could fit into the confines of Amigo Studios, the very same studio Blue Cheer recorded their previous “New! Improved!” album with Holden in tow is anybody’s guess. But there were enough to make it...


Very LOUD.

Louder than Blue Cheer, who were louder than god.

But Population II were gods one louder: a Power Duo with their amplifiers set at eleven.

What we hear is a little under a half an hour’s worth of Holden’s super-slowed and heavy guitar riffing/wailing/soaring. The pure sludge of it will cause cracks in your ceiling, all the windows of your room, the sky itself and possibly even your brain. It’s almost as though Holden is trying to make his drummer sense his purpose is futile and bolt the studio door to leave him alone to continue his deafening work as it dwarfs everything in its path as guitar solo upon guitar solo reduce Lockheed’s drumming to function more as punched pillows in the background. And Holden’s volcanic eruptions continue as slow as molasses and fiery as lava, spewing forth a barrage to drown out even the caterwauling-ness of his own vocals...not to mention his rhythm and bass guitar tracks.

It’s a telling sign that the album’s opener is entitled “Guitar Song,” for this is a man truly in love with his guitar. He loves it so much, it rivals his own vocal lyrics as more a voice-over (or ‘voice-under,’ as it’s buried by a couple hundred decibels of guitar) that scream (although by comparison to the lead guitar, is a microscopic whisper in comparison): “I pierce the air with pain...AND LOVE!!!” as the guitar lines crawl and wriggle while roaring out at top volume simultaneously. At points, the drums cut out so Holden can play and speak/sing his lyrics and you BARELY notice it.

“Fruit & Iceburgs” (sic) is one of the three tracks Holden contributed to Blue Cheer’s “New! Improved!” album. But here? It’s far more unrestrained and much darker. It’s psychotic introductory solo is all vibrato, sustaino and a thousand dead souls howling in the wind akin to the death lament sustain Iommi shakes out at the very end of “Children of The Grave” and it continues that way throughout not only on this song but the whole album. A brief track called “Between Time” divides “Fruit & Iceburgs” into two parts and sees the drums getting a bit more audible and is one of the rare spots on the album where things swing up by half a notch in tempo, with plenty of vocal punctuation from Holden who coaxing his guitar into a bitching bump and grind as though to give Daddy more sugar as he soars off on the (probably all too) tangible wings of volume. “Fruit & Iceburgs (Conclusion)” fades back in and although it’s only the coda, it takes them little over a minute to end it with drum fills and shrieking sustain of infinity. I can only surmise that playing at a volume as high and long as Holden and Lockheed did on “Population II” must have altered their biochemistry to some degree, and the deliberate volume abuse must have caused their perception of time to slow.

The second side offers more of Holden roaring out at top volume and minimum speed with guitar lines that seem more a barometer of his soul than mere riffs, flowing together like trains of thought constantly converging and splitting apart. “Blue My Mind” has a feel like a far more damaged “Had To Cry Today” by Blind Faith played far heavier, doomier and slower. A wordless chorus almost tries to hurry up the pace of the main theme, but no way: this is Holden’s experimental journey, and getting there is more important than the destination. “Keeper of The Flame” starts off with a tom-tom pattern from Lockheed that gets practically wiped out by Holden’s sudden departure from “Population II”’s speed limit: He’s now really kicking up speed and letting loose, with slurred accenting up and down the neck. He then starts wah-wahing and soloing with expertly felt tone and sustain. One short break and feedback flourish sets the stage for the emergence of the ultimate “Population II” riff: one whose tail AND scrotum dragging-ness is of the s-l-o-w-e-s-t order. It’s so slow it’s on the verge of heading back in time. And it’s so heavy it’s off on a forced march to Armageddon with attached lead weights.

Who's louder than Blue Cheer?

I don't know!!! Huh!! Whaddya mean, stop screaming!!!

Holden’s ability on guitar was well in place years before the making of this album: from surf to electric folk rock to acid rock to proto-metal to whatever term can be used to describe this stripped down, sonic whirlwind. He had a vision, felt the music and played it at a volume excruciatingly high for any age.

Blue Cheer’s third album “New! Improved!” was their first without Leigh Stephens. And it would’ve been far weaker had it not been for Randy Holden’s contributions that comprise side two: “Peace of Mind,” “Fruit & Iceburgs” and “Honey Butter Lover.” Even though Holden could not redeem the album single-handedly, it is far and away more interesting than the other albums Blue Cheer would continue to squeak out until they screeched to a halt in 1971. By losing Holden and adding more personnel they wound up achieving a lot less: as one listen to their remaining three albums for Phillips, “Blue Cheer,” “Original Human Being” and “Oh! Pleasant Hope” so painfully shows.