“Heavy Metal Heroes” and Triumph, that other anthemic arena-rockin’ Canadian power trio

By on June 8, 2017

For this special episode of “Heavy Metal Heroes” — which aired on April 12, 1985 — Night Flight teamed up with Hit Parader magazine once again to highlight some of the favorite hard rock bands of the 1980s, including part-prog, part-heavy rock Canadian power trio Triumph, who were represented by their concert video for “Follow Your Heart,” one of the singles released from their 1984 album Thunder Seven. Watch “Heavy Metal Heroes” now on Night Flight Plus.

TRIUMPH1

Thunder Seven “proved to be a thunderous rejuvenation for the AOR power trio,” wrote Kirk LaPointe in the music industry mag Billboard on January 25, 1986, further pointing out that the 1984 album had become the band’s top-selling album in Canada, selling “well beyond the 150,000-unit mark” (AOR stands for “album-oriented rock” in case you’re unfamiliar with the term).

“This has been a pretty good time for us,” LaPointe quotes Mike Levine as saying in early ’86, “I don’t think a lot of people are noticing.”

TRIUMPH19

The Billboard article also points out that the band put most of their efforts into recording at their self-owned 48-track studio, Metalworks, located just west of Toronto in Mississauga, Ontario, which was the hometown for singer/guitarist Rik Emmett.

Triumph — always considered a “thinking man’s arena rock band” — toured relatively infrequently, and the Billboard article mentions that in September of ’86 they were indeed planning to tour North America and return to Britain after a three-year absence.

The article also mentions their then-future plans for their first-ever forays to continental Europe and the “Orient,” which would be the first time in the band’s ten-year history, at that point, that they would play concerts for their fans in those previously-neglected parts of the world.

Levine — who co-produced some of the band’s early work — added: “We don’t burn ourselves out on the road.”

TRIUMPH21

Billboard‘s short, two-column article on the band — which focused mostly their double-disc live album, Stages, which had been released in October of 1985 — also mentions the importance of video to the band’s profile in the U.S., adding that Triumph were one of the first North American bands to ” regularly make clips, a move that proved prescient when MTV was launched and needed material,” although the article also quotes Levine in saying that he’d be happy if he never made another video again.

“I guess we’ll be doing them for some time,” Levine said in the article. “They are essential, after all,” but it was clear that by the beginning of 1986, the novelty of video had worn off and, as Levine pointed out to the Billboard writer, “there’s a backlash developing.”

TRIUMPH12

During that band’s long career, beginning in the late ’70s, Triumph — guitarist/co-lead vocalist Rik Emmett, drummer/co-lead vocalist Gil Moore and bassist/keyboardist Mike Levine — were frequently compared to the more well-known Canadian power trio Rush, who proved to be much the much more successful band over time (they were even inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame a few years back).

There weren’t really similar-sounding to Rush, though, although they occasionally allowed progressive rock elements to enter into their arena rock anthems — critics frequented said that Triumph resembled a “tougher” version of Styx, and often lumped them in with bands like Journey and Foreigner — and they were noted for the instrumental prowess, something that even the most negative critics of Rush would allow as a certifiable truth.

TRIUMPH20

Triumph were formed in Toronto in September of 1975, and Levine and Moore had already signed a recording contract with independent Canadian label, Attic Records, when fellow Toronto rocker Rik Emmett joined on guitar and vocals (taking over most of the band’s songwriting duties), issuing their self-titled debut album a year later.

The band initially took their cues from the blues-heavy rock sound of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but with Emmett leading the way now, they began drawing on other, more progressive-rock leaning sounds.

Emmett’s previous band, Act Three, had covered material from prog-rock bands and fusion jazz rockers like Yes (including “Perpetual Change”), Return to Forever, and Gentle Giant, but it was his high-pitched vocal range that was frequently compared with Rush’s Geddy Lee, which just added to the comparison to their fellow countrymen.

TRIUMPH17

Their second album, 1977’s Rock & Roll Machine, was notable for containing a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” a track which became the group’s first semi-hit single in their home country, as well as a two-parter, “New York City Streets,” and an epic medley called “The City.”

The album eventually went platinum, but success in the U.S. might not have happened if not for a fan of the band’s albums — a San Antonio, Texas-based deejay — who began playing their album tracks so frequently on-air that they developed a a huge, regional following, which is what led to the Canadian band touring the state of Texas not long thereafter.

TRIUMPH7

That regional success caught the attention of record labels, and eventually led to Triumph getting a U.S. recording contract with RCA Records — they’d sent A&R execs to Toronto, to witness one of the band’s big concerts — who released the band’s debut album as well as Rock & Roll Machine.

At first, Triumph — before they began to focus on their recordings, as Levine told Billboard ten years later — were noted for their live concerts, which relied heavily on fiery pyrotechnics and an intricate light show — designed by Gil Moore — which was the reason Emmett wrote a full-bore rocker called “Blinding Light Show” (a track he brought over from his Act Three period).

TRIUMPH11

We’re sure they put that phenomenal light show on display when they headline the prestigious Canada Jam Festival in August of 1978; the lighting and on-stage effects continued to over the years and always utilized state-of-the-art lighting, laser and pyrotechnic effects.

Triumph had their biggest success, both artistically and commercially, with 1979’s Just a Game. Released in late March of that year, the album gave the band their first Top 40 hit, the anthemic “Hold On,” and they almost charted with a second single, “Lay It on the Line,” a smash at FM rock radio. It also kicks off with the cowbell-heavy “Movin’ On,” a fan favorite.

The vinyl LP also featured a sleeve that folded out into a board game. Emmett came up with the concept and Levine designed it, but he made it impossible to win (which seems to go back to the message of the title track).

Each symbol placed on the game board of a futuristic world on the cover represents a different song on the album.

TRIUMPH15

They followed that successful album up with 1980’s Progressions of Power — one track, the anthemic “I Live for the Weekend,” scored big in the UK and was a regular Friday night happy hour rocker that helped kick off many a weekend — followed by a gold-certified album, 1981’s Allied Forces.

Allied Forces — which is considered by many to be their best album — charted at #23 on the Billboard charts, going from gold to platinum status along the way. It featured a standout hit, “Magic Power,” and the anthemic “Fight the Good Fight,” another fan favorite. Both songs are still staples on rock radio stations playing vintage 70s/80s classic rock.

1982’s Never Surrender also went gold, in no small part thanks to constant rock radio airply of their power-rocker “A World of Fantasy.”

TRIUMPH22

On May 29, 1983, during the band’s tour for Never Surrender, Triumph were invited to participate in the US Festival, performing on the “Heavy Metal Sunday” to an estimated crowd of 500,000 rock fans who saw the band sharing the same stage as rocked along to Triumph as Van Halen, the Scorpions, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot.

Triumph were Steve Wozniak’s pet favorite, it seems, and twice in two days and highlights from both are seen in US Festival 1983: Days 1-3, which we told you about here.

TRIUMPH5

In 1984, Triumph moved from RCA to MCA — following a court battle to extricate themselves from their recording contract, paid for with the $1.2 million advance they got from their new label — who released the band’s seventh album, Thunder Seven.

The album was co-produced with the legendary rock producer and engineer Eddie Kramer, famed for his work with Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, KISS, and many others. The album became another gold seller, with the popular single “Follow Your Heart” — again, the video we’re featuring in our “Heavy Metal Heroes” — and another highlight, “Spellbound.”

1985 saw the release of two MCA albums, the live double-album Stages, — featuring live tracks recorded on the road between 1981 and ’85 — and a studio album The Sport of Kings.

TRIUMPH13

1987’s Surveillance should have vaulted the band to another strata layer of success, but they failed to meet the expectations set by the band’s earlier album releases for RCA.

By 1988, Rik Emmett — who had long felt that his contributions to the band’s overall sound were not being fully represented — decided had had enough of the band’s struggles and internal politics to get to the next level of success and he decided to leave the band.

TRIUMPH3

Emmett pursued a solo career, which he launched during a protracted legal battle of more than six years trying to get the artist royalties that he felt were due to him. Today, he rarely refers to his former bandmates by name, calling them “my former partners.”

Moore (who now owns Metalworks, Canada’s biggest recording studio) and Levine, meanwhile, weren’t quite ready to pack it in just yet, and decided to carry on with a new frontman/guitarist, while their record company issued an eleven- track “best-of” album, Classics, to mark the end of one era of Triumph while preparing for the next one.

TRIUMPH4

The band went through a number of frontmen, as it turned out, including John Sykes (ex-Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake), who was more focused on a project of his own, Blue Murder, to become a permanent member, and then Phil X (ex-Frozen Ghost/Aldo Nova), with whom Triumph managed to issue just one album, 1993’s Edge of Excess before the band called it quits.

Triumph would attempt a comeback (without Emmett, of course) with an album called Edge of Excess, but it sank without a trace.

TRIUMPH16

There have been a number of archival releases over the years, including 1995’s In the Beginning, and 1996’s King Biscuit Flower Hour (a vintage concert that had aired on the popular syndicated radio show, recorded on the 1981 Allied Forces tour).

Emmett — who, it should be noted, also contributed cartoons satirizing the music industry to Hit Parader magazine in the 1980s — continued on with his successful solo career, issuing albums on a regular basis throughout the ’90s and on to the present day. Listing jazz and classical guitarist like Joe Pass, Andrés Segovia and Julian Bream among his influences, it should come as no surprise that his music now tends to veer towards jazz rock with classical guitar flourishes.

TRIUMPH10

Over the ensuing years, and while managing to maintain a loyal mostly-Canadian following who continue to follow the band from their late ’70s/early ’80s heyday, Triumph continue to this day be overshadowed by that other Canadian half-prog, half-rock power trio.

They reunited just once — in 2008 — to play at the Sweden Rock Festival, after the trio had patched up some of their differences the year previous when they were inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. That concert performance has been released on DVD (Live: A Night of Triumph).

TRIUMPH14

Check out Triumph’s “Follow Your Heart” on our “Heavy Metal Heroes” episode from April 1985. This episode also features legends like W.A.S.P., Accept and cult-favorite also-rans Vandenberg, Raven and Van-Zant. It’s streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

TRIUMPH18

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.