Rock & Roll Machine
Triumph during its June ’08 reunion performance at the Sweden Rock Festival.

“How are these guys not as big as Led Zeppelin?” In this documentary, guitarist John 5 poses a legitimate question. Despite commercial success in the ’80s, Triumph disbanded prematurely and were largely forgotten in the grunge era. Here, we’re reminded of the many AOR stompers created by vocalist/guitarist Rik Emmett, vocalist/drummer Gil Moore, and bassist Mike Levine.

Triumph: Knipil/Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Moore recalls how he and Levine were looking for a Hendrix-like guitar god when they found Emmett. With an energetic live show (pyrotechnics-inclined Moore discusses shopping for a giant torch), Triumph steadily built a following, despite withering comparisons to that other Toronto trio, Rush.

Triumph’s high-water mark was 1981’s Allied Forces, and unlike the typically dark or sexual themes dominating hard rock at the time, its music was uplifting and encouraging, as on “Fight the Good Fight.”

The film covers career lows (the cheesy “Magic Power” video) and highs (1983’s US Festival performance). Fighting back tears, Emmett says Triumph stopped honoring his musical gift, which led to his acrimonious departure in ’88. The dying wish of Rik’s brother was a reconciliation with Moore and Levine, prompting two reunion concerts in ’08. There’s also a surprise three-song set, filmed in front of 300 superfans just for this film. A heartfelt career capper.

This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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