England, Autumn 2009: the temperature has dipped considerably, the sky has faded to the ashen color of a cadaver, and I’ve lost both my voice and the ability to swallow properly due to a nasty, lingering cold. Good enough time as any, I suppose, to suck up my phlegm and explore more of those sounds that helped make this country what it is today:
1. NECROMANDUS – “Orexis of Death” (from Orexis of Death, Audio Archives, 2001) A footnote in the BLACK SABBATH story ca. 1973, since Tony Iommi himself produced and managed these guys for a while back then. But this unreleased Vertigo album shows that aside from a couple of compact heavy rockers, NECROMANDUS mined a much more nimble, hard prog sound – one that was decidely more jazzy than SABBATH ever attempted. While this is a disappointment to some, the agility with which these guys pull it off is mighty impressive. They had a great lead gtrist, a more than capable rhythm section, and they were as comfortable rocking in quieter, introspective fashion as they were ripping proto metal DEEP PURPLEish riffs. No they don’t best SABBATH – who does? – but as runner-ups in the early 70′s UK pagan/downer rock sweepstakes, I say these folks could’ve beat BLACK WIDOW seven days a week. They’ve got another CD on Audio Archives entitled Necrothology that duplicates most of this record – both are great, so either one’s a solid investment.
2. PLUMMET AIRLINES – “The Engine Driver” (from On Stoney Ground, Hedonics, 1981) Apt-named pub rock band active in mid 70′s London who only had a couple 45s to their name during their lifespan, before going down in flames when punk rock changed the face of UK music forevermore. This collection was cobbled together retrospectively from demos, live stuff, & Peel sessions to satisfy their few but rabid fans who swore they absolutely slayed live. While even diehards give this one a mixed review, their stew of mellow BRINSLEY SCHWARZ-like rural rock, earthy r&b pub gruffness, and actually inspired gtr rave-ups will appeal to those like me who like to linger at the MAN/HELP YOURSELF end of the bar. Half the time they were too MOR to translate well to 2009, but if you listen closely to the other half, you too will see their twin gtr thing was actually quite evolved. Yep inspired, end-of-hippie talent was indeed aboard this flight, and the better live cuts here exhibit true GRATEFUL DEAD/WISHBONE ASH exploratory ambition. Though, it’s precisely that kind of talent that sadly got lost in the wreckage of punk’s ensuing floodwaters.
3. DRAGONFLY – “Space Bound” (from their Dragonfly E.P., no label, 1981) Stumbled upon the sleeve sans record of this megararity in a Hornsey charity shop recently, which got me to search out mp3s of it online. And aside from the singer’s kinda flat voice, I reckon DRAGONFLY rates fairly well in relation to other New Wave of Britsh Heavy Metal obscuros. No this ain’t gonna ever reach the, uh, hallowed NWOBHM heights of DIAMOND HEAD, WITCHFYNDE, or ANGEL WITCH, but it does pretty well encapsulate what was good/bad about that particular scene: the sometimes awkward mix of late 70s prog and metal cliches, the longing for IRON MAIDEN-like commercial breakthrough, the endearingly rough DIY production, the intimate, warts-and-all performances. Meaning: if you’re a metal lifer this will no doubt make you cry like a little baby, but if you’re anybody else, well . . . you’re gonna probably find yourself shaking your head in confusion. And me? I’m just the guy stuck staring at an empty pic sleeve.
4. SHOCK HEADED PETERS – “The Kissing of Gods” (from Not Born Beautiful, él Records, 1985) – Whenever I have doubts about the current state of UK underground music – this is often – I take solice in the knowledge that Karl Blake still walks alone somewhere on this fair isle. The projects he’s led (S.H. PETERS, LEMON KITTENS, EVIL TWIN, THE UNDERNEATH) are all such eccentrically unique takes on modern outsider music that I’m tempted to call this guy England’s answer to Ohio’s Jim Shepard. Karl claims to be inspired by William Blake, BLACK SABBATH, and FAUST in pretty equal amounts, and dammit if he don’t always sound it.
Now all you doom rockers don’t get too excited; the SABBATH influences on his early SHOCK HEADED PETERS were more suggested than explicit. You’d have to wait for Karl’s UNDERNEATH project for a SABBATH tribute proper. But there’s a toughassed basskick at work here that his peers – say, PSYCHIC TV and CURRENT 93 – never knew existed. This is the sound of 80s messthetics maturing down any number of hairy eyeball backalleys, as funneled through a hazy blur of studio mindfuckery. The real weapon, though, was Karl’s beautiful croon, something I always thought sounded like it was emanating from the head of decapitated nobleman, freshly skewered on a pole. His “Kissing of Gods” – a moment of calm balladry in an otherwise restless sea of disquieting, post-industrial confusion – is one of the most heart-wrenching performances ever. And while it ain’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll, it most definitely is wig ‘n’ roll – making your scalp itch every goddamn spin.