Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Comus - First Utterance (1971)

Sigh, to be around in the early 70s. You old farts have no idea how good you had it. Or maybe you did? I can only imagine a time of such creative freedom to be a fantasy beyond my wildest dreams. So much exciting and innovative music coming from those years. It was an era when a record label would actually take a chance with seemingly any oddball group, regardless of how noncommercial they might sound. The ideas flowing out of bands of the time seemed so wild and innovative and yet so logical and progressive. I mean, it makes sense doesn't it? Rock music had been around for at least a few decades already, bands like the Beatles seemed to have not only exhausted the possibilities of the genre but have also taken it to new heights. Let's experiment. Let's see what else we can do. Let's mix it up and try to incorporate other influences. The logic is seamless. On reflection it only makes the Punk backlash of the late 70s appear more ass-backwards than ever.

I couldn't imagine a year more ripe for a band like Comus than 1971. When else in the history of contemporary music could you envision a band so original, so creative, so unlike anything else to be allowed a chance to release an album of this nature? First Utterance seems to be an anomaly. It was apparently dismissed upon its release, garnering little commercial success. The sands of time could have easily lost this album forever. I can only describe its recent success in the online Progressive community as the quintessential example of music ahead of its time. This is folk music taken to heights that I can't see even remotely reached anywhere else. The overall feel of the music is dark, violent and often disturbing. Performed all on acoustic instruments, the darkness achieved here is remarkably unsettling considering the time period it was written in. It's no wonder that Progressive Death Metalers Opeth consider this to be an influence.

If I had to highlight one song that best showcases what made these guys so unique, it would probably have to be the violent Drip Drip. This is Progressive Folk music taken to bloody extremes. The chugging rhythm that breaks down midway through the song is effortlessly replaced with an equally sinister rhythm that showcases what you can achieve when traditional song structures are ignored in favour of more adventurous songwriting. The manic violin playing and woodwind instruments betray the evil lurking in the lyrics with an almost pastoral beauty. The line: "As I carry you to your grave, my arms your hearse" is not only quoted by Opeth, but could almost be a blueprint for the Death Metal genre, still decades away from the composition of this masterpiece.

In First Utterance we have a perfect example for my thesis on the impact of the internet on Progressive music. Since the album's first appearance on CD in the mid-90s, Comus have had a revival of sorts. They have since reunited and have even recorded a live DVD, sold through their website. As I highlighted in a previous post, they have even written new material and hopefully will be releasing a new album some time in the future. Considering this band was dormant for over thirty years, this is no small miracle.

If you consider yourself a Progressive Rock connoisseur, someone who knows even the most obscure act of the early 70s, and don't have this album in your collection... you are sorely missing out. A forgotten and dismissed masterpiece, revived through the power of free communication that is the internet. Slowly but surely Comus is getting the recognition they deserve. While the mainstream continues to elevate mediocre and redundant commercial acts to the plateau of super-stardom, the true creative geniuses of times long ago are beginning to get some well deserved respect.

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