6/12/17 – Comus “First Utterance” (1971)

I’m a big fan of hidden gems in music, as well as bizarre off the wall albums, and Comus’s debut First Utterance ticks those boxes and more. Their sound is a shamanistic Psychedelic Prog Folk, with long, rambling, and sometimes incoherent songs. It’s got themes of rape, violence, paganism, and cruelty… but there is still a lot of beauty in this music. The arrangements are enchanting and singer Roger Wootton has an eclectic and erratic delivery. Looking up the etymology of the word I found out that it accurately describes their music quite well. “Comus” is the Greek god of festivity, revels and nocturnal dalliances, representing anarchy and chaos.

The album opens with the strange and grimy song, Diana. It’s like a nightmarish trip down a circus-like alley, complete with disturbing sexual violence. The hand drums on this track are incredible, and they completely warrant their own solo. The Herald opens with singer Bobbie Watson’s ethereal and heavenly cooing, then breaks for an epic acoustic guitar solo. Colin Pearson’s violin joins in, lifting the song to incredible heights, and they seem to play for hours. Drip Drip is fantastically disturbing and grim, morphing from a bluesy Rock tune to a violent Folk Rock jam. The band is whipped into a frenzy, playing like they’re at some bizarre primitive ritual. It’s a mind blowing song that cemented this album in my memory. I am completely in love with the way Roger Wooton spits out the title on the chorus, “Hey, hey, DRIP DRIP from your sagging lip!”, but the song also has some incredible lines including :
“Your soft white flesh turns past me slaked with blood
Your evil eyes more damning than a demon’s curse
Your lovely body soon caked with mud
As I carry you to your grave my arms your hearse”

As you might imagine, Song To Comus is a dedication to paganistic chaos, telling a tale of Comus playing music to entice virgins to his woods and rape them. It’s a pretty disturbing song with how graphic it gets, but has some very inventive lyrics, playing with the words:
“Chastity chaser
Virile for the virgin’s virtue
Excite her exciter
You better go before you bleed and he hurts you
He chased the chaste
You better leave if you value your virtue”

The Bite comes next, a retelling of the passion of Jesus, with Bitten being the chaotic instrumental aftermath. They liken the bloodthirsty public to wolves, and Bitten is closer to avant-garde Jazz than the rest of the album will be. The Prisoner is a harrowing tale of someone who was mentally ill but has become numb and mindless due to shock therapy. Like how the book/film One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest introduced the public to that deep fear of losing one’s own mind, this is a scary song. There’s an amazing push and pull between singers Roger Wootton and Bobbie Watson on the chorus, and that’s repeated in the finale where “Insane!” is shouted in the left and right speakers, back and forth. The whole album is striking and amazingly ahead of it’s time, and it’s a real shame that it wasn’t commercially successfully at all. The band changed lineups for a follow up album in 1975 that wasn’t released till 2005, but didn’t record again till 2012, both albums released to middling reviews. It’s another case where a brilliant band didn’t get the traction they deserved, but now we can share this album instantly all over the world. I hesitate to call this essential because it’s still new to me, but I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend this to, especially someone looking to get into Rock music.

 

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