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Comus - First Utterance CD (album) cover

FIRST UTTERANCE

Comus

 

Prog Folk

4.16 | 547 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars I heard a crappy cassette version of this album a while back and hated it. Then recently I picked up the Breathless version with the three ‘Diana’ tracks as a bonus. That one has ended up in heavy rotation on my CD player. I’m not sure if it was just the shock of hearing such a totally bizarre band that put me off the first time, or maybe the fact that the lousy cassette quality failed to accentuate the sonic qualities of the music. Truth be told it was probably a little of both. A lot of people who have written about this album have commented that it took them a while to really ‘get’ it. I’m not sure I ‘get it’ even now, but when considered as a truly folk work and in that context as a mythical piece and not some sort of Helter-Skelter Manson call-to-arms then I think the music can be appreciated without being reviled or feared.

The more I listen to this record the more it seems apparent that acts like Alice Cooper and maybe even Ozzy Osbourne might have been some sort of cheesy pastiche of Comus. And bands like Jethro Tull, the Strawbs, Gong and even the Decemberists share with Comus a certain penchant for literary writing styles that walk over to the dark side with topics ranging from depravity to rape to murder to madness to martyrdom. This is not a group of tree-huggers wearing flowers in their hair and gathering around the acoustic guitar player to chant about giving peace a chance and loving the one you can get your hands on. The subject matter is quite a bit meatier here.

Despite his totally creepy voice Roger Wootton’s vocals have a tendency to grow on you after a while, and Bobbie Watson’s feminine counterpart to Wootton’s shrill ranting makes for a nice balance.

What makes this album (beyond Wootton’s intense compositions) is Colin Pearson’s strings (violin and viola). Everything he plays is aurally irritating, dissonant, strident, and totally hypnotizing. Rob Young’s flute and oboe work, as well as his madly erratic hand drumming are also critical to the overall sound. Without these the tracks would mostly seem like some a bunch of off-key folk music by some sort of collective of pagan troglodytes. Even with them this sounds like a collective of pagan troglodytes, just a more palatable collection of them.

The most memorable track, if there is such a thing here, is probably “Drip Drip” which manages to combine every trait of the band mentioned above all into a single composition. Other tracks have components of the whole sound, but each is lacking one or two elements that keep it from fully encompassing the spirit of madness and depravity this music is meant to convey. “The Herald” lacks the musical conviction of pure malevolence since Ms. Watson isn’t quite creepy enough. “Song to Comus” comes close but the elf-like dirge at the beginning makes it a bit hard to take too seriously. And “The Bite” has too many la-la-la-la-las’s. Still creepy, but in a bit of a melodic way that again doesn’t scare me enough.

This is a classic for sure, just not sure if it is essential. If you’re a progressive folk fan it is; otherwise I think it only qualifies as excellent. But that makes it better than the vast majority of albums on the market today, so if you haven’t heard this one I’ll recommend it and encourage you to pick up a copy. Just don’t listen to it alone, in the dark, or in an altered state. You’ll be sorry.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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