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Janus - Gravedigger CD (album) cover

GRAVEDIGGER

Janus

 

Crossover Prog

3.76 | 41 ratings

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Psychedelic Paul
5 stars Achtung! JANUS were another British band based in Germany (just like Nektar), so they could almost be considered a Krautrock band, especially in regard to their spaced-out psychedelic music. Janus were formed in the German town of Krefeld way back in 1969 by guitarist and keyboard player Colin Orr. The band were named after the mythological Roman God with two faces who looks to the future and to the past at the same time, and we're looking back almost half a century into the proggy past now at the rare Janus "Gravedigger" album from 1972. It's quite literally an underground rock album that was never likely to be played on the radio in 1972, and even less likely to be played on the radio now in the Chinese Virus year of 2020. It was to be their only album from the golden era of prog until Janus looked to the future and reformed many years later with a whole string of ten album releases between 1990 and 2017. Their classic "Gravedigger" album is also quite literally an album of two faces, with Side One occupied by four far-out psychedelic excursions and Side Two containing the trippy 20- minute-long "Gravedigger" suite. It's time now to unearth this long-lost album treasure from the archives because we're about to go Star-Trekkin' back in time with the six-man skeleton crew of Janus.

"Beam me up, Scotty", back to the golden year of 1972 on Planet Prog, because we're travelling in a fried-out Kombi, on the hippie trail, head full of zombie for our opening number, "Red Sun". Yes, it's all aboard the brightly-painted Magic Bus now for this 9-minute-long glowing red giant of a song that shines as brightly as Betelgeuse, the largest known star in the Milky Way. This is a song designed to trance-port the listener on a hallucinatory journey beyond the 13th floor of psychedelic elevation to a higher state of consciousness, only without the aid of any illegal substances. This psychedelic phantasmagoria is more tripped out than a plateful of magic mushrooms at a flower-power hippie commune. The song features a deceptively laid- back and dreamy opening, but be prepared to be taken on a Roller Coaster ride of Levitation and Reverberation in the style of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators as "Red Sun" suddenly explodes into life with fire and fury like a supernova, or like a 3-year-old toddler noisily throwing his toys out of the pram in a temper tantrum. It's not hip to be square, so if you're looking for fun and Feelin' Groovy, dare to wear some flowers in your hair and don those brightly-coloured bell-bottomed flares for a psychedelic pleasure trip back in time to the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco in the Summer of Love year of 1967. There ain't No Way you'll have the Bell Bottom Blues from listening to this joyously exuberant Purple Haze of late-1960's nostalgia.

It's time to pop the champagne cork now for "Bubbles", a sparklingly effervescent blend of fuzzy acid guitar riffing, heavenly harmonies, and featuring swirling echoey vocals constantly phasing in and out of the mix. One can almost smell the Incense and Peppermint. Is it a Dream of Innersense, or a Twilight Zone nightmare!?? One thing's for sure, the stoned-out-of-his-mind singer sounds like he's in an altered state of reality where The Doors of perception are constantly blurred (like Riders on the Storm in an Aldous Huxley or H.P. Lovecraft novel). If you listen to this spaced-out music very intently, you might just Break on Through to the Other Side. It could be that the singer just had Too Much to Dream Last Night after eating too many Electric Prunes and he forgot to set his Strawberry Alarm Clock for his appointment to Sit with the Guru. Either way, he sounds like he's flying on a Jefferson Airplane where he's seeing an hallucinatory White Rabbit moving around the chessboard, or maybe he just needs Somebody to Love, a bit like this prog reviewer. Come on Baby, Light My Fire!

You can forgive the bad spelling of the next song "Watcha' Tryin' to Do" and even the mildly irritating repetition of the song title by the singer, because this fairly run-of the-mill bluesy number still sounds better than most of what passes for music on the radio today, where it seems any soap opera star can become a wannabe pop star, if they should be so Lucky, lucky, lucky (Kylie & Jason, anyone?). "Watcha' Tryin' to Do" might not have the far-out freakiness of the first two songs on this album, but the manic singer still sounds like he's on the verge of having the men in white coats coming to take him away in a straitjacket at any moment. There are some fiery outbursts of pounding machine-gun percussion too from the always impressive drummer, who could have given Bonham, Powell & Moonie a good drum run for their money.

Prepare to batten down the hatches and take cover now for the pounding percussive artillery barrage of "I Wanna Scream". This proto-Heavy Metal number is a storming salvo that's locked and loaded with so much pulsating sonic intensity that it sounds *almost* as thunderously raw as Black Sabbath's "Paranoid". There's even a recently-made YouTube video to go with the song, featuring the band themselves in all of their glorious sonic splendour, proving that Janus are still able to raise the rooftops with their stupendously manic energy after all these years. The video comes with a warning to beware of flashing images. It should also come with a warning to beware of the singer, who sounds so angry he could SCREAM the house down!!

And now we come to the fifth and final song on the album, the 20-minute-long title track, "Gravedigger". This song has definite shades of the Moody Blues with its dreamy Mellotron sound and gloriously lush sweeping harmonies. It may not quite reach the magnificent majestic heights of Nights in White Satin, but this is still a marvellous piece of music, and makes a very pleasant contrast to the manic intensity of the sonorous songs on Side One of the album. In fact, this epic masterpiece is in such stark contrast to the four previous songs, that one could almost believe it's by a different band entirely. There's even a brief classical guitar interlude featuring Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King. The peaceful soothing music of the "Gravedigger" suite is overall very calming and relaxing, accompanied as it is by the sound of gently lapping waves in the background. The restful music conjures up tranquil images of bathing in warm, tropical blue seas in an exotic Pacific island paradise, only without the risk of being stung by a jellyfish, or accidentally standing on a stonefish, where there'll be so many people offering to wee on you to help ease the dreadful stinging agony, it'll feel like you're starring in a German porn film. And besides which, it's not the kind of thing you'd want on a romantic honeymoon for two anyway, when what you *really* need is vinegar to ease the searing pain of a jellyfish or stonefish sting, even though you'll end up smelling like a fish & chip shop.

If you want to follow the hippie trail to Kathmandu without the danger of being attacked by the Taliban in Afghanistan, or meeting an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas along the way, then you could do a lot worse than unearthing the "Gravedigger" album by Janus for a late-1960's/early 1970's nostalgia trip of sonic nirvana for the mind, body and soul. This album is a bountiful musical paradise and it's far safer than travelling to a tropical island paradise of calm turquoise seas and swaying palm trees where you can find out what it's actually like to be half-eaten by a shark. Yes, this album is a virtual reality backpacker trip back in time through the land of the Ayatollah and the lower tollahs without the need of a brightly- painted Volkswagen Kombi, so don those flared trousers, put on that old Afghan coat and light a joss-stick for the musical journey of a lunchtime!

Psychedelic Paul | 5/5 |

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