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Janus - Gravedigger CD (album) cover

GRAVEDIGGER

Janus

 

Crossover Prog

3.76 | 41 ratings

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Vibrationbaby
5 stars A Progrock Time Capsule

It is even as if this obscure relic from 1972 was destined to become ressurected. Crucified from the beginning by short-sighted record execs who dubbed the band with the tonque-in-cheek name Janus, after the mythical Roman God of beginnings and endings who is usually represented by two heads facing in opposite directions. The haunting cover of a skeletal frame adorned with a top hat being washed out to sea seems to be saying that's all for now folks but I shall see you again. Like many British bands in the late sixties and early seventies ( remember a band called The Beatles ), Janus found themselves in southern Germany in 1971and somehow manged to come to the attention of the hats at EMI, then cut a record at their Cologne studios in a mere 24 hours and cast out into oblivion forever. Almost.

I found this jewel gathering dust in a second hand record store in the late seventies and picked it up on the merits of it's creepy cover and because it was from Germany. Everything from Germany in the early seventies had the potential to be weird or different in some essential way. After blasting it's way through a fusilade of psychedelic hard rock on side one that sounded like everything from The Who, Led Zeppelin with a little bit of Sabbath-like riffing thrown in for good measure, side two shifts gears and just blows you right away with a 20 minute suite-like piece entitled Gravedigger that sends you completely into another ethereality. After two or three minutes of spectral vocal harmonies accompanied by a nylon string guitar and a sullen electric guitar playing a slow meloncholic counter melody in ostensible classical style the listener gets the feeling of experiencing death itself but not in a blood curdling way. Then orchestrations lumber in. The piece becomes even more desolate as sound effects of the seaside enter and various classical and Spanish motifs are introduced including the interpolation of Grieg's Hall Of The Mountain King as you've never heard it before. The piece seems to be saying that death is inevitable and is soothing in a way suggesting emancipation from the present life to another that is perhaps more promising. Once you've heard this you will have to flip it back over to the start and play it over again to actually believe that this is the same band. At first I actually thought it was a mispressing. seriously!

So why didn't these guys make it? Beats me. I can only offer a possible explanation to win you over to the cause of this lost classic.

First off, how does a record company executive market a band with two guitarists who think they're Jimi Hendrix on one side of their record and Andrés Segovia on the other? No in betweens. I guess you give the band a name that reflects the ambiguous nature of the music and run the gauntlet of the buying public. While the first side sounds a bit generic when compared to some of the freaky sounds emanating from German bands at the time ( Amon Duul II, Gila, Eloy, Epitaph etc.), the Gravedigger suite holds up remakably well by English standards and would give any Canterbury art rock band of the day such as Camel, Audience, Renaissance or early Genesis a run for their money. It's poor sales could have been a combination of sleepy executives who couldn't be bothered with such an uneven record or it could have been their unusual take on the classical rock thing that was less spectacular than the bands who were doing it with the mightier Hammond organ. The songs on the first side were reduced to novelty songs by the sophisticated suite on the second side and vice versa depending on which audience was listening to the record at the time. The CD version of the album becomes even more confusing without the two sides to breach the gap between the split musical personalities displayed on the original record. It even includes some unreleased tracks which were recorded in the 1980s ( one of which is from one of the singer's Solo albums ).

In order to best appreciate Janus' Gravedigger which has been resurrected by the advent of the CD and internet it must be considered in it's original form and context which comprised the first four songs plus the suite that appeared on side two of the 1972 Harvest LP. You might even want to pause about 30 seconds before listening to the main suite in order to simulate flipping over the record time in order to garner the full effect and even then it might take a few listens for it's subtle brilliance to set in. To be honest I hardly bother with the first side blowouts and it is the Gravedigger suite that makes this well worth the CD purchase. Original versions of the LP are highly coveted among colllectors and can fetch up to $300 on eBay with one recently going for $189! Whatever that is an indication of it is nonetheless a worthy lost jewel for fans of the Canterbury scene to check out. Or fans of the aforementioned Krautrock bands. Either way you want to approach this anomaly, when I say five stars here I ain't just whistling dixie. A true lost gemstone that makes one wonder "what If"?

*Not to be confused with the US heavy metal band of the same name!

Vibrationbaby | 5/5 |

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