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FIRST UTTERANCE

Comus

 

Prog Folk

4.12 | 386 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Comus: First Utterance [1971]

Rating: 10/10

Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if orcs formed a folk band? Wonder no longer.

Where to begin with the monster that is First Utterance? As a proud member of the cult following that this album has amassed since its release forty years ago, I find it difficult to locate a vantage point from which to examine this bizarre and brilliant gem. Like most pieces of art that are considered 'cult classics', First Utterance has a polarizing effect on audiences. A simple appraisal of the reviews here on PA shows many hailing this album as a masterpiece and many others decrying it as something quite the opposite. When it comes to 'love it or hate it' albums like this, I usually tend to fall on the 'love it' side. First Utterance is no exception. This is a bubbling cauldron full of unflinchingly genius musical insanity.

Putting aside the hyperbolic metaphors, what does First Utterance actually sound like? 'Experimental folk' would probably be the most fitting stylistic description for the music here. The entire album is focused on typical folk instrumentation, with acoustic guitar, flute, and violin accompanying a subtle rhythm section; however, the instrumentation is the only aspect of this music where 'typical' is an even remotely applicable term. While this is indeed a folk album, do not expect whimsy, social/political commentary, or fanciful storytelling. These songs are focused exclusively on the macabre. There are lyrics here about rape in the forest, the murder and burial of a woman, the execution of a Christian, and imprisonment in a mental asylum. These topics are not merely lyrical themes; the music itself is unsettling and downright creepy at times. This is achieved primarily through the vocals. The lead vocals oftentimes sound more like some sort of animalistic imp than they do a human being, and they're backed up by haunting female harmonies. Every aspect of these compositions comes together to form one of the strangest and most unique albums ever created.

'Diana' opens the album with a twisted jack-in-the-box mantra and continues with a demented chorus and bombastic violin interludes. 'The Herald' is a lengthy track that diverges stylistically from the rest of the album. This is a hauntingly gorgeous atmospheric folk piece centered on dual acoustic guitar and female vocals; it has to be one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. 'Drip Drip' is another long piece with a strong blues influence. The energetic violins/guitars and pounding hand percussion create upbeat music that heavily contrasts with the notorious lyrics. The 'I'll Be Gentle' section near the end is perhaps the creepiest part of the entire album. 'Song to Comus' begins with absolutely amazing dual-guitar interplay. The flute takes on a bigger role here, and the vocals are even more manic than usual. This is yet another staggeringly brilliant track. 'The Bite' has a strong Renaissance atmosphere. This track features my favorite vocal work on the album, and the flute work is nothing short of incredible. 'Bitten' is a brief and eerie instrumental centered on dissonant violin. 'The Prisoner' would actually be a rather pretty track if it weren't for the dark nature of the lyrics; the string work is majestic. The album ends in the most fitting manner possible: with a fading repetition of the word 'INSANE.'

First Utterance is undoubtedly one of my all-time favorites. From the moment the opening of 'Diana' first hit my ears, it was instant love. This album almost singlehandedly cultivated my love for progressive folk music. It has received countless repeated listenings since I initially discovered it over a year ago, and I've been able to appreciate it more and more each time. Nothing like this had ever been made before, nor has anything since. First Utterance is unique, creative, bizarre, unsettling, and absolutely brilliant. Every open-minded music fan is obligated to become familiar with this. I cannot guarantee that they will enjoy what's being offered here, but I can ensure that they won't forget it any time soon.

Note: Mikael Akerfeldt has repeatedly cited this album as a major influence. The titles 'My Arms, Your Hearse' and 'The Baying of the Hounds' are both derived from Comus lyrics. Thus, Opeth fans may find something of interest here.

Anthony H. | 5/5 |

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