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Janus - Gravedigger CD (album) cover

GRAVEDIGGER

Janus

Crossover Prog


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4 stars I'm stunned that no one has critiqued this album ahead of me. Wow..... I know several people who have it, and it's a cherished item among all of us. The band hails from the U.K., but did their recording in Germany. Hmmmm.....that's a common point with another Brit band who had to leave the U.K. to make it: Nektar. There really is no similarity between those two bands other than that.

Janus could have gone on to have a legendary career, based on the music on this album. There are a smattering (not sure.....probably the last 3 or 4 track?) that were added later, like in 1993 or thereabouts. The original tracks from this gem are mesmerizing, to say the least. They utilize many strong effects such as guitar played and re-played and recorded backwards, tripped out, effects-heavy riffs just brimming with spacey overtones.

I had told myself that I was going to be extremely conservative in ever handing out 5-star reviews ever again, so I will be a little sparing for this, the only effort by Janus. It needs to be heard: by fans of Hendrix, the whole psychodelic genre, the spacerock genre, and progressive rock fans alike.

4.7 stars, and well-deserving.

Report this review (#184639)
Posted Friday, October 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
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!

Report this review (#269164)
Posted Monday, March 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Gravedigger by Janus finds the band playing in a psyche-tinged style of early progressive rock still entangled in the genre's roots in the 1960s underground - and emerged just as that style of prog was going out of fashion in favour of more polished and complex material, to the band's misfortune. It's an enjoyable enough album if you like the early prog style - dramatic opener Red Sun is particularly enjoyable - though I wouldn't say it's solid all the way through; in particular, the brash introduction to Watcha Trying to Do?, aside from being irritating, is also tonally inconsistent with the rest of the album, as is the rest of the song itself - it feels like someone else's song parachuted into the middle of the running order. In fact, with such a weak first side and a side two epic that doesn't really stand up next to the sort of material their peers in Van der Graaf Generator or Genesis was producing, the album isn't so much a neglected classic as it is a second-tier release which got about as much attention as it deserved.
Report this review (#942920)
Posted Friday, April 12, 2013 | Review Permalink
Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars The debut album in 1972 from British band Janus is an occasionally successful fusion of hard rock with heavy psych, classical and blues elements. It has plenty in common with many proto-prog bands from the same period that were slowly finding their feet developing new sounds that would later resemble proper progressive related styles. `Gradigger' consisted of four shorter pieces on its first side ranging between two and nine minutes, sometimes along the lines of Black Sabbath, Amon Duul 2, heavy metal and blues. Better yet was the lengthy 21 minute floating title track on the reverse, yet it has to be said that the two sides sound like entirely different bands! Perhaps this inconsistency hinders the album and certainly shows a band unsure of their own identity yet, but musical skills were certainly already on display, as well as a gutsy rocking sound with a nice contrast between hard and soft passages.

Chugging opener `Red Sun' plods along trying to capture a Black Sabbath feel, but the slightly forced vocals aren't nearly as good as Ozzy. The middle section is thankfully stronger, when a repetitive Krautrock passage full of Colin Orr's panning feedback drenched electric guitar droning and Mick Peberdy's sludgy bass that brings a nice sleazy dangerous sound. Seeing as the band were operating out of Germany at the time, it's no wonder that hypnotic Krauty sound infiltrated their music a little! `Bubbles' could almost be a cross between the Doors on the verses (plus a dash of psych-pop) with the scuzzy riffing and ranting deranged vocals from an Amon Duul 2 album elsewhere. The stop/start `Watcha' Trying To Do' twists bluesy guitar mangling grooves back and forth. Sadly `I Wanna Scream' is a rubbish heavy metal rocker, but thankfully it's barely over two minutes in length. The album sleeve states that it's actually been re-recorded here due to the master tapes not surviving, but although it still sounds just like it would have from the time, the track is so throwaway that the band may as well have saved the time and not included it at all.

Fortunately it's the second side that offers the most exciting moments. The drifting almost 21 minute `Gravedigger' is highlighted by gentle chiming acoustic guitar and nimble solo runs, sighing wordless harmonies, sweeping orchestral passages and the lightest of Mellotron veils that cover the piece instantly call to mind the Moody Blues. Spanish and classical themes weave throughout the arrangement, a somber lead vocal, delicate piano and very subdued light Hammond organ. It's perhaps a bit overlong and repeats a little too much, but it sure it is a lovely dreamy mellow if melancholic come-down, and if the band were to survive in the 70's from this album, expanding on this direction would have been very advisable, as it's more distinctive and memorable than the hard rock first side of the album.

`Gravedigger' has now been reissued in a lavish double CD set that includes various bonus unreleased tracks, remixes and singles. According the Colin Orr's own admission in the booklet, the studio album sounded very different to how the band sounded live, with most of the the members being unhappy with the finished results. He also mentions that despite coming across like it on the album, the band live were `loud and aggressive, classical, angry and mournful, but never psychedelic." As far as I'm concerned, perhaps this was producer Rainer Pietsch simply trying to do what he could to make the material more imaginative. The band shouldn't be so hard on themselves, it's a decent little album that has developed a nice cult following since its release.

It would take 28 years before Janus recorded a follow-up album, so it's a shame that they didn't really get a chance in their heydey to build on their yet to be fully realised potential. Undemanding heavy rock fans will likely find something to interest them here, as well as forgiving heavy psych fans, but there are so many endless other solid rock albums along these lines from the same period that should be easily recommended over most of what is on offer here.

Three stars.

Report this review (#1291714)
Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Review Permalink
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!

Report this review (#2432591)
Posted Monday, July 27, 2020 | Review Permalink

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