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Comus - First Utterance CD (album) cover

FIRST UTTERANCE

Comus

 

Prog Folk

4.16 | 548 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Run wild through the dark wood

It's only fitting that Comus, a God of anarchy and chaos, should frighten some folks. Indeed there are moments in "First Utterance" where you feel like you are hanging out with the Manson family at the Barker Ranch. Yet it is precisely the authenticity factor that makes Comus the thrilling experience that it is. This was not an album made for the mainstream by a business posing as a band, with "street teams" of fans out there to push them on websites. This was not a band aspiring to sell their song for a TV commercial for chrissakes (Billy Corgan, how could you?) Rather you had a group of young people who managed to connect to a different plane of existence for a spell. Like Syd Barrett, Magma, or Jacula they have managed to create a piece of work that transports the listener out of the cozy linear world their brains like to reside in. A place that might not be safe. A place where danger exists. "First Utterance" belongs to a very small group of albums that are true masterpiece, not the sort of cookie-cutter "prog-rock" that some of today's popular acts repeat for us time and again. No, this is an entirely different beast.provoking images of shrouded figures huddled round a fire deep in the wood, plotting dark revelry and ribald under the ghostly moon. You can smell the cooking meat, the Satyr brewed wine on their breath, the dread of a ritual about to begin. First Utterance mattered because the music was something real and not simple entertainment. Hail to music that may awaken your pagan heart and make that vein on your neck bulge way out. Quite simply, if I could only take 10 albums with me to the proverbial desert island, there's a good chance Comus would be one of them.

Trying to describe the eerie, jubilant dance of Comus can only result in heartbreak. The songs absolutely fill me with the thrill but a few albums can and the standard adjectives don't suffice. First, the songs are complete contrasts of themselves, the lyrical themes being positively dark (evil, to some people) while the music is as mentioned, nothing short of beautiful, jubilant, and seductive. There is also a contrast in the vocal extremes with Wooton's croaking sounding like a dying gasp or maniacal madman while Bobbie Watson's voice is straight from an angel's song. The talent in these harmonies and their arrangements make me shiver with delight. The songs are supported by a base of acoustic guitars and bass often played more with a metal intensity than a folkie one, and of primal, ritual, hand-drumming. Atop this are some of the greatest vocal performances in my book, not in the traditional sense of perfect singing but in the unique places they take the vocals. And then you have the violin of Colin Pearson who shares the intensity of the guitarists and sounds often quite edgy, neurotic, frightened..bringing a deep sense of foreboding to the songs. Flute is another important aspect bringing the greatest sense of relief and ease to the album. All of these components are joined together with the spirit of fireside jamming, but guided by great composition instead of stoner noodlings, the compositions filled with drama, terror, and also great beauty. What makes tracks like "Diana" and "Drip Drip" so mind boggling is the inventive and original spirit Comus injects into them, these amazing melodies just Jekyll and Hyde you into next week, one moment pure ghastly horror and the next pure beauty in Watson's high end vocal, crystal clear. Joining them are these great hooks, devastating the way they surprise you. Listen to the places the violin goes on "Diana" and I promise you'll be scraping your grey matter off the wall. But it is not just a mellow acoustic ride, there are several places where they rock in an angsty speed-raga to an exhausting end. In the middle of these two gems is the treasure of "First Utterance," the deceptive calm of "The Herald." This single track is one of the finest I've heard, imagine an almost acoustic Kayo Dot-drifting vibe about the passage of time, a 12 minute gallery of mesmerizing images, serene but foreboding, captivating vocals and haunting guitar melodies. They throw everything into it here with several different sections moving from vocals to solo guitars to violin and woodwinds, the sounds of mysteries unfolding..the music of another world.

So important and timeless is "First Utterance" that I have to share some of the more passionate quotes I've found out there, I feel a real duty here to compile enough imagery to convince people they should hear this:

"The instrumentation is primarily acoustic, all the usual strings and woodwinds and percussives, and they wear their paganism on their sleeves. The very first song is a hymn to the goddess Diana, and the massed vocals don't merely sing about "the screaming woodland" and "the baying of the hounds," the munchkin chorus invokes and embodies these very things--and that's only the first minute or so of the LP. Theirs is not the happy, life-affirming paganism so fashionable these days; theirs is the sound of dread and paranoia, of remembrance, of fear and loathing, of friends and lovers lost to the Burning Times and the need for true love to rectify all evils. You can't listen to this for five minutes without wondering about these people's various lifestyle choices and comparing them with your own." [blogger melodylaughter]

"It probably helps that most of the stuff that shouldn't work is anchored by a maddeningly proficient group of instrumentalists. The bass work here is endlessly fascinating, the strings and woodwinds are used to perfect effect all over the place and the jazzy bongo playing is a treat that's never overused. It's all anchored by an excellent sense of melody and some simple yet effective guitar playing. It's also dark as hell; the mood sets in during the first part of the epic The Herald and never lightens all that much. The atmosphere this creates is stunning, and more importantly it never clouds the songwriting despite being completely enveloping. I wish I had more to say, but it really is an album you need to hear in order to believe." [RYM - troutmask]

"It almost justifies humanity." [RYM - Siegmann]

"Paganism was at the root of all of us, until it was choked out... This record harkens back to that lost, burned, and raped era so realistically. It is great to hear a band rediscover an old sound that is timeless in new ways. Drip Drip is sensational, the rhythms are tribal, and the violin is repetitive, its solo sounds like the confuscation of rose petals, of a collection of things found in the forest, of a feast. Primal, yet refined sound. Cheesy, yet not at all obvious, in fact compelling in the way things from 1500+ yrs ago are summoned up again. The most appealing thing about this album is a lack of cynicism." [RYM - catalogueatolic]

"But you are different. The listening has changed you. You are no longer the same person. Music is no longer a safe place to be. Music no longer transports you elsewhere to a place you want to be. It has taken you to a place where no-one wants to go. You do not want to go back there. But you know you will. The music has drawn you into the darkest depths of your own psyche and shown you the savagery which lies within you. Comus is not an entity distinct from you any more. Comus is you. You will never be the same again. Something horrifying lurks within you, always has. It's just that now you know it." [RYM - cherryeater]

Those final thoughts may be on the dramatic side, but are entirely appropriate for the followers of Comus whom are nothing if not passionate. This music has held up amazingly well and proven a great inspiration for the neo-Acid Folk movement and even Opeth who claim an influence. In terms of modern artists imagine the irreverent spirit of a Devandra Banhart fronting a band with the visuals-inducing depth of Miasma and the Carousel of HH. It is an essential title for anyone who appreciates imagination pushed way beyond the boundaries of everyday musical tastes and acceptable social mores. While the second side cannot match the bumper to bumper masterpiece that is side one, overall I have to give "First Utterance" the highest rating possible. Out of the thousands of albums I've heard in my lifetime, it is one of the very few that provide an actual experience beyond music, so special as to be one of those recordings you will mention when a friend asks what your favorite albums are. As guitarist Glenn Goring warns newcomers to Comus: "hang on to your hats, you are in for a memorable ride."

One important postscript: be sure to get the CD collection "Song to Comus." In addition to getting their second album as a bonus and extra goodies, this version of First Utterance has cleaned-up sound quality that apparently knocks the socks off of other CD releases. The sound is very good on this edition whereas I've read complaints about other CD versions. Plus you'll get to hear everything they ever recorded for one fair price, and it comes with a nice bio. Included in those extra tracks is their maxi-single, plus a never-before-released outtake from the First Utterance sessions, the beautiful "All the Colors of Darkness."

Finnforest | 5/5 |

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