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Comus - First Utterance CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.16 | 549 ratings

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2 stars In Greek mythology Comus, the god of revelry, is the son of Dionysos. Bacchus, the Roman equivalent of Dionysos, was worshipped with orgiastic and ecstatic rites. You might therefore think that the band's name and the disturbing cover of this album are telling you something, and you'd be right.

The lyrics on this album are predominantly black and, in the case of three songs, contain more than a frisson of eroticism or sadism. I recall reading a book of short horror stories in my youth, one of the stories involving a young bride-to-be, a large copse of razor-thorny brambles and something from the crypt with virgins on its mind. I think Wootton must have read the same book! Actually, the poet Milton wrote a poem circa 1634 entitled 'Comus: A Masque', and this was no doubt the primary inspiration for this album.

Well, this all sounds very highbrow, but what of the progressive folk music on this album? I'm sorry to say that, despite the interesting - and sometimes tantalisingly disturbing - lyrics, I find it lacking.

'Diana' sounds like Marc Bolan met some hillbillies and Tim Burton on a dark night and decided to have a jam in the forest. Wootton's warbling singing is not to my liking, but the bongos (or whatever they are) in the second half of the track are not bad in places, if rather odd with the ethereal female backing of Bobbie Watson and Pearson's violin/viola. The bacchanalian theme of the lyrics is all too evident in the earthy tone and delivery of the piece.

'The Herald' has the same spooky type of feel at the start, with jew's harp (slide?) over acoustic guitar and flute, but turns into a calm pleasant tune with violin and the ethereal (and this time more pleasing) ultra-high vocals from Watson. The acoustic guitar, viola, oboe and flute sound pleasant, I have to say. The high female vocalisations make it sound to me like 1960s middle-of-the-road pop backing music at this point (I don't mean that in a derogatory way). Then the acoustic guitar comes in without the singing and this is certainly pleasing, as is the violin over the acoustic guitar and flute later in the track. Overall the piece is pleasing, but nothing extraordinary.

Again there is a hillbilly start with twangy acoustic guitar on 'Drip Drip'. Wootton's deranged singing jars on this track and I don't care for it. And the bongos feel a bit out of place too. It's not a bad track, but it's no masterpiece either. The music even has a North African feel to it, which does not fit with the lyrics in my opinion. Viola/violin and the acoustic guitar give the piece some interest but to me the composition is not that sophisticated. The sawing violin over bongos finally gets really annoying, and eventually this track really gets on my nerves. The macabre lyrics are delicious, but I find the music does not do them justice.

'Song To Comus' starts with some nice repetitive acoustic guitar and flute, with bizarrely rendered vocals by Wootton. I like this track more. The singing - indeed the song - is reminiscent of JETHRO TULL. The music throughout the track is a bit samey, but the violin - again over bongos - is pleasing. Again the lyrics remind me of the horror story I read in my youth: "Hymen hunter, hands of steel, crack you open and your red flesh peel, Pain procurer, eyes of fire pierce your womb and push still higher, Comus rape, Comus break, sweet young virgin's virtue take, Naked flesh, flowing hair, her terror screams they cut the air."

'The Bite' again uses odd male vocals with the ethereal female vocals warbling in the background. The main part of the sung tune I actually find quite good, but the vocalisations are tedious. Again the lyrics are morbid: this time about a martyr being hanged.

'Bitten' is a short, atmospheric instrumental with violin and cello (?). It conveys only bleakness to me.

A song in the first person about a paranoid schizophrenic, the bleak lyrics of 'Prisoner' are good, albeit disturbing in a different way. Again acoustic guitar with wailing violin in the background start the track. It then becomes more upbeat and even a pleasant tune for a while, but the tune takes a downturn, as the subject matter dictates. Unfortunately I just don't like the singer's voice on this track, mood or no mood. Strumming acoustic guitar, violin and bongos are again the staple.

In summary, then, to me musically this album is all right but certainly nothing special. The sometimes macabre and sometimes bacchanalian (or just deliciously evil) lyrics are well crafted and certainly evocative. But I can't honestly say I even find the album good, so I'm going with 2 stars (Collectors/fans only). It's just not my bag, I'm afraid. If you like acoustic guitar, violin, flute and bongos with rather repetitive compositions and ethereal female backing vocals with a weird male singer ranting on about bacchanalian rites, murder, rape, insanity and something in the forest, then this may be your thing. I could listen to it again - I don't find it that bad - but it's just not the sort of thing I want to listen to again. If you've read Donna Tartt's The Secret History, you'll know the kind of feeling this album might evoke.

Fitzcarraldo | 2/5 |


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