MOSSING ABOUT: COMUS – First Utterance (1971)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

 

 

My dumb brother’s standard complaint about folk music is that its boring, but for me this marvellous album by Comus proves otherwise. It hasn’t been called “satanic goat music” for nothing after all. Simply put, this album features some really well-played, mysterious guitar playing and haunting, eerie vocals. But it also has an unhinged, freakish quality which stops it from sounding like Led Zeppelin’s folk shit or something. There’s something delightfully individual about this album, its sprawling and occult, and feels genuine in a way that Led Zeppelin don’t. I can’t imagine the people who made this being quite normal.


The album starts off just fucking amazingly with “Diana”. What a great way to introduce Comus! It’s bizarre and freakish to the point of almost being comical, like some weird circus song. The bass is loud and goofy, the guitar playing sounds like a whimsical sitar, there’s a chugging violin (or similar instrument) and Roger Wootton sings in a ridiculous but endearing falsetto. It’s like if The Residents played folk music, almost. The song does have moments of tenderness though, there’s some pretty female vocals and the violin playing during the chorus is beautiful. The violin rules on this song actually, it gets a very dramatic solo halfway through. So yes, this is a short, catchy opener which surrealistically shows off the albums charms. The album gets into its more mysterious side with the second song, a twelve minute creeper called “The Herald”. The guitar playing on it sounds like it could be played by the melancholic ghost of a young man who killed himself, and the female vocals his mourning lover. The accompanying woodwind works fantastically as well, even if it does sound a bit like a theremin. The chorus is actually really catchy and gorgeous though, with the rising vocals during it suggesting hope and reconciliation, somewhat reminding me of Wind in the Willows. Outside of that though the song conjures the vibe off a misty forest surrounded by mountains and abandoned villages. At twelve minutes the song shows why the album has the prog tag, but to be honest its more krautrocky, just in terms of the hypnotic quality. The mesmerising guitar playing and hypnotic vibe help the song to maintain its stamina, like a naked female runner.

Drip Drip” is the second epic, but it comes in at slightly shorter, clocking at eleven minutes rather than twelve. Thanks for the breather, guys. “Drip Drip” has a much more Indian vibe than “The Herald”, with the acoustic guitars once again sounding like sitars. The guitars are different as well on this one, being more riffy and chord based than the spiderlike picked ones on “The Herald”. With Roger taking the vocals again this is a much more menacing song, the violin sounding like it thinks it could do better than the score for Psycho. The chorus of the song is really bewitching though, with Roger’s falsetto sounding more angelic than creepy and the violin like an angel who suddenly deemed the works of Hitchcock base and immoral. The freakish, playful sound helps to give the song a manic intensity, along with the urgent “la la la la” female vocals. Now that I think about it, the song could totally be converted to a Rolling Stonesesque hard rocker, thats how driving it is! Or at least one of Gabriel era Genesis’ rockier numbers. If “The Herald” is the abandoned village, “Drip Drop” is wonderer’s finding the village and celebrating with a pagan dance, yet not managing to keep their nerve when they consider the creepy, dead atmosphere of the village. Less abstractly, around the six minute mark the tune kicks in with a great, funky, ominous bassline. Hows that for diversity!?

I don’t want this review to be too long so I’m just going to crudely lump the last four songs together in this paragraph, and describe them in more brevity than the last two. “Song for Comus” is a melodic, groovy number with some piercing woodwind, agitated acoustic riffing (it sounds like he’s just playing two notes together over and over again) and passionate vocals. The song soon builds up in passion, like when you’re microwaving popcorn and you can tell its almost done because of how rapid the popping becomes. “The Bite” has some electric guitar playing! The acoustic guitar riff and flute in this song is manic as fuck, it sounds like an escaped mental patient running as fast as they can from the asylum that housed them, and with the same amount of joy! The violin playing suggests a whole level of drama, as do the piercing female vocals during the chorus, jaunty but anxious flute, chugging violin and stern tone of Roger. “Bitten” is an eerier song, it has scraping violin like the playing on King Crimson’s song “Providence”, a chunky, menacing bassline and eerie, ghost story guitar playing. And that’s it! Cool spooky instrumental. Lonely, melancholic guitar playing opens “The Prisoner”, and more pseudo-theremin. After this a more gentle guitar line starts, along with an almost Nick Drakeish lead one. Roger delivers a touching, subtle vocal performance, accompanied by Bobbie’s sweet female vocals. The song has a really warm vibe to it, with the violin playing sounding like it could accompany a film about some ambitious go-getter. “And they gave me shock treatment!” is a super catchy singalong part of the song, leading on to more dramatic male-female dialogue. “The Prisoner” has a lot of energy and momentum to it. Something I forgot to mention earlier but will now is that the album at times has an almost gypsy like vibe, which is prominent during the end of “The Prisoner”, which is a frenzied dance with screamed gibberish vocals!

So, to conclude, this is a very special, unique album, with a collection of truly epic guitar work, violin playing, woodwind and other assorted instruments, with two unique vocalists to top it all off. Please listen to it as soon as possible! So you too can experience the pleasure of seeing satanic goats without having to take acid or watch a cheesy eighties horror film.
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Author: tomymostalas

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