Like any other fanatic music lover, there are times where I start to grow tired of the same old same old. Even as much as I love metal music, there are times where I just really need something new, something different, and something that will pique my interest and get me excited about music all over again. That’s how I came to find myself with a new obsession: psychedelic/occult rock. Psychedelic/occult rock bands both new and old suddenly started to pique my interest and get me excited about music all over again. It was just what I was looking but I kept finding myself asking the same question: What is it about this music that has just over the past year or so struck a massive chord with me?
If I had to try and pinpoint a time where this obsession began I would have to say that it was sometime around May of 2014. It was around that time that I began to notice that there was a common thread that tied some of my new favorite bands together. Bands such as Jess and the Ancient Ones, Purson, The Oath, and Blood Ceremony all fell under the genre tag of psych/occult rock/metal. This was something new to me as I never really paid much attention to genre tags but I was fascinated by the music that these bands were making.
In a lot of ways, I guess you could say that my exploration into the depths of occult rock was fueled by my need to find the missing links, to bridge the gaps so to speak between these fantastic new bands that I was falling in love with and the roots from which they were born. An example would be like when I first heard Blood Ceremony, the only influences I could really pin point were Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull but to just leave it at that didn’t seem right. Then you have bands such as Jess and the Ancient Ones and Purson, who again, I thought I could pinpoint the influences such as Jefferson Airplane and even Soft Machine in there pretty easily. I just felt like something was missing. In my mind, while I knew that on the surface that I could hear the influences, I knew that there were other ingredients to the dish that I was missing.
So why psychedelic/occult rock in the first place? Well, maybe it’s the mystic vibe that surrounds the overall make up of these bands’ songs. These songs are very special and they are unlike anything you have ever heard in popular music. If you hear some of the aforementioned bands such as Jess and the Ancient Ones, Purson, Blood Ceremony and even bands such as Lucifer and Witchcraft you will notice that there is a certain characteristic to their songs.
The way these bands approach their playing is so much more subtle, mellow at times, and always melodic. The vocals are always very crisp and soulful while the lyrics are enunciated so that you can hear every word that is being sung. That is an element that I never got out of death metal. You’re supposed to be so evil and scary but I can’t understand a single word that is being sung. Take a band such as Jess and the Ancient Ones, for instance, where you have a lyric like
From the shadows you have come
To stand across the path of the sun
Everlasting secrets that you keep
Revealed for those who dare to seek
In the gardens of dark matter
The serpents coil and twist
As they bind their tails
Around the eternal pillars
Well, I don’t know about you but that’s every bit as haunting and creepy as just about any other bloody guts screaming death metal. Anyways, it’s things like this that really drew me into the realm of psychedelic/occult rock. So then my journey into the depths of the roots of psychedelic/occult rock began but what was I going to do? Just like the old days of my youth, I knew that in order for me to seek out what it was I was looking for, I had to go deep below the surface. When I was a kid and I was seeking out new music, the first thing I would do was to hit the local record store and pick the brain of long haired burnout dude working behind the counter. I remember one time going in and telling him: “Hey man. I love Iron Maiden. Who else should I be listening to that not everyone is already listening to?” He looks at me, smiles and goes, “Have you ever heard Venom? How about Angel Witch?” Well, because of that dude he opened up a door to a path that would’ve remained hidden from me unless I sought it out myself. So much like that very experience, the internet became my “burn out record store guy” and I so the search began.
I started off by talking to some of the modern bands that I was loving and it was through them that I could see the genuine nature of their influences. Speaking to Rosie Cunningham and Sam Robinson of Purson, they revealed to me just how much they loved bands like Soft Machine, Hawkwind, and an obscure German band called Amon Düül II. I also found myself conversing with bands like Jess and the Ancient ones and Lucifer where I was told of bands such as Coven, Shocking Blue, and Black Widow. Now this was just to name a few so I immediately took these names to start out with and I started my way down the rabbit hole.
As it turns out, the late 60’s and early/mid 70’s yielded some of the most obscure, understated, unique, and ground breaking bands that were left to dwell in a vortex of obscurity. Left behind in the dust by bands that broke through the mainstream, so many of these bands’ albums just lie buried like fine gems waiting to be unearthed. As a matter of fact, it was downright overwhelming just how many of these fucking bands existed. The sheer number of bands began to make my head swim. How in the Satan’s name was I going to even find what it was that I wanted in this cornucopia of obscurity? Instead of taking it upon myself to try and weed through the bands that were out there, I figured the best thing to do would be to start talking to the modern bands out there that I loved to see just where they were coming from.
As I ventured into these mystical waters, I found myself completely enthralled and immersed in the music that I was finding. I was so fascinated by the progressive and at times psychedelic nature of these bands and the haunting, mystical, and at times flat out sacrilegious subject matter of their songs. We had Coven from the US performing with a more hard rock kind of sound and even performed a full on Black Mass on their album Witchcraft Reaps and Destroys Minds. Comus from the UK had a very unique sound that a mix of progressive rock and traditional folk music with some of the most insane lyrics and vocals I have ever heard. Amon Düül II had elements of both Jess and the Ancient Ones and Purson with its melodic, ethereal, and at times fuzz driven guitar. Then we have Black Widow from the UK, who played with a more progressive nature to them, released the album Sacrifice with lyrics such as:
I conjure thee, I conjure thee, I conjure thee to appear.
I raise you mighty demon. Come before me join me here.
If that wasn’t enough, Black Widow even appeared on Germany music television show The Beat Club and performed the Sacrifice album in its entirety including an intro of a very eerie incantation and then ending with a mock sacrifice of a young woman. For the time, I can’t even begin to imagine how extreme and intense this was to witness on television. I can only imagine how the people in the 70’s reacted to this.
So my journey down the psych occult rock rabbit hole still continues. As I write this, I am venturing into a whole plethora of bands such as May Blitz, Leafhound, May Blitz, and Bang just to name a few. People, the “related artists” button on Spotify has become my “burn out record store guy.” As I click on this button for each band I whole handful of other bands are presented to me that just keep beckoning me further and further into the depths. It never seems to end and I keep finding more and more bands out there that leave me saying, “How did I never heard of this?”
What I have come to figure out while embarking on this journey is that this is a journey that never ends. It also reminds me of how many great, unsung bands are lying in the waste just waiting to be unearthed by curious minds. It’s almost as if when this music was made, these bands knew that this is what would happen. These bands captured a magic, a mood, and a vibe that, at the time, was very taboo. Maybe this is why so many of these bands never broke big. Amon Düül II, Black Widow, Coven and Comus just to name a very short few are all bands that, while they never saw commercial success left behind a legacy that would be picked up by a whole new generation of bands.
New bands such as Jess and the Ancient Ones, Lucifer, and Purson just to name a few would pick up those influences and build something of their own upon the foundation of those legendary band. They all bring these classic bands to a whole younger generation of music listeners (and in my case and older generation) through their music which leads (hopefully) to more people like me wanting to dig below the surface to try and unearth those long forgotten or not even known gems. As always, if you want to truly see the greatness of things, you must dig below the surface and look and listen with new, heightened senses. Dig brothers and sisters. Dig. As you seek so shall you find indeed.