Review Summary: A cult classic which although hasn't aged as well as some would believe during its 45 years of existence, still remains relatively influential on a musical sub-genre some have now fallen in love with. Remember to "kiss the goat" after you're done.
2014 marks the 45th anniversary of one of the more controversial years of heavy music. Besides the obvious influence that albums such as Black Sabbath
had on the inevitable future of rock and metal, there were more underground offerings which, whilst not as important musically as they were contextually, are still to this day heralded as a cult masterpiece. Coven's debut, the self-explanatory Witchcraft destroys Minds and reaps Souls
is one such record, and in fact takes the credit for practically laying out the blueprint of the now infamous “Occult Rock” scene, a sub-genre which is usually slated for its gimmicky content.
That said, Coven was a band so in love with witchcraft, the occult and Satanism that each member had apparently conducted rituals at live performances even before the debut album was released. Young Jinx Dawson was merely a 19-year old when Witchcraft...
was released, yet age didn't seem to scar the fact that she had such a varied vocal range. At times, as on the eerily nightmarish album opener “Black Sabbath” and “For unlawful Carnal Knowledge”, Jinx comes across as a demon with the numerous screams and cackles emanating from the soiled, raw production and flowing seamlessly with the light-hearted psychadelic instrumentation. Then we have her softer, sweeter side as the angelic voice flows beautifully through the likes of “Coven in Charing Cross” (A reflective piece, of course) and “Dignitaries of Hell”, and of course her narrative work is second to none when displayed on the album's closing pinnacle, “Satanic Mass”.
However, whilst Witchcraft...
certainly had the guts (no pun intended) to cover such controversial subjects, the music didn't quite prove as effective. The most interesting thing is that the band's songwriting was naturally versatile and quirky, but when listening to each song bar “Satanic Mass”, you can't help but feel that the band had rushed to get the album released, as opposed to taking the time to craft songs with as much musical effectiveness as the content naturally had. Because of this, the songs rarely exceed the four-minute mark, and at times, as on the album's first half, you would expect a progressive rock masterpiece of epic proportions, before the song skips ahead too soon. It probably wasn't intended this way, of course and the groovy likes of “For unlawful Carnal Knowledge” (which orders the listener to “burn until you're dead”) and “Wicked Woman” still manage to get you nodding your head to the simplistic rhythms.
Not to say that the album's first nine songs aren't all that important, but there was only ever one song which really explained what Coven was all about. That song, without a shadow of a doubt, is “Satanic Mass”, and its not even musical. Thirteen minutes may seem a little too much for a song, of course, and the very real risk of misleading one into thinking that it is a progressive rock epic is quite obvious. Yet what lies at the heart of this thirteen-minute closer is the band's drive to create the closest musical equivalent of a satanic ritual. Coven had performed plenty of these during live recordings, sure, but listening to “Satanic Mass” really gets at your inner goat, and even threatens to sacrifice it before the song is over.
It's all very surreal to those who can't take anything of the sort seriously, and that's perhaps why Coven's debut album isn't as strong or effective as you would expect it to be. The album hasn't aged well throughout its 45 years of existence, and unfortunately many will see it as more of a self-indulgent joke rather than a forward-thinking psychadelic rock album. Yet it's statement of intent has since been untouched, and not even the unholy, blasphemous melodies of The Devil's Blood or Blood Ceremony will match in that respect. Chances are, you will brush this album aside after one listen, but at least you can safely say you've journeyed through the harrowing experience of a satanic band making more or less “evil” music.