Review Summary: A twisted, scary & bizarre mix of folk, prog and psychedelia. Very experimental and ahead of its time.
When most people think of folk music, what comes to mind is usually calm, mellow and relaxing music like Nick Drake or Iron & Wine. In 1971 though, Comus created something completely unique and amazingly ahead of its time, mixing folk with progressive rock and psychedelia. Instead of being gentle and mellow, First Utterance
is frantic, haunting and just plain evil sounding.
is hard to compare to anything else really. There is some influence that can be heard in the unsettling atmosphere of Current 93's style of 'apocalyptic folk', but the only album that really sounds remotely similar is Spirogyra
's St. Radigunds
which was released in the same year, though that is not quite as experimental and is not nearly the same quality.
Comus use violins, acoustic guitars, flute, hand-drums, oboe and bass, the only electric instrument to appear, to create their unique sound which could probably be best described as sounding like a very demented sped-up version of Jethro Tull
. The complex, energetic drumming gives the album a tribal feeling that along with the twisted folk melodies creates a perfect dark atmosphere. First Utterance
sounds like the music that should be played at a bizarre pagan ritual in the middle of a dark forest, complete with human sacrifices.
Despite the grim atmosphere, the music is actually very upbeat and catchy which helps bring to life the images of pagan festivals, almost making it seem as if the listener is at one himself. All of the melodies, often played on violin or flute are completely memorable and brilliantly written. The songs are mostly lengthy and complicated, but the music still manages to be very accessible if you can get past the bizarreness of it because it is all very catchy.
The lyrics, partly inspired by John Milton's masque also named 'Comus', don't disappoint at all, fitting in perfectly with the theme. They are definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily offended though, describing such pleasant things as rape, murder, more rape, being imprisoned in a mental asylum, and hanging a Christian. Despite the dark subject matter, the lyrics are always well written and gripping. Opeth
fans would recognise the lines 'As I carry you to your grave my arms your hearse' and 'And she knows by the sound of the baying, by the baying of the hounds' as that is where they got some of their album/song titles from.
The lead singer, Roger Wootton sings in a quite high pitched and unique style. The singing fits the music, sounding equally as demented and sinister, but the odd style could mean that it's an acquired taste for some. However, there are some very catchy vocal melodies that you could even sing along to – at least if you want to sound like a psychopath to anyone close by.
Several other singers sing back-up vocals, most noticeably Bobbie Watson, who's ethereal and ghostly singing contrasts perfectly with Wootton. She also sings lead vocals on one track, 'The Herald', which is different to the other tracks as it is slow and atmospheric, containing none of the violence that can be found in the rest of the album. However, thanks to Watson's haunting vocals and an unsettling slide bass, the song sounds tense and unnerving, fitting in with the album's dark mood perfectly. The only song that really sounds at all weaker than the rest is the short instrumental, 'Bitten', although even this is still quite good and is too short to be a real problem.
Overall, First Utterance
is a brilliant album, though it may be too strange for many, which is why it never sold well on release and the second Comus album was a disastrous attempt at making commercialised folk-rock. For anyone interested in some very experimental and unique music though, First Utterance
is a must have.