Review Summary: Timewarped album hopelessly lost between 1969 and 1980.
A short summary of the Italian horror-rock band Antonius Rex
: They recorded a couple of albums under the name Jacula in the late 60s/early 70s, changed their name a few times, achieved the most success as Antonius Rex and became known for their dark progressive rock sound with lyrics driven by mysticism and fantasy (they took their most common names, Jacula and Antonius Rex, from a pair of horror comic books), but despite some commercial success in the late 70s, they broke up, only to end up repackaging their catalog with the Italian heavy metal label Black Widow Records in 2001.
Most of the Antonius Rex/Jacula albums show a straightforward timeline in their recordings, but two of these albums, both listed in biographies as the "official debut albums" of Jacula and Antonius Rex are oddly anachronistic. Making the rest of their discography at odds with itself is the fact that their 1970s albums have bonus tracks from 1980, a 1979 Antonius Rex release has bonus tracks recorded in 1972, and so forth.
The official story on "In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum" is that this title was used for an album the band recorded under their first name, Jacula, in 1969, but never distributed it, instead pressing up a small number of copies and giving them away to occultists. The 2001 CD reissue from Black Widow suggests to be the product of heavy overdubbing, considering that the sound of bandleader Anthony Bartoccetti's guitar playing recalls that of his 1980 work, and the uncredited drum sounds appear to be synthesized, similar to the drum tracks performed by keyboardist Doris Norton on Antonius Rex's "Praternatural".
Despite the psychedelic hard rock guitars and occasional flourishes of proggy electric keyboards, the compositions on "In Cauda Semper" are very bare. The album's largely driven by moody, atmospheric church organs and creepy spoken word. The compositions are credited as the product of "Spiritualist Seance", while the band's biographies credit the compositions to a collaboration between Bartocetti and spiritualist Franz Parthenzy. Charles Tiring, who played on the 1972 Jacula release "Tardo Pede in Magiam Versus", is credited for playing the church organ.
The original 1969 album remains a mystery made even more confusing by this 2001 CD/vinyl reissue. The 1969 album was a mythical release that was spoken of but never heard, so why release a later version of the compositions, which were written, according to the back cover, between 1966 and 1969? This release doesn't even mention the fact that 1980 instrumentation was added. The two theories have been that either the 1969 recording was remixed (parts of the album sound like it was recorded in 1969 while many other parts very obviously were not), while it has been suggested elsewhere that the 1969 release was a hoax.
The bare-bones nature of the compositions suggests, at the least, that the compositions were written in the 1960s, but it's pretty clear that at least some elements were recorded in 1980. It's questionable whether Bartoccetti played this way in 1969, without the influence of Black Sabbath
(who had an impact on Jacula's 1972 album), so it's hard to recognize this as a pioneering heavy metal album when it's doubtful that the original 1969 recording even had such hard rock guitars, but even without a 1969 debut, the fact that Jacula were recording horror fueled Italian rock as early as 1972 accounts for something.
The band achieves a progressive rock sound on "Triumpratus Sad", which feels incomplete with its lack of rock drumming, only featuring fractions of orchestral drum hits. The rest of the album is pretty experimental, lacking much instrumentation. Since these are early compositions by the band, it doesn't feel as accomplished as the later Jacula/Antonius Rex efforts, but it is a unique recording and Bartocetti completionists will probably want it.
The confusing biographical information regarding these compositions combined with the anachronistic sound makes it hard to evaluate "In Cauda Semper" on its own merits, but the album works for what it tries to achieve, essentially a spooky symphonic rock album, though I personally recommend Antonius Rex's "Zora" as a starting point for the group due to the more fluid and consistent progressive rock influence.