Comus First Utterance

[Dawn; 1971]

Styles:  experimental-psychedelic-progressive-pagan-acid-folk-rock
Others: Henry Cow, Espers, Mellow Candle, United States of America

I find it frighteningly direct that Comus' 1971 debut, First Utterance, ends with the word "INSANE" swirling around your headphones. After an hour of churning out some of the oddest, most deranged folk music ever recorded, it's as if, at the last moment, they decided to state their agenda outright: "Yes, we are fucking crazy. But you love it."

That a band as twisted as Comus existed in the early 70s British-rock scene is not surprising; the fact that their medieval, pagan tinged folk aesthetic actually works, is. In writing, it sounds ridiculous: lead vocalist Roger Wooton's normal intonation is that of a munchkin belting out high pitched, quivering wails. When his voice drops down an octave, a stranger Cat Stevens-on-crack inflection is revealed. Needless to say, in any other context (a Rick Wakeman album) the gothic oompa loompa vocal approach would be overtly pretentious. Yet on First Utterance, everything seems to fit, which is mostly a testament to the groups simultaneous sense of restrain and abandon. Providing a much needed balance to Wooton's crazed verses is Bobby Watson, who sings in a fairly traditional, surprisingly beautiful feminine tone. The stark contrast of male/female vocals is a big part of Comus' allure, which, when highlighted in songs like "The Prisoner," becomes slightly beguiling: You start to wonder, how can a melody be so strange and pretty at the same time? How can lyrics like, "I was mad and was accepted for treatment at a hospital for the mentally sick/I was wild and introvert wandering alone in the night" be sung with such subdue? Comus succeeds in their output with raw emotion, an element which so many 'progressive' bands of the time forwent.

In the midst of the modern 'folk revival' and 'New Weird America' (read: weird folk revival), bands like Comus seems more relevant than ever. In the '70s, they established a foundation of sprawling, untraditional arrangements and used them as spring boards for even stranger lyrical and musical themes. They set up a fairly base convention only to break it down. Looking back, it's hard to believe an obscure progressive-folk act from 1971 could gain a context to thrive 30 years after their prime. Though to be fair, be it '71 or '05, I can't imagine a record as beautifully odd as First Utterance ever losing its appeal.

1. Diana
2. The Herald
3. Drip Drip
4. Song to Comus
5. The Bite
6. Bitten
7. The Prisoner