Saturday, April 2, 2011

Captain Beyond - Captain Beyond

Not the 3D cover; you can tell because his space energy ball isn't inside your brain.

Though Captain Beyond is a band known by few, its membership previously performed in well-known outfits--singer Rod Evans was Deep Purple's original vocalist (including the hit "Hush"), guitarist Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman were in Iron Butterfly, and drum God Bobby Caldwell was in the Edgar Winter Group.  Though the band made a handful of albums through the 70's (and apparently an EP in 2000), I consider them a one-off; the quality of this album is unlike anything else they put out--not to mention how well it stands up to the rest of the hard rock/proto-metal/progressive psychedelic field it fits in.

As with most of my favorite albums, I can still remember the first time I listened to this one--I remember it as a relentless barrage of detuned guitar riffs that was enjoyable but afterward seemed like a slightly same-y blur.  After a few listens and some time off (always a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff) I returned to find a relatively short album (35 minutes) positively bristling with ideas.  Since it's become an all-time favorite and one of my heavier, not overly-brainy delights.

Every time I listen to this album I can't help marveling at just how well all of the elements and all-important group chemistry lined up.  The lead-off track illustrates particularly well the band's aesthetic and visceral power.  Caldwell's odd-metered drumming kicks it off with his indomitable snare (he's got to be one of the best drummers of all time that didn't make it huge, and his drumming alone makes this album worth listening to) and the muscular rhythm guitar kicks in.  Pretty soon Evans is singing about black dreams, landing on a star and floating on a sea of air.  After only a minute and a half, an entirely different riff shifts the feel to 4/4 and the guitar leads get a whole lot gnarlier (as does Evans' singing) the last minute of the song returns to odd meter with a chromatically ascending atonal riff to close the track.  None of the song parts repeat--why should they?  You hear the ideas and there's no need to drive them into the ground.  This is pretty typical of the whole album--a cohesive sound that manages to churn out a nonstop, heavily enjambed stream of (mostly guitar-driven) ideas.  Right up my alley.

The rest of the album subtly alters the original themes and throws in an impressive array of styles--hazy psychedelia in "Myopic Void," jazz fusion in "Thousand Days of Yesterdays," Hendrix-influenced hard rock in "I Can't Feel Nothin' Part 1," to an almost MOR, lounge-styled psych jazz in "As the Moon Speaks (Return)."  The album's real backbone, though, is in heavy proto-metal riffs.  They certainly abound, popping up suddenly even in the mellower tracks, and there are even a few more traditional songs to sink your teeth into--"Mesmerization Eclipse" is notable for its guttural riff, aggressive drums and Evans' well-placed song-opening grunt, while "Raging River of Fear" again leans on Jimi while predicting late 70's and 80's metal's penchant for vocal harmonies.

As far as vocals and lyrics are concerned, they are a seemingly incongruous combination of metaphysical outer space-oriented images and more typically hard rock lyrics about women.  While some may find these subjects cheesy, I feel they fit the music perfectly--hard rock really can't ever succeed at taking itself too seriously, so why not focus on some truly cosmic subjects?  It fits the album art, and really it's only cheesy if you prefer not to engage in the underlying subject matter.  Evans, whose vocals are best described as "manly" proves a pretty versatile vocalist, and even a subtle one--I'm still hearing minor vocal nuances that are easily overshadowed by the riffs.  While his former band was exploring extremely epic, theatrical styles with his replacement (Ian Gillan), Evans here sounds just like a dude fighting with his place in the universe, maybe on drugs.  Which, theatricality and drugs aside, is all any of us is really doing at any given time.

Before bidding you one last time to check this album out, I have to remark that it's one of the best complex integrations of the cowbell that I've ever heard.  It can be done.

Get 'er here on CD or MP3.

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