Holy hell, what a week.
I haven’t been able to listen to much new stuff in a large enough capacity to review it adequately, so here’s a review of an old band.
So on the subject of holy hell, there’s Coven.
Coven’s got something of a cult following, appropriately enough. CD’s are scarce, if they even exist, and LP’s aren’t the easiest to come by either. They released the album in question, Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls, in 1969. The band, especially this album, is strongly affiliated with Anton LeVay, founder and leader of LeVayan Satanism/The Church of Satan. I’ll save you an excess of details, suffice to say I don’t for a second identify with these people. LeVay ripped off most if not all of the philosophy contained in his Satanic Bible from Ayn Rand of all people (yecch!) and stuck a pentagram on it. The Church of Satan lacked a theistic belief in Satan, rather defining Satan as the urge to indulge rather than abstain. Combined with the stolen Ayn Rand with a more violent rhetoric, this basically translated to ‘be a selfish ass and perform rituals’. That was his other thing, the idea that man needed a ritual, though this idea was never explained especially well. The Satanic imagery was only ever used for the ritualistic purposes, and to show contempt for the restrictive nature of other religions, especially Christianity. The latter I can get on board with, but everything else, less so.
With as little respect as I have for LeVay/Ayn Rand’s way of thinking, it’s a little odd that I find myself listening to Coven as often as I do. This is a band that would allegedly go to LeVay’s ‘lair’, as he called it, and perform at parties for him personally. At the time, they were known as heavy underground rock, but their influence on the current state of heavy metal is undeniable. Coven and Black Sabbath are like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for metal fans. Jinx Dawson, in addition to being one of the few female heavy rock/early metal singers, is credited with first introducing the sign of the horns (m/) to the heavy rock culture, though Ronnie James Dio is often given credit for popularizing it. While I have no belief in the rituals or magic of the occult, it was a heavy influence on both Coven and Black Sabbath (side note: Black Sabbath is the name of the first track on Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. Coincidence?), and I definitely appreciate the effect that that influence has had on heavy metal culture. It comes off as very cult-like and mysterious, especially to those who might not belong to it, without having any real dogma, and the result is a music community unlike any other.
The connection to the occult backfired during Coven’s performing career. Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls was dropped by the label Mercury due to rumors that the album may have had significant influence on the Manson murders. All hearsay, and the idea that a record alone could or would inspire something so gruesome is absurd, but still damaging to the label’s image, I suppose.
Excluding any cultural or philosophical ties this album might have, it’s pretty damn good. It sounds like one might expect a rock album from 1969 to sound, though Jinx Dawson wails with enough energy to draw in a seasoned metal fan such as myself. The album as a whole is well instrumented; thick were needs to be, and especially melodic in other places. I especially like the track Portrait, because aside from the chorus, it largely consists of a guiding bassline and melodic guitar. The band plays well, and the parts are largely well written. My only complaint, an admittedly whiny one, is that sometimes Dawson’s wails transition into something like Satanic scat-singing seemingly in the middle of a lyric. A bit irksome on a rare occasion, but no record is perfect.
If you like 60’s and 70’s heavy rock, or are just curious to see the stock that heavy metal was born from, check out this album. There’s some on automation as I write this, but your best bet is YouTube.
Also, listen to Black Sabbath.