Monday 15 November 2010

Comus - The Herald

All sixteen-odd minutes of acid folk's finest moment, 'The Herald' is actually pretty unrepresentative of the group's oeuvre, which can be probably summed up as 'forest death music'. There aren't many groups who can claim to have a completely unique sound but this is one of them; Roger Wootton's death-rattle vocals and a mix of rangy acoustic guitars and hand drums are offset by slide bass, reeds and violins. Where Comus really stand out from other late sixties / early seventies folk-inspired groups is the malevolent streak throughout the music. Rather than a bucolic place to relax or the setting for a familiar folk ballad, the forest here is a real place of fear and bewilderment. The lyrics range from gothic lust to madness and fear of imprisonment, all examined with a forensic eye for detail that makes it sound as if the singer is actually enjoying the vista of fear and decay that he is describing. In addition, the cover artwork is truly awful - not as in bad, but awful as in 'it's a cover showing a malnourished, twisted grey creature in agony'. A two CD retrospective was issued a few years ago, with the essential (and very difficult) 1971 debut 'First Utterance' on one disc and the 1974 'To Keep From Crying' album on the other. The second effort is by no means a disaster, but is a bland and smoothed-out shadow of 'First Utterance', as if the band had been lobotomised following the bacchanal and frenzy of 1971. Enjoy the oddly uneasy lullaby that is 'The Herald' and then delve deeper into the undergrowth with the rest of 'First Utterance'. You won't have heard anything like it.


  1. This is great. The pitch darkness of English folk music is, invariably, like most things, smoothed off at the gate.

  2. Brilliant! Not a trace of fiddly-dee.