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Song to Comus: The Complete Collection

Comus

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Album Review

As this expansive (though not entirely as "complete" as promised) anthology reminds us, Comus' frightening musical visions surely represented the darkest side of England's late-'60s folk-rock movement. Like a Fairport Convention from Hell, the group pushed folk boundaries into alien progressive, psychedelic, and acid rock realms, capping it with desperate and macabre subject matter and warping all the genres involved (and numerous minds) in the process. 1971's disorienting, often terrifying debut, First Utterance, could have doubled as (and may have well inspired, in part) the soundtrack to Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man a few years later, given its recurring pagan themes and varied blend of voices (some male, some female, some…?) and instrumentation (flute, oboe, strings, etc.). Lengthy, unpredictable compositions are very much the norm here and particularly epic freak-outs like "The Herald," "Drip Drip," and the self-referential "Song to Comus" contribute much to this cinematic atmosphere. Disc one of this collection also boasts several outtakes from the First Utterance sessions (notably the unusually pleasant, quite beautiful "Winter Is a Coloured Bird") that were originally released in EP form with the single edit of "Diana," as well as the A- and B-sides of a 1974 solo single from bandleader Roger Wooton, recorded in a much cheerier, pop-oriented style. This shocking sonic transformation isn't presented without context, as it has much in common with the material heard on Comus' belated sophomore album released the same year, following a near-complete overhaul of the band's lineup which, among other things, saw strings and woodwinds largely replaced by synthesizers. Thus, while To Keep from Crying's songs are still occasionally dark and mysterious (see "Touch Down," "Waves and Caves," the title track), their shorter running times and more conventional arrangements significantly rein in Comus' scare factor (parts of "Down (Like a Movie Star)" and "Children of the Universe" sound like Yes or Stray) and wack appeal (the cabaret vibe of "Get Yourself a Man" is a whole different kind of wacked!), duly subtracting the sheer sensory shock imparted by their first album. Nevertheless, as career-spanning anthologies go (the new millennium Comus reunion for select festival appearances was naturally ignored), Song to Comus pretty much covers the whole freaky story, imperfect as it is, and helps perpetuate the curiosity of modern audiences about this weirdest of British acid folk exports.

Biography

Formed: 1967 in Kent, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '00s

Taking their name from a character in a John Milton poem, Comus was a short-lived but powerful folk-rock band that seems to have made an attempt to mix elements of King Crimson with the influences of Pentangle, Fairport Convention and other more traditional folk outfits. The result was a sometimes unnerving mix of ethereal and dark tones. The cover of their debut, First Utterance (1971), bears a striking and likely deliberate resemblance to the cover of In The Court of the Crimson King. After a period...
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Song to Comus: The Complete Collection, Comus
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