Art rockers Comus mixed the folk-rock of ensembles like Fairport Convention with the progressive tendencies of bands like King Crimson for a special brew. SONG TO COMUS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION brings together their work from the early 1970s, and includes their songs "Diana," "Bite," and "Winter Is a Coloured Bird."
Personnel: Roger Wootton (vocals, acoustic guitar); Andy Hellaby (vocals, bass guitar); Colin Pearson (violin, viola); Rob Eberhard Young (flute, oboe, keyboards).
Liner Note Author: David Wells .
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. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia
The Wire (p.43) - "[W]ith snarled tales of innocence corrupted, brutal ravishment, clinical derangement and murderous gore....Apocalyptic folk starts here."