Primitive Origins is a column where we'll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum's attention. We're keeping it loose and easy here: there's no strict guidelines other than it's gotta be old, it helps if it's obscure, and it's gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late '60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the '70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early '80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.
This time around, we're checking out Wicked Lady's The Axeman Cometh, a collection of tunes from 1969 to 1972 that were, so the story goes, recorded in a basement so the band could remember their songs. Which is insane, because not only does the production sound decent, the production sounds downright cool, lively, and raw in the best of ways (it varies throughout this collection and does get a bit muddier and harder to love at points, but when it's on, it's on).
This British band was rocking a particularly heavy strain of proto-metal that fell into some familiar late-'60s and early-'70s traps (for Christ's sake, who ever thought “jamming” in a song was a good idea, ever? How many drugs was that person on?) but emerged strong and heavy and proud: dig on the title track's huge galloping-horse-on-doom riffing, or the guitar work in “War Cloud”'s climax. Speaking of that song, it's worth noting that it's basically acoustic doom metal in the opening couple minutes before the band takes things up a notch and gets loud, laying down riffs that wouldn't sound out of place on any number of doom—or even sludge—albums today.
But the best of what Wicked Lady have to offer here is opening cut “Run the Night,” a killer fuzzed-out rocker with an excellent vocal line and killer rhythm section chemistry. It seems counter-intuitive to any metalheads' train of thought, but I never like it when these early metal bands get a bit too fast and rockin', as it often tended to minimize the heaviness factor when the band sped up the tempo, but here Wicked Lady speed up just enough to rock hard, but not so much it got too happy. A killer song, a great way to start the album, and if you're going to check out just one song here, this is the one.
“Life and Death”'s ten-minute run time is concerning, but once the song gets going, those fears are left behind as the band lays down riffs like the best of '70s KISS heavied up. Now, speaking of that song length, the album's hour-long run time is a slog at points, given there are only eight songs here. But when Wicked Lady are on point, they're locked in to a very heavy proto-metal spot, particularly in the cool, Sabbatherian guitar playing. Check out the duelling guitar work in the song “Wicked Lady,” which showcases both a band chemistry and an impressive heaviness percentage for the era: Sabbath would kill for that ending riff.
The trouble with lots of these old relics is they just don't sound convincing as metal albums, the bands too often playing with too many other genres or spending too much time tripping out to get the job done. Wicked Lady clearly enjoyed tripping out but still manage to create tunes that sound good to listen to today, stone cold sober.
Wicked Lady's The Axeman Cometh – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No, thankfully.
Heaviness factor: Equivalent to Pentagram at times, behind Sabbath, but ahead of the average heaviness levels of the era.
Obscura Triviuma: This wasn't meant to be a real album, and these jam recordings are one of the few recorded documents of this band. Kvlt.
Other albums: Psychotic Overkill, Complete Recordings 1969-1972
Related bands: Dark
Alright, fine, if you must: A couple joints will most likely enhance the experience, or, at the very least, make some of those long songs make a bit more sense.