Monday, 2 February 2015

HORRIBLE NIGHTS - Jacula

Jacula was formed in 1966 by Satanist Anthony Bartoccetti and his wife Doris Norton. Their 1969 album 'In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum' is the most evil music that the world had ever known at the time of its release. That is, until a certain Brummy blues band stormed the world months later.

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Still, the impact of this album remains keen. There is a conspiracy theory that the album was actually recorded in the 80's or 90's and some of the production touches certainly seem to indicate that. In its original form, the album was said to be released as an edition of 300 copies, and they weren't sold in stores. In fact, they weren't sold at all. According to legend, the band gave copies away to anyone they met who had an interest in the occult. Most, if not all of the original copies have been lost or destroyed. I have yet to find any mention online of someone having dug up one up. If they did, I suspect they would hear much the same music as you would today on the iTunes version, for example ... minus some of the crushingly heavy guitar and synth overdubs.

But regardless of its true origins 'In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum' is an amazing album. In 1969 this album wouldn't have fit in anywhere. Church organ, played by Charles Tiring is the lead instrument, followed by thunderous timpani (played by Norton), with the occasional spoken/whispered vocal laced throughout. The album features 6 inverted hymns and insists on being listened to by candle light. This is dark ambient music before there was a concept of such a thing. While the infant prog scene of the day seemed to be focused on some of the more fanciful applications of the hippie ideal, Jacula were provocative, unapologetic occultists. One thing's for certain, this isn't pop music, but is it even prog?

Anthony Bartoccetti [Image Source]
The best way to describe the sound would be to call it devotional music. The thing is, what the group was devoted to would surely have sickened the sensibilities of the masses. They seemed to be made to inspire hatred. One could only imagine the response to the band at the time. Keyboardist / organist Charles Tiring was said to be in his mid to late sixties and married to an 18 year old girl by the time of their second (and last) album 'Tardo Pede in Magiam Versus' in 1972. This is one of those bands that every story you read about them gets crazier and crazier. Jacula is almost too good to be true. Another clue to make one question the authenticity of 'In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum' is to compare it to what came later.

'Tardo Pede in Magiam Versus' is very much a product of its time. It's certainly progressive. At times the album transposes the spookier organ works of J.S. Bach onto a Fairport Convention album. However great that idea looks on (e-) paper, it sounds even better in practice (see "U.F.D.E.M."). Doris Norton's singing voice is deep, rich and powerful, her spoken word passages sound desperate and pleading, whenever possible she leads group chants. Much of the album however is devoted to organ solos. There are jazzier / loungier / dreamier parts of the record however, such as "Jacula Valzer" which belies any proto-metal leanings. In spite of that, much of the record is steeped in eerie moods, but falls somewhat flat when compared to its predecessor.

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After this second record, the band changed parts and Anthony Bartoccetti changed gears into Antonius Rex with new personnel. The new group first appeared in 1974 with their 'Neque Semper Arcum Tendit Rex' album and continue to this day. Their latest record, 'Hystero Demonopathy' came out in 2012.

The beautiful and talented Doris Norton would eventually go on to become an early electronic music pioneer in the 1980s, actually working in IBM's research lab to create music. It's very much "robot music", not entirely unlike Kraftwerk. In hindsight, her fast moving electronic compositions might sound "retro futurist" to modern ears. They are not without their charms.

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