Church Of The Cosmic Skull
Is Satan Real?
- CatalogBiloc 44
Church of the Cosmic Skull are a seven piece from Nottingham about to release their debut album Is Satan Real? on Bilocation Records. On paper, it doesn’t look very promising. The band describe themselves as an actual church, a religious movement who ‘seek to free mankind from their material possessions and unify all living beings into a singular cosmic whole?’. You’d be forgiven for thinking this all sounds gimmicky and not exactly original; we’ve had bands in robes and such before, trying to reel us in with their cult-ish vibes and the promise of faux spiritual reveries, possibly followed by orgies and spiked punch. Plenty of bands have gotten mileage out of the 60’s and 70’s countercultures experiments and investigations into the great and spooky invisible, some continue faithfully in the same vein like Jess and the Ancient Ones and some revel in its glamour and darkness like Uncle Acid on their Mind Control set.
The musicians, who have all had previous musical experience solo or in bands such as Hellset Orchestra, Mammothwing and You Slut!, all dress in white and look like a cross between a hipster wedding band and a southern rock outfit, that being mainly down to guitarist and vocalist Bill Fisher’s stetson and beard. The line-up also includes Amy Nicholson on electric cello and like six other members of the band she is credited as a vocalist, supporting Fisher, who is the leading figure here it seems.
So we have an English band with slightly kooky image, unusual (for rock) instrumentation, a missionary zeal and a fairly unknown provenance. I am sort of reminded of Leeds’ Victorian obsessed black metal eccentrics A Forest of Stars and you may have drawn comparisons with other oddballs out on the fringes of rocks rich tapestry. However despite all the early signs, once you actually hear the album you will realise all of this nonsense doesn’t matter a jot, for what we have here are genuine mainstream contenders. It’s not even a ‘grower’- from the first spin this album is instantly, gob-smackingly, impressive.
Opening track ‘Mountain Heart’ may be the most mountainous piece of music ever written; it opens with all the pomp and grandeur of Leslie West’s Mountain, jagged keys and stratospheric guitar soloing, and then once the massed vocals erupt the left field retooling of classic rock perfected by early Black Mountain is called to mind?and the songs called, well, you get it. As a showcase for the bands sound it’s well chosen, the sweet soulful surge of voices and the swirling Hammond cause an uplift of your spirits which is maintained across the length of the album, despite many darker moments. I’m going to stick my neck out and say it’s the best opening number on an album I’ve heard this year.
Next up, video single ‘Black Slug’ is indeed darker, lyrically similar to the Manics ‘Black Dog’, the heavier riffing and more claustrophobic atmosphere doing much to emphasise the mental turmoil. The song is a set of dramatic peaks and troughs, ending on a rhythmic psycho stab pay off that doesn’t suggest a happy ending.
‘Movements in the Sky’ is where the bands British influences are most prevalent, chiefly the damp, mushroomy psychedelic folk rock of the Super Furry Animals, indeed Fisher’s voice often resembles Gruff Rhys’s gentle warble and the folkish acoustic lament of ‘Answers in your Soul’ affirms and confirms this, the skipping, echoing guitar lines at the end gorgeously recalling the work of John Martyn.
One of the most impressive things about the band is their ability to fuse so many varied influences and yet remain utterly themselves. Title track ‘Is Satan Real?’ begins and ends as a sorrowful gospel number, but in between becomes a sinister jazz rock workout on the back of muscular a bass riff by Sam Lloyd and led by Fisher’s fantastic guitar playing. It is perhaps the most experimental and unusual piece here, although the album grows odder on every listen.
The nearest we seem to get, lyrically, to any cod religious shenanigans is on ‘Watch It Grow’ which could have been taken from one of those 1970’s hippy musicals: all frizzy hair and onstage nudity. Once again the sheer power of the bands massed vocal talent works in their favour producing a near spiritual experience through the beauty of the sound they create together. Massive respect is due for the amount of work that must have gone into arranging and producing this album ? it is one of the richest and most rewarding recordings I’ve heard in some time.
But it must come to an end, and what a showstopper CotCS have for us in ‘Evil in Your Eye’, a superb, slow burning masterpiece which allows the spotlight to shine on all the bands individual talents without becoming a tedious bout of showboating. Imagine the combined talents of Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple and SFA’s and you may just have some idea of what to expect. On first listen it seems romantic as the massed voices passionately declare ‘I want to take you to the ocean’, only for you to realise that it’s with the intention of either drowning or, at least, a very violent baptism! Fans of the Hammond organ will cream their corduroys over Michael Wetherburn’s contribution here and Amy Nicholson also gets a chance to impress with some emotive work on the cello.
There is also a hidden, unnamed bonus track, just Fisher with piano for company, on a dark little vignette about someone throwing themselves down some stairs, almost as if the bands are a little embarrassed to have gone out with such a big and rather obvious bang. But no matter, this album is perfect and is, for my money, the best British hard rock debut since the Temperance Movement’s self-titled opus in 2013. – Chris Ball http://echoesanddust.com
- A1 | Mountain Heart
- A2 | Black Slug
- A3 | Movements In The Sky
- A4 | Answers In Your Soul
- B1 | Is Satan real?
- B2 | Watch It Grow
- B3 | Evil In Your Eye
Vinyl coming early 2017!
- Plated & pressed on high performance vinyl in Germany
- 100x marbled (Exclusive mailorder edition, handnumbered)
- 100x clear/white
- 100x black
- Deluxe gatefold cover
- Special vinyl mastering
The press wrote.
One of the finest rock records of 2016.
Like travelling back in time to the early days of heavy rock, Purple, Heep, Rainbow, Lizzy.
Church of the Cosmic Skull have thrown the doors open with this debut full-length. The fact that their range comes with a corresponding cohesion of sound and purpose makes Is Satan Real? even more impressive. Its shining moments blind and its darker moments pull downward, but it’s in being able to pull off both and craft such seamlessness between the two sides that the band truly begin to make their mark.”