Gorgon-solar, anyone? here is the self-proclaimed ‘cosmic rock’ of Medusa:
150 gram vinyl slab of infinite blackness? Psychedelic sorcerer mind fuck? Pressed from the crushed bones of ancient dinosaurs? Black velvet album jacket shaved from a centaur’s scrotum? Deal me in MF, deal me in.
Medusa First Step Beyond, is the album that never was. Oh yes, I’m a bad gnomic gnome tonight! Recorded in 4-track in the drummer’s basement in 1975 the tapes were left to moulder when the proprietor of their record label apparently vanished after a bad trip and the band split after not making any progress. Left to moulder that is, until the Numero Group* sniffed them out, possibly using a battalion of specially trained kobolds to do so and put First Step Beyond out in 2013.
Did I just say ‘put out’, whilst technically correct ‘put out’ doesn’t really do justice to the love and care that has been lavished on this release. First up, the LP sleeve is a gatefold covered in the finest faux black velvet imaginable; it’s alarmingly tactile, I found myself absent-mindedly stroking it against the side of my face last night. Secondly, the band’s evil pentagram/goat head/gorgon logo has been gloriously burnished onto the front of the LP in gold leaf of purest gold and, umm, red leaf of purest red. Thirdly, I love the gatefold pictures and the dinky little lyric sheet replete with gold gothic script that is only just decipherable.
Wait, there’s music on First Step Beyond too! Is there no end to the gimmicks Numero Group are prepared to throw at feeble-minded consumer dolts like me?
Despite sounding at times like it was recorded on a 4-track in a basement in 1975** at its best First Step Beyond just flies. The track I go back to most often is the seriously fast instrumental ‘Transient Amplitude’, this is great unpolished space rocking with some excellent guitaring courtesy of Gary Brown and drumming from Lee Tauber. ‘Transient Amplitude’ really is the sound of a band enjoying themselves and letting rip, really letting rip that is. I find it difficult to resist ‘Temptress’, well I would wouldn’t I? all manner of gentle strumming, lustful pining and clunky lyrics abound: cue ‘desire/fire’ and ‘breeze/knees’ rhyme scheme. It’s rather charming in an Iron Butterfly kind of way.
The no doubt tokin’ and Tolkein inspired ‘Black Wizard’, is at once amusing period piece and stonking bowl of stoner goodness, I’m very fond of the guitar squalls and the overall heavy groove of the track and possibly I can relate to the wizard because just like him, ‘my power is infinite, my kingdoms are sprawled’. ‘Black Wizard’ incidentally featured on the mighty, mighty, mighty compilation Warfaring Strangers: The Darkscorch Canticles, LP and swords and sorcery board game, which was my introduction to Medusa.
Another noteworthy jam^ is opener ‘Strangulation’ which knocks on Black Sabbath’s front door and asks to borrow a cup of doom, albeit with some opinion-polarizing strange high-pitched ‘uh-uh, ah-ah-ahhh!’ vocalisations from singer Pete Basaraba – I put this on last night and Mrs 1537 popped her head around the door to ask what the hell I was playing, ‘It’s Medusa a forgotten band from 1975’ I offered, ‘I can bloody see why’ the lady snorted. Well, I like it – so there!
First Step Beyond has a few clunkers and clinkers amongst its ranks though too, although I rather suspect that with better recording and production some of this would have been ironed out rather effectively. You can hear the promise in ‘Unknown Fear’, its different sections and great discordant intro and the sped-up race to the climax is still darned good, but you just wonder what Martin Birch or Roger Glover could have done with the raw materials on show here. I know I’ve said it before but hard rock/metal is so dependent on good production and it’s usually that which hobbles a lot of smaller bands. Mind you on the other hand ‘Feelings of Indifference’, despite having a slightly incongruous country tone, just isn’t very good.
The worry when picking up a carefully curated artefact like First Step Beyond is that you end up buying a nice object which turns out to be little more than a historico-cultural curiosity, that’s not good enough for me; I want LPs to enjoy listening to^*. Medusa deliver the goods here, I am pleased to say. Since a lot of the music I like today tries to sound like it was recorded in a primitive basement set up in 1975, there’s a lot to be said for hearing the real thing.
PS: It was nice to follow the story of Medusa reforming 40 years on, although sadly not in time for the late Kim Gaudabiec (whom First Step Beyond is dedicated to in memoriam), especially since two of them are now married – Donna Fields originally wrote a lot of the tracks and named the band too before leaving.
*fellow WordPressers and very possibly my fave reissue label out there, if I was a gazillionaire I would collect everything they have ever put out.
**there’ll be a perfectly logical explanation for that I’m sure.
^as I believe the kids call it.
^*although ones I can stroke lingeringly and pleasurably against the side of my face come close.