Primitive Fuck represents the birth of a band your psychiatrist warned you about.
Where did you begin your rock journey? Sabbath? Zeppelin? Rush? AC/DC? The Stooges? OK I could go on with a hell of a long list here stretching back into the sixties, and maybe beyond; or even forward in time to some of the excellent rock bands plying their trade today. Well you’d probably have to go a long way down the list before you got to mine, The Sweet; a band known more for their pop-rock singles, but who really let it rip on b-sides and album tracks. Here is exhibit one for the defence:
So why do I bring up this underrated, misunderstood, largely ignored outside Germany and, ultimately, tragic band. Well its because I feel that the spirit of this great band is alive and well in Black Helium. By that I mean that they are a band that are not afraid to show their influences, and the other bands I’ve named above are definitely present in their music; but there is something alchemical going on here which means that what’s coming out the other side is something that doesn’t sound derivative but fresh and properly exciting. There is an edge to this twin-guitar attack band that I’m really getting to like a lot and will probably, when I’ve listen enough times, very much get.
Let’s just get out of the way what this album isn’t. Unlike a lot of the music I write about here, it isn’t some sort of challenging LP with a heavy concept running through it, it’s not particularly experimental. Well is it psych? Well despite the name of this blog I stopped worrying about that question a long time ago. So what is it and why am I writing about it?
I think the answer to that lies in the above discussion because, while the band in all likelihood had a different starting point to me on the evidence of this album they’ve certainly taken in many of my favourite bands along the way. They are not, therefore, so much as the band my psychiatrist warned me about but rather the one that s/he told me to go an listen to if I wanted to retain my sanity.
OK so that’s enough flannel, let’s get into it. The opener ‘Drowsy Shores’ starts with some sort of false sense of security with an almost surf rock riff, with only the repetitive counting in German being a pointer to what’s about to come. As the track builds up though and that riff gets transformed into something altogether more planet-like you’re quickly aware that the scale of this album is going to be massive. Each section is heavier than the last as Black Helium pile on the pressure and the layers… this is going to be a hell of a ride so strap yourself in. Then the end the track goes fucking mental… I knew at this point that I was going to really like this set.
Onwards, and each track here takes a different approach meaning it’s a real rock fan’s dream. ‘Love The Drugs’ is totally on it from the start. I hear so many albums from bands who sound promising, then the vocal kicks in and it’s just so disappointing. Here the opposite is the case as the vocals take the track along adding melody to the heavy backing before the number heads of away from the sharp riffs into hazy psychedelic territory. Then The Sweet stuff kicks in momentarily before heading off again. And that’s the thing here, there are lots of different elements to this track, to this album, but they just hang together so well.
On to ‘Wicked Witch’ and straight into another nailed on riff, and a vocal that is far more bluesy than before. There is real momentum here as the band drives forward with a real intensity. You could be variously in the desert, a drug den, or in some sort of voodoo hell… or all three! Again there’s so much going on here that to single out any influence would be trite… just have a listen when you can and immerse yourself in blend of styles. If it’s your thing to unravel where the sounds come from then do it. Me, I’m just enjoying the sheer exhilaration of listening to it.
“Summer Spells” is different again with it far more psych-like start, some reverb and percussion giving it a sinister atmosphere before the whole thing explodes like a quarry being torn a new face into a rock explosion of geological proportions. From there its the sort of fast/ slow track that frequently doesn’t work. Guess what? It does here! And then the whole fuckin’ thing just opens up towards the end into a massive climax which I should have seen coming but was so into it I just didn’t… sorry for the spoiler.
Well blimey that’s the end of side A already and as we head off for the second half I really wonder what might be coming next. ‘Videodrone’ somehow takes on a life of its own as the band power through this shorter track that has all the greater punch for it. Think being excited and jumping around like a mad fucker and you’ve pretty much got it.
Then just when you think you might be getting a handle on this band they hit you with ‘Curtains at the Mausoleum’, which I’m premiering here. This, for me, is the centre-piece of the album with it’s slow lilting start and strung out arrangement which grabs you gently yet firmly at the start and just takes you off into the psychedelic clouds on unknowing as the matter from the explosions of a thousand rock planets coalesce into a ten minute epic which will just have you gasping as you take in the broad vista presented in front of you. Then as it continues it intensifies to the extent that you think your head’s going explode before bringing you down again in an analgesic descant that kinda leaves you in a quivering mess on the floor. Next level… next dimension, and I never even got to mention the sitar.
After that having something shorter and more punchy is essential before you decend into maximum mind-fuck. ‘Do You Wanna Come Out Tonight’ does just that with it’s much more uncomplicated approach that gets it’s Stooges out and just rocks!
Then comes the title track, which seems to just cram as much as it can in its six and a half minutes length. Setting off at 100 mph it, if anything, speeds up with a guitar attack that isn’t so much cutting edge as serrated. After two minutes though it drops into something far more heavier and darker. The primitive foreplay is over and the band are really going for it now. This is Sabbath at their heaviest, but put through the sort of lens where you can see the line through to more high end Metallica and beyond. There is something really pure and unadulterated about this track though… back to basics and really just banging it out right until the primitive cigarette at the end.
I’ll be honest now and say that I listened to this album through once and didn’t really get it until I got to ‘Curtains at the Mausoleum’. So I started again and BANG! This is above anything else a rock album… and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But it is a rock album that doesn’t give a fuck about what they bring into the mix, because what they spit out is an eclectic mix of styles (yeah including glam) that just work. The more you listen the more this set is going to grab you, and because it’s so varied you ain’t gonna get bored.
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