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Janus - Gravedigger CD (album) cover

GRAVEDIGGER

Janus

 

Crossover Prog

3.60 | 32 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars The debut album in 1972 from British band Janus is an occasionally successful fusion of hard rock with heavy psych, classical and blues elements. It has plenty in common with many proto-prog bands from the same period that were slowly finding their feet developing new sounds that would later resemble proper progressive related styles. `Gradigger' consisted of four shorter pieces on its first side ranging between two and nine minutes, sometimes along the lines of Black Sabbath, Amon Duul 2, heavy metal and blues. Better yet was the lengthy 21 minute floating title track on the reverse, yet it has to be said that the two sides sound like entirely different bands! Perhaps this inconsistency hinders the album and certainly shows a band unsure of their own identity yet, but musical skills were certainly already on display, as well as a gutsy rocking sound with a nice contrast between hard and soft passages.

Chugging opener `Red Sun' plods along trying to capture a Black Sabbath feel, but the slightly forced vocals aren't nearly as good as Ozzy. The middle section is thankfully stronger, when a repetitive Krautrock passage full of Colin Orr's panning feedback drenched electric guitar droning and Mick Peberdy's sludgy bass that brings a nice sleazy dangerous sound. Seeing as the band were operating out of Germany at the time, it's no wonder that hypnotic Krauty sound infiltrated their music a little! `Bubbles' could almost be a cross between the Doors on the verses (plus a dash of psych-pop) with the scuzzy riffing and ranting deranged vocals from an Amon Duul 2 album elsewhere. The stop/start `Watcha' Trying To Do' twists bluesy guitar mangling grooves back and forth. Sadly `I Wanna Scream' is a rubbish heavy metal rocker, but thankfully it's barely over two minutes in length. The album sleeve states that it's actually been re-recorded here due to the master tapes not surviving, but although it still sounds just like it would have from the time, the track is so throwaway that the band may as well have saved the time and not included it at all.

Fortunately it's the second side that offers the most exciting moments. The drifting almost 21 minute `Gravedigger' is highlighted by gentle chiming acoustic guitar and nimble solo runs, sighing wordless harmonies, sweeping orchestral passages and the lightest of Mellotron veils that cover the piece instantly call to mind the Moody Blues. Spanish and classical themes weave throughout the arrangement, a somber lead vocal, delicate piano and very subdued light Hammond organ. It's perhaps a bit overlong and repeats a little too much, but it sure it is a lovely dreamy mellow if melancholic come-down, and if the band were to survive in the 70's from this album, expanding on this direction would have been very advisable, as it's more distinctive and memorable than the hard rock first side of the album.

`Gravedigger' has now been reissued in a lavish double CD set that includes various bonus unreleased tracks, remixes and singles. According the Colin Orr's own admission in the booklet, the studio album sounded very different to how the band sounded live, with most of the the members being unhappy with the finished results. He also mentions that despite coming across like it on the album, the band live were `loud and aggressive, classical, angry and mournful, but never psychedelic." As far as I'm concerned, perhaps this was producer Rainer Pietsch simply trying to do what he could to make the material more imaginative. The band shouldn't be so hard on themselves, it's a decent little album that has developed a nice cult following since its release.

It would take 28 years before Janus recorded a follow-up album, so it's a shame that they didn't really get a chance in their heydey to build on their yet to be fully realised potential. Undemanding heavy rock fans will likely find something to interest them here, as well as forgiving heavy psych fans, but there are so many endless other solid rock albums along these lines from the same period that should be easily recommended over most of what is on offer here.

Three stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |

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