Neque Semper Arcum Tendit Rex
03. In hoc signo vinces
04. Non fiat voluntas tua
05. Devil letter
06. Aquila non capit muscas
- Antonio Bartoccetti / guitar, vocals
- Albert Goodman / drums
- Doris Norton / keyboards, vocals
The second and final Jacula album released in 1972 is one of a very small percentage of albums I consider a masterpiece. (I try to reserve the word "masterpiece" and the five-star rating for about the top 5% of titles because I want it to have significance-when overused the rating is of little value or meaning to me.) Good as it was however, it was an utter commercial failure. This was almost certainly seen as a positive by the album's genius composers, the beautiful and multi-talented Doris Norton and her "prince of darkness" Antonio Bartoccetti. The two have been collaborators since the mid 60s and became husband/wife at some point in the 70s I believe. While the timeline is difficult for me to discern the next couple years saw Bartoccetti complete a mandatory military service (which he despised) and form a new band called Invisible Force which was just as quickly dissolved. His turbulence with Jacula/Force organist Charles Tiring was no longer tenable and Tiring was sent off into the moonlight. This was likely a huge feeling of freedom for Bartoccetti and Norton; Tiring, like him or not, was an undeniably large presence on the two Jacula albums. Now Norton would assume a greater role taking over all keyboards as the two formed the new band Antonius Rex, a project which survives to this day. In 1974, after completing his military service the two traveled to London where they met a wealthy eccentric named Albert Goodman. Goodman was a practitioner of the occult who owned land, castles, and a recording label-he also fancied himself a drummer although this would prove a real stretch. He soon became the third member of Antonius Rex. The three joined engineer Colin Coldweis in Milan and would spend several weeks recording and mixing the album which was then produced by Goodman. They did a good job as even by today's standard the album has quality sound. Goodman was thrilled with the results of the album and tried to stoke more interest with some associates at Vertigo Records, but the label objected to the "occult letter" on the cover as well as the track called "Devil Letter." They wanted changes made but of course Bartoccetti is not the kind of guy who caves to the whims of suits. Still another record company was excited about the new album and wanted to obtain Rex for future work of a more commercial nature I would guess, but Rex were losing interest in such endeavors by the mid 70s..more on that in later reviews.
"Neque Semper is the desire to do, putting one's mystically inquiring super-ego on the top of a mountain and above the mortal beings. I think that Neque semper can be described as a concept coming from the dark of a black and white castle with differently lit rooms. Magic worlds, and self super-ego celebration. The fatal will to condemn the Human lownesses" [A.B.]
The sound of the newly born Antonius Rex is not so different from that of Jacula. Fans of Jacula are going to appreciate this group and if you happened to hate the Jacula albums there is little chance you will like the new band. And yet there is a somewhat different energy to this incarnation of Bartoccetti's vision. Gone is the dry maturity and formal style of Charles Tiring's organ playing replaced by Doris Norton's enthusiastic and experimental approach. More enthusiasm comes from Albert Goodman who was obviously thrilled to be performing on an album, selling his very limited percussion skills with spirit. That's right, Albert Goodman is not a great drummer but rather an amateur by the sound of it. At times, you will hear fills and transitions that you could play better yourself and you will cringe I'm sorry to say. And yet this drumming does not wreck the best parts of the album and may well enhance them via simplicity. Because like Jacula, Antonius Rex is not a rock and roll band in my view, they are purveyors of experimental musical textures who occasional use the tools of rock and roll.most notably the considerable Gibson SG wailings of Bartoccetti which can sound like Iomni but did so before the Sabbath debut, an important fact to keep in mind when speculating on the origins of doom music. There is much more lead electric wailing here than the previous Jacula release and much more tribal energy courtesy of Goodman's relentless tympani and bass drum assaults. Bartoccetti would tell Augusto Croce that "Neque Semper" represents "the evolution of Doris Norton, maybe because unconsciously she wanted to demonstrate to organist Charles Tiring that she too could play very well the classical organ, that she deeply studied for three long years; she was great as well with mini-moog, and also created bass and rhythm parts." To offer the uninitiated a workable description of the feel of "Neque" think about a proggy Sabbath side project where Tony ditched his three mates and took up instead with a group of experimentalists to make an album full of doomy atmospherics, organ and piano backgrounds, creepy spoken word vocals, and even a bit of harpsichord. The results would not be aimed towards a headbanging rock show fronted by a wildman vocalist but at a small group of devotees seeking a unique mystical, esoteric experience, perhaps not all that different from hard core fans of the unashamed full length Comus debut. True lovers of the cryptic and unknowable night walking spirits. Strange and haunting, certainly forging their own path as opposed to embracing any camaraderie with mainstream audiences or fellow bands of the period.
While "Neque Semper" does not thrill me to the degree of the second Jacula album there are some wonderful highlights for the dark prog lover within. The leading title track delivers an ominous building of tension that culminates in an explosive, distortion-loaded SG solo full of fire. Behind the wailing is Doris' organ and piano parts running both "along with" and "counter to" the guitar, dramatic, with great contrast in sound texture, all being clocked to Goldman's funeral dirge drumming. My personal favorite is the next gem "Pactus" where Doris applies Moog effects (I think) over the cathedral organ sound. She bends and twists the organ making you feel as if you ears are not processing sound correctly, adding a truly hallucinatory experience which is fabulous! After some narration, Antonio treats you with some laid back "doom jazz" chord sequences while Goodman does his finest work here, sort of a catchy beat with what sounds like some hand percussion. Both the clean and distorted electric solos over the chords are a bit funky and absolute bliss when the keys of Doris add an uplifting mood near the end, perhaps one of Rex' more ethereal, "up" moments. It ends with another blast of the mind bending organ. "Devil Letter" opens another front where Rex would excel on later albums, creating mini-theater pieces where their trademark sound would be combined much more with "haunted house" type sound effects and story, in this case we have what sounds like a man's final encounter with evil.and it certainly doesn't end well for him. This is approaching campier storytelling in some respects but is a lot of fun if you enjoy that sort of thing. The album's other three tracks do not rise to the same level for me as the three above or the Jacula material. In these songs there is a bit of monotony and repetition coming from the more overt attempts to rock. Goodman is simply not Bill Ward and when Bartoccetti attempts a more driving rock structure the limitations of Rex become apparent-they are an amazing atmospheric collective but they can't get to certain places which require a Bill Ward. In these tracks where the guitar and drum are attempting a somewhat conventional heavy power-chord or riff-driven approach, it is only Norton who is really shining. Her playing is just simply wonderful throughout this album, she fills the shoes of Charles Tiring and then some. While Tiring had his own accomplished and haunting vibe that cannot exactly be duplicated, Doris Norton admirably embraced the challenge and gave this album much personality. She brings emotions home that Tiring could not have, a different kind of longing feeling with both sadness and joy buried in waves of sound. Having come to this music quite late in my life, it is amazing to me how powerful the sound of the church organ can be. When combined with emotive, unconventional vocals the overall effect is nothing short of intoxicating-I never would have dreamed such music would have stirred me up, but it does.
At the end of the day the first Antonius Rex document is a good album that is recommended to fans of doom, heavy dark symphonic, and dark themes in general. I see half the album as really great and the other half as only fair, making the rating very difficult. I would place it at about 7/10 but I round up the stars here based on my affinity for the group, and for the fact that along with the two Jacula albums, this early Bartoccetti/Norton trilogy of work is a strong and influential one. There wasn't much like this happening on the Italian scene of the day, and to this day there have been but a few who have captured the dark music realm with such color, imagery, and style. What Comus represents to many prog/acid folk purists, Jacula/Rex represent to dark RPI or proto-goth fanatics.