In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum
01. Ajtus (4:06)
02. Magister Dixit (10:30)
03. Triumphatus Sad (3:35)
04. Veneficium (2:21)
05. Initiatjo (6:49)
06. In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum (10:05)
- Anthony Bartoccetti / guitar, bass & vocals
- Charels Tiring / keyboards
- Doris Norton / drums, special effects
- Fiamma Dallo Spirito / vocals, violin, flute
So began the story. Anthony Bartoccetti doesn't much care about the new commercial "noise" you listen to, he's never cared what the record companies thought. I doubt he gives a damn that some people object to his interests. Along with his trusted partner Doris Norton they have been making sound paintings for the dark world for some four decades now with new material still coming as of this writing. He has never concerned himself with the commercial aspects of musical stardom, instead focusing on crafting esoteric pieces of sound for what he assumes is a limited, but devoted audience of music fans. Many of the original vinyl albums were printed in a few hundred copies and became huge collectors items. Thankfully Italy's Black Widow Records has rescued several titles for CD reissues, assuring that future generations of the open-minded will be able to experience these unique and groundbreaking recordings. Yes, groundbreaking for 1969, and leading the way for some genres of Metal and for artists like Devil Doll decades later. In fact this material was composed pre-Sabbath and released well before the Sabbath debut, meaning Bartoccetti's doomy riffs were not lifted from Iomni as some writers seem to hint. You could say this music is proto-Sabbath, proto-doom, or call it the birth of "dark-Prog." At times it feels like "ambient doom" but it is interesting that those dark or doomy connotations are only half the story. Often, listening to this atmospheric, open sound is not dark or depressing to me but rather soothing. Contradictions abound between the image and the exterior feel versus the actual emotion good music stirs within one. When there's depth to the art it's just never as obvious as many think. Labels aside, the first Jacula album was a revelation and would lead to a long storied career that would predict the Metal movement, outlast the classic Italian prog years, and carry into the current day a dark and original musical style that others may imitate, but no one does better. The name changed to Antonius Rex in 1974 but the main people and the philosophy really didn't-and Rex survives to this day.
The origins of Jacula date to around 1966 when young Bartoccetti landed in Milan. Not understanding Italian I have been unable to get much detail on these early years, but apparently the band members met and composed this album (working title "Volume Zero") through actual séances with the medium Franz Parthenzy. The released title In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum is a Latin phrase meaning "Poison is always at the end" according to some. By 1968 Bartoccetti had met Doris Norton (his then girlfriend and later I believe his wife) who would become an equal collaborator, keyboardist, and vocalist, as well as the much older organist Charles Tiring, who possessed some real experience on the vintage organs that they wanted. Only about 300 copies were pressed in the original run and they were not sold in record stores-instead it is said they were given away to folks with an interest in the esoteric. Bartoccetti also played in some other bands but considers them irrelevant pop groups now. It is Jacula that was the real deal, an absolute original piece of work for 1969. It was difficult for me to permeate the awkward Internet auto-translators in trying to decipher the content of Italian interviews to English, but I believe he says that his writing is concerned with mankind's problems: degradation of the natural environment, warfare between countries, mindless consumerism, and the addiction of the masses to the ignorance peddled via television. The ease with which the human animal can turn a blind eye to the suffering of others while proclaiming moral high grounds. That said, the presentation of the music is undoubtedly put forth with the dark aesthetic and this will not appeal to everyone. For those who are able to deal with or even enjoy art bathed in a sinister, dark castle atmosphere, many wonderful audio adventures await you.
On to the music of In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum which has been lovingly restored and cleaned up on the Black Widow Records release. While I'm not a fan generally of musical revisionism (like the Genesis boxset), the remixing and embellishments done to this Jacula album have produced astounding results. It sounds spectacular for something recorded so long ago. The thinking of both the artist and BWR was that a new CD reissue would require the ancient tapes, in poor shape, to be shined up for the younger generation. Mission accomplished. Cranking up the pipe organ solo reveals almost no hiss and feels like sitting in a grand cathedral somewhere.
Before you buy a Jacula album know what to expect. Do not buy this album looking to sway to dreamy solos, do not expect to be "rocked," do not expect a typical "band" experience. Expect that you are going to a recital and that individuals are going to play while you listen attentively. You may hear some things that disturb your ingrained sensibilities on multiple levels. You will hear long periods of Charles Tiring sitting at the traditional church/pipe organ playing in a dark and classically informed style. This is gloriously beautiful sound on its own which is the point; if you listen just waiting for the rock and roll to kick in, don't bother. Various wind and sound effects will come and go. Even Bartoccetti's proto-Iomni style assault on his SG does not impart a rock band experience so much as a texture over the single, beating funeral drum. Male spoken word vocals narrate the proceedings with great drama on occasion. "Initiatio" features Doris Norton's ethereal wordless vocals over introspective, beautiful piano and deep heartbeat drum, truly fantastic. The organ returns with majesty in the 10 minute closing title track, just variations, shades, very peaceful and almost ambient or meditative once one gets used to what is a pretty radical sound. Completely atmospheric, deep, and rich. That's the thing about the Jacula sound.it is just so original and definitive. Some people call this "boring" and I just could not disagree more. There is nothing more exciting than hearing something both traditional and yet so "out there." Walk down a musical path that doesn't need ultra-complexity to create its own world of dreams and visionary imagery. Give yourself time to appreciate the strange unsettling feeling in the church organ passages. How often do you get to hear something like that? It is difficult to decide which of the two Jacula releases to start with as both are strong and worth owning. The first has the groundbreaking factor and more guitar, perhaps more of an open naivety. The second is more intense in the dark vibe with a bit more going on despite having less electric guitar.
The story doesn't end here. The next Jacula album is arguably better and some 30 years later they would return with the magnificent concept album "Switch on Dark" (see the band Antonius Rex) which would combine the haunted castle story with a lush modern rock feel. Another new album is said to be planned. Bartoccetti and Norton will never be given the credit they are due as musical pioneers but I really doubt they care. I sense they realize the awe that their modest fan base has for these old recordings. And again, Black Widow Records must be recognized and thanked for realizing the importance here and making the effort to get out this quality reissue. Get these great historical recordings while you can.