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LPs from the Attic: Captain Beyond — Captain Beyond

June 14, 2010

Captain Beyond — Captain Beyond (Capricorn, 1972)

In a previous installment of LPs from the Attic, I spoke highly of space-rock supernauts Hawkwind and their Hall of the Mountain Grill album (EMI, 1974). As a nice comparison/contrast exercise, play Hall up against Captain Beyond’s debut LP. As far as extra-terrestrially fixated, hard prog-rock is concerned, the experiment yields some surprising similarities. Both bands’ albums feature elaborate artwork with themes of space and time travel (check the 3D art for CB’s American release or Barney Bubble’s Hawkwind cover). Both try to provide cosmically minded escapism through repeating instrumental passages, eerie sound effects (particularly in the Hendrix-cum-Gilmour use of copious amounts of wah pedal and bottleneck slide in the case of Captain Beyond), and lyrics that veer away from complex, painful, or just plain boring earth-bound matters.

Even with their shared preoccupations and tech-friendly, guitar-centric approach, they differ significantly thereafter. British band Hawkwind wields their power more bluntly, preferring driving rhythms to abrupt time-signature shifts, and while the US’s Captain Beyond emphasizes the “prog” side of “hard prog rock” with more importance being given to vocal melody, prowess, and fanciful lyrical imaginings (what some would call “indulgence” in the wrong songwriter’s hands). While Rod Evans’ voice proves strong and compelling for the material, and his performance is controlled and appropriate, you can hear the beginnings of what would become an overblown and blustery trend for lead singers in this genre.

Captain Beyond’s label, Capricorn, was known for signing Southern rock bands in its heyday. Maybe it was Evans’ voice with its slight drawl as he extends the end of a line, or maybe it’s the riff-heavy rush of the songs as they evolve, but I kept thinking of the Allman Brothers playing a pickup jam with members of the Moody Blues and Black
Sabbath, much as I always do when trying to give myself a frame of reference for a group’s sound.

Captain Beyond’s balanced blend of heavy metal, jazz, and rock influences, along with their thematic focus on The Great Beyond and the meaning of existence, exemplifies some of the best inclinations of the progressive rock movement. It would be several years before prog and hard rock got so bloated and cartoonish so as to warrant much
deserved parody at the hands of Spinal Tap.

Recommended listening:

  • Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air) Jay: I can’t believe that the first 7 seconds of this track (jazzy, solo drum intro) haven’t been sampled to death in hip-hop.
  • Myopic Void Jay: Tell me this doesn’t sound like an outtake from Electric Ladyland in a Meddle-era mashup, at least until the reprise of “Dancing Madly” at 2:38.
  • Raging River of Fear Jay: Bad-ass, descending guitar snakes and seethes like the titular river. Another Hendrix tribute (“Manic Depression”) at 1:31.
  • Thousand Days of Yesterday Jay: Opens with an acoustic guitar figure that makes me wonder if the Mastodon boys don’t have some Captain Beyond in their collective pedigree.
  1. June 16, 2010 5:32 pm

    great post…i think i am going to have to track some captain beyond down from my local record emporium…keep up the great work…if you get chance check out my posts on DJ Shadow samples

  2. Sean Gilroy permalink
    June 16, 2010 7:13 pm

    I had no idea that Rod Evans ever did anything else after he left (or was fired) from Deep Purple.

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