Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.
Just imagine, over in Greece back in the early ’70s, a gaggle of longhairs getting together to get their groove on over a psychedelic, ram-shackle bunch of tunes very much influenced by the emerging proto-hard-rock of the day. Well, that’s what happened when the oddly monikered Socrates Drank the Conium laid down the tracks for this, their 1972 self-titled debut album. (Its follow-up, 1973’s Taste of Conium, starts off with a 13-minute Rolling Stones cover, so no way are we going there just yet.)
Opener “Live in the Country”establishes what is happening here pretty quickly: tripped-out (but not too tripped-out) psych rock with big riffs, and second song “Something in the Air” lays down some excellent, bigger riffs, establishing these guys as at least an interesting and way overlooked footnote in early proto-hard-rock, the riffs threatening proto-metal, and just generally rockin’ it:
Then there’s the awesomely titled “It’s a Disgusting World,” where the band utilizes simple blues-rock basics to get to an almost-raucous, kinda-near Sabbath, maybe-proto-metal place, the production and delivery just this side of frustratingly not aggressive enough, but, c’mon: that mid-song breakdown comes alarmingly close to the drab four’s sonic sweet spot. Plus, this song is a rare example of a long, jammy build-up that actually works instead of just making the listener glaze over in boredom.
“Close the Door and Lay Down” is a brief rocker with tons of boogie and spirit, and cool guitar work for miles; “Blind Illusion” is one of the most proto-metal pieces here, even going to punk and prog places all at once with its hyper delivery. Love the riff that closes it off, the band taking early blues rock but making it mean, dirty, and metalized, riffs like this one easily rivaling Thin Lizzy for both heaviness and smooth style, no small feat indeed.
“Underground” is mellow but with style and just enough reckless abandon (check out the solo) and provides a nice place to take a break as song 8 of 9; closer “Starvation” ends things off as a solid, heavy-hitting rocker that breaks down into a sudden funk groove to end of the album; it’s a sound the band does surprisingly well.
Although the heavy blues-rock focus threatens to throw this one off of the Primitive Origins radar, we can’t deny that heavy blues rock is a founding force of heavy metal, so it’s always worth exploring to go back even further into the roots of our most beloved of genres. Here, Socrates Drank the Conium show that even back in 1972 (and even in Greece), there were bands taking that blues-rock sound and hinting at the heavier sounds that were to come. This album is definitely worth getting to know, thanks mainly to a huge amount of killer guitar work.
Socrates Drank the Conium’s Socrates Drank the Conium – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Probably recommended.
Heaviness factor: The production isn’t exactly up to, say, Eyehategod levels of intensity, but some of the riffs, despite their pleasant delivery, are just screaming to go down to Sabbatherian places.
Obscura Triviuma: The band was active as recently as 2010; if anyone makes it over to Greece, keep your eyes peeled for current activities and report back to us.
Other albums: Lots; despite never making a huge dent in the rock world, these guys stuck it out and have several albums to their name.
Related bands: Sphinx, The Persons.
Alright, fine, if you must: I think there’s a flute at one point, dude. You know what to do.