Primitive Origins: The Shiver’s “Walpurgis”

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.

This is getting a bit into the realms of psych, prog and even blues rock, which I generally tip-toe into with a sideways glance and raised eyebrow, but The Shiver‘s 1969 album Walpurgis has proven itself to be worthy of a bit of exploration in this here column. For starters, there’s the H.R. Giger cover art, the horrible Tom Warrior fever-dream, the thing that should not be, and the reason this band was probably constantly mistaken for being heavier than they were. Man, it’s a pretty wild journey, listening to this album—the Switzerland band’s only—while staring at that art. But, yeah, we’re about to enter the world of Hammond organ, “acid rock,” and Animals covers (and I think there might be a flute involved). Enter at your own risk.

Kicking off with the seven-minute kinda-title track and Procol Harum cover (seriously) “Repent Walpurgis,” the band immediately take the listener on a journey through some weird and heavy places. And there’s enough proto-metal drama and dynamics that even though, strictly sonically speaking, it may not pack the heft of a lot of the bands we’ve covered here, there is absolutely no doubt longhairs of the era got off on this stuff. The song is an instrumental, which shows these dudes had balls (a seven-minute instrumental album opener is always a bold move, and when it’s a cover, man, how many drugs was everyone on in 1969?). I approve.

Then, hilariously, they follow up that ambitious opener with the 0:38 ragtime I-guess-it’s-a-joke-song “Ode to the Salvation Army.” Okay, then. Moving along, there’s “Leave This Man Alone,” where vocals finally enter the picture, although they don’t really help heavy things up, the song ending up sounding more like second-album Billy Joel than any-album Black Sabbath. A cool and slightly dissonant guitar solo saves things, though (also, I like Billy Joel’s second album, so, there’s that).

The next song is called “What’s Wrong About the Blues,” and it’s five minutes of, yeah, blues, which just makes you wonder where the proto-prog-metal of that kinda-title track went. Blues-rock can be a tough slog, but this is as good as any—I dig the roughshod playing, the reverb-y harmonica, and the drunken piano playing. It’s tough to convince me of this genre, but this one does a halfway-decent job.

Then, the heavy returns with that huge opening riff for “Hey Mr. Holy Man,” which suddenly sounds like Yob went back in time; the tripped-out spoken vocals really add to that proto-stoner haze, The Shiver really diving in deep here. The sonic heft of the opening riff fades pretty fast, but the “heavy, dude” factor stays high throughout this trip of a tune. Approved.

Next up is a cover of The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Ugh. I’ve griped here in the past about when bands of this era covered not-great and pretty-recent songs, often ones I never need to hear again. Like this one. Next.

“No Time” is hopefully not a cover (we’ve already got two, but at least the first one is great), but, regardless, is too mired down in ’60s rock too-bads (tambourine,thoseback-up vocals) to register on the heavy scale and isn’t that interesting of a song regardless.

Which leads us to closer “The Peddle,” a slow-drag blues instrumental to close things off, this very inconsistent album sort of limping across the finish line, the band nonetheless, between the cover art and a couple moments of proto-prog-metal heaviness, an interesting curio in proto-metal. And… wait, did they kinda-name their album after a Procol Harum cover?

The Shiver’s Walpurgis– The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Might help for some of the longer passages, yes.

Heaviness factor: Don’t let the cover art fool you. This album may be half-good, but it’s not even half-heavy.

Obscura Triviuma: The album cover art is H.R. Giger’s first.

Other albums: No other full-lengths, but there is the “Hey Mr. Holy Man” 7”, also from 1969, also with insane cover art (but both songs from that release are on this album).

Related bands: Deaf, Island

Alright, fine, if you must: Light it up, dude.