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.
I was tipped off about Hairy Chapter and was sold immediately upon seeing the artwork of their second and final album, 1971’s Can’t Get Through. It looks awesome and looks like a Commit Suicide record, which meant I had to explore further. Proto-experimental grind this ain’t, but on their second album, Hairy Chapter (what?) lay down a freaky take on progressive rock, the band getting positively weird (seriously: really weird) when they’re not laying down huge classic-rock grooves.
There’s not a lot of heavy proto-metal riffs here—although one song does stumble into early doom—but there is a ton of great near-prog-metal to explore, and some killer classic arena rock sounds. It’s a weird, strange mixture, so sit back and get ready to dive into the odd world of Hairy Chapter.
“There’s a Kind of Nothing” kicks things off with what begins as a simple enough Zep stomper, the first half of this song sounding like any number of good classic-rock album openers before things take a (very) sudden left turn halfway through and the band channels their inner Floyd. But we’re here to mine the rock for precious proto metals, which this song delivers in its final third as things pick up again as the band stomps—politely, this ain’t Gedo—toward the finish line. Not mind-blowing but decent enough, and pretty hard to not enjoy when it’s on.
The title track is up next, an almost 11-minute rager that starts out with some suddenly unhinged vocal work and prog that leans slightly more metal than rock, or at least more Rush than Gentle Giant. I’m completely on the fence with harmonica in rock—depending on my mood it either sounds great or completely cliche—but it works alright here, mainly because the band’s not pretending to get bluesy as they dive deep into the depths of psychedelia and labyrinthine prog playing. It’s completely absurd the band made this song the title track of the album, as this is about as un-commercial-friendly as prickly prog can get. The heaviness factor isn’t huge, but the chaos is. Thumbs up.
And just like that, two songs later, side A is over.
The awesomely named “It Must Be an Officer’s Daughter” kicks off side B with a short burst of noisy chaos that quickly leads to a bluesy rock part, which feels like the first time the band has hit a steady groove in about 12 minutes here. The rockin’ part is serviceable, but when the band drops to a more sinister groove, it’s not a stretch to call it accidental proto-doom, and what a find this is, Hairy Chapter (lol at that name, forever) getting absolutely down and dirty here. The song title promises Thin Lizzy but things get way more doom-laden than you’re expecting, which makes this one a rare cut worthy of longhair exploration in 2019.
“As We Crossed Over” proves this band is just completely off the charts weird, a sober spaghetti western dirge that gets dissonant, gets cinematic, gets totally fucked up. I can’t place this in any genre because music never sounds like this. Approved.
“You’ve Got to Follow This Masquerade” continues the band’s spree of great song titles here, ending off the album much how it started, with a deceptively simple classic rocker, the band laying down the groove with authority. It’s almost with a sly wink and nod, though, because after the what-the-fuck-just-happened of the title track and “As We Crossed Over,” to end off with something this simple is more puzzling—and, in a sense, progressive—than anything else they could have done. But it’s not subversive trolling or irony, it’s a great rocker, and Hairy Chapter (snicker) knew the value of great rock as much as they knew the value of prog exploration.
Hairy Chapter’s Can’t Get Through – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: It might help.
Heaviness factor: As far as earth-shaking power chord heaviness goes, on the lighter side of proto-metal. But for batshit bonkers “song” “structures” and ballsy prog-first decisions, they’re up there.
Obscura Triviuma: The band released an album—Electric Sound for Dancing—in 1970 under the name The Chaparall Electric Sound Inc.
Other albums: Eyes, from 1970.
Related bands: The Concentric Movement.
Alright, fine, if you must: Whatever people were trippin’ on in Germany in 1971, which apparently was something pretty serious.