Primitive Origins: Bull Angus’ “Bull Angus”

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.

Upstate New York, early ’70s, hard rock, Mercury Records… you’re forgiving for immediately thinking of our face-painted friends in KISS, but we’re actually talking about significantly more under-the-radar rockers Bull Angus today in Primitive Origins.

This six-piece only put out two full-lengths, and today we’re looking at the first, their self-titled debut from 1971.

“Run Don’t Stop” kicks the album off with energy for miles, the band indeed running toward the finish line here, laying down a brisk and economic hard rocker, almost boogie, and approaching the same levels of heaviness as KISS circa album three, which is to say on the Decibel richter scale, this isn’t exactly Vol. 4, but it also ain’t Unmasked. The duelling solos part is awesome, the production tight and ready for radio in all the best ways, the band threatening to dissolve the song into some kind of ill-fated jam but never following through on that, thankfully, just Grand Funk rockin’ until the end. Approved.

The oddly titled “Mother’s Favorite Lover (Margaret)” is next, and there’s definitely a bit of unintentional doom in that sludgey riff, the band probably trying to lay down something approximating a spooky blues but instead nodding to the drab four’s debut. Man, fuck that flute to hell, but otherwise, this song is slow and heavy, like I say, probably accidental doom but heavy all the same. Heavy, enjoyable and worth getting to know.

“Uncle Duggie’s Fun Bus Ride” (man, the ’70s were wild) is up next, and the band deliver on the stoned promise of the song title here, creating a sort of groovy mid-paced drug trip of a song that ends up grating quite a bit, although when the solo comes over a slow groove, if you close your eyes and focus a bit, this can be a Sabbath song you’ve never heard. Until that annoying chorus comes in again.

“A Time Like Ours” is up next, the band shedding the acid trip of the previous song to… no, wait, they still sound stoned. But here it’s less annoying-Beatles stoned and more interesting-prog-band stoned, the musicians showing they can move with deft hands as they navigate some of the tune’s weirder moments. The song’s got a good build, and it’s very, very hard to not get sucked into it as the band plows through things.

Then we have “Miss Casey” kicking off side 2, the organ player actually adding to the song in an effective way here as the band lays down a blues-infused slow-burn rocker that doesn’t suck. Things start to get interesting once Bull Angus is a few minutes into this 7:35 track, though: the prog leanings of the band start to come out again as things get twisty, turny, jammy, labyrinthine and the vocalist goes for a smoke break while the band members just positively kill it here. I can’t overstate how great the chemistry between the players is, and also another shout-out to the production, clear and letting every instrument shine while still maintaining just enough humanity. This song does go on and on, but it’s a fun ride, the band stopping on a dime at the end, leaving you thinking, damn, these guys are on.

“Pot of Gold” simplifies things a bit with its boogie licks and radio-ready structure, the band showing their smarts here by crafting a song that coulda shoulda been a classic rock hit but also throwing in subtle twists ’n’ turns that show those who are listening a bit harder that these are serious musicians here.

“Cy” is next, and there’s the acoustic guitar you just knew was coming at some point, as the band do a very Led Zeppelin III take on acoustic rock, which is nice: there are no easy melodies or sappy radio ballad structures here, this whole song smelling of smart, the band absolutely tackling an acoustic song and making it great. Until the damn flute comes in.

The pretty amazingly titled “No Cream for the Maid” finishes things off, a slow-burn that dips into many of the sounds already discussed—accidental doom, prog-lite, classic/boogie rock—and adds in a thespian vocal performance that, coupled with the keys, starts to get one thinking of Uriah Heep as this interesting, classy, and understated album politely winds itself down to a close.

Bull Angus’ Bull Angus – The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: “Uncle Duggie’s Fun Bus Ride” requires it, yes. The rest, no.

Heaviness factor: The blues turns to doom whenever they try it, but they’re still hitting pretty lightly.

Obscura Triviuma: Vocalist Franke Previte went on to co-write music for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, including the hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” (check out “Bonus Track” on the 1998 CD reissue of his band Franke and the Knockouts’ 1981 self-titled debut to hear his demo version of the famous song).

Other albums: 1972’s Free for All.

Related bands: Franke and the Knockouts, The Pyramid, The Oxford Watchband, The Revells, The Brotherhood.

Alright, fine, if you must: LSD. Definitely LSD.