Primitive Origins: Epitaph’s “Epitaph”

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.

Prog rockers Epitaph got their career started in Germany in 1969, and they’re still at it today, amazingly enough. Their 1971 debut self-titled album crossed my path recently while I was making my proto-metal rounds, and due to the fact that the artwork looks exactly like a death metal cover from 1991 on a label like, oh, say, JL America, I had to explore further.

The five-song album (take that, Neurosis) leans way more prog than proto-metal, but we still had to explore further to determine whether or not that cover art was hinting toward any early-metal boulder-shakers.

“Moving to the Country” kicks things off with a polite classic-rock boogie, the song’s 5:14 runtime making way for some extended solo noodling, although things remain pretty straightforward for most of this opener. It’s decent enough, although it doesn’t offer too much new. Definitely serves its purpose as “four on the floor rocker to bring people in before the album gets weird.”

“Visions” finds the band mellowing out, nodding to Floyd, nodding off, playing it straight and mellow for the first couple minutes before they take it even slower, off to the realm of the fairies and elves, which is where this drowser remains for the rest of its 5:27. Man, I admire the band’s commitment to keeping it chill, and this song does take the listener on quite the journey. A bit of a shocker to find something this momentum-challenging at song two, but there you have it. And, I kinda like it.

“Hopelessly” has those prog-guy vocal melodies and starts out mellow but then gets to a fun, frolicking place, the band using deft touches to spin a wild prog tale about who knows what, this song disappointing only in that we’re halfway through the album here and it’s becoming clear things are not getting heavy; otherwise, it’s excellent prog rock, emphasis on prog, as the band—who sound stoned out of their minds here—lay down a fantastic prog journey. This 8:18 track is a hoot, man, the band just playing like there’s no tomorrow; their live show around this time must have been a blast. Check out when things deteriorate into a badass drum solo around the five-minute mark. Why not?

“Little Maggie” is next, all 8:35 of it, the band kicking down some easy-livin’ southern rock licks to start off with, the song ambling through like the Allmans at first, Epitaph absolutely holding back their great playing abilities for this song, which sounds like it could have ended up as the song of the summer of ’70 for more than a few German longhairs. But why the length? Well, at 2:38 or so the band hits what is not just a surprisingly heavy riff but is indeed the heaviest riff of the album, a huge monster groove that gives way to a rockin’ solo part, then a slightly frantic jam part, then back to the groovin’ summer vibes, thereby completely obliterating any and all chances for this to be anyone’s song of the summer of ’70 except the most dedicated freakies out there. I dig it, though.

The 10 minutes that make up “Early Morning” close things off, and it’s a trip, the band going deep into their acid supply to come up with the vibe here, which is definitely a prog-lite journey through all sorts of mountains and fields and outer space… tons of outer space. Meandering as hell, but it’s admirable in its huge middle finger to the listener, and when it comes crashing in at 4:33, that’s the most proto-metal scream we get on the album, as well as a huge, spirit-lifting solo halfway through the song, which does a great job at making me raise one eyebrow and pay attention after a few minutes of the band seriously threatening to lose me. Love the frantic guitar-workout part that follows, the band building, building, building in a part that kinda sounds like Maiden hit lighter. Then, the band builds even more, the climax just ridiculous here (take that too, Neurosis). Love the last half of this song, a suitably weird conclusion to a weird album, one that, really, isn’t proto-metal at all, but is still of interest for its riffs, occasional moments of classic rocking and prog tendencies.

Epitaph’s Epitaph – The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Might help with some of the meandering parts.

Heaviness factor: Very light on the heavy scale.

Obscura Triviuma: This isn’t obscure, but good lord: the band is still playing gigs!

Other albums: Tons of ’em, including this year’s Long Ago Tomorrow.

Related bands: Kingdom, Penicillin, Rock’N Roll Unlimited, many others.

Alright, fine, if you must: Acid.