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.
The Power of Zeus only ever released one album, 1970’s The Gospel According to Zeus, and it’s a shame, because the Detroit-based band spends much of this album totally killing it, laying down songs that aren’t quite Sabbath levels of heavy but are easily heavy-Zeppelin levels of heavy, but with more of a crashing and bashing proto-metal edge than Zep ever really had.
Today, let’s take a closer look at this album to find out if it’s worth your attention here in 2021, a full 51 years after it was released. Does the gospel still ring true?
“It Couldn’t Be Me” is an absolute rager of an opener, the kind of pure gold we mine for here in Primitive Origins. Dig that drumming, the economic and powerful riffing, the mastery of space and groove. It’s hard psych but funnelled through a smart-Zep songwriting framework, and it is 100 percent how you open an album with success and style in 1970. Extremely well done, and gives me great hope for the rest of this album.
“In the Night” lumbers up next, and it threatens proto-doom but then is more of a blues-based rocker with an extremely ’70s vocal line in the chorus. And even though I said the word “blues” here this doesn’t suck, the drummer going hard and fast, the vibe more spooky, like darker Zep, riding on a horse through the forest, hood up, stoned out of your fucking mind on LSD kinda thing. Enjoyable enough.
Speaking of being stoned out of your fucking mind, hey, here’s “Green Grass & Clover,” in which the band strip down and get a bit unplugged, a bit Houses of the Holy (which—whoa, dude—wasn’t out yet), just kinda prancing around through the field on a summer day. It’s fine but I’m starting to get nervous that the initial promise that “It Couldn’t Be Me” shouted out from the rooftops might not be happening here.
But then “I Lost My Love” comes raging in with a two-minute hard-psych rocker, heavy on the keys and those bad-trip riffs that, come chorus time, turn into, like, Monkees-style riffs. The hell? But, man, it’s still smokin’, everything in the red at times, the drummer just going for it (hails up to this dude, Bob Michalski), this song weird, wonky and tons of fun.
Side A ends with the seven-minute “The Death Trip” and, I swear man, if Zep didn’t listen to this album and get some ideas for Houses of the Holy… This song starts off impressively, with a monolithic proto-doom sound, things moving low and slow, and heavy, it stays heavy, it breaks down heavy, man, it’s just a super, well-done and—did I mention this yet?—heavy tune. Even when the sonics get a bit light, the atmosphere is still heavy. I’ll take this and the opening track to go, please.
Side B kicks off with “No Time,” and the hard psych is immediately back, hard, the drumming propulsive, the riffing just peak hard psych, cool concise rocker to keep energy high as the album begins its second half.
Then it’s “Uncertain Destination,” a song that uses its mid pace well, and also uses its breakdown section well, every second of the song’s almost five minutes being time pretty well spent. Love how the band sort of come apart then come back together in the middle, as they give a loving salute to prog before landing firmly back in the realm of hard psych. Solid; we’re moving along well here.
“Realization” is another heavy hitter, a shorter, more to-the-point and heavy rocker, the solo being pretty admirable, the vocal melodies sort of gratingly dated at points but the music itself packing a punch, with just the right amount of controlled chaos in there as well. Another winner.
“Hard Working Man,” song titles like that usually are a red flag that things are about to get stoopid, reaching for some lowest-common-denominator stuff musically and lyrically, trying to get in the working man’s ears, and wallet, and, yeah, that’s kinda what we get here. Hard to not zone out a bit at this one, but it works as the soundtrack for the boogie-woogie-shuffle down to the bowling alley or drive-in on Friday night or whatever, sure. I mean, considering most albums we look at in this column have one if not several throwaway covers or really bad old-time-rock-and-roll songs, if this is as bad as it gets here, I’m happy. Just meat-and-potatoes rock, Dazed and Confused soundtrack B-side kinda thing. Sure.
“The Sorcerer of Isis (The Ritual of the Mole)” is a pretty holy-shit power metal title, and the gong that introduces this song would like you to know things are about to get serious. The opening march of the moles is fun and cool, the guitar work as awesome as Pagey, and the way the song slowly builds up is marvellous, showcasing both groove and heft. Sure, when things drop out mid-song and the sound effects start rolling in, you gotta be pretty wasted to enjoy it, but… it was 1970. This is one of the best, and most metallic, tracks on what has proven itself to be a great record. Definitely a great closer on an album that, if not solid through and through, features a handful of excellent tracks that the proto-metal fan should most certainly be aware of.
The Power of Zeus’ The Gospel According to Zeus – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: About half of it, yes.
Heaviness factor: It’s mixed, but at its heaviest, it’s at appropriate levels, hovering around Zep at their boomiest but with a bit more of a metal edge.
Obscura Triviuma: This album was released on Motown sub-label Rare Earth, so lore has it the band just weren’t marketed properly and fell to obscurity because of that.
Other albums: Just the Hard Workin’ Man EP, also from 1970, featuring two songs off this album.
Related bands: The Power of Zeus have been sampled several times by rap artists you’ve actually heard of, including—believe it—Eminem and a collab between—again, believe it—Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Alright, fine, if you must: LSD.