COVEN — Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reap Souls (review)

COVEN — Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reap Souls album cover Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
The history of evil as the subject matter of music stems all the way back to sounds of the violin in classical music and eventually the term was attributed to all of jazz music for its ability to interfere with the orthodoxies of the established musical paradigm so it’s no surprise that evil themes and deviant sounds would find their way into the rock world only a decade after the genre’s nascent birth pangs. The first sign of evil themes in music was the appearance of Aleister Crowley on The Beatles’ landmark “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” which opened the flood gates for not only more experimental musical ideas that led to more progressive forms of rock music but apparently also gave permission for artists to dabble into the more occult themes that had hitherto been eschewed in lieu of feel good pop culture or psychedelic escapist dreams as the late 60s came into its own.

Black Sabbath is rightly acknowledged for giving birth to the whole doom fueled darkness that would blossom into the greater heavy metal universe but the English band wasn’t the first rock band to delve into the darker world of the occult. That honor wouldn’t emerge on British soil at all but rather in Chicago, USA and initiated by the band COVEN who in 1969 debuted many themes and attributes that would become synonymous with metal despite actually being a psychedelic acid rock band that sounded more like Jefferson Airplane than Sabbath, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple. The band boldly dropped their debut occult themed debut on an unsuspecting public in the form of WITCHCRAFT DESTROYS MINDS AND REAPS SOULS in 1969, the year before Black Sabbath debuted their own darkened themes set to music. Add to that, COVEN invented the metal salute of the sign of horns, displayed inverted crosses and reveled in the phrase “Hail Satan.”

The band was the creation of lead vocalist Jinx Dawson and bassist Oz Osbourne who were in a previous band named Him, Her and Them and after hooking up with drummer Steve Ross, COVEN was born in 1967 and paid their dues by playing alongside late 60s acts like the Yardbirds, early Alice Cooper and Vanilla Fudge. The band’s overt occult symbology and lyrical content naturally generated much controversy and caught the attention of Mercury Records who was eager to cash in on the growing popularity and enthusiasm towards the occult that was sweeping the world. Despite the interest in this sort of underground rock as it was called, the album was quickly removed from the market after its release but became a cult classic due to its completely unapologetic use of occult characteristics that would soon be adopted in the world of hard rock and heavy metal.

Despite the wickedly evil themes and lyrical content that deals with the expected themes of witchcraft, Satanic worship and other occult subject matter, the album is actually characterized by a rather standard psychedelic pop rock sound that most closely resembles the West Coast psychedelic rock that was made popular by Jefferson Airplane. Even Jinx Dawson’s vocal style and phrasing emanates the great Grace Slick with the sultry feminine bravado and charismatic drive that caught everyone’s attention. The first eight tracks on WITCHCRAFT DESTROYS MINDS AND REAPS SOULS were characterized by a heavy psych sound that was found Dawson backed by heavy distorted guitars, bass, drums and the classic 60s organ sound. Despite the actual songs’ lyrical themes, it’s perhaps the final track that got the album banned and that which made it stand out from any other release in recording history. Track ten titled “Satanic Mass” concluded the album with a bona fide 13 minute black mass which displayed ritualistic chanting, chimes and Satanic prayers.

Ultimately the band was unjustly associated with the murders of Charles Manson and other deviant behavior of the time and was also lumped into the entire counterculture as a scapegoat for antiestablishment behaviors. Ironically the album’s first track is titled “Black Sabbath” which may or may not have inspired England’s godfathers of the metal universe with their debut album that emerged the next year but it does reflect upon the unveiling of the occult world that had never found its way into popular music. Ultimately COVEN’s debut is more of a curiosity than a bona fide outstanding album. The music itself is well performed but nothing out of the ordinary for the 60s and definitely not the best the era had to offer and while the ending “Satanic Mass” is an interesting aberrance from the status quo, it really isn’t that interesting and utterly a waste of time after a single listen. COVEN will remain in the history books indeed for initiating the first signs of Satan in popular music but i rather doubt that anyone will remember them for the music itself.
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