Various Artists – Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles

Once again, the folks at the Numero Group have elevated the compilation to an art form. More an aural history than just a collection of songs by, ahem, “various artists,” Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles chronicles American proto-metal stoner rock in a loving way so deftly executed that the album is greater than the sum of its parts. This is to say that while the songs on Warfaring Strangers are hit or miss, the album works as a time capsule for an era of American rock ’n’ roll that is more or less forgotten.

So you (the reader) may ask, why is this guy (me, the reviewer) qualified to assess this artifact of yore in such authoritative terms? Because I was there. Yeah, I was in elementary school – not exactly the rock ’n’ roll gourmand that I have become, but I was already creeping about and gathering info.

In the early 1970s, the term heavy metal was used to describe any kind of blues-based arena rock with loud guitars. Heavy metal included the still-revered-by-metalheads Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin; but it also included Blue Oyster Cult, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Foghat and even Bachmann-Turner Overdrive. If a song had a discernible riff, then by golly it was metal.

Warfaring Strangers compiles 16 bands that toiled in obscurity in the protozoan, pre-metal era. The music is pretty interesting, although the recordings are somewhat crude. What we have here is a selection of bands that loved the weed and, of course, the mighty riff. Artistes include Medusa, Gorgon Medusa, Stone Axe, Stoned Mace and Stonehenge. Yes, the bands’ names pretty much say it all.

Like other Numero Group comps, the proverbial devil is in the details. And the Numero Group guys have got that devil by the tail.

If you’re thinking about purchasing Warfaring Strangers as a download, well, don’t bother. The music isn’t bad – but few of the bands had that certain je ne sais quoi that might’ve lifted them out of obscurity if they’d have been luckier. Warfaring Strangers works best as a document – and this means you’ve gotta have the cover and the actual disc.

Warfaring Strangers is best experienced the way everyone enjoyed albums back in the day: Sit down (in some degree of intoxication) in front of the stereo, cover in hand, and listen to the jams while reading the liner notes and imagining what the musicians might have been like. The music, supplanted by the liner notes and photos, tells the tale. From the album, you’ll get a pretty good idea of the kind of music that was going on in black-lighted basements all over America in the early ’70s. It was a real cool time.

Various Artists
Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles
[Numero Group]