Review

WAYFARING STRANGERS: DARKSCORCH CANTICLES

by Lance Barresi

The Numero Group’s hard rocking, fantasy-based compilation, “Wayfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles,” might be their best yet.

warfaring-strangers-darkscorch-canticlesMany Record Collector News readers are already surely acquainted with the Numero Group label through their well-curated and eclectic roster of impeccably packaged reissues. The Chicago-based label, started in 2003 by Rob Sevier, Ken Shipley and Tom Lunt, quickly carved out their niche by 2004 with the release of their first of many Eccentric Soul compilations. The Eccentric Soul series is just one of many endeavors the label has presented over the last decade. If one stopped following Numero before the end of 2006, they might mistakenly take Numero Group for a soul, funk, gospel, and international label, but Numero has come a long way and branched out into an eclectic mix of genres, from Femme Folk to Post-Rock, New Age to Post-Punk, and Power Pop to Hard Rock. You name it, Numero’s done it, and their latest compilation Wayfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles just might be the best.

This ain’t just any hard rock comp, the permeating theme of this double LP is, to use Numero’s terminology, “Wizard Rock.” That’s right, nearly every one of these tracks has overtly fantasy-based lyrics with titles like “Wizzard King,” “Sorcerer,” “Spectre,” and “Séance.” And all of ‘em are privately pressed obscurities by bands with names like Stonehenge, Triton Warrior, Hellstorm, and Gorgon Medusa. Are you picking up the vibes that Numero is putting down here? How could you not?!?! Each of these sixteen private hard rockers is stellar, all of the original records are exceptionally rare, and none of them have ever before been legitimately licensed for re-release on vinyl. In typical Numero fashion, the packaging is stunning. The canvas covered gatefold jacket is emblazoned with the band names embossed in blue fold with the design aesthetic of a ‘70s high school hesher’s three-ring binder. It’s complete with hand-drawn D&D style map art (at least I think so, I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons) inside the gatefold and a thick full color booklet, with scans of the original record labels, band photos, and bios. And that’s to say nothing of the music!

warfaring-strangers-darkscorch-canticlesThe comp begins with a killer drum break brought to you by the Michigan-based Air. The title of their track is “Twelve O’Clock Satanial” and it might be the most commercial sounding track on the record. Air is followed by the female fronted Wrath. Although, many of these tracks owe a huge debt to Black Sabbath, “Warlord” might owe the most. It’s an absolute ripper outta Canton, Ohio circa 1970. In 1971, the Iowan Stonehenge recorded the next inclusion. “King of the Golden Hall” is a heavy blues number that should’ve earned ‘em an opening slot for Blue Cheer, but alas did not. Just a year later, David Fromstein (The Cast) took his band Triton Warrior to a Canadian studio to record their epically heavy “Sealed In A Grave.” A couple thousand copies were pressed on Vintage Records. Good luck finding one. The Green Bay-based Junction may have the least fantastic name among the lot, but the title of the song “Sorcerer” more than makes up for it. If this track doesn’t grab you immediately, stay tuned because the echo on the vocal with knock you out for sure. Fans of the well-documented Houston band Josefus, will be please to hear that two-thirds of Josefus kept on rocking under the name Stone Axe. This groovy death knell has an epic guitar solo around the two minute mark that at one point might have you asking why anyone would put a locked groove in the middle of the second track on side B. Rock that note into oblivion, man! “Bring on the séance of the enlightened!” is the chorus of Wizard’s “Séance” and it immediately buried it’s talons into my skull. Wizard had a huge year in 1970. They released the LP “Séance” was taken from, played to a massive quarter-million person audience holding their own alongside Mountain and Chicago, but despite it’s quality the record flopped, the band split, and members went on to Jimmy Castor Bunch, Buddy Miles’ production team, and law school. Three short years later, under similar influences Stoned Mace traveled from their hometown Attica, Indiana to Nashville to record the dramatic “Tasmania.”Whether he knew it or not, Chris Cornell totally copped his faux-southern vocal style from Arrogance bassist / vocalist Don Dixon! Regardless of how you feel about Cornell, it’s hard not to like the B-side of this Carolinian band’s 1970 micro-press single “Black Death.” Early-70s Michigan must’ve felt a lot like Middle Earth, when Sonaura recorded the Tolkien-inspired, super lo-fi “Song of Sauron.” Sadly, this record wasn’t a part of a trilogy, in fact, the band never even got around to making a sequel. In 1976, Houston’s Dark Star self-released and self-distributed (most of them door-to-door) the single “Spectre” comes from. How could that technique NOT have lead them to fame and fortune? “Wizzard King” by Inside just might be my favorite song on Darkscorch. Maybe that’s just ‘cause I already love its doppelganger “Born To Be Wild.” Regardless, this ripper from 1972 knocked me out the first time I heard it and it continues to do so to this day. Detroit’s Space Rock laid “Dark Days” down in 1975. It’s a doomy (whooda thunk) repetitive rocker with charmingly off-kilter vocals that sound like they’re being sung by an individual who’s first language isn’t English. A year or so, prior to the release of Darkscorch, Numero Group vinlyized vintage four-track recordings by a Chicago-based band called Medusa. The packaging for this LP is incredibly extravagant and deservingly so; the music contained within the grooves is unbelievable. If you dig the jammier side of occult psychedelia, then “Black Wizard” will surely tickle your fancy. Add Gorgon to Medusa and whaddya got? Gorgon Medusa! Having been recorded in 1977, “Sweet Child” is the second-latest inclusion on Darkscorch and it definitely shows it’s youth sonically, but spiritually Gorgon Medusa fits in nicely alongside the rest. Geographically, it only fits in alongside fellow Chicagoans, Medusa. Hellstorm is unique in that they have probably the best name of all the Darkscorch bands, but also in that they’re the only all African-American group on the record. Surprisingly, this slow-burner was recorded in 1980. Sounds as if it were recorded earlier to these ears, but with incendiary guitar solos like those, who cares when it was taped!

So there you have it. Numerous reasons to go out and buy yourself a copy of this incredible Numero Group compilation. Don’t hesitate to file it next to your Back From The Grave and Killed By Death comps, ‘cause it’s a keeper! Wait, before you buy the regular edition of the LP, you might want to consider the most deluxe edition you can get…the one that comes with a uniquely created board game! D&D nerds unite! The game is called Cities of Darkscorch.

Details can be found on the Numero Group website: NumeroGroup.com