For those of you who find no beauty, humor, or amazement in Captain Beefheart’s classic LP Trout Mask Replica, then I advise you to just go read another review right now. To me, that album will always be a monumental release from the late ‘60s that broke free from the clutches of hippie optimism and all of its utopian desires. The Cap had created some of the most bizarre, disjointed, and yet completely structured free-wheeling blues and “jazz” coupled with a hilarious knack for memorable poetry this side of Reseda on the double album set. The songs squonked and cried out, bled like hurt dogs, and basked in all their glory of sheer weirdness. Well, guess what. Old Time Relijun has done the undoable. With Witchcraft Rebellion they have created what I feel to be the true successor to Trout Mask Replica.
Hell, not even the Cap could reproduce his monster. His follow-up Lick My Decals Off, Baby tried to be as weird, but was only a faint glimmer of its gigantic predecessor. And that attempt was made back in 1970. So here we are, 31 years later and this scary as hell band comes out, throws down, and reclaims the glory. But Old Time Relijun are no spring chickens. Witchcraft Rebellion is merely the latest in a string of releases that have found the band doing their own thing with no regard to anything remotely declared as “popular” by those who would otherwise rule the fortunes of many a lesser group of musicians.
Featuring Arrington de Dionyso on vocals, guitar, and sax, Phil Elvrum on drums, and Aaron Hartman on string bass, Old Time Relijun makes one hell of a scary noise for a trio. Dionyso sounds like a cross between Frank Black, Gordon Gano, and Popeye. He does a fucking mean imitation of Yoko Ono on “Vampire Sushi”. Elvrum’s drumming is distorted like you wouldn’t believe, as Dionyso wails and screams against Hartman’s simple four note bass riff. “There comes a waitress!/Vampire motel!/Got a vampire waitress!/Vampire sushi/Sewer rat sushi/Frog sushi!” And then that Yoko screaming. Insane. “Vampire grandpa!/Vampire baby!/Vampire sushi!/Black widow sushi!” It’s both hilarious and frightening all at once. Dionyso scrapes at his guitar and smacks his whammy bar to bend the notes even more.
My favorite track is the apocalyptic “King of Nothing” in which Dionyso puts on his Popeye voice, but not before doing a great Bobcat Goldthwait-like vocal freakout. This is one of the tunes most reminiscent of Trout Mask with its oddball guitar chords riffing up to the sky and the drumming backing that riff in thunderous rhythm. “The Book of Life and Crime” features Hartman’s bass fending off some noisy amp static while a jew’s harp provides the musical riffs and Elvrum’s drums are pushed through various echo chambers which make them sound like those spooky sound effects you’d often hear in b-movie horror flicks of the ‘60s. Bells ring out and creepy noises swoop about the tune. No acid required for this trip. It’s all built in.
Much of the rest of the album follows this apocalyptic trajectory, forming its very own Trout Mask mayhem. Be it in the full band freak out on the title track, or Dionyso killing his sax alone on “Fermentatio”, all the bases that the Cap laid down so long ago are fully covered by the time the disc is over. Speaking of this kind of music is one thing. Trying to fully describe it is something altogether different. It’s like trying to explain what falling in love feels like without resorting to the usual tome of clichés that often do their best to break that feeling down. What I do know is that Witchcraft Rebellion is a masterpiece of insane technique and free-form expression. Easily one of the best albums released this year, but undoubtedly for a choice few whom can get into such an idea. Long live Old Time Relijun. Anyone who can successfully update the best thing Captain Beefheart ever did gets my undying respect.