When the ‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968’ 4 CD box set came out in the late 1990’s there was a hilarious review on the internet at the time where someone took umbrage at the music being declared as ‘punk’. This was because, according to the author, everyone knew that punk began with Green Day. Of course loads of people piled in on this, in an equally hilarious way. At around the same time I went to see an amazing spoken word performance from Jello Biafra. He talked for around four hours in all, and it was never less than fascinating. Some in the audience, those dressed with safety pins and sporting mohicans, were less than impressed to the extent that Jello had to launch into a diatribe of how ‘it wasn’t 1977 any more’, and why punk was more of a state of mind/ way of being than a fashion statement and being stuck in the rut of a narrow type of music.
Whether the ‘Green Day’ reviewer was serious or not (the punks at the Biafra gig definitely were), these are brilliant examples of how we take our music, and the labels we put on it, very seriously. The punk aesthetic has, in particular, been through many incarnations and its death has been exaggerated on any number of occasions.
But what of ‘psych’? I have, in the past, received criticism from some psych fans who find the title of my blog misleading. This is because I don’t exclusively cover psychedelic music that was released between something like 1965 and 1972 (ironically including the Nuggets compilation). For me psych, like punk, is more an attitude; and one that is actually not dissimilar. Music interests me because it has an element of experimentalism to it, because it moves me emotionally, and because it takes me somewhere else when I listen to it closely, if it then also hits me in a certain visceral way then I’m happy to consider it as psych music. This explanation undoubtedly has its flaws and will not be the same as anyone else’s description, but that’s fine and in itself within the psych spirit for me.
This is why a bewildering number of very diverse musicians will call their work ‘psych’, although some do see it as a way of sounding cool, and on some level it has become a bit like ‘indie’ for many, so broad that it has lost its meaning or its edge. Whether or not this is the case, and there’s evidence to show that it is a term that has been diluted too far. This I suspect is why The Cosmic Dead are provocatively calling their new album ‘Psych is Dead’. Do they see too much that is being touted around a ‘psych’ these days as being, well, shite?
If that is the case then this album definitively does not come under that category. Recorded in a small stifling kitchen in Sardinia this is potentially the band’s finest moment to date and, at times, for me where they’ve come closest to representing their visceral live performances in their recorded work.
Side one consists of a single track, ‘Nuraghe’, which opens in a deep mist of fuzzed feedback before breaking out into what for The Cosmic Dead is bright and open soundscape. When you know you can initially tell that this was recorded somewhere warm and sunny. Gradually though the storm clouds begin to mass overhead and you are very soon engulfed in a tempest that really assaults the senses. The intensity of this is huge, and one of the moments on this album where the raw live Cosmic Dead really comes through. Once the storm passes, there is a long section of relative calm which is hypnotic and strangely melodic before ramping up into a massive tsunami of a climax.
Opening side two ‘Psych is Dead’ is a more experimental track that really feels like an exploration of something new for The Cosmic Dead, and while the band change tack after three minutes it remains something that is more nuanced than usual. In fact it’s hard to pin down exactly why this is different but it seems to take the band away from their massive sturm und drang cosmic journeys, if they’re declaring that psych is dead, they’re certainly moving on here.
Which brings me to the final track on the album ‘#FW’ (forward?), with it’s passages of almost pastoral (I use this term in a relative rather than absolute sense) sounds. This is possibly the most chilled track I have ever heard The Cosmic D….holy fuck…just about the five minute mark and all fucking holy hell breaks loose. This is The Cosmic Dead at their heaviest and most visceral. This is the Cosmic Dead unexpurgated and live!!!! This is The Cosmic Dead on fucking speed…turn this fucker up loud and wait for the environmental health to come round. This is the culmination of what Black Sabbath started with that first self-titled track. The sound of hammers on metal…the repetition…the colossal unending pummelling on the brain into submission…sonic blast after sonic blast as the band career into a whirling dervish frenzy of guitars and drums. Quite possibly the most breathless and full on thing I have ever heard on record, and as close as the band have ever got to replicating their live performances.
This is the sound of a band making a HUGE FUCKING STATEMENT! A statement that says fuck you…this is what WE are about. This is the sound of a band blasting others out of the water…of wiping the slate clean and eviscerating the genre with which the have most been identified over recent years. What a fucking trip! Follow that if you can! Come and have a go if you think you’re psych enough…
…I think I get it. This album consists of three tracks. The first is probably the most recognisably Cosmic Dead, the Scottish psych band. The second declares psych dead. The third is proving it. Whether or not psych is dead is moot as far as I’m concerned, because The Cosmic Dead here show that they are very much alive and ready to move on in a manner that bodes well for the future. This is a massive raised finger that is backed up with something as raw and visceral as you could imagine….fuckin’ have it!
‘Psych is Dead is released on Riot Season Records.