Each week on ‘Throwback Thursday’ we dust off a crucial but underrated album without which heavy metal’s evolution would have turned out quite differently.
This week we drop a tab of LSD and tune out to the sounds of psychedelic metal’s last trip of the 1970s, as delivered by minor super-group Captain Beyond and their one-of-a-kind debut.
Band Name: Captain Beyond
Origins: Los Angeles, CA
Album Title: Captain Beyond
Release Date: 1972
Why is it so damn important?
Because it marks the end of an era: the point in which the last remnants of '60s psychedelia were dropped from heavy metal's common framework and largely abandoned for the ensuing two decades by most bands (the relevant ones, anyway), along with any other themes left over from the dead-and-reeking summer of love. Not surprisingly, Captain Beyond's Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt (guitar) and Lee Dorman (bass) were both alumni of Iron Butterfly – a band that exemplified this once popular musical symbiosis (along with Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge and many other heavy metal predecessors); and while drummer Bobby Caldwell arrived via Johnny Winter's group, vocalist Rod Evans too brought connections to that post-Sgt. Pepper, proto-metallic generation via his three-album stint with Deep Purple's Mk. I lineup.
So what does it sound like, exactly?
The album's first few tracks – including “WHOA, DUDE!”-inducing standout "Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)" – aren’t even all that heavy, just unusual and adventurous; but Rhino eventually cranks up his axe for the spidery riff of "Mesmerization Eclipse" (later used as the basis for Monster Magnet's "Twin Earth"), the ominous "Raging River of Fear" and fiercely dynamic "Frozen Over." Then, Captain Beyond ‘s second half is largely devoted to an intoxicating suite of alternately metallic and hauntingly ethereal – but always totally ass-tripping – songs with titles like “As the Moon Speaks to the Sea” and “Astral Lady,” tellingly bookended by two odes to self-medication in “I Can’t Feel Nothin,’ Parts 1 & 2.”
In other words…
Yes, this is some serious stoner rock, but then what wasn’t in that day and age? And with every year that passes, Captain Beyond seem to stand even further apart from heavy rocking peers standing on either side of the to-psych-or-not-to-psych divide – a fact that explains this LP’s increasingly singular vibes, and further validated by the group’s utter failure to recapture its mojo when recording their disappointing second album, Sufficiently Breathless, the very next year.
Key Song: “Mesmerization Eclipse”
Were this column published by a website devoted to psychedelic or progressive rock, many numbers could realistically vie for this trophy, but because we’re here to bang our heads, above all else, it’s impractical to look anywhere but the [SIC]-worthy “Mesmerization Eclipse,” with its take-no-prisoners approach and mean, mean grooves.
As metal continued to evolve down ever darker and less fanciful alleys of inspiration, Captain Beyond and the psych/acid-fueled metal bands that came before them would quickly sink into the La Brea Tar Pits of rock history; but this tragic turn of events ironically helped to preserve the band's eponymous debut like precious prehistoric bones until its eventual rediscovery by countless '90s stoner rock bands.