School of the Cult – Captain Beyond (1972)

Written on

December 12, 2011

Captain Beyond is the first album by Captain Beyond. Capricorn Records released it in 1972. At the time Capricorn was distributing the Allman BrothersEat a Peach record. Of course, Captain Beyond was no southern rock album, and Duane Allman had led Capricorn to believe that Captain Beyond would make just such an album. A lack of label interest, combined with a record that really could not fit into marketable genres, allowed Captain Beyond to quickly fade into obscurity. The group would go on to make two more records – Sufficiently Breathless and Dawn Explosion. Both of those are quite good, but neither quite measure up to the debut’s winding, perplexing, and convoluted sound.

The group’s original lineup included singer Rod Evans, drummer Bobby Caldwell, guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt, and bassist Lee Dorman (keyboardist Lewie Gold quit before the recording of this album). Evans was the original singer for Deep Purple on Shades of Deep Purple. Reinhardt and Dorman had both played in Iron Butterfly, Dorman on In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Caldwell (one of the most underrated drummers of all time) had cut his teeth with Rick Derringer and Johnny Winter. In a sense, Captain Beyond was a “supergroup” composed of very good musicians that, for a variety of reasons, could not stick with their original groups, who have all gone on to higher recognition in rock history.

But we can be historiographers – why did Captain Beyond get lost in the shuffle? They were one of those early 1970’s groups – much like Armageddon, who we’ll get to soon – who were no longer attached to the high rock, blues-based stylings of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, but who also didn’t sound that much like Deep Purple. What we have in their debut is a collection of songs that form symbiotic relationships like a concept album, twist riffs into progressive territory, float out in the cosmos, and sweat out the blues of the American south. It was too weird to go anywhere.

Lyrically, we’re talking about recklessly abandoning reality and going on a voyage to the moon, meeting celestial women, passing the sun, etc. We’re traveling in time, we’re questioning existence, and we’re hanging out in space. This raging river of “fear” (time? Meaning? Life?) is running through us, carrying us through our memories, and sweeping us away with a giving-a-fuck-less attitude. This album is, in a sense, a reckless abandon. Captain Beyond are not quite sure where they are leading us and neither are we sure of where we are going or have been. Captain Beyond points out bizarre sounds, riffs, and melodies, but have too much creative energy to dwell on them. Shit, we’ve got riffs to waste – forget jamming.

We’re touching on progressive, pre-NWOBHM, Skynyrd, Moody Blues, space-rock. This album oozes character and really puts its peers to shame in terms of nimble creativity. These guys just have so much fucking style – Bobby Caldwell has gotta be just the best goddamn drummer you could ever hear, a Mitch Mitchell of the 70’s – and they’ve got riffs on riffs on riffs to back their swagger up. Most importantly, it is a satisfying record. Yeah, the songs are good, but really this thing gels as a coherent piece. The fun is going on this voyage with Captain Beyond, who are heavy metal explorer/warriors in the same sense as, and really more so than Black Sabbath. They’re not quite sure what they’ve found here, but they know it kicks ass and it is good, and every once in a while we need to touch base with our southern bluesy roots to make sure we’re still even playing MUSIC.

Forget ROCK N ROLL, because out among the husks of abandoned spacecraft who knows what the fuck kind of enigmatic puzzle piece of a guitar riff will become the soundtrack, suddenly rendering our entire surrounding a myopic void in which we have no choice but to dance madly backwards on a sea of air, mesmerized by an eclipse. But ya gotta remember that underneath ya is this fucking sea of air that will soon be the territory of your Motörheads, Diamond Heads, Iron Maidens, Saxons, shit soon enough Metallica will kill all of us then sell out then try to kill us again with the guy who originally tore out my ear drums with the hunk of steaming shit that is Metal Machine Music. Yet, all we can really hope for is that the next Meshuggah record will really be ok, but it is ok because Wasting Light restored all of our/my faith in all that is real, raucous, fuck-all ROCK AND ROLL music.

So, to our question of history. Why Captain Beyond? Well, I guess this article really just means shit because Mikael Akerfeldt is now mentioning them under his god-like breaths in interviews and most people tend to view him like a Martin Scorsese of heavy metal. Heritage is making them so huge that now, more than ever, people are interested in his influences. What obscure albums does Akerfeldt have tucked under his bed? Sheesh, I’d like to know, my knowledge of 1970’s obscure prog/proto metal only runs so far. How much I’d like to stage the heist scene from Le Cercle Rouge on his house for his LP’s. Well, maybe Captain Beyond can still be redeemed. It was recently given a physical re-release for those of you that collect artifacts.

But I won’t stop until Bobby Caldwell is on the cover of every fuckin’ Modern Drummer magazine, til Rhino’s riffs start appearing in those pointless top-100 lists, and til Captain Beyond is regarded as nothing short of the most forward-thinking, real godammned rock n’ roll album of 1972.

[Retired] When not listening to Frank Zappa and Captain Beyond, Max Splice combines with his younger brother Danny to form rock collective Lion Splicer. They hang out on Facebook here. In his free time, Max also programs film festivals for a repertory theater in Chicago.