Monday 11 July 2022

Wucan - Heretic Tongues (2022)

Country: Germany
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 May 2022
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Shifting from a German band with world fame and six decades of history behind them to a German band that I hadn't heard of, I should mention that this is easily my pick of the two albums. This one is the third full length from a Dresden-based band called Wucan that I hadn't previously heard of, but it utterly floored me. They've combined a number of easily defined influences with others I'm sure are unknown to me and stirred them up into a very potent, very energetic new sound that I'd expect to connect with certain modern-looking audiences as much as other very old school ones.

The first obvious influence is Jethro Tull, because there's a flute from the opening of the opening track, Kill the King, and it's played in a fashion notably reminiscent of Ian Anderson. However, the song moves in other directions and the Tull influences don't really show up until later, with songs like Fette Deutsch, which owes more than a little to Locomotive Breath. While we may think of Tull as a quieter folk rock band (remember the surprise when they won that Grammy), they rocked out often, especially on stage, and it's their heavier numbers from them that show up most here.

In between that initial flute and the real Tull influence, Black Sabbath wander in to highlight their importance too. Don't Break the Oath has a riff that's so Sabbath that I even recognise it as a key change in Wheels of Confusion. Like Kill the King, it moves on elsewhere but it never truly forgets that Sabbath nod. It was here that I really started thinking genre, because this is psychedelic rock without any doubt, but it doesn't venture far into the usual genres that Sabbath set into motion. It's not heavy metal. It's not stoner rock. It's not doom metal. And it trawls in sounds that come a long way from anything that Tull or Sabbath put their name to over the decades.

And here I need to go back to the beginning, because there's so much more in Kill the King than an obvious flute. It has strong riffs from the beginning but funky changes too; searing vocals from an outstanding throat that promptly shifts into scat singing and other vocalisations; the tasty combo of bass runs and handclaps; and a real urgency that never leaves the album, even when it's willing to take a breather. That voice belongs to Francis Tobolsky, with whom I immediately fell hopelessly in love and admiration. What is it about German rock singers? Yes, Doro, you stole my heart first.

I should mention here that, while she's obviously listened to Janis Joplin on far more than a casual basis, her band was definitely paying attention to what Big Brother & The Holding Company did on the stage behind her as well. That sixties psychedelia, rooted in the blues of the past but pointing the way firmly forward to the new genres of the seventies, is everywhere here, as are some of the latter genres, most obviously funk but krautrock and disco too, especially on the closer, Physical Boundaries, a jam that takes us on a funky journey through the cosmos for twelve and a half minutes, like a combination of Can, Hawkwind and Funkadelic jamming at Monterey Pop with Ian Anderson as a special guest.

The funk was there from the beginning in Kill the King but the disco shows up on the two parts of Far and Beyond, combining that genre's incessant drive with a more recognisable rock one that I recognised from Magnum's Kingdom of Madness, probably not uncoincidentally another song to prominently feature a flute. Tobolsky owns everything she touches but Patrik Dröge lays down an impressive and very patient bass in Far and Beyond that thoroughly grabbed me long before that voice showed up to cement the deal.

The only track I haven't mentioned is the one I like least and, amazingly enough, that's the cover, because Kill the King is not the Rainbow song nor Don't Break the Oath the Mercyful Fate track. I haven't heard this one before, because it's Zwischen Liebe und Zorn, from a Soviet era band from East Germany called the Klaus Renft Combo. It wasn't even an album track, having been released as a single in 1972, not something I assume was heard widely in the west.

In this version, it's good (and it sounds even better when I listened on headphones) but it uses two singers, the other one male, and, quite frankly, anyone who picks up a mike alongside Tobolsky will inevitably be compared to her and just as inevitably lose. Whoever this is doesn't try to compete in the slightest, yet fails anyway and the song is lesser for it. It's why I didn't automatically go with a 9/10 here but I may well end up doing that anyway.

I absolutely must see Wucan live. They seem like the sort of band who could get an entire stadium audience to pay attention to them, even when everyone showed up to see someone else, and then utterly lift the lid off the small club next door. It's at times like this and when I first heard the Blue Merrow album in January that I wonder why I moved to North America. All the bands I'm aching to see live are back in Europe and not even in England either but over on the continent.

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