Weird of the Day: “Wayfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles” collects Dungeons & Dragons-inspired rock from the ’70s

Darkscorch

Some music scenes never quite produced any one band talented enough or weird enough to make it onto our Weird List—but taken collectively, they deserve a shout-out nonetheless. Such a scene was the weird world of ’70s fantasy psych-rock. You wouldn’t think that many bands would’ve been inspired to write heavy rock jams based on their favorite Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons characters. But apparently back around 1975 or so, a lot of kids were rolling 20-sided dice in their basements to the strains of King Crimson and Black Sabbath. So many, in fact, that ace reissue label the Numero Group has managed to put together a compilation featuring 16 such bands.

Numero Group’s collection of D&D stoner rock is called Wayfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles and features such forgotten heroes of the underground as Triton Warrior, Gorgon Medusa and Stonehenge (yes, there is actually a band on this comp called Stonehenge—Spinal Tap, eat your heart out). Individually, none of the tracks is all that, but taken collectively, it’s a pretty incredible snapshot of a very specific moment in suburban rec room culture. Never again before or since have some many American teenagers simultaneously owned copies of The Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Jethro Tull’s Minstrel in the Gallery. (Actually, many of the compilation’s tracks pre-date the advent of Dungeons & Dragons and Jethro Tull’s heyday by several years—so many it’s more accurate to say that Darkscorch Canticles reveals that the roots of ’70s rec room culture and British prog-rock in the music of hippie bands who were reading J.R.R. Tolkien on acid.)

To hear clips and order up a copy of Darkscorch Canticles, visit the Numero Group website. And if you really get obsessed with this stuff, there’s even an accompanying board game. Now here’s some Stonehenge.

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BB BlackDog

Photo by Laurine Clifford
Photo by Laurine Clifford

We had our own little British Invasion here at Weird Band HQ last week. Not only did steampunk Brits BB BlackDog win our latest Weird Band Poll, another English act named Ben & Amy finished a strong 3rd. The lone American act in the poll, Fartbarf, finished dead last. What is wrong with you people? Do you hate farting, barfing and America? Sometimes I don’t recognize this country anymore.

But anyway, yes, BB BlackDog crushed the competition fair and square, so they earn Weird Band of the Week honors. And they are indeed a pretty fucking weird band, though not for the obvious reasons. I mean, if they were just another WWI-fighter-pilot-goggles-wearing steampunk act, we would pass them by with a resounding “meh.” There’s entire fucking conventions of bands like that now. But here’s what’s awesome about BB BlackDog: The visuals don’t match the music. At all. It’s like if Slipknot came out onstage and starting singing One Direction songs. Except way less sucky than that.

So yeah, when you first look at BB BlackDog, you probably assume they’re going to break into a John Philip Sousa march, or maybe a little ragtime, or they might get really crazy and bust out the chap-hop. Wrong! BB BlackDog play good old-fashioned bluesy psychedelic/stoner rock. And they do it in full steampunk regalia, with belly dancers and shit.

Here are some other interesting factoids about BB Black Dog. They’ve been doing this since 2007. They’ve written 76 original songs. They don’t have a guitar player…lead singer Dale Rowles plays “lead bass,” John Ferguson Mike Bower plays rhythm bass, and Axel Boldt plays the drums as hard as anyone can without the pink boa flying off his black leather cowboy hat. They list Black Sabbath, Prince, Pink Floyd and death metal among their influences. They have an album called No One that you can buy from (duh) Steampunk Records…or from Amazon.com if you prefer to pay in U.S. scrilla. One of their members is German. Oh and they seem to occasionally feature a fourth member who dresses up like their namesake “Black Dog”…although honestly, he looks more like some kind of steampunk gimp who just escaped from an H.P. Lovecraft-themed sex dungeon. Which actually makes sense, because they have a song called “Gimp.”

If you clicked that last link, you saw that as recently as 2009, BB BlackDog was pretty much just another scruffy stoner-rock bar band…albeit one with a vaguely old-timey burlesque dancer. Apparently, they’re recent converts to the whole steampunk thing. I guess you could argue that this makes them steampunk carpet-baggers or something, except I’m pretty sure there needs to be a carpet worth bagging for that to make any sense. It’s not like everyone’s riding the steampunk gravy train to major label deals and Bud Light endorsements. The likelier explanation is just that they stumbled across the steampunk scene and went, “Hey, this is fucking cool! Let’s join in!” Just because they didn’t swap out the basses for banjoleles doesn’t mean they’re not totally into it.

BB BlackDog have a ton of live videos on YouTube, and many of them are definitely worth checking out. But it was this video for the track “What You Need” that I’m pretty sure scored them a win in our Weird Band Poll. What’s more steampunk than a motorized shopping cart? Lots, but who cares? Motorized shopping carts are awesome.

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Dwarr

A long time ago, back before bands could mix entire albums with a secondhand Macbook and a pirated copy of Pro Tools, a guitar-toting loner from South Carolina named Duane Warr set out to make the heaviest heavy metal album ever, more or less by himself. The fruit of his labor was a 1985 (or maybe 1984?) album called Starting Over that didn’t really sound all that much like metal, but definitely sounded like nothing else before it and not much since. Part Sabbath and (probably by accident) part Residents, Starting Over and an even more amazing 1986 album called Animals were pretty much ignored at the time of their release but have since become cult classics among fans of weirdo, lo-fi stoner rock.

Warr dropped off the face of the earth for about 15 years—supposedly after becoming a Born Again Christian and renouncing all his old music. But he surprised everyone by resurfacing in 2000 with a third album, Holy One, and even followed that up with a fourth LP, Times of Terror, in 2003. Seems like he’s still a bit of a recluse though: The guy who posted the only original Dwarr video we could find (seen below), added a comment on YouTube noting that “I used to run the Dwarr MySpace page, but unfortunately I’ve been out of touch with Duane for a long time now. There are even more Dwarr videos, but I only had permission to post this one.” And the write-up for the 2010 reissue of Animals on Drag City Records gives no biographical background at all, only this awesome quote from Duane himself:

“I was working 12 hour shifts down at the sweat factory. One day, I was having a bad day and had a problem with one of the older guys. All of a sudden he pulled his packing knife out on me. I felt a rage running up through me and went running at him. He put the knife away very quickly. That night I had the dream for the title song ANIMALS. In the dream, I ate the human flesh, I crushed the human bone, I was an animal.”

It’s possible that is all just an elaborate put-on and Duane Warr’s mysterious backstory is all just part of his shtick. Or it’s possible that he just doesn’t want the world to know that he’s actually this guy. [Update: We weren’t sure when we wrote that, but we have since confirmed that yes, that really is the man behind Dwarr, all cleaned up and selling real estate. Read this interview/article for the proof.] But we’re pretty sure he’s just a bonafide wackjob. And even though he’s kind of a terrible musician, he totally fucking rules. (P.S. The video has a weird, sorta pointless intro…give it about 30 seconds, it gets good, trust us.)

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