Buried Treasure: Salem Mass's underground, 'satanic' majesty

Salem Mass

Salem Mass were a mysterious crew from Caldwell, Idaho. Witch Burning, their sole album, was crudely recorded on a two-track machine at their local bar that had temporarily been converted into a studio.

The self-financed underground obscurity was privately released at a time when occultism was rife in rock music subject matter.

Starting off with the slightly kitsch yet epic, 10-minute title track was a bold move, mainly because it’s so good it’s tough to follow. Swathed in mesmeric synth patterns, heavy riffs, crazed high-pitched demonic vocals and satanic lyrics, it’s an underground US prog album that sounds distinctly British. Pre-dating UK NWOBHM legends Witchfinder General by an entire decade, these raconteurs of burning flesh invented their own brand of progressive doom with this track alone.

Admittedly it’s the mild satanic imagery and heavy use of keyboards (Moog in particular) that gives Salem Mass an edge over many other obscure bands of their ilk, adding space-rock elements to otherwise generally average rock songs. Without these ingredients the album would perhaps not hold so much interest among collectors and fans of the period.

With three band members trading lead vocals on different tracks, the overall listening experience is somewhat inconsistent. Had the satanic prog of the title track been more of a general theme throughout, perhaps Witch Burning would be more of a genre classic.

Lee Dorrian

Lee Dorrian is best known as a former member of grindcore band Napalm Death and later frontman of doom metal band Cathedral. Currently a member of stoner metal supergroup With the Dead, he founded his own record label, Rise Above Records, in 1988. They've released albums by Ghost, Twin Temple, Orange Goblin, Pentagram, Sunn O))) and many more. He writes the Buried Treasure column for Classic Rock magazine, about rare underground rock records.