It's Prog, Jim, But Not As We Know It: Necromandus

cover art of Necromandus

So often cited as a second Black Sabbath, or pioneers of doom, you might wonder what Necromandus are doing in Prog. But this album is not so much proto-metal as progressive metal. And, it sounds a lot closer to Yes or Gentle Giant than the Sabs.

The Cumbrian band started in the late 1960s, when vocalist Bill Branch, guitarist Barry ‘Baz’ Dunnery (older brother of former It Bites singer and guitarist Francis), bassist Dennis McCarten and drummer Frank Hall teamed up. Originally taking the name Hot Spring Water, which they soon changed to Heavy Hand and then Taurus, they developed a heavy yet progressive blues style, which in 1972 caught the attention of Tony Iommi. (The Sabbath guitarist knew the guys because Hall’s old band Heaven had supported an early version of Black Sabbath.) By now, the foursome were called Necromandus, a name suggested by
a radio show, and Iommi agreed not only to manage them, but also to produce their debut album.

In ’73, Iommi and the band went to Morgan Studios in north west London and got the album recorded, after which Necromandus signed to Vertigo, also Sabbath’s label. They inevitably got the chance to support the latter on tour, and also opened for Badger, featuring Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye. But the album’s release was delayed, and when Dunnery quit on the eve of their US tour with Sabbath, Vertigo shelved the record. It was eventually put out by Audio Archives in 1999, and subsequently reissued a handful of times. But by this point, the band had long since split up.

There’s no doubt that, had the album come out when it was originally scheduled, it could have been the springboard for a successful career. There are nuances of blues, jazz and folk here, as well as a distinct but controlled heaviness. Listening to tracks like Nightjar and A Black Solitude gives an immediate appreciation for the deft musicianship and the calm yet intense sense of atmosphere. Barry Dunnery’s guitar work is especially noteworthy, marking him out as a major figure. And the way in which Dennis McCarten and Frank Hall combine is a rhythmic joy: it’s no wonder Ozzy Osbourne wanted to have these three in his first Blizzard
Of Ozz line-up.

Iommi himself guests on the title track, and is almost unrecognisable from the guitar hero on Sabbath’s albums; his approach is more understated and progressively fluent.

Last year, a new line-up of the band came together, with only Hall remaining from these early days (the others have all died in recent times), and they’ve just issued a new, promising album, called Necromandus.

In all, Orexis Of Death deserves its stature as a cult classic. It’s an album that shows what might have been.

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