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John Cale & Terry Riley: Church Of Anthrax

Troubled collaboration that set the 70 avant-rock blueprint.

Great chemistry can be volatile. When the Velvet Underground’s resident art-rock modernist John Cale teamed up with avant-classical minimalist Terry Riley in New York in 1969, their short-lived joint venture ended on a sour note with Riley abruptly leaving the project.

Church Of Anthrax was recorded before Cale’s solo debut Vintage Violence, but only released afterwards, in 1971. It contains just five tracks, but the two stand-outs are both extended, semi-improvised jams that push the 10-minute barrier. Building from soft ambient drones to intricate jazz-rock keyboard ripples, The Hall Of Mirrors In The Palace Of Versailles could sit comfortably on Riley’s seminal 1969 album A Rainbow In Curved Air, while the mighty Ides Of March sounds like Steve Reich and Thelonius Monk reinventing ragtime boogie-woogie as a kinetic contact sport.

The most incongruous inclusion is Cale’s The Soul Of Patrick Lee, a handsome but conventional folk-rock ballad featuring songwriter Adam Miller. But history has turned this album from scrappy footnote to minor milestone, hinting at emerging currents in experimental music, from Krautrock to prog, jazz fusion to Tubular Bells.

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.