If you’ve never heard, or heard of, Captain Beyond then you’re straight up sleep walking through life, my friend.

Blooming from the ashes of Iron Butterfly in the fertile early 70s, The Captain was formed by totally groovy proto-metalers Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and the perfecter of rectangular sunglasses Himself, Lee Dorman. They made a wise choice in drafting in Rod Evans, who was the original lead singer of Deep Purple before the went metal, Danny Caldwell who until then had been holding down the unfortunate gig of drumming for Johnny Winter in Albino Trouble. This unlikely supergroup got to jamming in the golden smog of LA and immediately came up with something completely unlike any of their former bands, a fully cosmic blending of slinky southern gothic rock, riffed-out doomy metal, shifting prog dynamics, pop sensibilities, and a cryptic, mystic bent that was sure to fly directly over the heads of all the fringe lumpen hippie heads that were primed to be their audience. The Captain seemed to arrive fully formed, and their 1972 debut for Capricorn Records came encased in a trippy AF 3D sleeve and dealt in forward-thinking dynamics and enough time changes to confuse the most symphonic of today’s black metal underlords.

If you don’t believe us, just cue up the opening “Dancing Madly Backwards/Armworth/Myopic Void” suite. Check out how this slice of epicness kicks off with a traditional boogie rock riff and verse before blasting off at the 1:35 mark into a carefully controlled cosmic freakout with Rhino spinning spinning insane spiral riffs off into the (myopic) void, then crash lands on the verse again, then spins into the prog zone with some intriguing start-stop time signatures. The next thing you know you’re cast into the land of “Armworth” with that low-slung death rock groove coming back on you and the surprisingly desperate chorus (“Where do I go to find?”) encapsulating the rapidly darkening hippie dreams of the era. “Myopic Void” brings it all back down to earth with some militant drums, glazed slide guitars, and a completely unexpected crash into “Hey Jude” land. “Dancing madly backwards. Dancing on a sea of air” the band chants If there was ever a stranger song released in the ‘70s, then we haven’t heard it.

It’s a stark realization when you find yourself fully wrung out by the opening suite and facing 10 more tracks. Wisely, the Captain next hits you up with the deceptively simple riff rager “Mesmerization Eclipse” that contains an interesting Chicano rock breakdown in its middle. In “Raging River Of Fear” you can see early reflections of Pentagram in its combination of toughness and burn out vulnerability, and the unabashed hooks this band had for miles are on full display. The middle breakdown sounds like Yes at their toughest, but no cape-wearing prog rock lorde could ever come up with a riff this heavy or risk the crash land ending this song spins out into. “Frozen Over” kicks off with a tingling goth intro before freaking out into doomy, space case riff rock which manages to be smart and technical without being pretentious in the slightest, progressive rock that even the glue sniffing kids in the back of the study hall could fully relate to.

The second side of Captain Beyond is just bonkers. Kicking off with “I Can’t Feel Nothin’ (Part 1)” and it’s strutting sense of ennui, the closing suite shifts from straight-up headbasher beginner metal to the wind chimes and open space of “As The Moon Speaks”, a track that sounds like the ominous, calm-before-the-storm first 30 seconds of any extreme metal album. “Astral Lady” lasts a whole 16 seconds and gets in some spoken word mysticism before “Moon” comes back in to close things out with a morphing cascade of styles that spirals out into a fertile zone where The Allman Bros meet Sabbath on a cruise ship operated by CAN that washes up on ELP Island. No other band in the early ’70s, or since, has mined this particular territory, and the record’s arsenal of sounds blends together so seamlessly you get the sense that Captain Beyond couldn’t help but take it there. There most likely weren’t any philosophizing sessions or long discussions about musical direction. This are simply the sounds they were fated to create.

Cosmic but tough. Technical but disruptive. Forward thinking and regressive. Captain Beyond were a swirling mass of loveable contradictions. And their debut record is a towering artistic achievement that has taken many decades for the human ear to fully understand.

 

Daniel Falatko