Black Widow

Come to the Sabbat: The Anthology

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The common misconception about England's Black Widow is that they were crucial contributors to the development of heavy metal in the early '70s -- they weren't. In fact, the unconventional sextet had far less in common with Black Sabbath -- with whom they only shared mutual management and a propensity for occult subject matter -- than early progressive rock bands like, say, Emerson, Lake & Palmer if they'd had a guitar player. Having failed to ignite much interest as psychedelic progsters Pesky Gee! (whose 1969 single A- and B-sides, "Where Is My Mind" and "A Place of Heartbreak," open this collection), Black Widow only found their calling after changing their name and embracing the Satanic arts wholeheartedly. Their lyrics clearly conjured for maximum shock value, "In Ancient Days," "Come to the Sabbat," and "Conjuration," from 1970's controversial Sacrifice album (which climbed to number 32 on the charts, amazingly enough), were tailor-made for the band's elaborately theatrical performances, which nightly culminated in a fetching and very naked young lady's mock human sacrifice. Although these shenanigans were soon toned down considerably, Black Widow's ensuing LPs continued to tread an adventurous but often confusing road paved with progressive rock and heavy folk overtones. Multifaceted (some might say excessively so) highlights from this period, including "The Gypsy," "King of Hearts," the immense medley "The Battle," and the dramatic, downright weird "Mary Clark," were usually embellished by string and brass arrangements, saxophones, and flutes. Indeed, Black Widow rarely came to grips with the benefits of songwriting economy. Too bad, because, with their usual extravagance held in check at last, relatively straightforward numbers like the energetic "Wait Until Tomorrow" or the more groove-based "Lonely Man" and "You're So Wrong" have aged far better than most of their bloated counterparts. By focusing on hard rock and using folk and flute elements more sparingly, these are reminiscent of Jethro Tull -- thought it's questionable that Black Widow ever notched a riff as heavy as "Aqualung." Simply put, commercial sensibility was never Black Widow's forte, and by the time 1973 rolled around, the Leicester natives were on their last legs. Out of the ruinous chaos of the group's protracted demise, Come to the Sabbat: The Anthology does a fine job of collecting stray leftovers like the demos for what should have been the band's fourth album, as well as oddities such as the quite hysterical "Theme for Abingdonia," taken from a 1999 tribute album. Arguably as definitive a collection as one could wish for, Come to the Sabbat proves once and for all that, for all their imagination and talent, Black Widow were always helpless victims of their own sonic schizophrenia.

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