Writing on the Wall

The Power of the Picts

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Writing on the Wall's only album was theatrical heavy blues-psychedelic-rock that, despite its power and menace, was too obviously derivative of better and more original artists to qualify as a notable work. The organ-guitar blends owe much to the Doors, Procol Harum, and Traffic, though the attitude is somehow more sour and ominous than any of those groups. The vocals are sometimes pretty blatant in their homages to Arthur Brown, particularly when Linnie Paterson climbs to a histrionic scream; Jim Morrison, Gary Brooker, and Stevie Winwood obviously left their imprints on him too. Throw in some of the portentous drama from the narrations to the Elektra astrological concept album The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds (particularly on "Aries") as well. A problem is, however, that not many singers other than Morrison and Brown could pull off this kind of solemn poetic mood, and on "Aries," to take one example, the attempt to create a seance-like atmosphere seems faintly ridiculous. To look at the positives, the band does play with a soul-rock crunch; the songs sometimes shift tempo (occasionally in and out of martial beats) and melody unpredictably, if not nearly as memorably as, say, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown did; and there are occasional off-the-wall touches of accordion and, on "Virginia Waters," speaking-in-tongues vocals with a nod to Family's Roger Chapman. [The 2007 CD reissue on Ork is an expanded two-CD edition adding lengthy historical liner notes, the non-LP 1969 single "Child on a Crossing"/"Lucifer Corpus," and, on the second disc, a dozen 1968-1971 tracks that weren't released at the time.]

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