Various Artists

Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles

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Wizards and sorcerers have a long, storied tradition within rock & roll -- well, not really. Fantasy was largely introduced into rock via the twin titans of '70s heavy rock, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but their heaviosity isn't always heard on the obscurities that comprise Numero's ridiculous and fun 2014 compilation Darkscorch Chronicles. Many of the bands here were residents of the hinterlands of middle America, with the rest hailing from the south (the only exception being Hellstorm, who are also the only African-American band here, and Triton Warrior, who come from Toronto, which is close enough to Detroit to almost count as Midwestern), and they're united by one thing: they consumed all those weird, loud sounds in private, often aided by bushels of dope, so they wound up regurgitating this foreboding noise in idiosyncratic ways. Dungeons & Dragons isn't a touchstone -- the game didn't debut until 1974, well after most of this was recorded -- so their notions of middle earth came straight from J.R.R. Tolkien or perhaps Zeppelin, who sang of the darkest depths of Mordor without ever suggesting the entirety of Middle Earth. The bands on Darkscorch Chronicles also suffer from solipsism, but that's their charm. Long before swords, sorcery, demons, and Marshall amps became commonplace in suburban garages, these bands pioneered heavy evil, recycling Cream and Deep Purple riffs without seemingly being conscious of their thievery, carried away on the volume and ballast of their overdriven noise. If the music isn't great -- this was garage rock where there was no emphasis on hooks or melody, so it's only immediate in its attack, not its form -- it's always forceful, which is a large part of its appeal. These are bands where the point was the playing, not the song, and what's interesting is how these 16 acts adhere to a sound but never echo each other. This is true American weirdness, a collection of groups that followed the zeitgeist without being aware of each other, and the remarkable thing about Darkscorch Chronicles is how it emphasizes this underground strain in America without ever mocking it. This was a weird time, and it sounds even weirder all these years later.

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