Why waste your time on candy corn and Ben Cooper costumes when you can celebrate Halloween with an actual Black mass?
If you want a real thrill this spooky season, why waste your time on kitsch (“Monster Mash”), family-friendly fare (“This is Halloween”), or those innumerable Halloween theme remixes? Why not go for the real deal — a Black mass by an actual coven?
Now, there’s a way to give your Halloween bash a touch of Satanic authenticity!
And thanks to Real Gone Music, you can readily get your hands on the very first record that brought occult themes to rock, for good or ill — Coven’s infamous 1969 debut album Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. The label’s just reissued that album, along with the band’s third record, Blood on the Snow, in limited colored vinyl editions, packaged in gatefold sleeves with the original artwork.
Witchcraft’s gatefold art features the band’s lead singer, Esther “Jinx” Dawson, stretched out nude on an altar, as her bandmates gleefully flash the “sign of the horns” around her, in a scene for which the album’s closing number, “Satanic Mass,” was made. The piece is a 13-minute recitation, with such incantations as “In the name of Satan, the ruler of Earth … I command the forces of darkness to bestow their infernal power upon us!” It’s a bit of a disappointment to learn that it isn’t a bonafide historical Black mass, but was instead written by the album’s producer, Bill Traut (who also worked with the Shadows of Knight, and, perhaps more relevantly, the band H.P. Lovecraft, named after the horror author). It’s still a suitably dramatic number, delivered in all seriousness. “To my knowledge it is still the only complete recorded Black Mass that was actually performed for real in a studio with our entire coven of 13,” Dawson told Iron Fist in 2016.
The rest of the album’s songs have titles like “Dignitaries of Hell,” “Pack with Lucifer” (written as “Pack,” not “Pact,” on the original release) and “Black Sabbath” (coincidentally, the group’s bassist was Greg “Oz” Osborne; Coven and Black Sabbath would play a show together at the Whisky a Go Go in 1970). But instead of gothic darkness, the music is more along the lines of the psychedelic folk rock of Jefferson Airplane, in more ways than one, Dawson’s singing frequently being compared to the stentorian vocals of the Airplane’s Grace Slick (she also bears a similarity to Mariska Veres of Shocking Blue). Indeed, if you didn’t listen to the lyrice, you wouldn’t automatically associate the group with the occult at all.
The propulsive rocker “Wicked Woman,” for example, has little that’s explicitly demonic. Despite the reference to “incantations,” the song’s protagonist seems more likely to be going to hell because she’s a murderer, not because she’s in league with Satan. Conversely, “Black Sabbath” revels in its depiction of a gathering where black candles are held, pots bubble with “unguents and potions,” and children are devoured, the vocals escalating into shrieking and menacing laughter.
It proved to be too much for the era. In March 1970, Esquire ran an article entitled “Evil Lurks in California,” which tied the band to the presumed outbreak of witchery and satanic horror thought to be percolating in Los Angeles in the wake of the Manson murders the previous year (it didn’t help that a photo circulated of Manson holding a copy of Witchcraft). The band’s career collapsed, and never regained its momentum; shows were cancelled, the album was withdrawn. But the band members persevered. In 1971, Dawson provided the vocal for the version of “One Tin Soldier” used in the film Billy Jack; though credited to Coven, only Dawson appears on the film version, though band later recorded another version for Coven’s second, self-titled album, released in 1971.
The follow up, Blood on the Snow, appeared in 1974. There’s an illustration of a demon playing a violin on the cover of Blood on the Snow, but otherwise there’s little of the profane on this album, which was produced by Who/Kinks producer Shel Talmy (though according to Dawson, “We [the band] remixed and reworked ourselves to make it into what it was supposed to be”). The opening track, “Don’t Call Me,” roars out of the gate, Dawson initially singing in a lower register, then vaulting up an octave to heighten the energy. Though there’s a touch of hippie sentiments in tracks like “This Song’s for All You Children,” most of the album is typical of West Coast ‘70s-era rock, full-bodied (with occasional orchestral embellishments) and tuneful. There’s a great bluesy take on “Easy Evil,” “Blue Blue Ships” is an eerie tale sung from the perspective of someone who’s died, the melancholy of “Lost Without a Trace” is reminiscent of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” and the title track is a tough little number with some strong guitar work (of which there’s much throughout the album).
But Blood on the Snow failed to attract even the notoriety of Witchcraft, leading to the band’s demise, leaving acts like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper (to mention but a few) to pick up the occult banner and run with it. But Coven’s influence has never gone away. Nor has interest in their music, leading Dawson to eventually put together a new lineup of the band. A new single, “Light the Fire,” was released in 2016, and Coven has since toured around the world, most recently completing a tour of Europe. And what better time of year to rediscover these cult classics; the perfect music to cue up as the sun sets on All Hallows Eve.
AUDIO: Coven Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls (full album)
AUDIO: Coven Blood on the Snow (full album)