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There’s music that is meant to be heard, there is music that is meant to be experienced, and then there is Paul Chain’s music. To put it plainly, his unique blend of archaic rock, psychedelic atmosphere, church choir ambiences and Sabbath influenced doom metal lay somewhere in between the realm of what is heard and what is otherwise experienced. The style that drives the spirit of this music is definitely identifiable to anyone who is immersed in the mysticism of Pentagram, Trouble, Sleep and others of the emerging scene of the early to mid 80s, but where usually a few little nuances make these acts distinct, Paul Chain has staked out territory all his own with an extremely exaggerated variant of the sub-genre that has lost none of its mystique in the passing decades.
As far as where to go in seeking a starting point in Chain’s lengthy discography, the obvious choice is right here in Violet Theatre’s first EP “Detaching From Satan”, which seems to be an ironic way of pushing away from his past with the pioneering Italian metal outfit Death SS. Whereas in his previous music with his former band the stylistic conventions of his sound were not wholly defined, this stands as the first in a fairly consistent display of outlandish songs that bridge the gap between 1969 and 1984. The metallic elements are on clear display in the guitar work, which leans heavily towards the crunchy, rhythmically precise character of the same NWOBHM style that would be brought up to light speed by Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield, but with a tiny bit more of a swampy tone to keep the predominant influence of Tony Iommi and, to a lesser extent, Jimi Hendrix, in much the same way that said 60s icon’s noise driven, all over the place live performances influenced Dave Chandler.
Although the presentation of the traditional rock/metal instrumentation of drums, bass and guitars are fairly orthodox, save the frenzied and noisy approach to soloing, it’s in the other elements present where this album and much of Paul Chain’s later works come into their own. Somewhere between the frequent references to spacey keyboard ambiences, church organs, choral themes and the effects drenched, echo heavy vocal tracking, each song found on here is transported back and forth between multiple time periods in music history so rapidly that these songs almost listen like they are functioning in multiple universes. Words can not really describe these songs, and oddly enough, Paul agrees as the vocals heard on here a simply a collection of phonetic sounds. Paul’s vocal style is pretty clean by rock standards, almost to the point of channeling Ozzy Osbourne circa “Sabotage” while filtering out his nasally tendencies and occasional slurred words. But lyrics or no lyrics, the storytelling going on in the music is sufficient to tell a number of differing tales of madness, mysticism, and the outer limits of the human imagination.
No matter how many times these songs are heard, there is always something new to be gained from them. It’s one of those few instances where a band’s sound can be intentionally inaccessible yet be welcoming to a good number of potential adherents. This is definitely a metal album, and yet it could just as easily appeal to old school Led Zepplin and Iron Butterfly fans who might find Black Sabbath’s debut album just a little too dark and forbidding for their post-hippie sensibilities. It has enough musical hooks to be listener friendly, but more than enough other stuff going on to pass for a doom metal equivalent of meditation music. Forget about the Grateful Dead, forget LSD, and forget graveyard vigils, if you want a long strange trip, try listening to this all alone at 2am.
After a stint with Italian “horror metal” band Death SS, guitarist Paul Chain decided he wanted to leave the Satanic image he was playing in. This lead him to form Paul Chain Violet Theater, and here is their very first offering, “Detaching From Satan” from 1984. Many newcomers may feel a bit overwhelmed at the size of Paul Chain’s discography, so right away I’m going to recommend starting here. This EP can really sum up Paul Chain’s sound, and contains some of his best material.
The music here sounds very 70’s influenced, not unlike other doom acts at the time such as Pentagram, Witchfinder General, etc. However, this definitely has much more of a psychedelic edge to it (as one can see expand more at times in Paul Chain’s discography), and there are interludes containing chants and keyboards for eerie effect. The vocals are especially stunning, and aren’t the nasal Ozzy Osbourne-esque style that a lot of others were influenced by. Paul Chain’s voice is very elegant yet powerful, and carries much of the melody in the song. In fact, I would compare him to Robert Plant at times (most evident in the song “Occultism”). Leading back to the vocals carrying the melody, there aren’t really lyrics here, it’s just phonetics. Paul Chain can get away with this because his voice just does that much for the song.
It’s pretty apparent that the songs here are pretty simple in terms of structure. But this works very well for Paul Chain Violet Theater, as each song has it’s own voice due to the few riffs involved interacting with each other very well. In other words, although these songs are simple, they’re just well arranged. In addition to this, the guitar solos are astounding, and create a nice juxtaposition with the singing in terms of where the melody is in each song.
Another thing I find a appealing about this recording is the production. It’s not polished up, but it works well enough that every instrument is clearly there. It probably sounds just like if you were standing in a room with them jamming, no bullshit.
This EP alone made me appreciate what Paul Chain can do, and lead me to get into a lot of his other material. As I mentioned, if you don’t know where to start, this is a good place for what this Italian doom master has accomplished. A fantastic blend of 70’s psychedelic rock, heavy metal, and doom metal, “Detaching From Satan” will convince you in a mere 23 minutes that you have to hear more of this.
Certainly one of doom metal's most sainted cult heroes, Paul Chain has given us some remarkable work over the years. This EP was widely reviewed in indie metal zines WAY back in the day, but many seemed baffled by it's lo-fi but passionate take on NWOBHM style doom. There's also a strain of Italian prog rock running through the band, inspired no doubt by Goblin, at least in part. Chain's vocals have always been odd, theatrical ala King Diamond, minus his acrobatic range, and they are probably what most listeners will find most off putting about Chain's work. But the genuine morbid/eerie feel of the songs, which benefit from the poverty metal production job here, is totally authentic. Surely The epic "17 Day" is the highlight, a morose but deftly hymn of slow metal charm. Excellent, individual work. Fans of contemporary doom (Witchfinder General, Trouble, Pentagram, Dream Death) will enjoy this lots, I'm sure.