Captain Beyond should have been Rock Gods. Had they been more commercially successful, they could probably have gone down in the books as rivaling Black Sabbath’s reign over early 70s Hard Rock/Metal. It’s baffling when one looks at Captain Beyond’s eponymous debut, at its grandeur, depth, and sheer “heavyocity”, to think that for the six years Captain Beyond was creating ear-splitting hard rock, they flew completely under the commercial radar.
All the pieces of the puzzle were there. The band, itself, was one of the first hard rock supergroups. Rod Evans (the original lead singer of Deep Purple until his replacement by Ian Gillian in 1969) on vocals, Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and Lee Dorman (original members of Iron Butterfly) playing guitars and bass, respectively, and Johnny Winter’s drummer Bobby Caldwell. Not only is each individual member of this group considered to be the pre-eminent players in their field, at the time, but as a group they were tight, solid, and soulful.
They were also something new. Very few bands were playing music this heavy in 1972. Let alone in this complex a manner (sure Sabbath was heavy, but how often did they play did they play in atypical time signatures?) Unfortunately after a second, much more jazz-rock-influenced record and a third disastrous prog. album, Captain Beyond called it quits, never to release another full-length ever again.
But none of this stops Captain Beyond from being a hard rock masterpiece from start to finish. Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, Captain Beyond seems to be a very short album spread out over a hefty number of tracks (13, to be exact). But even on the first listen, it is evident that this was not how the band had envisioned the track list. Many of the tracks segue into each other, narrowing the final “song” count to a mere 5 (with tracks 4 & 5 being the only two that can be listened to as separate entities). This, alone, makes the album come across as an epic undertaking,. The album opens with the atypical rhythm of Caldwell’s drums on “Dancing Madly Backwards”, and then soon erupts into a blues-infested hard rock riff that tears you out of your seat and melts your eardrums to your record player (just imagine it’s 1972 and record players are still around. It’ll help the mood, I promise). Rod Evan’s bluesy rocker-croon was the carnivore of early 70s rock voices, hiding no emotion and leaving no measure of energy untapped.
After four minutes of guitar crunch (as well as some weird psychedelic licks), we travel into the much calmer territory of “Armworth”, just under two minutes of 60s influenced rock, then meanders into the spacey comfort of “Myopic Void,” which, evokes images of bong-smoke-filled rooms and black light posters of outer space. Just under a minute before the end though, it turns back into the raging hard rock monster it began as, ending with guitar echo and a ceaseless cymbal ring-out.
The next track is “Mesmerization Eclipse”, a straight forward hard rock number from start to finish, very reminiscent of the MC5. The same is true for its stand-alone counterpart, “Raging River of Fear” (although the latter sounds more of an homage to Mountain than The MC5).
The next trio of songs contain the only two tracks to feature prominent acoustic guitar. The first of the three, “Thousand Days of Yesterday (Intro)”, is a calm minute-plus of acoustic guitar, vibes, and cymbal crescendos like waves (as well as a spacey, inaudible vocal line). It immediately kicks into “Frozen Over”, a frantic drum-oriented piece which, in clear opposition to the previous track, leaves little-to-no breathing room, making it one of the heaviest, busiest (and also most difficult) tracks on the entire record. The closer to this trio is “Thousand Days of Yesterday (Time Since Come and Gone)”, a bouncy song built on acoustic guitar, bass and drums, with vocals sitting way in the back of the mix. Although (or maybe due to the fact that) the main riff is two chords, it is an extremely catchy song, and will leave you spastically flailing in your chair (because you got caught up in the moment, right?).
The album closes with a five-track epic, “I Can’t Feel Nothin’ (Part I)”, “As the Moon Speaks (To the Waves of the Sea)”, the 16-second “Astral Lady”, “As the Moon Speaks (Return)”, and “I Can’t Feel Nothin’ (Part II).” The first part of this opus is another Mountain-esque rocker with a Hendrix-inspired guitar squeal during the choruses. “As the Moon Speaks” harkens back to The Door’s “The End” for the first minute and a half, by making use of various percussion, a chorus-laden guitar, a spoken-word vocal part, and some spacey “aahs” for good measure. It immediately kicks into a fast-paced riff, but still continues with spacey harmonies, giving the song a very surreal juxtaposition by catching you in between calm, extended harmonies and a note-crunching riff. The second part of “As the Moon Speaks” is easily the weakest link in this set of songs (if not the entire album), but has a really soulful, thick guitar solo as its centerpiece, thus relinquishing it from any major negative commentary (although the harmonies are almost grating). The final track on the album “I Can’t Feel Nothin’ (Part II) has a great build into what could be the heaviest riff of 1972. At not even a minute and a quarter in length, this short but sweet song is the biggest kick-in-the-ass ending to a record, leaving the listener sitting upright in his chair, stiff as a board, eyes wide thinking “Whoa. What the hell just happened? Oh well, let’s give this sucker another spin.”