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Music Review: Wicked Lady – The Axeman Cometh and Psychotic Overkill

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Wicked Lady laid down some of the heaviest stuff ever, and it is hard to believe that it was recorded way back in 1969-72. You know how a lot of reviews of obscure reissues say “This is the best band you have never heard?” In the case of Wicked Lady, that could not be more true. The eight songs that make up The Axeman Cometh, and the seven that comprise Psychotic Overkill have never been “officially” released until now. The exact story is a little hazy, but the music was apparently released as a semi-bootleg in 1994 by a label called Kissing Spell. Those who were lucky enough to come across them wrote some crazily over-the-top reviews (you can find some of them online), but even then the history of the band remained a huge mystery.

Guerssen Records have just released The Axeman Cometh and Psychotic Overkill with some very cool cover art, and liner notes from guitarist Martin Weaver. He sort of sets the record straight, but one is still left with more questions than answers. One thing is certain however, these guys were beyond “hardcore.” Not in a punk way, but as a way of life. Weaver says that the only reason the group ever recorded at all was so that they could remember the songs! Almost all of their gigs ended in violence, and they were banned from just about every place they played.

Before I get to the music, I just have to give a sample of some of his hilarious remembrances in the liner notes, “In the early days we were hated by our audiences and usually managed to clear any venue we played. One venue lost its music license because we played there. The bikers took control of the door and when the police came because of noise, they got into a fight with them.”

And how about this little gem, “Some of the stuff written about the band is true, if slightly exaggerated. For instance, I did punch an A&R man, but only because he said that my girlfriend had legs like a footballer. He was a cocky shit anyway and deserved it!”

So how could the music live up to this kind of insanity? It not only lives up to it, it is crazy good. I remember the first time I heard Black Sabbath back in the early ’70s. It scared the crap out of me. I’m sorry Ozz, but you guys had nothing on Wicked Lady. This is heavy duty, psychedelic, fuzzed-out doom rock that still sounds amazing.

The bloggers who reviewed the Kissing Spell releases always say that Wicked Lady could barely play their instruments. Maybe they thought that made for a better story, but Martin Weaver was a fantastic guitar player. His talent is there right from the opening track “Run The Night,” recorded in 1969. They sound kind of like an English Blue Cheer with this, but his solo is incredible.

“Run The Night” is a pretty decent introduction to the group, for the faint of heart at least. With the next track, “War Cloud,” things get serious. These Guerssen releases give the year the songs were recorded, which is helpful. “War Cloud” hails from 1970, the same year as Sabbath’s debut, and if anyone had actually heard it, I think they would have flipped. This 7:37 cut is doom personified, but with a twist. It starts out as an acoustic guitar-strummed hippy-ditty, and then it turns and opens the door to a Dante vision of Hell. Weaver pulls out his electric guitar, Bob Jeffries holds down the beat with his bass, while “Mad Dick” Smith totally lives up to his name with his drumming.

“The Axeman Cometh” is a piece of demented blues, with no need for lyrics to tell the story. “Wicked Lady” shows just how much Martin Weaver dug his wah-wah pedal. I mean, it is all over both CDs, but it is really a part of this track. Besides the wah-wah, “Wicked Lady” has one of the most monstrous riffs on the album. Honestly, all seven tracks on The Axeman Cometh are killer. “Lo-fi“ is a trendy term now, but it barely begins to describe the sound of this record. I could not imagine a better way of recording the caveman sludge these guys were putting down.

And the group just got better. The seven songs that make up Psychotic Overkill were recorded in 1972, right before they broke up for good. Del Morley replaced Bob Jeffries (who had moved to India) on the bass, and “was a complete nutcase, so he fitted right in,” according to Weaver. Psychotic Overkill is well titled, as is the opening track, “I’m A Freak.”

By ‘72, there wasn’t nearly as much “doom” in the music, or maybe it is just doom of another type. In any case, these songs are a lot tighter, and you can actually hear the lyrics, which are pretty scary in their own right. There is no denying just how talented a guitarist Martin Weaver is though. The wah-wah is still present, but his playing (especially the solos) is outstanding. The tracks are a lot more structured than those of The Axeman Cometh, showing a group who were growing as musicians, even as the craziness of their lifestyle was closing in on them.

As is obvious from the liner notes, Martin Weaver has a great sense of humor about the whole Wicked Lady experience. But the fact that he was truly a great guitarist is evident throughout both albums. Wicked Lady’s cover of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” on Psychotic Overkill is just one undeniable example.

As if things could not get any wilder, the final track from Wicked Lady is a 22-minute extravaganza titled “Ship of Ghosts.” Hey, it was 1972, and 20-plus minute “songs” were the order of the day. But did the lure of pretention ever get the best of Wicked Lady? No way. There is so much going on in this tune that you do not even notice the time. Believe me, there are few LP side-long prog excursions from that era that hold up today. Close to the Edge anybody?

Actually, Wicked Lady recorded a number of lengthy tracks over the course of these two CDs, and none of them ever feel as if the band is wanking off. It was a deliriously outrageous musical stew they brewed, and it all worked. I don’t know what to call them – “Satan‘s power trio” perhaps? Try this line from the nine-minute “Passion,” “Tell me that you love me and I won’t throw your grandma on the fire.”(!)

As for the aftermath, “Mad Dick” literally lived up to his nickname, and ended up in a mental hospital at the age of 28. Martin Weaver went on to join a group named Dark, whose album Round the Edges is talked about in those previously mentioned blogs with as much reverence as Wicked Lady. It is an album I’ll have to seek out. For now though, there are The Axeman Cometh and Psychotic Overkill, which apparently contain everything recorded by Wicked Lady.

Q: Are Wicked Lady the best band you never heard?

A: HELL YEAH!

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About Greg Barbrick