Capricorns are a now defunct instrumental sludge band from London who had a seemingly effortless talent for merging and jamming through all sorts of different musical styles and genres, not just metal. Many have tried to classify Capricorns with one simple universally applicable term, alas they failed. I’ve heard them be described as Sludge, atmospheric Sludge, Metal, post-metal, stoner metal, doom and stoner doom the list is endless really. In which case, whilst the strict genre zealots have failed to agree on which specific metal sub-genre to lump them in, together they have done an extraordinary job of describing many aspects of the music. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where all the influences come from musically, their contemporaries within the instrumental metal/post metal scene would no doubt have played their part, Pelican, Aerogramme and Isis to name a few. There are certainly elements of the atmospheric titans Neurosis and perhaps the necessary influences from both prog rock and movie scores. The more groove orientated Capricorns’ tunes that hold some elements of 70’s fusion and prog find themselves rudely interrupted by teeth shattering riffs. Oh so many riffs.
It is also a strong possibility that Baroness had some sort of influence on their direction also (no doubt the inspiration was mutual), especially evident on what would become Capricorns’ last album, the two bands toured together back in 2005 playing small venues and pubs. Moreover the intro to ‘Tempered with the Blood of Beasts’, third track on Capricorns’ full length ‘River, Bear Your Bones’ sounds remarkably similar to that of ‘Red Sky’, the first track on Baroness’ ‘Second’ EP.
The project was Nathan Bennett (Guitar), Kevin Williams (Guitar), Dean Berry (Bass) and Chris Turner (Drums), all fairly well known names on the local metal scene having played with various other bands. Turner for example was and still is the thunder in Orange Goblin and Bennett embodied the rhythm section with Iron Monkey and occasionally Bridge & Tunnel.
In 2004 Capricorns released their self titled EP, with Rise Above Records, consisting of three tracks and lasting just under twenty minutes. It is a little on the short side, but acts perfectly as a sample of the sheer prowess the band would later display. Comrades In Tears is a solid opener, a nice slow jam intro, a tenuous build up and really nice usage of cymbals and the bell of the ride cymbal in particular. The song is constantly building momentum until bursting into a bloody awesome chugger Willie Adler would be proud of. The tune also shows sparks of the more unrefined progressive element to Capricorns’ music. The second track, Queen of Bruises is a righteous display of song writing, highlighting much of the potential they later go on to fulfil, assumedly named after incidents of domestic violence, Queen of Bruises is a feel good tune and even includes a Theremin!
The final track on the pretty stunning (but too short) EP is Transcendental Evisceration a mouthful of a title that would look more at home on a Cannibal Corpse record. This song is fucking great straight up metal and features the only vocal part, and is one of only three in the band’s entire catalogue that does. The shouted part of ‘I have nothing, nothing comes my way!’ is repeated three of four times before the tune finishes with an almighty, but fairly repetitive riff. It works.
In an interview conducted with guitarist Nathan Bennett in 2007 he listed some of the non musical influences of the band, they included horror movies, Vikings, history, hating your day job, the ancient ones and just about anything else that’s escapist. Capricorns do an excellent job at incorporating some of these influences into the music and no less on the debut full length Ruder Forms Survive (2005, Rise Above), playing a massive part in the track naming. With no lyrics it takes a certain amount of personal inference and even research to see what the tracks are alluding to meaning each track almost acts as a mini history lesson. Some of my favourite tracks are ‘1977: Blood for Papa’ which is a fleeting reference to the psycho serial killer, acting alone in the summer of 1977 in NY, ‘Son of Sam’. The crushing ‘1440: Exit Wargasmatron’ alludes to a French aristocrat and military man famous for his particularly brutal and lurid tastes, Lad. A pretty obvious one is ‘1066: Born on the Bayeux’. My personal favourite ‘793AD: The Harrying of the Heathens’ is an explosive, riff-tastic tune and a suitable soundtrack for a bit of raping and pillaging, it is after all, about the first Viking raid on British shores. Also a tune, ‘1946: Last Renaissance Man’ refers to the Nuremburg Trials after the Second World War, and is one of the few tracks to contain vocals. One line, chanted once towards the end and it has an awesome impact on the song and sends those little shivers down the old spine, ‘RAISE YOUR RIGHT HAND!’
[An enjoyable fan directed video with 1946: Last Renaissance Man set to some interesting footage]
Any sort of write up on this album would not be complete without at least a mention of ‘First Broken Promise’, the only Capricorns song to contain vocals throughout and they are performed by Eugene Robinson of SF experimental band Oxbow. This tune is totally demented and turbulent from the start and then the vocals of a drugged out delusional schizophrenic carry the rest of the song through, breaking only for passages of really catchy, chorus like riffs. For anyone unfamiliar with the band this tune and the EP are good starting points of exploration.
[First Broken Promise with Eugene Robinson of Oxbow]
The band toured extensively both in the UK and Europe with this album, including some summer festivals on the continent and the Baroness tour of 2005.
The artwork for Ruder Forms has often come under sharp criticism from fans and critics alike and with no booklet to sink your teeth into I can see why, it’s nothing special. But there is good reason for this as Bennett puts it; they were ‘trying to avoid the pretentious trappings of being instrumental’. The band didn’t want it to look like a Hydra Head or Cult of Luna album for example. For what the artwork is lacking it is intriguing nonetheless, the only page in the sleeve of note has a phrase drawn in Capricorns’ signature stylistic font reading, ‘and it’s my ropes, and it’s my gloves, and it’s my first knife. And it’s him, and his last life, that offends me’. If any of you, readers, can allude to what this may mean, comment away.
River, bear your bones (2008, Rise Above) is a concept album of sorts, with primeval influences drawn from the history of the River Thames, it marks a remarkable shift in the musical style of Capricorns and with a number of line-up changes the fact that they remained instrumental was about all deeply entrenched fans could cling onto by this point. This album is a sharp display of progressive music that just so happens to be sludge metal whilst incorporating elements of doom, amazing! It’s far from the grinding, relentless riffs on ‘Ruder Forms Survive’ and further still from the introspective stoner metal jams on the EP, yet still distinctly Capricorns. The lack of vocals and conventional verse / chorus/ bridge song structure mean that it’s difficult to differentiate one song from another – instead, River, Bear Your Bones flows over the listener like the turbulent tidal surge of the Thames itself.
In hindsight and to an open mind the shift in the musical style is both necessarily adept and horribly malignant. It’s a brilliant album that would prove to be the beginning of the end of a band that bossed heavy instrumental music. Due to the size of the label and maybe even the unworthy cover art, in the large part Capricorns fell on deaf ears. In any case the band was never driven by international success and recognition, but innovative and exciting output. It was a project that for a short time, according to Bennett, craved more creative attention than any other he was involved with, ‘we aren’t interested in being an Ozzfest band – they wouldn’t have us anyway! We’ll take it as far as it takes us basically.’ he added two years before the band split in 2009. It is unclear exactly why they decided to call it a day after only five years and three discs, but the powerful music that they produced during this time will live on.
[Shot entirely on super 8 time lapse, promo for Comrades in Tears]
Capricorns may be gone but they are certainly not forgotten.
The spirit of Metal, indeed, was not dead. Its seed merely lay dormant in the dreams of the young:
Kevin Williams and Nathan Perrier, drummer on ‘River, Bear Your Bones’, went on to form hardcore band Alabaster Suns post Capricorns, who have released a debut EP. Chris Turner is still with the mighty Orange Goblin, who released an album earlier this year, ‘Eulogy for the Damned’, perhaps their best effort yet.