The mystery of Jacula / Antonius Rex

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I’ve written this because I could find no one person writing about the entire discography of this band. Before listening to all these I was looking at the reviews of later albums and was not sure what to take from them. If the band members see these reviews they may not appreciate the scepticism about when these albums were recorded (and other criticisms) but I am not the first to raise doubts and the more attention the band gets, the more discussion of these matters will follow. This band just baffles me with all their changes and that has been part of my fascination with them. I think their good stuff deserves far more attention.

1969- Jacula- In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum

I’ve had a lifelong yearning for scary pipe organ music and only came across bits of it within songs, even though the Bach recordings I got were great, it still never really hit the specific spot I wanted. I still wonder why so few musicians have went after horror leaning pipe organ music.
I’ve also searched far and wide for any kind of effective horror music I can find, whatever mode it may be in (things as diverse as Scott Walker, Goblin, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Dead Can Dance, Current 93, Devil Doll, Diamanda Galas, Virgin Prunes, Don Bradshaw Leather, Michiru Yamane, Akira Yamaoka, Aghast, Emperor, Midnight Syndicate/Nox Arcana and many obscure oddities from 70s to present). I see a lot of annoying criticism aimed at this band and the aforementioned ones that their music is not scary and it sounds silly, which makes those people sound like children who defensively mock something at a safe distance because they are worried they might be scared if they actually open up to the music. I don’t think a lot of this music is scary and it can sound silly but that alone does not make it fail as music. I love horror in all mediums and it is a rare feat to be genuinely scary (for example, I’ve seen hundreds of horror films but I’ve only ever seen roughly 25 that given me any trouble).

Finding out about Jacula/Antonius Rex is one of the most exciting musical discoveries I’ve ever made, finally I’ve found a band who cater to my castle/church/graveyard fetish in such a satisfying way that old Hammer, Bava and Corman films could never touch, and how odd that they are so old and obscure.

I found the combination of organ, guitar and vocals extremely fresh and impressively original. There is wind blowing, Bartoccetti speaking lyrics almost like incantations, brilliant furious guitar parts used sparingly, stomping sounds and the pipe organ creating this powerful suggestion of immense gigantic stone structures. There is a woman singing in one track who sounds nothing like any of the later vocalists.

There are a lot of people who doubt this is really from 1969. Reading about the band from interviews and biographies with all the stories of being involved in the occult and having stayed at various castles raises a lot of suspicions; so does simply listening to their music and reading the dates in which a lot of the music was supposed to be recorded. The cover art for the first two albums appeared on a black and white horror comic which appeared after these albums are said to. The album Zora also used a cover which appeared on a similar comic. Some fantasy artists of the era did sell their paintings to as many different places as possible, with an image ending up on books, magazines, posters and records. Maybe that happened here but I doubt it.

Regardless of when their albums were recorded, I’d like them to be wider heard and would love if they became influential on new bands who might explore similar territories. I think a lot of young people who like dark subject matters often latch upon the first bands that vaguely match these inclinations and then just end up fitting themselves into that mold rather than finding a better way to express these impulses, resulting in a lot of people falling into generic metal. I hope Jacula/Antonius Rex show people some exciting possibilities for horror music.

1972- Jacula- Tardo Pede In Magiam Versus

This is the only early album by this band that sounds completely like it came from when it is supposed to have come. The oddest thing about the album is that aside from the organ sounding roughly the same as the previous release, there is no real resemblance to any other album in their discography, this could be a completely different band. The singer is supposed to be Doris Norton but sounds nothing like the other voices that have been attributed to her in this band or what little I have heard of her solo career singing. But if I could sing like that, I doubt I would neglect to use it for so long. If this truly is a different band from who we are told, I can only wonder what happened to them, think of the great loss to music that they never recorded anything else and hope that more might be unearthed someday.

I think this is their best album, there is far less quiet spaces and instrumental changes than the other records; more murky sound that makes the castles seem foggier and more cobweb covered. The organ really goes unrestrained for most of the album. “Jacula Valzer” is a soft lovely track and “Long Black Magic Night” is spoken with an accent that is just perfect.

This is the best music I’ve ever heard for evoking haunted castles. One of my all-time favourite albums. Less like prog/proto-metal than the other albums. For something similar I’d recommend Yamane’s Castlevania Symphony Of The Night soundtrack.

“Absolution” was added in later versions and I really don’t think it has anything to do with the original recordings. I urge you to get a version without it because it just does not fit in, especially stuck in the middle of the album. It’s not a bad track but it sticks out as too different in style.

This is the last involvement of organ player Charles Tiring in the band, apart from seeming to have played the best track on Anno Demoni. His leaving prompted them to change the name of the band to Antonius Rex. It is said that Tiring recorded two albums: De Sade In Convent (1974) and The Dark Experience (1976). If these really do exist I’d love to hear them so much. I can only find a couple of mentions of them; nobody on the internet seems to have heard them.

1974- Antonius Rex- Neque Semper Arcum Tendit Rex

This album has a significant change in style from the previous Jacula albums; there are elements that I thought might spoil the music, such as bongos and extended guitar solos that somehow work really well. The organ sound is far lighter but still very nice and loud.
The music evokes more varied imagery and I think it sounds madder than before. A track called “Devil Letter” has all these sound effects of monsters, shouting, laughing, chains moving and a bunch of other things. Certainly the most prog of the first three albums.

Having heard the whole discography of the band from 1969- 2011 and being enormously let down, I think this is the last truly worthwhile album (so far). The later albums are extremely patchy and lack the aesthetic power and consistency of the first three. But I’d strongly advise you to at least hear the first track on Anno Demoni, which sounds like it could have been from the era of the first three albums, which are sacred to me.

1977- Antonius Rex- Zora

This album and the next were recorded when the band were having a child and needed money badly and they are not very proud of them. The sound quality is very poor, the original tracks are stylistically miles away from previous albums, some of the singing is quite nice but with music that sounds like a lot of obscure mediocre prog of the era.
One of my least favourite things about the band is their tendency to recycle things; here are two tracks from Tardo Pede with some added elements. “Monastery” is obviously not from this time and while it has a nice soothing distant organ, it sounds like a poor remix of a previously better track, but there is no other version of this, a lot of their later music just sounds like dance remixes of gothic organ music.

A shame with such an interesting cover the album should be so boring.

1978- Antonius Rex- Ralefun

Easily my least favourite of their entire output. Like Zora but worse. Very few noteworthy moments, “Witch Dance” is kind of fun, reminding me of a barn hoedown of witches. This is furthest away from the gothic sound as they ever got. Apparently this is the album that got the most exposure, too bad it was their worst.

1979- Antonius Rex- Anno Demoni

Like a compilation of tracks that are supposed to be from different times but mostly sound like they are recorded from the same time because there is this near constant sound like an exotic bird in a jungle; someone said it was a bat, which would be more appropriate for the band but it doesn’t sound batty to me. There is yet another track with female vocals which does not sound like the ones from other albums.
“Soul Satan” has an appealing humorous crazed singing vocal from Bartoccetti but the only thing on this album I truly like is the opening track “Gloriae Manus” which could have been on the first Jacula album, maybe it was supposed to be.
There are two tracks of the band under a different name which are short remixes of Tardo Pede tracks which really did not deserve to be saved from obscurity, which the band did not like anyway.

1980- Antonius Rex- Praeternatural

It is harder for me to believe that this is from 1980 than believing In Cauda is from 1969. The solo electronic music of Doris Norton from this time (some of which is being reissued now) did not sound nearly as clean and modern as this.
I think this album has the most important change in direction of all their albums: it sounds like a lot of 90s music that was on the fringes of goth, dark neo-classical and metal, like early Mortiis albums. Sadly the synth can sound very artificial, so it mostly lacks the convincing atmosphere of the older records, so the castles, churches and graveyards appear less authentic. I also think the compositions from here on often lack a satisfying structure and a lot of the nicer elements are undermined by others that come in and ruin any atmosphere that had built up. For example, there are a lot of long guitar and keyboard solos that jar with the rest of the music. I think guitar and keyboard solos get a far worse name in prog and other genres than they deserve. All sorts of interesting effects can be created with solos, sometimes in the forefront, or very subtly working in the background. But a lot of the solos by this band are exactly when they don’t work; it sounds like musicians warming up and testing their flexibility before recording rather creating something that will benefit the song.

There are a number of nice atmospheric moments in the album but for various reasons they don’t come across as well as they could have.
There is a biography spoken at the end by an English guy with humorously exaggerated claims that make me wonder if this is supposed to be a joke and maybe Bartoccetti intended this band to be a half hoax.

2005- Antonius Rex- Magic Ritual

The opening several minutes of this album has an exciting chanting with drums that evokes a massive satanic ritual that could open an epic black metal album. But it quickly goes downhill in uninspired rocking out with the exciting part at the start coming back repeated now and then. The second track “Fairy Vision” also has middle section with generic rock jamming after an intriguing opening. Only two tracks, both quite long.

The cd/dvd version of the album does not contain the second track. The dvd side is just the first track with added parts from Neque Semper’s “Devil Letter”. The video is half an hour long, with a further half hour confusingly devoted to a black screen with no sound, with only a few images appearing every few minutes.
The video is like a Jean Rollin fan on zero budget with a few friends, with footage of the band past and present. Mostly devoted to a small ritual, a vampire in an odd hat and a goth girl wandering about, all manipulated with primitive editing effects. The whole thing is just very poor.

This is when Rexanthony, the son of Bartoccetti and Norton starts his involvement with the band. Just like his mother, he has his own career in dance music.

2006- Antonius Rex- Switch On Dark

The sound in this album is fuller than the previous two albums and louder with more modern metal influence. It is the first time there is a female singer not credited as Norton. In the title track there is a heavy metal growler shouting words among what sounds like neoclassical darkwave chillout music and I don’t think it works that well. There are clips of Gollum from a Lord of the Rings film among other samples that make this sound increasingly like dance music. There is a probably better new version of “Fairy Vision”. “Darkotic” sounds surprisingly like early Burzum in places. “Mystic Drug” is very good but I have no idea what genre to compare it to, something eastern perhaps, it even has a good guitar solo.
There is a cd-rom video on this with their best attempt at music video so far. A bit Argento-ish.

I enjoy their new music better if I treat it as a different band. But something else that bothers me about the band has nothing to do with the music: the artwork has some photos of nice architecture, statues and old paintings but most of it has a very cheap artificial photoshop look that plagues a lot of prog and metal bands. But I suppose the artificiality is a problem with their new music too, even if I can enjoy patches of it.

2009- Antonius Rex- Per Viam

The album starts quite well with the heavy buzzing electric sound of “Micro Demons”. “Per Viam” is by far the best track with some real atmosphere that the band has lacked in recent times. Later tracks sound like they have supernatural battles in them as if they came from a movie. There is yet another version of a Tardo Pede track but with modern metal guitars, I wish that album would just be left alone. The last track is supposed to be a Charles Tiring piece from 1948 with other new elements laid on top; it is fairly nice and soothing but does not sound especially like his usual organ playing.
There is another cd-rom video.

2011- Jacula- Pre Viam

I wonder why they changed their name? Because they still have future Antonius Rex albums planned. The Jacula records seem more popular today but since they are keeping both names going, you would think the music might be more different. It is different in that Doris Norton is completely absent, it is mellower than previous albums and it manages some nice dark ambient moments with less metal and dance influences.
The albums opens bizarrely with barking and growling seemingly by both dogs and men. There is one very good track that is the best thing they have done in ages: “Possaction”, with military drums, their old trademark stomping, organs and genuinely disturbing samples of a screaming woman being exorcised. There is a song only on the vinyl version which I have not heard.
The cd-rom video track is a mixture of a song from this album and one from the previous album.

I await the forthcoming Antonius Rex album H.D still interested despite disappointment with their recent output.

First track of the first album is a good way to get interested if you dont know them...

Robert Adam Gilmour, Sunday, 22 January 2012 20:21 (seven years ago) link

eight months pass...

There are a lot of people who doubt this is really from 1969.

I'm one of them. If that was recorded in 1969 then I'm Beelzebub. By the way the Doris Norton album, "Personal Computer" is awesome.

Hello, Good Evening and Expenses (Tom D.), Saturday, 6 October 2012 11:31 (seven years ago) link

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