Fumetti plus wizards = total doom
It’s either the most mind-blowing musical anomaly ever unearthed or it’s bullshit. Me, I prefer to believe. You will too. Light some black candles, take a slow sip from your crusty bottle of absinthe, and dig this spooky backstory….
In 1966, fledgling mystic Antonio Bartoccetti moved to Milan where he met a wizard named Franz Parthenzy. The two (apparently) communed with dark spirits who gifted Antonio with a musical vision so sinister and so subversive that it took him three years just to find collaborators brave enough to help him bring it to hideous life. He was eventually joined by an older British pipe organist with a classical background named Charles Tiring (R.I.P., presumably, unless he’s 118 years old) and a mysterious vocalist/violinist/keyboard masher, Fiamma Dello Spirito (or Doris Norton, as mere mortals call her).
Jacula was named after a popular erotic comic book at the time. They lifted their very metal logo from the comic as well. The songs were already channeled by Antonio, so all that was left was to record them. Legend has it that the first album, 1969’s In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum (roughly translated: “It always ends in poison”) was recorded in a crumbling British castle during a seance. Let’s go with that. The self-financed album was “released” in 1969—several months before Black Sabbath, incidentally—in a strictly limited edition of 333 copies. However, it was never sold in stores. Rather, it was handed out freely to like-minded occult dabblers, presumably for further spells and incantations. Cue a jarring crack of thunder and maniacal, mad-scientist laughter.
The world’s first black metal album?
So what does this album sound like? It sounds like Swiss extreme metal pioneers Hellhammer wandering onto the set of 1960s Mario Bava horror movie. It is Maximum Dungeon Synth, with a depressive church organist bonging away while mad monks chant and guitars drone. A shrieking violin cuts through the murk and wordless murmurs confront and confuse. The most jarring aspect, given the year it was created, is the thoroughly inhuman, wildly distorted guitar that permeates the recording, an oppressive boot-heel of ugly noise running roughshod over the perpetually gloomy atmosphere, especially on the album’s heaviest track, the epic “Triumphatus Sad.” It is this sound that has caused so much contention with heavy metal archeologists, who swear that such wicked riffery could simply not have existed in 1969.
Prevailing wisdom with record collector nerds is that Bartoccetti overdubbed the guitars sometime in the 90s, concocting this hopelessly obscure hoax just to land the “first heavy metal album” mantle. Well, maybe. Black Widow Records reissued the album in 2001 and although the label did not get into details, the album was definitely “cleaned up” and restored from the crumbling 1969 reels, so it’s entirely possible that the Tom G. Warrior teenage Satanist guitars were dropped in later. But so what? Even without the distortion, the album envelops you in such a thick cloak of doom that you can practically feel the ancient slime on the castle walls and inhale the acrid smoke of burning witches.
No matter what, this album is heavy as fuck.
Bleak Sabbath: Jacula in the early 70s
To his credit. Bartoccetti has never properly explained anything. That’s the way mystics are supposed to act. The band followed up with another album in 1972, Tardo Pede In Magiam Versus (“slow steps towards magic”), and then broke up for forty years, reconvening in 2011 for a comeback album, Pre Viam. During the intervening years, Bartoccetti recorded a flurry of dark prog albums under the name Antonius Rex. Doris Norton kept busy as well, releasing some very innovative electronic albums in the 80s and 90s. Neither has created anything as scary or as fucked-up as that first record, but then again no one else has, either. If The Abominable Dr. Phibes was real, he’d have been in Jacula.
All hail the true kings of doom!
Epic Jacula jam “Triumphatus Sad”:
For comparison, here’s a lil’ bit o’ Hellhammer:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Welcome to the Witch House: Occult rock pioneers Black Widow live on Germany’s ‘Beat-Club,’ 1970