There have been countless bands that have slipped through the cracks over the past five decades. The most recent and notable example of this is with Detroit proto-punks Death, hammered home with the recent documentary A Band Called Death.
It’s dutiful (and slightly obsessed and deranged) crate-diggers who typically uncover these artifacts, and over the past decade Numero Group has curated a laundry list of fantastic, deep-cut soul and funk compilations. Their latest offering, Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles takes a sharp left turn, digging deep into America’s heartland to bring to life the still-breathing corpses of some of the heaviest riffers and psych weirdos not called Sabbath or Zeppelin.
The 16 bands featured on Warfaring Strangers are a varied lot, the only thing really tying them together being their penchant for Satanism and the fantastical mysticism found in a Frank Frazetta poster. Some of these bands probably deserve to remain in the shadowed obscurity of Hades, but it’s still a lot of fun to listen to. North Carolina’s Arrogance offer up a slab of heavy blues with “Black Death,” but the title is the only thing to fear here. And Georgia four-piece Stoned Mace lurk in the dark crevice somewhere between Zep and Jefferson Airplane on the moody “Tasmania.”
But some of these bands were lightyears ahead of their time. The short-lived Stone Axe’s “Slave of Fear” is a stone-cold stomper, with guitarist Dave Mitchell unleashing a solo that threatens to keep on going (I kind of wish it did). The Texas band released 500 copies of the now sought-after “Slave of Fear” single, and by 1971—just a year after forming—called it a day. Perhaps one of the more interesting tracks comes from Canton, Ohio’s Wrath, although it’s less for the music as it is the directness of the lyrics and the fact that guitarist Ralph Minocchi’s wife had to deliver them due to drummer-vocalist Rick Page suffering from laryngitis. On “Warlord” she sings, “Burn the man who walks upon my land, the gods of the sky shall make you die / Living in lust as Satan must, or the gods shall turn you into dust,” sounding eerie and devilish whether she’s trying to or not.
It’s the stories behind the songs—which are illustrated in the album’s liner notes—that make this batch of misfits all the more likable. Most of the bands on Warfaring Strangers lasted barely a year. Hell, the noteworthy black hard-rock band Hellstorm lasted only one show. At the core of it all is the youthful unrest of small-town life and the liberating power—even if it’s fleeting—of rock and roll. That’s as timeless as it gets.