Originally released back in 1970, Church Of Anthrax is one of those odd albums that has seemingly slipped through the cracks for over three decades now. Up until last month, it had never been released on CD in the United States, and had been out of print for ages despite the two mega-accomplished artists involved. Although neither John Cale nor Terry Riley need a huge introduction or much back story, it is interesting to see where this particular release falls in their own discographies.
For Cale, Church Of Anthrax arrives directly following up his solo debut of Vintage Violence (which was released the same year). That album was a bit more straightforward in scope, but on this release with Riley, he was able to flex a bit more of his avant-garde background a bit (Cale worked with John Cage and was a member of La Monte Young's The Dream Syndicate in the 60s before helping found Velvet Underground). For Riley, this collaboration with Cale comes only a year or so after A Rainbow In Curved Air, a much more fleshed-out piece of minimalism that found him developing his ideas further.
The five-song, thirty-three minute release is a bit of an idiosyncrasy, but that's also what makes it so enjoyable. It incorporates long, droning passages with almost improvised melodies and huge rhythmic workouts that sound a bit like the best krautwork that was being churned out across the ocean at the same time. Opener "Church Of Anthrax" is a perfect example, as huge drum breaks pound away while super funky bass twangs and piano, harpsichord, organ, saxophone, and viola all weave together in exciting ways. It bangs away for almost nine minutes, sometimes preferring a bit of the drone and dirge while in other places dancing playfully. "The Hall Of Mirrors In The Palace At Versailles" seems to have a bit more of a Riley influence as multiple layers of soprano sax curl and waft around repeated piano figures and sometimes-encroaching clouds of feedback.
The songs that stand out on the release are the shorter ones, and "The Soul Of Patrick Lee" does so even more because of vocals. Written entirely by Cale, it certainly sounds like an extension of the work on his debut release, even though he's not the one doing the vocals. A straightforward piece of 70s chamber rock, it sounds a bit out-of-place on the album, but nothing that throws it off too much. Of course, then it's right back into an extended rocker in "Ides Of March," and harpsichord, and multiple layers of piano play out over more huge drumming.
Although it's been remastered tastefully, Church Of Anthrax still has the soft tape hiss and warmth of a recording done on what was probably a fairly low budget at the time. It makes no matter, though, as this one is a gem that should be hunted down by fans of either artist (especially Riley), or those who like psych, kraut, space, or yes, even post rock. One of those releases you can't believe has gone overlooked for so long, this is a nice one to have back in print.