Paul Chain is dead. Or let’s say his gentrified stage/band name from the late 70’s until 2003 was officially put to rest as he began to use other variations of Paolo Catena around that time. He was made legendarily underground as a founding member of Italy’s answer to Alice Cooper and KISS in the form of Death SS. By the mid 80’s he’d literally denounced the shocking satanic imagery of Death SS and in dissolving that band he was freed from dated obligations and the failing remnants of 70’s hard rock.
He lead with his Violet Theater project, music that was shaped with equal parts Black Sabbath occult rock and form-lite jam session. By the time he’d reached the mid-90’s the group was simply Paul Chain by name and experimentation with the limits of rock and metal textures somehow formed into the grand doom metal stallion that is ‘Alkahest’. He’d done incredible things with Hawkwind style space jams and heavy psych pronged lo-fi organ grinding but he hadn’t seriously returned to pure doom metal since he’d initially ‘detached from Satan’. Many will argue his earliest singles remain some of the most powerful traditional doom metal output, and they do make for striking compilations, but ‘Alkahest’ is my vote for his most meaningful musical statement.
My use of the word ‘meaning’ should draw a fit of smirking from anyone who already knows that Chain’s vocals on ‘Alkahest’ are literally emotive phonetic gibberish that rarely form actual phrases. With his use of blurred lyrics and NWOBHM influenced doom metal he crafted a half album’s worth of heavy, evocative doom metal songs that transcended the underground to the point of resembling savant outsider art. What about the other half? Mixed in with Chain-sung tracks are several songs lead by Lee Dorrian (Cathedral, With The Dead) and his unique stoner doom caterwauling circa ‘The Carnival Bizarre’. Dorrian balances out an otherwise obscured and uneven full-length with his dodgy croon and very clear lyrics sung in english.
The hour that is ‘Alkahest’ offers an inspirational gift of heavy metal from a mastermind unafraid to collaborate and extend his talents boldly into territory that couldn’t hope for a more perfect storm of psychedelic shapelessness, angst, and metered good taste in obscure late 70’s heavy metal. I understand a lot of folks balk when I say this is the second best doom metal release ever conceived. Sure the production is slightly ragged and Dorrian is as much of an acquired taste as lead paint chips, but these things are hardly important. I would argue that ‘Alkahest’ is a masterwork that is forever fluid in its interpretation yet timeless in its approach to the art of the doom metal riff. Music occupying that space between well-polished relic and expressive modernization (see: the rest of the 90’s) within that era is rarely observed.
This was more or less it for Paul’s foray into doom metal. ‘Park of Reason’ recaptured some of the spirit and also covered Saint Vitus’ “Let the End Begin” to great effect but that’d largely be it. Heavy metal was lucky to ever have such a natural improviser in its ranks at all. So, yes this Hawkwind loving Italian lives on into his 60’s to this day but the Paul Chain I worship died decades ago leaving behind a wealth of jams, psych, and at least one transcendent doom metal album.
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