Sound — 8
The psychedelic rock band Coven was a trio with vocalist Jinx Dawson, bassist Oz Osbourne and drummer/percussionist Steve Ross. They had formed in Chicago and never really did achieve much success throughout all of their career, they were along with Black Widow and Black Sabbath to be the godfathers of satanic rock and occult themes, they all wore inverted crosses and were all about Satan; keep in mind this was the late '60s still which was pretty hardcore of these guys. The band would set groundbreaking footsteps for other groups to follow in even with all the controversial subject surrounding the album since its release, the track "Black Sabbath" may have even inspired the name for the group Black Sabbath.
Lyrics — 8
James Vincent who plays guitar on this album would actually be the one to write the lyrics but appears under the pseudonym Jim Donlinger in the album credits. Vincent was given books on the occult by the producer Bill Traut and asked to write songs from them, he managed to do a great job even though it must have been a quite tedious task. The band themselves would contribute only a few songs which were "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," "Portrait" and "Wicked Woman." The producer Bill Traut apparently wrote "Satanic Mass" or put it together as it was supposed to be a recording of an actual legitimate ritual occurring. The band did set a great example for artistic freedom and they really didn't compromise, they probably just couldn't fit in during there time for sure, outcasts in a love generation most probably and there is probably some resentment channeled on here.
I can kind of feel some of the hatred pouring out from the sound of the music at times, it's just been interwoven into the whole foundations of this hard rock occult themed debut. The only other musicians that are added on here are an organist/pianist who does keyboards. The main additional member here that might as well have been part of the trio is Donlinger aka James Vincent. He is the most important musician on here next to Dawson, his heavy psych guitar is present throughout and he doesn't do a bad job on here, not only giving the group material with songwriting but also giving them an important key to being a rock band, they probably owe him a lot for that.
The first track "Black Sabbath" sets the whole tone for the rest of the album with dark ominous moods with all the band members chiming in for the vocals in the end and some brilliant hard rock solos and an ascending wailing technique that sounds discordant but great, Steve Ross does hold down a fast and smooth rhythm near the chaotic ending. "White Witch of Rose Hall" is surprisingly a more soulful song with vocals and piano giving it that feel, it still has a dark setting to the lyrics and she provides her breathtaking vocals, it's no surprise she was a great opera singer full of talent but she definitely finds her place in rock with powerful vocals. The music Coven played was not far removed from the music of bands of the era like Jefferson Airplane, a connection made even more evident with the lead female vocals in both bands. But instead of the peace & love ideals of the turn on, tune in, drop out generation, which other late 60s bands were embracing, Coven's lyrics dealt with satanism, witchcraft, curses and evil.
Aside from the celebrated legend of Robert Johnson, and the occasional song like "That Old Black Magic" by the likes of Frank Sinatra, satanism and the occult had never been dealt with by popular musicians. The Stones are usually cited as a satanic band (at least in the later 60s), but their Satanic Majesties Request was a gimmick with no "evil" songs and, despite it's threatening title, "Sympathy for the Devil" had less to do with satanism and more to do with Mikhail Bulgakov's classic novel about Satan and religion, "The Master and the Margarita."
The song's infamous reputation from Altamont (probably) came after Coven's album was released. Black Widow did have music out under the name of Pesky Gee! but it was not satanic. Coven performed locally in the Chicago area until they attracted the attention of Mercury Records in the fall of 1969. Before the "Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls" LP, Coven had a 7" single out, the A-side being a cover of Dylan's "We Shall Be Released" and the b-side, "I've Come." Their press release from Mercury Records mentioned a previous album they recorded for another label that was shelved and never released. When singing their recording contract with Mercury, the band reportedly signed in blood (a common motif of soul-selling stories, a la Faust, Theophilus, etc.) but this was just a hint of the theatrics to come.
After securing the deal, Jinx, Oz and Steve, along with a handful of session musicians, recorded what is probably the first album of purely satanic songs ever recorded, LaVey's Satanic Mass notwithstanding. The LP was entitled "Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls." While the occult and satanism were in the public eye, with LaVey's founding of the Church of Satan in 1966 and a slew of occult books (including the Satanic Bible) an open promotion of the subject had not been attempted, the Stones coming the closest, but even they backed off before they seriously offended people.
My favorite track off of here remains to be "Coven in Charing Cross" with its interlude of chantings and the eerie story about vengeance on those who would condemn witches and the specific story of the coven being told here, it makes me wonder if this was real and it just gives you the chills especially the whole zeal that Dawson really brings and that guitar that slides and solos near the end is just perfect. "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" again gives you more of a disturbing image of witches burning and more vengeance and revenge with cursing of jealousy and lovely short guitar blips of acid rock.
Overall Impression — 8
Not many other artists have reached the level of darkness and taboo subject as Coven had besides the Doors which were already a well known group at the time, the whole occult background and themes were quite similar to Black Widow's album "Return to the Sabbat" which was intended for release the same year and was recorded just before Coven's debut in the UK. It seems as though Coven does give some nods towards the original first album of Black Widow under the name Pesky Gee with the album title just being an exclamation point or "!" released the same year too but earlier.
There is a sense of soft rock and definitely standard 60's music but there is still some well songwriting here and not bad musicianship. The only sketchy point the album does have to offer is the thirteen minute long (in accordance with the number of a Coven and the unholy number "13" which was supposed to be bad luck in medieval times) "Satanic Mass." Alright, this is the only real bump in the road the whole album hits and it's not because it's bad but it interferes with the sheer amount of material on here and I have a feeling they didn't have much else material and they really wanted to put it on there. The track however is still enjoyable depending on the listener, I had actually come to enjoy it and found it as a real motive to look into occult subjects and satanism and learn about how it's misunderstood and most of it is really an atheistic initiation, I have nothing against satanism. There isn't any real music delivered on there, just some chants, with actually nice vocals but the whole power and message there is and how provocative this was and groundbreaking at the time is impressive. I would say these guys were pretty ballsy, and unfortunately Manson was associated with satanism even though he had nothing to do with satanism or even surprisingly most of what people believe, it's another story of lies and the LaBiancas were actually drug dealers who cheated Manson and Watson which led to Watson retaliating with brutality.
But like I said that's another story, the group was linked to Manson and Manson was somehow linked to satanism thus tarnishing the reputation of the image and this was featured in a famous magazine at the time so the album was withdrawn from the shelves. It's really disappointing to see how a band could suffer so badly because of a hugely ignorant misnomer. There are great performances on here and the musicians that appear as additional personnel help the album flow in the right direction with some heavy guitars and amazing vocals from Dawson. This album is far from a terrible album like many have dubbed it, it's just not all that great of an album either, it's a good album and I would say it's definitely above average. It could have been better as far as more material, there is great shock rock here with only Alice Cooper doing this around the same time along with few others like Arthur Brown who would lead the way and also start the cult themes with his song "Fire" and great theatrical performance. The psychedelia merged in a darker form with nice bass riffs and some screeching guitar soloing that straddles the lines between calm and explosive really characterize the album along with Jinx Dawson's gifted vocals that reach the impossible levels of energy. I do love this album though, I can't be biased though and give every album a 10/10 though but I do think this album has been underrated and these guys pioneered satanic rock and the use of the sign of the horns or the evil eye, one of the first bands to do these things and they were quite daring for their time so much respect has to be given to them for this album.
In 1967 a band called Aorta released a self-titled album that is now regarded as a psychedelic classic. A man named Jim Donlinger was the leader of Aorta and Coven chose him to mix their "Witchcraft" LP. He not only arranged the album, he wrote or co-wrote the majority of songs on it as well, played guitar and also sang background vocals.