The future is separated from us by a few sunrises and sunsets. The past is locked away forever. If you want to know what will happen in anno domini 3014, the solution is relatively easy: live a thousand more years. But we’ll never know for sure what happened in 1014, unless it’s documented in some way through art or writing (which themselves are unreliable). In theory, we could use computers to recursively calculate past events, but even that approach is better suited to the future than the past. It’s easier for a computer to take some causes and calculate the end state than to take an end state and calculate the causes.
What’s particularly interesting is musical history. Who was the first guitarist to use distortion? Who was the first drummer to use a matched grip? Many of these questions have no answers. People who make history often don’t realise they’re making history, and many things from music’s past are unrecorded and undocumented.
In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum is an Italian progressive rock album, allegedly from 1969. If this is true, then Jacula was more groundbreaking than a nose-diving 747 packed with shovels. The levels of distortion and heaviness rival anything Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or Deep Purple could boast at the time, and the songwriting is dissonant, challenging, and very dark. If it could be proven that this is from 1969, you could definitely say that Jacula were the true forefathers of doom metal.
But maybe it’s not from 1969. The guitar distortion has a very processed and modern character, quite unlike the rawness of Link Wray’s early sound, or the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”. There’s fairly technical guitar shredding that also doesn’t jibe well with a 1969 release date. Nobody can find any reference to this album in contemporary Italian music magazines. There are rumours that In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum was recorded much later, and given a ludicrous back-date to enhance its street cred.
Sadly, lies about release dates are common in metal. French hack Luc Mertz (who records as Zarach “Baal” Tharagh) claims he was playing black metal in 1983, before even the first Metallica album. Black metal musician Kanwulf claims to have released a demo in 1989, which seems unlikely given that the name “Kanwulf” comes from a TV series that aired in 1995, and this name is prominently stamped on the cover of his demo. Everyone wants to be the first to the party.
How well does this album stand up, if we give it a later release date? Not too well. The songwriting is bleak but tedious. Its symphonic themes are fairly complex but tonally the same, and this bores the ear. The guitars are just “there” – there’s no riffs driving the music, the way Tony Iommi would have it. The album’s one interesting moment is “Triumphatus sad”, where guitar solos and hammond keyboards duel back and forth in an interesting manner. Otherwise, the album is a monotonous backdrop of sound. ONE sound.
Does In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum have value? That depends on the release date. If it’s from 1969, it’s an important part of musical history. If it’s from the 90s, it’s worthless and forgettable. And nobody knows when it’s from, so I guess it’s like they used to say: You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Or did they? I don’t know. That’s from the past too.