Band of the Week: Antonius Rex

Resident sound-nerd thumbs through reams of musty vinyl so you don’t have to. Here are his weekly recommendations…

#17: Antonius Rex

Who: Antonio Bartoccetti, Doris Norton, Jean Luc Jabouille.

When: 1970’s-Present.

Where: Italy.

Why: Antonio Bartoccetti was a mythical figure of the late 60’s and early 70’s Italian progressive scene. The self-styled arch-gothic prince of darkness and his paramour Doris Norton had carved an intriguing niche in the musical landscape of the country with their project Jacula; a preternaturally brilliant if underrated horror-comic fixated combo who, with 68 year-old organist Charles Tiring, cut two mysteriously prescient heavy, ritualistic LPs before disbanding so that Bartoccetti could begrudgingly perform mandatory military service. Upon returning, he began several new projects with Norton, including Dietro Noi Deserto and Invisible Force, bands who each had but one lonely single to their name. But it was Antonius Rex, initially formed with a wealthy occultist named Albert Goodman on drums, that would become the enduring coven. Relocating to London, Bartoccetti and Norton soon warmed to the eccentric Goodman, who owned, among castles and land, a record label; Darkness. While not in any way a competent percussionist, his passion for the dark arts placed another veil of Satanic suspicion over the band, courting interest in a countercultural climate which obsessed over witchcraft.

In Milan, the trio cast their first spells to tape in sessions which would form their first LP as Antonius Rex, Neque Semper Arcum Tendit Rex. These first rites for the band stand in time as a foreboding, prophetic pre-echo of the heavy metal horror that was to come in the 80’s. Yes, there’s an overarching prog vibe, mini-moogs and looped drums and gongs reeking of 70’s beard-stroking, but some of the guitar here is truly savage, similar to early death/doom efforts by the likes of Hellhammer. While the atmospheres are far from brutal, there’s a lingering ambience of dread and doom that conjures all the incense-bearing hippie occultism of the 70’s with its memorably bizarre ceremonial vibe. While almost released on Vertigo, the band’s shot at fame was scuppered by their black magic leanings, as the label refused to put out a record covered in ritual runes and a cover that reproduced a 17th century ‘diabolic’ letter.

Later LPs would become more palatable to a wider audience, Zora another comic tie-in and 1978’s Ralefun sounding like a mellow, funky version of Italo-prog soundtrack stars Goblin. What’s most astonishing about Antonius Rex is their place in the timeline of rock & roll – their esoteric antics pre-empt much of what was to come on not only eurotrash soundtracks but in the worlds of black metal and doom as well. Bartoccetti and Norton continue to make music to this day, but much like so many of the lost occult rockers of the 70s raised from the grave by internet interest (Witchfinder General, for example) their reunion has resulted in rather horrible modern besmirching of their fog-shrouded legend, this time with cringeworthy symphonic-industrial cyber-prog. So it’s best to light up a joss stick, sit in a pentagram, and have a listen to some of their early 70s cult weirdness, if you can somehow afford a copy on eBay that is…

Influences: Black Sabbath, Van der Graaf Generator, Black Widow, Gong, J.S. Bach.

Influenced: Goblin, Death SS, Electric Wizard, Moss, Jex Thoth.

Sample Lyric: ‘Il fato ha profetizzato / Tu sarai praeternaturale’.

Which Record: Neque Semper Arcum Tendit Rex (Darkness, 1974)

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