Recently I wrote about the stoner epic Dopesmoker
, a great album, but one that remains largely obscure except for a select group of heavy metal
- and marijuana
-enthusiasts. This was a relatively recent release; the recording itself was done in 1998, and the complete unedited version has only existed on CD
since 2003. In the following years it became a sacred symbol of the bond shared by weed and music. Concerning albums that marry the spiritual world with the one of recreational pot smoking, Dopesmoker is penultimate. The real
stoner epic came out 32 years before. No, I'm not talking about Master of Reality
. (Good album though.)
Satori. An ambitious name to be sure, but a deserving one. Japanese rock band Flower Travellin' Band released Satori, their third album, in 1971, only a year after Black Sabbath and Paranoid set the stage for the formation of doom metal. It can accurately be described as very Sabbath-like, but so can thousands of bands and albums, even today. Flower Travellin' Band should be regarded as contemporaries of Black Sabbath, not a cheap imitation. Their album from 1970, entitled Anywhere, contains the earliest-known recorded Black Sabbath cover, so they made no secret of where their inspiration came from.
I have heard Satori described as proto-doom, the idea of which I find unnecessary and trivial. Doom metal started with Black Sabbath, end of story. Having said that, it fits the bill of the closely-related subgenre of stoner rock quite comfortably. The squawking, fuzzed-out guitar, bass, and if I'm not mistaken, electric sitar, weave in and out of each other's paths like birds. There are frequent excursions into long, meandering solos that break your mind down until you can barely comprehend basic stimuli. The music goes back and forth from a very repetitive style similar to songs like Dopesmoker or Electric Funeral, to blissful, streaming soundscapes that recall King Crimson. In fact, I would have no issue with labeling the album as progressive rock. The vocals are incredible. Singer Joe Yamanaka sounds like a Japanese Ozzy Osbourne, down to that thick, deep-yet-nasal quality. Yamanaka however has a much higher register, and shows it off continually. The album opens with a clear, steady ringing of feedback for a few seconds, followed by brief silence, a soft tinkling of cymbals, silence again, and then a primal, wordless wail by Joe Yamanaka. Then the riffs start piling up and psychedelic lyrics etch themselves in the ceiling.
The album is divided into five tracks: Part I to Part V. Despite this naming scheme, the album doesn't consist of a single unbroken piece of music. Each part sounds different enough to be considered a separate song, so although there exists Satori Part I, or Satori Part IV, I wouldn't say that there is a single song called "Satori". Like all great albums, Satori has its own sound that is readily identifiable to fans. I would need to hear approximately six seconds of the album, at any given point, before being able to name it.
For someone who likes early Black Sabbath, I can't imagine this album being a disappointment. I like to think of them and Flower Travellin' Band as twins separated at birth. There is an uncanny similarity in Part I to Into The Void, which was on Master of Reality and released the same year. Keeping in mind that FTB covered Black Sabbath on their previous album, I highly doubt they would have the audacity to rip them off so blatantly. It was surely a case of musical parallel evolution. Fans of the song The Wizard will probably enjoy the long harmonica grooving on Part IV, as well.
If you're intrigued by this nearly forgotten chapter in rock history, you don't have to worry. Flower Travellin' Band has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, and Satori was always their most well-known release. It's been reissued multiple times in the past ten years, including CD and LP reissues in 2003 for the US and 2004 in the UK. It will probably be even easier to find now, since Flower Travellin' Band reformed in 2008 after a 35-year separation. This is an album worth at least hearing once, and hopefully one day Satori will be globally recognized as one of the great musical achievements of the 1970s.
Satori - Flower Travellin' Band - 1971 - Atlantic Records