Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Savage Rose - Doden's Triumf

Savage Rose
Doden's Triumf

Released 1972 on Polydor
Reviewed by aether, 07/11/2012ce

Savage Rose – Doden’s Triumf/The Triumph of Death (Polydor, 1972)

In the early seventies Rock music began a curiously intense (if short-lived) relationship with various forms of theatre and theatricality. This was articulated in a number of ways – the costume and scenery-laced shows of Genesis/Yes with their reconstructions of fantastic ‘diegetic’ worlds on stage, for example, or the operatic bombast and Wagnerian ‘program music’ (multi-movement) approach of Magma et al. There was also the more overt Brechtian reflexivity of Henry Cow and their RIO ilk, as well as the ‘musical theatre’ of Japan’s J.A. Ceazer and Stomu Yamash’ta.

Yet another interesting avenue of investigation during this period involved the merger of rock dynamics with the artful grace of ballet. Not always successful (remember The Roland Petit Company’s rather plunky, leaden interpretation of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days,” for example?), Savage Rose’s 1972 album, Doden’s Triumf is a real triumph amongst the dross. The album contains bandleader, Thomas Koppel’s sprightly music for Flemming Flindt’s setting of Ionesco’s Jeux De Massacre (Killing Game), an Ionesco darkly surreal play about plagues, death and the mayhem that results.

Unlike the plodding “One of These Days” (admittedly it wasn’t written for a ballet), the music on Doden’s Triumph is a beautifully impressionistic, hazy wash of distilled, graceful progressive rock moves, European neo-classical-cum-folk languor, and a smoky-but-soulful (and very Danish) psychedelic energy. Savage Rose (previously The Savage Rose) were perhaps the most internationally respected of the Danish psychedelic bands, who put out a few LP’s on RCA that were chock-full of great intense swirling psych-rock that had a great soul inflection (particularly around the lead singer Annisette’s vocal. Apparently Lester Bangs was a fan, as was David Fricke (of Rolling Stone magazine).

This LP though really engaged fully with the medium of ballet. Many of the “ballet-rock” projects failed quite obviously because the musicians never gave themselves fully to the trans-media experience. This music though seems perfectly in tune with the art of movement, dynamics and poise. A fleeting, impressionistic, kin-aesthetics pervades the whole vibe of this piece as the artfully limited palette of sounds - organs, piano, occasional guitar, bass, and hand percussion – feels light on its feet and nimble.

Opening track, “Byan vagnar” begins with a chiming bell and dappled piano, glittering and skittering off some liquid surface, as dextrous percussion forms a springy bed for the nimble organ runs of Thomas Koppel. It speaks of graceful movement and dynamism that is full of poise. Piano and organ build and drop like a light wind or breath, the percussion carries the rhythm – galloping, thrusting propulsion, as warm fuzzy organ chords glow and fizz like the soft ebb of a warm hearth in the winter. An avowedly Romantic aesthetic dominates this opening track although the song falls briefly into atmospheric lone drum hits, before the organ literally sprints out of some pregnant, silent pauses. Joined by some rampant psych guitar the track rushes to an end.

“De Ungar Elskende” starts withy echoed solo runs up and down the organ, a somewhat frosty tone attached to it, before trickles of piano and rather tense-sounding harmonica join with an accordion to sketch a slowly unfurling track. Deep organ chords and strummed bass form a clamorous undertow occasionally, as throbs of accordion slowly gestate with shimmering cymbals. It sounds like a milder cousin to a Harmonica-drenched Ennio Morricone epic, before subsiding into a more relaxed Gallic folk-fest.

“Borgerens Dod” is more cinematic as floods of organ rain down, in huge globules off sound, and organ interjections dance and pad around in the puddles. Cavernous piano throbs away below as churning rivers of organ spill over into the track. More French-sounding harmonium sounds lighten the atmosphere a little with what sounds like a Desertshore-era Nico playing Three Blind Mice.

A relaxed piano etude of sorts closes Side One in a lovely chilled mood. Simple but effective, “De to Gamle” manages – as the Mrs Mills on Opium organ enters and vamps away on the Unchained Melody er…melody – to stay on the right side of mawkish sentimentality. The bridge’s key change toward the end is extremely effective, though, as the organ momentarily takes on a more spectral, choral quality. The side breezes to a halt like a mild wind abruptly warmed by the rays of the rising sun.

Side Two’s “Bruden Pyntes” begins amidst a slow harmonium waltz with strummed guitar and woozy keys. It’s hard not to imagine the Allo Allo’ theme tune here as the sound is so similar, but the track has an endearingly simple chord sequence that is positively drenched in ennui and sadness. The whole vibe of the LP is so meditative and gentle (albeit lively), winsome yet bright and the candle pale pastel washes of instrumental colour seem to dance with a mystical inner energy and resonance.

Track two “Bryllup” is a recapitulation of the brilliant main theme of the opening track, this time with singer Annisette adding great folky humming along with the melody whilst “Soldaternes Dod” is a rather experimental percussion piece – military-like drumming echoing like gun fire.

But the last track “Den Dode by - Modebutikken plyndres” – the LP epic at 7 minutes 14 is a rela highlight. Starting with lone flute, the track gently builds into a psych-rock strum-a-long with full resounding harmonium adding texture to the gorgeously simple chords. Degenerating into a fire siren sound effect, a rippling piano and cheaply distorted guitar then begin a great psych-folk rock backing track that seems to gain an advantage from not having any vocals (despite obviously crying out for them). Winding harmoniums and streaks of glistening guitar weave in and out of the propellant piano and., briefly, the track quietens for some wonder-fuelled Danny Fichelsher alpine-folk-jazz guitar poetry. This is Savage Rose rocking out even at the ballet!

The last track seems more like a tack-on at the end – a vocal track called “Dear Little Mother” sung in Annisette throaty, viscous, growl.

But the graceful simplicity of the LP as a whole, its kinaesthetic dynamism and impressionistic haze make this a very interesting and singular work in Savage Rose’s illustrious career! Sublime in the truest sense! And a triumph indeed!

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