Forgotten Legends is an ongoing series where we look back on those extraordinary yet often overlooked albums that are essential to any serious metal collection. They can be of any format, released at any time. As always, a dynamic range measurement is provided for reference.
Paul Chain. Paolo Catena. Paul Cat. Paul Chain Violet Theatre. P.C. Translate. The Improvisor. Experimental Information.
If you don’t recognize any of these names, I’m not surprised. Even the most passionate, self-professed doom buff routinely fails the Paul Chain litmus test. Yet his 1995 masterpiece, Alkahest, is one of the greatest doom records ever released that no one has ever heard of. Sad, I know.
Paul Chain - AlkahestChain’s career begin in 1977 when he and vocalist Stefano Silvestri co-founded the band Death SS, releasing their first official demo in 1981. The band quickly dissolved though when Stefano departed in ’82, with the band officially calling it quits two years later. However, Death SS would reform again but this time without Chain (or pretty much any of the original members other than the “SS” part), as he decided to dedicate himself to his fledgling solo career under the moniker Paul Chain Violet Theatre. He eventually (and thankfully) lopped off the “Violet Theatre” part in ’87 and released most of his subsequent material as just “Paul Chain.”
Though Chain amassed an extremely musically diverse back catalog, out of all his illustrious creations nothing really approaches the magnificence of 1995’s Alkahest. I think what makes Alkahest special is its sublime blend of early Sabbath-era doom with Chain’s unique sense of dark, stoner rock atmosphere. Take for instance tracks “Sand Glass” and “Three Water,” both of which sell themselves instantly with their massive hooks and head-snapping breakdowns midway through, yet have an occultish vibe to them as well, with “Three Water” particularly sounding sinister throughout. Same goes with “Voyage to Hell,” both in its Phantom of the Opera organ intro and mid-flight Satanic-themed soliloquy that provides the backdrop to Chain’s wonderful soloing. Couple all that with some killer psychedelia and straight up, catchy as all hell stoner rock, Alkahest still has plenty of mass appeal yet never falls into the trap of coming off as another Sabbath clone.
And then of course there is Chain’s signature high-pitched, phonetically dubious vocals that typically garner a love/hate reaction from fans. Frankly, I’ve always felt they not only work but actually lend to the raw and organic nature of the material itself. Regardless, Chain’s vocals are worth the price of admission alone if not just for the experience of listening to them for yourself.
Alkahest was originally released in both CD and LP formats in 1995 via Godhead Records (GOD 013 CD/LP) and then re-issued in 2013 by Minotauro Records. Although the original LP will set you back quite at lot of lira, the Minotauro double gatefold reissue is still up for sale on the label’s webshop and also readily available on the second-hand market as well. But with Noel Summerville’s wonderful DR9 master, I honestly would just opt for the digital release on Minotauro’s Bandcamp page unless you just generally prefer the smell of wax (Completely understandable. – Dave). I recently picked up a copy of the digital release just to verify that it is indeed the original 1995 master as advertised. It is, so buy it!
It is still mind boggling to me that after all these years Alkahest still doesn’t get the recognition it so richly deserves. Nevertheless, Paul Chain’s magnum opus is most certainly a doom classic, even if only a cult one, and unquestionably a Forgotten Legend.