Ceremony is perhaps one of the most controversial and puzzling albums ever released in the history of heavy rock music. After two successful albums signaling the arrival of England's Spooky Tooth, one of which being the highly influential Spooky Two, the band decided to do a concept album involving passages and prayers from the Bible, and collaborate on it with French avant-garde composer Pierre Henry. What might have been a very strong mix of Christian-themed heavy rock, prog, and blues from Spooky Tooth (and almost a precursor to Jesus Christ Superstar) turned into quite a mess of a missed opportunity that, despite its strange nature, still contains some very good hard rock music. Esoteric Recordings have recently remastered and reissued this long misunderstood album, so we can now take a closer look at Ceremony-An Electronic Mass.
First off, after Spooky Tooth and the Henry decided to go ahead with this collaboration, it was agreed that the band would record the songs first, and then send the finished mixes to Henry in France for him to overdub his 'electronic embellishments' over it. Mistake number one folks. As it was, the six songs that Spooky Tooth recorded (Gary Wright-keyboardsvocals, Mike Harrison-vocals, Luther Grosvenor-guitar, Andy Leigh-bass, Mike Rellie-drums), were quite good on their own, as you can plainly hear on this wonderful remastered version from Esoteric. This was 1969, so you can probably picture the style here-dark, foreboding music, with a heavy emphasis on massive guitar riffs, blistering lead guitar, rampaging Hammond organ, and the dual lead vocal attack of Wright and Harrison. Opening track "Have Mercy" is practically an extension of "Evil Woman" from the Spooky Two album, filled with wild lead guitar work from Grosvenor, Wright's Hammond, and thick, crunchy riffs. Lo and behold, what's up with these strange 'blips, bleeps, and oddball "hoo whack"! noises? Well, that's Henry adding his bizarre sound effects and electronics throughout different parts of the song. Not a good idea, as this is a kick ass hard rocker that needed no embellishments. Even more annoying is the dark and heavy number "Jubilation", which is absolutely ruined by Henry's use of recorded dog barks and an eternal loop that goes something like "boop bo bo boop bo boo boop" over, and over, and over again throughout the tune, leaving the crushing arrangements and vocals the band have laid down buried in the background. "Confession" kicks off with Henry's irritating hammer banging and buzzing electronic static leading in a haunting, almost Deep Purple/Iron Butterfly styled rocker from the band, but again, it's almost impossible to discern Harrison and Wright's vocals here thanks to the wall of avant-garde noises that Henry masks the mix with. Thankfully, most of the atmospheric & chilling epic "Prayer" is left untouched (other than some occasional 'wooshing' and 'bird chirps'), but the almost Black Sabbath styled stomp of "Offering" is completely washed out with layers of electronic buzzing and zips. Grosvenor turns in an extended and quite savage guitar solo on the closer "Hosanna", but again, the Hammond and supporting rhythms from the rest of the band are practically buried by Henry's overly loud electronic static.
The real shame of it all is that, if you take away all of Pierre Henry's nonsense here, you have what is essentially a kick ass album from Spooky Tooth. Some might be a bit turned off by the use of all the passages and prayers from the Bible, and certainly Henry's contributions are absolutely worthless, but Ceremony in the end rocks and rocks hard. When the album was finally released to the public, it pretty much confused everyone, even the band, who split up for a few years after its release. Esoteric's remaster gives the whole recording a crisp, bright sound, and there's a nice booklet that gives plenty of background on the band and the events leading up to and after the recording of the album. It's a shame there's no way to 'remove' Henry's parts here, so the world can hear exactly what a strong album Ceremony could have been. End rating-a strong 4 for Spooky Tooth's part of this, and 0 stars for the mess that Pierre Henry made of it.
1. Have Mercy (7:53)
2. Jubilation (8:27)
3. Confession (6:48)
4. Prayer (10:51)
5. Offering (3:59)
6. Hosanna (7:37)