There is a lot of music, par­tic­u­lar­ly music record­ed dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 1960’s, that is con­sid­ered to have mind-alter­ing prop­er­ties.  That said, such music is often thought of as an acces­so­ry to a larg­er expe­ri­ence that usu­al­ly involves rit­u­als and/or drugs.  However, that opin­ion over­looks the fact that cer­tain kinds of music can alter your mind with­out any oth­er acces­sories.  If you give it your full atten­tion, it can take you to oth­er lands, oth­er eras, oth­er states of mind with­out you ever hav­ing to leave your chair.

And that’s the kind of music that Gathering Of The Tribe is ded­i­cat­ed to. Subtitled Music And Heavy Conscious Creation, it explores a wide vari­ety of albums from many dif­fer­ent gen­res that find the artists involved using their musi­cal abil­i­ties to trans­form the listener’s mind­set.  The result is a book that’s pret­ty mind-expand­ing in both the wide amount of ter­ri­to­ry it cov­ers and the chal­leng­ing, some­times scary artists it cov­ers.

The album entries were pri­mar­i­ly penned by Mark Goodall and he divides into the­mat­ic sec­tions, either by musi­cal style (jazz, sound­track, etc.) or the­me.  Goodall explores each album thought­ful­ly, start­ing with a dis­cus­sion of its rel­e­vance to the top­ic at hand before giv­ing a detailed descrip­tion of the album’s con­tents and a final analy­sis that sums up its sig­nif­i­cance. His writ­ing has a com­plex, often aca­d­e­mic style and it sets the tone for the book: don’t expect zine-style flip­pan­cy or any oth­er exces­sive­ly relaxed approach here.

A con­sis­tent the­me run­ning through the book is the role that the occult can play in the cre­ation of such music.  Keep in mind this is not just the “scary movie” def­i­n­i­tion of the occult: indeed, the book cov­ers every­thing from Eastern reli­gion to alter­na­tive life philoso­phies.  For instance, albums by John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane are ana­lyzed in terms of the reli­gious mys­ti­cism that influ­enced the way they were cre­at­ed.  There’s also a fas­ci­nat­ing account of a record­ing by George Gurdjieff, a spir­i­tu­al­ist who used key­board impro­vi­sa­tions as part of his dai­ly rou­tine.

That said, dev­il wor­ship and witch­craft play a role in this occult the­me. Obvious choic­es like Black Sabbath and King Diamond are avoid­ed in favor of those who espoused gen­uine devo­tion to the occult in their per­son­al lives. For instance, there are looks at albums by “pro­fes­sion­al” witch­es like Alex Sanders and Louise Huebner (her album is the allur­ing­ly titled Seduction Through Witchcraft).  Even more inter­est­ing are accounts of Black Widow, a band that did a kind of rock the­ater by per­form­ing a Satanic mass onstage at con­certs, and Coven, who did a con­cept suite on one album depict­ing such a mass.  Soundtrack fans will be hap­py to note there also in-depth entries on the sound­tracks to films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man and Blood On Satan’s Claw.

However, the most inter­est­ing sec­tion in the book is the one enti­tled “Mindf**kers,” devot­ed to the record­ings of those con­sid­ered out­side artists.  This sec­tion is par­tic­u­lar­ly notable for its entries on Charles Manson’s Lie album and He’s Able, a gospel music record­ing by the People’s Temple Choir (i.e., the house band for the infa­mous Rev. Jim Jones and his cultish church).  To Goodall’s cred­it, he doesn’t go in for the kind of easy sen­sa­tion­al­ism or lurid details that could have dom­i­nat­ed the­se entries.  Instead, he intel­li­gent­ly explores how the music on each album reflects the per­son­al­i­ties of its cre­ators, their world­views and the ways they chose to engage the rest of the world.  The results allow the­se out­sider-cul­ture totems to be seen in a fresh, gen­uine­ly insight­ful way.

It is also worth not­ing that a hand­ful of oth­er writ­ers have been brought in to explore par­tic­u­lar titles.  For exam­ple, Mick Farren turns in an entry on a Nick Cave album that serves as the spring­board to a fas­ci­nat­ing thought-piece on the rela­tion­ship between rock and roll music and the dev­il. Richard Woodcock also con­tributes an excel­lent piece on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica that mix­es jour­nal­ism and crit­i­cal insight to go beyond the usu­al “whoa, this is weird” clich­es that rock crit­ics often use when deal­ing with that album.

The most fas­ci­nat­ing out­side essay comes from Thomas McGrath, who con­tributes an amaz­ing essay on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers.  It explores the album in terms of the rela­tion­ship between hip-hop and the beliefs and prac­tices of the Five Percenters.  Along the way, it reveals aston­ish­ing insight into the Muslim reli­gion and the urban cul­ture that gave birth to the Wu Tang Clan.  The results are tru­ly mind-blow­ing, even if you aren’t a hip-hop fan.

In short, Gathering Of The Tribe is much like the music it chron­i­cles.  If you give it your time and atten­tion, it offers many ways in which to expand your musi­cal con­scious­ness.  Whether it is deal­ing with a clas­si­cal piece by Debussy or a con­fronta­tion­al indus­tri­al music album by Throbbing Gristle, it applies the same lev­els of ambi­tion and thought­ful­ness through­out — and the results offer many div­i­dends for the musi­cal­ly adven­tur­ous read­er.