Like a rotting corpse rising up from an ancient mausoleum, Jesters of Destiny walked out of the shadows and back into the admittedly dim spotlight last April, 2017, when their first record in 30 years, The Sorrows That Refuse to Drown, was released by the revered Finnish label Ektro. BraveWords cited it as “the kind of hard rock/metal that only they made.” New Noise said “The band is as contemporary and bustling as ever, mingling perpetual open taste, humor, proto-heavy metal and distinguished psychedelic groove.” Original band leaders and co-conspirators Bruce Duff and Ray Violet were back at it after decades, and as before, gathering like-minded talents around them to flesh out their musical hijinks.
Cited as the first Alternative Metal band back in the days of their debut album, 1986’s Fun at the Funeral (Metal Blade/Dimension), the Jesters followed up Fun with the five-song covers EP, In a Nostalgic Mood in 1987 for Metal Blade/Restless. The record was intended as a stop-gap to keep people pondering just what the Jesters were up to as they wrote and recorded their second full-length No Laughing Matter. Says Jester Ray, “We took some songs that we loved listening to and pulled them down a back alley where punks live, then sprinkled some tomb dust…Voila!” While the press praised the EP—L.A. Weekly compared it favorably to Bowie’s covers alb Pinups, and metal-Bible Kerrang! awarded the track “Electric Funeral” second-best cover of the year (and the band’s rethink of “Foxey Lady” as the second-worst; the band loved both ratings)—Metal Blade nonetheless dropped the band the following year while No Laughing Matter was in production. Unable to secure a follow-up deal, the band dissolved as the Eighties became the Nineties.
The Jesters didn’t go quietly, however. In 1994, Priority Records included the Jesters’ rendition of “Electric Funeral” on the Sabbath tribute Eternal Idols, and in 2001 Ektro made the CD-reissue of Fun at the Funeral their 9th release. In 2014, Ektro subsidiary Full Contact returned Fun to its previous vinyl glory, and later in the year, released a single with Finnish progressive/minimalist masters Circle performing two Jesters classics with Jesters Bruce and Ray joining in.
All of which has led to continuing curiosity and interest in this most unusual heavy rock band. Following the warm reception The Sorrows… received, Ray and Bruce have returned to the studio and are working on the as-yet-untitled follow-up, operating at full-steam. And as before, they’ve decided to keep listeners scratching their heads by re-mastering and re-releasing In a Nostalgic Mood, released by the band, as are all their digital-only streaming/download releases.
New Noise Magazine is pleased to bring forth a remastered premiere and track by track of In A Nostalgic Mood. Purchase the album here.
Following the ’86 release of Fun…, no review of the band could be written without referencing the mighty forefathers Black Sabbath. The Jesters version of “Electric Funeral” is anything but reverent, tampering with the lyrics, slowing it down to a dirge even by Sab standards, throwing in a thrash version of a free-jazz freakout, and adding choir, piano, sirens and a dentist drill.
“Foxey Lady” started at a rehearsal when Ray laid into the “Helter Skelter” riff and Bruce starting singing the Hendrix lyrics on top of it. It was so catchy, the Nymphs, practicing in the studio next door, could be heard playing it too. This version forgoes the turnaround for maximum drone impact, and the whole thing is unraveled to reveal a completely different intent. “This was for the girls of the Scream,” says Bruce, referencing the center of the L.A. scene where the Jesters performed and hung out every weekend they could.
The Jesters were often cited as a blend of Sabbath and the ‘60s garage band of your choice, from Balloon Farm to the Electric Prunes. True enough, and the Cavern garage rock scene in Hollywood was in full-swing at the time. “Spazz” comes from the Elastik Band. In the mid-’80s, this was pretty obscure, only available on Bomp Records’ Pebbles Vol. 1. It seemed like what the Jesters would have sounded like if they time-machined back 20 years. It’s sarcastic, not-PC, overly complicated with choppy breaks and tempo/meter changes, and nasty fuzztones. The subdued LSD reference was appealing as well.
“Fortunate Son” was another one that grew from the rehearsal room and the clubs. Built around the overdriven, down-tuned Vox bass strummed on all four strings at once, the slow, doomish take was well-received live, but took on an additional feel when Paul Roessler (Twisted Roots/ Screamers/ 45 Grave) added his late-at-night, one-take piano to the recorded version.
Bruce and Ray are both Little Richard fanatics, so the record closes with “The Girl Can’t Help It,” complete with a sax section. Joined by Eva O (Super Heroines/ Christian Death) and Michael Packard (Walking Wounded) on the backing vocals, the Jesters didn’t re-arrange the song as much as just play it the way it came to them naturally.