Death Song

The Black Angels

Partisan, 2017

http://theblackangels.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/13/2017

The Black Angels briefly strayed from their trademark psych-rock drone on 2013’s Indigo Meadow. But thankfully, the detour didn’t last for the Austin band, whose new album is supremely confident and very good.

Slabs of droning hard rock have been around for decades now but are not really done by many modern artists, so listening to the Angels will immediately call to mind previous works by the Doors, Black Sabbath, early Pink Floyd, and Iron Butterfly, not to mention late-period practitioners like Kyuss and early Soundgarden. But the Angels makes these ingredients their own due in part to Alex Maas’ hypnotic vocal work, which is not forced in front of the mix but reduced to be part of the swirl. From his octave bouncing in opener “Currency” to the whole of “Half Believing,” he owns the disc, but not once do you believe he feels this way.

The music is equally hypnotic. It manages to be sludgy and intoxicating at the same time, played in low keys and low registers, but the downcast approach is rarely depressing or melancholy. To that end, there aren’t a lot of hooks or riffs that stand out, which is perhaps by design, as the disc feels like a complete work not meant to be picked apart. However, “Comanche Moon” is probably the best place to start, effortlessly weaving a wall of guitars with Maas’ multi-tracked vocals (with help from the others) and layers of echo that still finds space to breathe between choruses. nbtc__dv_250

Really, there’s not a bad song on the disc, just a few that are less standout than the others, like “Hunt Me Down” and the sadly-underused “Death March,” a song that should be a lot cooler based on that title. There are a couple where longtime AM classic rock listeners will hear the influences, like a very strong Jim Morrison and Iron Butterfly vibe on “Grab As Much (As You Can.” But the Angels is good at finding variations on their sound, such as the rat-a-tat drums and post-punk vibe of “Estimate,” which switches between major and minor chords on the post-chorus instrumental section so that the listener never fully gets settled. Meanwhile, “I Dreamt” recalls both Can and Floyd’s A Saucerful Of Secrets era, with an effective bassline that underscores the general spaciness and repetition. Consequently, it’s the second-best song here.

Actually, the inability to settle is true of the entire disc, which is written so that you are both sucked in by the droning sludge and really unable to escape it until the last notes of “Life Song” fade away into a black void somewhere. Really, the six-minute song is a descent into potential madness, a weighty trudge where you feel every step on the vague journey Maas describes. It could be a trip into the void of space, a fall into personal madness or despair, the weight of the world on your shoulders, but Maas is so good with his keening vocals at making you feel hopeless. Even a heroic guitar solo can’t make you feel good about the parting shot “I am you / I’ll see you on the other side.”

Look, Death Song won’t make you feel good about life or anything, so if you need to smile today, turn around and run. But if you’re feeling just a little dark or gray, this is perfect – not only as a successful album on its own but as a testament to the genre and, one could argue, the Angels’ best work yet.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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