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The Black Angels - Death Song (Album Review)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017 Written by Graeme Marsh

‘Death Song’ is the Black Angels’ fifth album, their first release on Partisan Records and also possibly the finest work they’ve set to wax since their 2004 formation.

But it’s been a while coming. It’s been four years since the Austin band put out ‘Indigo Meadow' and, while the underlying influence of 13th Floor Elevators and other ‘60s psychedelia remains strong, this time there’s also something more going on. Predominantly penned during the recent US presidential election campaign, the band draw lyrical inspiration from the troubles of the present throughout ‘Death Song’.

Guitarist Christian Bland has declared the album “a manual you could give to somebody that’s coming to the planet for the first time to give them a sense of what goes on here”.

No mean statement, then, and one enhanced by bassist/vocalist Alex Maas telling of communication issues, both small and large scale, being at the root of so many worldwide problems. 

The brilliant first song, Currency, predicts the demise of the monetary system. “One day it’ll all be over,” Maas wails amid a tribal rhythm section, stings of guitar and quivering keyboards before declaring: “There’s no truth in who we trust.” Dealing with realisation, protest and prophecy, the track is easily the best album opener they’ve unleashed since Young Men Dead from their debut LP ‘Passover’.

Monotone verses drive the rockier I’d Kill For Her as their modern psych sound takes a turn in the spotlight and its statement of intent is almost tangible on the line “I will not kill for her again”, before dashes of reverb and scrawling guitars lead to an apocalyptic conclusion. Grab As Much (As You Can) also detours from their more familiar approach, this time melding a Johnny Kidd & The Pirates (Shakin’ All Over) guitar riff with a Siouxsie & The Banshees kaleidoscopic filter. The gorgeously slow Half Breeding is also out of character, moving from warm-chords and James-like minimal beginnings to a tragically powerful, cinematic chorus.

There is no shortage of highlights elsewhere, either. Comanche Moon is classic Black Angels, where gentle opening bars are pushed aside for bludgeoning noise as Maas tells of being “so tired of all this misfortune” before its swirling climax finds him complain “I swear it’s the end of the line”. The swirling mystique of the Doors brushes the compelling Death March and hypnotic I Dreamt, but perhaps best of all is closer Life Song, which utilises the Beatles’ psychedelic crescendo from ‘Sgt.Pepper’s...’ classic A Day In The Life (not for the first time on the album) and gives it a suitably soaring Pink Floyd coating.

Being the founders of the Austin Psych Fest (now rebranded as Levitation), the Black Angels are highly regarded among their peers for their foresight, ambition and embracing of an entire movement. Although, as Maas argues, ‘Death Song’ is not entirely a psychedelic record as there are more diverse moments than on other collections, it is probably the best album these psychedelic leaders have ever given us and, perhaps, ever will. And, by utilising the album title to complete the name of the Velvet Underground song the band apparently took their moniker from, it’s as though they are finally revealing their hand to us.

The Black Angels Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri September 22 2017 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town
Mon September 25 2017 - GLASGOW SWG3 TV Studio
Tue September 26 2017 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2
Wed September 27 2017 - BRISTOL Bristol Trinity

Click here to compare & buy The Black Angels Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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