A decade and five albums later, Austin-based psych squad The Black Angels can hold their mirth no longer and return after a four-year hiatus with their collective tongue planted firmly in cheek by offering up Death Song. If the joke is lost on you then please consult your grandparents or local library (if you still have one, of course). Fans of psychedelic rock tend to fall into two distinct camps; those that will happily disembowel a reviewer should you dare to criticise and those who are happy to pay someone else to disembowel you. I guess it all depends on their level of disposable income. On this basis, I shall tread carefully.
Whilst we’re on the ugly topic of personal finance, album opener ‘Currency’ sets the tone perfectly. It’s not exactly a tirade against the money changers in the Temple, Jesus pretty much wrote the book on that score, but it does offer up a thoughtful, observational angle on the age-old chestnut of money being the root of all evil. Except for Pot Noodle. Sonically, the track is an absolute Bombay Bad-Boy; filthy, debauched and it will leave you wanting a shower in Dettol by the time it reaches its climax. This is how I want to consume my psych, not neatly packaged into a homogenized TV dinner for one from Lidl but splayed out in front of me begging for submission.
Following swiftly on its scuffed heels is ‘I’d Kill For Her’ which finds lead vocalist Alex Maas laying down some form of catharsis, trying to rid himself of either obsession or obligation by promising “I will not kill for her again” which is part-sinister and part-redemptive in its lyrical outlook. Listening to this track over and over again is akin to driving across the huge swathes of open Texan nothingness, its hardly claustrophobic; just troubling, lonely and never-ending. I can’t be sure but I don’t think Maas is talking about the evils of a jilted lover here, if The Black Angels stand apart from their peers it’s down to their ability to be conversationally observant rather than merely wallowing in the dark.
For example, ‘Half Believing’ references the apathy of today, ‘Grab As Much As You Can’ comments on that other well-known vice, greed, whilst ‘Medicine’ is about…errr…medicine, or to be more accurate an over-reliance on prescription drugs. Their gaze upon the modern world stretches far and wide and you’re left with the sense that had this been a double album they may well have aimed their crosshairs at blackcurrant flavour Jaffa Cakes by the time they were done. It’s been said before but the Trump era is almost certainly going to give rise to much introspection and soul-searching within the creative community. With Death Song, The Black Angels have started to distill what the new landscape feels like from within.
As with many albums within this genre there is so often an absence of light and shade; half a dozen tracks down the line and I’m having to concentrate which is by no means a criticism but The Black Angels are clearly more of a proposition lyrically than musically. When they are great they make my solar plexus rumble but when they easy off on the tension they come across as Teleman. No really, they do. In parts Death Song is bleaker and heavier than its predecessors but I’d still love to lock them in a cupboard and feed them gruel until they produce their inevitable miserable masterpiece. Now, please go easy with the disemboweling cutlass ok?
Death Song is released on April 21st on Partisan Records