Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire  (Thrill Jockey)

Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire (Thrill Jockey)


Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale, AKA Lightning Bolt, have been melting faces since 1994 and still sound vital, forceful and wildly excited by what they do. The press release that accompanies the record states: “This is heavy, turbulent music”, and it is hard to disagree, especially after an opening pummelling like that delivered on the first track of Fantasy Empire. Holding nothing back, this LP GALLOPS out of the blocks with  ‘The Metal East‘ a bruising demonstration of power from the still unbelievably noisy two-piece.

It’s possible to catch occasional reference points in the density of the noise presented here: ‘Over the River and Through the Woods‘ could at times pass for classic Napalm Death, were it not for Chippendale’s gruesomely distorted vocals and it’s endurance-testing six and a half minute length. Its initial speedy riffage gives way to a neck-snappingly powerful groove that boils up to a clattering, messy climax. ‘Horsepower‘ sounds exactly like a song called ‘Horsepower‘ should, pounding along like Hawkwind covering Discharge. Largely though, Lightning Bolt’s sound is their own, and instantly recognisable.

The duo’s ability to keep things dynamically interesting is as impressive as it is necessary on an album of this length It clocks in at over 40 minutes, which, given its predominantly tempestuous nature, is perhaps slightly more than enough. Notably ‘Dream Genie‘, despite a relentless pace, exhibits an understanding of the need to give the listener’s ears a (slight) break in between the crushing, crashing demolition-rock that characterises Lightning Bolt’s sound.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Fans‘ is probably the best song title anyone will come up with this year, though after being processed through several stages of distortion, God knows whether the lyrics are equally amusing. It’s the longest track on the album, the archetypal epic closer and sounds like the point at which the pair completely indulged their penchant for improvisation, building an eerie atmosphere before crashing into a furiously paced musical rant. It builds and builds, picking up chant-like vocals and ever more manic drum patterns, finally crumpling to a messy, sprawling end, which feels entirely in keeping with the rest of the LP.

Fantasy Empire doesn’t always work; ‘King of My World‘, for example, is all over the shop, never achieving any sense of purpose or hitting the groove that makes Lightning Bolt such a powerful unit. It is noise for noise’s sake; an unstructured tantrum at a point on the record where breathing space would have been welcome. Nobody listens to Lightning Bolt for subtlety, but the impact of the following track (and the standout song on Fantasy Empire), ‘Mythmaster‘, could have been all the more punishing if it was not preceded by such chaos and violence.

Lightning Bolt are well known for their raucous live performances, setting up on the floor amidst their audience and ramping the intensity levels to 11. The frequency of these floor-level shows may be slowing, however, as the band’s fan-base builds, along with a realisation that playing live shows in this fashion is increasingly less effective in front of larger audiences, as Chippendale relays the experiences of a disgruntled female fan who told him: “You know what? The back of your show is just ladies who can’t see anything and it sounds like mud”. Tracks from Fantasy Empire will, without question, blend perfectly into their anarchic live displays, whether delivered on a stage or a floor; the likes of ‘Runaway Train‘ can only be improved by listening to them while pressing your sweaty face against Chippendale’s drumkit or thrashing around like a landed fish. Indeed, this is a record which was created with just such an experience in mind; Brian Gibson stated in a recent interview that “In the past, our records were very much trying to be this authentic document of the experience of recording… This one, my mentality was more, ‘I want this to sound like how it sounds to me when we’re playing, and I want it to feel like the way it feels for me when we’re playing’, which is really intense”. Currently, the pair have only one UK show lined up, in the Roundhouse, London on June 28th, when they are due to perform on an eclectic bill featuring GZA/Genius, Tortoise and Loop. For more information visit:

Fantasy Empire isn’t perfect; it could be more concise – it could provide more pauses for breath – but after more than 20 years of expertly shaking the grey matter out of people’s skulls (and at least three previous recordings of this very album) I sincerely doubt whether Lightning Bolt give a flying fuck about my opinion. At its best, Fantasy Empire is a joyously destructive LP, which will dent eardrums and rattle fillings loose, in the best possible way. With high production values, which actually really benefit the sound of a band who have often eschewed studio polish, this is a record which will please long-standing fans and could certainly force some new ones into submission, given the right exposure.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.