The Black Angels – ‘Death Song’ (Partisan Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Friday, 05 May 2017 04:00

The Black Angels artworkThis, the first album from Texas psych rockers The Black Angels in a little more than four years, was written and recorded in large part during the US election campaigns in the latter half of last year. The music it contains is described by the band themselves as “part protest, part emotional catharsis in a climate dominated by division, anxiety and unease”.


It’s not hard to see the influence that this backdrop played on the band’s songwriting. Opener, and first single, ‘Currency’, is a meditation upon the governing, and often corrupting, role that money plays on our lives – and especially when it comes to helping people buy their way into power. Elections, especially in the USofA, are multi-million, if not billion, machines, fuelled by the ability of the elite to buy the hearts minds of the supposedly much more powerful minority: TBA reflect this in damning lines such as “all those paper lies you sold/there’s no God in who you trust” and “spin, spin the money that you spin”, while at the same expressing a forlorn hope that the people will eventually see that they are being bought and “one day it will all be over…”. This is matched by a suitably dark psychedelic soundtrack, with layers of fuzzed out guitar adding an air of menace to proceedings.


‘Death Song’ is a dark and brooding album, reflecting the darkness of the times in which it was created, gestated and delivered – and also of the sense of helplessness which many felt at the apparent inability of supposedly intelligent people to change what was happening around them. ‘I’d Kill For Her’ and ‘Half Believing’ are both paeans to devotion, but of different kinds, and swirl around you like a dark cloud of despair, but also induce the feeling that the sun will eventually dissipate the gloom as you walk from the nightmare engulfing you.


‘Comanche Moon’ possesses a dark vibrancy which is lifted by the quietly luscious organ which lurks temptingly just below the main groove, before the song builds into a crushing behemoth of distorted harmonics and jangly riffs. ‘Hunt Me Down’ batters its way out of the speakers with its massive opening drum beat, itself suitably distorted, before the guitar mellows proceedings slightly with its winding bluesiness, the multiplicity of layers reflecting the melancholic contemplativeness of the album as a whole.


The album reaches the halfway point with ‘Grab As Much (As You Can)’. Now, I’m going to admit that I was finding it starting to drag a bit at this point, and was feeling that it had perhaps peaked too early with the power of ‘Currency’ and the confrontation of ‘Half Believing’. But, there is still plenty to hold attention, especially in Stephanie Bailey’s hypnotic drumming, which fuels the mood swings of the album. Opening with an ironic gospel organ build, ‘Estimate’ is built on a jarry riff and is the album’s first real few moments of enlightened mellowness, giving a welcome respite from the density and doom-inducement which has preceded it.



‘I Dreamt’ introduces a completely different vibe, almost funky and poppy, with elements of electronica and even punk all rolled into a vivacious groove which pumps and thumps with a latent energy that is infectious, especially in the chorus section. And any lingering thoughts that the album had peaked early are completely blown away with ‘Medicine’, an immense slice of psychedelic jazziness, built on a massive percussive beat and driven by a simply huge bass line, while retaining the catchiness of its immediate predecessor. Suddenly, the album has exploded back into life.


The sense of foreboding, and even guilt, returns with ‘Death March’, built on a suitably militaristic beat, which brings a sense of impending doom but rattles along at such a (comparatively) frenetic pace that it’s past you before you know, leaving you to luxuriate in the Bowie-esque richness of closer ‘Life Song’, which brings that message of hope which has bubbled just under the album’s lyricism finally to the fore, while also concluding matters in an ironically wistful mien, especially in light of the intensity of much of what has gone before.


‘Death Song’ is very much an album of the times in which it was born. The Black Angels are not afraid to address the circumstances in which they found themselves during the creative process, and in thus doing may well have produced one of the soundtracks of the Trump era. Whether it stands the test of time remains to be seen. In the meantime, this is an intriguing listen.


‘Death Song’ is out now.


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