*The following was written for L.A. based digital magazine MXDWN.com
Rock ‘n’ Roll is Alive and Kicking in the Songs of Death
If you were expecting songs about flowers, rainbows and other cuddly things, then read no further. The Black Angels’ Death Song is yet another transformative showcase of their dark brand of psych-rock as the album charges full throttle through fuzz, psychedelic and experimental rock subgenres. Much like Black Flag before them or even their namesake’s creators The Velvet Underground, The Black Angels have shown once again that going down the deep dark rabbit hole means only one thing: tell it like it is. In this particular case, Death Song dives deep into a series of social, economic and political issues. Listen carefully, as it can be difficult to get past the band’s defining undertones. Raw and infused with the disparagement of the twenty-first century, The Black Angels’ most recent album is yet another reminder that rock ‘n’ roll still exists.
Death Song rips through listeners’ ear holes rather quickly with its first track “Currency,” a heavy tune that sets the stage for the rest of the album. Each track moves us towards another point in a story often heard before, one of the societal grimaces and dark displeasures. Vocalist Alex Maas, who at times sounds like Jim Morrison (although less raspy), delivers lyrics that are justly supported by the band’s gnarly psychedelic backdrop, making for a truly impressive record. The album is as much a showcase of the range at which musicians can function as it is an example of how musicians take on today’s qualms. Death Song is a mixture of psychedelic rock and vapid semantics. Some tracks, like the ironically titled “Life Song,” present dreary and dark outlooks that counterbalance the more rock-centered body of the album’s more energetic tracks. Of all, “Comanche Moon” and “Hunt Me Down” strike chords of past Black Angel fandom. Like “Black Grease” before them, “Comanche Moon” and “Hunt Me Down” are hard-driving tracks that combine all the death and destruction while maintaining a firm hold on the band’s notable deep droning riffs.
Alongside Maas’s Morrison-esque vocals, the work of drummer Stephanie Bailey busts through the album’s heavier tracks. In an industry ransacked by males, Bailey is the rhythmic stabilizer to the Black Angels sound. The hard-charging fills, with which Bailey’s ruthlessly tags in almost every track, only prove to complement the drones created by string members Christian Bland, Kyle Hunt and Jake Garcia. Together, each sound developed by the Austin natives is a creation of ethereal exuberance.
Death Song delivers on a multitude of levels. The album cuts through a series of genres and tones, but, in the end, what makes Death Song such an intriguing listen is its adherence to the laws of rock ‘n’ roll, which are simple: change it up, work a new angle and never be afraid to try something different. And honestly, this album does all of these things.