It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Black Angels named their newest record Death Song, considering the name of their band comes from the Velvet Underground tune “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” The surprise might be that it took them so long, especially when you consider how many of their songs are about death. I think they were waiting for the right time, and the right time came after the 2016 election.
Death Song opens with the hard-hitting “Currency,” in which lead singer Alex Maas sings lyrics like “You print and print the money that you spend, you spend and spend the money that you print. One day it will all be over.” It’s a scathing takedown of corporate greed and the way it crushes the working class (“You’ll pay with your life, a slave nine to five.”). Meanwhile Christian Bland’s guitar sounds like an alarm klaxon and Stephanie Bailey crushes her kit.
“I’d Kill for Her” continues the theme of death and has the band firmly in dark psychedelia thanks to Kyle Hunt’s soaring synths and plenty of reverb on the guitars. The length of “Half Believing” is 4:20. Coincidence? Perhaps, but perhaps not when you hear its guitars simmering like a brew you might drink in a sweat lodge ceremony. On its face, the song is about Maas being wary of falling in love with a woman who might be treacherous. However, it’s easy to consider the song is subtly about concerns over civil rights and support for the arts over the next couple years (i.e., “I will die for things that mean so much to me. If you take them, you’d better watch out.”)
The guitars on “Comanche Moon” swirl around you like ghosts. Maas sings about the plight of the Comanche nation, and I can’t help but wonder if the Black Angels were inspired to write it when they saw coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The near-funk bass of “Hunt Me Down” sets the tone for one of the grooviest tunes the Black Angels have released in a long while. Maas can’t escape another potentially dangerous woman (or is it the Grim Reaper?) who dogs him no matter the time of day or the place.
“Grab as Much (as You Can)” is lovely psychedelia, and the additional skewering of corporate greed is inescapable even as Maas sings about an amorous encounter with that mysterious, dangerous lady. The instruments on “Estimate” sound far away (as Bailey taps out a military procession march and Bland strums a simple, yet haunting riff), yet Maas’ vocals are immediate and almost pleading as he pledges to not get caught up in a They Live type of world but admits it’s difficult to avoid (“It’s kind of seductive.”).
“I Dreamt” is appropriately trippy and a bit frightening. The keyboards and guitars come at you from all sorts of angles, and Bailey practically lays down a house music beat. Maas takes on the role of a dreamweaver / wizard / shaman who offers to help us manage reality and the dream world (but which is which?).
“Medicine” has electro-beats behind Bailey’s rock ones, and spaghetti western guitars mixing with Hunt’s groovy keyboards. “Death March” is easily the trippiest song on the record. Maas’ vocals bounce all over the place, and the reverb on the guitars is enough to drop your mind down a rabbit hole to Wonderland. The album ends with “Life Song,” which seems to be from the perspective of a ghost who longs to be reunited with his love in the next world. It’s a lovely, soaring track that’s a fine send-off for an album (with a great, fuzzy solo from Bland) about death and dark times.
Death Song is another strong release from the Black Angels and further establishes them as one of the powerhouses of modern psychedelic rock.
Keep your mind open.
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