(Partisan, released Fri 21 April 2017)
It’s been 11 years since The Black Angels released their debut album Passover. With dark droning keys, reverb laden guitars and heavy, pulsating drums, the album revealed a promising young band who, although they lacked much originality, carried with them an almost venomous raw energy, taking their cue from the 60s psychedelia of The Velvet Underground and The 13th Floor Elevators.
Since then the band’s sound has progressively become far more polished, delving into the more poppy elements of psychedelia which has produced rather mixed results. 2013s Indigo Meadow found the band ditch their psych sound and move more into traditional rock territory, which resulted in their weakest album to date.
Almost in reaction to the misstep of Indigo Meadow, the ponderously titled Death Song sees the band yearning for the dark and brooding sounds of Passover, while also trying to incorporate the more riff-heavy sounds of their previous album. To achieve this, the band have brought in producer Phil Elk, recently responsible for producing the work of Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and Father John Misty. Elk brings his experience to make a vast and booming record which is without a doubt the Texans’ best sounding album, with the guitars and the vocals more distinct and forefront than they have ever been.
With this, though, comes Death Song’s biggest issue; they have lost what made them so alluring in the first place. While their early work may have been less polished, it was steeped in layers of reverb that gave the band a dark and hypnotic atmosphere. On the other hand, the sound on Death Song is crystal clear, leaving nothing to the imagination of the listener.
Along with that, frontman Alex Maas’ song-writing continues to be heavy-handed and forced. On Currency, Maas clumsily attacks capitalism (“Print and print the money that you spend/ Spend and spend the money that you print”). While on Commanche Moon Maas makes an indictment on modern America by questionably taking on the perspective of Native Americans (“We’ll reach into your socket/Rip back your scalp as you cry”). Just like their attempt at addressing gun violence on their previous record, all of this comes off overly pretentious and self-important.
That isn’t to say there aren’t any glimmers of promise. With its wailing guitars and soaring chorus, Half Believing is surely destined to become a fan favourite, while Medicine – reminiscent of early Clinic – gives the album a much needed jolt of energy. All in all, while Death Song is an improvement on Indigo Meadow, it just isn’t quite the return to form it was intended to be.