One of the largest pitfalls musicians can fall into is the conumdrum of debut albums — the shock factor and value of a brand-new group often makes debuts extremely popular amongst fans but can often lead to a sophomore slump.
Formed in 2004 in Austin, The Black Angels rose to underground indie fame by honing in on a dark and atmospheric iteration of psychedelic rock with their debut record Passover, striking a certain chord with listeners. Since then, the band has failed to match the hype surrounding their debut and found themselves in a somewhat repetitive rut in their most recent releases. On their latest record, Death Song, the band re-centers themselves, welcoming in a new audience while redefining their band’s sound.
Kicking off the album with “Currency,” The Black Angels make it clear they aren’t going to tread water anymore. This track falls in place without hesitation, with lead singer and bassist Alex Maas taking on the U.S. monetary system with some of the eeriest lyrics in recent memory when he sings, “I can see currency how it always sanctions us, all these paper lives you’ve sold, there’s no God in who you trust, print and print the money that you spend.” Accompanied by a droning low end and wailing guitars, this track introduces Death Song as a no-holds-barred record and builds hype for the rest of the project.
Continuing with their gritty, dark and mysterious sound, The Black Angels find themselves back at what made their music so lovable: blues-infused riffs from guitarist Christian Bland, thumping bass and wailing vocals from Maas and thundering drums from Stephanie Bailey. Death Song isn’t a progressive album, but it doesn’t aim to be. Rather, it’s a throwback to an older version of The Black Angels with improvements in mixing and production, making their music more dynamic and engaging.
On top of increased production quality and a return to its roots, the group also explores their moody psychedelic sound, diving deep into certain motifs and moods — something they have struggled to realize in previous projects. Tracks such as “I’d Kill For Her,” a tune that criticizes blind nationalism, reinforces the band’s rebellious persona and diversifies the track listing of this record. At the core of each song is the fight between love and fear, often resolving in love trumping fear. Each song affirms this core belief, leading Maas to conclude that we protect what we love at all costs. This isn’t immediately apparent on every song, but it makes the process of deciphering each word that much more enjoyable.
Occasionally, Bland’s words fall flat, such as on “Half Believing,” where he becomes repetitive to the point of self-parody. Another track titled “Comanche Moon” is sung from the perspective of a Native American fighting for their life, and it isn’t written well whatsoever and sounds like a sloppy poem from a hip and conscious 7th-grader. However, moments such as these are forgivable when the band’s instrumentation takes over the song, creating an album that contains no complete letdowns in its track listing.
Anyone looking for accessible melodies and hooks won’t find it in Death Song. This record is made for listeners desiring a dark and occult atmospheric experience. The Black Angels may have lost their way after their debut, but with this record, it’s obvious they’re back and ready to re-emerge as a revitalized psychedelic rock act.