Nearly every review of the debut album from Austin sextet the Black Angels at some point references the blues-based drone of Spaceman 3, that hallowed English band that birthed both Spectrum and Spiritualized. There's that resolute focus on simple throbs of echo-y guitar, heaving Wurlitzer, and detuned toms, zoning out on the drone that courses under both Delta blues mud and Velvet Underground white flash. But whereas you could almost see the drool and taste the smack on the Spaceman 3's lips, the Black Angels have some new kind of kick.
Part of it comes from drawing on their Texas heritage, as in the tradition of their forefathers, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Except on Passover, there's no electric jug played by an acid guru, but rather Jennifer Raines's "drone machine." There's no inane lysergic lyricism in the throat of singer Alex Mass; instead, his drawled croak sounds by turns wired and wasted, as if he could invoke the Cramps' Lux Interior and the Lizard King at the same time. The band similarly pulls in both directions on songs such as "The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven," which jerks between dirgy undertow and trembling, jittery slide guitar. Rather than just shotgunning the cough syrup outright (H-Town style), the band members are also cooking some of it down into cheap meth. Such speedballing gives a certain amount of grit to their sound, as most songs nod into a feverish mind state.
Taking their name from an Edvard Munch quote about "illness, insanity, and death," the Black Angels are indeed obsessed with madness and mortality. Passover opens with "Young Men Dead," while flowers adorn caskets in "Manipulation." Sirens cry in the distance as the heavy reverberations of "Bloodhounds on My Trail" die out. Their anger is most seething, though, on "The First Vietnamese War." Smacking at first of mere psychedelic throwback, it poses as if some unjust war is still going on. With south Texas regularly hitting its recruitment quotas, the Angels are just lashing out at a war machine that's gobbling up their friends and classmates.
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