Equal parts Haight Asbury sunshine, Topanga Canyon cool, New York Factory edge, and Carnaby Street psychedelia, they pay homage to their heroes and recreate the magic of the ’60s on Passover, their electrifying 10-song EP.
If Francis Ford Coppola were filming his cinematic masterpiece Apocalypse Now in 2006, there’s absolutely no doubt that Austin, Texas’ Black Angels would provide the soundtrack. Sonically speaking, the young sextuplet—consisting of lead singer Alex Maas, lead guitarist Christian Bland, guitarist Nate Ryan, bassist Kyle Hunt, drummer Stephanie Bailey, and keyboardist Jennifer Raines—delivers extraordinarily vital, dangerous rock. Equal parts Haight Asbury sunshine, Topanga Canyon cool, New York Factory edge, and Carnaby Street psychedelia, they pay homage to their heroes and recreate the magic of the ’60s on Passover, their electrifying 10-song EP. Even though they’re probably too young to have even been born during the Vietnam era, they’ve captured and synthesized the Summer of Love, Fall of Saigon, and the tumultuous, bloody Altamont conclusion…all on one disc.’
Experiencing the first four tracks (a mini concept EP within an EP)—“Young Men Dead,” “The First Vietnamese War,” “The Snipers at the Gates of Heaven,” and “Prodigal Son”—is akin to being facedown in the rice paddies as the NVA’s tracers pierce the jet black sky. The lead track features Maas’ stoned battle cry: “Fire for the hills/Pick up your feet and let’s go/Head for the hills pick up steel on your way/When you find a piece of them in your sights. Fire at will don’t waste no time,” all framed by Bland and Ryan’s trudging, bursting guitar assault, Bailey’s tribal drums, and Raines’ hypnotic organ swirling above it all. “Prodigal Son” sports a Velvet Underground dark undercurrent of echo-laden tambourines, droning organ, jagged, solar bursting guitar freakouts, and Maas’ shamanic voodoo chants. Oh, the horror, indeed!
Everything is not darkness and genocide; they let in the black light with tracks more on the playful side with captivating, Dionysian odes to the powers and mystery of the fairer sex. “Manipulation” features an exotic sitar riff that bores into your cerebral cortex; backward guitar loops swoop and swarm as Maas intones in a sexy, detached monotone over Hunt’s lockstep bass: “Pale blue was the color of her eyes/Manipulation/Orange sunburst, red-hot glare/You can feel her madness/Watch out for her dark side.”
“Better Off Alone” features Maas’ sultry, lizard king swagger and sounds like a lost track from the Doors’ Morrison Hotel. All dirt, danger, and come-hither groove, it features Buffalo Springfield, tremolo-laden, hypnotic stabs of guitar and tribal, in-the-pocket groove. With a lusty, bellowing, whisky-soaked growl, Maas sings, “Living with a lady/One who holds me to the side/Take me to that room, girl/Get me through this night.” “Bloodhounds on My Trail” channels the collective spirits of Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, and Robert Johnson into one high-octane, easy rider romp. Fueled by some bluesy harp, dueling slide guitars, and a solid bass-drum interlock from a no-frills rhythm section, this track heads out to the highway.
There are no sanitized tricks on this disc, just gritty, powerful, spirited analog rock done right. If the past of rock represents the future, then music lovers are in the very capable hands of the Black Angels. | Doug Tull