From the Vaults

Drone Attacks at the Gates of Dawn: The Black Angels’ “Passover” hurdles down at you

black-angels-passoverTHE BLACK ANGELS – Passover (Light in the Attic ’06): Among all the 60s and 70s bands you could name drop to make comparisons, Austin’s The Black Angels clearly prefer one—The Velvet Undergound, from whose “The Black Angel’s Death Song” these dronemeisters take their name. But though the Velvets heavy, they weren’t heavy like the Angels—not exactly Sabbath though they wouldn’t be caught dead approaching anything like “Pale Blue Eyes”—and though the Velvets could be dark, they were never apocalyptic the way the Angels are. The plane engine roar of Jennifer Raines’s drone machine, thunderous and rippling rhythms of Stephanie Bailey’s drums, and demonic incantation of Alex Maas’s cult leader vocals (“You will take them out for me”) combine to create a raucously loud antiwar album that’s not so much protest as it is lamentation that it’s a fact of American life. Passover is The Black Angels’ pronouncement that the US’s dual Middle East wars is an empire already in decline culturally, intellectually, and morally—though it’s never quite put in such specific terms. There are hints and teases (just look at the song titles for Chrissake: “Young Me Dead,” “The First Vietnamese War,” “The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven,” “Manipulation,” “Empire,” “Call to Arms”), and the lyrics, however blurry they might be, paint war in unfavorable tones when they can’t be bothered to hammer you with memorable detail. The real achievement is that their release of pent-up anger is simultaneously cathartic for them and the listener—its dark energy is not so heavy as to be off-putting to those who can’t stomach metal yet ragey enough to satisfy hardcore punks and thrashers alike—and the real hero of the band is Stephanie Bailey, a supremely talented drummer who works from the inside out creating great arrangements within the confines of a nonstop barrage of drone strikes consistently in the same key—just listen to the energy she pumps through the album’s standout, “Black Grease,” where it could very easily have just been a neat riff skirting along a plodding beat. But there are drawbacks. One is that their devotion to The Velvet Underground is so strong that they close an otherwise ~30 minute album with a nearly 20 minute sort-of homage to “Sister Ray” consisting of one long song and a hidden track. The other is that their favorite Velvet isn’t Lou Reed or John Cale or even Maureen Tucker—it’s Nico. And that should tell you something. B PLUS (***)


The Black Angels – Indigo Meadow (Blue Horizon Ventures ’13)LEMON


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