Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Black Angels have always worn their influences close enough to their sleeve that if you didn’t know they were named after The Velvet Underground’s “Black Angel’s Death Song,” their noisy, hypnotic and disorienting psych-rock would make the connection for you. It’s likely not a coincidence, either, that the band’s fifth album, which is actually titled Death Song, arrives as The Velvet Underground & Nico (from which their namesake song can be found) turns 50. The Black Angels have always maintained a similarly chaotic sense of darkness and spacy weirdness, even when playing music tethered to a more contemporary indie rock sound. There are ghosts of decades past haunting this album.
The mixture of modern production and songwriting with gauzy, effects-laden textures is what has always made The Black Angels sound so damn cool, and though they’ve diverted from the approach time and again, Death Song is just such an album to remind the listener of the band’s psychedelic ability to wow their audience. Yet they do so with a certain reverence to their ‘60s and ‘70s-era heroes, and not just the Velvets. Big-riffing rockers such as “Currency” and “Comanche Moon” explode with the fuzz-rock fury of Blue Cheer, while “Medicine” moves at the pulse of synth-rock pioneers Silver Apples. Yet the atmospheric gloom of “Estimate” and “Life Song” do indeed recall the Velvets at their most ethereal, proving that The Black Angels can do space and restraint as much as they do volume and impact.
Following the garage rock immediacy of 2013’s Indigo Meadow, the most remarkable change for the band is that they sound like no one so much as themselves. The Black Angels can immediately suggest hints of many other artists, but on Death Song, their greatest strength is harnessing the aesthetic they’ve worked for more than a decade to refine, and it’s as rich and powerful as they’ve ever sounded, even when steering into an unexpected krautrock diversion like the screeching pulser “I Dreamt.” So while there are ghosts of the past coming out of the woodwork on the album, it’s much more than a seance. The Black Angels are a supernatural force unto themselves.