Psychedelic rock, the variety that was prevalent at the genre’s ’60s-era genesis, has seen a storied history, but it has been pushed to the side over the last decade in favor of more experimental variants. Austin’s The Black Angels aren’t afraid to dive headfirst into the cloudy waters of classic psych, resurfacing with pearls of the shiniest colors obscured by copious amounts of sludge. Taking their name from “The Black Angel’s Death Song” by forefathers The Velvet Underground, the band finally completes the homage with their fifth album Death Song.
Opening the album with their sharpest-edged blade, “Currency,” The Black Angels unleash an immediate shot to the system taking aim at one of humanity’s most common weaknesses: greed. “Print and print the money that you spend/Spend and spend the money that you print then/One day it’ll all be over/One day it’ll all be gone,” Alex Maas chants in the chorus. Its lyrical simplicity feels timeless but not overwrought, a warning that screams relevance in society’s new political landscape. Exclamation points are dotted throughout the track with pulsating guitars and pounding drums that serve to emphasize the urgency of the statement.
The one-two gut punch of “Currency” leading in to “I’d Kill For Her” is unmatched on the album, providing the initial 10 minutes with a sour hammer strike followed up by a bittersweet love song. On the latter, Maas sings a lyrical warning of a lover whose poisonous and corrupting aura sounds sirenesque in nature. The standout track rumbles along, like its storyteller, spiraling out of control only to snap back into an upright position before the crash becomes imminent.
The expected bleakness of an album that carries the name Death Song is prevalent throughout. Where a lesser band would allow that darkness to become overbearing, The Black Angels never do, choosing instead to fill tracks with a fervent, living energy. Pounding, optimistic drums swell into a haze of scattered improvisation on “Comanche Moon” and the yo-yoing guitars anchor the lusty “Hunt Me Down.” There’s a pleasantly eerie quality to the echoing whistles that kick-off midway point “Grab As Much (as you can)” that’s blessed with off-kilter harmonization and plenty of tambourines.
Each track contains a formula that’s not unique unto itself, but somehow, through sheer will and skill, The Black Angels have pressed a record that continues shifting styles from one five-minute clip to the next. It proves effective both as a long-listening session with a hazy lure, one that’s just as easy to get lost in as it is to be shattered by. With as complete an experience as this album is, the only wrong way to ingest Death Song is to not ingest it at all.