It’s not uncommon to hear a band described as “psychedelic” just for adding a sample or two and dialing the effects up to 11. But consider the three components of an LSD trip, as defined by Timothy Leary: are Dechronization (altering sense of time), Depersonalization (altering sense of self) and Dynamization (dissolution of boundaries and forms). The first two songs on The Black Angels‘ Wilderness of Mirrors right off the bat employ a drone that captures the first qualifier, Dechronization. The band uses the repetition layering of sounds to create a hypnotic throb the listener can get lost in, not just in terms of what sounds good on drugs, but what sounds good in any state of mind. The grooves and melodies hook you in once you’re down the rabbit hole.
Alex Maas’ bass playing shines on this album, bringing a needed thump to “Empires Falling.” The vocals have a clearer narrative, as well, as Maas awakes from his stoned lethargy. They come closer to the kind of mod pop Neil Diamond used to write for The Monkees on “El Jardin.” The mesmerizing motion of the bassline helps to bring about the second qualifier Depersonalization, as this moves the listeners away from their sense of self to become unified with the sound.
There is more rock ‘n’ roll strut in the step of “Firefly.” They check off the third qualifier, Dynamization, with the grandiose in its sonic scope of “Make it Known.” The guitar drips around the other instruments, emulating the mind-bending properties of an acid trip. The song is also only the midway point of the album, so there’s a progression deeper into the center of the mind as the album takes you on this expansive journey. Not everything is drug induced, as something as simple as the lonely western strum of acoustic guitar on “The River” creates a cool mood in its ’60s-reminiscent amble. In doing so, however, they never get bogged down in being retro for its own sake. “Here & Now” works off a more urgent folk strum, giving the vocals more space to emote.
Black Angels continue to wander through a dreamy garden of space sounds as the album progresses. And the way they wander gives them more common ground with progressive rock than indie rock. The freakout boogie of “A Walk on the Outside” demands a visual accompaniment of dancers in black light paint. “Vermillion Eyes” ambles down the same Absinthe-laced paths we have already danced down, while “Icon” is more of a pure rock song and moves with more attitude in its undercurrent, not unlike when the Rolling Stones went on a similar trip. The scope of what Black Angels create and the context of how they do so on Wilderness of Mirrors is next-level shit from the past that sounds just as original today.