Ever since John Lennon uttered the words “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream,” the Tibetan Book of the Dead has been a part of rock `n’ roll’s reference library. The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” is by far the best known song to use the Eastern text for lyrical inspiration, though since then, the likes of Bardo Pond, Superdrag and, yes, even Live have looked to the book as a muse. Los Angeleno Guy Blakeslee, otherwise known as Entrance, used the Tibetan Book of the Dead as inspiration for an entire album, songs touching upon themes of death and detachment and album art featuring black and white images of skulls and people being carried off by skeletons. However, add to this a musical reference point of delta blues with some psychedelic rock and Eastern raga, and you have one of the creepiest records to be released in the post-Halloween season.
Each element on its own is pretty scary. Delta blues artists like Robert Johnson and Son House were tormented by images of the devil and awash in legends of murder and deals with the Dark Lord himself, not to mention laying down songs in a time when recording technology left everything with surface scratches, static and a sound that’s pretty ghostly in the first place. Add to this the obsession with death and a healthy dose of vocal reverb, and you’ve got a record that’s intense, to say the least. Entrance distills these elements into a heady, psychedelic blues symphony that falls somewhere between the monolithic space rock of Spiritualized and the haunted psychobilly of Gun Club. In fact, Blakeslee’s cracking, howling vocals recall those of Jeffrey Lee Pierce more than anyone else.
Opening track “Grim Reaper Blues” is a reasonably accessible opening, wailing slide and funky wah wah riffs laying down a meaty rock sound over which Blakeslee howls his haunted lament: “Got up this morning baby/said my morning prayer/that old Grim Reaper baby/was-a-standin’ there.” Paz Lenchantin (Zwan, A Perfect Circle) adds some eerie violin to tracks like “Silence on a Crowded Train,” one of the least directly death-related, yet sonically harrowing tracks on the album. Similarly, her violin, addled with effects, creates a hallucinogenic atmosphere on “Valium Blues,” on which Blakeslee yodels in falsetto in old time movie Indian war cry fashion.
The slinky, slow blues rock of “Pretty Baby” finds a meeting place between Blakeslee’s visions of death and a sexual fantasy, with the titular Pretty Baby swimming in blood amidst a fire and a flood. The title track changes musical direction, as Blakeslee strips away the effects pedals and opts for a solo acoustic backing for this spiritual hymn. In this song, he sings of accepting death and greeting it without fear, and, likewise, in the final track, “Never Be Afraid!”, he repeats the mantra “when you think about death every morning/don’t you ever be afraid.” Death almost becomes a celebration, and that the record comes after Halloween, it almost becomes a soundtrack for Dia de los Muertos. But these cries and bellows are far from comforting sounds. Play this one loud enough, and it just might awaken some of those long gone spirits.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.