Arriving into the crowded venue for The Black Angels, the musical onslaught of A Place To Bury Strangers hits you. As a three piece they position themselves in a row at the front of the stage, with drummer, Lia Simone Braswell, in the middle between Oliver Ackerman and Dion Lunadon. The volume of noise that this trio can create is vast and there are clear comparisons with the likes of Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, not purely based on the loudness but also the depth and chaos produced by the guitars. This was a well-chosen precursor to The Black Angels as it appealed to an audience who appreciate a large dose of heaviness in their music. The surprise entry into the crowd to finish off the set was fascinating, with neon lights emanating from the floor as they present a sound that reminds me of Atari Teenage Riot on ketamine.
Whilst the stage is being cleared and set up for The Black Angels, the images displayed behind takes you back to an era when there was a need for a test screen. Close to the band’s stage time, unsurprisingly The Velvet Underground are played as the latest album cover rotates heralding their entrance. And boy, what an arrival!
The set begins with Currency, the opening song from their recent album Death Song, a perfect track to lay down the band’s intention for what is to follow. The Black Angels are equipped with the song writing skills to produce music with a heaviness that vibrates through you whilst the groove and melody move your soul. During the next track, Bad Vibrations, it becomes evident how Alex Maas’s unique vocals are used more as an instrument rather than being overtly prominent as in most other bands whilst Christian Bland’s guitar melodies weave between them creating a fascinating interplay. Underpinning each song is the solid drumming of Stephanie Bailey, who dodges the need for flashy unnecessary rhythms in favour of well-constructed patterns that enhance each track with its driving repetition.
A critical part of The Black Angels is their artwork, which is the handiwork of Christian Bland, and certainly the visual element is central to their live performance. “The Mustachio Lightshow” takes prominence during the first section of the set as the musicians are split on either side of the stage with Bailey seated at the back and centre. These images hark back to footage of early Pink Floyd gigs with the various psychedelic patterns twirling and mesmerising the voyeur. It’s a shame that the band aren’t playing the main room as the more grandiose setting would have added another level to the visual aspect.
The backbone of the set are tracks from Death Song including the entrancing I Dreamt which incorporates an Arabic quality during the chorus and illustrates how Maas changes the effects and delay he uses to manipulate his vocals. I Dreamt is followed by Medicine which ups the tempo and sees Maas pick up a bass to generate a further level of weight to the already substantial sound. To present The Black Angels as a collective who churn out a wall of sound, would be doing the band a massive disservice as their exploration of dynamics are an essential element to the beauty of their music, epitomised particularly in Half Believing where the solitary resounding note under the second verse is haunting. As Half Believing fades, the military style drumming heralds The Sniper At The Gates Of Heaven; taken from their debut album Passover, this track encapsulates the title beautifully via a repetitive underlying drone with euphonic guitar interludes and occasional aggressive vocal outbursts.
The Black Angels also have the capability to write a catchy song which could be verging on the boundaries of invading the charts, for example I’d Kill For Her however the lyrical content has such a darkness it is at conflict with the musical elements making it a genius piece of work. After the psychedelic guitar meanderings of You On The Run, courtesy of Bland and Garcia, Comanche Moon’s delicate beginning is interrupted by a pounding guitar riff as swirls of noise reverberate around the venue to the delight of the ever more excitable audience. The epic Life Song is the final track of the main part of the set, another song that demonstrates the The Black Angel’s ingenuity at crafting music that within its heaviness unleashes a delicate beauty. It is easy to imagine Life Song as part of a film score due its atmospheric and heart wrenching quality.
The appreciation of the band is unquestionable as the rousing applause continues long after the musicians have left the stage, fortunately the visuals are still being displayed which means that The Black Angels aren’t finished with us yet and hopefully it is the crowd’s reaction that entices them back onstage with Death March. Christian Bland’s alluring slide guitar indicates Bloodhounds On My Trail, essentially an Americana track that has been distorted and perverted resulting in an awesome, ball-grabbing song that sees everyone moving whether it be dancing or head bobbing. Sticking with Passover, the final piece of the night is Young Men Dead. The wailing lyrics overlay a powerful churning guitar riff that is entrancing and reiterates how effective repetition can be in the right hands. The Black Angels exit the stage in a melee of noise not only of their instruments but predominantly from the audience who acknowledge that they have been a part of something exceptional. The sense that the band had embraced the atmosphere was confirmed by Alex Maas after the show, “I couldn’t tell if it was a Tuesday or a Saturday. Was good vibes happening in there for sure!”
From what I had read and heard, I knew that The Black Angels’ live performance would be good, however, I didn’t expect it to be so phenomenal. And using the term performance or show feels incorrect, as what The Black Angels give you is an experience that is a total assailment on not only the visual and auditory but also your body, as the depth and weight of their sound moves you physically and emotionally.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to explore The Black Angels’ music and if you get the opportunity, go and experience them in a live environment – it’s mind-blowing!