I’ve been on a run in 2019. Not a great run, mind you, but a good one. I haven’t really stumbled across any albums that completely sucked, nor (aside from Soen) any that blew me away. Everything’s been “pretty good,” and that makes me feel like an overrating bastard at times1. But rather than dredging the promo sump for some nu-core to lambaste, I continue to optimistically search for hidden gems. Which leads me to Maryland stoner/doom trio Black Lung and their third album, Ancients. This combination of genres can be tired and
samey, for sure, but in the right hands they can also be a ton of fun, full of earworm riffs and killer jams. Where on this spectrum will Ancients land?
“Mother of the Sun” fades in with a comforting sense of familiarity: I can’t place my finger on the melody, but it sure gives me a sense of déjà vu. That, or I’ve heard it before. Past the intro, though, these guys start driving hard – drummer Elias Schutzman lays down a ponderous yet aggressive beat, and guitarists Adam Bufano and Dave Cavalier give us a solid riff with some excellent interplay. Wait, what about the bass? No bass: instead, Bufano and Cavalier imbue their axes with layers of tasty effects, and in fact the bass isn’t even missed on Ancients. Coming from a bass player, that should be a statement worthy of caning, yet it’s true. The guitars are excellent and varied throughout, ranging from psychedelic 60s buzz to thick and meaty chugging, often all in one song (see “The Seeker”).
This all sounds promising, but that’s because I haven’t mentioned the vocals yet. Cavalier is the singer, and mere words into the album I was thinking, “Is this some sort of joke?” But no, it’s no joke. The only word to describe Cavalier’s style is “unhinged.” His panicked, out of tune yelling is either brilliant or embarrassing, and if it’s brilliant then I missed the boat on it. It’s obviously intentional, but wow is it ever intentionally bad. It’s a shame, too, because if I block out the vocals (which took a supreme effort of will), there’s some excellent stuff going on here. Every song is musically compelling, and Black Lung have obvious chemistry. With real singing, “Voices” would be a stellar early-70’s gem, “The Seeker” would be five minutes of mind-blowing psychedelia, and “Gone” would be an ominous, groovy trip through the desert. But all that’s for naught with Cavalier haranguing us mercilessly. There are times when he demonstrates some technical capabilities – early on in “Vultures,” in particular – but good taste is quickly abandoned.
Black Lung recruited Frank Marchand to produce Ancients. Marchand produced the last The Obsessed record, Sacred, and like that album, Ancients sounds great. It’s thick, loud, and heavy, chock full of immaculate guitar tones and “real” drums – you know, a snare drum where you actually hear the snare, for example. It’s no easy feat to record an album that vibrates dishes on the counter yet has no bass guitar, but that’s what we have here. Marchand must have been talked into letting the vocals be committed to tape as they were: aside from that, Ancients sounds excellent.
Ancients is by no means an awful album. It’s full of great riffs and plenty of original guitar playing, and not once through the album’s 40 minutes did the music bore me. Every one of the eight songs here is wonderfully arranged, with nary a bit of fluff to be found. However, Cavalier’s unusual vocal performance did make me wince at multiple points in every song. Clearly I don’t get what he’s aiming for here, because from my recliner it sounds like Black Lung are a legitimate singer away from releasing a helluva album.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Ripple Music(NA/Asia/Australia), Noisolution(EU)
Websites: blacklungbaltimore.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/blacklungbaltimore/
Releases Dates: Digital: 03.08.2019 | EU: 2019.03.22 | NA/Asia/Australia: 03.08.2019