Here at Angry Metal Guy (Turbo Hyper Deluxe Edition Plus Alpha) LLC, we brought back the long-dormant Unsigned Band Rodeo, a series of group reviews where half of the team reviews an unsigned band in hopes of getting everyone’s attention. Our reviewers diligently convince our readers to give a listen to promising bands in hopes of them making a bit of money via their Bandcamp page or even drawing enough attention to get them signed to a big label. Sometimes, though, one or two will slip by our radar. Texas’ Blues Funeral is such a case. Having formed in 2014, they self-released their debut, The Search, last year with some notable buzz. Now they’ve returned with their second album in as many years in the form of Awakening.
Right off the bat, “Shadow of the Snake” begins not with a bang, but with the soothing mellow vibe of the 70s. In the band’s colorful one-sheet1, the band draws just as much from Uriah Heep and Cream as they do from Sabbath and Candlemass, and it shows in the organ swells of keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Jan Kimmel, the soothing vocals of guitarist Maurice Eggenschwiler, and the soaring leads by both of them. In fact, I had a difficult time even classifying this album as “doom metal,” as it’s heavier in terms of a mellow-out vibe than it is with thick grooves, crushing riffs, or a moody atmosphere. “Shadow of the Snake,” truth be told, sounds more hopeful than most doom metal would have any business being. Not a fault, mind you, but an observation.
Thankfully, the pace picks up a bit as the album progresses. “Illusions of Reality,” easily the standout track of the album, recalls an early Bad Company vibe, aided by Kimmel taking lead vocal duties for most of the song. Closer “The Gathering Dust” comes closest to achieving a doom metal vibe, but even then, it’s more as a spice than a key ingredient. Speaking of key ingredients, though, can we talk about the stellar leads that pepper practically all of the songs on Awakening? Neither Kimmel or Eggenschwiler are slouches on guitar, throwing incredibly tasty leads and sweet dual-guitar melodies that would make Iron Maiden stand and take notice. It feels like the songs are vehicles for both men to showcase their incredible chops as guitarists.
That would be both the album’s strongest point and its ultimate downfall. Simply put, there is too much fat in most of these songs. During “Casimir,” “Firedrake,” and the title track, I kept looking at the songs’ playtimes, wondering why the songs kept going on and on and on without anything interesting going on except for the leads. Oddly enough, none of those songs broke the seven-minute mark but felt longer, whereas “The Gathering Dust,” which does break that mark, felt shorter. Another bone of contention lies in the vocals of Kimmel and Eggenschwiler. By themselves, they’re not bad, but when they harmonize together, they sometimes veer off-key (“Awakening”). Also, some of the phrasing and syncopation of the singing feels strangely off (“Shadow of the Snake”‘s second verse), especially when they take one-syllable words and add extra syllables to awkwardly fill spaces (“Standing on the parlor floor/A statue of forgotten looo-hooooo-HOOOOOOOORE” in “The Gathering Dust”).
But even then, there’s more than enough promise contained within Awakening to keep an eye on them. The album sounds lush and vibrant, bringing forward Gabe Katz’s bass and Cory Cousins’ drumming. And some people would enjoy the throwback vibe, while everyone should be impressed with the leads on here. Maybe in an album or two, Blues Funeral can condense their songs to a tighter, leaner package, showcasing what they’re capable of. As it stands right now, they’re not quite there yet.