No joke: the day I found out Death Alley‘s new record was coming out, I was jamming hard to Captain Beyond and Blue Öyster Cult. It was as if my craving for some old-school rock reached across the ocean to the Netherlands. Not only did Death Alley hear my call, they answered it—with Superbia. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t much for religious interventions or anything but, my god, I almost picked up the Bible after that. For those that haven’t heard the band before, these guys ain’t a hard-hitting bunch. Instead, they’re proto geniuses with a fun attitude and well-rounded songwriting. Along with the ’70s rock vibes of Captain and BÖC, the Motörhead vibes bang heads in the mix and the Ghost-like character slithers into the vocals and guitar work. This foursome from Amsterdam near knocked me on my ass with their 2015 debut, Black Magick Boogieland, so I’ve been looking forward to their follow-up since then. And, for the most part, I thought I knew what to expect from Superbia: simple, straightforward ’70s rock. Boy, was I wrong.
It turns out Superbia ain’t no Black Magick Boogieland, Part II. Instead, Superbia is proof that Death Alley isn’t a one-show pony, nor are they willing to dish out slabs of leftovers. If there’s one word that describes Superbia, it’s “prog.” Not that this is a total shock after experiencing the proggy, psychedelic “Supernatural Predator,” from Black Magick Boogieland. But, Boogieland‘s closer doesn’t have shit on Superbia. Death Alley have upped their game in every way here. I wouldn’t say the drumming, the guitar work, and the songwriting has “improved” but Superbia raises the bar. And… the band met it.
No matter what I expected from Superbia, “Daemon” wasn’t it. After a psychedelic introduction, the clean, creeping vocals of Douwe Truijens arrive to lead a build that ascends and descends for the next nine minutes. In combination with the vocals, which become more powerful around the four-minute mark, the bass pushes the boundaries set by Black Magick Boogieland. The bass pops and rumbles along until the growing tension finally snaps. All hands are on deck here—the instruments tip-toe like my black cat in the dark, before the pace quickens to a charge. “Daemon” is a shocking piece from a band that I thought wanted to play simple, old-school rock. And the acid-tripped closer, “The Sewage,” is an even greater shock. More than any other song on the album, this twelve-minute number comes at you with everything Oeds Beydals, et al. have to offer. There are punky and in-your-face vocals, whirling bass and guitar work, impressive soloing segments, Ghost-meets-Mercyful Fate creeps and crawls, and a growing progginess that brings to mind Spock’s Beard. It’s a brave piece that works from beginning to end.
But the best tracks have to be “Pilgrim,” “Feeding the Lions,” “Murder Your Dreams,” and “Headlights in the Dark.” “Feeding the Lions,” like the opener and closer, is a longer, proggier track that opens gentlly before building to a Spock-y finale. It’s one of the grooviest tracks on the album and supplies some of the most-addictive vocals—especially the perfectly synced verses and Mastodon-like chorus. “Pilgrim” and “Headlights in the Dark” keep me coming back for their sticky choruses. Not to mention the malicious attitude of the former and the headbanging riff toward the middle of the latter. “Murder Your Dreams,” on the other hand, sports punchy Rob Zombie vocal arrangements, a Ghost-meets-Enslaved-like eeriness, and a groove like nothing else on the album.
Though Death Alley hasn’t changed their holistic view of writing music, the only ditties here that feel like Black Magick Boogieland are “The Chain” and “Shake the Coil.” “Shake the Coil” focuses squarely on a hooking chorus and limits its exposure to a mere four minutes. It’s nothing amazing but “The Chain” is so plain it disappears in the backwash. The thing that stands out the most when comparing the debut to Superbia is the production. While the debut’s DR7 is by no means shit, it sure does sound compressed next to this album’s DR10. It was a smart move by the band to open things up and create such a dynamic mix. Not a single instrument or note washes away in the recording. It sounds fanfuckingtastic.
I’ve been one of the biggest supporters of this band since their debut and I still listen to Black Magick Boogieland on a weekly basis. But 2018 provides us with eight new songs that find Death Alley pushing against the simple proto-isms of an album I adore. Superbia ain’t a carbon copy of its predecessor, nor is it an uncomplicated trip down memory lane. It’s a reimagining of a special era of music, with an energy fit for 2018.