Saddle up, cowboy! The Black Moriah have come to town to raise hell, drink the saloon dry, and make off with your most buxom women. Formed in 2009 by drummer/vocalist “The Mad Arab” and former Absu guitarist “Zawicizuz,” this Texas band peddle blackened thrash with lyrics that paint them as marauding highwaymen of the Old West. I managed to snag a cheap vinyl copy of their 2012 debut Casket Prospects a few months ago and it’s since become one of my favorite blind buys in recent memory. With a unique lyrical theme and riffs that possess more than a little Absu influence, my excitement for second album Road Agents of the Blast Furnace was already at fever pitch even before I learned it had such an awesome title. Yet having now survived The Black Moriah‘s second assault, I’m here to report things are a little different this time around…
…in that they’re even fukkin’ better than before! Opener “Road Agents of the Blast Furnace” kicks off the raid in fine form, with propulsive riffs and sharp rasps underlaid by galloping drumbeats that sound like a horde of outlaws charging toward you on horseback. It’s got everything that worked so well on Prospects but with riffs that are more memorable and a chorus that’s impossible not to shout along with. “To Hell on a Fast Horse” and “Say It with Bullets” continue to show that better riffs and sharper hooks are the new norm on Agents, with “Bullets” featuring a refrain that’s livelier than a bucking bronco and catchier than cholera. But if you really want the best riffing this side of the Mississippi, look no further than “The Devil’s Whores,” whose melodic speed metal attack sounds like a gunfight between Arghoslent and Bewitcher.
Of course, an album like this would be nothing without a little atmosphere. “Death Valley Days” initially provides that in the form of dusty clean picking before the song’s menacing tremolos and blunt riffs crush this peaceful aura beneath the heel of its boot. Sadly there’s a noticeable shift around this point in the album. While each of the songs on the first half have a prominent and memorable chorus, virtually none of the songs in the second half do. As such the record feels quite front-loaded, even if moments like the head-spinning notes of late highlight “Just a Taste” show that the riffing remains equally strong throughout.
It’s worth noting that the final four tracks are actually part of an unreleased EP that was later decided to be included with this album. There’s no noticeable difference in style or production between these and the other eight tracks, but the effect of tacking them on makes Agents come in at a whopping 51 minutes. As such it wouldn’t have hurt to leave a song like “Elixir of Wrath” in the holster, particularly since its blasting tempos and buzzing tremolos have a similar feel to neighboring track “Scholar of Tongues.” Fortunately the production has improved since the debut and ensures things never get exhausting, with a dry and roaring guitar tone and rattling drums that are a great fit for the old timey aesthetic. The closing cover of Gorgoroth‘s “The Devil Is Calling” feels a little unnecessary and the guitar solos are somewhat hard to hear, but those are minor quibbles.
In fact, Road Agents is such a blast of an album that getting hung up on its flaws almost feels like missing the point. Much like the Old West highwaymen that The Black Moriah are so inspired by, the group is full of piss and vinegar, even if the overall package is a little rough around the edges. The band’s Absu-influenced style is great on its own1 and is made even better by lyrics that are both original and make these songs pop with vivid imagery. If nothing else, it’s always great to see a promising band become an even better one with their second album. For those in the market for some fun n’ frantic blackened thrash, feel free to stick your boots in the stirrups and come along for the ride.