Though it’s difficult to put into words exactly why, this was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015. As a long time admirer of Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s musical career (The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Spirit Caravan, etc.), I’ve really taken to his acoustic folk projects over the past few years. Be it his acoustic solo material, his work on The Songs of Townes Van Zandt cover album or his collaboration with German folk artist Conny Ochs, Wino’s voice seems tailor-made for bare bones, stripped-down American folk rock. His first album with Mr. Ochs was a successful fusion of acoustic folk, 60s counter-culture rock and doom, and at the time I described it as best I could as “biker folk.”
Freedom Conspiracy is their second album together and that tag still fits as good as any. It’s more of the same sparse, emotional folk rock and demotivational road songs for soulsick drifters. It’s not far from the Rick Rubin produced Johnny Cash albums in that it’s all about simple acoustic arrangements, emotive vocals and old-fashioned storytelling, and like last time, the songs are all the more powerful for it. This however is a much darker album, digging deeper into personal demons and at times, becoming uncomfortably honest and painfully self-reflective. These songs represent pages from the writer’s lives and you can feel they really mean something to them, and that makes all the difference.
There are some real gems here, like opener “Drain” where Wino’s distinctive voice weaves a tale of living on the edge, trying to hold on. His delivery takes a simple tune and makes it cut deep with poignant pathos and there’s such a genuine vibe to it, you have to take it seriously when he sings lines like “hold on blue sky, it’s over when your dreams die” in a care-worn rasp. “Dirt Floor” has a more southern blues feel and would almost fit on a 60s Credence Clearwater Revival album. The chorus sizzles with old timey gospel charm and it’ll stay with you.
“Forever Gone” is a grim, reality-based love song (or anti-love song) about caring, loss, regret and moving on to the next chapter. It goes heavy on the world-weariness and creates a feeling of alienation even as it speaks of intimacy. The clear standout is the most unsettling of the bunch – “Crystal Madonna” is a raw, harrowing tale of self-destruction and the downward spiral of addiction; grim and moving in the same way as the Townes Van Zandt material, and all the more impactful because of Wino’s own history of dependence and addiction. The man lived in that dark world and his descriptions bring it closer to home than any would want. If there’s such a thing as folk-doom, this is it. Unrelentingly unpleasant, yet hard to stop playing.
The rest of Freedom Conspiracy is of high-quality as well, with closing bummer “The Great Destroyer” being the perfect low note to finish off any remaining joy. The relatively upbeat moments like “Timeless Spirit” remain steadfastly melancholic, and even the most rocking track (“Invisible Bullets”) will remind you so much of the great acoustic Nirvana sets (Conny can sound uncomfortably like Curt Cobain at times) that you’ll be depressed despite the somewhat energetic music.
Since there are almost no drums or electric guitars utilized, the songs depend heavily on the way Wino and Conny compliment each other as vocalists. Luckily, there’s a powerful synergy between them, and their harmonies are rich and deep with feeling. They spin these tales of the transient life, fleeting moments of happiness, the impermanence of love and how ultimately we are all alone, and make you feel every bit of it. Wino’s voice in particular gets more earthy and honest every year and he sounds all the more like the grizzled, restive soul, wandering the world searching for something to fill the void within. That’s what makes his music truly work.
I expected quite a bit from this album, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a deeper, more downcast listen than Heavy Kingdom, but it’s a stronger, more powerful example of the duo’s writing and playing chops. This won’t be for everyone, and it’s not really metal in the normal understanding of the term, but it’s darker than any blackened thrash platter, and far closer to the sad reality that lurks just beyond the veil of our shiny, happy existence. I highly recommend checking out Freedom Conspiracy along with their first album when you’re ready for something different, honest and brutally authentic.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Exile on Mainstream
Websites: Too genuine for the poser net
Release Dates: Out Worldwide on 03.31.2015