As a journalist, I must hold my hands up and admit that it is those of us who chosen to pursue this particular path to critique music who have invented all sorts of little pigeon holes into which slot particular bands and the “style” or “type” of music they choose to submit to our humble ears for mutual edification…
PhalAngst artworkSo, it’s a real pleasure when a band, and an album, comes along which defies, but also simultaneously defines, this practice and challenges the critic to delve deep into their own consciousness and challenge their pre-conceived notions of what music should be all about, and adapts them to a new landscape. With its roots very much in the industrial post-rock and EBM schools rather than the metal mien in which we feel most comfortable, ‘Black Country’ is an album which represents, in its own way, almost the total antithesis of everything PlanetMosh stands for… but, buried in its deep, dank soul, there is something which draws us inward and deeper into its discomforting and uncomfortable embrace.
The 15-minute epic that is opener ‘Hardwire’ would not sound out of place on the soundtrack to one of the late Stanley Kubrick’s masterpieces: it’s chilling, childlike female vocal laid over a nihilistic, ambient electro-pulse, in turn interspersed with oblique sampled voiceovers dealing with the subjects of war and pornography, before the main male vocal takes over with its darkly, repetitive chant which addresses the songs theme of moral decline with its Metallica-esque ‘Unforgiven’ lyrical refrain. The title track, and the lugubrious (and wonderfully titled) ‘The Old Has To Die And The New Must Not Be Born’ carry the dark, soundtrack-like through – the former rich in its tapestry of darkness, the latter weaving patterns of light (in the form of the female vocal refrains) into the density of its sludgy, droning mix.
‘Black Milk Of Morning’ is a totally ethereal, psychedelic trip, and also the first track to feature guitars prominently in the mix, albeit as a primarily acoustic underpinning of the dense main riff, while closer ‘Theta’ takes the album full circle and back to its nihilistic Kubrick-esque beginning while introducing yet another layer, this time in the dark, almost primeval, vocals, which growl with a suitably Satanic intent (given the repitition of the Dark Lord’s name throughout what passes for a chorus).
With its five tracks clocking in at an apocalyptic 55 minutes, this is not an easy album to listen to, but, while initially confusing, it definitely is what we critics like to describe as a ‘grower’: as for the pigeonholing? Well, that’s nigh on impossible to do, which adds to the beauty of this particular aural experience.
[Side note: This album comes with an accompanying project, the imaginatively monickered ‘Black Country Revisited’, featuring remixes by some of Europe’s top EBM producers: not even this hardened PM hack is brave enough to venture into those depths, so dare we suggest that this particular companion piece may well be for true purists only!)