(BadWolf reviews the remarkable collaborative effort by two St. Louis bands: The Lion’s Daughter and Indian Blanket.)
I’ve had to re-write this review around three times to really sum up my feelings about A Black Sea, the collaborative album from St. Louis sludge metal band The Lion’s Daughter and Indian Blanket, a folk outfit from the same city. Although I haven’t had much time to listen to the album, I feel quite strongly that it is one of the finest extreme metal albums released in 2013.
I first heard of this project right here, when Islander posted a stream of “Wolves,” the first cut from this album. That song’s mix of metal and folk brought up more than a few touchstone sounds—Agalloch and Neurosis, most obviously, and Opeth and Cobalt to a lesser degree. It made a good enough first impression to put A Black Sea near the top of my priority list.
Consider expectations met. A Black Sea is the sort of album that one can listen to from front-to-back and then re-start. Both Indian Blanket and The Lion’s Daughter carry a versatile array of styles, and employ every one of them on this album. As a result, even though the overriding mood stays bleak, the album winds from churning sludge to delicate acoustic passages—it feels every bit like a journey across the titular sea, or into the foreboding, prehistoric forest depicted on the cover.
Instrumentally, the record throws a lot at the listener, all at once, and it takes more than a few listens to parse out all the different textures at work. Whereas many folk-metal outfits will cut their songs into ‘metal bits’ and ‘folk bits,’ the lines never becomes too opaque here—even the heaviest riffing comes with some sort of stringed instrument accompaniment (courtesy of the talented Gina Eygenhuysen), at times almost ringing true of Emperor. Likewise, the folk bits frequently play over a pedal-tone or feedback texture.
Some special attention needs to be paid, first to The Lion’s Daughter. Calling them a sludge metal band is itself a disservice—these musicians are proficient at several styles of metal guitar. At times they beat Neurosis at that venerable band’s own game, and at times their riffs reek of mid-period Black Sabbath. The song “Swann” more or less becomes a showcase of their sub-genre quick-change act, morphing from a Meshuggah-like polyrhythm pulse into something more akin to Cascadian black metal. If those words don’t mean anything to you, dear reader, expect organic pushes-and-pulls in tempo, and shifting moods from aggression to meditation and back.
As for Indian Blanket, the folk-centric tracks “A Song for the Devil” and “That Place” focus on wounded clean vocals by Joe Andert. His cleans don’t soar so much as hover, like buzzards circling a lone traveler dying of thirst, praying alternately for more life and the swift release of death with each breath. Andert’s compositions, unlike say the folk-centric tracks by Panopticon on last year’s Kentucky, are all originals. That the album ends with him, virtually alone, illustrates just how instrumental he was to the creation of this record.
But the finest cut here may be the instrumental “Timeless Waters,” where the metal and folk instrumentation work in perfect unison, building from aimless wandering into a crushing whirlwind of isolated doom. Together, these bands know how to set a scene and take their time filling it with melodies and textures.
The union of Americana and folk metal has yielded some of the finest fruit in the past few years. I speak of records like Agalloch’s Marrow of the Spirit, the aforementioned Kentucky, and Cobalt’s magnificent Gin. Earlier, Islander meditated on what albums we, as metalheads, might consider—for lack of finer terminology—works of art, and the albums I just mentioned fall into that category for me. My assessment may be premature, considering how little time I’ve had to digest it, but so far A Black Sea absolutely stands with such esteemed company, for me. This is one hell of an album, and one that may be sadly slept on my the metal press at large. Give these fine gentlemen and women your attention—these young masters deserve it. I hope they continue to collaborate, and I can’t wait to hear what they cook up next.
A Black Sea is available from Good Die Young Music on vinyl or as a digital download which includes a bonus track (“Moonshiner”). The LP comes with a download code, too. The album is also on iTunes and Amazon mp3.