The heart is a pump. It drives the pulse. It sets the beat. Whether it slowly thumps or hammers in your throat, it’s the body’s rhythm section. When music makes us move, isn’t it because it connects to those primal grooves that keep us alive? (Anthropologists and other scientists have probably proven this, but at the moment we can’t be bothered to hunt for the proof.)
But the fact that the reaction is reflexive means that it’s easy for even mediocre musicians to lay down songs that make listeners move. Even extreme heavy metal bands do that all the time, easily triggering the headbang reflex, even though other groups obviously believe that putting too much groove in their music cheapens their “artistry” or clashes with their “ethos”. And indeed, taking the easy way out is rarely the basis for respect.
Which brings us to Black Royal, and what has made — and still makes — their deathly sludge ‘n’ roll so special. It’s undeniable (or at least your reptile brain won’t deny it) that in both their music and their vocal phrasings these Finns know how to lock in with the beat of your heart, and make it both slowly pump and hammer like a well-fueled piston.
But their expertise in doing that isn’t the sole basis for the allure of their music, and in the case of their new album Earthbound, which will be released on October 21st by M-Theory Audio, a strong case can be made that it’s the artistry and ethos of everything else they do which makes the album stand out.
You could pick out any of the 11 songs on Earthbound to prove this point, including the album’s first two singles “Earthbound” and “13th Moon” (which we’ve commented about here and here), but the one we’re focused on today is the second track in the running order, “Ghosts of the Dead“. Like the previous singles, this one comes with a film, which reinforces the trend that Black Royal‘s videos are always treats for the eyes as well as the ears.
This is one of those times when Black Royal punch the gas pedal with their iron-shod boots and send their music rumbling down the highway like a big black muscle car — but they also continually ease back on the throttle to make way for changes in mood. In all cases, the lead-weighted grooves are potent, as you should know they will be. But as previewed above, it’s what they do in and around those more or less accelerated movements that causes the song to make such a formidable impression… and get stuck in the head.
The riffing continually morphs. It swarms like mastiff-sized hornets, undulates like a giant engorged worm, seems to bray and wail in despair, and crawls like some stricken beast. The soloing is both dreamily psychedelic and feverishly delirious, and in the song’s mid-section a musing bass joins forces with a ringing guitar and ethereal synths to create an atmosphere that’s mystical and wondrous (occult auras are never very far away in Black Royal‘s music). Meanwhile, the vocals also change to enhance the changing moods, ranging from raw, feral snarls to harrowing death growls.
All these changes flow, swirling the mind while the band manipulate the pulse, right up to the weird and disturbing finale.
We also want to share comments about this new song from Black Royal guitarist Toni and vocalist Riku, which provide extra insight into both the music and the video:
Toni: “This started out with my and [bassist] Pete’s idea to get a more up-tempo rocker on the album, but with a twist to a more melodic style in the chorus. The idea was to mix Motörhead with Mastodon or something like that. There was beer involved, and the whole song brewed together nicely… pun intended. After making different sections for the song, it was arranged by the whole band with Jukka’s drumming tying it together. The final touches were given by studio wizard/keyboard guru Jussi Kulomaa (who also mixed our two previous albums). This time he added beautiful keyboards to the middle section which were the finishing touches on the song.”
Riku: “If one wanted to become a sorcerer, the first step was to establish a natural relationship with the dead people. For example, the hands of morticians were believed to have healing power. Cadaverous deceased formed a welcoming party when the time of death was approaching. They set forth from the cemetery and gathered around the dying or the place of death. This crowd consists of already deceased souls who had lost their individuality and who were dropped from the reincarnation cycle. A wood spirit tradition in western Finland was influenced by the Scandinavian ‘skogjungfru’-tradition.”
Earthbound was written and recorded at Studio Watercastle last August, mixed by Oskari Hakala Rahko (Lordi, Blind Guardian), and mastered by Jaakko Viitalähde (Convulse, Oranssi Pazuzu). It will be released on the 21st of October by M-Theory Audio on limited-edition “Phoenix Ascending” coloured vinyl, on Digipak CD, and digitally — and pre-orders are available now.
In case you missed the videos for those first two singles from Earthbound, we’ve also included them after the following links.