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The Black Angels cast dark
shadows on second release

The Black Angels - Directions To See A Ghost
(Interscope Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 13, 2008
The Black Angels

Review by Tony Bonyata

While the Austin, TX-based psychedelic rock band The Black Angels may have nicked their name from The Velvet Underground's "The Black Angel's Death Song," a number from their 1967 debut that is a true piece of surrealism with John Cale's piercing viola, down-tuned dissonant guitars and Lou Reed's dark, deadpan stream-of-consciousness vocal delivery, that's not all they borrowed from them.

The droning, often disorientating rush of psychedelia on The Black Angels' second full-length effort Directions To See A Ghost doesn't try tapping into the sunny, multi-colored, peace-and-love Haight-Ashbury vibe of the '60s, but rather the stark, monochromatic drone that The Velvets were honing in '66 in the back of Andy Warhol's NYC Factory. Frontman Alex Mass' hypnotic vocals are a perfect synthesis of The Velvet Underground's Nico and The Doors' Jim Morrison, while Christian Bland adds in pulsing reverb and throbbing guitar dissonance into the ominous melodies. Add in the pounding, insistent rhythm from drummer Stephanie Bailey and the similarities between the two bands are uncanny.

But whereas The Velvets often had a hint of positiveness buried in their melodies, The Black Angels never crack a smile. Dirges such as the sweeping "Never/Ever," "The Return," 18 Years" and the opening track "You On The Run" are mind-altering works of art for the shoegazing generation. And like so many other bands of the mid-'60s, they've incorporated Middle Eastern influences into the brooding mantra "Deer-Ree-Shee."

Even with all of the obvious references to The Velvet Underground (they've even incorporated an image of Nico as their band logo) perhaps the statement from Expressionist artist Edvard Munch that accompanied the liner notes from their debut Passover album best sums up this band and their music: "Illness, insanity, and death are the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life."

While admittedly not for everyone, The Black Angels have created a dark, foreboding statement with Directions To See A Ghost that will surely please drone-rockers, freak-folkies and fans of trippy psychedelic music alike.

Watch The Black Angels perform "Doves" - Live Wiltern 3/30/08

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