The Black Angels debut, Passover, evoked unbridled tension with its Vietnam War imagery; heady, unraveling guitars; and a droning, LSD-dream pulse. With their third album, Phosphene Dream, the war is over, but the music remains shell-shocked.
The Austin, Texas, quintet hasn’t ever been easy to embrace due to the danger in their tone, the wash of reverb guitars, and the sunken lyricism that grasps for the surface with bloody fingers. Like its predecessors, Phospohene Dream is polarizing, an album that swirls with such intensity that it is difficult to bridge. But while The Black Angels’ earlier releases felt detached and disillusioned, the group is ready to break out of its trauma-induced shell. “Haunting at 1300 McKinley” is a slow go-go that recalls deranged ‘60s surf music, and “River of Blood” is brooding, complete with B3 swirls and a crashing guitar chorus. “The Sniper” closes the album with woozy guitar that morphs with the shifting surface of the composition.
Phosphene Dream isn’t an album that’s likely to garner radio airplay; the band’s take on psychedelic ‘60s rock unveils the scaly underbelly rather than the peace signs and flowers. But The Black Angels have managed to incorporate hooks that make the journey into this dark world as welcoming as a crooked man offering candy to a child, a knife held in the hand that’s behind his back. The danger is inherent, but the temptation is impossible to deny.
Phosphene Dream is out now on Blue Horizon.