Monday, 9 December 2013

Black Skies - Circadian Meditations (album review)

Album artwork by Kevin Clark (guitar, vocals, synth, shruti box).
When I first stumbled upon this underground world of stoner and doom music I searched those terms on bandcamp.  It was a windfall.  I bought ten or fifteen albums right on the spot and that was the foundation of my new normal.  You could say it was the banana peel on the edge of the rabbit hole.  Black Skies's 2011 album, 'On the Wings of Time' was part of that amazing draft class and obviously, they will always hold a special place for me.  So nerdless to say, I was spazzing pretty hard the week leading up to the release of the band's latest, 'Circadian Meditations' which I had sitting there, waiting on a pre-order.

The first thing I noticed is there's a lot less Kevin Clark on this album and a lot more Michelle Temple.  The two of them seem to have reversed roles as featured vocalists with Temple's clean vocals carrying the lead role and Clark's throaty grumble providing background color.  The second thing I noticed is that the overall feel of 'Circadian Meditations' is entirely less "metal" and more heavy psychedelic rock.  As the band states in their description on their facebook page, "Heavy, not metal".  An idea strikes me here that the North Carolinian trio (with Tim Herzog on drums) explores a yin/yang masculine/feminine aspect with the latter taking center stage here.  The album cover reinforces this strange thought in my mind as the image of a magnetosphere looks decidedly spider-like, creating black widow-y feelings, but that's probably just me.

Side A kicks off with the epic "Lifeblood" which leads into the title track, each of which are expansive in breadth and scope, taking the listener on a psychedelic journey through roomy highs and claustrophobic lows.  "Lifeblood" lets us know everything we need to about the album ahead, trucking on through with a relaxed midtempo, but still running the sweat down your brow with confident and energetic performances beneath hot lights.

"Black C" kicks off what will be Side B of the record.  Though the album hasn't been pressed to vinyl as of yet, there are definite plans to do so and the sequencing of the album illustrates this perfectly.  "Black C" marks a second, darker phase on this journey as the band moves through some slightly more threatening or sinister territory, which comes to a head on the instrumental, "Time Lord".  Again, there's a yin/yang thing at play with a kind of wide eyed wonder conducting Side A before fear and paranoia creep in like tendrils gripping Side B.  "Black C" is arguably the most immediately catchy song on the album with its sing-along chorus, ADD friendly length (four minutes compared to the equally effective "Lifeblood"s 10) and energetic delivery.  It makes a good companion to the "Echoes in the Void" single which comes FREE with a bandcamp purchase of 'Circadian Meditations' (the album is also available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. but you only get the "Echoes" download with the bandcamp purchase).

The album closes with a sleeper highlight.  The more I listen to the album, the more "The Dusk / Invisible Figures" sticks out to me and the more it lingers long after the album is finished.  Aldous Huxley once wrote a convincing essay called Heaven & Hell which I would encourage anybody with even a passing interest in art or psychology to read.  In it, he argues that expansive landscapes represent a calm and confident heavenly side of perception, while close-up details represent a paranoid, hellish vision of the world.  Anyway, Black Skies do away with much of that and get right to the meeting place between fear, awe and wonder on this track, skipping the heaven/hell dichotomy and going right to the Valhallan.  The call and response vocal is positively Kirby-esque recalling images of Thor on the storm swept mountain top speaking to all-father Odin.  The monotone vocal line also brings to mind some of those old blues call and response records from the 20's, 30's and 40's by such legends as LeadBelly and Blind Willie McTell who had a number of excellent man and woman call and response vocals cut to wax.  Their charm lay in their simplicity and that's certainly true here.  Though "The Dusk / Invisible Figures" ranges past the nine minute mark, the song is structured deceptively basic.  An acoustic intro ("The Dusk") followed by a slow riff, a single long call and response vocal and a guitar based coda which is only a slight development of the main riff.  It's a droney song perhaps, one that works extremely well.

So how did 'Circadian Meditations' meet my expectations?  It turned them inside out and eviscerated them across the cosmos.  The album is more psychedelic than I would have imagined but that's by no means a bad thing.  Much as I was into it right off the bat, the album is also a grower, revealing itself in ever deepening layers upon successive listens.  There were a number of high profile albums released on November 19 (at least they were high profile to me), this was the best of them.

Highlights include: "Black C" and "Lifeblood"

Rating: 4.5/5

Total Run Time: 37:31

From: Carrboro, North Carolina

Genre: Psychedelic, Doom

Reminds me of: SubRosa, The later era Lee/Kirby Thor run

Release Date: November 19, 2013

Black Skies on facebook

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