The Black Angels return once again with a strong new display of their mesmerizing psychedelic power. The Wilderness Of Mirrors is the follow up of 2017’s Death Song, a direct nod to their personal heroes The Velvet Underground and a pretty dark and aggressive album for them. Now, five years later and a period of lots of inactiveness and being in lockdown behind them they sound more melancholic, more subdued, and at times downright distressed with the state of the world.
The album lifts off with heavy fuzz thrusters in Without A Trace, a sturdy, sun glasses wearing leather jacket rocker that these Texans are so damn good at. From the get go it is clear that The Black Angels are here to convey a message in the strongest way they possibly can. A big stylistic change would only divert from that message, and so they focus on their main strength: writing killer psychedelic rock songs that pay hommage to the 60s psych icons (Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors), while maintaining a firm footing in the now with killer hooks and production value.
And so they bring out their specter of doom and show us the Empires Falling:
Empires Falling, It’s history on repeat//Our nation’s bleeding, from street to bloody street…
All in a chorus so catchy you will sing along while dancing your feet bloody like there is no tomorrow. Which there won’t be, if we take the message of The Black Angels to heart. One we go then, with El Jardin, a song about the earth burning pleading with our current generation;
Oh leave a garden for our kids to play
Yet even when they let go of the weight of the world The Black Angels sound devastatingly heavy, take a love song like the mesmerizing Firefly, which features a breathtaking cinematic duet with drummer Stephanie Bailey. Or The River, which stylishly name checks Syd Barret, Roky Erickson, and Arthur Lee. Again proving that these guys know their history, and more importantly; that they know themselves.
For all its eloquence and beauty, it is desperation that wins the mood most of the time on The Wilderness Of Mirrors, on the title track Alex Maas seems to channel his inner Dark Star-era David Bowie, with a similar terminal urgency. Album closer Suffocation does not need to be explained either. The paradox of The Black Angels is that sound strong and invigorated in all of their sincere desperation. Of course there is no art without suffering, but it seems even more true for this artist and for this album at this time. And it is not their suffering alone, we also suffered this pandemic, we also see the looming specter of climate change and a capitalist world running towards an inevitable halt. The Wilderness Of Mirrors feels like a premature eulogy for that world, the madness and despair of a civilization in decline.
It makes for brilliant music though.