By its nature, you can’t have an alley without something on one side and something else on another, so if we apply the same logic to Amsterdam four-piece Death Alley and their Tee Pee Records debut full-length, Black Magick Boogieland, they’re running right down the middle somewhere between classic, Motörhead-style boozy heavy rock and roll groove — “Dead Man’s Bones,” “Bewildered Eyes,” and the early going of “The Fever” — and grander stylistic aspirations of psychedelia, (relatively) lush arrangements and spacey flourish — “Golden Fields of Love,” the back half of opener “Over Under,” 12-minute closer “Supernatural Predator” — ultimately refusing to give into one over the other and not so much balancing between them as working to convince the square peg and the round hole they’re made for each other. It turns out to be a more satisfying fit than one might initially think, in no small part because the four-piece of vocalist Douwe Truijens, guitarist Oeds Beydals, bassist Dennis Duijnhouwer and drummer Ming Boyer (all four interviewed here) are able to make such a fluid case by means of their songwriting. Part of that can be attributed to their experience. Truijens, Boyer and Beydals played together in the hardcore punk band Gewapend Beton — the latter also handled guitar in The Devil’s Blood alongside vocalist Farida Lemouchi, who makes an appearance here on the aforementioned “Supernatural Predator” — while Duijnhouwer toiled in cosmic doomers Mühr, so they’re not new to their craft and they’ve come by their stylistic blend honestly. Their first 7″, Over Under/Dead Man’s Bones (review here), was released early in 2014, and already one can hear the progress underway in their sound on Black Magick Boogieland in both the raw and the expansive moments on hand.
And by the way, as righteous a title as Black Magick Boogieland is, it also fits. Beydals‘ time in The Devil’s Blood notwithstanding — and the elephant in the room is the 2014 suicide of that band’s founder, Selim Lemouchi, whose influence can be felt in some of the swirl of the closer — Death Alley aren’t really gearing themselves toward cultistry, unless one counts a cult of alcohol and the manner in which distortion, when thrust at driving speeds at an audience’s eardrums, might compel one to pump their fist. There’s no shortage of that kind of “magick,” and one isn’t past the shuffling and stomping of “Over Under” before it’s clear any quota of “boogie” is going to be duly met and exceeded. The record lives up to that promise, with Truijens‘ command of the hooks as a grounding force running at a fair clip in songs that get in, leave an impression, and get out in punkish tradition, and as for the “black” speaking to something darker atmospherically or a sense of threat, there’s an element of that as well. Two songs mention eyes — “Bewildered Eyes,” on side A, and “Stalk Eyed,” on side B — so there’s a feeling of confrontation underscoring at least some of the proceedings, but both tracks are more of party than malevolence, with Beydals‘ lead work a key factor in conveying that ideology. His work throughout is stellar, and somewhat unsurprisingly is best met by Duijnhouwer‘s bass in the later reaches of “Supernatural Predator,” with Farida Lemouchi‘s vocals deep in the mix as Boyer holds a tension in rolls in his snare for a space rock exploration that’s dynamic and engrossing in kind, cleverly moving back toward a resurgent verse to end out in a manner that only underscores the victory at hand. That’s not the band’s first impressive turn of craftsmanship, but it says something about their mindset that they’re not willing to let you go without one last kick in the ass.
If the 41-minute entirety of Black Magick Boogieland relies on any singular element to make its case, however, it’s motion. Whether it’s the quick turns of “Over Under,” the strut of the title-track, the drive of “Bewildered Eyes” that seems to crash through the windshield and into classically heavy soloing within its brief 2:26 span, or the more winding course taken by “The Fever,” with suitably frenetic falsetto backing vocals, Death Alley make these songs move. The only place one might accuse them of coming up for air is on “Golden Fields of Love,” which downshifts in tempo and takes an atmospheric break as it heads into its second half, but even that has a last-minute surge of NWOBHM chug-riffing and some over-the-top vocal harmonies, Truijens developing a melodic sensibility to go with his gruff approach that will only make the band a stronger unit as they continue to progress. From that momentary inhale, “Stalk Eyed” bursts out with more swing and push, “Dead Man’s Bones” fully revives the hook-and-thrust of earlier cuts, and even in its most cosmic stretching, “Supernatural Predator” holds firm to its kinetic side, and if Death Alley are exploring, they’re doing it at light speed. With the already noted core of songwriting as their foundation — that is, writing songs that are both catchy when they need to be and varying in their construction — the four-piece meet their ambitious aesthetic target head on. I had some fairly high anticipation for their first full-length after the 7″, and with the added complexities in pieces like “Golden Fields of Love” and that finish in “Supernatural Predator,” any expectation I had has been easily blown out of the water. No doubt Black Magick Boogieland will stand as one of the best heavy rock debuts of 2015, and in keeping with that, it ignites the imagination as to what Death Alley might go on to accomplish in its wake.