Black Black Black, Altered States of Death and Grace: Stealing Lloyd’s Meds

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 11th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

black black black altered states of death and grace

[Click play above to hear the premiere of “Let’s Scare Death to Death” from Black Black Black’s Altered States of Death and Grace. Album is out March 25 and they play Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on March 12 with STATS and Craw for the latter’s reunion show.]

Its title does a lot of work. More than you might think at first. Brooklynite four-piece Black Black Black made their self-titled debut (review here) in 2013 via Aqualamb Records, and their second full-length, Altered States of Death and Grace follows suit in a jagged aesthetic somewhere between noise, sludge and heavy rock, but is a more richly thematic work across its span, and, again, a lot of the considerable ground it covers can be glimpsed in the title. To parse it out: “Altered states” refers to a running lyrical theme of medication, which starts with opener “Zoloft Manual” and continues in “Lloyd Needs Meds,” “Let’s Scare Death to Death” and “Jessup Jessup Jessup,” while “death” shows up in many of the tracks as well.

The “grace” portion of the album’s name would seem to be more of an aspirational perspective — what all this emotional struggle and wrangling is pushing toward — but there is a certain amount of bliss that arrives in the wash of Jacob Cox‘s guitar that rounds out closer “When Dying’s Done,” also the longest track of the included 10 at over eight minutes. Most of the rest of Altered States of Death and Grace happens in fits and starts, purposefully disjointed for effect between cuts like “Lloyd Needs Meds” and “Let’s Bloodlet” — which boasts one of two guest appearances by Unsane‘s Dave Curran alongside Black Black Black‘s vocalist, Jason Alexander Byers, who, like Cox, is a former member of underrated late-’90s/early-aughts post-hardcore outfit Disengage — but often pushing beyond noise rock in a way that unites the material instrumentally much as the lyrical thematic draws out an overarching point of view, a single mindset, as though all the songs were written in a sole, deeply manic afternoon.

Whether or not they were, of course, I don’t know. I’d guess not, if only for the breadth that Byers, Cox, bassist Johnathan Swafford and drummer Jeff Ottenbacher — who one might be tempted to call a “secret weapon” were his snare not punching you in the face — cover across Altered States of Death and Grace, between the spacious post-punk swagger of “Zoloft Manual,” which also marks an appearance from Curran in its open, handclap-inclusive chorus, the subsequent “I Got Scabies,” maddeningly catchy and loaded with crunch, and “Lloyd Needs Meds,” which picks up a semi-psychedelic thread from the first record and explores it efficiently, keeping an underlying sense of threat thanks to the rhythmic sharpening of knives that, indeed, runs through the whole track. These three make an opening salvo that’s relatively short — the whole album is done in 33 minutes and eight of that goes to “When Dying’s Done” — but covers a deceptively wide range with little to no fanfare or allowance for digestion.

black black black (Photo by Evan Sung)

A result, then, is that multiple listens lead to better appreciation, and that’s true of the record in its entirety, as the all-thrust “Let’s Bloodlet” counts in on Ottenbacher‘s snare and enacts a first minute of very, very New York aggression before its second half establishes its hook, “Bloodlet, until you’re blue/Bloodlet, you’re turning blue,” and builds en route to an increasingly noisy finale. What I suspect is the side A closer — also the longest track other than the finale, though only about half as long at 4:13 — “Exorcist Everything” signals its malevolence with an intro of plus-sized drums before a brooding couple lines from Byers explodes into an assault worthy of fellow Brooklyn dwellers Kings Destroy or, from the other side of the planet, New Zealand’s Beastwars, lurching and sludged-out, but coherent as well in its purpose. The drums turn out to be the foundation for loud/quiet tradeoffs and they carry the feedback-topped progression through to its finish, always keeping the threat that the song might burst to life again, even as it fades out we hear some conversation in the studio.

Reviving the forward push, “Let’s Scare Death to Death” would also seem to offer a hint toward “grace” as applies to the album’s title. Its lyric a somewhat sardonic view of touring life — “Moron on medication/Microphone in hand/How many souls can we cram into a passenger van?” — it’s a quick two-minute run that feeds complementary into the opening of “Jessup Jessup Jessup” and sets up the fluid back half of the album, shorter on the whole en route to “When Dying’s Done,” but offering a different take in each song as it goes, whether that’s the catchy repetitions of the title in the hook of “Jessup Jessup Jessup” or the minute-plus thrust of “Every Dentist Does,” a shorter, punkier companion piece for “Let’s Bloodlet,” or “Slowly Severed,” which starts with gasping breaths into a shout, but unfolds the most satisfying melody of Altered States of Death and Grace. Byers moves into and out of harmony and time with guest vocalist Jesse Quattro such that in combination with the nod and chug of the riff in its verses, the song makes for a singularly resonant impression, asking “What are we still doing in the dark?” as it closes out.

There’s something of a surprising shuffle to the beginning stretch of “When Dying’s Done,” a turn that Black Black Black seem to have saved for last, and a deeper-feeling mix gives them plenty of work to set up the already-noted wash of guitar to come. A couple relatively subdued verses play out smoothly over the chug and a section of swirling squibblies signals the shift into the instrumental finale, the drums sprinting back and forth before locking in a swinging progression that pulls itself apart measure by measure until about four and a half minutes in, the remaining time given to waves of drone and noise that cascade and end Altered States of Death and Grace with one last charge into the unknown. That territory suits Black Black Black as well as do their noisier, more furious stretches, and it’s ultimately in how well they play the one off the other, as well as in the thematic development, that the album finds its identity and its growth from the debut, its cerebral engagement working with a correspondingly primal underpinning. I’m not sure if Black Black Black ever find the grace they’re reaching for, but their journey through death and altered states finds them unflinching in their resolve to get there.

Black Black Black on Thee Facebooks

Black Black Black with Craw and STATS at Saint Vitus Bar March 12 event page

Black Black Black website

Aqualamb website

Aqualamb on Bandcamp

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Black Black Black Releasing Altered States of Death and Grace on March 25

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

black black black

Maybe you caught wind of the 2013 self-titled debut (review here) from Brooklyn noisemakers Black Black Black, maybe you didn’t. Fine either way. It’s not too late. The band will release their second album, Altered States of Death and Grace, on March 25 through Aqualamb, and yes, it’s one you should hear. The Andrew Schneider-recorded drums are immediately recognizable on “Let’s Bloodlet,” which also boasts a returning call-and-response guest appearance from Unsane‘s Dave Curran, who appeared on “Pentagram On” from the first LP, and the band’s blend of post-hardcore drive and heavy rock atmospherics made that debut essential and seems to be well intact if the swing beneath “Let’s Bloodlet” is anything to go by.

I’m just saying, it’s two minutes of your time and you should check it out. Hopefully I’ll have more to come as we get closer to the release date. Here’s info and that track stream from the PR wire:

black black black altered states of death and grace

BLACK BLACK BLACK: Dave Curran of Unsane guests on Brooklyn sludge n’ rollers’ misanthropic new anthem; sophomore album “Altered States of Death and Grace” to be released in book format, March 25th on Aqualamb

Brooklyn “doom pop” rockers Black Black Black are set to release new, sophomore album Altered States of Death and Grace on March 25th via Aqualamb Records.

Stripped-down, psyched-out desert rock meets big-city darkness, in Altered States of Death and Grace’s ten perfect gems of driving rock n’ roll. Hip-shaking stomps and soaring hooks propel morbidly poetic songs about pills, decay, self-mutilation, Satanism, and other horror-flick delights, bearing titles like “Let’s Bloodlet” and “Exorcist Everything.” It is a clash of desert and city, light and dark, sweet and bitter – while the music radiates color, the lyrics are as black as the band name.

“Zoloft Manual” kicks off the album, showcasing the rich singing voice of frontman Jason Alexander Byers – Byers is formerly the vocalist of ’90s Cleveland band Disengage (releases on Man’s Ruin Records and other labels) and on Altered States of Death and Grace he croons, howls, and screams with a veteran’s conviction. Second track “I Got Scabies” begins as a hellbound highway rocker and ends with clanging Daydream Nation strums. “Lloyd Needs Meds” follows, slowing things down to heavy, transcendent White Album bliss, the sounds of eerie voices and sharpening knives buried in the haze.

From start to finish, Altered States of Death and Grace is a supremely rocking album that traverses the whole spectrum but always keeps a foot in black.

The album was recorded at Terminus Recording Studios and mixed at 28th Street Sound by Andrew Schneider (Unsane, Mutoid Man), and mastered by Carl Saff (Fu Manchu, Sannhet).

The tracklist is as follows:
1) Zoloft Manual
2) I Got Scabies
3) Lloyd Needs Meds
4) Let’s Bloodlet
5) Exorcist Everything
6) Let’s Scare Death to Death
7) Jessup Jessup Jessup
8) Every Dentist Does
9) Slowly Severed
10) When Dying’s Done

Aqualamb, the Brooklyn label of which Black Black Black bassist Johnathan Swafford is co-owner, will release Altered States of Death and Grace on March 25th in its signature format: the label has made a name for releasing music in the form of pristinely-designed, 100-page, softbound books. In Aqualamb’s book series, each album’s art and liner notes, traditionally confined to an LP gatefold, a CD booklet, or the screen of a music-playing device, is given an expanded space in which to shine. A download code for the music is included within each book. Altered States of Death and Grace’s cover art was created by frontman Byers, with Aqualamb handling the book design.

Altered States of Death and Grace follows Black Black Black’s self-titled debut album, released on Aqualamb in 2013.

Black Black Black has played shows with Torche, Weedeater, Doomriders, and more. The band joins Craw and STATS for a Craw reunion show at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn on March 12th.

Black Black Black, “Let’s Bloodlet”

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