Blackwolfgoat, Dragonwizardsleeve: True Cult Noise Worship Blues Drone Ambient Black Doom, and Other Stuff Too

Being an entirely solo instrumental guitar venture, it’s clear right off the bat that Blackwolfgoat is never going to be for everyone, never going to be the band you put on to get the party going, not the drive fast, blast-it-out-your-window-on-an-open-highway American chronicle. Darryl Shepard, previously of notable Boston outfits like Milligram and Hackman (both also on Small Stone), helms and comprises Blackwolfgoat, and on his full-length debut, Dragonwizardsleeve, he reminds that loops, drones and noise aren’t necessarily relegated as tools only for hipster art students or freakout psychedelics. Somehow, this drone rocks.

Understand that’s a relative statement, but as Dragonwizardsleeve’s opening cut, “Risk and Return,” slowly fades itself out, one comes to understand in listening to it that the track does have structure, a gradual build, more like something off a King Crimson solo album than ambient drone. “Death of a Lifer” brings in distortion and a Neurosis Given to the Rising-type feel (the track I’m thinking of is “Origin”), but never seems settled on itself, even as the same riff cycles through the track with noises added on top of it. There’s an urgency here; a kind of hectic and unsettled feeling. The guitars (Shepard provides a couple) feel on-edge and are huge sonically where on any number of other ambient albums an understated minimalism seems to be the goal. Hearing the cabinet speakers rumble at the end of the track, that’s clearly not the goal for Blackwolfgoat.

The pun-titled “Tinnitus the Night” follows and keeps much the same atmosphere as “Death of a Lifer,” albeit with a somewhat busier execution. It is another distortion build that distorts even unto itself, and though the song is among the shorter on Dragonwizardsleeve at 4:18, it carries an atmosphere much heavier than its runtime. Notable that it fades on both ends, in and out, so that it seems to creep up on you as you listen. Blackwolfgoat is a sneaky project in that it injects complexity into these songs without seeming to do so, but some of the material itself also sneaks up on you.

If there’s any point on Dragonwizardsleeve at which I miss vocals or any other instrumental accoutrements, it’s “The Goat.” I’d love to hear it with a loose, single, rattling drum behind it and some tortured Khanate-style screams. It’s as close to “riffing” as Shepard comes in Blackwolfgoat, and it seems like it wants to teeter on the side of blackened doom more than drone or instrumental noise. Fuck it’s heavy, and true to the album’s form, it only gets more so as time goes on. At just under nine minutes, it’s a beast, and as Shepard adds a cutting layer of high-toned lead notes to complement the droning riff, I can’t call “The Goat” anything but the highlight of Dragonwizardsleeve. If even part of his mission was to somehow comment on the “kvlt” worship of acts like SunnO))), “The Goat” is where that happens. It is bleak and beautiful in equal proportion.

There’s some tapping percussion and cable noise on “Aspirin Forever” that doesn’t last long, which is fortunate, and closer “Hotel Anhedonia” is brighter in atmosphere, as Shepard offers a genuine, extended lead over a cycling riff, sounding like a smoky Hendrix jam recorded late at night. Funny how the opening and closing pieces of Dragonwizardsleeve are so different from the meat of the album, “Risk and Return” being more technically nuanced and “Hotel Anhedonia” being suggestive if not outright exploratory of the blues, but I guess when you’re the whole band you get to take your music in whatever direction you want and arrange it in the order you want. Maybe that’s what sent Shepard off to do Blackwolfgoat in the first place.

That, of course, is speculation. While Blackwolfgoat’s Small Stone debut is challenging, its lonely heaviness manages to cross the divide between desolate black metal, doom, drone and even some classic heavy psych at the end. This leads me to believe the album’s limited appeal – being solo, instrumental guitar – is offset by the sonic diversity and that those who don’t ordinarily get down with this kind of indulgence might be doing right by checking in on what Dragonwizardsleeve has to offer. Again, it isn’t going to be for everyone, but as a first outing, Shepard seems to have a remarkable vision in place of what he wants this band to be, and he carries it across with confidence and clarity throughout these six songs, which have just enough in them to keep the easily bored occupied and the willingly entranced under their spell for the duration.

Blackwolfgoat on MySpace

Small Stone Records

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