Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes: Sorcerers Have Their Night

It has been 19 years since New York City doomers Blood Farmers released their self-titled debut on Hellhound Records, and while that album and their 1991 Permanent Brain Damage demo were reissued via Japan’s Leaf Hound Records in 2008 and 2004, respectively, and trio have been playing periodic shows for a half-decade if not longer, if a new record was ever going to happen, it was nothing if not due. Thus arrives Headless Eyes, the long-anticipated second offering from Blood Farmers, keeping with the horror-obsessed aesthetic, pushing the sound to places they haven’t taken it before, but keeping a controlled current of tension in its lumbering riffs. The three-piece of vocalist Eli Brown, guitarist Dave Szulkin (who also plays bass here, while Brown handles it live) and drummer Tad Léger have a stripped down approach to the genre, and for the lack of frills throughout its 44-minute course, one might call Headless Eyes minimal, though that hardly does justice to the depth of its production, atmospheric density or attention to sonic detail, as evidenced in the creative use of sampling for a call and response in the chorus of the title-track, or the synth textures that emerge on the penultimate 10-minute instrumental “Night of the Sorcerers” and closing David Hess cover, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” taken from Hess’ soundtrack to the 1972 horror film, The Last House on the Left.

So rather than minimal, let’s say Headless Eyes has been chased through the woods by some unseen terror and forced to cast off its bullshit along the way. A substantial portion of the record is instrumental, since the aforementioned “Night of the Sorcerers” (nonetheless a highlight) and the earlier “The Creeper” account for about 16 minutes of the runtime, and together with the cover, which is another six minutes, that leaves opener “Gut Shot,” “Headless Eyes,” and “Thousand-Yard Stare” as anchors for an album that draws the listener deeper into its foggy depths before offering the melodies of “The Road Leads to Nowhere” as a way back to reality. It’s no coincidence that “Gut Shot” and “Headless Eyes” lead off. The former is a tortured, slow nod of a riff with Brown recounting a tale of agony to accompany the drawn out notes and Léger‘s careful stomp underneath. Also responsible for the Headless Eyes graphic design, Léger was an original member of Westchester, NY, thrashers Toxik, but that pedigree would seem to serve him little in matching time with Szulkin‘s guitar and bass and Brown‘s carefully positioned verses. Likewise, Szulkin has two album with sludge-thrashers The Disease Concept under his belt, and though it comes out a bit in his leads on “Thousand-Yard Stare” and maybe a touch in “Night of the Sorcerers,” the bulk of Headless Eyes is more mournful than malevolent, though as noted, an atmosphere of threat is never far off.

On the level of its hook, “Headless Eyes” is that rare achievement in doom for being both the longest song on the album (10:49) and the catchiest, samples from the 1971 movie The Headless Eyes sprinkled in with Brown‘s effects-laden verse vocals — they come clearer in the chorus to match a quiet/loud instrumental surge — to effect I’ve not heard done so well since Goblin Cock‘s “Ode to Billy Jack” five years ago. Much of the second half of the song is dedicated to an instrumental build that launches from the verse/chorus tradeoffs into a bridge part before the vocals give way entirely and Szulkin comes to the fore on guitar, working a solo languidly at first before a count-in from Léger finds them paying speedy homage to the chaotic lead section Sabbath‘s “Sweet Leaf.” They end slow, however, layers of guitar intertwining over defeated lumbering closes out with a bookending sample before aptly-named jam “The Creeper” takes hold with a gradual, hypnotic build that plays out over just about five minutes. It hits a stomping point past its halfway mark, and the finale is a legit classic heavy rock solo from Szulkin, but with wah bass and the fadeout, the impression seems to be meant to be ambient, and so it is, as Headless Eyes‘ most fervent nod arises in the opening riff of “Thousand-Yard Stare,” which as the last of the original inclusions with lyrics, would’ve felt like a landmark anyway even if it didn’t so skillfully blend the atmospheric wash of “The Creeper” with the rolling plod of the title cut.

And as much as it has standout aspects of its own, like its relatively grand beginning, added synth/keyboards (credited to Theo Falkinburg with additional keys by Szulkin), “Night of the Sorcerers” really underscores how much Headless Eyes is meant to be taken as a whole, complete work. Of the material here — including “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” which was from a movie soundtrack — “Night of the Sorcerers” is the most cinematic, but for the smoothness of its tempo transitions, immersive course, sprawling echo-soaked leads, and the late-arriving stonerized push that leads to the solo section topping the final march, it’s not something you can listen to half of and say you’ve gotten a feel for the whole thing. That’s true of the album in general. Though it could easily work as a two-sided vinyl split in the middle of its six tracks, as a front to back CD listen, Headless Eyes satisfies both in how it grabs attention and how it manipulates it to its own nefarious ends. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the record is when acoustic guitar starts “The Road Leads to Nowhere” before the track kicks into its full breadth, more spacious than the rest of the album, with Brown‘s vocals deeper in the mix though ably carrying the melody from that position. Given the march that ensues, it’s probably just as likely that Blood Farmers are using “The Road Leads to Nowhere” as the final descent into the void as the point of rescue from it, but with either interpretation, the cover provides a fitting end both sonically and thematically to the band’s sophomore outing, which asks little indulgence and delivers a reminder of how traditional doom got that way in the first place. I hope it’s not 19 years before the sequel arrives.

Blood Farmers, “Headless Eyes” from Headless Eyes (2014)

Blood Farmers’ website

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