The Black Angels: Death Is Salvation

Words by: Chris Pacifico

The Black Angels
"Just today, Maas and I were walking down the street and there was a brand new Hummer pulled over on the side of the road," says Black Angels bassist Nate Ryan, talking about a stroll he took earlier in the day with lead vocalist Alex Maas as he and his fellow Angels prepared for their first headlining show in Philadelphia. "There's two cop cars around it and there was all these fur coats and ladies shoes on the ground. We walk by the cop car and we see this ugly guy sitting in the back seat and he's wearing a patent leather dress." What Ryan and Maas witnessed was a transvestite who'd stolen a slew of expensive women's garments as well as a brand new, oversized sport utility vehicle. To regular Philadelphians, bizarre crimes are just a normal occurrence but to a crew of young musicians from Austin, Texas it's a wee bit of a culture shock.

The Black Angels' sound is unapologetically psychedelic and dark. Their debut, Passover (released in 2006 on Light In The Attic), is something that you wouldn't want to find yourself listening to alone in the middle of the night while a thunder storm rages and rumbles outside your windows. Or is it? The record was born from a culture of turbulence in response to the Iraq war while considering the social upheaval of the 1960's and how it's all coming back to bite us in the ass today, proving that history does repeat itself and that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

"There is a parallel between now and the '60s," says Maas. The themes of war and thought control and their dismal side effects on the public psyche make up part of The Black Angels' lyrical content. It's such a parallel that these twenty-somethings frequently see audience members from that era at their gigs, which humbles the whole band. "Older guys in their sixties down here [in Philly] tried to help us load gear on stage. They're like, 'We're just big fans of you guys' and whatnot. I think maybe they're like 55. I think it's cool how like [some people at shows] are like 'Man, I saw The Doors three times.'"

The Black Angels by Josh Miller
Tension and turbulence from time immemorial is what The Black Angels convey and they convey it well through the constriction in Maas' tension filled warble. Keyboardist Jennifer Raines, dubbed the "Drone Machine" operator, is visibly swept up in the sonic vapors emitted by her playing, a palpable chemistry every member exhibits in their live rapport. "Every performance is kind of like a religious experience or a ceremony. We don't get to church on Sunday but it's church every night when we play," says guitarist Christian Bland. "Slash temple," adds drummer Stephanie Bailey.

Johnny Brenda's, the Philadelphia venue where the Angels performed, has provided the band with an enormous platter piled with an assortment of hummus, oysters and olives from their restaurant downstairs. Since this is Philly, a half assed infrastructure and cut corners are second nature to its citizens. Most live music venues that serve food give musicians the grub that is a hair away from spoiling as an amenity in the green rooms. I learned this the hard way later on that night when I got home and shuddered to think how the band would fare in their van. But, for the moment, the lads get their chow on. After all, when you're on tour even a Big Mac can seem like a juicy steak from Morton's.

Most of them hack with a smoker's cough, and even though their music is rather morose, gloomy, creepy and impending, offstage they're the most jovial, happy-go-lucky crew of kids you'll ever meet, smiling and laughing throughout a conversation punctuated by their collective cough, answering each question as if they haven't been asked it a million times before.

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