Review Summary: Stylistically speaking, it’s pretty remarkable that this is the same guy who sang on When the Kite String Pops.
Though it took years for anyone to figure it out, Dax Riggs was one of the better rock vocalists of the 90’s. As frontman for the seminal metal act Acid Bath, Riggs had a powerful, harrowing style that was metal approved but also indicative of an artist that could easily stretch his legs into material that was outside of Acid Bath’s core sound. His death metal vocal work in Acid Bath was superb, but he was also a massive contributor to that band’s versatility with his more goth/grunge infused vocal style and excellent ear for music. His work in the criminally overlooked Agents of Oblivion further showcased his resourceful talents, but that project never continued beyond their 2000 self-titled release.
Step in 2007’s We Sing of Only Blood or Love, Riggs’ first foray as a solo artist. This is definitely a rock album, but one more stooped in the blues tradition rather than the menacing sludge metal that was Acid Bath’s forte. It hints of the stylistic departure Mark Lanegan made on his solo records when compared to his work with Screaming Trees, smoky barroom blues rock that manages to insert a few left field surprises thanks to the charisma and personality of the frontman. This isn’t entirely dissimilar in tone to Riggs’ earlier projects, as you’ll occasionally hear the heavy undertow of an Acid Bath or Agents of Oblivion, but it is certainly less amplified. It consciously looks to traditional blues to provide a backdrop for Riggs’ dark lyrical tales but retains a sense of personality thanks to its aesthetic variety and enigmatic vocal presence. While it might be nice to see Riggs back in a full-fledged rock or metal band someday, this was a very solid first step in the solo direction and provides an interesting new framework for Riggs to explore his vocal acumen.
Though he was in his mid-thirties at the time of this release, Riggs is still at the top of his game vocally. “Demon Tied to a Chair in My Brain” is led by a simple melding of acoustic and electric guitar melodies that Riggs works around wonderfully, eventually prefacing the explosion of electric guitars with a powerful vocal climax. “Night is the Notion” and “Didn’t Know Yet What I’d Know When I Was Bleedin” are two of the other top tracks, the latter being a mid-tempo banger whose bluesy interludes work well with Riggs’ whiskey soaked vocal takes. “Night is the Notion” is of the haunting ballad variety, its biggest changes in dynamics coming from a Riggs led vocal outburst, giving the song a real sense of momentum all the way to the finish. Riggs sounds completely at home on these straightforward tracks, seamlessly shifting dynamics and letting his commanding tone carry the music.
The album is incredibly concise, working as both a help and a hindrance. The better songs are aided by this structure as they never overstay their welcome, but some tracks seem flat out underdeveloped, and others feel like they could have legitimately been expanded upon. “Dog Headed Whore” is led by a classic blues lick and a forlorn delivery from Riggs, but just as its picking up steam it abruptly ends. “Wall of Death” and “Forgot I Was Alive” are really solid songs, even if the melodies that drive them aren’t particularly inventive. “Radiation Blues,” “A Spinning Song,” and “Truth in the Dark” are generally repetitive themselves, but “Deathbryte” and “Scarlet of Heaven Nor Hell” are quite ambitious and fresh sounding. “Deathbryte” is led by a sparse but forceful drum and piano line, with Riggs moving into a sort of heartrending vocal territory that seems new even for him. “Ghost Movement” is similar; a rollicking song full of interesting piano flourishes that eventually transitions to buzzing rock number, Riggs’ soulful vocal delivery never losing a bit of enthusiasm through the shift.
We Sing of Only Blood or Love isn’t as startlingly fresh or experimental as much of what Riggs did prior, but it’s an enjoyable record that proved Riggs still had plenty of creative energy to work with. While I personally prefer Riggs and his work in Acid Bath and Agents of Oblivion, it was a delightful experience to see him stretch his legs and try something different. Riggs is less visceral here than in the past, but there remains an unpremeditated quality to his anguished delivery that is easy to identify with. His voice is still elemental enough to reel the listener in, and despite a few forgettable tracks, this record further establishes Riggs as one of the more stylistically versatile rock singers of his generation.