Review Summary: Into the ocean I go“Like we mentioned earlier, I’m Going to Kill Myself was shackled by whatever the mindset was to get it written. And so, this is our first chance since, I don’t know, forever, to do a fully fleshed-out and dynamic full album. And it’s just that: I think it’s dynamic, it’s very emotional, and I think it sounds more mature.”
– Scott Turner [Sputnikmusic interview with Black Sheep Wall, 27th September 2020]
Dynamic. Emotional. Mature.
When I interviewed Black Sheep Wall last year, those were the three adjectives used to describe the band’s fourth full-length album, and coincidentally every time I went back to Songs for the Enamel Queen
, those three words would resonate in the back of my mind while I journeyed through its celestial dirge. In short, it’s hard to argue with what Scott was saying at the time. I love it when a band makes an album like this, because it’s the kind of record that transcends the normal parameters of recording music. You can’t make an LP like this out of the gates; you need the experience and the scars that go with it, and when a band has enough of the two, the results will inevitably take hold of the writing and spew out onto the record in all their glory.
Before Songs for the Enamel Queen
, the band had made three very different sounding LPs; each one with a different singer. In between all of that lies a swamp of personal trials and tribulations which add context and breadth to each one of these rocky chapters. Because the thing is, I’ve never been one to shy away from openly affirming Black Sheep Wall have dropped the ball time and time again post I Am God Songs
. They caught lightning in a bottle with their debut album at such a young age – a nihilistic monstrosity that can still openly proclaim to be one of the heaviest albums ever recorded – and they’ve struggled to find a direction that can match I Am God Songs
’ esoteric genius ever since. Their sophomore LP was a solid, albeit underwhelming experience in comparison to its predecessor, and their third album, well, to this day it still gets nothing but contempt from me every time I go back to it. That’s because I’m Going to Kill Myself
is a long-winded experiment that embraces repetition and self-indulgence at the expense of good songwriting. One good thing did come out of the album though: “The Wailing and the Gnashing and the Teeth” gave a little bit of foreshadowing as to where the band were headed sonically.
Yes, I’m Going to Kill Myself
is a bad album, but I’d wager it’s the most important lesson of the band’s career, and holds a lot of useful truths that helped them get to this point now. Songs for the Enamel Queen
is aberrant and envisages a world of exciting avenues to venture down in the future, all the while being very introspective and pragmatic with how it handles this extremely coherent album. The results feel earnest and fresh, but its approach delivers the most emotive, mature, and dynamic experience to date. This introspection fused with experience is never more apparent than with Brandon’s vocals. Sure, musically Songs for the Enamel Queen
is what I’m Going to Kill Myself
could have potentially been, had it not sat on its laurels for so long, but the band wouldn’t have been able to produce the kind of vocal work we get from Brandon here. The music was recorded in the same era as their third LP, sitting half-finished on a shelf before the band decided to come back to it years later, and during that time, Brandon has clearly learned a lot while the band were in respite. In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that Brandon’s vocals were never properly represented last time around, but I always thought he brought something fresh and different to the table, in spite of the shortcomings he and the album had. That’s because “The Wailing and the Gnashing and the Teeth” displayed a new facet the band could work with; his approach focused less on demolishing buildings and more on projecting raw expression with emotional nuance.
Of course, there wasn’t much else behind the approach at the time, but now it seems we’re getting an amalgamation of classic BSW powerhouse screams backed by various moods and expressions to create an entirely different beast. Thankfully this time around, the songs allow for Brandon to stretch out and explore what he’s capable of doing, and by god does he have a lot of really great moments on here. “Human Shaped Hole” goes straight for the jugular with noodle-y guitar licks and acrobatic drum work, setting the stage going forward, but it’s clear from the get-go Brandon isn’t messing around either, offering listeners a cut-throat performance which instantly grabs your attention. “Mr. Gone” is particularly vocal-centric and special because it contains former vocalists Jeff and Trae: it’s an incredibly dramatic emote-salad, bestowing a broad range of vocal approaches that unfold like you’re watching a theatre play. Brandon and the chemistry from the other two vocalists create an unbelievably engaging energy that makes it the best track on the album. The mid-section of the song literally sounds like Brandon is in the middle of an exorcism, ripping out his insides in a desperate attempt to purge the existential misery; it’s a dramatic display that’s impressive and emotional to hear unfold. Overall, It’s very apparent Brandon has managed to hone in on a variety of ways in which to express his emotions, going from a similar style to what Jeff used on I Am God Songs
, right up to the post-hardcore style he’s typically accustomed to delivering – and it’s on tracks like “Ballad of a Flawed Animal”, “New Measures of Failure” and “Mr. Gone” where they allow for Brandon to flex these improvements on an immeasurable level.
Musically the album is as equally ambitious as the vocal work, integrating a number of styles into the framework to make each song a very worthwhile and satisfying peregrination. Admittedly, some of I’m Going to Kill Myself
’s repetitive disposition gets embedded in songs like “Prayer Sheet for Wound and Nail” where it begins to overstay its welcome in places – lacking those much-needed variations – but with the help of Brandon’s vocals and the great atmosphere, it just-in-so pulls through. That said, when the album means business it’s sublime, offering ethereal guitar effects that pervade the dank, sonic nihilism being run with throughout. It’s like an outer body experience that has you floating, saturated, in a spiritual stream while the band experiments with odd time signatures and different rhythmic patterns to add flavour and colour to these stripped-down segments. In between the nightmarish and sombre world building lies the white-hot clusters of chaos, and these moments are as heavy as ever. The opening to “Ballad of a Flawed Animal” sounds like an impeccably composed atomic bomb going off, filled with earth-shaking bass and deranged guitar squeals; the classic Black Sheep Wall foundation-rumbling-chugging found on “New Measures of Failure” feels like a welcoming blast from the past; and the filthy doom riffs on “Concrete God” manage to preserve the band’s sludgy origins perfectly. Oppressive ambience and teeth chattering heaviness aside, moments of surprise lurk in the shadows as well, namely on “Ren”: a sprawling epic of a track that opens up in typically blazing post-metal fashion before segueing into a slinking groove while the trumpet (I know!) takes hold. This bizarre left-hook feels all the weirder when you consider just how well it works, sitting in unison with the stocky bass and solemn guitar passages it finds itself residing in.
This is the closest the band have ever got to capturing the magic of their debut. Some of the longer tracks could have had a little bit of fat trimmed from them, but the record does so much right here it’s easy to overlook this very minor criticism. What Songs for the Enamel Queen
does better than any of their previous works, is it conveys a multiplex of emotions as opposed to just one. There’s a lot of subtle complexity buried underneath these tracks, and it’ll take numerous listens to unpack everything it has to offer. The drums in particular are really intricate and are woven into the fabric of these pieces, while the multi-layered guitar work brings together ominous gloom and vigorous energy with spellbinding results. Everything just clicks so well here, and everyone plays their part perfectly – but again, it’s Brandon’s vocal work that really drives home and delivers the excitement from this new pasture. Ultimately, Songs for the Enamel Queen
is a milestone achievement for Black Sheep Wall and it appears as though this is the quintessential line-up, holding a bright future for the band ahead. Don’t miss what is sure to be one of the heaviest albums of the year, and a real triumph for the band.