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Sunday, February 12, 2012
Sunday Sludge: Black Skies - "On The Wings Of Time"
My wife has said I mix the worst drinks she's ever tasted. Not enough whiskey, too much tequila, the substitution of RC for Coke... She's never impressed. I like my sludge pretty straight-forward, so adding splashes of psychedelia, stoner metal, and whispers of Moroccan belly-dance normally don't sweeten the sting. North Carolina's Black Skies, however, have wrung out their bar rags and dripped a tasty flight of eight long, smooth libations on their latest, On The Wings Of Time.
The minute this review is posted, I'm buying new speakers. Rebirth is wholly responsible for an ashy, lo-fi grumble that my stock equipment couldn't handle. Churning rhythms, complete with grainy home-movie margins and weathered kit assaults, establish a dark swirl of moods that hit too frequently and too heavily to be enjoyed at low volume. Parity between Kevin Clark's gruff snarl and Michelle Temple's elfin pleas is an immediate standout, however, and serves the album as importantly as any instrument.
Let's examine that choral balance. Darkness & Disguise may be the most suitable title on the album, given the hopeful ensemble meeting Clark's nasty purr. Splice the harmony with sharp solos, and listeners are left with spitting roman candles inches above the grinding tempos. The buzzy break is awesome, but its interruption by fuzz warble steals the show from plodding jams.
Where elements break and genre-definition gets hazy is on tracks like The Other Side of the Mountain. The slow, Southern pluck comes off smooth and easy, while that vocal tandem joins hands instead of butting heads. The song marches until cymbals storm and sludge bricks drop. Jesus, what's going on? Choppy, dreamy star shots amidst muddy riffs? The stormy, splintered burst of sludge doesn't negate the misty bliss, it complements it. Ultimately, the track makes its rounds with an onslaught of knee-busting riffs and pained passion. The creeping, hovering vibrations of Weightless echo Mountain's Southern drawl, thunderous and ominous as it is. Despite all the makings of an effective intermission, there's also an undeniable grip when the song's based on its own minimalistic merits.
The cymbal-heavy, Zeppelin-esque Valley of the Kings is filled with enough stoner peaks and sludge valleys to inspire Heavy Planet hard-ons for months. Good thing Clark's guitars drift between harems, almost laying down a soundtrack for grape-eating power-trippers to get their joints copped. Ambitious and confident, Valley grows majestic as the pace maintains its chug. But Clark's guitar focus and Tim Herzog's slow cymbal boil hold steady and create one of the album's most amazing sequences.
Keeping up with Persia's high-ranking perverts, Earth Choker's evil, loose intro succumbs to the album's quickest tempo. Licks punctuate rhythms, sludge is hurried, nearly implying desperation. Black Skies perhaps give in to the verse-chorus-verse structure, but they'd rather not. Temple's bass stays low and loose, rhythm slows to a chug, guitars grind themselves into powder. Essentially, Earth Choker sets fire to the path it was expected to take.
Finally, the slow and fuzzy lilt of The Sleeping Prophet employs tambourines and interwoven drums to set pace for this strange, gorgeous closer. Clark's guitar gets star billing, but rhythms hook into guitar udders and drag with matched pace. The psychedelia that hits introduces a swirling, tie-dyed demon emerging from a cloud of blown smoke. Clark's guitar doesn't have time to apologize for the falling embers, it's busy building toward a fine denouement that's been promised for nearly 50 minutes.
As On The Wings Of Time rolls like a spring storm, it also manages to slip some boomers into your pocket. The stoner-sludge repetition, head-bobbing groove, shifting moods, and otherworldly guitar calliopes add dimensions to sludge I had not only previously dismissed, but also discredited. The bounce brings riffs back to earth, while stirring atmospheres send us to sticky, distant realms. Sludge's end result, here, is coated with as much spice as I'd allow.
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