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Mark Lanegan Band
Dark Mark is generally on form, hacking up blood-soaked blues and grumbling them out over gothic soundscapes.
The captain of the moody croons reaches a pinnacle here with the trajectory taken since 2012’s Blues Funeral. His band’s Krautrock grooves and post punk synths of two albums past mark a new chapter of spiritual desolation and dystopian tales from the enigmatic mystery that is Mark Lanegan. Monochrome dark beauties like ‘Nocturne’, ‘Death’s Head Tattoo’, and ‘First Day of Winter’ are contrasted by some intriguing changes of costume in ‘Beehive’ and ‘Emperor’, the former honestly sounding like it jingle-jangled right out of Britpop ’97.
The anti-hero sour cowboy persona is a natural fit for Lanegan, so it’s encouraging to see him brave new frontiers. The results are mixed, but none are outright failures; unsurprising given his history of extremely diverse collaborations. ‘Drunk on Destruction’ even throws some drum n’ bass out there, anchoring a more raucous progression with a nifty guitar line gliding it on. Long-time collaborator and guitar whizz Alain Johannes doesn’t go unnoticed with his touch throughout.
The ominous industrial wasteland of opener, ‘Death’s Head Tattoo’, is quintessential 2010’s Lanegan from head to toe. Cinematic noir and slick swagger mixed in a broth of industrial blues is not easy to deliver in a compelling and credible fashion, but he’s yet to mess up the formula.
‘Blue Blue Sea’ sounds like a ‘Phantom Radio’ outtake, and makes for a curious anachronism typical of Lanegan’s modern take on the blues. Peachy synths and triumphant organs mixed with scratchy vocals is an ambitious venture, and despite what it sounds like on paper, it gels. It may take a few listens to warm to ‘Emperor’, but the jaunty sea shanty chorus will win you over. Joshua Homme’s guest appearance with the harmonies is obviously a great selling point regardless.
Tracks like ‘Sister’ and ‘First Day of Winter’ show that the man has still got quite the talent for knocking out delicately crafted chants with long turnarounds. But Mark’s taste for cavernous, reverb-soaked vocals reaches a high point on the ballad, ‘Goodbye to Beauty’. The words are as empty and resigned as the haunting guitars that circle above: “Day follows night, night follows day / comes like a stranger then it drifts away.” This is a real highlight of the album; raw and intimate has always been Lanegan’s forté. Having said that, some of the lyrical tropes are a bit tired and unimaginative, particularly on ‘Old Swan’, with the usual mish-mash of midnight sins and queens of the world.
Lanegan seems reluctant to venture out of the perennial lower registers on the album as a whole, underselling the versatility of his voice. Age hasn’t stripped him of it, as evident with the slight tease of ‘Nocturn’s chorus, so it’s disappointing not to see it utilised. The closer, ‘Old Swan’, has great potential in a live setting as a showcase for Lanegan’s vocal powerhouse, but it still works on record as a more nuanced and paced effort.
Gargoyle is easily his most rocking album since the Bubblegum era; the guitars are louder and meaner, and that puttering bass on ‘Nocturne’ is just menacing. This is solo album number ten you’re hearing, yet the man still manages to sound fresh and honest. Three decades of Washington’s grizzled grump and he has neither slowed down nor lost his touch one bit. That voice just gets better and better with age it seems; it’s as pliable and delightfully painful as ever.