Texan neo-psych rockers The Black Angels have been around for more than a decade now, though they haven’t yet made too much of an impact this side of the Atlantic. With an extensive tour of Europe this year to promote their fifth album Death Song they are aiming to put that right. Named after The Velvet Underground’s The Black Angel’s Death Song (which acts as the intro to their show) the band is strongly influenced by the late ’60s psychedelic scene (including fellow Austin-ites 13th Floor Elevators). But their sound is heavier with the emphasis on menace rather than whimsy.
The Black Angels’ show at the Forum is very much a combination of sound and vision. The darkly trippy music is backed by kaleidoscopic video projections, starting with a rotating picture of the band’s new record, moving to op-art black-and-white wavy lines and then an explosion of multi-coloured mind-bending images.
Silhouetted against the screen the band seems to double in size to 10 as if their shadowy alter egos have come out to play. There is no conventional front man, with lead singer Alex Maas mainly standing behind keyboards that he sometimes plays, while Christian Bland, Jake Garcia and Kyle Hunt swap instruments, and Stephanie Bailey (like the Velvets, The Black Angels have a female drummer) drums up a storm at the back.
About half of the songs in the show come from Death Song, which has returned the band to a more doom-laden style after their flower-power flirtation in previous album Indigo Meadow. The brilliant, apocalyptic lead single Currency kick starts the show with its hypnotic droning, screaming guitar and crashing drums in a condemnation of capitalism’s dirty money: “One day it’ll all be gone.” The darkly compelling I Dreamt is more nightmare than dream, the rousing chanting of Comanche Moon expresses the Native American fight to survive, and the haunting, sci-fi Life Song takes us on a journey into an unknown world à la Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd.
The disturbing, reverb-dominated Bad Vibrations and multisensory, Farfisa-saturated I Hear Colours (Chromaesthesia) also stand out in a 100-minute, effects-laden set that while skilfully performed becomes a bit relentless – and even monotonous – in its gloomy, doomy atmosphere. Sometimes you wish the guys would lighten up a bit. There’s very little non-musical communication with the audience, who seem happy to go with the flow of the spaced-out evening.
The band also revisit a number of songs from their 2006 debut album Passover, which sound much more raw than their recent stuff, including as encores the garage-twang of Bloodhounds On My Trail and, finally, Young Men Dead to bring the evening to a suitably ominous end. In the latter Maas stays on stage after the rest of his bandmates have left as he extends a dirge-like drone that goes beyond the comfortable. But then comfort is not what The Black Angels do. As we exit into Kentish Town with the vibrations still throbbing in our ears, the night seems darker than it was before.