14 Aug 2021 - Pat O'
Desert-Rock/Doom/Post-Rock/Stoner-Rock | Desert Records | Release date: 20 Aug 2021
The bells are ringing…and the third album from the Texan trio The Angelus is nearly upon us, and it’s worth the wait. It’s a boulder of hard hitting “stoner Rock” with some deep desert soul. Add some harmonising vocals and despairing lyrics to the mix and you end up with the brilliant new album Why We Never Die.
Back in 2019, one of the great “post metal” releases for me was Dead To A Dying World’s Elegy. It was a solid slab of heavy atmospheric doom inspired “post metal”. Anyone who missed that release should immediately hit their Bandcamp page and experience its dark and epic presence. So with that in mind, once I noticed that Emil Rapstine’s other project, The Angelus was releasing a new album, I immediately touched base with them in order to get a sneak preview and of course write up a review of their forthcoming album Why We Never Die. The Texan trio immediately sent the press release over and here I am putting down in words the mark that Why We Never Die has left on me.
The album opens up with “Honor The Feasts”, and it’s an intro that begins with marching guitars that reverb and hang in the air with rumbling drums thundering on the horizon. Its all very exciting and tense, and could easily be the soundtrack to the American old west gunfight at the OK Corral!. It quickly sets the tone for what is to come onthe rest of the album.
“Hexx Born” is one of those tracks that seems to have travelled back in time with its gritty and dirty guitars, contrasting against a clean doom laden vocal delivery that haunts and despairs over a chunky stoner rhythm section. Its sombre tone gives the track its dark, brooding presence. It’s good old-school rock that’s been sand blasted with psychedelic silt. The chorus however, with its harmonies and backing vocals courtesy of Justin Evans give the music a more rich and powerful presence that seems to drill through your chest cavity, laying hook after hook, that you simply can’t shake off.
“Ode to None” opens with a solo guitar leading the charge, with bass and drums following its melody in unison. Some heavy chugging riffs open the door for a rich rambling vocal that is an instrument in itself. Its seventies psychedelic crosscurrents give it a groove and a swagger that will have you clapping and chanting along with the rumbling bassline and crashing drums. The structure of the track is an unfamiliar verse and chorus layout by “post-music” standards but those choruses are gems, steeped in melody and heavy velvet vocal tones. Cries of “Who holds the power, who takes control, its already later than we know” become a call from beyond, a chant from the top of a grand canyon, travelling and resounding over the barren desert cliff faces.
The Angelus have been around for over ten years now, around about the time On A Dark And Barren Land was released, and since then, this group of musicians have clearly defined and perfected their sound. Musically they are tighter and more clinical with their delivery, taking inspiration from some seventies stoner flair, and eighties doom-trodden nostalgia. Throw in some modern Queens Of The Stone Age melodies and you have a sound that can transport you through decades of music and emotions albeit sombre and subdued. To add to this dark musical whirlpool, the vocal tone of Emil Rapstine has become more defined and tuneful in delivery, but always with a beautifully bleak timbre that is easy on the ear without ever becoming boring.
All the qualities I mention come to the fore with the track “Of Ashen Air”. Emil’s vocal is almost lullaby like as it brushes and sweeps over the sombre riffs, until he delivers and chants the words “To the air, to the earth, to the wind, scattered”. Melodic and heavy riffs continue to drive the track, taking Black Sabbath sentiments and layering them with more rhythm guitars and a hammering of drums and Justin Ward’s bass guitar, that ploughs through strings for fun. It all merges into a huge crushing finale that epitomises all that’s great about this band.
The Angelus continue to lumber and drudge through the darker side of the spectrum with tracks like “When The Hour Is Right”, “Another Kind” and the groove heavy “Why We Never Die”. Its foundations are buried deep in pitch-black, melancholic soil, occasionally allowing green shoots of hope to break the surface to gain some of life’s sunlight and hope. Those shards of hope are echoed through their ability to create these brilliantly melodic hooks and choruses that wouldn’t look out of place back in the psychedelic and acid soaked seventies.
The Closing track on Why We Never Die is the deeply atmospheric “Hustle The Sluggard”. Opening with a solo lead guitar, the rest of the music leeches onto the hook, and gradually adds layers of doom and dismay to the music until everyone is powering their way to final the curtain call. It’s short, it’s direct and is a fitting way to bringing this journey to a close.
The word Angelus is usually recognised by the ringing of the Angelus bell, which is a call to prayer and a way to spread goodwill to everyone. However goodwill can come in many forms, and this bell brings forth a dark and dimly lit picture, which has its own beauty and attraction to it. Anyone who has a taste for things overcast and sunless will welcome this album with open arms. Enjoy.