05 Apr 2022 - Stephan
Neofolk, Krautrock | Ván Records | Release date: 20 Apr 2022
TJ Cowgill aka King Dude, dark Americana neofolk singer/songwriter from Seattle with a background as a death metal vocalist, meets Albin Julius, kinky march music industrial provocateur turned psychedelic rock trip conductor of the band Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand, for a transatlantic collaboration to sing “Ballads of a Cowboy Lost in Austria”.
This subtitle of the album plus the amazing cover artwork by Irrwisch and the official information that “Black Rider On The Storm tells the story of a civil war veteran who must travel far and wide to find the men who murdered his family and burned down his homestead” is pretty efficient in summarizing the concept of what lies before us here. And even if we didn’t have those clues, you cannot help but have both The Doors’ obvious “Riders On The Storm” and Stan Jones’ country staple “Ghost Riders In The Sky” pop into your mind, right?
Musically, both involved parties didn’t need to step far outside their respective comfort zones to create a fitting soundtrack to this narrative. As a spiritual bastard son of Johnny Cash and Attila Csihar the sinister cowboy persona is King Dude’s daily bread and butter to a heavy degree anyway. The significant difference is that the butter - being his nocturnally dark blend of gothic country - is spread onto rather exotic alpine baker’s ware now.
Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand have many releases under their belt, several of them collaborations with artists like White Hills, Wolvennest or Aluk Todolo, which all prove that they have always been a beast of manifold heads. While the evil general, the steel worker and the rebellious Eighties kid are still among them, it’s now mostly the more “visionary” weedians and mushroomheads which take the lead.
Even though the band doesn’t get as free and jamming as during their live shows or on their most psychedelic releases, they are still putting at least bits and pieces of everything they’re known for into this album. And of course their increasing love for slide guitars are a perfect fit for its theme. Additionally welcoming all of King Dude’s strong input it is easily established that each of the eleven chapters of Black Rider On The Storm has a somehow distinct tone.
The intro “Hell’s Canyon” is a very Nephilim-esque dark western theme, which would also be a fitting start for a Sólstafir album. The following title track is dominated by a simple Cash guitar lick and sounds like a song from The Man in Black performed by Chris Isaak, yet played back at half speed. “All I See Is You” then has this more droning atmosphere of an angry post punk band performing inside a profaned church. Both tracks are basically very typical King Dude material, but already show the first small signs of the more epic analogue synthesizer and trippy guitar work which is about to ensue further down the road.
Where Dark Side Of The Moon had the instrumental “On The Run” Black Rider… now shifts the mood with “The Drifter And The Dog”. Yet relating to that Pink Floyd comparison this is rather a deliberate silent running, like Blood Incantation’s recent ambient album, but with guitar. I’m not going through the whole rest of the tracklist now. Instead I will just keep it to a couple of further mentionable exclamation marks: On “Holy Congregation” robots play kraut rock on valium, while the King is singing through a tin Can telephone. The “Spiritual Vampire” could be a creation of Loop’s Robert Hampson, underlaid with a sprinkle of synthwave. On the sepulchral highlight “Dead Man” we not only hear Cowgill use his almost inhumane lowest vocal register, but he is finally joined by the enigmatic voice of Der Blutharsch’s regular singer Marthynna for a haunting duet, before the story concludes with its longest song, drinking “The Bitter Cup” and spiraling through a grand finale of organ and Wild Eastern Alps guitars, before we leave the misty mountain valley, “Going To The Sun” into the unknown.
And if King Dude & Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand have made us addicted enough to this album, the journey will surely start all over again soon. Which is a very likely possibilty, because Black Rider On The Storm is an impressive, outstanding entry to both artists’ already remarkable discographies.