Let's face the facts; rarely is a collaborative effort really a collaboration. It ends up being dominated by one part or another, and thus lessons the appeal of the other. There is a fabled middle ground that exists, only in legend, where both sides contribute equally, and do something special, something outside of both of their respective spheres of influence. Both The Lion's Daughter and Indian Blanket are superpowers in their own right, doing what they do up to the standard of sheer excellence. But how could the two of them working together possibly work out for the betterment of both? The former, a St. Louis titan of sludge and doom, once shared space on the same 12" with the mighty Fister. The other, who boast in their lineup both a violinist, a banjo, and a mandolin, play the kind of folk rock that makes people who lack musical talent very jealous. But what would their crazy lovechild sound like? A few months, a press release, and a limited vinyl pressing later, "A Black Sea" came into existence, and quite possibly changed the way we'll view both bands.
The immediately influence of Indian Blanket is both a bold decision and a brilliant one, as "Wolves" begins with a solemn melody of string and voice, over the tapping of drums. But as waves of distortion begin wash over you, the track morphs into something else entirely. This mixture of emotion and rage comes to a head with the first gritty scream that crashes down on your head from above. The merger complete, the bands trade blows, light and heavy, without one ever dominating the other. In fact, their balance is frightening, in that it feels as if the two were tailor made for one another. Strings meet heavy chugging riffs early and often on "Gods Much More Terrible," though the bending of guitar strings and intense screams may have tilted the scales in one way or another. But with interjections, like that around the three minute mark, they create these anxious moments, waiting for the hammer to drop over the sound of a banjo. To hear the screams of The Lion's Daughter vocalist Rich Giordano collide with the sullen crooning of Indian Blanket's Joe Andert is a treat you are unlikely to top. The best call and response track on the album is "Swann," which sees both bands doing what they do best. You are soothed by streams of cleanly played strings, only to be blasted in the skull by a now well refined ball of sludge. When the two come together, you get well preserved and orchestrated chaos.
By the midway point, you have been thoroughly disheveled, and "A Song For The Devil" seeks to bring you down from that adrenaline high. With each strum of a clean guitar and Andert's soothing vocal tone, you feel yourself coming back down to Earth, ever wary of the oncoming darkness. And when the distortion returns about a minute into "Timeless Waters," it does so with a noticeable blues tinge, as if fresh from a side jam session. The song rises and falls, building to a peak of low rumbles, then coming back down. The hum and drum of the final minute, though, stands out in a big way. And in a grand oversimplification, "Sea Of Trees" quickly becomes the most straightforward track on the album, something that is sure to sound misleading at first glance. By no means is this abandoning the premise here, as both bands are present throughout. But this has the most raw appeal, hearing Giordano and company overload your speakers with crushing drums and a towering wall of guitar and bass. As if their unification was ever in doubt, "That Place" is the final shot to be fired. It begans, in earnest, as a soft acoustic ballad. Andert sings softly over clean guitars, with little sign of what is to come. But as the sound builds, you are eventually set off with a wave of atmospheric guitar, cut through with darts of violin.
It would be hard to imagine the end result of a heavy sludge band collaborating with a folk rock band. We, as humans, just don't have the mental capacity to piece that information together. You can wrestle with it, struggle with it, or even meditate on it; no help whatsoever. Instead, it would be worth your time to simply find the album, pick up a copy, and hit "play." It's exactly what you expected it to be, only completely different. It makes no sense whatsoever, and yet, somehow, makes all the sense in the world. This album, this "A Black Sea," is a musical contradiction of itself, in a way that no other album has ever been for us. It is a joint effort between two St. Louis powers that flows right down the middle of their respectively sound paths. I don't know how these two artists from opposite sides of the musical spectrum came together, but we may never hear something like this again. Is this album a softening of the beast that is The Lion's Daughter, or a handful of dirt rubbed into the face of Indian Blanket? Yes. Yes, it is.
The Lion's Daughter
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Bandcamp - http://indianblanket.bandcamp.com/