BLACK SKIES - On the Wings of Time CD
Genre: Sludge Rock
I've caught this North Carolina trio live and even picked up their previous release, their Hexagon CDEP, which they self released back in 2008. Albeit their sound was typical stoner sludge it was still good and I still figured some label would give em a chance at a signing. When I saw their set it was at a small dive a year or two ago and their sound shook the building's foundation. In fact their sound was so heavy that the rats hiding in the basement of a nearby hamburger joint vacated for a safer dwelling. No shit I was outside taking a smoke break when I saw an army of the vermin running across the street as if trying to escape some hideous predator. About of third of the rat pack got run over by a passing bus. So here I am checking out their debut full length and things have changed as far as their sound goes. The opening cut "Rebirth" sums it up perfectly. BLACK SKIES sounds like a completely different band. Their former covering of stoner aesthetic has been scraped clean off of them. I'm guessing that's because the band got Kyle Spence of HARVEY MILK (a band I've never really found exciting but some people find em impressive) to twist the production knobs.
From the opening cut onward BLACK SKIES produce a bigger sound that's more power trio rock than sludgey syrup. Bassist Michelle Temple takes on a more prominent role vocally than I remember from before. Basically her and guitarist Kevin Clark complement one another with duel vocal shouting on a few cuts. Also Clark adds plenty of background synthesizer/keyboards to the mix with really broadens their sound immensely. Drummer Tim Herzog is not hidden behind a wall of fuzzy stoner grooves anymore. The band hails from Chapel Hill, NC and recorded this in Athens, Georgia so what stoner rock grooveness was washed out has been replaced with a big rock sound. This sort of reminds me of what the WHITE STRIPES (are they even around anymore?) would sound like if they decided to do a sludge rock album. "Darkness & Disguise" retains some psych damage but the acoustic intro of "The Other Side of the Mountain" had me thinking they tossed the lava lamps in the garbage and donned straw hats like your average alt. country act. Thankfully the cut does jump into the heavy zone yet overall sounds more like those Post Metal meanderings of bombast from the 90's including guttural screamed vocals from Clark. The following cut, "Technologicon", follows suit.
On the Wings of Time is eight cuts with plenty of variety as far as song times go but musically it's a formula that can be repetitive. They have two longer cuts on here, "Valley of the Kings" and "The Sleeping Prophet" both of which contain simplistic yet over the top riffs. Clark adds a middle eastern tinged solo break to "Valley of the Kings" but the pace and rhythm of the cut gave me this sick repulsive vibe. I was waiting for Clark to channel in some John Paul Jones Hammond organ in order to complete the LED ZEP worship. "The Sleeping Prophet" is somewhat better as Clark solos his way over what is simply a stoner sludge jam suitable for head banging, shoegazing or going out for a smoke. If you choose the latter don't worry you won't miss anything since it's a simple riff played out for over nine minutes with some psych damaged guitar nuddling thrown in. The song "Weightless", an acoustic ditty with synthesizer produced wind sounds, seems to serve one purpose by being pure filler. Although "Earth Choker", another simplistic riff centric cut, does show a breaking away from the formulated overkill ZEP worship with it's fuzzier tempo, psych soloing and laid back (or is it slack?) vocals.
In the end I felt like throwing on their previously released EP in order to get dirty and maybe feel less numb than what this thing did to me. I don't think the sound on here can be recreated in a live situation which can't be said about their last release which could. So seeing them live again would probably be an interesting experience. If you just take On the Wings of Time as a whole it's not a bad release as far as hearing a band progress from one sub genre to another. Kinda like the before and after results of a bum after taking his or her monthly laundry-mat visit. The best part being you don't have to see the bum standing in their dirty underwear while you fold your clothes. Trust me I've been there and regret it. I'll guess that BLACK SKIES might finally get some recognition out of this although not alot from me because I could go the rest of my life without hearing LED ZEP or even an act conjuring up "Kashmir" and retro-fitting it for modern tastes.