A lot of people see rock music and horror film going hand in hand. As an avid fan of both, I usually disagree. Unlike a lot of the drab, depressing soft-LOUD-soft filler on rock radio today, my favorite rock music is about pep. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Stones or Pearl Jam, Hendrix or the Deftones; I want rock music to move my ass. On the other hand, I like my horror films heavy, atmospheric, pulling me under waves of tension and suspense. Taking that kind of imagery and slapping an upbeat rocker on top of it (or, worse, mountains of metallic riffing) ruins the whole tone to me.
There are a few key names that I feel can combine the visceral darkness of horror film and the kick of rock music, though, and on Mark Lanegan Band’s new album, Blues Funeral, he whips them together in a full-on thunderstorm. Lanegan has become a veteran of various rock scenes – former lead singer for the Screaming Trees, frequent collaborator with Queens of the Stone Age and the Soulsavers, half the integral voice of the Gutter Twins, and duet-er with former Belle & Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell. He’s known for his deep, doomy vocal style – reminiscent of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave in not just its low, smoky baritone, but also its stories of love lost in horrible ways and trying to forget all about them through a hazy mix of religion and whiskey.
On Blues Funeral, Lanegan continues to veer away from the dusty folk that marked his early solo albums and throws himself into the rock-and-electronics bombast he explored on his last album – 2004’s Bubblegum. At times, the intensity is a welcome change. “Quiver Syndrome,” “Riot In My House,” and first single, “Gravedigger’s Song” pour on the distorted guitars and hammering beats, as Lanegan’s growl shifts from urgent to epic. Not one to hold back from jumping straight into the black, he murmurs, “With piranha teeth, I’ve been dreaming of you…” The tales of someone’s emotions turning into their own little private hell on earth fits the ripping guitars.
Other places benefit more from Lanegan’s allegiance to the blues – though their presentation isn’t much like any blues you’ve heard before. For Blues Funeral, Lanegan pours on the ambient, electronic sounds to create fresh dark moods. The slow, steady thump that backs drifting tunes like “Bleeding Muddy Water” and “St. Louis Elegy” may not sound like they’re coming from any physical device, but they navigate you ably through the eerie drones that hold up the songs. In fact, at times, those beats are all Lanegan gives the listener to go other than his hopeless growl and haunting reverb. It’s all about mood, and Lanegan rarely betrays that.
There are a few moments when the singer’s fascination with new sounds gets the best of him. The shimmering, electronic sounds that fill up “Sad Days of Disco” are meant to evoke the very time period he skewers in the song – but mainly, they just lay there, failing to click with Lanegan’s ominous vocal style. Something similar can be said of closing track “Tiny Grain of Truth,” in which synthesized strings run high over the album’s consistent hum – it’s a bit convoluted even with Lanegan’s vocals, but as he sparsely enters and exits the song, it’s too much a random experiment left to repeat itself over and over. The experiments play better with the chiming, Cure-like guitars on “Harborview Hospital” or the awkward, drunk rhymes of “Leviathan.” In these moments, Lanegan finds new outlets for his darkness that jibe with the atmosphere he’s trying to inflict on the listener.
Fortunately, a few odd moments can’t ruin an album as consistent and cohesive as this one, and the dark mood that Lanegan has worked so well with since Screaming Trees’ Sweet Oblivion prevails. The willingness to play with electronic music in his more traditional mix of rock and blues also paints Lanegan as a forward thinking musician – someone with an eye on the past, but not willing to get buried there. Such is a blessing for music fans interested in his particular brand of darkness; hopefully it just doesn’t take him another seven years to deliver his next proper solo album.
Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).