RIYLGodspeed You! Black Emperor
LabelThe Mylene Sheath
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There is no denying that times are hard these days, and while some artists choose to ignore the fact that our economy is rapidly declining, an oil spill is killing countless animals, and natural disasters seem to be coming more often, others choose to voice their concerns. Chicago’s sludge-metal, post-rock band Angel Eyes never falls into the former category, and their work on their latest album, Midwestern, is no exception. After signing on to the post-rock heavyweight label The Mylene Sheath, Angel Eyes have crafted an atmospheric exercise in mood told in four parts, and the result is nothing short of stellar.
With Midwestern, the band focuses on the contemporary fascination with nostalgia and the fear of looking into the future and seeing nothing but hopelessness. While the lyrics alone suggest a harsh critique of society, the music evokes images of a desolate wasteland, an image born directly from Marnie Galloway’s moody cover art. “Midwestern I” kicks off the album with an instant sense of doom heightened by dreamy keyboards. The track meanders through dreary territory with march-like drums not unlike those found on any Godspeed You! Black Emperor record, until the throat-searing vocals tear everything to shreds. Upon first introduction to Angel Eyes, the vocals are one of the most difficult aspects to swallow as they don’t seem to mesh with many fan’s ideas of what post-rock vocals should sound like. Taken within the context of the heavy subject matter and the band’s bleak outlook on modern life, however, the brutal vocal style fits right in and works wonderfully. “Midwestern I” goes on to feature a solid, head-banging sludge riff around the five-minute mark that reaches the height of the band’s potential for straightforward rock n’ roll.
What Angel Eyes do so successfully on Midwestern is infuse moments of comforting, hopeful catharsis into the contrasting darkness permeating the rest of the album. “Midwestern I” ends with the line, “I just hope on my deathbed I can still look forward to the few minutes I have left,” acting as a cue to the optimistic conclusion that would fit perfectly within any Caspian tune. Moments like these drop in and out of the four songs, cutting in like a cool wind current through a blackened desert. The first half of “Midwestern IV,” for example, sounds like a potential happy ending to the story of Midwestern, but the track spirals into an exhausting and repetitious riff, suggesting that we are destined to repeat the mistakes of our fathers. While the band has tried to achieve this balance of light and dark in the past on releases such as 2005’s Something to Do with Death and 2007’s ...And for the Roof, a Sky Full of Stars, Midwestern gives purpose to each stylistic change, allowing the entire album a sense of direction that the band has been missing in the past.
With lyrics such as, “Turn to any page in a history book and you’ll find someone who’s totally fucked,” Angel Eyes use commonplace language to illustrate their emotions as clearly as possible. This approach is typically uncommon (especially in the post-rock genre where it is encouraged to write as esoterically as possible), but it succeeds at giving Angel Eyes the ability to use their music as a blunt, expressive tool. Every element of the album is designed to hit you in the face, and it succeeds at doing so in the best way.
Angel Eyes have molded all of their frustrations and criticisms into a beautifully dark and moody record that paints a picture of a world corrupted by society’s skewed perceptions of history. Midwestern should earn the band an enormous amount of respect amongst the ranks of The Mylene Sheath, as well as help the band find a new legion of fans with their unique brand of brutal post-rock.