The Black Angels Stay Patient With New Album
Coming from the epicenter of American psychedelic rock known as Austin, Texas, The Black Angels have been extending the style in new directions. They’re doing this with a certain darkness and macabre encompassing it with heavy riffs, seismic drums and tightly knit rhythms.
It’s a sonic edge the band has been walking along for close to two decades and it doesn’t seem like they’ll be straying away from it anytime soon. The proof of that is in their sixth album, Wilderness of Mirrors, that came out via Partisan Records on September 16. There’s a case to be made that it’s their best release in nearly 10 years with the time it took to come to fruition making it worth the wait. I had a talk with vocalist, bassist & organist Alex Maas and multi-instrumentalist Ramiro Verdooren from the band about the making of the album, COVID-19 delaying everything, a cool music video that was made for one of the singles and hoping people only have nice things to say after giving it a listen.
Northern Transmissions: With Wilderness of Mirrors being The Black Angels’ first album in five years, what was the experience like making the record after such a long time away from the studio?
Alex Maas: We’ve been in the studio since [our last album] Death Song and this album was basically wrapped up and finished by around January, February and March of 2020 when the pandemic happened. It’s been done for a long time, we just chose not to release it for obvious reasons. Due to supply chain issues we couldn’t get the vinyl so that was a huge issue and with the pandemic happening we couldn’t tour the record which didn’t make any sense to release it. We weren’t sitting around twiddling our thumbs, we’ve been busy making music all that time and the reality is that things take time. If you’re one of those bands that tour around the world, it takes months and months of planning and all those things that people don’t really think about. Everyone has different projects and different lives so things take a long time these days. We can make a record and just put it out, we could do that but there wouldn’t be a proper plan behind it and you probably wouldn’t be talking to us right now or even hear about it.
NT: There’s a lot of different variables that are involved on top of the pandemic that affects those things, I totally get what you’re saying. Did you have a specific vision, aesthetic or cohesiveness in mind while making the album or was it more of a collection of new material written over the course of a couple years?
AM: A little bit of both, right?
Ramiro Verdooren: Yeah, I remember when we started rehearsing and writing the songs initially it was kind of fun because we were in the practice space and I specifically remember trying to figure out what to play on everything. There’s five of us and sometimes somebody doesn’t need to play something, I feel like that added to the process. When we went in to track it we alreadyknew more or less all the overdubs and stuff. I remember one time there was a song Alex had that I started playing a glass bottle on, I don’t think it made the record though.
AM: We usually don’t go into a record being like “Ok, we’re going to write about these 10 topics or these 15 topics.” All that really comes through the music, not to sound too hokey but the music guides the lyrics in a lot of ways if that makes sense. The music sets the tone in the room, then we kind of just close our eyes and describe what we’re feeling and what’s happening. It might sound a little backwards to people but there are other concepts that we have in terms of how we wanted to approach this record that has nothing to do with the lyrical content. In all of our records we’re reflecting what we see in society and I hate to be redundant but that’s kind of like how a lot of our music comes about.
NT: Speaking of what’s going on in society, political turmoil, COVID-19 and environmental devastation play a part in the music, with the latter being magnified in the music video for “El Jardin” in a post-apocalyptic way. How did you go about staging the various settings for that music video? Was it all done in a studio or were there actual live locations where the filming was done?
AM: They were all live locations. Vanessa Pla, who directed the video, filmed in all live locations and all the drone footage you see is all shot by her and her team. None of it is publicly sourced film, all of it is stuff that she and her team shot. It’s pretty neat how she was able to do that given the time frame and without a billion dollar budget. You look at it and it looks like a majorly funded video, it wasn’t cheap but most people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a video that looks like that. She’s really resourceful.
NT: I can see that after watching it, I was really impressed by the quality of the video. It definitely has a cinematic vibe, especially with it being introduced with actual credits like a film would be at the beginning of it. Where were those shots taken? Were those around Austin or around somewhere else?
AM: Most of it was shot in California. I think some pickup shots were done in Austin but a lot of it was done in California.
RV: Was some of it in Tennessee, Alex? Or am I mistaken about that?
AW: It’s possible, maybe some pickup shots but most of it was done in California because that’s where her team was. There were pickup shots in Austin and in fact one of the guys in the video is named Austin [Amelio] and he’s in the TV series The Walking Dead. His son is the main character in the video.
NT: That’s pretty cool. Another cool thing you guys got to do is go on tour with Primus back in June. What was it like being on the road with the band? I’ve talked to Les Claypool a few times myself and he seems like a really nice guy.
RV: It was great, man. They’re all such nice guys like you said, they truly are along with being incredible musicians. Watching them every night was a real treat, seeing the level of professionalism but also the fact that as high of a production it is they’re still doing their thing how they want to do it. I thought that was really inspiring, it’s super cool to see somebody command the stage like that. As three guys they make such a big sound and then seeing them do the Rush record was pretty awesome, it sounded just like Rush and it was pretty insane.
AM: It was funny because he recognized that it’s kind of impossible to sing like Geddy Lee but then he just went up there and nailed it.
RV: I kind of prefer Les’ voice to Geddy’s to be honest. I hope Geddy doesn’t see this but I like Les’ approach, it was really cool.
NT: I got to see them do Rush during that tour, I don’t think you guys were opening the leg I saw them on but I thought it was pretty cool too. It must have been awesome getting to see it on a string of nights.
RV: Yeah, absolutely.
NT: What do you want to achieve with the listener when they plug into Wilderness Of Mirrors and press play? What do you want them to absorb from the album? What do you want them to get from it?
AM: One thing I would like for them to have is just to have an open mind. This record doesn’t sound like the other ones but it still has The Black Angels DNA. I want them to be open to being surprised a little bit, I think that would be a good spot. I also want them to only say good things about it (laughs).
RV: I’m with Alex on that, in a way it would be great for them to plug it in and not know it’s The Black Angels while listening with an open mind without any preconceived notions or any kind of connotation to it. Playing it from beginning to end and then sometimes putting it on shuffle because in a lot of ways the songs are so different and you can probably get some pretty cool playing orders out of that for a totally different ride.
AM: Roll two up while listening.
RV: Yeah, definitely roll two and make them thick.
Purchase by Wilderness of Mirrors by The Black Angels HERE
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