CASTLE – ‘Blacklands’ (Ván Records)
A year or so after their debut album ‘In Witch Order’ (an “exciting cocktail of songs [which] hit you straight between the eyes... It’s pure metal; it’s pure genius”) the San Francisco trio are back, bigger and badder, with ‘Blacklands’, an album which boasts familiar Castle hallmarks – the retro sound is still there, as are the killer riffs and no-nonsense attitude – but this time there is more focus, more direction to both the material and the performances. As guitarist and founder member Mat Davis is keen to point out, “‘Blacklands’ is an altogether different beast to ‘In Witch Order’. The debut took five years start to finish and the new one was done in six months. We wanted to have a live feel and an edginess to the album and I think we got that. It sounds bigger and hits harder.” And he’s not kidding. Check out opener ‘Ever Hunter’ and close your eyes, and you could be in the rehearsal room with Davis as he and his cohorts (bassist/vocalist Elizabeth Backwell and drummer Al McCartney) batter you with an aural tidal wave as they race through the material.
All eight cuts are on the album are epic in scope, if not in length. “There were elements of that on our debut but I deliberately set out to achieve that with most of these songs,” says Davis. “I also wanted to use sound textures and shades that we hadn’t explored on our debut.” The result is very much a metal offering, but one with degrees of light and shade, simplicity and complexity, excitement and extremities. Songs are rarely straightforward, often heading off in a different direction when you least expect it, without being over-complicated or too demanding for their own good. In fact one of the many attractions of the album is that the eight songs on offer are done and dusted in thirty-five minutes, so like of lot of those early Seventies classic LPs ‘Blacklands’ says what it has say with the minimum of fuss and without overstaying its welcome.
Once again, there’s the element of early Metallica in the riffs and the runs, particularly in the glorious ‘Curses Of The Priests’ and the wonderfully titled ‘Venus Pentagram’, and the raw sound and live feel once again bring to mind those early NWOBHM offerings from the early Eighties when bands were trying to break out of a confining acronym. As you’d expect, Castle save the best till last, and the six-minute closer ‘Dying Breed’ – the final track to be written for the album – is a furious maelstrom of passion and power which plays out to a relentless riff and a screaming feedback-driven solo to die for.
‘Blacklands’ is a great album, even better than its predecessor, and the current clutch of European dates Castle are undertaking will make them a whole host of new friends. Trust me on this.
© John Tucker April 2012