Album Review: Blood & Banjos
Posted by RiffRaff
A few years ago during one of my forays into ‘that’ part of the internet I stumbled on a blog called Blood and Banjos. It was basically about a guy, let’s call him Mike, who was kicking around the idea of making a record that combined his love of bluegrass music with its polar opposite, black metal. He had a couple of audio clips and ideas posted up, and needless to say, as a lover of any original idea in the realm of metal, I was instantly intrigued and started following the blog regularly. Over time Mike’s vision started to take shape and the idea of an album began to come to fruition. He called upon friends and fellow musicians from all over the US and even Europe to offer their skills on his ideas and offer their own. Then there was a successful Kickstarter campaign which allowed Mike and friends to realize all their ideas, demos, and musings on a full-fledged, professionally recorded album. Needless to say there was a huge amount of passion and time invested in creating this record, and holy hell does it show!
Regardless of the fact whether I followed the creation of the record, donated to the Kickstarter campaign, or have a bias towards out-of-the-box ideas in metal, I can not think of any album in recent memory that has sent my dopamine reactors into overdrive like this record has. From thinking I was going to hear a very fun and interesting record, I am astounded by just how incredibly deep and varied Blood and Banjos goes. From ear to ear grins caused by whiskey fueled hoe-downs to fist in the air anthemic choruses to soul wrenching piano ballads to ferocious tr00 kvlt black metal onslaughts to… you get the point. When I say that this record ticks every box on things that I want in a record I am not exaggerating nor when I say there is not a single moment on the album that leaves me without some kind of smile on my face (shit, I even started welling up in tears during the albums closing moments). Add in the fact that the record is presented as a ‘rock opera’ where there is a narrative and dialog to follow about a man named Abram Stone, his visit from the Prince of Lies, a banjo fueled murder spree, and a zombie birth, and yeah, happiness reactor overload.
While the original mission statement of the record stated that the main metal subgenre focus would be on the abrasive styling of black metal, that takes more of a back seat as the record explores the many colors of the diverse genre. After a nice little intro song containing a harmony of banjo and harmonica the song ‘Anti-Annunciation’ kicks in with a cool, upbeat rock bluegrass beat that eventually morphs into a groove/thrash beast topped with snarled black metal vocals (which represent the character of Satan of course). What impresses the most here is just how fluidly the song floats between the two styles without sacrificing any punch of the metal moments nor the happy feel of the folk sections. In fact, having the under-track of some banjo (or maybe it’s a mandolin, I’m not completely sure) playing during the metal moments add this feeling of fun and elation that feels so rare in most traditional ‘serious’ metal releases.
Followed that bit of musical magic is a wonderful bluegrass duet called ‘The Binding’. Here you can really hear that the creators have some deeply rooted love for bluegrass. The instrumental arrangements are dreamy and I love how the foreboding rumble of the cello and darkness of the lyrics contrast the rather bright sounding banjo. And bonus points to singer Nicole Matthews who really completes the song as her southern accent not only builds on the character of Abram’s wife, but adds tons of authenticity to the bluegrass.
Now here, as much as I’d like to continue on with a play-by-play synopsis, I think it would be wise not to as to not take away any of that wonderful sense of discovery that you who pick up the album will enjoy. I do just want to touch on a couple more songs however. While, for the most part I’ve been stressing how fun the record is, it is also quite the emotional beast. ‘Of Burial’ brought to mind/heart feelings of Pain of Salvation (in particular the record BE) with its soul shattering piano playing. And then there’s the epic closer ‘Kings’ which is easily one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. In its 15 minute running time it covers pure black metal, bluegrass shindig, thrash assaults, and most impressively a finale of post-rock/metal that when paired with the closing scene of the story seriously shook me to the core. The first time I heard it, I seriously had tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my skin. Pure unadulterated happiness.
That’s what this record is to me, pure unadulterated happiness. Whether it’s from the punch of metal, the upbeat kick of the bluegrass, the impact of the sections of beauty and serenity, or just the ridiculous yet anything but silly narrative Blood and Banjos just makes me smile. And isn’t that what music is supposed to do? Make you happy? You can genuinely feel that the creators and musicians put a lot of love into this project and had a great time making the album. I know I tend to gush on things I really enjoy, and I seriously can not gush enough about this album. It comes with my highest recommendation, if not only to hear a wonderful execution of a hodgepodge of musical styles. Go! Now! Buy! Thank me later. Peace Love and Metal!!!!! 5/5
Blood and Banjos will be independently released on Nov. 18th, 2014. You can pick your copy up here (or the Bandcamp player below) for the low price of free after the release date (though, I know you’re not a schmuck and you will dig in your couch for some loose change to toss the band). You can also read the blog chronicling the records creation here.