Black Elk know a thing or two about delivering a pummeling. The Portland band’s 2006 self-titled debut was a lesson in the finer points of aural bloodletting, mixing equal parts Melvins’ guitar sludge, Unsane’s groovy thud and their own angular, math-rock buzz.
Black Elk know a thing or two about delivering a pummeling.
The Portland band’s 2006 self-titled debut was a lesson in the finer points of aural bloodletting, mixing equal parts Melvins’ guitar sludge, Unsane’s groovy thud and their own angular, math-rock buzz.
As the band built its name through a national tour and regular show-opening performances where they out-rocked the headliners, Black Elk acolytes grew thirsty for a new album, which was finally delivered this week in the form of Never a Six, Always a Nine.
Picking up where their first album left off, Always a Six improves on and maximizes the Elk’s sound–the guitars are burlier, the vocals weirder and, most importantly, the songs move and shake with innovation and energy. The album was well worth the two-year wait.
Not that the band ever intended it to take this long.
“It’s been a fucking ordeal,” guitarist Erik Tramell says of making the new album. “Y’know, people deal with this shit all the time when making records, but this one has had a lot of process.”
He’s not kidding. The band first recorded Always a Six in November 2007; back when they were still playing with their last drummer. After he left the band–amicably, to pursue other things–they found a replacement in long-time friend Jeff Watson, formerly of The Icarus Line.
With Watson on board, the band decided to re-record the album, adding new songs and reworking old ones. Fast-forward to May of this year, and the band re-did all but one song in their friend’s basement, with the assistance of producer Adam Pike.
But it doesn’t end there. The band also went through three mastering engineers, finally ending up with an album that, despite the arduous process, sounds damn good. But is the band happy with the outcome?
“Absolutely,” says Tramell. “I think… to me it feels a lot more focused or tighter. Not that we were sloppy before or anything. It just feels more concise.”
In its just-under 40 minutes of runtime, Always a Six oscillates between the angular groove of opener “My Last Shred of Decency,” to the direct, crescendo-rising sludge of “She Pulled Machete.”
The variety of the songwriting makes for an engaging listen. And vocalist Tom Glouse’s expanded style–I swear he sounds like a deranged Tom Waits at some points–adds even more energy to an already bubbling mix.
Tramell’s dynamic guitar melodies, as backed up by the iron-solid rhythm section, are especially noticeable. It’s a big sound.
“That’s tough thing to deal with,” Tramell says of his multi-layered guitar parts. “‘Cause like, I want to do a bunch of shit, and every time I do guitar parts I just keep writing more and more. So it’s like a real process for me to not try and play them all … But there are more [recording] tracks on this album than the last one, and the next album will probably have even more. Eventually I’ll just need like 13 guys playing guitar with me.”
So with a second great album easily putting Black Elk at the top of underground noise-metal/rock/assign-the-genre-you-enjoy, is finding an audience even a worry? Do fearsome, heavy-as-shit bands even give a shit whether Portland cares?
“I hope so,” Tramell says. “It’s no lie, we’d definitely would like to have people at the shows. We’re definitely not one of those bands who says ‘we’re just playing music for us, it’s all about the art.’ That’s a lie. Because if people really did that they would never leave their apartment. If you’re just playing for yourself, why would you buy an amplifier?”
Black Elk record release showw/Stovokor and Science of YabraTonight at Berbati’s Pan10 p.m.$821+