By: Alex Phillips
Label: Napalm Records
Official Website: http://www.bloodyhammers.com/
The Southern Gothic tradition runs deep in American culture. Some of the deepest grooves were laid by our literary figures—Poe, Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Cormac McCarthy, to name a few. The style speaks of faded decadence, traditions left to hang like sunbleached curtains, the moldering splendor of a rural lifestyle steeped in generations of violence. As in our literature, the Southern Gothic runs just as deep in our music. But in the music you get a more immediate sense of the moods, memories, and emotions. It pushes you down in the mud, rubs your face in satire. It makes you walk home naked so you know how it feels. It calls out for revenge, no matter how small or petty. At this, rock and metal excel. See Transylvania County, North Carolina’s Bloody Hammers—recently signed to Napalm Records—for Under Satan’s Sun, a massive dose of Appalachian Southern Gothic.
Slow, subdued tempos, fuzzed-out guitar, complementary piano and organ tones, and simple compositions that have nothing to prove. I could appreciate the music by itself on the first listen. But the more I listened, the more I understood what a comically dark, sinister world the band was describing. The dread. The unfulfilled longing. The suspicion. Come all ye and be saved. It has that feeling peculiar to small towns in the rural South. There’s no one word for it. It’s almost as if you have assurance that you’re unable to escape this place, and that even if you did, you wouldn’t get far. Because you’re a part of it. If you left, you might as well be dead. You might already be. It’s Hell on Earth, peopled less by people than by their shades and the unseen monstrosity that control their fates.
That’s the Southern Gothic strain I hear from one end of Under Satan’s Sun to the other, just like a collection of stories. Every song is suffused with surreal gloom, and what’s integral to making the whole thing work, to my surprise, are the lyrics and vocals. Anders Manga delivers clean vocals with a wide tonal range, from pleading to calm to vaguely threatening. Indeed, his is a storytelling voice, as warm and inviting as a gospel preacher’s even as he leads you into an evangelical town haunted by an unseen killer, or to the scene of a public hanging where the condemned man—likely innocent—vows vengeance upon the crowd that came “from miles around.” Manga’s voice reminds me at times of Acid Bath’s downright sinister clean vocal passages, like the dark calm spaces that are somehow worse than the violence that follows. I haven’t been this interested in song lyrics in I don’t know how long. I haven’t heard well-written lyrics in a long time.
I know I didn’t talk much about the music, aside from its simplicity. It’s the simplicity that gives the album its heavy, rhythmic shape. Bloody Hammers don’t want to distract you from the stories they have to tell, full of doom, revival horror, and the madness of small minds and lingering evil. Go forth, listen to Under Satan’s Sun, and be saved.
You can check out the latest videos from Under Satan’s Sun on the band’s website, http://www.bloodyhammers.com.