SOUND ‘ROUND: In celebration of the dark arts



Unless your name is Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking or Paul Allen, odds are John Darnille is smarter than you. Like the good English major he was at an uber-exclusive private school, his songs are more literary than lyrical: wordy, dense and as detail oriented as they are character driven. Characters on this concept record — Darnielle’s medium of choice — partake in Goth culture, an odd subject matter for anyone who hasn’t already made an album about professional wrestling. This is no musical tribute, however. There’s no shoegazing, brooding or nine inch nailing, and those clarinets and woodwinds sound more like chamber pop than chamber drone. And while Goth icons like Siouxsie and Andrew Eldritch get their due, the best songs ponder the idiosyncrasies of the entire scene. He sympathizes with the nervous newcomer who isn’t hardcore enough to go through an initiation ceremony, bleaches his hair like the rest of his West Coast brethren and wears black every day of the week. Until the finale, that is, when Darnielle is wise enough to know that all scenes eventually end. “You and me and all of us / Are gonna have to find a job,” he sings. And the Dad Rock congregation said, “Amen.” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Wear Black” / “Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds” / “Abandoned Flesh”


Biblical references are scattered throughout “Goths,” a happenstance more deliberate than accidental. “Well I’m a Christian, I believe in the radical egalitarian message of Christ Ministry,” Mountain Goats front man John Darnielle told Observer. “But the thing is, I’m a bible-liking dude, and there’s probably not a theme I could not wrap Christianity around. You could do that with any religion at all, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism. A religion’s whole job is to describe the world for you, to describe the whole world and the people in it, and to cast the ministry in light, to give you a light to understand the phenomena of the world.”


The most striking album of 2016 remains the most striking of 2017. It’s the brainchild of Manuel Gagneux — a Swiss New Yorker dared by a racist 4Chan user (surprise!) to mix black metal with “n——- music.” Not one to let the trolls win, he began meshing blues hollers with the very metal tropes Adult Swim parodied a decade ago. The chants are nonsense but cut to the heart of rock’s anti-establishment creed. The opening refrain of “Devil is kind / Devil is fine” is later followed by, “A good god is a dead one / A good lord is a dark one.” I doubt Gagneux is a Satanist (And what’s it to you if he is?). Instead, I suspect he’s a smart musical mind happy to demonstrate his brainpower at the expense of a faceless scumbag on the internet. The metal elements of this record impress most for their sheer virtuosity. Listen to those stabbing guitar riffs, how they’re enhanced by articulate arpeggios. Listen to tubular bells that could re-possess Linda Blair. Listen to his reverence for the source material and realize a century’s worth of black music is his birthright. Listen from start to finish and know that 25 minutes is just enough time for this one-off to warrant your respect. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Blood In The River” / “Devil Is Fine” / “Children’s Summon”


During a Q&A with Noisey, Zeal & Ardor mastermind Manuel Gagneux spoke to how he blended African American blues with European black metal. “I think there’s a connection between the two; it’s a form of rebellion,” he said. “Even if slave music isn’t exactly defiant, it’s still like the triumph of the will of the people. I think there are parallels with, say, Christianity being forced upon both the Norwegians and the American slaves, and I kind of wondered what would’ve happened if slaves would’ve rebelled in a similar fashion to (black metal bands) Burzum or Darkthrone.”

A+ Rare masterwork

A Near flawless

A- Run-of-the-mill good

B+ Flawed but notable