Black Wings is His Name Is Alive's 101st release since their inception in 1986 and I have to admit that I don't have a single one of the other 100. Therefore, I will be totally unable to compare to anything the band has put out previously as I review this double album which apparently features outtakes and demos and experiments which haven't previously seen the light of day.
I have to say for me the four sides of vinyl almost all work as separate mini-albums rather than as a whole and yet as a whole it's one beast of an album.
Side A is mainly choral and opens with Patterns Of Light: a neo-Baroque Mediaeval Babes-esque thing. It's very gentle as the story in the lyrics unfolds and the strings envelope you. Energy Acceleration begins slowly like a subtle dawn chorus to drift awake to before the morning mantra or prayer begins. The voices swirl round the room like you're sitting or most likely kneeling in an old stone chapel.
You Best Pray continues the morning service as the good sisters vocals tell us they will leave no evidence behind. It's wondrous and spooky. Caroline is a brief musical interlude before Silver Arc Curving turns our machines up. This is very beautiful, with multi-level harmonies drifting off as the violin comes in. This is so not what I was expecting as side one concludes with Silver Arc One acting as a coda before the next chapter.
The B-Side opens with How Ghosts Affect Relationship. This begins with violins and Moog and Mellotron connecting and pulsing and scraping into an apparition of what or who we might have once been and it doesn't sound like a nice place in parts as the distorted guitars go off in a far corner. This is music to be heard on a great sound system to feel the spatiality which alters if you move around.
Memory is almost a short excerpt from a Chinese Opera. Then California Star Guitar and Space Chords does exactly what it says on the tin. Cet Air-La is windswept Francophone soundtrack pop which, as it's a cover of a France Gall song, is no surprise. But that guitar that freaks out over parts of it is great and a nice surprise.
The piano intro for God Only Knows is next; just a short burst that ends before the strings would normally come in. How We respond seems to be to become a stoner rock band and crush some riffs before side two ends with Rush: a tribute to (yep) Rush to crush our brains to with a proper over the top guitar solo. As widdly as you like.
Side C opens with the acoustic Les Zeppelina, which has all the nods it needs before Stevie, Thanks kicks in like they had party favours with Stevie Nicks and wanna shout about it.
Italia is an ident for radio show or something similar, a quick snippet. Energy Acceleration has neo-classical keyboards and strings that could be out of a sci-fi film. Hold Onto Your Half as the mosh pit goes crazy to this dense minute and half riff battle. Demonix is a late night 1960's B-movie soundtrack, with lots of keyboard action for a 6 minute scene of building intensity as things get nastier building to a horrific climax of some sort.
The Piano is like the pieces John Cale plays on French soundtrack albums. Side Three closes with After Greensleeves that takes that old classic and leads us into a mediaeval space scene background music type vibe.
Side D begins with the Moog and Mellotron opening of Dragonmix and it's almost new age music. Calling All Demons drags us off, as if to prayer with a pulsing riff and building waves of sound, before the Eternity riff kicks in for 45 seconds. Just as the cops kick down the doors of a crack den, I imagine, as this feels quite intense.
Patterns Of Light sounds like three songs bolted together and played at the same time like the Algarnas Tradgard album Delayed. Very Swedish prog and quite episodic. White Loops sounds like several keyboard loops on repeat with a Moog kicking in towards the end.
Sister Golden is like a reworked 60's pop song being sung by a female-led Faith No More in oddly crowd pleasing mood. Calling All Believers has acoustic guitars set to jangle and strum like Momus with Warren Defever singing lead vocals for the first time (that I can tell) on the album.
The record ends with For The Scientist: a 12-minute musical journey of pulses and swathes of lushness that gives way to an almost somnambulant wave to carry you off deep to sleep as the music gets progressively quieter. However, they didn't add the disclaimer Yusuf Lateef did on his version of Hey Jude that does the exact opposite.
For me the A-side is the pinnacle it felt like one coherent piece of music. While the other sides are not as consistent, this music is always interesting and takes me places. I'd also like to ask any readers who can recommend me to the His Name Is Alive albums I should have in my collection. My preference would be for the space age soundtrack-type stuff and the choral end of things.
Find out more and buy the double album with a great black and white photo inside the gatefold sleeve at: Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records online