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Henry Blacker
Summer Tombs JR Moores , April 20th, 2015 11:19

It was recently announced that Queens Of The Stone Age would be taking a break in activity. Thank heavens for that. We should rejoice in this blessed hiatus because; firstly, the once-vital rock crew have been trading on diminishing desert-y returns for the best part of a decade. Hombre Homme may have been in the moral right to fire the allegedly misogynistic naked gnome that is Nick Oliveri, but was it entirely necessary to replace him with what appears to be the waiting staff from an upmarket cocktail bar for affluent city goths? The guest musicians who helped out on QOTSA's first album included members of Masters of Reality and Earthlings?. The second featured players from Screaming Trees, Goatsnake and Judas Priest. The most recent one? Elton John and the man from the Scissor Sisters.

The second reason why a gap in QOTSA activity is really quite a wonderful thing, is because we can now turn our full collective attention to Henry Blacker. Are you sceptical that this Hey Colossus offshoot trio can satisfy your hard rock hunger as adeptly as Queens once did? Their riffs alone are meatier than a sautéed multipack of roast beef Monster Munch being massaged into the hind of a Japanese Akaushi cow. Like Queens, Kyuss or Fu Manchu before them, they've pretty much nailed the perfect guitar sound: a big, warm, fuzzily distorted, ear-drum-rumbling hum. Henry Blacker don't have the climatic aid of recording in a sizzling Californian desert ranch, so it's doubly impressive that they've managed to capture this blistering sound having crawled out of some dank field in Somerset.

Like a two-headed monster, one head Homme-like, the other resembling Oliveri, Tim Farthing's vocals alternate between a suave, misanthropic croon and the deranged sound of Police Academy's Bobcat Goldthwait gargling with post-50 year old Mark E. Smith's discarded denture wash. His lyrics are equally fun, blessed with the kind of macabre Lovecraftian inventiveness that's earned Chicago noise-thrashers Oozing Wound their late critical kudos. "In a cloak made of smoke I am curling my way in through your keyhole" goes the album's opening line and it's followed by all manner of sinister, funny and occasionally disturbing phrases and imagery. The peak is perhaps 'Shit Magus' which not only includes the grubby line "four hours on the ferry / and he stinks of come and cooking sherry" but also boasts perhaps the greatest deployment of the phrase "fuck's sake" in the entire history of the hard rock genre (to clarify, that's not "for fuck's sake", just "fuck's sake", which is all the more delicious). There's also 'Landlubber', which tackles the bleakness of being lost at sea in forensic pee-drinking, cannibalistic detail, and 'Million Acre Fire', about a really, really, really massive fire.

For the most part Summer Tombs aspires to hone the band's sound, rather than make any great creative leaps beyond last year's Hungry Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings debut. Nothing wrong with that; it should keep Sir Elton's ivory-tinkling claws at bay for a few years to come. Even so, the final number, the title track, manages to punch the gut more than anything this band have recorded to date, and more than most bands ever do. Their longest composition yet, set to claustrophobically lumbering instrumentation, Summer Tombs examines, quite sincerely, how it must feel to be diagnosed with terminal cancer. Suddenly, one finds that Henry Blacker are no longer singing with one raised eyebrow or playing things for laughs, not even the dark laughs at which they excel. After all the previous absurd rollicks, the effect is almost unbearable. "What will we tell the kids?" cries Farthing, "I haven't the strength for this." Rarely does heavy rock/metal tackle the discomforting subject of illness and mortality in such vulnerable, hopeless and brutally matter-of-fact terms. It's usually cartoon skellingtons, rudimentary anger, tacky sentimentality or vaguely religious codswallop. I am a tearful toddler, emotionally clobbered by the end of Raymond Briggs' The Snowman. I am a schoolboy, witnessing Captain Blackadder and his colleagues fade into poppies. I am a teenager, learning of Arthur Dent's fate at the conclusion of the Hitchhiker novels. I am an adult Englishman, whose stiff upper lip has flown quivering out of the window, knocked for six by a drawn-out stoner rock jam on which a gruff bloke repeats the phrase, "I thought we had more time". So it goes. Fuck's sake.

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