Back in the day I used to get together with a friend of mine on a random Friday or Saturday night. There would be lots of beer consumed and albums shared between the two of us. This friend, we’ll call him Shane since that’s his name, would bring his entire record collection over in digital form and would play me things he thought I’d like. The next day with a headache in tow I’d clean up all the empty beer bottles and saunter to my computer room and see what he left for me to listen to. Sometimes albums would hit immediately, while others never hit. But sometimes I’d have some albums tucked away on my hard drive that I’d forget about and months later rediscover them. Boards Of Canada, Blonde Redhead, High On Fire, and MSTRKRFT were just a few that were leftovers from those excessive beer drinking nights I would grow to really like(in Boards of Canada’s case, I would grow to love.)
Another band that my pal left for me to explore was Lightning Bolt. It took awhile for me to get into these guys. At first listen they’re harsh, loud, caffeinated, and overwhelming. Brian Chippendale(drums and vocals) and Brian Gibson(bass guitar) are a duo that are a force of nature. They make music that’s elastic and heavy. At times they’re so heavy it’s nearly cartoonish. Like an R. Crumb-drawn version of Heavy Metal. But after awhile you realize these two are for real. There’s just no barrier between the music and the listener. Much like seeing them live, they’re not on a stage above the crowd looking down; they’re IN the crowd surrounded by their sweaty minions, blasting this elastic heavy metal until ears bleed.
Since 1999 Lightning Bolt have released six raw, ear-curdling albums. Ten years of refining and perfecting their version of speed metal has led up to their newest release, Fantasy Empire. I can say without a doubt that Fantasy Empire is their best album since 2003s Wonderful Rainbow. It doesn’t lessen the massive power blow past albums have given to our heads, but instead cleans it up a bit(thanks to recording in a real deal hi fi studio). The result is striking and immediate. The drums explode out of the speakers, like a tribal death march. Gibson’s bass is low, growl-y, and cuts through the mix like a razor. Vocals are still of the rotary telephone variety, but that’s how they’re supposed to be. This is the quintessential Lightning Bolt album.
The songs? You know, there’s nothing here I need to go over in great detail with. It’s everything you want in a Chippendale/Gibson banger: massive volume, breakneck speed, out-of-this-world noise, and a metal precision any so-called “metal band” would die to possess. “The Metal East” blows out of the gates like Seabiscuit set aflame. “Over The River And Through The Woods” is a manic six and a half minute journey with some of Chippendale’s most impressive drumming. It’s as if the guy has six arms and four legs. “King Of My World” drags its knuckles on razor-sharp stones as Gibson’s elastic bass line shimmies like a three-headed snake, and “Mythmaster” chugs like a war machine through some post-apocalyptic world. A soundtrack to some lost 70s Ralph Bakshi cartoon, blood and guts galore. “Runaway Train” is the closest Lightning Bolt gets to good time rock ‘n roll, if you’re idea of a good time is skipping through alternate universes in a souped-up 1955 Chevy Bel-Air, complete with laser cannons and an 8-track player. “Snow White(& The Seven Dwarves Fans)” is an eleven and a half minute escapade through the noisiest regions of the metal Brians’ minds. Don’t let the middling beginning fool you. Your face will melt soon enough.
So who says nothing comes from excessive drinking? Though those nights are all but gone thanks to getting old and tired, some of those scars I’m happy to still carry around. One of those is Lightning Bolt. Fantasy Empire is a killer record that will please any metal fan. If they can handle it, that is.
8.8 out of 10