Black Sheep Wall made a strong impression early on with their 2008 full-length I Am God Songs, which offered incredibly heavy sludge with some slight hardcore influences. In the years that would follow the California based band would go through multiple vocalists and experiment with their sound further, with 2015’s I’m Going to Kill Myself proving to be particularly divisive thanks to an emphasis on repetition and droning riffs. After that release Black Sheep Wall found themselves at an impasse and took a break for several years, finally returning with this year’s Songs for the Enamel Queen. Where its predecessor remained singularly focused on an idea, this album finds the group at their most dynamic with equal amounts of dark atmosphere and crushing intensity.
One of the first things that stuck out to me when listening to Songs for the Enamel Queen was how it really seemed to be capturing the sheer density and more direct nature of their earlier material while still pushing the band’s sound into new territory. “Human Shaped Hole” doesn’t launch you immediately into slower build-ups or longer track lengths like you might expect when doom and post metal are thrown around as genre tags, instead providing a much more direct and aggressive tone in a concise two minute run-time. There are a few of these shorter tracks between the ones that crack the ten-minute mark, and on these Black Sheep Wall recaptures the crushing tone and hardcore leanings of I Am God Songs. But when the instrumentals spread outwards, they bring a more dynamic approach to the band’s established sound, and with the final three songs taking up over half of Songs for the Enamel Queen it’s likely what listeners will be most focused on. The band covers so much ground from “Ren” to “Prayer Sheet for Wound and Nail” that this could have easily been its own album, and when the spans of time get longer Black Sheep Wall moves seamlessly from incredibly dark and desolate melodies to pummeling build-ups that keep you captivated from beginning to end. “Mr. Gone” spends some time wallowing in dissonance and tonality that feels suffocating, while “Ren” lets softer melodies and horns create an entirely different soundscape than one might expect from these guys. Admittedly while the material is consistent, I found myself most drawn to the final three tracks as it feels like this is where the instrumentals hit their highest peaks and truly hit home.
Brandon Gillichbauer took over vocals on I’m Going to Kill Myself which gave Black Sheep Wall a different sound compared to its two predecessors, as his range was towards the higher end of the spectrum rather than lower growls. While there wasn’t anything wrong with the performance on that album, Gillichbauer’s screams are even more jagged and abrasive than before and it’s clear that he’s putting all his demons on display throughout the album. The screams are a bit higher in the mix this time and often are given just as much emphasis as the riffs, allowing certain verses to really get under your skin. “New Measures of Failure” incorporate some spoken word that makes it sound like the voices in Gillichbauer’s head are coming to life on the record, while “Mr. Gone” incorporates both of Black Sheep Wall’s previous singers for a haunting and intense listening experience.
Despite being away for close to six years, this band has come back refocused and stronger than ever. While I still found that the second half stuck with me more than the first, the combination of more direct and shorter tracks with the dynamic writing of the longer ones works well and delivers some moments that will stick with listeners for some time to come. It’s a fantastic comeback for Black Sheep Wall, and I’m excited to see where they head next. Songs for the Enamel Queen is available from Silent Pendulum Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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