Firstly, I feel I should state that this cannot and will not be a fair and unbiased review. Asking me to review a Lightning Bolt album is like asking a small child to review an ice-cream or a dog to review a bone. I walked into my second favourite record shop one day and they were playing ‘Hypermagic Mountain’. I stopped and all expression fell from my face as all the blood rushed from the non-vital parts of my body (brain, lungs etc) to my ears. I said: “What the fuck is this and why don’t I own it ?”, and a beautiful relationship was born.
Little did I know that ‘Hypermagic Mountain’ is actually the weakest of the three albums that I was soon to own, (I tend not to count the yellow album, or ‘Lightning Bolt’ as some call it, because it’s unlistenable) but it was more than good enough to stir me to go and get ‘Ride The Skies’ and ‘Wonderful Rainbow’ as soon as I could. Suffice to say that the moment I heard ‘Thirteen Monsters’ and ‘2 Towers’ from those records will live with me forever. Lightning Bolt became the most important band in the world for me and ‘Earthly Delights’ is a definitive rap on the knuckles for anyone attempting to steal their crown.
Opening the album is ‘Sound Guardians’. A swampy-redneck riff explodes out of the altitudinous opening, ‘Singing Brian’s’ echo-y madman lurks to keep things off centre, and then things descend into a morass of stop-start riffing and Herculean drumming that constantly re-evaluates itself, walking the line between smug intellectual athletics and violent aggression. ‘Nation of Boar’ rushes straight at you, brandishing a riff that isn’t really a riff, more of a threat. The song is propelled from low-end aggression into an interlude of majestic drums and hammer-on frenzy that sounds like the overture that Ming the Merciless never had, but richly deserved. The track snowballs into a crude, primordial musical sludge from which rises… a guitar solo? No, not a guitar solo, but a very trebly bass part that is the cherry on this beast of a cake. There is a depth to this record that the band did not have on ‘Hypermagic Mountain’ and did not need on ‘Ride The Skies’ and ‘Wonderful Rainbow’.
‘Colossus’ begins life as a slow, bass rumble with tweet-y vocal adornments that herald a shift into a second gear which consists of a simple, but incredibly wholesome bass-line, while ‘Singing Brian’ gibbers anthemic nonsense. This suddenly ramps up into a face off between a totally compulsive drum line and an insanely simple but monolithic riff that gets more and more exciting until it literally explodes. Fucking awesome. How on earth this isn’t the last song on the album, I don’t know, but I am already sold on this album and I haven’t even reached halfway. Then ‘Sublime Freak’ comes on and .. by God… I appear to have shit myself. A pounding 4/4 kick drum of almost mystical resonance is married to a euphoric riff so full of optimistic joy it’s disgusting. A band this heavy shouldn’t be this happy. The vocal line on this is, yes, you guessed it, echo-y shouting, but very melodic and when teamed up with the insistent, rolling (almost tabla-esque) tom playing, it is a deeply special tune. The ‘solo’ is a strange, screechy noise that sounds a little like a Bollywood sample that has been seriously fucked with, which stutters and loops over the middle of the track. I don’t know what it is but it is a fitting fanfare for this exotic and beguiling gem. The first half of this album is escorted off the premises by ‘Flooded Chamber’, an eccentric and noisy track that sounds like a possessed Islamic bulldozer chasing neurotic budgies round a haunted birdcage. It fucking well does.
The second half of the album is introduced by ‘Funny Farm’ which is another strange creature, sounding like a pyschedelic hoe-down that is occasionally interrupted by, well, um.. Lightning Bolt. It is a schizophrenic track, but a totally functional one, equal parts heavy-riffing and bouncy jiggery-pokery, with a little slice of ‘Drumming Brian’ at the end that shows just exactly how fucking good he really is. As a counterpoint to this, ‘Rain On The Lake I’m Swimming In’ shimmers into view, a simple guitar-y sounding riff (obviously dripping with sustain, reverb etc) with ‘Singing Brian’ pretending to be a trumpet. Or a bee. Or something. Nice.
I start to panic because there’s only two songs to go, and part of me almost hopes that they’re bad ones, just so time goes a little slower. But typically enough ‘SOS’ just happens to be the ‘Raining Blood’ of Lightning Bolt’s career. Terrifying squeals of feedback give way to the sound of a gigantic thuggish mess that wants your ears to wear round its neck as a trophy. Melodramatic vocal and instrumental flourishes keep you unsettled and thirsting for more, while immense blasts of galactic bass feedback, in a variety of flavours, make you wonder how many guitars ‘Bass Brian’ is actually playing, and whether or not they are really a mile long and made of plutonium. Superb.
So now it’s just ‘Transmissionary’ between me and the end of the album. The joy of listening to this fantastic album is mixed with a little sorrow, as I realize that I am as far away from a new Lightning Bolt album as it is possible to be. I chide myself for being silly and prepare to adopt the ‘Transmissionary’ position. And I am in heaven. This is the essence of Lightning Bolt. A Neanderthal bassline distilled from crude adrenaline, drumming of exquisite control and immeasurable depth and a shouted refrain that joins the two instruments together into a sound that cannot have been constructed only unearthed, like some miraculous relic. This epic opening gambit slowly descends into one of the rudest and sludgiest things I have ever heard, with a bassline that would melt babies and meticulously applied touches of echo that made me wince with pleasure. This is going to fucking kill live and it slowly dawns on me that this is better than ‘2 Towers’. This is better than ’13 Monsters’. This is the sound of the best band in the world at their peak.