Guy Blakeslee is not the first musician to feel the cold chill of the grave on his neck, nor the first to evoke said shiver with eerie slides of blues guitar. His fourth full-length (the first on Tee Pee) may, however, be the happiest album ever written about death or at least the one you’re most likely to dance to, whirling gypsy style around the room. That’s because his contemplation of memento mori is unusually euphoric, full of ecstatic sweeps and jubiliant yelps. He may be staring death right in the eyes, but he’s happy about it—he can hardly contain himself.
Consider the opening sally of “Grim Reaper Blues”, a buzz of feedback exploding into great circling blues guitar riffs, the whole enterprise so enveloped in pitch-black echo that you feel you’re listening in a cave (or perhaps a sepulcher). Still there’s a party going on down here. Pass the flask, grim reaper, because Entrance is downright exultant in his howls and bends and slides. Later, in “Valium Blues” the intoxicating swirl becomes even more heady, Paz Lenchantin (of Zwan and A Perfect Circle) spinning witchy-wild violin flourishes and drummer Derek James putting frantic, syncopated dance rhythms down. The two of them augment nearly every cut on this dense, sometimes overwhelming album, a multitude of eddying sounds providing a contact buzz of mystic overload.
Prayer of Death is the first Entrance album not to include a cover, but Blakeslee pays tribute to his heroes in other ways. “Grim Reaper Blues” is dedicated to bluesman Charlie Patton and “Requiem for Sandy Bull (R.I.P.)” finds the 1960s oud master’s groove in twanging, reverberating sitar notes. There are long quotations from the Tibetan Book of the Dead and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time that set the album’s death-celebrating tone.
The title cut takes the volume down, but not the intensity, with Blakeslee singing gospel-style against a minimal acoustic background. “I want to be prepared to die/ In any kind of weather/ I want for you to be ready, too/ We’ll fly away together,” he sings, maybe straining a little at the high notes, but utterly believable and simple and inviting. It’s like a church picnic song, but one where maybe everyone at the table will end up drinking the purple Kool-Aid. Moreover, it leads right into the album’s centerpiece, the eight-minute-plus dirge of “Lost in the Dark”, with its echoing, death-march drums and hollow voiced extremity. “Some other time, maybe death will be holding your hand and you’ll understand,” intones Blakeslee, breaking for a euphoric yelp. It’s just so hot, this cold, cold grave business.
Prayer of Death closes with an epic, primitive “Never Be Afraid” just slow drums and massed vocals (David Vandervelde guests) singing “When you think about death every morning/ Don’t ever be afraid” over and over again. You know, honestly, I wasn’t that scared until I heard this record.