Black Salvation Balances Hard Rock and Psychedelia
Black Salvation is a band that works the psychedelia into the hard rock with skill, and it makes for a very listenable album in Uncertainty Is Bliss.
Uncertainty Is Bliss
6 April 2019
Psychedelic hard rock is a tricky genre. Too much spacey exploration and you could bore the people that are mostly there for the heavy riffs. Too many heavy songs without extended atmospherics and some will be wondering why you were ever dubbed "psychedelic" in the first place. Leipzig, Germany's Black Salvation find a good balance on the trio's second album Uncertainty Is Bliss, mixing a handful of longer jams in with a group of compact, hard-hitting songs.
Roughly half of the album is comprised of these heavy rockers. "Floating Torpid" rolls along on a quasi-Arabian riff, powered by Birger Schwidop's steady bass and singer-guitarist Paul Schlesier's punchy guitars. Drummer Uno Bruniusson keeps the beat while throwing in fills and accents all over the place. The song has a looseness to it exemplified by a brief jam and build section that climaxes in an abrupt silence that lasts a full five seconds before the band comes back in for another solid minute to finish out the song. "Breathing Hands" follows, slowing down the tempo and adding an organ for atmosphere. Schlesier's, reverbed vocals float over a gnarly guitar riff in the intro before the riff fades away to let the vocals take center stage. In the final minute of the three-minute song the vocals drop out, and the band speeds up to rock out.
"Leair" rumbles along with the feel of a dirge, sitting on a simple groove for most of the song as Schlesier moans dramatically. It's broken up by some mid-song whistling and a minute where the beat drops out, but at just over five minutes long, Black Salvation stretch that groove for about as long as they can without making the song utterly boring. "Gray River", on the other hand, is probably Uncertainty Is Bliss' most conventional hard rocker. It has a decent guitar riff, largely echoed in the bass and buttressed by the drums. After a record full of grooves and jams, it's nice to hear the band just open up and let go. Too bad the song itself isn't better.
Then there are the extended songs. The album opens with "In a Casket's Ride", which finds the rhythm section locked into a hard-hitting riff, sometimes joined by Schlesier's guitar. At other times, the guitar goes off into its own explorations. But the song never wavers from its central riff, opting instead for a long denouement that gradually slows down over the last two minutes of the seven-minute track. Album closer "Getting Slowly Lost" has the best singing on the album, and maybe the best song construction. It opens with a quiet guitar and bass figure that transitions into a more upbeat, rolling style two minutes in. As the song builds to a climax, it changes again into a pounding 4/4 rocker before switching one more time into a just as pounding 6/8 feel. That adds a progressive rock flavor to the psychedelic hard rock and does it very effectively.
The album's longest song, the nine-minute "A Direction Is Futile", might be its best. It combines straight ahead hard rock with loose exploration. The song opens with a pulsing, echoing guitar riff buttressed by a simple but steady bassline and drums featuring a disco-style hi-hat beat. That only lasts for about 90 seconds before the band veers off into a Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Love"-style jam. At first, just Schlesier wanders away, using a new riff as the basis for a lot of spacey sound effects while Bruniusson and Schwidop's bass keep the song rolling. But eventually, Bruniusson starts getting much more improvisational with his drums and loses the beat entirely. This leaves Schwidop as the song's secret MVP, as he keeps his bass locked into a simple, four-measure pattern regardless of what the other two are doing. And the other two get increasingly psychedelic as the song continues to wander, building in intensity and backing off. Eventually, though, thanks to Schwidop and his bassline, the song has that anchor to return the band to its original hard rock for a pounding, intense finish.
Uncertainty Is Bliss delivers on its promise and even finds time for a successful outlier. The 75-second long "The Eye That Breathes" is a fascinating experiment. It's an acoustic guitar-based instrumental song with quiet cymbal work and a pair of melodicas providing a melody and countermelody. And just as it gets going, it's over. But it opens another avenue for the band that they could exploit in the future. For now, though, this is a band that works the psychedelia into the hard rock with skill, and it makes for a very listenable album.