Entrance: The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken By Storm
Entrance, a.k.a. Guy Blakeslee, is a one-man force, a singer-songwriter of blues-rock that takes all of the fey and languid associations of folk music and throws them to the ground, squashing them repeatedly with his rhythm-stomping boot. Dark, spooky, gritty, and raw, Entrance uses his voice and his guitar as a two-fisted attack that is simultaneously challenging and alluring.
He's already drawn comparisons to T. Rex, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen; and you could throw elements of Lou Reed, Bob Pollard, Alex Chilton, Roky Erickson, and a half dozen bluesmen, most notably Skip James (whom Blakeslee admits is a huge influence), and come up nodding. And let's not forget that Entrance has become a favorite of the new Billy Corgan vehicle, Zwan, playing regularly at Matt Sweeney's show at Chicago's The Hideout. The problem with any of these is that it's really a content issue. His songs are harsh, often wailing, and most definitely not pretty, but he shares something with all of these artists in his unflinching approach to the seedier sides of life. Oh, hell, let's just throw in Tom Waits for good measure.
Entrance distinguishes himself primarily through his voice. Although a more erudite listener than myself might pick up similarities to other singers, (I've seen Tim Buckley mentioned), but in many ways Blakeslee sounds like nothing else I've heard. It's a voice that you have to attenuate to, and even once you've become accustomed to it, it's still difficult to grapple with. It's a voice that can best be described as keening, wailing, haunted. It's a voice that matches the twisted, tortured themes of the songs, played out in the rough with little attempt to soothe over the rough themes with some sweet melodies.
Blakeslee's voice either compliments, or perhaps emerges simultaneously, from his guitar style. Playing an acoustic right-handed guitar left-handed, strung to some weird, open tunings, and played without any formal guitar training, Blakeslee attacks the strings with a savage force, lending an energy and drive to the simple acoustic songs. The album's opener, "Valium Blues", is strummed so fast that it would probably pass for speed metal if it were plugged in. Not all of the tracks on this disc have this same "fast and furious" technique, but they all have the sound of a guitar being played hard, and it's a sound that gives these tracks their own rhythm. His live shows are simply the man and his voice, but The Kingdom of Heaven peppers the tracks lightly with some keys, a little percussion, and occasional added guitar and ethereal backing vocals, but for the most part the spirit of an Entrance performance is preserved, and you really only consciously focus on the voice and that meaty guitar.
If there's a problem with Entrance, however, it most definitely is accessibility. I am impressed by this disc, and The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken By Storm does as much if not more for me in terms of blues infused indie rock as the White Stripes and their ilk. On the other hand, I don't really know if I like it. As I've said, the songs come from the dirt and blood quarters of life, and they're both played and sung appropriately, but it's a difficult listen. At times, Blakeslee's raw voice becomes a keening whine, especially when he's reaching the high notes, and his three-octave range is impressive, but hardly mellifluous. The fact that the acoustic guitar playing here is from the gut, emotional, and wrenching makes the music interesting, but it also adds to the spooky experience of the disc. In one go, I could listen to Entrance's cover of Skip James's "I'm So Glad" or the sedate and ominous "I Love the Light" and be alright with it, but a whole disc full is a heavy load. Even one song on its own has the potential to be so grating that it might take real effort to get into the mood.
At the same time, I wouldn't change anything about Entrance or Blakeslee's newfound musical voice. As the former bassist for the punk band the Convocation Of , Blakeslee has spent his time playing more straightforward rock and roll. But as Entrance, he's found something entirely unique, and that's a hard find in this musical age. He's sure to appeal to those indie rock fans who've discovered a love of the blues, and he'll probably fare well with blues fans who don't mind young, white upstarts in the club. Entrance is indeed an achievement, but it's as isolated and eclectic an achievement as those by the artists who are often mentioned as his references.