Black Skies’ late-year debut record bristles with muddy, metallic power


It’s an odd time of the year to get into new music because, well, 2011 is just about over. There’s a feeling that records released late in the year are done so as garbage dumps, and in many cases that’s probably true. But it isn’t always true.

First, we got the stunning new Panopticon record in late November, the incredibly moving, thought-provoking sophomore triumph by Cormorant, and now we have a new entry from sludge crushers Black Skies, who have not given us anything new since 2008’s promising EP “Hexagon.” But along comes their debut full-length effort “On the Wings of Time,” a devastating, psychedelically washed package of eight songs that’ll strike a chord with fans of bands such as Kylesa, Black Tusk and Rwake, among others. The Chapel Hill, N.C., trio is releasing this platter themselves, and I can’t help but wonder if the power of this album will cause a like-minded label (looking at you, Relapse) to give it proper re-issue treatment and greater exposure come the new year.

Black Skies, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Kevin Clark, bassist/vocalist Michelle Temple, and drummer Tim Herzog, have been kicking around since 2005 and have become quite the road warriors. Just look at some of the live photos on their Facebook page, and it’s pretty clear they’re down to play just about any place that’ll have them, indoors or outdoors. That’s the sign of a band whose collective heart is in the right place, and their music is just as raucous and filthy as some of the venues they’ve destroyed. They’ve kept things pretty DIY (they have hooked up with Earsplit PR to help them get the word out about their travels and creations, but that’s about as far as they’ve gone for outside help), and this late-year release is more example of that. It’s also dirt cheap for a download, so if you need some background noise to cancel out all that holiday cheer crap, this’ll do the trick.

Yes, they’re a sludge band, and no they don’t do anything all that different from many of the other groups in the sub-genre. But that’s OK. Not everyone has to be a trailblazer, and sometimes just turning in solid music is good enough. Well, Black Skies have been more than just solid, as “Hexagon” indicated they were a group worth following into the future, and their first proper album solidifies they’re bound to still be here half-decade from now when the other bands who jumped onto the sludge bandwagon have moved onto the next trend. Black Skies’ music sounds more like a way of life.

Clark and Temple do a nice job blending their voices together, with Clark taking most of the lead work and Temple providing harmonies. Those roles do switch every now and again, but no matter who’s in charge of the song, they figure out a way to make it seamless. “Rebirth” blasts open the collection with a fist-flurry, with Temple howling, “We were not born just to survive,” and the rest of the band steamrolling along. “Darkness” is a little bit grungy an eventually mind-altering, as Clark’s vocals take on more of a raspy growl than a shout. “Technologican” tears you apart with its galloping pace, paranoid fury and accusations such as, “Technology stole my soul from me.” You’re not alone on that one.  “Valley of the Kings” gets some Middle Eastern vibe and whirring guitar work, and eventually the band gets to noodling, a little bit too long, if you ask me. That’s really my only complaint about the album, though. “Earth Choker” sounds exactly how you imagine it will, with the band settling into a thrash stomp dressed with wah leads that should make Metallica realize they’ve been doing this same thing all wrong the last 15 years. Closer “The Sleeping Prophet” is an amazing musical journey with muddy trappings and some Southern rock vibe, before Temple kicks in with her mystical flute work, reminding me of Blood Ceremony.

Black Skies are as good as every other sludge metal band out there that’s gotten more attention and press. They deserve a step up, and if hard work really does payoff, as the cliché insists, 2012 should be their year. Even if that doesn’t come to pass, here’s guessing Black Skies will hit the road like the vagabonds that they are anyhow. Try to catch them if they land in a squat, club, basement or bar near you, and make sure you’re OK with parting with some of your hearing.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.blackskies.us/

For their Facebook, go here: http://www.facebook.com/blackskiesnc

To buy “On the Wings of Time,” go here: http://blackskies.bandcamp.com/album/on-the-wings-of-time