Man’s Gin drown sorrows, sadness, show expanded prowess on ‘Rebellion Hymns’

man's gin

There is more than one way to express rage, loss, depression, and even empowerment. Sure, decibels, giant stacks of amps, and buzz-sawing songs certainly help someone get out the emotions and feelings welling up inside, but who’s to say a metal musician can’t find other ways to get out the demons that have been raging inside?

Erik Wunder, who you know as the multi-instrumental power behind black metal ritualists Cobalt and who has been a member of Jarboe’s live band, is one such person who does not adhere to the confines of sound and genre. Yes, he can make hellacious racket and make you feel like the devil is kicking down your door to rob you of your dreams, but with Man’s Gin, he’s taken things back to a more rustic and relatable manner for those who can’t get with the heavy shit. His project can make one think of Roky Erickson or Jason Molina or even Johnny Cash—not to mention classic Alice in Chains in their heyday, unplugged—as his dark, Americana-tinged songs sprawl out in front of you, refusing to show an ounce of restraint.

Man's Gin cover“Rebellion Hymns” is the second Man’s Gin release, following the excellent “Smiling Dogs” debut, and it shows that not only has Wunder expanded his creative prowess, but the music has grown and formed new shapes. This record certainly sounds like Man’s Gin, but it has so much more to it than the debut record. The melodies are heartier, the vocals push even harder, the instrumental backing swells like a congregation slowly building, with lyrics as raw and heartfelt as ever. It’s a stunning record that, even at its darkest and most hopeless, still sounds like a triumph of an album that’ll sound perfect while sitting outside around a fire, beer or other spirit in hand. It’s an album that helps you, too, meet and discard what’s holding you back and make you say, “Fuck it,” to every little thing that tried to get in your path. It’s very much like Cobalt in that confrontational, you vs. the world sense, but it just sounds different.

Wunder is joined by bandmates Joshua Lozano (who played live with Cobalt on their recent tour run) and Scott Edward, and they really do a nice job wrecking the room and cultivating a loose, organic sound. Joining the band are guests such as Jarboe, Bruce Lamont (Yakuza), John LaMacchia (Candiria), and, naturally, Phil McSorley, Wunder’s destructive partner in Cobalt, and their contributions are rewarding but subtle enough that they don’t take away from the greater good. They’re here as re-enforcements, and they’re awfully handy at that job.

Opener “Inspiration” is a lift-you-up-by-your-boots, wipe-the-blood-off-your-face anthem that should make you feel like an asshole if you’re not motivated to try once you hear it. “Keep on chasing that dream/Don’t take no shit from naysayers,” Wunder howls, and that’s before the song progresses and his voice hits a high bark that’s equivalent to a fist to your chest. “Varicose” then lets the sadness slip in, as it’s acoustic based and bleeding, as Wunder painfully demands, “Why did she have to die?” There is talk of lost love and dead doves, and it’s a really dark track among a collection of them. “Off the Coast of Sicily” is a gruff, dusty song that reminds me of Murder By Death at times, with raking cello, guitars that sound aching and rusty, and Wunder repeating, “There’s no sun rising.” “Old House (Bark at the Moonwalk)” is an odd one, with lots of rustling piano and strangeness, and it’s this album’s “Solid Gold Telephone.”

I didn’t mention yet there are a few interludes that go unnamed that break up some of these songs, and the one that follows “Old House” has strains that remind me of some of the long, rousing instrumental passages from the title track of “Eater of Birds.” Maybe I’m just hearing things. “Never Do the Neon Lights” is more of an up-tempo rock song, and Wunder sounds like Eddie Vedder at times (in the best way possible, by the way … I know that can have a negative connotation), and the song has spirited harmonica play and lively guitar soloing. “Deer Head and the Rain,” which has been making its rounds on the Internet, is a killer folk rock track that’s a pretty good pick for a leading song with its hand drums, off-kilter piano, sliced cello, and harmonized vocals. “Cellar Door” is a piano-led instrumental that leads the way for “Sirens,” a self-destructive song where Wunder admits, “I work to drink myself to sleep,” and every ounce of his frustration is evident. Closer “Hibernation Time” is a rough, scraped up song that foresees a long winter and impending pain, so if you were hoping for a happy ending, well, you’re not getting one. Then again, if you sift through about five minutes of silence once “Hibernation” concludes, you’ll find a ridiculous add-on song to the melody of “Let It Be” with completely ridiculous lyrics that repeatedly sing the praises of “E Dub.” Assuming that means Erik Wunder. Or I heard it wrong.

This Man’s Gin project has gotten leaps-and-bounds better on “Rebellion Hymns,” and if you didn’t already know what a music powerhouse Wunder is, you’ll know now. Yeah, we all want a new Cobalt album, but there’s enough darkness, pain, horror, and blood on this record not only to satisfy but to fill in a lot of the holes. If you’re feeling like a miserable shit and just want to drown yourself in misery and alcohol, this is your companion on the bar stool next to you convincing you your debauchery hasn’t gone nearly far enough.

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