Noise duo Lightning Bolt push their levels of noise, weird to next level on ‘Fantasy Empire’

Lightning BoltWeirdness and experimentation are two traits that should be more common in music. Can you imagine if an actual daring band or artist was permitted to have mainstream exposure and change the way the populace hears and accepts music? I know. Let’s keep our dreams a little more reasonable and attainable, why don’t we?

That line of thinking has been in my head as I’ve been visiting repeatedly with “Fantasy Empire,” the new record from noise duo Lightning Bolt, their first effort in six years. It’s so ridiculously fun and infectious from first listen on, and to hear these two guys just going for it and totally selling their art emotionally is such a joy to witness. The music that the band—drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson—create sounds like something that could emanate from a dance floor in outer space. And the people taking in those sounds could draw from a large number of people, from those who love noise rock to those who embrace doom and black metal to people who just want to rave out and let the music take them to a new destination. These guys achieve that on this record, and it’s one of the most satisfying efforts of their entire catalog.

Lightning Bolt coverTo attain the sounds they create on “Fantasy Empire,” their sixth full-length, Lightning Bolt tried some new things. Trying to capture a sound more indicative of their in-the-crowd live performances, the duo made further use of live loops and recorded the instruments in complete separation to maximize the power and energy. They also used hi-fi recording equipment for the first time, and worked hard to ensure they were getting just the sounds they wanted from their instruments. Some of the tracks on this new record might even be familiar to those who have witnessed the duo live before, and they have been in their repertoire, and the new ones should hit just as hard. It’s such a damn satisfying record, with the energy just bursting, and I have found myself listening over and over again in a single setting, letting the sounds affect my mood and thinking in a positive way.

“The Metal East” is your opener, with the bass charging, the sounds purposely washed out as if to make one giant smeared color, and the vocals barked out over the din, letting things get fiery and fun. The song is strangely catchy, especially when following along the nearly indecipherable singing, and the extra coats of noise it gets really push the track on its way. “Over the River and Through the Woods” is not their take on the holiday traditional, but it does give you a nice bit of mashing in which to sink your teeth. The riffs hammer, the drums are whipped, and the whole thing has a mechanical feel, like robots are commanding your attention. You might find this song really messes with your head, and by the time it’s over, you’re subservient to their will. “Horsepower” chugs ahead hard, with the tempo clubbing and swinging, and the fellows hitting a heavy groove that could have you on your feet one minute, at someone’s throat the next. “King of My World” has vocals that border on deranged, with the drums leading the way and the melodies coated in fuzz. The back end is pretty warped, with the music knocking you for a loop, leaving you seeing stars.

“Mythmaster” has drumming that sounds tribal and spiritual, leading you toward a trance. But then the song bursts into a jolt of speed, with the bass galloping and the melodies teetering toward corrosion. They return to hypnotic waters later, with their playing leaving you a dizzy mess. “Runaway Train” gives off fumes right away from the heavily burning riffs, and then the guys settle into a cool groove where they achieve a level of peace. But it’s short lived, as the music bubbles up and penetrates like a tooth drill, and they continually maul and stomp hard all the way to the finish line. “Dream Genie” is a short, but needed, interlude, built on cosmic dreaminess and hints of chaos, leading into “Dream Genie,” which picks up the closest hammer and begins swinging away. This is the most outright metallic thing on the record, with the guys stomping away, the noise crushing you hard, and the fuzz and buzz seemingly taunting you. “Snow White (and the 7 Dwarves Fans)” closes the record and is the longest cut on here at 11:21. The duo takes its time to let the noises and levels build properly, luring you into the maze before they let loose the really dangerous stuff. The bulk of this one is a psyched-out jam, with the quivery vocals reminding a bit of David Byrne’s delivery, and as the song reaches its ending, the pace convulses hard, noise spits, and everything around you is left shaking, crumbling, and folding in on itself in the band’s wake.

Whether it’s your first experience with Lightning Bolt or if you’ve been along for their entire ride, you’re bound to be moved and electrified by this new record. These guys sound as channeled, punishing, and on fire as ever before, and I can only imagine what this new material will do to further liven up these guys’ live show. “Fantasy Empire” is a portrait of a band at the top of its game, never content with what they’ve done in the past and always looking for that new level. No doubt they found it on this record and probably will again on their next.

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