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Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire

Thrill Jockey

Lightning Bolt - Fantasy EmpireThe two Brians from Rhode Island are back with Lightning Bolt‘s first album since 2009’s Earthly Delights and their first for new label Thrill Jockey.

Lightning Bolt are a classic example of an underground noise band who have had some success in the mainstream without compromising their sound or attitude. Their live shows are blisteringly visceral, often violent and incredibly loud experiences, the band playing on the floor surrounded by the audience. An acquaintance once hilariously described them to me as “a really talented drummer and bass player showing off.” I couldn’t disagree more.

The first thing that hits you when listening Fantasy Empire is how well recorded it is compared to their previous output. The make a point of mentioning this in the press release, this record being the first to be made using “proper hi-fi recording equipment”. The results are fantastic, opening track The Metal East” dropping us into unmistakable Lightning Bolt territory immediately: galloping drums, serious fuzz bass, stop-start dynamics, alongside Brian Chippendale‘s wacky vocals, which are definitely ‘sung’ more on this record than on previous releases.

“Over The River And Through The Woods” continues this with repetitive riffing, Brian Gibson almost harmonizing with himself, before dropping down to some serious bottom end alongside echoing vocals and unobtrusive drums. It’s actually a very straightforward song until the point where it veers headfirst into their crazed Lightning Bolt world; all snare-bashing, fuzz bass and electronic noise.

The quality of the production enhances the Lightning Bolt listening experience; previous releases were great fun but the songs were muddy and occasionally lacking in dynamic range. Here, everything is given space to breathe and occupy its place in the mix, allowing a natural ebb and flow to each track. Just when you think the absolute peak of madness has been achieved, along comes a barrow-full of additional noise to pummel you some more. Case in point here is the extremely fuzzed-out climax of “Horsepower”, the gorgeous uplifting sounds brought forward by god knows what during “King Of My World”, and the speaker-killing bass frequencies on “Mythmaster”.

The overall vibe of this record is a positive, fun one. Songs pelt along at a joyful pace and at times you really do feel like you’re listening to the band playing live in your front room. It’s an unashamedly fun rock album with elements of noise, metal, sludge and whatever other genres you fancy. The production, as previously mentioned, is top drawer. The playing, by two exceptionally talented musicians, is also amazing, especially given the frenetic pace of a lot of these tracks.

Showing off? Certainly not. I don’t believe these two can play at any slower pace, or in any other style, which gives Lightning Bolt that one-of-a-kind quality that is rare in bands these days.

I have one complaint though: they should have named this Pearl Jam.

-Stuart Low-

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