Metal is one of those precious genres that can be dropped into any culture across the world and it will just work. Egyptian Black Metal? Brad Sanders wrote about it. Extreme Metal in China? Josh Feola got you covered.
But never had I heard something so uniquely Southern in the Metal genre until now. Nor had I expected to hear an ol’ time snare shuffle on a Black Metal album. But let me tell you, I’m glad I did.
Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits is the second full-length album by Nasheville, TN outfit Primeval Well. Taking the more raw, atmospheric sound that is Black Metal’s specialty, Primeval Well experiment with Post-Punk guitar melodies, shuffled Country/Folk jaunts which break out into full blast beats, and plenty of twang. This band is the Wire of Appalachian Black Metal and I’ve never been happier.
Nearly every track is a hefty 8-10 minutes, but how Primeval Well weaves through movements keeps each composition feeling engaging and lively (not a term usually associated with Black Metal, but it’s time). The second half of the album incorporates certain elements of Stoner Metal, fuzzed out thick riffs and a faint wah-wah element.
Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits is melodic in unexpected ways, blending and bleeding soul with haunting atmosphere. If you’re looking for something different, Primeval Well is for you.
Released on the Italian label Vollmer Industries in 2015, Innerworld is the 2015 debut album by the Eunice, Louisiana-based recording project Lower Level Bureau.
Recorded at Reverb Studio in Cuneo, TX, Innerworld kicks off with the massive 10+ minute track Rose’s Theme. Taking its Badalamenti influence straight, Lower Level Bureau otherwise connect the ominous link between Doom Jazz and Southern Gothic. This instrumental album is incredibly cinematic, with an impressive faux-natural drum machine sound, thick layers of synth strings, and audio samples serving as an effectively haunting human element.
Innerworld more or less exists as a Lynchian representation of the JFK-conspiracy within music. The album artwork and opening track Rose’s Theme refer to Rose Cheramie, a somewhat tangential character in the mythology surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination. The music across the album is scattered with samples of the event’s news coverage.
A younger me, deeply into anything remotely spooky and arguably ‘real’ (unlike, say, creepypasta), would have fawned over Innerworld without hesitation. But now our societal climate lacks any practical social cohesion.
Since the album’s release in 2015 we’ve seen first hand the political manipulation, the tearing of societal fabric, and its devastating toll that have become the real world baggage to an interest in conspiracy theories, something that years ago could have been considered the interest of the gumshoe’s hubris, oddity nuts (such as myself), or just plain old weirdos.
Speaking of Twin Peak’s influence and conspiracy theories, does anyone remember X-Files?
All of this said, the JFK assassination and its mythology are, to put grimly, as American as apple pie. Perhaps Innerworld is a last call for our more playful collective interest in such topics. It’s a beautiful album, and one that expands upon both Noir and Southern Gothic themes within music. Maybe one day we’ll come to find it ‘fun’ again.
For fans of: The Killmanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Angelo Badalamenti, Dale Cooper Quartet
Farmer’s Wake is the debut full-length album by South Carolina-based and Southern Gothic themed Alt-Country band Fonta Flora. The duo consists of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Robert A Maynor IV and lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dosher. Fonta Flora’s folksy brand of Alt-Country carries the rustic tonalities expressive of grim, glum and sometimes lonesome backwoods living. Fair enough. But aesthetics can be an empty shell, and as the album played out I found myself in familiar territory.
It all started innocently enough, but steadily as the album progresses I find an uncomfortable creeping sense of irritation. Some of the album’s more deficient aspects are covered by the duo’s songwriting abilities. But even highlights on Farmer’s Wake, such as the lead guitar melody on track Planetary Haze are shot out of focus by goofy lyrical content.
5 songs in and I think I may just be a ‘whiskey’ short of winning Southern-cliche bingo. We got a ‘I work all day’, ‘lord’ this, ‘lord’ that, ‘devil’ this and a ‘devil’ that. I stopped keeping track. Farmer’s Wake is an album that gets progressively worse with its cliches; more and more in your face, more grating with each passing minute.
Alt-Country like this is something straight out of the creative class, somewhat distanced from the ‘salt of the earth’ people the genre usually attempts to represent or pose as. That’s okay, I don’t expect Lord Worm, former vocalist of Canadian Death Metal band Cryptopsy, to have actually been “in the kitchen, with a screaming triple-amputee” who he is cannibalizing, let alone any of the other things depicted on None So Vile (1996) to be true.
But while more conservative attitudes to music try to distance themselves from the splendor of showmanship, music is and always has been a show. Music and its marginalia- album art, flyers, drama, lore and legend- have become their own theatre since recorded music (if they haven’t always been).
With the ‘theatre’ of music in mind, what’s so grating about Farmer’s Wake is that Fonta Flora’s strengths- the album’s highlights- are left as pretty ornamentation surrounding the album’s hokey celebration of what is a troubled and depressing trope of Southern identity (not to mention the obvious atrocities pervading conversations around Southern identity). Like a theatre-kid out of their league, there is an unacquired gravitas in the album’s approach to its subject matter which makes it feel lifeless (at best).
Where to go form here? I’m uncertain. But both Dosher and Maynor prove themselves to be talented and multifaceted musicians. Perhaps a shirking of established tropes will let them find something that both highlights their musicianship and resonates with a more nuanced emotional palette.
For fans of: Old Crow Medicine Show, Sons of Perdition, The Dead South
Southern Gothic is, first and foremost, a literary genre that seemingly no one can define; a series of broad themes, stereotypes, and general ‘vibes’ often interpreted through the lens of the untrue many, regurgitated back into a self-affirming echo chamber of aesthetic cheesiness. In many ways, what people view to be southern gothic music is more of the steampunk approach to being poor wHite (with a capital “H”) country folk with an alcohol problem. So take it from a southerner who’s seen their fair share of weird occurrences; that ain’t southern gothic.
Here to correct course, flesh out your southern gothic music knowledge or at least your spooky Halloween playlist, here’s Resident Sound’s Guide to Southern Gothic Music.
Bill Frisell – Tales from The Far Side
Originally the theme for the hard to find Gary Larson’s Tales from The Far Side 1994 TV Halloween special, The Bill Frisell Quartet’s lengthy opening statement takes cartoon oddity to a macabre and haunting place. The song’s eerie and haunting motif is slowly twisted and transformed into a grotesque and wild semblance of its origin, giving Tales from The Far Side more bite than its ‘Denver sound’ contemporaries.
Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room
From Porter Wagoner’s vaguely uneasy What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen (1972), The Rubber Room is the oft overlooked and much needed addition to any southern gothic or spooky country playlist. On the non-cinematic side of additions to this list, Rubber Room sings the malady of the minds and the confinement and isolation imposed on the mentally ill, all located in “a building tall, with a stone wall around.” The whole song could’ve started with ‘on a dark and stormy night’ for all I’m concerned…
Rowland S. Howard – Dead Radio
What’s more southern than the southern hemisphere? Okay, that’s a copout, but Australia has given us The Birthday Party, and with it the solo careers of Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, and my personal favorite Rowland S Howard. Rowland is the Lee Hazlewood of goth music, and in turn Hazlewood’s southern gothic counterpart. While his earlier work alongside Nick Cave in The Birthday Party may have embraced southern gothicism to a T, Rowland S Howard’s solo record Teenage Snuff Film (1999) is a must for anyone looking to dive right in.
Hank Thompson – I Cast A Lonesome Shadow
Let’s get it straight: the best version of this song is on Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas (1963) bar none. The spacious feel of its environment only sneaks into mind all the negative tropes of carnies and fair. Besides that, Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas offers a more uptempo version to the song’s slower single release from the year prior.
Foetus – Spit on The Griddle (The Drowning of G. Walhof)
The lush orchestral arrangement from composer J.G. Thirlwell more or less speaks for itself. Thirlwell’s high anxiety sound lends itself perfectly to the dark edges of perception. Perfect for night drives in the backwoods or stumbling upon a mutilated dead body. Looking for more? Try the Foetus track Rattlesnake Insurance.
Reverend Horton Heat – It’s A Dark Day
Perhaps the only person using ‘reverend’ in their band name that I don’t hold disdain for, Jim ‘Reverend Horton Heat’ Heath and crew usually deliver at least one fairly dark gem per record. 1990’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em may have the beloved hit Psychobilly Freakout, but It’s A Dark Day, a perfectly somber song drudging through the depths of depression and heartbreak, is our takeaway.
These Immortal Souls – These Immortal Souls
These Immortal Souls was the brief side-project of Rowland S. Howard. A split from his work in Crime & The City Solution, These Immortal Souls may be the most interesting and overlooked branch in The Birthday Party lineage (to echo sentiment from Charles Spano). Rowland S Howard’s work may be the most consistently southern gothic while never falling to the try-hard cheese of dedicated ‘southern gothic’ music acts.
Mario Batkovic – Quatere
It would be remiss to go straight to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack in a guide hoping to change your perception on southern gothic music, but Red Dead Redemption go-to-ers get some things right. We went with score contributor Mario Batkovic’s cinematic solo accordion work and, I guess, ‘hit’ Quatere.
Patsy Cline – Crazy
C’mon. Do I need to explain this? If you still don’t hear it, go back to Tumblr fanfic or harassing children on the internet or whatever it is you do with your life. …Still here? Great. Try throwing a little extra reverb or delay on this song if you really want to trip out. I highly recommend it.
Eddie Noack – Psycho
Of course this song is on our list. What’s wrong with you? While plenty of murder country music should be left to the grave, Eddie Noack’s single Psycho is a bonafide classic in our ears. Sometimes put in comparison to the later serial killer Ed Kemper, Psycho is a twisted tale of black outs, murder and mommy issues. What more could you ask for?