Originating in San Francisco and now calling Seattle home, blackQueen invade the psyche with new album The Directress. The band is led by original Assuck bassist Pete Jay (guitar, vocals, synths, samples), and is rounded out by Brandon Fitzsimons (synths, keys, samples), Ursula Stuart (bass) and Alex Bytnar (drums). Just now finding their way onto my radar (17 years after their inception), the band defies categorization. The band’s self-proclaimed tag of “witch metal” sums it up perfectly as death metal, black metal and dark hardcore are all thrown into the cauldron to boil and bubble into a captivating brew capable of incapacitating those who drink of it.
A couple things about this album can be called their respective bests of the year. First off, look at that cover. A dark figure, a witch perhaps, holding what looks like a baby (sacrifice?) amid a stand of red-leaved birch trees standing straight as pines, over cracked and parched ground illicits all manner of dark feelings. I haven’t seen a better cover this year. It begs exploration of the album.
The other best is quite possibly the year’s best song, “The Name of Snakes”. The track embodies how blackQueen are able to meld those disparate genres together both effortlessly and seamlessly. Throughout the album the band follows a path of their own choosing, stopping on a dime to completely change the mood then just as quickly pile driving the listener back into a state of stunning death metal terror. “Snakes” does just this with chugging rhythms breaking off into curious riffs, moving into parts with spooky synths sodden with melody, and that backbone of evil hardcore complete with terrifying blackened rasps. This particular song stuns in its latter half with an absolute killer riff (and vocal line) that compels the listener to destroy the world like a raging beast. Or rather that the band has taken control and slams you around like a bloody scrap of meat. That it’s surrounded by such creeping melody makes its impact even more startling.
blackQueen leave no stone unturned as they move through their horror–inspired works, jackhammering with the brutality of death metal, the raw, bleak, viciousness of black metal and the angry muscularity of hardcore. Weaving a bevy of synth sounds both gothic and strange into the mix and varying the vocal approach including blood-curdling, authoritative, dead cold cleans calling to mind vampire hymns, and angelic choral voices takes the band to another level.
Opening themselves up to such an array of sounds and moving through them like a hot knife through butter makes their concoction of strange, twisted metal captivating where lesser bands can only confuse. At one moment they’re pinning you to the floor, the next mopping it with your lifeless body, the next eulogizing your former being through melodies stirring enough to breathe new life into your corpse.
Even trying to draw comparisons to other bands proves difficult and pointless. (But I can try.) The Satanic fervor of Deicide meets the cinematic grace of Hammers of Misfortune meets the vicious American black metal of Ludicra meets the doomy heft of Crowbar all stricken with Italian horror soundtracks and blackQueen’s own secret ingredients, including production by the legend, Billy Anderson.
Guest vocalists lend their throats as well with Paul Pavlovich of Assuck and Wrest of Leviathan joining Joy Von Spain of Eye of Nix and Uta Plotkin (ex-Witch Mountain) among others to help create such a diverse palette of vocals on a diverse album.
The Directress simply stuns from beginning to end. I haven’t seen their name around much making this underground gem ripe for the picking and if this review can convince some of you to check it out, hopefully blackQueen’s name will feature on those all important (not really) year end lists.
Released August 1, 2015 independently.
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