Collaborations are an intriguing idea, and one that we are beginning to see more of within the music industry. From something as simple as a guest vocalist being featured on a song to entirely new bands being brought to life, the prospect of two established artists conjoining their efforts and working off of each other’s creations is one that can either lead to an exhilarating payoff, or wankish dreaming of what could have been. With their eponymous debut EP, Poison Blood manage to leave us with a fair amount of both. The names attached to this project alone are enough to get any black metal listener’s ears burning with sulfuric glee. The vocal talents of Neill Jameson (Krieg), one of USBM’s hardest working artists, flexing under the instrumental guile of Jenks Miller (Horseback)? That set up oozes with potential, but unfortunately that promise of potential is often what keeps you listening rather than the music itself.
The duo’s own description on Relapse Records’ webpage sites it as the culmination of Miller’s desire to write more straightforward music, and both of the artists’ mutual love for Beherit’s iconic Drawing Down the Moon. DDTM is undeniably one of the most evil and everlasting musical documents to be fashioned from the Satanic brimstone that is Finland’s sect of black metal, and I can’t help but feel immediately invited to open an ear towards anything that claims to bear its resemblance…but Poison Blood’s mission statement becomes painfully clear from the record’s outset. Uninterestingly so, as much as it hurts me to say.
The moment the needle falls onto the wax (or you hit ‘play’ on your iPod X, or whatever people are getting charged an arm and a firstborn son for to listen to music on these days), we are greeted with the faintest rippling of a keyboard in the background before the EP’s opening track, “The Scourge and the Gestalt,” lumbers into motion. Winding up with a 70s style guitar riff, simple but resourceful through its dark, borderline-Sabbath groove, this is one of the only tracks on the less than 20-minute long EP that I feel delivers on the promise of what Poison Blood could accomplish. There is flesh on top of its brooding skeleton, flesh that this duo gleefully devours. They do it again on “Deformed Lights,” the track’s immediate follow-up. Jameson’s vocals are a constant centerpiece here, providing the closest thing there is to sincerity in music this depraved, and they fit well over the trashy, minimalist drums and subtly synth-backed guitar riffs. There is a progression, these songs climax. As for the rest of the record? Well, no matter how minimalistic your musical endeavors are, there is still a difference between a song and an idea of a song.
Poison Blood has a lot of ideas of songs.
There is a lot of commotion that sounds neat, but doesn’t quite stick as much as you feel it’s supposed to. I’m not an unreasonable fellow, I enjoy my quickies, but “A Cracked and Desolate Sky” sounds like a good song that was given up on halfway through being written. The would be one-two punch of “The Flower Serpent” and “Shelter Beneath the Sea” (coming in at under a minute each), leaves an impression, but unfortunately it’s not a lasting one. Such is the way that most of this album lands. There is nothing bad up here, but there is a lot that feels underutilized. Maybe this was the idea, and I’m the idiot for critiquing it. My consensus is that even for the unique moments it can consist of, Poison Blood simply feels more boiler-plate than it ought to. The instrumental closer “Circles of Salt” reminded me of some of the music off of Horseback’s New Dominions; it is the mystic, inspired, controlled soundscape that Miller is known for commandeering, and one of the few times the homaging of that DDTM-outlandishness feels earned. Pieces like that made me want to keep on listening in hopes that I would find some undiscovered layer of this music on my next spin. I can’t say that I did.
There is a place in the world for dungeon synth-infused black metal. With added focus, and more time to gestate some new songs, I think that Poison Blood could easily carve that niche out as their own and rule it with an iron fist. Until then, we’re left with a decent EP that offers enough vigor to sacrifice the lamb, but not enough to drink the blood.
Poison Blood was released on 8/11/2017 and can be purchased on digital, CD and vinyl formats through Poison Blood’s Bandcamp.