The self-titled album opens with the sound of drummer Andy Higgins’ approaching van, wheels spinning and door being dragged open. It slams shut, and footsteps approach – a key is turned, and Matt Roberts’ bass – thick and heavy – begins. The rolling of Andy’s drums join, building up until Gary Saunders’ guitar comes flying in, already in an intricate solo.
“Woke up this morning,” begins Gary in a husky growl, “and my feet wouldn’t fit in my shoes.”
Bluesy to the bone, Barum City Blues pushes ahead in the same vein, until suddenly breaking into a gentle, cymbal-tinkling instrumental – but not for long. The Black Dogs pull you straight back into “balls-out rock n’ roll” (to quote the band themselves) and finger-twisting guitar solos in Fly Whores and Night Shoes. High-end Stratocaster meets punching bass and smashing drums in this blues-rock track.
Slowing it back down is their well-known In The Name of the Lord. A commemoration to the late John D. Lord of Deep Purple, Gary sings a lamenting “Farewell my friend / Hope to see you again someday,” the double-layering of vocals giving it other-worldly undertones.
Ripping their listeners right back into the heavy rock is Danger Zone. An ominous, infectious bass line is joined by quick-hitting drums, breaking into a frenzy as Gary sings an accusing “Did you ever wake up and see the Big Man spending your time?” Gritty and hardcore, the song spits at all convention.
Mouldy Rope comes next, another blues-bodied song. “This here’s a song about a man who tried to hang himself,” Gary says through a low-fi microphone, plucking the first few notes of the track, “but couldn’t, because his rope was too mouldy.” A bluesman narrative for a blues song, the track has a dark-comedy tinge, punctuated with bouncy drums and bass.
Sundial follows on, again showing the diversity of the band. The introduction – taking its long, hazy time – is spined by perfectly timed bass, Andy’s drums coming to the fore-front as his sticks travel seamlessly across the kit. This song is also home to some of my favourite Black Dogs lyrics – “I’m gonna find my way back home / Tilt the sundial.” Abstract and poetic, the song reflects the introspective side of the band.
The Weeping Sun is another poetic track of the band’s, dream-like in its mix of heavy and light tones. Drawn-out guitar solos weave between gently vibrating cymbals until Gary sings in a far-away, half-whisper, “Once or twice / The evening sun flies around the moon / To tell the rye / There is no fault in their autumn bloom.” Unexpectedly, the track breaks – Gary’s voice gains its characteristic grit, and it falls into a heavier, doom metal-esque few seconds, before sliding right back into its peaceful, smoky melody.
The first of the two instrumentals, Falling of the Leaves, comes next, seven-minutes of lilting, uplifting melodies. An addictive bass riff merges with softer drums. It’s easy to imagine this one being performed at the end of a good party, last-standing survivors spinning – dazed, content, arms outstretched.
The second instrumental, Solipsis, nods back to the heavier side of The Black Dogs. Dark, slow and at times apocalyptic, the track spirals into stretching, distorted guitar, right before driving head-first into mosh-pit-causing chaos.
“1, 2, 3, 4!” yells Andy at the start of Moonshine – my personal favourite, in that annoying, punch-the-arm-of-the-person-next-to-you way. “I wear my halo / waist-deep and out of line,” Gary growls into the mic with soulful, whiskey’s-wine stained vocals (buy the album, listen to the lyrics, get the pun). Hip-shaking rock n’ roll meets the down-and-dirty blues… and then goes on to meet crazed, adrenaline-pumping electric guitar, before suddenly collapsing into silence.
Last on the album, though certainly not least (to avoid clichés) is Bloodhound. This is the one that dedicated fans of heavy metal will beg for at the end of a show. Speaker-splitting, drum-kit-battering, ear-drum-pounding notes are blasted from each instrument, quick-fire guitar solos playing around powerhouse bass and drums. Everything rises to a fever pitch until only one long note is held out, seemingly ringing into the stratosphere. Saluting the start of the album, the sound of jangling keys and laughter comes into the background, before the van drives off into the distance once more.
Fans of the blues, rock n’ roll, stoner, psyche, space rock (or just plain old good music) will want to buy this album. It’s only a fiver – forget the Starbucks and spend it on something worthwhile.